Locus of Control
A simple way to determine the level that a student will attain in the martial arts and in his or her own life is to ask a simple question: Where do you believe that your locus of control lies?
Okay, maybe that isn’t such an easy question! Locus is a fancy word for location, so locus of control refers to where you believe the controlling elements of your life lie. Do you believe that your life situation is controlled by external circumstances and powers, or do you believe that the way you feel inside and the actions that you take determine the course of your life? As martial artists, we have a unique perspective on this important question. A martial artist must believe that they have an internal locus of control. If not, why take the time to train so hard over so many years? Furthermore, with proper training a martial artist will be able to get hands-on experience proving the point that our inner attitudes and abilities heavily influence the outcomes of our lives. There are outside factors to consider, but through training we can adapt to those factors and overcome them.
Say you have stepped into a martial arts school for the first time, and the only fight you were ever in was a first grade tussle over a cat’s eye marble. You don’t have any experience, but you feel that it is important to learn self-defense just in case you ever get into a bad situation. Imagine that the instructor puts a helmet on you, puts you in front of a large, athletic school champ, and tells you that you have to go full contact with him if you want to join. Now, you might start to feel that your locus of control is outside of you, more specifically, standing about 3 feet in front of you. This is a big, bad, mean circumstance staring you in the face, and you don’t have much inside that will help you to deal with this situation. Or do you? If you accept that you must follow decisions that are made for you, then you believe in external locus of control. The truth is that you can say, “No thanks” and walk away from the whole mess, as long as you have your ego in check. That is taking control of the situation. You don’t have to summon up super human powers from inside of you to somehow miraculously defeat the larger, stronger, and more experienced foe. You simply take charge of the situation, and leave.
Let’s say you got through that first day, looked around, and found a good, reality based school and began your training. You have used your internal controls to take action to better yourself. You chose to keep looking rather than being dissuaded by your first encounter. Through training, you slowly but surely increase your ability to handle bigger, tougher, and meaner circumstances. Two years go by, and you have been training and sparring 3 times a week. You have earned the right to be confident in your abilities, and it is due to your own choices. It wasn’t an outside circumstance that got you in the gym every week, but your decision to allot the necessary time and effort for training. Decisions are internal. They are up to you. You can make good decisions or bad decisions, but either way, they come from within and the results will reflect the quality of those decisions.
Let’s say that another guy in your situation went into that barbaric martial arts school looking for training. After that frightening confrontation on his first day of training that he vowed never to enter another martial arts school for the rest of his life. Two years go by, and he finds himself in a bar after work. He isn’t feeling good about himself, he is in lousy shape, and is in a bad mood. Someone accidentally bumps him, spilling his drink. He gets angry, tempers flare, and he finds himself in a fight. He starts swinging wildly, but the other guy is stronger, pins him up against a wall, and starts knocking his teeth out. After getting tossed out of the bar and making his way home, he sits in front of his best friend the television and begins lamenting on how cruel life is. There he was minding his own business when some guy accosts him, then beats him up. There was nothing he could do, because the other guy was bigger and stronger. This is exactly how people develop an external locus of control. They begin to believe that their lives are based on external circumstances over which they have no control. The truth is that our anti-hero’s downfall started with an internal decision made two years before.
By making the choice to not train in martial arts, our anti-hero started his downward decent. Rather than looking at the situation and realizing that there are other good gyms around, he generalized and said that all martial arts schools are bad. He gave up after the first try. Remember that quitting is a decision that only you can make. You are the only one who can say the words “I quit”. That is your choice, and yours alone, thus an internal locus of control. By that decision, this guy has nothing to do after work. He ends up frequenting the local bars. His physical body slowly deteriorates, and he gets fat, tired, and pessimistic. He spends too much time watching other people live their lives on television, instead of getting out of the house and living his own life. Someone bumps him at the bar, and he makes the choice to be a jerk. He could have let it go, but no. He was in a bad mood, so he tries to make someone else miserable too, with the end result being more misery and trips to the dentist’s office. He couldn’t handle the other guy physically because he didn’t take the time to develop the proper skills, and he wouldn’t had to deal with this “circumstance” at all if he spent his time in the gym instead of the bar.
Can you see how this chain of circumstances can be looked upon as bad luck, when in reality it was the result of a series of decisions? The great law of cause and effect is at play in our lives everyday, with some decisions determining long term effects. Our hero, who made some good choices, will probably never get into a street altercation because of his lifestyle choices. If he does end up in a rough and tumble situation, he will at least be well equipped to handle it. We must take into account that there may be times when circumstances are beyond our control, but we can still work to improve our standing. If governments decide to go to war, that affects your life, but you still have choices to make within the context of situation. We have to deal with gravity everyday, and for thousands of years it kept mankind on the ground. Through research and experimentation, we now have tens of thousands of aircraft moving around the world everyday. If you have made some poor choices in the past, as we all have done, don’t despair. I remember feeling that I was a victim of circumstance, living in abject poverty with no conceivable way out. I had an external locus of control. Thankfully, I made the decision to read lots of books about self-improvement and learned to change the way I see the world. I began to take charge of my life, I started to make better decisions, and my life has been improving steadily ever since. You can do the same by knowing that you have control, and that the choices you make today will determine your future.
By realizing that your locus of control is internal, you can jump-start your life into new directions and dimensions. Make the choices today that will shape the future that you want in ten years. Use your martial arts training as a blueprint for the other areas of your life, and follow the same path of training and improving. If you are unhappy with your job, start training for something you want to do. It is your choice, and there is always a way to make things work for the better in your life. There will always be circumstances and resistance to deal with, but through consistent training and determination, you will be able to move forward in the direction of your dreams.
Founder of Jeet Kune Do Unlimited.
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