Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Balancing Ego: Sometimes you must build it up, sometimes you must push aside. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

As this series has been on martial arts and ego perhaps its time to define “ego” as per the dictionary:

e·go – /ˈēɡō/ noun

  1. A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance. “A boost to my ego”

Similar definitions:

  • PSYCHOANALYSIS: Ego – the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.
  • PHILOSOPHY: Ego – (in metaphysics) a conscious thinking subject.

In layman’s terms it basically means “how we see ourselves, how we think of ourselves, and how we value our self-worth relative in the world.” Ego can help or hinder you. A healthy ego can give you confidence which will allow you to accomplish the tasks that you wish to do without the inner dialogue, that is often negative, to hold you back. If people perceive you as confident than they may be more willing to help you or follow you. On the other hand, an unhealthy ego may also help you achieve your goals, but will also hinder you socially as those around you may simply consider you arrogant and unworthy of listening to or following.

One thing that seems to be consistent with regards to ego, healthy or unhealthy, is that you must build a healthy view of yourself that is positive while trying your best not to push your ego onto others. There is a reason people like modesty or other comparable personality traits; because if your ego is too much, for one reason or another, especially if someone has a negative view of themselves, they will perceive this as an attack on their ego.

In short, people are hard. Yet, we are innately social creatures that need to be around others. Yes, it’s very complicated.

So with that definition (somewhat loosely) established in an super-overly simplistic context let’s talk about how this relates to martial arts.

The Instructor

Being a martial arts instructor is a challenging job. Depending on how you approach the activity it can be very rewarding, a long struggle, a hobby, or an enjoyable lifestyle. I would say that if 4 out of 5 businesses fail, 4.99 out of 5 martial arts or fitness business fail. It is naturally a hard business to get into. When you start you think, “I want to take my hobby into a lifestyle that can make a living.” It should be no surprise however that most martial artist who do it more seriously actually don’t make very much money. For those who do make money it is usually due to a difficult journey, both physically and mentally, that simply through consistency and hard work eventually paid off.

It’s this fact, that until you reach business stability it is quite common for the grind to affect the ego of the instructor, as their self worth is tied into their hobby and now livelihood. (After all, marrying a martial artist is often frowned upon as they are no doctor, lawyer, or something traditionally more prestigious.) During this period of stabilization it is often quite common for the instructors ego to feel unappreciated as students (at least in modern times) make all sorts of demands on the instructor, some reasonable and some not. Often the demand is to progress them faster or make things easier or “do things differently.” For a martial arts instructor this can be quite tough on the ego. A question is often asked; “Do I do what they want to keep business alive, or maintain my integrity and stick to my guns with the proper way to do things?” The latter can be quite difficult, as it often means less business and ultimately a view of yourself and your position in life that may include a lessoning self worth.  

It is assumed that all martial artists, through discipline and “spiritually grounded mind, body, and soul,” have a good, strong ego that is not too much or too little; so they, of course, are expected to have a positive self worth at all the times. This is simply false, because, like all persons, the martial arts instructor is human, with an ego.

For those who do well, their self worth and ego are boosted and they see themselves as a valuable member of society, contributing to the physical and mental growth of others; which includes the shaping of healthy egos in their students. Either from making students realize they aren’t as good as they thought, bringing their egos down to a more reality-based plane. Or by helping them build their ego through confidence, by achieving goals and making progress as they rise through the ranks.

A martial arts instructor with an over-inflated ego and self worth, with a little charisma, can very quickly become a cult leader, teaching nothing more than bushido for the sake of boosting their ego. Beware the McDojo!

A martial arts instructor with an under-inflated ego (a.k.a. a low self worth), no matter how good their skills are, may have a difficult time inspiring others to develop themselves and stick too the difficult path that is the martial artist.

The instructor must remember to manage their ego while also managing the skills and development of others, and remind themselves it isn’t always about them but about developing others.  The method in which this will be achieved varies, as there are many paths, but some paths will attract fewer students and others will attract more.

The important thing for the instructor though is to always keep in mind; why they are doing it and what about it makes them happy?

Some instructors may be totally happy with a modest living, so long as they can practice and teach their arts. Others may only be happy with thousands of students and will achieve this at all costs.

The balance is a tricky one.

What is too much ego, or the right balance of ego, confidence, and self worth really depends on the person.

But the martial arts instructor who fails to understand that ego is part of not only being human but is ingrained in the martial arts for practical, philosophical, and historical reasons, may find themselves in the worst of all worlds.

For how is any student to learn properly if the instructor loses the most important battle of all, the eternal one that isn’t with the opponent but the ego and the internal dialogue?

The Student

The student wants to learn martial arts for ego, self worth, and more. Just like the instructor, they too have an eye on being something more, something better. Though for them the journey with the ego is different.

Some come in thinking they are tougher than they are, others not as tough as they are. In both cases there is often an underestimation of the time it will take to achieve their goals. When this is realized it is often the first ego beating that a student has. Fear, doubt, or just life gets in the way and although they may tell themselves they will train they do not follow through with their original plan of becoming “the ultimate warrior.” These students lose the battle with the ego with questions like; “What if I can’t do this?” “What if I am not good enough?” “What if I can’t train enough?” Before they even really start to try, their ego and confidence says “it’s easier to quit now then to keep going,” because it will, of course, be easier than the path to the goal they originally had.

Another battle with ego students sometimes experience is with the school itself, the instructor(s), and their training partners. Though martial arts is ultimately a solo activity, rather than a team activity, it can often make students forget that there are other people to consider; the instructor, the school, and other students. The student makes it about themselves and only about themselves. They care nothing for the struggles of the instructor or the school, or how they may help benefit their fellow students. It is a battle between the ego’s demand for the primacy of the self and the social demand for others. It can be far too easy for the ego to take over and make the journey only about the self. This will ultimately lead to less desirable results, as the instructor may simply gloss over the difficult student, or other students may not want to train with them. The ego must not win this battle if the student expects to have the best journey, to the best version of themselves, to achieve their martial arts goal. The ego will say this is an “individual journey,” but without the instructor, the schools, or the fellow students, your progress will simply be hindered and it is a battle that must constantly be fought, remembered, and managed.

Of course, there is the student that is a physical specimen and let their ego run wild, for they are the destroyer of worlds. This is, of course, what the ego says. No one challenges you and you are the best. While it may be true in your world, your gym, you may simply be a big fish in a small pond. This student also fails to realize, through the blindness of ego, that being the best physically is not the main goal in martial arts, just part of it. In Krav, at least, it’s to walk in peace.

Running around with an over-inflated ego will only ever cause conflict, both internally and externally. If this student let’s his ego win, eventually he won’t just fail, but the internal story that the ego has weaved will come crumbling down and the once high view of self importance will collapse into the pit of the question, “who am I without my physical prowess?” Some rebuild and some do not. It is an ego trap easily avoided by developing the other areas that one can gain by training martial arts.

The opposite student to this is the one with no developed ego at all and almost no self worth. Perhaps there are no physical skills present. Often these students rely far too much on the opinions of their instructor or others, and not enough confidence comes from within. Accepting their starting point, and the difficult journey ahead, is often far too difficult a challenge to face and will only be another metaphorical blow to their already poor self worth. A student like this must realize the importance of developing their ego and realizing that much of the martial arts journey is actually solo. If you quit to early, you will never grow; but that is, of course, easier. If they put their ego aside and simply do, rather than resist they will find positive growth not only in the ego and self worth, but in the other physical-oriented aspects that is martial arts.

Final Thoughts on Ego

There are, of course, many other ego traps or challenges that students or instructors may face. The only way to find out which ego battles you might struggle with is to start your martial arts journey and never stop, even if it only means casual training. A battle never stopped is a battle never won or lost, but rather a journey. Which is how you probably should view the hardest battle of all, a journey with ups and downs and loop-de-loops but one that only ever should have progress and nothing more. This battle is not with your instructor, your students, or the world around you, but rather the battle within, the one with your ego, the one with yourself, the one that matters the most.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

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Old rivals, and their egos, come face-to-face once again in “Cobra Kai”(source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

If you like martial arts then there are a few people and concepts you probably familiar with, no matter what decade you were born in. Bruce Lee is, of course, one of the most famous. But how about Mr. Miyagi, the legendary, Okinawan karate master played by Pat Morita in the 1984 movie The Karate Kid, and in three sequels? (Not to be confused with the 2010 re-make of The Karate Kid, starring Jacki Chan as the martial arts mentor Mr. Han, in which they aren’t even learning Karate but rather Kung Fu, the traditional systems of Chinese martial arts. NOT THE SAME.)

Anyway, Mr Miyagi taught Daniel-san traditional Okinawan Karate (the system originated in Okinawa, not the main islands of Japan) to help learn to defend himself against the bullies from the Karate dojo Cobra Kai, taught by military veteran (and mild psycho) John Kreese. In the original movie the rivalry culminates with young Daniel LaRusso defeating his main bully, blonde bad boy Johnny Lawrence. This propelled Daniel to a good and successful life, and led Johnny to a life of alcoholism, bad parenting, and poor life decisions. This is, of course, as we now know seeing the characters 30 years later in the “Cobra Kai” series on Netflix. With the SAME, albeit now adult actors, which is a great thing for a series to do.

