What is the measure of strength? What is strength? What arbitrary lines have been drawn in the sand that tell me how or what or why?
I have spent much of my life in various forms of martial arts. Starting at four when my dad first suspected that I was being sexually molested, I was being trained, privately, by masters in these various forms. In my dad’s eyes, it would be best if I weren’t a victim, and the best way to not be a victim is to know how to defend oneself.
But while the majority of martial arts is internal, and can certainly help against those things that are not physical, at four this is not the purpose, nor is it the focus.
You see, it was the physical defense that meant more to my dad. A bookworm like me would most likely be considered physically weak by my peers, so what better way to protect me from that than by teaching me how to protect myself? This is the perception of strength with which I grew up. This is what strength meant to me for so long, and in many ways it isn’t wrong…it’s simply incomplete.
Physical strength is but one small aspect. When I joined the military, following in my father’s footsteps, he told me that it would all come down to heart. He made me understand that I was going to be trained to kill, to take the life of another human being, and that I must be okay with that if I am to serve the nation in such a capacity. He helped me realize that the physical was nothing compared to the ability to persevere in the face of adversity, that I had to have the strength to overcome the degradation, the yelling, the belittling. I was a prideful young man, confident in his intelligence, so I must park my ego.
This led me to discovering even more about life. Being physically strong is good, being able to defend myself was great, but the real strength lies within. It was the most important aspect of all the martial arts I’d taken over the years, and it was only barely being understood.
One day, I decided to face my demons, head-on. This led to a journey of self discovery that I am eternally grateful for. For I was able to become just a little bit better, I was able to grow into someone better than I had been. I was once a rage-filled individual fighting daily for the acceptance of those around me. I became a pacifist who was at peace with himself for the first time.
I am still a fighter. I still value intelligence above all else. But I also value the spirit, the heart of those around me. Strength, I have learned, is not about protecting myself against those who mean to wrong or harm me, it goes beyond that. It goes into the spirit. True strength is being able to look yourself in the mirror and actually like who you see looking back at you. True strength is celebrating the greatness in other around you without any need for validation for yourself. True strength is loving the unlovable. True strength is being able to withstand others trying to tear you down yet standing as firm as a mountain. It’s standing up for what you believe in when it isn’t popular or socially acceptable. True strength is often found in the outcast, the misfit, the broken, for they have found a way to continue on when so many would simply tap out.
I am a man who is prone to depression. And I am not alone – this is the important bit. For the time being, we are still standing, and many are fighting their fight alone, their strength waning. It is not a bad thing to lose heart, it is a bad thing to think that the only strength is that found in doing it alone, for the true weakness is found in not asking for help, as I had refused. Twice, I nearly killed myself. But I was lucky both times. First because of my grandmother who had died believing in me, and second because a friend saw the signs and ordered me to see someone…
Perhaps, sometimes in weakness we can find our strength as well. Lessons learned…
Thanks for reading.