Why we train

Some of you might be familiar with Freud's theory that humans are subject to the competing instincts of Thanatos (death) and Eros (life). The former makes you want to lie down and do nothing, the latter to get up and achieve something. I have often found this paradigm a useful analysis of the human condition. Rarely a day passes where I don't experience conflict between these instincts.

The relevance of this paradigm to martial arts training is fundamental, since training is the embodiment of the Eros instinct. If you have ever paused to consider why you participate in an activity which is physically and mentally demanding (when you could instead be at home relaxing) you might have come to the conclusion that it is simply because your physical and mental being demands it. Instinct, it seems, is not susceptible to any deeper analysis.

Simultaneously, staying at home and doing nothing is the embodiment of the Thanatos instinct because it is more akin to death. Just like a pulse, you need the down to get an up. You need hardship to feel pleasure. Otherwise you 'flatline'. This is why students invariably say that as reluctant as they might be to go to training on a particular night, they always feel better that they have. You never feel that by staying at home...

That realisation is part of what keeps me training even when I feel the inevitable tug of laziness. My brother is fond of saying: 'If I chained you to a sofa in front of the TV, put a beer in one hand and a tube of condensed milk in the other, you'd soon beg to come back to training...'

Someone once proclaimed to me that he had found 'the meaning of life'. It was, he said, the pursuit of pleasure. I knew immediately that he while he might find occasional pleasure, he would never find happiness. He was, and remains, a hedonist - and hedonism does not appreciate the delicate balance of life: you can't get something for nothing.

But to view your training merely as necessary toil and hardship would be a mistake. Certainly, training should be part of your routine mental and physical exercise plan. You should expect to raise a sweat simply for the sake of raising a sweat, expect to push yourself out of your comfort zone just for the sake of feeling alive. But you shouldn't forget that part of your Eros instinct is about the joy of living. Enjoy your training - find something that stimulates you into creativity and self improvement. Training is a tool for you to use. Don't waste it.

It is part of the Daoist philosophy that no particular moment in time is more important than another, and that it is the journey of life that is important, not any particular goal. This is not to say that goals are not worthwhile: pursue your goals with all the passion that your Eros instinct will allow or even demand. Then, whether you attain a particular goal or not, you will be able to say that every moment spent was spent in the spirit of living.

Copyright © 2008 Dejan Djurdjevic