This is where I give you the spoiler alert. If you didn’t already know that Daniel won the tournament in the original movie, well too bad; it was made before I was even born so you should know by now. But, if you aren’t caught up with the latest season of Cobra Kai yet then be warned, there may be some mild spoilers ahead.

If are into martial arts and the original movies, then you will love this series! It is pure entertainment combined with continuing the original storyline, with the added bonus of considerably more character development; which makes this series a must watch in my opinion. The show includes, at various points, almost all the same actors from the film series (where possible, R.I.P. Pat Morita), and adds some new faces, which is something I would love to see in other, older series.

Johnny decides he wants to start teaching Karate again and opens up his own dojo. Needless to say Daniel finds out and all manner of ego-driven shenanigans ensue. Daniel also tries to get his daughter to start training Karate again. Long story short, Cobra Kai competes in the famous “All Valley Karate Tournament,” despite Daniel’s effort to keep Cobra Kai banned, and Johnny’s champion prevails. Daniel looks like the bully and it looks like Johnny is doing good again. Season 2 sees the return of Johnny’s sensei, Kreese, who is just as nuts, if not more so, than before. A school rivalry builds between Johnny and Daniel’s schools, which results in a fight with serious consequences. More ego-driven violence and shenanigan’s occur as everyone, Johnny, Daniel, their students, and their own kids, is trying to prove themselves, their Karate prowess, and their ego.

All around it’s great fun to watch. However, intentionally or unintentionally, it is showing the negative side of martial arts and human EGO. It also perpetuities the bullshit idea that training in martial arts makes you a violent person. Which makes me concerned that any “Karen” who walks in on their child watching it will then go on a Karen-rampage to try to stop all martial arts from occurring. You actually kind of see this in Season 3, where school trustees, who are clearly vanilla people who know nothing of combat, simply panic and try to ban all Karate.

Karens aside, it really highlights the EGO of “who is the best?” Ego is a powerful thing, it can help you or hinder you. It can give you strength and courage, or make you crumble. As mentioned in the previous post of this series “My Martial Art is Better Than Your Martial Art” (and as implied or stated by me numerous times), there are many factors to “who is the best” and this means not everyone can be the best.

This is why it’s important to understand, for your own ego, are you capable of being the best, and if you are, are you putting in the work to be the best and stay the best? Or if you are not capable of being the best, are you happy just being the best version of yourself that you can be? In the latter situation, people often quit training in martial arts altogether because of their ego. They cannot accept they are not the best because of some factor or other, so they stop rather than continuing to strengthen themselves. No, not everyone can be the best, but not everyone needs to be. You just need to be better.

Now, if you are the best, as proven by competition, can you stay the best? For many it is short lived and for others it’s a long journey, but eventually you will fall, and the question is can your ego handle it? A good example where the answer was “No” was the dominant female UFC champion, Ronda Rousey. When Rousey finally fell, she fell hard and fast, and never really recovered mentally. I am still waiting for the in-depth documentary on her life, as it will most likely show how an unchecked ego will only lead to a massive crash and a pit of emotional despair.

Personally, I dislike the need that so many people have to boost their ego through martial arts, as can be seen in the Cobra Kai story; those once bullied become the bullies when they finally have the power to do so. This is an aspect of the show I do not like, as it depicts how without proper guidance many people can take power and go sideways. After all, “With great power comes great responsibility”- Uncle Ben, Spider-man.

Cobra Kai, at least as of the end of Season 3, has yet to show how losing can actually check your ego back in place, teaching you that maybe you aren’t as good as you thought. Which means you can either work hard to get better or you can simply be content with working to be in a better place mentality and physically, and know that, outside of competition, you know your abilities and can walk in peace. This aspect is something I would love to see more in the martial arts world. As we always follow the champions and the best. We strive to be them and are motivated by them. It is the winners we look up to. Except the truth is for most of us, either because we are a casual practitioner or just lack that certain something required to be the best, as martial arts practitioners are doing it just to be a better version of ourselves.

This obsession over ego and winning can be problematic and give a bad image to all the Karens out there who look down on the learning of violence. For most people learning to fight makes them less likely to fight, because they realize it’s actually quite hard and carries a high risk. Some never learn, but that’s because they have other personal issues that were there before the training and should be dealt with separately.

Cobrai Kai does a very good job at showing the kind of damage ego-driven conflict can do when it starts going out of the ring or out of the dojo and into the streets. It starts to look like the petty gang conflicts you see globally, where even the slightest look can result in someone hospitalized or dead.

While ego is inevitable, it is part of the human psyche, it must constantly be checked in all aspects of martial arts, including in its portrayal. The days of using martial arts for life and death are gone in many countries. And while some may long for those days, the reality is our lives are better when this kind of wanton violence against each other is generally unacceptable.

If the only portrayal of martial arts comes off as negative and simply for the purpose of violence, it could be possible that things go sideways and people once again loose the ability to defend themselves.

This is very problematic. When a group of people do not know how to defend themselves there can be catastrophic results. The film “Demolition Man,” with Wesley Snipes and Sylvester Stallone, plays on this idea: A society that had lost not just the ability, but the understanding of violence, is at a loss when a mad man of old comes out of prison and wreaks havoc.

We must understand the importance for everyone to learn and understand violence; hoping we never have to use it, but knowing we can if we must. If you are an ego-driven person then temper your need to win, or your rage, and express it in the appropriate arenas, and work on yourself in other ways so that it never gets out of control harming others in the world around you.

Cobra Kai shows many of the negatives of violence, and what can go wrong when it is undirected or misused, though it attempts to demonstrate the positive aspects through the peaceful lessons from Mr. Miyagi, as re-taught by Daniel-san. Yet even he, now without his mentor, seems driven by his ego to always be right and win at all costs.

Whether portrayed in Cobra Kai, or the movies, or seen in real life, one of the most important journeys for any martial artist is learning to manage and control their ego, lest it blind them from achieving the ability to walk in peace in all aspects of life.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

For training online visit www.utkmu.com. If you are in the Metro Vancouver area, come learn with us in person, sign up at www.urbantacticskm.com

Getting a workout in could be as easy as challenging the kids to a “sit-up contest” (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

When my first daughter was born, my martial arts training faded into the rear-view mirror, and my overall fitness with it. It is a big adjustment to have another human being be more important than you in your own life. At some point you have to make serious changes to compensate for the new stresses, obligations, and pitfalls, otherwise you are in danger of becoming someone who you don’t want your children to look up to.

Finding the “Time”

I am a firm believer that, as a parent, you don’t “deserve time to yourself” (“deserving” things is a marketing ploy, an appeal to emotion in order to sell you spa packages and chocolate), in fact, sacrifice is your new normal. However, as parents we are still human (mostly), and therefore still NEED to take care of our bodies, maintain social ties, express creativity, and pursue passions; otherwise what type of role model are we?

Let’s be honest, we all “found” the nearly 3 FULL DAYS it took to watch all 8 seasons of Game of Thrones, so we aren’t really talking about “time” here, we are talking about “energy.” At the end of a long day you are tired; work, life, and the kids/partner have drawn the life force from your body, and the last thing you want to do is expend more of it on exercise.

Ironically, multiple studies have indicated that as little as 20min of low-to-moderate intensity exercise, just three times a week, can reduce feelings of fatigue. Whereas more committed regimes (30-40min of moderate-to-vigorous) will improve on your mood and fitness, in addition to your energy levels.

Logically, if you improve your energy level (and mood) you will find that you have more “time” for your family and a greater willingness to attain the balance we all need between Family and being human (ie. your physical, emotional, mental health)

Beyond energy, overall fitness is important for a few reasons:

  1. Maintaining your fitness means you will be around longer for your family.
  2. Physical fitness contributes to mental and emotional fitness, allowing you to contribute positively to family interactions.
  3. Teaching your family good health habits will mean they are happier and around longer too.
Finding the Actual Time

“I don’t have time to ______, I have kids!” is a classic excuse for not doing … anything. Once we have tackled the real, underlying problem of energy, it can, depending on your family’s schedule, be difficult to find the minutes or hours to engage in non-parenting activities. (Remember that “sacrifice is your new normal” concept?)

Step 1 is to make good health a priority. Not just “make time for it”, but actually make mental, emotional, and physical fitness a family value; talk to your kids about what you are doing, and teach them why it is important (especially as you get older), and invite curiosity.

Common tips for carving out this time:

  • In the morning
    • Get up before everyone else and fit in a work out, read, or meditate. Everyone else is asleep, so they won’t miss you. (Sleeping in is bad for you anyway!)
  • At night
    • As above, but hit that 40min routine after the kids are in bed.
  • Break into small chunks
    • If you cannot find a solid 30-50min span during your day, then sneak in exercise in the smaller gaps without being totally absent. I find that opportunities for an elevated heart rate arise throughout the day with my kids; running beside them on bike rides, playing tag, swimming,etc.. HIIT routines are great for utilizing gaps in the day, as they can be done effectively in as little as 20min (though you may need a quick clothes change and wipe-down if you are doing it properly).

