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Bowley Kenpo Karate » Philosophy » Fear: the opponent vs the mind

Fear: the opponent vs the mind

In each beginner Kenpo karate class we play a game during the last 15 minutes, and one of the favorites is Sword and Shield. Each player has a small foam sword and small shield to use for attacks and blocks. It’s fun, fast paced, and the kids love it. With a mixed class of kids and adults, it’s common for a child to be matched up with an adult, in some cases, twice their size.

Kids about to play Sword and Shield at Bowley Kenpo Karate

Kids about to play Sword and Shield at Bowley Kenpo Karate

When the kids match up with each other they’re aggressive, moving well, regardless of the difference in belt rank. However, when matched with a grown-up for the first time the kids generally freeze up. When this happens for a new student, the opportunity presents itself to go over a Kenpo karate philosophy: It is not the size of the man, but the size of the fear that has been the cause of many a defeat.

The philosophy means that no matter how big an opponent is in real life, the fear in our mind is much larger. It’s the fear in our head that causes us to not think clearly, make mistakes, and ultimately hand success to the adversary. Certainly there will be times we’ll lose to a better opponent; that goes with the territory. But to lose to fear is something else altogether.

It does NOT mean try and be fearless. A little bit of fear is a good thing. It shows that you’re focused and ready. But to be crippled by it and letting it affect your performance means you’ve let it go to far.

How do you overcome fears like these? For me, and what I tell students, it takes practice. I put myself in controlled situations which cause the fear. Then I take a deep breath, visualize success, and tell myself I won’t be conquered by fear. As I practice in these situations I find it does get easier, and the environments have to get harder to still cause fear. Hopefully this means that if I have to use Kenpo in a live street situation I’ll be rightfully scared but not paralyzed by fear. No matter how big my opponent is.

Two quick examples. The first occurred just a short time ago when we were up at Disciple Martial Arts training with my instructor. I had asked to set up some sparring time and three black belts were happy to oblige. Even knowing none of them were out to hurt me, I was still scared. Scared of accidentally getting seriously hurt, scared I wouldn’t fight well, and scared I hadn’t progressed as far I’d hoped weighed on my thoughts. But I did it just fine. Cleared my thoughts, focused, and refused to give in to fear.

The second tale has nothing to do with Kenpo but was a work situation. When the company I worked for a few years ago was changing ownership, I had decided to no longer remain there. On the day of the transition I was going to put in my notice and was absolutely freaking out in my head. My opponent wasn’t a person but the unknown.  Unknown reactions from the people receiving my notice, unknown situation at a new job . . . . .  Still, I set my mind straight and made a decision I had to live with (for the better).

Fear is fear, whether of the unknown, of an opponent, or created in the mind.  Letting it overpower you defeats you before you even have the chance to get started.  In class I ask the kids to relax, understand no one is there to hurt them, and to use this experience to help them better their fears next time.  By no means is conquering fears an easy thing.  But practicing it is as important, if not more-so, than practicing any other karate drill; though with more far-reaching real life applications.

Sam Bowley
McKinney, TX

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