The True Meaning of Having Heart
“You gotta have heart. All you really need is heart. When the odds are saying you’ll never win, that’s when the grin should start” - Damn Yankees.
It’s a classic line from one of America’s classic musicals. We talk a lot in sports and specifically in the world of fighting about the heart. An athlete with the will to compete has heart. When Jordan played in the finals with the flu he showed tremendous heart. David slew Goliath with a slingshot, but behind it was a herculean heart. We use the term heart frequently, but we seldom stop to ask what heart really means and where it comes from.
In many traditions the heart chakra holds specific importance. In the art of qi gong, the dantian is located here. According to qi gong, this dantian is one of the furnaces that transforms energy in the body. This middle region or heart chakra transforms the qi energy into shen or spirit energy. Such heart is associated with love, compassion, and being selfless. This energy comes from connecting to something beyond ourselves. This connection occurs when we tap into the authenticity of what is really motivating us – our higher power. In these ancient traditions balancing the heart chakra is about the blending of physical mindfulness in this region with your spiritual foundation.
Regardless of one’s spiritual belief, it’s interesting and important to note what heart is and where it comes from. The common thread amongst all traditions and beliefs is that the heart is associated with love. This is compelling given that competing and fighting are often thought of as combative, pitting ourselves against an opponent. Competing is even associated with war and is thought of as a battle against an enemy. Yet the favorable outcome comes from love. As for the real competition and foe, our toughest competition is our self. When we are willing to accept our shortcomings and see ourselves truthfully we find the resolve to work in balance and our strengths are magnified. With such acceptance we fight not only for ourselves but also for something deeper, and we do so out of love.
I wrote several months ago about one of my favorite books on the subject, A Fighter’s Heart by Sam Sheridan. Sheridan has studied with some of the top coaches and fighters in many fighting disciplines across the globe. He has written extensively on the subject of fighting and what motivates. What he came to discover is that regardless of the discipline, heart matters most. The love of the game matters much more than the hatred of your opponent or whatever will power might be at play. In the end, only love drives the heart, and only love conquers.
When people think about the martial arts they mostly do so by thinking about the nature of the external arts. That is, what we see - the knees, the elbows, the kicks, and so on. However, behind that external picture is our internal nature. Our internal nature evolves from the ability to be wholly and completely present and to understand and accept ourselves. In my coaching, people frequently ask me for training tips. I dole out my fair share of tips from nutritional advice to teaching boxing students the proper stance and hand placement. Of course, the key in executing the advice we all get is being conscientious and having daily discipline. Where that discipline comes from is having an internal focus. This is where the heart resides, both literally and figuratively. The heart is found in stillness and is seen in action.
Heart is beyond simply finding our own will. Human will can propel us to do another rep or run another mile. Human will can indeed motivate, but it’s the nature of lasting motivation that matters. Heart is that lasting motivation. Human will is what gets us to start a diet, or get into the gym. Heart is what gets us to stay there. The heart is about love and that is what should motivate. Hate is about human will and ultimately human will falters. That or it’s conquered. Some fighters understandably fight with hatred. Such motivation can make a fighter feared and dominant for a while. However, that hatred also wanes over time as a bully becomes complacent, lazy, and beaten. Those that fight with hate drown in their of river of that hatred.
Heart transforms our lives, knowing that we are fighting for what we love. Heart is what gets us to compete authentically with our true nature. When we see real sportsmanship and those competing at a level far beyond their athletic prowess, that is heart. When we see those who graciously lose and do so with every effort, that is also heart. Heart is even failure and the willingness to accept it, grow from it, and try again. Even in defeat, no one can take true heart and love away from you.
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