Remember, this isn’t just about “working out.” While exercise has knock-on effects for your emotional and cognitive well-being, you should be seeking opportunities to maintain balance in the non-physical aspects of your life as well. If you can make time for exercise, you can make time to call an old friend, draw, meditate, etc..

Make Self-care a Family Activity

A fourth tip (more of a philosophy), for finding the actual time for your health and wellness is to involve your family in the activities you are engaging in. Combine any or all of the first three tips and incorporate the rest of your clan, directly or indirectly. For some families this becomes a bonding experience, a point of pride, or even a family tradition.

Whether you are sharing time in calm silence, challenging each other’s creative skills, cooking (a great way to teach nutrition, self-reliance, and science/creativity), or starting a basic exercise routine, you need to be aware that you are working in a group with varying levels of ability. Make sure that your expectations are realistic and plan accordingly. For example, have variations of each exercise that your kids can do safely, give time to your less proficient readers and have material they can work with, allow kids to “help” you if they can’t do something themselves. (I got lucky, both of my girls are very physical and are fascinated by the martial arts)

There is plenty of advice out there for how to tweak the activities you already love so that your “new recruits” can participate: Icy Mike, over at Hard2Hurt, has a great video on pad holding when training martial arts with inexperienced family members. And horror/B-movie superstar, Bruce Campbell, espouses the benefits of “Lollygagging” as a means of mental health maintenance. He defines Lollygagging as “the act of doing exactly what you want for an indeterminate period of time (preferably outdoors) for no particular reason.”

You will likely find that there are a lot of options for getting your crew into full-body health. The earlier you instill good habits in your young people, the easier it will be for them to maintain those habits throughout their lives, seeing these as an essential art of life (as we all should!). Children often don’t know the difference between play and exercise; you can use this blissful ignorance against them!

Be Wary of the Two “Busy Parent Fallacies”

Two common imbalances that I have seen among my fellow parents come in the guise of good choices, but are, in truth, thinly veiled excuses for neglecting yourself or your family:

  • Hiding from Family via Self-care
    • This occurs when you are never around due to the over-prioritization of your own health. You are always escaping family obligation and time with your kids (which can be tedious!) by forever having a workout, training session, or other “me time” requirement. Your brood needs you. Yes, working out or engaging in self-care is harder when you have to schedule it around others, but, re-read the above tips and you will be able to figure something out. Often you will end up with a hybrid (balanced!) approach, where some activities are done together, and some are on your own. Having a supportive and informed partner helps A LOT!
  • Hiding from Self-care via Family
    • This comes in the form of justifying the lack of action on your health and mental/emotional stability (and that of your family’s), due to claims that you are over-prioritizing “quality time” with your kids, or putting their needs first. While this may be noble in intention, it is often a socially acceptable excuse to let yourself go. I’ve been there, I know! It is really easy to say “I don’t want to be tired when I have to deal with the kids tomorrow.” But, eventually I discovered that shirking my workouts resulted in it being difficult to keep up with them and lift them over my head, plus I fell out of shape I became irritable (that’s not good for me or them). Again, re-read the sections above; exercise gives you the energy and mood stability to keep up and be chill!

Ultimately, this is a balancing act (the theme!), you will find that it is probably best to transition slowly at first; do some things early, some things late, and some as a group. This is a process, don’t be afraid to re-start, re-assess, re-think, and you WILL find something that works to get you back in the gym while fulfilling your duties as a parent, or back in the family while staying fit and sane.

In Summary

The goal is balance. Doing what you need to do to maintain your family life, while at the same time ensuring that you maintain yourself (so that you are of use to said family). Let’s not forget, as a parent you are now responsible for the well-being and development of a Human. They are famously complex creatures, and, like it or not, they are looking at you as the model for how to live and act; so it is of the utmost importance that you figure out how to maintain balance between improving their mental, emotional, and physical wellness, and your own. Ask yourself, honestly, what do you want them to see when they look up to you? For those moments when you feel weak, find strength in the example you are setting.

Written by: Corey

Sitting in silence can calm the mind and reduce the stress from constant stimulation. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Balance is the current theme: A simple idea, yet one we all seem to struggle with. At first the problem is understanding “what does balance looks like for me?”, then it becomes “how do I put some pieces together to achieve balance?” The easiest, and more understood, aspect is the balance in your physical life (fitness nutrition, etc.), but here we will, once again, discuss the challenge of mental balance.

This is a topic I am well versed in, both personally and otherwise. I have written a lot about it in the past, whether from the point of view of meditation and mindfulness, how music effects mood, or the overall notion of “mental Self-defence.” One thing is for sure, this is one of the most difficult areas in your life in which to find balance. (I, myself, am still trying to maintain and manage this one.)

For some of us it is harder and for others it is easier. If everything has always been good in your life, then it’s much easier to maintain a happier mentality, though if you go too far you may find your self having been sold on Toxic Positivity. On the other hand, if all you have ever known is sadness and pain, then getting out of that mindset might be quite difficult and you may find yourself grappling with Clinical Depression. The key, and something we don’t like to admit, is that we actually need a balance of all our emotions. We as humans must learn to control our more animalistic and compulsive tendencies to let our emotions overwhelm us. It’s time to channel the inner Bene Gesserit in all of us, and realize that without this control we are more animal than human.

Once upon a time emotions served us well, guiding us away from danger without thinking too much. Unfortunately, our ancient nervous systems are slow to adapt to the constant input of the 21st century. When we only had to find food, shelter, and company (and safety from animals, the weather, and marauding tribes who want to rape and pillage), we actually had a lot more quiet time! We would work during the daylight, and rest at night while the dangers lurked in the dark. Sure, we lived shorter lives, where everything could kill us, but they were nonetheless far simpler.

Nowadays, our longevity is far less of an issue, but now we have so much more to deal with. Constant notifications from our pockets, constant forms of entertainment, and constant stresses from bills, work, and complicated interpersonal politics with far too many people than we evolved to handle.

No wonder people are losing their shit these days.

The fact is we have lost our mental balance, that is, a balance between being stimulated and finding inner peace through quiet.

If you feel like you are overstimulated and overwhelmed chances are, well, you are. In times like this the trend is towards meditation and time with your own thoughts. But for many the idea of meditation is completely foreign or uncomfortable. Recent studies have even shown that, for some, meditation can actually make their anxiety or depression worse. Unfortunately, as usual, there is no “one size fits all” solution. But for most of us there may be some benefit to finding the calm within the storm through practiced quiet time. Yes, that’s right, I said “quiet time” rather than meditation.

While there is lots of research on the positive benefits of meditation, I often wonder if it really is just about taking quiet time to think and be without all the noise. For me, personally, actually sitting down and meditating is quite challenging, as turning my mind off can be a difficult. So, if it’s not for you, then simply find the time to be calm and quiet.

For me lately, I have found great benefit in taking walks. No music, no podcasts, no companions, just me, myself, and I. During these walks I think about anything, or nothing, without the pressure of asking “am I doing this right” as many people unconsciously do with meditation. Find somewhere you like to go, perhaps close to a park, or just walk to a bench, sit, and people watch, with no real goal. The goal, ultimately, is to find a way just to be.

Simple right? I mean, it really is. Yet so many of us still forget to make the time for quiet. We know when we take care of children it’s important for them to be comfortable in the quiet, yet as adults we seem to forget this skill.

You don’t need to get swept up in some cult-like yoga center, or breathing practices, (though non-cult ones are great, like Wim Hof Breathing). All you need to do is realize that to find your mental balance in this chaotic, loud, and distracting world we have built, is to find the time for some unstructured quiet time, where you can calm your nerves and just be.

Seeking the balance inside that you always needed, may be only a matter of finding comfort in nothing. Not in a philosophical way, a literal one! Is it just that easy? You will not know until you try.

So, seek your mental balance and find your inner quiet, then, hopefully, that storm that so many of us think we see on the horizon may quickly fade into nothing more than dust on the wind.

Written by Jonathan Fader

A while ago, I wrote about taking control through training. What I was really talking about is achieving balance. Now, more than ever, Balance is what we need. In a world where it’s more important to “take a side” than to seek the truth, a world where it’s easier to believe what you are told rather than research it in depth from multiple sources. Now, more than ever, both as individuals and as a society, do we need to learn to take a more moderate approach.

 

Audio by Jonathan Fader

Enter the Jedi and the Sith. In the Star Wars universe, the Jedi are presented as the “good guys,” with the Sith as their polar opposite “bad guys.” This, of course, depends on who you ask.

The Jedi, disciplined warrior monks, claim to seek balance in the Force, yet their own moral superiority (among other things) blinded them to the quiet rise of the great Sith Lord Palpatine. If we look at the actions and beliefs of the different Force-user creeds, it could be said that the not so often spoken about Grey Jedi are actually the ones who seek balance.

(I am using the codes as in the photo though there are various versions.)

The Jedi Code is as follows:

“There is no emotion, there is PEACE. There is no ignorance, there is KNOWLEDGE. There is no passion, there is SERENITY. There is no chaos, there is HARMONY. There is no death, there is THE FORCE.”

