Compassion and the Martial Artist

I truly believe you can only give as much compassion as you can afford. When you are very strong, you can afford to show a lot of compassion. Not very strong? You risk your compassion being perceived as weakness, and you are vulnerable to suffering intolerable loss. This is one irony of martial arts training: the better fighter you are, the less you seem to need to fight.

I wanted to study martial arts when I was a youth, to be ready to stand up for those unfairly abused by bullies. Does that make sense to you that I would want to learn “how to win fights” as a way to encourage more compassion and peace in the world?

As we study how to be protectors, we might find it easier talking about compassion than actually puting those insights to work. Theory is easier than practice, especially when it comes to making space for people who may annoy us.

There are two aspects of compassion.

First there is “feeling of compassion”. You look at others and emphathize with their feelings and perspectives, understand why they do or say or think what they do, and wish them a better experience.

Second is “application of compassion”, where you know how and when to offer a helping hand – or in some cases a loving kick in the rear end.

Compassion is a skill. Developed over time, it gives us an increasing appreciation of the human condition and cultivates a set of skilful means for handling the challenges of life inside and outside the dojo. We are less likely to short-circuit to violent treatment of others when we understand their confusion or pain – maybe we can rise above taking their hostility personally. We are so well-trained and powerful that we are less likely to fear and be threatened by those who are dominated by fear and threat in their lives.

– An-shu Stephen K. Hayes

10 comments to “Compassion and the Martial Artist”

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  1. Very elegantly put. Thanks.

  2. I just wanted to say that is an interesting point of view. When you think about it you become more and more enlightened. Thank you very much for all of the words of wisdom…

  3. I thank you for the wisdom, helping hand and for the “loving kick” on the occasions that I have trained with you. I keep learning from both aspects of that compassion!

    I find that this lesson is very helpful to note as a parent. It’s hard to let your child struggle and to tell them “no” (i.e. the “loving kick” )when they want to take the easy way out or try to “get by” But when you do it while truly loving someone enough to let them struggle and grow, everyone benefits from that compassion.

    Peace to all

  4. Thanks for the words of encouragement. If ever there would be a voice for those that fear to speak out against bullying, which is a corroding thread in American society, you Mr. Hayes could be the one.

    All the best.

  5. Hello Steve! I consider yourself, Dr. Wayne Dyer, the Dalai Lama and Paramahansa Yogananda to be the greatest teachers of our era. Have you ever considered teaming up with Wayne Dyer and also the Dalai Lama in an cooperative effort to take this world to a different space? I think the impact would be nothing short of wonderful.

    I have read every single one of your books. Thank you for being my childhood inspiration.

  6. Truly what a “Warrior” is meant to be! Thank you for sharing that An Shu, I will be sure to share this with my students as well.

    Ninpo Ikkan!

  7. An-Shu. You have the uncanny knack for putting into words what I fail at speaking. I always reference you to the students of my martial arts school. Thank you for your insight and your wisdom.

  8. Christos Karatsalos says: -#1

    Sometimes the beauty from valuable staffs waits you in cellar full of great wine ready to open up and be enjoyed and when you feel the taste of it in any level you are then you are happy and thankful to your custodian. Having such a chance in your life. Thank you Sir for your offer. Thank you An-shu Stephen K. Hayes.

  9. Sometimes it’s not hard “in the moment” to be compassionate; to understand a person’s situation and feelings, see what will help, look them in the eye and tell them the truth, and stay with them through their difficulty. But once that moment is over, the hard part seems to unfold. It’s like having to do the paperwork following a huge, fast-moving, critical project. It has to be done, but it’s awful. Third parties who misinterpret or resent the compassionate acts (those who don’t care enough about others to administer a loving kick in the pants usually express horror observing it done); or those times when we leap, and miss the goal. So easy to write off compassion as a bad idea, rather than recognizing and remedying a lack of skill in offering it. If we realized in the moment how painful the after-effects could be from acting on our compassion…it would require so much more courage. As always, thank you for giving us your ideas.

  10. Yet another example of how advanced your martial art truly is, Sir. Far beyond simpley using fighting skills when faced with adversity, the fine tuning of thought and compassion to win without ever having the need to fight. Now there is the hallmark of a true master!
    Thank you An-shu.

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