Practicing Courage

noun: courage
the ability to do something that frightens one.
“she called on all her courage to face the ordeal”
strength in the face of pain or grief.
“he fought his illness with great courage”

I loathe the saying “you cant teach heart”. You most certainly can improve your ability to face adversity and fear if you want to. If there is willingness, courage can be cultivated, it can be grown, and it most certainly can be taught.

~Rebbeca Hill

I competed in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) tournament last week. One of my teammates during the rules meeting was overcome with anxiety. He found a corner of the warm up mat and laid down. Deep breathes. He got his head on straight and went up for his match. This is a man who has dropped 75 pounds since I met him, who couldn’t complete a warm up before class. This is his first match as a newly minted blue belt, and he stepped out on that mat and gave it his all in front of crowds of strangers and a referee. He had earned my respect many times over, and I don’t doubt he will continue to do so. He has been practicing courage.

Sometimes it gets easier. Sometimes the stress inoculation starts to make it easier, and after time it takes more and more pressure to elicit a response.

Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the fear is there. The sweaty skin, the nervousness, the racing thoughts. And we need to move forward anyway. We need to face the fear, and walk through it. This takes courage. This we can get better at.

So, how does one get better at anything? Practice. I cant say the fear will leave, I wont make promises that every individual will become some sort of fearless juggernaut crashing through life’s obstacles. But what I can say is that the more you face fear, the more you practice courage and do the work, the better you will get at summoning the mental fortitude needed to keep moving.

Get out of your comfort zone! Push your limits! We don’t get stronger without adding weight to the bar, we don’t get better doing what we are already good at, and we certainly cant practice courage if we are never in fear.

“Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Most people will never put themselves in a position to feel fear, even some seemingly tough guys will simply never go into a fight they can lose. Last minute excuses, mysterious emergencies and injury. The fear can feel overwhelming, the pressure unable to bear.

I’m blessed to have truly awesome training partners, supportive friends and colleagues, and a wife who is fighting right along side me on her own journey. The support structure we operate within is key. I want to be surrounded by people who support me, who build me up, who challenge and drive me. Life is short, time is at a premium, I have none to waste. These support structures allow us to expose ourselves over and over to ever increasing levels of pressure in a healthy, positive manner. That might be our shooting buddies, it may be our belief structure, it may be our teachers and family, it most certainly should be all of the above. Like a pyramid, the wider the base, the higher the pinnacle.

I’ve backed out before. Felt overwhelmed and unable to continue. It would be easy to never expose myself to that kind of pressure again. I wouldn’t need to even make up an excuse. I could take up some sort of endeavor that wouldn’t threaten my ego. I could take the easy path. And I could spend what little time I have on an unremarkable existence with no pain or triumph never knowing what I could have experienced. Like the great poet once said, I aint going out like that.

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