Sounds nice right? So how did these warrior monks, bolstered by a set of seemingly simple guidelines, get so overwhelmed? Simple, they did not actually seek balance. Rather, they took a generalized, non-interference stance and planted themselves firmly on a “moral high-ground.” Even when asked or subtly manipulated they avoid getting involved in universal events. They assumed they were always correct and that their actions, as long as they are in line with their code, were beyond reproach. Can you relate? Maybe you can or maybe you can’t, but often this is the view we take of whatever group we have decided to latch onto, acting as though any other group might as well be the SITH.

The Sith Code is as follows:

“Peace is a lie, there is only PASSION. Through passion, I gain STRENGTH. Through strength, I gain POWER. Through Power, I gain VICTORY. Through victory, my chains are broken. THE FORCE, Shall free me.

Sounds ominous doesn’t it? Which is often how we view the Other. We assume someone or something we disagree with must only want to take power and control over us, to impose their ideals on us. While there is certainly truth in that regarding the nature of the Sith, their code is much more about personal growth than you may have realized.

This is part of the reason the Jedi failed; they became stagnant, unwilling to grow or change, the Sith, however, were adapting and changing, growing into better versions of themselves until they could strike.

Of course, it’s easy to demonize that which is the Other. But, if you really know Star Wars, then you know that not everyone thinks the Jedi are pure and innocent.

The problem with both of these creeds is that they do not actually seek balance, that which the Force (the universe) actually wants. The Jedi, much like many priestly sects, deny their true feelings and desires, and in doing so they deny the true nature of living. Their denial of what they truly are caused misstep after misstep because they were not using all the strengths they possessed, and refused to embrace their full potential.

The Sith, on the other hand, do not seek balance because they don’t deny any of their feelings. They don’t even try to control them. They unleash it all to try to bend the Force to their will. This, of course, leads to erratic and foolhardy acts. After all, there is a reason that there are not many Sith around at any one time. They all kill each other.

The irony of this is that, if you go too far in one direction they become one and the same. If you are too puritan, too ideological, then you may become so rigid and uncompromising that you find yourself eating your own (much like the Sith) because there is no balance to rein you in.

While the Jedi did not literally destroy themselves, their blind actions and/or inaction led to their downfall. But in a more real world sense, ask yourself: At what point does your group, based on strong beliefs and political ideology, come full circle and turn into the Other whom YOU though were the intolerant ones? When do the Jedi Become the Sith?

If you are honest, you will see it often throughout history.

The solution is true Balance; to control yourself and to embrace new ideas, to leverage the strength of both views and meet in the middle.

Enter the Grey Jedi!

Never heard of them? That’s because the movies don’t talk much about them but they were there (first mentioned in a comic and first seen in a video game).

They adhere to the following code:

“There is no light without the dark. Trough passion, I gain focus. Through knowledge, I gain power. Through serenity, I gain strength. Through victory, I gain harmony. There is only the force.”

Even on a quick read it is far more balanced. They embrace their true nature, while controlling and cultivating personal growth in the process., and they understand that the Force is something bigger and simply is.

The Grey Jedi tend to still be Jedi at heart, seeking peace and balance in the universe, but bending the code to allow for change and growth (in a balanced way).

It was, after all, a Grey Jedi who guaranteed the survival of the Jedi Order after most were gone. I am referring, of course, to Qui-Gon Jinn, who was the one who discovered the secret of life after death, despite the fact this is not something the Jedi would do. This allowed Yoda and Obi-Wan Kenobi to continue guiding those who came after them, keeping the Jedi alive.

So it is balance which we all, deep down, seek. Yet it is the hardest thing to do because we either define ourselves by rigid rules or labels that (we feel) cannot be broken, or we allow our emotions to overwhelm us. Both are disastrous in the long run. Any change is difficult due to the required self-reflection (you aren’t always right!), and the realistic assessment of your beliefs, behaviours, and choices (you can’t party ALL the time). Achieving balance is the hardest task many of us will ever face.

So most don’t.

Start by asking yourself: Am I truly seeking balance within myself? In my political opinions? In my religious beliefs? Am I being restricted by unbending rigidity, or losing myself in uncontrollable emotions?

No matter what path you take, if you are truly honest with yourself, then you will be on the first step on the journey towards balance, a mental and emotional stability which will help you find the peace and serenity that you seek.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

Injuries can be frightening, recovery can be challenging, but keeping at it will stave off fear.
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Tearing my soleus – inner calf muscle – was the worst soft tissue injury I have suffered in my life (maybe I’m lucky?).  After skipping for 5min to warm up, I took part in an agility drill that involved jumping over a partner, then dropping prone and crawling under them.  On the third jump I felt and odd “squelch” sensation in my calf and tightness preventing me from extending my foot properly.  I stepped to the side and, thinking it was a simple cramp, I started stretching it out and working the muscle to loosen it, then continued into the next drill. (I found out later that stretching is the worst possible action of can take when dealing with a tear, as it, logically, exacerbates said tear!)

It turns out that tightening your calf/soleus through one activity (skipping), then immediately loading it in another (jumping) is a perfect storm for muscle mangling.  I was also informed, much to my chagrin, that soleus tears are so common in men over 40 that they are referred to as “The Old Man’s Injury” (ugh… time is real!)

Recovery was relatively straightforward; don’t stretch, take it easy for a few days, then slowly strengthen it by way of controlled exercise. I thought it wise to take time off of Krav maga, as bursting and kicking are fundamentals. Nothing too complicated, and not a terribly painful healing process.

On the road to a full recovery!  No problems!

However.

The first day back to training, after four weeks off, I was trembling as I prepared for class.  I felt totally fine on the way to the gym, in fact I was happy to get back at it, but as I took off my shoes to step onto the mats, my hands were shaking.  What if my first sprint sets me back to square one?

Over the years I have encountered many people who cite “fear of injury” as their main reason for not starting to train in the martial arts or self-defence (or to justify avoiding exercise altogether).  I get it; people don’t want to suffer injuries.  But, I’m not talking about “fear of injury” in the sense of “*whiny voice* don’t wanna get hurt”, that is simply good ol’ self-doubt paired with cowardice (let’s be generous and say “self-preservation”), I’m talking about the realistic fear of suffering a chronic, debilitating injury. 

I expect it is often the case that “fear of injury” in the latter sense is more accurately a “fear of re-injury;” you have experienced the physical/mental/emotional pain of injury and recovery, possibly accompanied by a loss of mobility for the duration, and most likely had to stop training, thus you don’t what to go down that road again (or worse, end up with a more permanent problem).

Of course, in the martial arts, or any physical activity, you must accept that there is a degree of risk involved simply from participating (some injuries are caused by partners and are, to a certain extent, out of your control.)  But in many cases the injury, as with my soleus tear, are surprising.  So it may be the unexpected nature of certain injuries that contributes to the onset of anxiety.  Sure, you walked in expecting to be punched, bruised, or, at worst, KO’d, you are at peace with those potential consequences.  But then you pull a bicep.  Okay, it could happen.  It heals, but not quite 100%.  Now you start to feel weaker along the chain or arm muscles.  This leads to you straining you wrist due to weakened overall punching form, etc..  Your willingness to take a punch did not prepare you for being hindered by a common sports injury.  Not only were you unprepared, but now this injury has led to diminished performance in a set of techniques, techniques that, in turn, diminish your overall performance.  Now you are less confident and less likely to push yourself and, by extension, less likely to improve.

When a nonathletic individual suffers an injury, he or she is faced with the difficulty of completing normal daily tasks due to pain and a loss of mobility. Once the person returns to pre-injury level, he or she is still only faced with the challenge of completing normal daily tasks. An athlete on the other hand, is not only faced with the challenges of daily functioning, but also faced with the challenge of returning to the field… the act of returning to play forces an athlete to participate in the exact activity that caused the injury initially.

(2008) “Fear of Injury, Kinesiophobia & Perceived Risk”, p.289, Injuries in Athletics: Causes and Consequences.

Thus the rational fear of injury, gained from experience, can be very real and, if left unchecked, can become a mental/emotional/physical hindrance. (In extreme cases, if your fear or anxiety is allowed to take hold and increase, you could end up with full blow traumatophobia, abnormal fear of injury, or kinesiophobia, fear of moving due to pain, both of which may diminish your quality of life and delay recovery.)

You enjoyed that activity you were engaged in (let’s assume so, otherwise why would you pursue it?), but now your recreation/fitness/lifestyle activity has betrayed you and the joy it provides is replaced by pain and fear.

I’ve been there, twice.  Trust me, it sucks.

So, how do we mitigate anxiety?

First off, when you are injured go see a doctor.  Have the injury treated if it requires immediate attention (eg. cuts and breaks). If it doesn’t require a trip to the Emergency Room, great, but still see a physician to check for related, possibly hidden injuries (eg. concussion).  Furthermore, seeing a doctor will help in determining the full extent and nature of the injury; for example, is it a soleus tear rather than the calf cramp you “expertly assessed” it as.

