When I was 16 years old I got into a fight with an older guy who accidentally tapped my bumper in traffic. I started yelling at him from my car. He yelled back. Pretty soon we were both out of our cars shouting at each other in the middle of the street. Then he pushed me and I pushed him back. Things went downhill fast after that.
I’d been taking karate lessons for a few years then. And If I’d remembered my training, I would not have let it escalate to the point of a physical fight. This guy was much bigger than me — I was a skinny, 16 year old kid. I had no chance of winning using force against force. And besides, winning pointless fights was not the purpose of my karate training anyway. But in the heat of the moment all I remembered was the kicks and punches I learned in karate class.
And I did the stupidest thing I could have done. In a split second, I told myself that I didn’t want to hurt this guy — that I did not want to punch him in the face. So I did the “sensible thing” and threw a spinning rear kick to his gut. Of course, he immediately caught my leg and then came crashing down on top of me in a heap. He was a lot bigger than me, a lot heavier, and the fight was over in a few seconds as all he did was basically lay on top of me until spectators pulled him off. I lost. Badly. And when he came over to apologize, I was too upset and embarrassed to even shake his hand.
Not that I recommend picking a fight with a road-raged, corn-fed, big ‘ol country boy; however that moment was a perfect lesson in one of the key principles that underpin the Japanese martial art of Aikido that I have been studying for almost 30 years now: “heiki” (平気). The two kanji characters (pronounced “hey-key”) mean “calm energy”. The term can be found in many Zen sutras, or chants, and is often translated as “equanimity” — to remain calm and composed especially in the face of danger and stressful situations.
Have you ever been in a fistfight or other physical altercation? It is VERY stressful and scary when you know someone really wants to hurt you. Do you think remaining calm to see the right path forward in a physical altercation — practicing equanimity — is beneficial? Yes! How important is it to remain calm and composed when you are fending off a hostile takeover of your business? Or if your latest product launch just became delayed by six months and funding is running out? Or if a key employee decides to leave after many years of dedicated service?
I have faced all of these situations and many, many more. It is called “life”. Life is fast and messy, fun and joyful, filled with ups and downs. And I have embraced equanimity at every step of the way. How did I do it? NOT by throwing spinning rear kicks. What would you do? How would you do it?