Martial arts hurt! I know right! Whatever you are training, however you are training it, you can be sure that at some point your body is going to be in pain. When we train though, we are expected to push through that pain. It could be during strength training, calisthenics or, when you are being hit repeatedly by your training partner. Most martial arts that I have seen eschew the instinct to show pain when training, or push students to keep practicing regardless of pain or even injury. When you see people like this they are often referred to as “stoic”. What does that mean?

“The man who has anticipated the coming of troubles takes away their power when they arrive,” – Seneca

Stoicism in Martial Arts

Stoicism martial arts

The term comes from the word stoicism which is itself a philosophy that originated in ancient Greece. One of the key tenets of stoicism was that an individual should seek freedom from passion by following reason. Although this may not appear directly linked to martial practice, there are similarities in how martial arts train us not to act with emotion but use focus to fight through pain or suffering.

Often stoics would employ a practice known as “Askesis” by abstaining from worldly pleasures to train and focus the mind. I personally do not take much pleasure from being hit or thrown around the training mat, but understanding the feeling of training helps me to adjust to the everyday pressures of life. Issues at work or at home do not seem so daunting after having spent time training and experiencing pain or stress.

Stoicism martial arts meditation

Similar techniques can be seen in eastern philosophy such as the use of “Mokuso” or “Mushin” in Japan as a way of focusing the mind. By contemplating how a you may suffer in the future, if it does happen, you will not be shocked by it. In fact you will have the ability to choose how to react in the moment. This bears much similarity with the purposes for training in combat systems: as a form of preparation.

“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.” ― Seneca, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca: Essays and Letters

Similarities in Stoicism and Martial Arts

Stoicism martial arts

From a combative point of view, emphasising “stoic” principles make a certain amount of sense. When dealing with violence, one must expect that they will suffer physical and mental pain. Training one’s mind and body to continue to operate under high stress conditions is necessary therefore in preparing the martial artist for violence.

As practitioner’s we are obliged to become comfortable with feeling uncomfortable and to continue to strive for our goals regardless of the suffering we feel. Indeed, one of the early stoic’s Cleanthes of Assos was a boxer prior to beginning his time as a philosopher and, the link of enduring suffering through training can be seen in these two practices.

Stoicism martial arts

Despite Stoicism’s origin in western philosophy, we can see how it shares many similarities with eastern philosophies and methods if training in martial arts. The goal of martial arts is for an individual to overcome suffering (specifically physical violence), therefore a mindset that emphasises determination and a clear head is better than one which falters at the onset of pain. The stoic’s knew that life was hard but, they chose instead to temper and hone the mind in order to face adversity on their own terms. So too in martial arts we seek to train ourselves, that we may face violence or suffering with integrity.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

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