After receiving a professionally trained opinion regarding your initial injury, you want to take action.  While I am not a psychologist, it stands to reason that exerting or maintaining control and actively engaging in a solution that improves your situation should help reduce the anxiety surrounding the injury or mechanism of injury.  While this may not entirely eliminate the possibility of fear, as some is natural, it should reduce the intensity.  (Be mindful that “control” via avoidance could set you down the path of the aforementioned phobias.)

Know that, in the vast majority of cases, you WILL heal, you WILL get back to doing what you love.  Don’t give up, don’t stop taking care of your mind and body!  A positive mindset and an active participation in your own recovery will, logically, make it easier to face the injurious activity once more in the future:

  1. Get Checked Out – After the initial injury, you will want to see both a doctor and a physiotherapist, preferably a sports focused one (if you can, everyone’s resources differ.)  I say both because doctors are great for diagnosing and treating acute injury, but physio specialists are better for helping you develop and execute a recovery plan.
  2. Understand Your Injury – You don’t just want to heal your wounds and get back at it; you want to understand why and how you were injured, in order to reduce the chances of a re-injury and so to your fear of re-injury.  Take the responsibility of learning about the anatomy and physics that got you into trouble in the first place, and then get better.  Sometimes this means understanding basic kinesiology, sometimes it means learning to keep your hands up in sparring.
  3. Set Rules and Expectations – Be honest about your limitations and create guidelines for yourself in order to stay active in a safe manner.  Everyone is different, and every injury requires a different approach to healing and rebuilding.  Here are some general considerations:
    • Modify Activities – Go slower, engage in reduced intensity or lower impact versions of exercises/techniques/drills.  It is in your best interests to be honest and realistic. For example, in the martial arts, it is unlikely that you can train throws, takedowns, or groundfighting while recovering from an injury. But, again, it varies based on the nature of the injury. Talk with your instructor, any competent one will be able, and willing, to accommodate you.
      • Are you allowed to “audit” classes?  Ie. Attend class to watch and listen, but not participate.  This is a good way to stay in the headspace of your activity while healing.  Plus you will be surprised how much knowledge you pick up by watching others
    • Be Realistic About Severity – Be aware of how limited you are in range of motion and level of exertion. Are you able to participate safely (for yourself and others)? Will one wrong step re-injure you, or worsen the severity?  It may be that some time off is required.  Talk with your instructor!
    • Know Thyself  – Yes, more, deep self-reflection is required!  Are you the type of person who can actually sit on the sidelines, will you follow your own rules?  If you are like me, possessed of a sometimes reckless willingness go harder than you should, let those around you know your self-imposed limitations and let them help you stay accountable.  If you cannot keep yourself reined-in enough to train safely, maybe do something else to keep fit while you recover?
  4. Keep Active! – Don’t fully stop unless you really have to.  “Stay off it” isn’t always accurate, scientifically informed, advice, even coming from a doctor.  Broken arm?  Focus on your lower body, or use this as a time to start engaging more cardio work. I find that Humans have a sort of mental inertia, stopping fully will make “getting back on the horse” much harder.  Additionally, your removal from any activity allows you way too much time to think and creates a void for negative memories of the injury to grow and exaggerate, impacting your comfort level with said activity when you return, thus increasing the possible onset of fear and anxiety (if you return at all).
  5. Re-Check – Reassess the injury as it heals, then reassess the plan for recovery in parallel.  Also, don’t neglect your mental well-being throughout the process!  Consider how you are feeling; what are your thoughts regarding your return to action, do you feel a creeping dread, do you feel fine until it it’s “go time” (like I did)?  Should you see a counselor to help with overcoming the fear of re-injury or the anxiety of returning to 100%?  There are sports therapists who specialize in “Sports Counselling (Mental Strength Training).”

At the end of the day, you have to decide your own path.  I assert that if you be truthful with yourself, take an active role in your recovery, even if that means modifying exercises or sitting out on certain drills, you will be able to ease back into your favoured activity while you heal.  Yes, I have a hard time sitting on the sidelines, and too many times I have said “of course I’ll spar!” when I know I shouldn’t, and set my healing back a week.  So, for me, injuries often mean time off to protect me from myself.  (Honestly, if I was into mountain biking or rock-climbing I’d probably be in a wheelchair or a pine box by now.)

But that doesn’t mean I quit!

I’m currently dealing with a back injury.  But I’m actively dealing with it! When I’m not training Krav Maga, I’m doing my physio-assigned back exercises, I’m reading about self-defence theory, I’m working on basic kicks and punches with my daughters (“To teach is to learn”), I’m running, I’m working with a personal trainer for core strength, I’m focusing energy on changing my diet to improve my physical performance.  And before I know it I’m back into the lower impact basics (“Defence”) classes.  Those go well, so then I’m planning ahead for where my back needs to be in order to ease back into the “Warrior” classes. (and I probably should be auditing the “Novice” coloured belt classes)

Adopt the mindset that this is temporary and you WILL overcome it as you would any physical challenge.  Some people say “I was injured while biking, I’ll never get on a bike again.”  But, in my opinion that leaves behind a part of your life that you enjoyed, it narrows the breadth of your experience and allows you to give into living based on fear.  That’ a slippery slope, and life is too short!

Written by: Corey O

Most attackers are known to you, in domestic abuse they are likely repeat offences. (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

Last week I wrote the article, “If you were attacked, was it your fault?” Though it shouldn’t be, it is quite a controversial concept, as who wants to take responsibility, even partially, for being attacked? Usually no one. We tend to prefer our understanding of things from to be binary, we apply a black and white perspective to some categories, yet often, and simultaneously, we adhere to a belief in “grey areas” and “a spectrum” for others. The thing is, you have to pick; in reality most occurrences fit the bell curve model and are not so black and white. Ideally, all events in our lives should be analyzed case by case, but this is an energy intensive way of looking at the world (mentally and emotionally), so, as we are human and prefer easy answers, we apply blanket logic, even when it is the most inappropriate.

That being said, when you are mugged, robbed, or otherwise attacked by a stranger, it is considerably more black and white than when you are attacked by someone you know. As martial artists we often focus only on the former, even though most of the time it is actually the latter that is a problem. One Glasgow University study found that, of the 991 sexual assault victims they interviewed, almost 90% knew their attacker (with only 9% being victimized by strangers).

One of the reasons we don’t talk about it openly, on average, is because it’s difficult, messy, emotionally charged, and so grey (full of various shades) that it is like being colour blind and then trying to tell the difference between red and green.

Yet, as a self-defence instructor, both in my personal and professional life I have encountered many, many, many individuals who have experienced any combination of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Yes, it is mostly women who have lived through these scenarios, but I have also met men who have had such experiences.

As a society, while some people are willing discuss “violence within social circles,” family violence, or partner abuse (often politicized), the general attitude is to pretend like everything is alright, when, if you know where to find it, you can witness the worst of humanity.

To emphasize this point I would like to relate an experience I had dealing with “hoarder houses.” No, not some TV show, but rather what I have actually seen while working for company that handled large scale junk removal. Much to my surprise, extreme examples exist in an area like Metro Vancouver. In fact, they were far more numerous than one would think, and often these houses looked no different then the ones next to them, from the outside. One of the most unfortunately memorable and disturbing cases was a home in which a man, who was clearly a heroin junkie and single father with several kids. Our best guess, based on the conditions we encountered and the items we removed, was that this individual routinely locked his children under the stairs, in cages, leaving them to defecate in yogurt bottles while he got high.

Yes, you read that right.

Abuses by family or friends are very much like these hoarder houses; individuals, both victims and abusers, often go to great lengths to hide the fact that it is happening. This could be due to fear, shame, misguided loyalty, or any of various other reasons why silence occurs. One thing I know for sure is that in most cases society fails to reasonably deal with these horrible situations.

For adults, getting out could mean losing financial stability, shelter, and social support from friends and family. For children, it is far more complicated.

Of the abuse victims I have met, several have admitted privately that they “didn’t say anything” because they did not want it to break the family apart. For others it’s simply shame and fear of judgement. The responsibility to protect yourself, however complex the situation may be, is more on the victims themselves (and, yes, I understand the psychology involved is also quite grey).

When it comes to children the fault is primarily on the “responsible adults” in their lives, the ones who are often choosing to ignore the obvious signs of abuse.

Regarding adults, an example I encountered in my own life was a friend I had long ago. They regularly made bad decisions, even though they knew it was bad (they had a pathological case of cognitive dissonance). One time, late at night, they called me asking me to pick them up because their partner was being abusive. I showed up, and as they were walking to the car their partner started sprinting toward the vehicle. I pulled a move that I wish I had filmed. As I opened the passenger door, grabbed their hand, pulled them into the vehicle. I sped forward and did a 180, while their partner was punching the driver’s side window so hard they left bloody knuckle marks. My friend called the police and they asked if we wanted to press charges. My friend did not. (I could have, and I honestly don’t recall why I did’t.)

Later that night my friend asked me to take them back…

They were out and could have easily chosen to leave permanently.

One month later, their partner was stabbed and killed in a fight (after pulling their own knife in a struggle). The newspapers reported “what a saint this guy was” on account of him being a volunteer firefighter, and his mother couldn’t understand why her “lovely son” died. Except, I, like others, knew the truth. They ignored the fact that he was violent, had a criminal record, and was, quite frankly, a piece of shit.

