Facing Inner Demons

A disciplined athlete and wealthy martial arts businessman I knew left his family and students by way of suicide. Many are concerned that revelations of shameful actions that drove the man to end his life will cause public apprehension as to what happens in martial arts schools. How could a master of “focus, discipline, and never-quit commitment” be defeated by inner devils?

I am not writing to criticize a deceased teacher’s flaws. We all have our demons.

I am writing to criticize martial arts leaders who insist on trivializing the arts. We pay far more attention to those who strive to be the buffest toughest trash-talk predator, instead of those who teach how to find legitimate power through warrior training with no weakness, fear, or avoidance left unchallenged.

From the 1970s, I have consistently advocated spiritual training in every serious martial artist’s life. To be the most reliable protector, you need honest techniques for stopping stupid violence, along with inner purification that matches the toughness of external cultivation. I nonetheless get eye-rolls and snickers from martial artists too terrified to venture inward in search of needed healing and strengthening.

An associate comments that some professional martial artists took up the arts because somewhere in their past they were hurt or damaged. Fighting arts seem to be a way to get control in life and redefine old identities built around fear and anger. Truth is, for most, martial arts training is not enough to fix what is broken. Like painting over rust, the surface suggests all-is-well while underlying issues still fester beneath.

Responsible ethics and a bigger vision of a teacher’s duty need to be pumped up to match the advanced state of fighting technique in 2012. I go a step further, too. We must bring back the kind of inner exploration training that was once part of so many Asian martial arts. We must demand that teachers be brave enough to fully face the demons within along with defeating the miscreants without. We must demand the same spiritual rigor that informed the lives of Miyamoto Musashi, Morihei Ueshiba, Toshitsugu Takamatsu, and other Japanese martial legends who started as battlers in war and ended up urging students to search for truest spiritual peace.

Too many martial arts programs fail when it comes to the deepest of warrior strengths – knowledge of how to overcome inner demon enemies. Most schools stop at external toughening because they have none of the methods for inner building that come from Asia along with the martial arts. There may be lots of hard training for the body, but no resources for conquering the inner darkness that builds in direct proportion to the power and strength painted onto the outside.

The problem is that too few teachers have the authentic Asian technologies to do that work. There is little evidence that the masters who should be sharing such demanding discipline are qualified to deliver those spiritual lessons. You cannot teach what you do not know. You cannot offer what you have not received. And of course the ones without those technologies are going to downplay or even ridicule the crucial importance of what they cannot deliver.

That tragic suicide pushes me to re-state my demand for deepest inner strength building. For decades I have translated and tested esoteric Japanese and Tibetan teachings for fullness of spirit. I share the technology that should be at the core of any system of fighting as a path to personal power. It would be greedy and cruel to restrict this treasure to the few students smart enough to recognize its importance in my subtle suggestions. The tragic behavior leading to suicide has compelled me to make noise. Do not wait. Do not put it off. Do not hide. Do not avoid. It is time.

Heart of Light, Blade of Thunder. Join us.

25 comments to “Facing Inner Demons”

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  1. Thank you. Silent No More.

  2. Teresa Lynn-Hoffman says: -#1

    I battle chronic severe depression and you are absolutely correct. We have our outer battles, but we all have inner battles too. For someone like me, the type of inner spiritual training you adbvocate would be of tremendous value. What people don’t understand, including many of my fellow survivors, is that someone who battles depression is a warrior. It takes inner strength because sometimes, surviving hour to hour is a serious test of inner strength and requires the ability to endure unspeakable mental pain. As my husband tells me: “Every day you survive, you have won”. We are people of great courage but we need all the support and spiritual strength that could be taught by a wise instructor.

  3. Arigatou, An-shu Hayes-dono. You’re right, we should make our souls resolute and sharp as a blade, yet retain the innocence many martial arts leaders scoff at.

  4. Thank you An-shu for reminding us of the necessity of balance of the physical training along with the spiritual ~ just as you have shown us in your teachings, and your teachers too.

    May we learn, explore, this along our journey as a warrior.

  5. An-Shu Hayes how ironic as I have been preaching this to my students and we just had this conversation. In my past my training has always encompassed the meditation or Zen aspect and it seems as though in many Dojo’s today that is never touched on. They seem to focus on the physical aspect and not the pshychological. I encourage my students to study the mind science and to get into the studies you have set-up. I try and use myself to create that bridge and close that gap to use mind science and the importance of preparing oneself completely. We have begun implementing this in our student’s training. Thank you for sharing this important message and your always valuable insights.

