Compassion And The Martial Arts

eyes quanyin

In my youth I was arrogant and violent before I discovered the Martial Arts – and as a result of that discovery I also went on to study Buddhism, Zen and Taoism.  It was through these studies that I found compassion.  In hindsight I think that my excitability, arrogance and violence was a result of being ’empathic’ and not knowing how to deal with it.  As an empathic child in a non empathic family and culture where ‘give him a slap’ was the answer to everything in a relationship and as I attended the roughest school in South London where it was important to appear tough, compassion was a concept I never encountered.

Ironically, covering up this empathy with toughness led me into the world of security and the Martial Arts where I encountered management skills, emotional intelligence and asian philosophy.  I learned that you didn’t have to like someone to extend patience, kindness, tolerance and compassion towards them and this taught me how to work as a team member and create a positive environment both at work and home.  In the world of security your ‘soft skills’ are important and eventually, as a manager I recruited people by how many fights they hadn’t had as opposed to a head count of people they’d battered.

As I became an instructor in the Martial Arts, this philosophy transformed my club from a South London ‘tough guys’ club  where a bunch of young men beat each other up every night into a more positive environment, attracting people from all walks of life to include all cultures, genders, abilities and needs.

As a result I became much tougher, developing the courage, resolve and determination to take me where the philosophy was leading and that was balanced by the patience, kindness, tolerance and….. compassion.

Firstly I had to understand what compassion was – and my empathy really helped, I could feel what other people and animals felt, I had to become vegetarian as I felt the pain of the annual 19 billion animals needlessly slaughtered for food, and I automatically ‘tuned in’ to any human suffering, pushing me towards reiki, spiritual and ‘hand healing’ with the power of an empathic touch. I learned that it is easy to confuse compassion with fear, where you see someone suffering and you’re scared for yourself – and often secretly glad that it’s not you.  It’s not pity, as that is looking down on someone because they are suffering and you’re making them somehow ‘lesser’ as a result. It’s not predicated on an outcome, it just is.

Compassion is pure and untainted, it’s developed through meditation, empathy, patient kindness and exists of itself.  If you can develop the right mental perspective, emotional intelligence and utilise those skills you can tap into the most healing energy the universe has to offer. It’s represented in the Christian religion by the Virgin Mary, in Buddhism by Quanyin in China, Kannon in Japan and Avalokiteśvara in India, the all seeing eyes of the Goddess that harkens to the cries of suffering in the World.  Most Chinese Kung Fu shrines are dedicated to her.

Compassion needs both yin and yang to function, thus the phrase ‘you need a strong back and a soft front’ to have true compassion, this is the result of good kung fu training and study – skill resulting from time and effort. If a martial arts expert lacks compassion, they surely have followed the wrong path.


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