Monday, 8 November 2010

Distress & Eustress - developing the heart, mind, body and spirit

Before I begin to talk about the 4 intelligences in detail I want to discuss a factor that occurs in each intelligence and which if managed well will help us to connect, understand and use these intelligences to improve not just our martial arts but our whole life through the medium of martial arts.

A Martial arts study done properly is the study of life skills, because a fight is a snap shot of life in microcosm. Think of all the things that rush through ones mind and that happen in the brief moments involved in a self defence situation. Emotion, thinking, action, physical energy and the desire to regain ones composure. Anger, fear, love, (protecting those you care about) goals, strategy, muscle power, cardio stress. All these and more flash through our beings as we fight to defend ourselves or others. In our daily lives these things exist but in a frenetic way (hopefully!). The sustained study of martial arts helps us to understand and cope with the distress of violence by building our tolerance to stress that it brings.

There are two types of stress: Distress and Eustress. Distress is bad stress, the kind that hurts and damages us - fear, anguish, pain, worry etc. Eustress is positive stress the kind that helps us to develop rather than prevent us as distress can do. For instance, if you are unfit and haven't run in ages and you decide to go for a 5 mile run you will suffer distress during the run if you push yourself beyond your capabilities and beat yourself up for not doing as well as you did the last time you ran. This is distress because you are doing too much, too soon, too hard - it just hurts and you probably won't be too excited about doing the same thing again which will affect your motivation to stay fit.

Eustress on the other hand is based on a positive use of stress. For instance let's take that run that stressed us out so much before. Using eustress we would run less far in a longer time frame at a lower intensity. We stop if we are tired and walk for a while, then start running again when we feel better. The negative affects are far less than the first run so we are more inclined to try doing the run again. Gradually we increase our distance, speed and intensity, layering on the stress gently until we can cope with a 5 mile run and see it as a pleasurable and low stress experience.

Martial arts starts in the same way and utilises eustress to build your tolerance to distress. As a beginner under a qualified instructor you do less, for less time at a lower intensity. Your instructor encourages and praises you, gradually increasing the intensity as you are able to cope better with it. The intention is for each class to stress you a little bit more each time and as you set the goal for your Leadership Black belt you move through the belt ranks you reset your stress tolerance to a higher notch until you can maintain a level of intense stress that would have caused you high level of distress as a beginner.

The understanding of the difference between the two types of stress can be the difference between achieving black belt and beyond or failing at the starting gate. Some people who want to take up martial arts are so stressed about what might happen to them that they never get started. The exact same thing happens in life and our martial arts study done well, should connect, reflect and mirror how we deal with our daily life outside the training hall. This is an important distinction that many martial arts teachers miss. So next time you turn up to class consider how you are experiencing stress and how this compares with your daily life stress.

Next time we'll look at the first of the 4 intelligences - emotion. Thank you for reading today and if you enjoy my blogs why not subscribe to them daily. You can also read them direct from our website at: forward this blog to a friend who might enjoy it too.

Best wishes

Tony Higo
Chief Instructor
National Martial arts College
0800 092 0948

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