This month, we have been teaching our child students about courage. It’s funny… when you ask them if they know what it is to have courage, they all seem to answer the same… “it means you are not afraid of anything”. It is so refreshing to see such innocence. I can actually remember being a child and thinking that there was nothing my dad was afraid of. Of course we all learn as we mature that there is nobody on earth who does not feel fear. I explain this to them and tell them that having courage is doing something that you believe is necessary, even though you may be afraid to. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines courage as “moral or mental strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty”. Therefore, having courage is having the ability to overcome your fear and face something or do something that you feel needs to be done because it aligns with your personal beliefs. The courageous individual can control his fear and does not let his fear control him or his actions.
Some obvious situations that children can relate to that require courage are standing up to a bully or learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels for the first time. However, danger does not always have to be present for one to be courageous. Consider the situation of a person’s first time speaking to a crowd. It really amazes me, but according to studies, the thing that the majority of people fear most in life is public speaking (apparently, death is second on this list). There is really no inherent danger in making a speech. However, it takes a lot of courage for most people to speak in front of a crowd for the first time. Obviously, the public speaker must face the fear of embarrassing himself.
When explaining the meaning of courage to the students, I always make sure that they know the difference between having courage and being stupid. You see, just because you do something that you are afraid to do does not mean that you are courageous. For instance, I would be more scared than the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz to jump from the Tobin Bridge into the Mystic River just because it was hot out. To actually do it would not be courageous, but rather stupid. It is stupid because being hot is obviously not a good enough reason to justify taking such a big risk. It is only an act of courage if the risk is worth taking.
So what is it that makes the risk worth taking? The intended result of the courageous act must produce benefits that exceed the value of that which is at risk. Taking the example of a child learning to ride a bike without training wheels for the first time, consider what is at risk and what the intended result would be. The likely risk for the child might be a minor injury, such as a skinned knee or a cut on the arm. There is also a risk of a more serious injury such as a broken bone or a sprained ankle, but this risk is much lower and less likely to happen. The benefit of course, is that the child learns to ride a bike, giving that child a certain freedom and a great deal of enjoyment from this activity, perhaps for the rest of his or her life. In addition to this, it will give the child an increase in confidence to face other challenges he or she is certain to face in the future. In this instance, I think most would conclude that the risk is worth taking.
Why do we as Martial Artists feel that it is important to have courage? Courage builds strong character, which is what we are all about in the Martial Arts. There are many times during everyone’s life when they are faced with a situation in which a difficult decision has to be made. Sometimes the right decision involves carrying out an act that may put one in danger or in a position that they are not very comfortable facing. We want our students to have the ability to evaluate these situations and have the confidence to decide what is right. When the right thing to do is something that is dangerous or uncomfortable, we need them to have the courage to execute. No matter how the situation turns out, there should be no regrets. Only a person of strong character can carry this out.
Keep up the good fight!