A vital requirement of the martial arts student is the development of compassion, and one of the most difficult. How can that be, you ask?

Most of us believe ourselves to be compassionate people. After all, we love our spouses, we love our children, and we care for our friends and colleagues. We are nice to people in general, but what about the people we don’t like? If we are honest with ourselves, deep down there are always people we don’t like, for a thousand good reasons. Being compassionate to the people we don’t like is the real test.

Here is my definition of compassion; the understanding that each and every person is doing the best that they can, given their temperament, environment, and experiences.

For example, many of us have turned up our nose at the rude, smelly, dirty, homeless alcoholic, perched on the street corner and asking us for money. Would it have made a difference how you felt, if you knew that this person grew up with alcoholic parents, was beaten and abused in childhood, and had never even seen a lifestyle that did not include alcohol? For better or worse, people accept and live in the reality in which they are presented. If you or I had those parents, and grew up in that environment, would we be any different? Maybe, but probably not.

There, but for the grace of God, go I . . .

So, finding compassion for our enemies as well as our friends allows us to live a life without hatred or animosity. I’m sure you will agree that hatred has produced more undesirable consequences for society than compassion. Because you are compassionate doesn’t mean we have to embrace our enemies, nor protect ourselves. Being compassionate does not equate with being weak. We only need to understand that even our enemies are doing the best they can, given their temperament, environment, and experiences. I say to my students constantly, “Be kind to everyone you meet, for they are going through an ordeal of which you have no idea . . .”

In their studies of combat, the Samurai never took life indiscriminately; they valued life. In studying killing, life became more precious, and all life had value; even their enemies. This is compassion.

Compassion requires us to look past the superficial, to understand that people are more complex than we see initially. We treat people with compassion, not because they deserve it or don’t deserve it, but because this is the type of person we wish ourselves to be.

Todd Alan Roberts M.D. is a physician and the chief instructor of Aikido of Nebraska, a martial arts school north of 33rd & Pioneers Boulevard that specializes in mind/body/spirit development in kids and adults, through the teaching of traditional martial arts.

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