The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Courage (Yu)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Rise above the masses of people who are afraid to act.  Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all.  A Samurai must have heroic courage.  It is absolutely risky.  It is dangerous. It is living life fully, completely, wonderfully.  Heroic courage is not blind.   It is intelligent and strong.”

As I mentioned in another article, living and acting with courage does not mean that one lives without fear. Fear, in fact, is quite necessary and a very valuable tool when used correctly. Author Gavin DeBecker, in his great book The Gift of Fear – and other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence reminds us that we don’t want to eliminate fear from our lives , but the manufactured emotions of worry and panic.  The relationship between real fear and worry is analogous to the relationship between pain and suffering.  Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary components of life (Great humanitarians, remember, have worked to end suffering, not pain).

Therefore, courage is not trying to eliminate fear, but acting without letting fear overwhelm us.  This is easier than it sounds.  While sitting in the comfort of our homes, we say to ourselves “Sure, I won’t let fear overwhelm me, I will be courageous!”, but when we are truly faced with a life-threatening situation, our fear takes over our logic, and we “talk ourselves out of ” doing what we know we should.

The Aikido student, working on his courage, tries to place himself in scary situations during his training (such as testing, free-styles, or fall training) in order to become familiar with the feeling of fear and work on acting calmly.  Notice I said scary, not dangerous, since the two are not necessarily the same.  Needlessly injuring oneself does not address fear.

Like many things in life, courage seems to be a character trait, when actually it is a skill to be learned and practiced.  No one is born courageous, but we slowly learn to master our fear, and act and do what is right with courage.

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