When it comes to children it’s even more complicated, largely on account of what happens when it is deemed that they should be removed from their parents or guardians due to abuse. Well, they often end up in “the system”, a Child Welfare system in which in many cases is worse for the child than their own home. Yes, the home in which they were being abused.

Horrible, I know. The reality is, with kids or adults, one of the best things you can do is try to offer them sanctuary and, if possible with kids, try to gain some form of guardianship. Of course, “the system” doesn’t make this easy either.

If at this point you are having difficulty reading this, it is okay. It’s a dark subject (and I am barely even scratching the surface). Yet, while the world is currently the best place it has ever been to live (ignore the fear-mongering), there is still evil and darkness out there, even close to home.

We as a society have a tendency to only focus on that which can be politicized rather than that which is obviously wrong with what we have built. The simplest thing we can do is help those in our lives who may be at risk; by doing whatever you can. Whether that means paying for their self-defence lessons, providing them with shelter, or giving them financial support, you can do more than you think. Whatever you decide, know that you are probably better help than the system.

The government and the justice system have completely failed on this matter, at least in the West. In other countries there isn’t even a system to help those who are or would be abused.

For many the world is better than ever, for others it is still a nightmare.

When we talk about these topics we must be honest and not jump on one-liners, slogans, or broad statements. It must be case by case, requiring sincere consideration.

If you know someone, female, male, or other, adult or child, who you think is being abused, ask yourself, “What can you do to help?”

Written: by Jonathan Fader

Yes, it’s another Pokémon related post. (It’s not likely to be the last.)

Pikachu’s electrifying personality (source)
Audio by Jonathan Fader

I have always had an unusually rational and explainable confidence (though it’s origin remains unknown): Just DO things. Now, I am not saying it came from Pokémon, but, I am not saying it did’t come from Pokémon. One thing is for sure; I have always stood out as someone a little different. Maybe it’s a bad case of cognitive dissonance or maybe it was my love for Pokémon. Who knows?!

One thing for sure though, having confidence in oneself, who you are and your abilities, can go a long way in life. It’s not for the benefit of other people, it’s for ourselves, and how we view ourselves internally.

In Pokémon, protaginist “Ash Ketchum” has an unusual characteristic; he never forces, or even encourages, his pokémon to evolve into their higher forms. In the most famous example, his pikachu was offered the chance to evolve into a Raichu early on, using an item called a “Thunder Stone.” Most trainers would jump at the chance, because isn’t the more evolved form stronger and, therefore, better? Well, Ash and, more importantly, Pikachu did not think so. (It should be considered, though, that this may have been a marketing-based plot decision, as Raichu isn’t as “cute” as Pikachu and might have hurt the series’ brand, considering Pikachu was, and still is, the face of the series.)

For whatever reason, Pikachu decided he did not want to change for the sake of others; he was comfortable with who he was. Later in the series it was the same case for Ash’s Bulbasaur. It was captured by other Bulbasaurs and taken to the secretive “evolution ceremony.” Ash’s Bulbasaur decided, despite all his peers evolving, not to evolve again; he, like Pikachu, was comfortable with who he was. As it turns out, they both developed into stronger versions of themselves internally, becoming strong leaders in their own rights, despite not evolving into more powerful creatures.

While at the time I did not think much of it, hindsight often allows us to see where we might have learned lessons that were not directly taught to us. In today’s world there is increased pressure to conform to the narrative of society or our peers. Similarly, society told Ash to evolve Pikachu and peers told Bulbasaur to evolve. In both cases they were confident and comfortable with who they were, which afforded them the self-assured mindset to become the best versions of themselves whether or not they later choose to evolve.

While you should always be the best version of yourself, that does not always mean the version other people want you to be. This DOES NOT mean you don’t ever have to change! It just means that how you view yourself is one of the most important aspects of personal happiness (or personal destruction): it will inform your confidence (or contribute to a lack thereof) and inspire (or deter) your ability to be comfortable with yourself, and therefore your ability to experience strong growth.

So long as who you choose to be, and how you see yourself, is not destructive, dangerous, or extremely disruptive to the health, safety, and well-being of others, then you should be who you want to be and you should let yourself be happy with it.

Of course, if you are not happy with what you see in the mirror, or in your thoughts and actions, then you always have the power to change into what you want. In other words, you can choose to “evolve,” as is common when most pokémon are ready to change; either because they want to for personal reasons, because they have decided it would be in the best interest of their team’s success. Regardless of the motivation, the change is a choice to take action.

So, whether you want to be something else, or you want to be what you are, if you view yourself in a positive light you will have a much fuller, happier life.

What are you waiting for? Channel the confidence of Pikachu today, and be the best version of yourself that you can; so that you too can electrify the world around you.

Written by: Jonathan Fader

This is the third part in a series titled Self-Defence is Not Just Physical.

Many interconnected factors contribute to a mental health breakdown. Defend yourself by taking action!
Audio by Jonathan Fader with additions

Out of all the topics covered in this series, this is the one I have the most formal education in. While my experience isn’t enough for me to claim to be an “expert,” it does provide me with insight on the topic of mental health. What I can say for certain is that in the area of mental health there is often a lot of “noise;” there are good studies and there are bad studies, and then there is everything in between.

One thing I learned early in the Psychology field is that, what is considered acceptable in a study isn’t necessarily appropriate to apply directly to the general population or to inform understandings across multiple cultures. I also learned that there are massive divides running through the world of psychology, as various schools of thought and areas of focus often do not get a long.

“…[T]here are also deep uncertainties in the field itself. Psychiatrists have no blood tests or brain scans to diagnose mental disorders. They have to make judgments, based on interviews and checklists of symptoms.” (Benedict Carey, “What’s Wrong With a Child? Psychiatrists Often Disagree,” The Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2006)

Ultimately, Psychology, while it is considered the science of the mind and behaviour, is not an exact science. The often referenced checklists of symptoms are typically based on the information provided in the much debated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)

More often than not, these complications make finding good advice for mental health difficult, especially if you are in the “thick brown soup” (so called by Safi Bahcall on the Tim Ferris Show) that can be a mental health episode.

So let’s forget any formal training or education I’ve have had, but rather focus on the fact that I have personally dealt with mental health issues; in the form of Clinical Depression, from both nature (family genetics) and nurture (learned behaviors and crappy adolescence) components. Of which I feel I have mostly cured myself, with little help or support from the few close people I had in my life (which makes it even harder). So trust me when I say I understand, even if you get the impression that I am insensitive to your mental health plight.

Throughout my life I have also had friends and acquaintances who have experienced various states of a variety of mental health issues, such as Severe Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Manic and Clinical Depression, PTSD, and much more. I have been exposed to such individuals simply by virtue of not living a sheltered life, and by recognizing that, perhaps, the saying “birds of a feather flock together” has some truth to it. For those who had both decent genetics and stable upbringings with good role models, in my experience, these people often struggle to deal with those who have mental health issues; often due to prevalent social stigma causing those with mental health issues to perhaps be naturally drawn (pushed?) to each other. This, of course, results in a history of rather interesting, albeit difficult, personal relations.

Merely two paragraphs ago I mentioned that I often come off as insensitive to those who have mental health issues, but, really it’s about my understanding of a simple fact:

If you, with all of the mental burdens you are feeling, want to get better, there is only one person who can truly help you get better…

You!

It’s a harsh reality to accept, especially if you are struggling. Medication (which I took for a few years and it did help me) or counselling (which I also dabbled with) will do nothing for you if you don’t do the work to change how you think and how you live your life. (Outside intervention may even be re-enforcing the way you think and feel.)

Much like addicts, the story we like to tell ourselves is that no one understands. Even when we meet other people with similar problems, if not identical, we still like to say things like; “But you don’t really understand,” “My situation is worse,” “You can change, I can’t.” A topic by the way recently discussed by Doctor Drew on the Podcast The Fighter and the Kid, so don’t just take it from me, take it from an addictions expert.

While, yes, there are extreme cases, most of the time you are no different than that other person experiencing the same thing. The cause or specifics may be different, but the feeling is the same. There is a reason after all, those people experiencing the same mental health problems often have very similar brain scans. Because, fundamentally, in your brain it’s the same problem.

This means that once you can get over yourself, and realize you want to get better, you are likely already halfway down the path to a happier life. The next step is getting off the couch and doing something about it.

Medication

I figured starting here is a good place since its probably one of the more controversial topics. Generally I operate on the “bell curve” model for most things. Some people who have mental health issues serious enough to need help may need to be on medication indefinitely, lets say 5-10%, some people may never need medication, lets also say 5-10% and then everyone else falls into some kind of spectrum (dependent on many factors).

Let’s start with something very important first. For most people, the first thing you do in a mental health episode/crisis is to contact a doctor, whether they be a General Practitioner (GP) or a walk-in clinic. Therefore, it is likely that the first person you will interact with only understands mental health in a general sense. Furthermore, they may not be able to consider the larger context of your life or specifics of your particular situation.