  6. Daniel Rupp says: -#1

    Thank you both. I learned so much from your writings and later instruction; that life is very good, that some things need to be done and others simply do not.

  7. In so many areas of life; music, art, politics, finance, what-have-you, success in the outer aspects seem to collapse eventually if not supported by the humility that stems from an equal willingness to look within.

    And yet this inner delving is easily dismissed, because the results can seem subtle, and an honest pursuit is not something that lends itself easily to advertising, impressive displays or demonstrations.

    And yet, like most truly worthwhile things, there it is, for the taking!

    Thanks for continuing to point the way, Anshu.

  8. Jim McFarland says: -#1

    Thank you An-Shu for bringing these technologies back from the East! They have been what I have been looking for from the time I was 6 or 7- Takamatsu was right when he said that real martial development without balanced spiritual training of the mind can lead to warped, painful, and even deadly realms- realms where everyone becomes your enemy because you see having to defend and resist against all, or you don’t recognize that a lifetime of adult anger was just a protective armor for abuse as a child- or even before…positive thinking, and even some of the best Western psychological tools are partial at best- we all have to be brave enough to face our inner demons, and work daily on training our minds to conquer them- and this work can be some of the toughest and most challenging; even more than the harshest physical training- but so worth it!

  9. At the core of Asian anything/everything, one should be able to find the principle of balance. Martial arts need to be balance by spiritual arts otherwise, it’s just a bag of techniques.

  10. I have to agree An-shu. I used to do some meditations along with my regular routines but have neglected them in recent years. I also utilized some of the techniques you wrote in some of your first books. I’ve noticed that I no longer have the sense of “sensing” the world as I did before. I think that perhaps I need to backtrack a little to regain my foothold. Thank you.

  11. Chris from Greece says: -#1

    “Inner devils”, I remember those words when I spoke to my students all most a year ago about the importance of what we teach and why, I called them inner demons too but at the end they put their name on the test and fail of course, it’s not easy but that’s the beauty of real martial arts that’s the beauty of To-Shin Do that’s one difference from warrior and fighter and a salutation to those masters on a line and No one can make you feel inferior without your permission no one, not family or friends, not seem masters, masters of puppets or masters for business, not in paper teachers either, not even yourself, that’s our bright life too. Thank you Sir.
    Heart of light blade of thunder.

  12. Clark H. Smith says: -#1

    I have had to many friends, family, friends of friends. Who have chosen this path and it made me numb for years. Thanks for S.G.I and A.G.A.P.E International spiritual center I have learned that this felling is natural but it is a shedding of one belief and waking up to the reality that you are spirit and can not die in spirit and one with the Buddha mind and Shin shin i Shin Gan the mind and eyes of God.

    So since you have red this and if you can intervene. Tell them this and direct them in the direction I mentioned above.
    It makes a difference in world the of Saving a life that causes a ripple in time and spreads more positive energy blessing to God .
    May Peace and eternal blessing be with you +;)

  13. This reminds me of an article I read a while back about an MMA fighter that ingested psylocibin mushrooms and went crazy and brutally murdered the person he was with; eating his heart. ( http://www.heavy.com/news/2012/09/mma-fighter-jarrod-wyattripped-out-heart-tongue-high-mushrooms-guilty-murder/ ) I don’t see the mushrooms being the problem here, as many people I know claim to have gained tremendous amounts of clarity and spiritual insight from them – It is what was in his unconscious, the demons that were never faced, all the rotting foundations of a person that only focused on strengthening the outside and pretending to be tough while having all this inner turmoil.
    And the mushrooms are only but a way in which a person might be faced with a dismantling of the ego, or a dismantling of everything they took for granted. It could be losing your job, being faced with a situation you were not ready that might take you deep inside to the dark caves of the unconscious, where you will find the true demons. In situations of life and death, or situations where survival isn’t sure, people snap. So no matter if its taking a ego-melting drug, or being faced with a situation that will test what you are really made out of; if one hasn’t done the spiritual work to find, forgive, accept and make an ally of all the dark recesses of one’s mind – one will fail as a warrior. I would say, in fact, all that we do on the outside, should only help to strengthen our inner fighter.

  14. Hey Master Hayes!
    I was just wondering as a short man (5’2″), what would be beneficial in martial arts to have an advantage against a taller man? Any thoughts, ideas, etc.? I used to be in martial arts for awhile, dropped out and now hoping to get back into it.
    I have also bought your book on ninjutsu.

