The Spirituality of Martial Arts Series
By Dr. Silvia Reid (aka The Chi Whisperer) and Dr. Craig D. Reid
Dr. Craig here; over the past 50+ years of speaking and training with martial artists, 32 years of interviewing and writing about martial arts and martial artists, whether one is into traditional training (internal and external), reality-based self-defense, combative sports or filmmaking, each understood the nature of inner power. Chi is the inner power, Chi is the key to the spirituality of martial arts, and Chi Gong (Qigong) and Chi Healing are two disciplines that directly work with Chi, where Chi Gong is about tapping into Chi for personal benefits, and Chi Healing is about utilizing Chi to help others.
My wife Silvia (aka The Chi Whisperer) and I have a cumulative experience of practicing Chi Gong 74 years and Chi Healing 72 years. With reflection, we want to share our learnings with the martial arts communities to broaden our fellow martial artists’ understanding of the way Chi works and to then apply the knowledge to reap the benefits from working with Chi.
The Spirituality of Martial Arts Series will address how Chi is woven into the tapestry of a martial artist’s physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellness, as to improve the health and martial arts proficiency of all our kindred spirits of martial arts.
After earning a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois in the field of neuroscience, the Chi Whisperer became an established research scientist in the medical schools of Washington University, Yale and UCLA, and a senior research scientist at a pharmaceutical company. One of her many contributions to science was identifying a disease-causing gene and naming the protein product of the gene. In 1984, she decided to focus her martial arts energy and training into mastering one thing, Chi Gong, to the point where she developed one of the most amazing skills that barely one out of a million practitioners can do, read a person’s Chi (more on this another time).
Everything she shares in the Spirituality of Martial Arts Series is her insights derived from her hard-core scientific training and her deep understanding of chi, which are presented in direct, straightforward writing.
The Chi Whisperer on Fear
Fear is an emotion, a basic survival mechanism. It’s designed to protect us and keep us safe. Fear affects our Chi profoundly. When chi is at work it flows. Adequate fear enhances our Chi flow. Excess fear causes Chi disruptions and imbalances.
Overwhelming fear leads us to suppressing. The suppressing reverses (or stops) Chi flow as well as disengages us from feeling all feelings, including emotions and body sensations. These effects on Chi flow and feelings disconnect us from the situation that makes us overwhelmingly fearful in the first place. These effects also prevent our body and mind from coping with the situation. Thus, fear is in control of us.
The suppressed fear manifests in our body into physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle tension, heart issues, and digestive problems. Additionally, unchecked fear can affect mental and emotional well-being, leading to anxiety and other emotional/mental issues.
Emotions are contagious, and fear, in particular, is a powerful emotion that can spread easily from one person to another. We are naturally primed to be fearful for whatever other people are afraid of. Our brain is very proficient in tapping into fear. It automatically focuses on fear and creates narratives to explain, justify and accept the fear, even adding more for us to be afraid of, now and in the future. The fear snowballs into us freaking out, paralyzing, panicking, and having panic attacks.
If we are surrounded by people who are constantly expressing fear and anxiety, we may begin to feel more anxious and fearful ourselves, even if their fears don’t seem logical to us. This can lead to negative consequences, including difficulty sleeping, reduced ability to concentrate, and increased risk of developing anxiety disorders.
This contagious nature of fear will make one’s un-checked fear not only hurt oneself but also others too. Additionally, other people's fear can also impact our behavior. For example, if a parent is overly fearful and protective of their child, this can prevent the child from developing important life skills and can also lead to a sense of dependence and helplessness.
Exaggerated fear can be overcome. When we overcome our excess fear, it can be a very rewarding experience that can also boost our own sense of self-confidence and well-being. We can then help others to overcome their exaggerated fear. By supporting others and helping them to face their fears, we can build stronger relationships and create a more positive and supportive community.
Different tactics have been used to overcome fear. Putting one in extreme danger over and over is a common method used to overcome fear. This method does not snap the person out of fearful tendency. It only overwhelms the person with fear, ending up learning to suppress fear; therefore, reverse Chi flow.
Introducing small doses of fear at a time is a much more effective way of overcoming fear. The small doses are enough for one to be afraid, but not enough for one to suppress it. Also, constructive procrastination is also helpful to get one ready to face the fear. Using the combination of these two strategies allows the brain to recognize that the situation is not so scary, so that the brain stops making up scary narratives.
Before learning Chi Gong, I was facing life threatening situations daily for 22 years due to the terminal lung/digestive, deadly disease cystic fibrosis. I was raised by traditional Scottish parents where we were taught to never complain and to be mindful of our manners. I was unwittingly being primed to be a martial artist. Practicing martial arts, 30 pills/day and a painful lung-mucous clearing therapy called pats, enabled me to survive long enough to learn Chi Gong. My story has been widely publicized on national media and all over the internet. The medical establishment concurs that I’m still alive at 67 due to martial arts and Chi Gong.
When the Harvard physiologist professor, Walter Bradford Cannon, coined the term fight or flight response in 1915, it was based on animal responses to threats. If he had added freeze to the line, it would have been more accurate for humans. I’ve seen many folks freeze under pressure and during fear. Fortunately, martial artists have learned self-defense, whether it works or not is another story, or we can at least run like hell without tripping and falling over ourselves.
The longer I’ve lived, the more I’ve seen how fear daily affects martial artists. Many of us through rigorous training, developing a martial artist mindset, building confidence and discover how to adapt to different environments, when faced with fear, we’ve learned how to suppress, compartmentalize, or block it out. What we were never taught is that the energy of fear remains in the body, and the longer it hangs around, it become harder to get rid of and then it will manifest into major physical health issues down the road. Since we as a martial culture don’t complain about our circumstances, we would rarely or never admit that we were afraid; we’re supposed to man up, deal with it and get on with our lives. Old school.
Let’s be honest though, at some time during our martial lives, hopefully we have the wisdom to recognize or admit that one or more from this wee un-wish list of fears will come, has already arrived, or is still lingering in the body.
1) Getting Old: With age, the fear of not being able to do what we were always able to do, can be disconcerting, frustrating, or even confusing. This can also introduce other emotions into the fold such as feeling ashamed, loosing face, and feeling not good enough.
2) Humiliation: For those competing in competition or combative sports open to the public, the fear of humiliation from forgetting a routine or getting beaten to a pulp in the ring is devastating that can result in damaged psyches and the same slew of emotions described above; shame, loss of face, plus feelings of failure and inadequacy.
3) Injury: Serious injuries can prevent us from training, which can lead to feelings of weakness that can compound fears of failures because we can no longer attain our goals. Then as we get out of shape, fears of not feeling good enough about ourselves grow.
4) The fear of all your self-defense training failing you in real life situations when you learn that you cannot defend yourself or your family during a real fight.
Chi is the source of inner power and Chi flow is Chi at work. Fear not only affects Chi flow, but it also weakens the Chi. Working through fear will improve Chi flow and reduce the weakening of Chi. Though a healthy lifestyle, proper diet and physical training can improve one’s external power, it doesn’t make fear go away or make the inner power stronger. To strengthen the inner power, Chi, can only be accomplished by practicing proper Chi Gong. A key component of martial arts is resilience. By practicing Chi Gong a martial artist can increase one’s resilience from within and this would give a martial artist a better fighting chance to overcome fear and facing any new challenges with ease.
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