How Giving Improves Ourselves

by Marc Winitz

One of the primary reasons I write this blog is to communicate the values and principles of martial arts training in ways that are tangible and useful to those who don’train. Martial arts has given me a lot and one of the longest serving lessons I have received is the importance of giving. At first blush this idea doesn’t fit into most people’s view of combat training. It’s natural to think of punching and kicking, people sparring or wrestling, and the necessary physical work that has to be done just to be in shape. And all of that is necessary. But the real work that is done as you move through the ranks is learning how to give of yourself to others. And there are many ways to do this.

A Unique Definition of Giving
The concept of giving whether of your time, money or expertise has different motivations for each of us. Over years of training I have found that one of the primary measures of progress in personal development is learning how to give of yourself to help others grow. The action of giving is actually an advanced form of learning but done on a very personal level. There arethree areas of giving we focus on in martial training but they apply to everyday life just as transparently:

  1. Skill Based Giving That Improves Topical Mastery (Technical)
  2. Obligation Giving (Strengthening an “Art”)
  3. Service to the Art Form (The Greater Good)

Demonstrating Mastery Through Skill Based Giving
When you go up through the ranks you are required to teach classes as well as to teach others on an individual basis. This method basically forces you to understand the topic in detail, and more importantly how you are communicating. By doing this you develop a level of mastery of being able not just “to do something” but “to show how it is done”. This distinction is critical as I have written about here in the “Player vs. Coach” analogy. And there are plenty of places where this method comes into play in day to day life such as:

  • Parents explaining to a child why they should do something one way instead of another;
  • A work mentor (perhaps a supervisor, or even a peer) helping someone progress in their career;
  • Teachers moving beyond rote discussion and providing an engaging process for a student to learn.

This kind of giving focuses on both teacher and student and has multiple dimensions. However the takeaway for this post is to put yourself in a constant state of “giving” (read “teaching or sharing knowledge with others”) as a way to re-enforce your complete understanding of a topic or subject. But putting yourself in this state you become more effective over time both in helping others and helping yourself. By embracing technical giving, you are improving yourself, something that pays dividends to you and others in many ways. That is assuming you have something useful to offer.

Your Obligation to Advance Your “Art”
At advanced levels of martial arts training we talk a lot about giving back to the art. In other words there is both a direct and implied obligation that senior students (those with knowledge) teach others. This sustains the art – whatever your “art” is – over time and allows it to maintain itself and grow. This is obligation based giving. Some people refer to this as a version of “paying forward” and that is a fair way to categorize what I am describing here with the exception that you are doing it on behalf of the specific activity. So, whether you like martial arts, basket weaving, personal investing, or some other activity, you owe it to the activity itself, and those who have gone before you and have taught you, some level of teaching to continue to promote and strengthen the activity with no expectation of anything in return.

Service To Something Greater Than You
The final element relevant to giving in this context is service. In a dojo setting we require students to contribute time both internally to the school and externally to organizations that need help (such as a charity or non profit organization). This act of putting others before yourself is critical to developing a warriors mentality over time. In feudal Japan the Samurai warrior class gave of themselves to in whatever way necessary to protect both their patrons (Shogun) and the peasant classes they protected. Often times this was done with their lives. In a modern society fortunately we don’t have to do that but the act of serving others captures that spirit. There are many ways to demonstrate service and some examples include:

  • Donating your time or money to a charity
  • Helping a non-profit or church/religious group raise money
  • Sharing advanced skills with students or groups in school settings
  • Offering to speak at relevant events to groups that will benefit from your topic
  • Writing a blog and building a virtual community

I personally get involved in donating money to multiple causes and charities as I decided a long time ago I did not have to be a wealthy philanthropist to make a difference in other people’s lives. Small amounts of money add up in a “Long Tail” approach and method of aggregation and distribution can make a big difference. The idea of service can ultimately be boiled down to this:

Don’t wait until later, you can make a difference in your life and the lives of others by serving something greater than yourself by acting now.

This is true personal development in my opinion. Let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on giving and how do you do this today.

Thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of Aussiegall

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June 21, 2010 at 2:35 pm

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