  15. Joshua Beste says: -#1

    Mr. Hayes,
    For many years I have struggled with the inner demons you described so well. You are the first teacher to suggest that even as we grow, so shall the demons we bring. I came to martial arts not looking to fight but to understand. I’ve serched through my faith and found little comfort, mostly because what I was looking at was not what I was seeking. Thank you for bringing this point home. As students, oft forgotten is the lesson of self exposure.

  16. philip resden says: -#1

    Several years ago I was absolutely one of thous people who disregarded the spiritual part of training. Do to exactly the fact that my teachers and fellow students at the time didn’t have that training and/or saw no value in it. So it was also instilled in me. Four years ago I was in a deep depression and very much contemplating suicide. Now a days I find that part of training, thou not as fun, severely needed and important. And part of what drew me out of my depression and suicidal thoughts. Sadly I still have friends within the martial arts who still do not see or want to except this part of training.

  17. I think we possibly need to reconsider using the term “inner demons” when discussing mental health. Granted, if the intent of using this phrase as a symbol or metaphor to encompass all internal or personal struggles (and I stress -all- life struggles and not just mental health), then I am comfortable with the usage. However, if we are truly discussing mental health in proper, as the initial prompt for the article suggests (suicide of a mentally ill adult), then we are in risky territory of implying that mental health is not a true medical condition, but a self-induced flaw of a person, who isn’t good enough, enlightened enough to “cure” themselves. Persons with mental health disease have received degrading, dehumanizing, and marginalization in society throughout human history. We in a martial arts / enlightened path need to show an heightened compassion and fight for the human rights of the mentally diseased community, including fair treatment by insurance companies. Their disease is no different from someone suffering from cancer, heart conditions, or disabilities.

    • Yes. Your 2nd sentence above. That is precisely what I meant, Kelly.
      Symbol, metaphor; not actual “demonic beings” and not just mental health.
      I was referring to those confused perceptions and forced decisions that plague us and block us from making the most beneficial choices in life.

      – An-shu Stephen K. Hayes

  18. Randy Hutchinson says: -#1

    This is why in 34yrs no other art has offered what you teach and I choose ninpo over the others. I am trully sorry to hear about your friend thank you for bringing ninpo to the western world sir.

  19. This sounds like a great lecture!! Something I’ve always wanted to experience and may actually help me with things I am going through now. I am currently studying under Mark Davis at Boston Martial Arts Center in Boston. Would you, by any chance, do a lecture on this subject here on the east coast?

  20. Hi
    Mr Hayes I recently joined your online training course.Will you in the future have more spiritual or mental training that we as online members can access?Im a South African guy livingin Korea so its difficult to travel to the states for weekend seminars.
    Thank You

  21. One of the biggest and strongest attackers in martial arts is your own human nature. With all the mixed up energy in the world, the first thing you have to do is clean up the “backyard” and keep it straight.

  22. Greg Walker says: -#1

    An-shu Hayes – I am in total agreement with you.

    It bears mentioning that suicide – the taking of one’s own life – can be a instant’s moment of the complete loss of Hope or the long drawn out process of losing Faith, Hope and Inner Strength ending in self-destruction.

    As a police officer (now retired) and someone who today works with our war wounded veterans I have sadly experienced first hand the immediate effects of suicide and those that follow as this act impacts upon family, friends and communities.

    Many “experts” offer that suicide is a selfish act. I offer it is far more complicated than such a simple and “blame the victim” explanation. We are better off sharing that suicide is first and foremost a tragedy of the highest magnitude and one that involves the destruction of the Spirit well before the act occurs.

    Thank you for sharing your guidance and direction on this subject. I honor your friend and am saddened at your loss.

  23. If one wants to learn how to beat people up, just start throwing punches. Eventually they will be good at hurting others, but at a high price to themselves. True mastery requires internal as well as external and perhaps even more so. Any spiritual tradition is better than none. Unfortunately many of us have to survive the earlier “kick butt” stage before we recognize the importance of deeper training and reflection. Those who have traveled the path need to be patient with those who have not and consistently guide them to the inner realization that is so often missing in the Dojo or school these days.

  24. P.S.
    As a beginner in spiritual training i am not qualified to advise or guide anyone. However, maybe those who snicker are simply afraid of what they wil find if they look deep inside themselves.

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