In general most GP’s and the like only have one tool: Medication. In my opinion, pills are often over-prescribed and should rarely be the first course of action. It is, however, the easy route, even though it is really not the best place to start. A reminder though; some people do require medication, even if its only for a short time. But, in general, long term use is not advised in most cases (again, in my opinion).

The reason I say this is a simple one: Sometimes the factors causing a mental illness or episode are very much environmental factors, such as a horrible job, terrible home life, a death in the family, or lack of social skills. Doctors rarely have the time to truly dive into your life to figure out if it’s a non-biological factor that is causing your distress. You may not even know! People like to lie to themselves about the situation they are in, and it can take weeks or months for people to open up and be honest.

Questions you should ask yourself are; “Can a find a different job,” “am I able to change my living conditions,” or “is there a family history of this issue” (even an undiagnosed one). This should always be the place to start.

Often this means deep and difficult discussions with yourself, which may result in requiring serious, and also difficult, life changes. This is why medication is often the route people take. Because it’s easier.

For the record, I was on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for about two years, and for me it was a great help because I finally started to understand what people were talking about when they said “just be happy.” My mind literally had no frame of reference, internally, for this notion, and I simply couldn’t understand. This is why, in my case, where there is clearly a family history, it was hard for me. Being on medication really helped me gain the basic framework from which to start building the internal/external skills to cope and change how my mind worked. But I knew being on SSRIs long term wasn’t great, as they do have drawbacks; I was lucky they only made me feel fatigued and robotic. Weirdly enough, the latter helped me socially, as I was “more likable” because I was less emotional or reactive. People liked the toned down version, but for me it really wasn’t a long term option, so I slowly weened myself off SSRIs after about 2 years (which was it’s own struggle).

Anyway, it can’t be overstated that a doctor whose first response is to give medication, without proper follow ups and a significant look into your life and context, in my opinion, should not be a doctor anymore; they are just being lazy and dishonest. For me, the decision to go on medication was only after I had done everything else (from therapy to moving to another country). Even then, it was only after a serious manic depressive episode that it occur to me that there was actually something seriously wrong.

So, should you go on medication? Which type should you go on if you do? For how long? Should you go on something meant for short term relief or a long term regime?

These are all good questions that really need to be deeply considered, with yourself, your doctor, and any consulting mental health professionals you have access to.

I generally believe that if you have not done anything to improve your situation, then you should try other strategies first. If after several life adjustments things still haven’t changed, then medication, even for a short time to get you moving, may simply be what your brain needed to rest and heal.

A word of warning: To my knowledge they don’t really have a good way of knowing which medication and at what dose to give to start people on. It’s often guesswork based on feedback from the patient. The thing is most people give very dishonest feed back, for whatever reason. I remember going on one type of SSRI at 5mg, nothing changed. Then 10. Nothing changed. My doctor said “let’s do 20mg and if it doesn’t work we will try a different type.” I casually asked the pharmacist how to know if it works. They said “If it’s working you will know.” The pharmacist was correct! For me, that particular brand, at 20mg, was like a ray of sunshine in the darkness. It immediately kicked in. Later, when I was going off the meds, I was only on 10mg, and eventually none. If you are honest, you will know if it is working or not. Do not just say it is if there is no real change.

Therapy

This may be a better place to start once you have identified that there is an issue. Here’s the thing, therapy, if not covered by medical insurance, can be very expensive indeed. One thing that drives me nuts is when mental health professionals try to tell a person who is broke and already struggling that they can find a way to afford counselling sessions, at $100 dollars an hour, at least once a week, because “it’s worth it.” While it may very well be, it might also be more of a financial burden than the individual can handle.

The other thing is, just like doctors or any other professional, there is a reason there is always a “best in the field.” Many therapists, whether they are a psychiatrist, private therapist, or public therapist, will be better at their job than others. This means that the chances of finding someone who is effective, who you connect with, and who you can afford, is very difficult.

However, especially if you don’t have a support network, someone is better than no one. What I will say is, don’t just stick with the first person who could see you. If you don’t click, you don’t click.

I would also caution that, in most cases, if you have to see them for more than 6 months or a year, other than maintenance checkups, they may just be taking your money. A decent therapist can often give you want you need in far less sessions than you think. That is, of course, if they are decent and they are not trying to take advantage of you.

For some, several sessions may be required at regular intervals at the beginning to assess and build a framework, others may only need one. It really depends.

I would like to stand up for therapists, though, and say that, often the reason things haven’t gotten better for a person regularly seeing a therapist is that the person is using the therapist as a crutch and hasn’t actually done anything to improve their life outside of therapy.

Remember, the responsibility for getting better is on you, not the therapist. They can only guide and advise, they are not supposed to tell you what to do. Which means that if they keep saying the same thing to you for years, the fault is on you. I know, people don’t like to take responsibility, even in normal times let alone mental health situations, but, sorry, it’s the truth

There is a reason, after all, that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), still tends to be the most effective type of therapy for treating a variety of mental health issues. As the onus is on you to do the work, on a consistent, daily basis, and re-shape how you think about the world and yourself.

So, pick your therapist wisely, and remember that you need to want to get better, no matter who you talk to.

Support Network

They say having a strong support network helps. That is, if you have one. Some people are lucky enough to have a strong group of supportive friends they built from high-school, or have strong family support on all levels. Though to be honest, if you have severe mental health problems there’s a good chance you did not have a very strong support network from the start. If you do, than that’s awesome, you have a leg up and I am very happy for you.

In my case though, I had few, very consistent, people in my life who did offer support. The reality is for me, they did not have the skills, knowledge, or time to really help me in a more meaningful way. I suspect that for many this is a familiar experience. This is why, no matter how hard it seems, it may be on you, and you alone, to get help and get better. (Notice a theme?)

The reason it can be difficult to have a strong support network is because those in your life who have their shit together more than you often are too busy with their own lives. Or they don’t have the energy to deal with what, to them, seems like a difficult friend.

I can say that for me, someone who has always struggled to have strong connections with other people (partially due to mental illness, but also the fact I am a strong-willed person at the best of times), the majority of the people I thought were my friends essentially bailed on me because I was too difficult to deal with. You can look at this a few ways:

  1. You are just too much – This may not be a popular thing to say, but dealing with people suffering from mental illness is tough. Unless those around you really have their shit together and have the right temperament, you may actually be just too much for them to deal with at that time. It’s very unfortunate, but it’s an all too common scenario. It’s not that they don’t care, they just can’t make you a priority in their life. It’s okay, everyone has their own lives. These are the people you should forgive, as it is more an indication of their life than yours.
  2. They were not very good friends in the first place – To be honest, though I admit I am a difficult person, I would say that this is the category into which the majority of the “friends” I had before my major episode fall. I say this because the vast majority of people didn’t even try. They just saw I was being difficult and bailed on me outright. If this is the case, then be happy that they are out of your life. They clearly didn’t care enough to ask if everything was alright when the signs are clear as day that it is not. Don’t feel bad, just know that when things get better you will find new friends and you will be happier for it.
  3. It really is your fault because you aren’t even trying to get better – This applies to those people who have an active support network who are always trying to help, yet years later nothing is better. There is a point, whether you realize it or not, that eventually people will give up on you. I am sorry, but you may be just too much, in general, and you aren’t taking responsibility. Either you may need to seek different professional help, or realize that, if you don’t change, everyone in your life who matters will be gone. If you don’t want to change so that you can be happier, then there is nothing anyone else can do for you. It is ultimately on you. They tried, you didn’t. After a long enough timeline, don’t be surprised when people walk away.

The trick is to know which category you fall into. If you have an amazing support network from the past, or a new one you have discovered, whether it be a new friend, a support group for your mental illness, or a therapist, then that is awesome. But, if not, do you fall into one of the three scenarios mentioned above, or is there another one? The truth is you probably won’t actually know until later, when your mind has calmed down and you can think clearly. It may even be years later that you finally it out. But know, though, it is easier with a support network. So make building or finding one a priority in your first steps. You can get better without one if you really want to, yes, it is a lot harder, but it can be done.

In a country like Canada there is little reason why you should not be able to find something, as there are many government funded resources and groups you can access. Even if they are not for you, they can often start you on a path to healing, one way or another.

Conclusion

Mental health it can be a difficult topic to talk about objectively, as there is so much emotion and ego involved. One thing to remember is that you are not alone. In this world there is someone else who is feeling the same as you are. This is actually, in a weird way, good news, because when enough people have the same issue it means there are resources and solutions available. You just have to start looking.

The first step is identifying that there is a problem, and which problem there is. Once you do that, you will be able to find the path that allows you to get better, so you can live a happier, more productive life.

I have met people who have had all sorts of mental health issues, some, at times, were quite serious, but they managed to get it sorted out so they too could be happier and healthier. Others struggle with the same problem for years and years because, despite being given the same advice from everyone around them, choose to stay in the shitty mental state they claim to want to move on from.

The latter probably do want to get better, but they have found all sorts of reasons not to.

The choice is always yours. I know that if you are reading this you want it to get better. You want the pain to go away or at least lessen. And, yes, it is pain, just like breaking a leg or bumping your head, but this one is not so simple to fix; it will require hard work and change.

This post is not meant as a comprehensive mental health guide, it obviously can’t be. Rather, it is meant to offer a perspective in thinking about mental health.

