I Panda, Therefore I am

Stoic philosophy has been gaining popularity over the last few years, with books like The Ego is the Enemy and The Obstacle is the Way conquering the New York Times bestseller list renewing interest in the works of stoic philosophers like Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius (among others). What is stoic philosophy you may ask? Before I tell you, you may be surprised to find out you are already a stoic. Do you endure hardship without feeling or complaint? Do you avoid worrying about things outside your control, and concern yourself only with the things that you can? If the answer is yes—even if you only manage this thinking on the mat—you are well on your way to following stoic philosophy.

Stoicism is an ancient Greek philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BC. Stoicism has just a few central teachings. It sets out to remind us of how unpredictable the world can be, how brief our moment of life is, how to be steadfast and strong, and most importantly, how to stay in control of yourself. Stoicism has been practiced by kings, presidents, artists, writers, and entrepreneurs. Recently, NFL teams have been added to their mental training.

So how do we apply these set of 2,000 year-old principles to the martial arts we know and love? I can think of many areas but I would like to start with the following?

I run into practitioners, both competitors and hobbyists, that worry and become incredibly stressed over things they have no control over, all the while neglecting things that they do have control over and could be benefiting from. I have seen everything from anxiety over what their bracket looks like to the point of stressing weeks before tournament-day and checking who signs up in their divisions multiple times a day. Then they start dreading fighting this or that competitor in their first match because he is Brazilian or is from a rival team or has a longer competition record.

Meanwhile, they neglect things they can control like a steady training schedule, picking the toughest guys in the room to roll with, not sitting out during sparring, and eating healthy. For the hobbyist, many times they complain about training partners, how a guy they started with is improving faster than them and will get promoted before them because he comes to class more often, effectively comparing themselves with a 19-year-old with no job while they are in their mid-thirties with a career and a family.

You do not need to immerse yourself in Greek philosophy to benefit from stoicism.

Can you identify what you are in control of in your training? Do you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to work on every time you go into class? Are you taking ownership over your training? Do you drill mindlessly new technique shown in class and never attempt it during sparring?

Stop worrying about things outside of control and focus on what you can control. This simple principle can transform your training and make you a better grappler.