This series has been about the fact that self-defence is not just physical, which means I wanted you to consider other areas of your life that could take a little bit of self-defence. Our lives have become ever more complicated; more so that our nervous systems are adapted for.

If you are able to take care of yourself physically but not mentally, and your whole world seems chaotic and painful, then what good is physical self-defence if you still are struggling to see the light?

The answers are all interconnected. Whether the concern is physical, mental, digital, or financial, they are all aspects of your life. You need to live a balanced life, and seek to better yourself a little bit every day. Build one and it can build the others.

So what are you waiting for? Make your life happier, healthier, and better today, even if only a little bit.

By: Jonathan Fader

This is the second of three sections expanding on the original piece titled, Self-defence is Not Just Physical.

Audio by Jonathan Fader with added content

In the modern world, being financially stable can be harder than ever, especially when the vast majority of people are living paycheque to paycheque. One of the biggest mistakes the average person makes is not thinking long term, but rather choosing instant gratification; getting something now and having nothing for later. A common belief is that our school systems do not spend enough (or any) time on financial literacy. Basic education should include simple things like how to put together a rudimentary budget, how to prepare your taxes, or how basic investing works.

While we often blame the rich for getting richer as the poor get poorer, one of the reason this trend continues is that either “the rich” understand how to make their money work for them, understand the financial system and how to protect their money, or they have the resources to hire the people who do.

For most of us though, it’s really a matter of understanding we are starting with less. So unless you happen to have the next “big idea” it’s going to be a long term thing. Work hard when you are younger and invest smart, then maybe you can retire in your 40’s or 50’s.

While I am no expert, I can certainly tell you the things that I have learned (mostly from screwing up and being broke). What I can say for certain is that part of personal self-defence is the ability to be ready, financially, to deal with the inevitable financial blows that life will throw at you. Even if that means you had solid enough financials to have a line of credit on hand in case of emergencies. Though having money in the bank is ideal, having financial buffers will save you from the deep hole that is financial ruin. So be smart, and include financial planning in your self-defence plans.

Don’t Spend Past Your Budget

As a martial arts instructor teaching a style that is not overly popular in my region, living on a tight budget is something I have become used to. However, as the world is increasingly difficult to survive in with less money, managing what little you have is key.

A question I often ask myself is, “how do people who make 4, 5 or 6 thousand dollars a month, after taxes, still manage to be broke (or at least say they are)?” It’s probably because they seek instant gratification and buy everything they can rather than preparing for the future. They seek experience and the “now” over anticipating the future. While that’s fine sometimes, do it too much and you may be on the path to financial disaster.

Of course, the less money you have the harder it can be to stick to your budget, because you may have to make important decisions on what to buy or which bills to pay (especially in with complications like Covid-19).

It’s at these times in life when budgeting comes in handy, or rather it would have had you done it. One of the hardest things for people to do, especially when they don’t have much money in the first place, is to include in their budget a “rainy day fund” and retirement savings. They may not seem important now, but they are! (I’ll come back to this.)

A basic budget should include necessities such as housing, food, and, in most cases, transportation. Anything beyond that, at least according “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” may in fact be a luxury. If you have the money to spend more, then have at it. But if you don’t, think, do you really need the newest iPhone?

Ok, so enough talk. In the absence of credit, a budget is simply the act of planning your finances so that money coming in can cover the costs of money going out. If you have no credit, or options similar to this, then a budget is a MUST. If you do not create and follow one, then you may find your self not eating.

Lets look at something simple.

Mike has $3,000 after taxes every three months.

  • Rent = $1,200
  • Food = $500
  • Transportation = $800

After the basics are covered Mike has $500 extra a month. Most people would spend that on eating out or “toys.” A smart planner would take some of that and put it away, even if it’s only a little. Lets say he puts $100 a month away into retirement savings and $100 into a emergency fund, that now leaves $300 for entertainment and toys.

What if Mike works hard and earns a raise? He now has $3,200 every three months. If Mike was already financially stable, why not put the extra money directly into savings or investments. If he was doing fine without it, then he will have a $200 boost in savings without noticing a change in his lifestyle.

While most people these days do not like to operate in a frugal mindset, in the long run planning investments and emergency funds into your budget is crucial; so that in the hard times you are not destitute. So be smart, start early and reap the later benefits of a well planned budget.

Invest Early and Consistently

Assuming you manage to put something away for investments and retirement, the earlier you do it, the better. Have you heard of something called “compound interest?” Essentially it’s interest on the interest. This is the key to long term savings and building your early retirement.

If I put $100 into my retirement savings, and it averages a 3% return annually, then after one year it’s $1236 (depending on the frequency interest is compounded). The next year I put in another $1200, which would also receive the 3%, but so would the original $1236, resulting in $2509 rather than just $2,472. Which basically means that first $36 in interest, which you didn’t invest from your pocket originally, is continuing to grow for you. The earlier you do this the more the interest stacks, and the longer you have the more you earn.

If you started saving for retirement in your 20s vs your 30s the difference in the end number can be quite staggering. The amount of money you would need to put in during your 30s, to get the same results you would have gotten if you started modestly in your 20s, is quite a lot more than you think (the math is out there). I say again; Start early, even if its only $50 per month.

The best way to start early is of course as a parent. Start saving for your child’s future, (and not just for school) in a trust and your child will have an amazing head start. of course don’t just give it to them when they turn 18, make them wait and ensure they have learned financial literacy and good spending habits early.

Another important consideration in favour of investing early, and consistently rather than lump sum, is the ability to average out your costs of purchases across lows and highs in the market. The idea of “buying low and selling high” really isn’t what you think. Even the worlds greatest investor Warren Buffet, doesn’t try to time the movements of the market; he does his research and plays the long game.

Even when the market crashes it can be an excellent time to buy, if you are planning for the long term, that is, if you are buying more conservative “blue chip” funds, rather than trying to play the actual stock market. Which is not advisable, unless you have lots of disposable income and really know what your are doing. For the record, most people I know who play the regular market with only a few thousand dollars (which they can’t really afford to lose) typically lose. So play the long game and be smart about it.

Remember, even if you had invested in Apple, Microsoft, or Amazon early on, only to sell a year later and make some money, it is nowhere near the amount you would have made if you had held on. Of course, there is also no way of knowing which companies will be the next big ones, so if you aren’t sure I suggest leaving it up to the experts.

Nowadays, due to online banking, you can manage your money on your own. That being said, buying the professionally managed funds, in the long run in most cases, is going to give you a higher return than simply guessing and playing the lows and highs. Why? Compound interest and people who know better than you.

So start early, be consistent, and don’t just gamble, play the long game.

Diversify

Unless you happen to get lucky with the next big stock, and cash out just in time for you to see the crash, it’s best to diversify. In reality, even the best investors can’t time the market and may lose billions in one big market swing or crash. Those who come out on top tend to do so because they play the long game and have diversified portfolios, they still have money working for them, somewhere, when a crash outright destroys others.

Diversifying basically means “do not put all your eggs in one basket.” Even if you are playing conservatively and sticking to large professionally managed funds, you should have your money spread out between a variety of categories. Though what percentage is split how is totally up to you. Maybe you have 50% of your money in funds tied to your country, 30% to precious metals, and the remaining 20% in highly volatile, high-risk-high-reward, stocks. Maybe you have a different break down, really it’s up to you and your money managers to decide based on your own comfort and goals. Diversifying will almost always give you more protection if one area does poorly, and can help you with that dollar-cost averaging in the long run, making you come out on top even if times are tough.

Remember, the Dotcom bubble of the ’90s, or the more recent Crypto currency bubble? People lost everything because they put everything into a single venture and lost it all. Consider that if you are hearing about it on the news chances are the people who made the real money are already out and you are just a sucker.

Of course, if you want to put 20% of your money into such risky endeavors, no one is stopping you. You may make a killing, but it is all about when to sell, and most people sell too late. But, if the rest of your money is tied up in safer funds, then at least that 20% loss wasn’t everything.

Be smart, diversify, and (you guessed it) play the long game.

Conclusion

I should remind you at this point that finances are not my expertise, and I, admittedly, I do not have much money. These ideas are based on the lessons I have learned the hard way. Wisdom that only now have I realized I should have known and acted on years ago. But, if you don’t have a lot of money the banks rarely give you the best advisors; you usually only have conversations with sales people at the lower level. If no one in your family or circle of those who you look up has a good grasp on financial literacy, you may find yourself drowning in debt.

The earlier you learn these skills the better. Remember, most “get rich schemes”are just that, schemes. They fail for almost everyone and result in large financial loses. So try not to get swept up in the hype.

Protect yourself and your finances through smart financial self-defence. This includes knowing enough to know when someone is feeding you bullshit. For if you simply give your money to someone to manage outright, and you don’t know enough to check, you could actually find yourself losing it all to the next big Ponzie scheme (read up on Bernie Madoff).

Become financially literate, learn enough to play the long game, and start early. If you do, you will be in better shape than the majority of the population.

Remember, self-defence is not just physical. What other skills might you need to properly defend yourself in the modern world?

Written by: Jonathan Fader