Once upon a time. A long, long, long time ago. A primitive man or woman stared out of their cave shelter. They were cold, hungry and terrified. There was precious little on the menu for their tribe to eat but they themselves seemed to feature heavily on everything else’s menu. And then a miracle happened. They thought to themselves, “How can I ensure that we don’t starve and that we have some way of stopping that blasted sabre-toothed cat from eating us!” And shortly after that, some really good ideas started to occur to them. Ideas that had sharp, pointy tips and ideas that smoked and burned.
Obviously, I have used plenty of creative license in interpreting this event, but I do believe that this occurred in some form or other in our far-distant past. This was a turning point in our history. Everything we have accomplished, both for good and for ill pivoted on this thought. The thought that we could prepare to face a threat like starvation or predation. 

Why was this such a turning point?
Because it was then, at that moment, that we became predators.

To a greater or lesser extent, every predator, even the active hunters, are ambush predators. Think of a pack of wolves hunting deer. There are certain tactics that they use. They work together as a team, they stalk known grazing areas and water-holes, they target the weakest of the herd. Even though they are active hunters, these tactics can still be considered ambush tactics. 

In order to ambush something, preparation is involved. Prey animals such as deer, antelope, wildebeest and horses do not need to prepare anything. They wake up and start grazing. If a threat appears, they react to the threat. They do not use anything other than the most primitive flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants preparation, such as keeping their eyes peeled and noses fresh to detect a predator’s approach. Prey animals hide in numbers and live securely in the fact that the odds are always in their favour if they are part of a big group and they can run fast. The odds of being taken down by a predator are minimal in a large group of similar prey animals. 

Prey animals do not change themselves or their environment in order to minimize the potential threat of predation. We could go as far as saying that preparation is one of the key differences between predator and prey. Preparation has a chicken-and-the-egg type relationship with the more obvious dietary difference. In fact, it is the different behaviour of our food which requires predators to prepare. Grass and leaves cannot run away. Aside from slow evolution to adapt to plant toxins in their diet, herbivores do not have to contest with their food for the right to eat it. Predators have to fight for their food.

It was then, when our antediluvian ancestor first made the decision to prepare to face threat, that we truly became predators for the first time. From that moment, our predatory powers grew at a tremendous rate because of our rapidly advancing brain and it was because of our adaptability and ingenuity that we developed into the Earth’s apex predator. Science, medicine, technology, art, in fact, all of our achievements have taken preparation to achieve. This predatory behaviour pattern eventually led to man splitting the atom and sending rockets and probes to the outer reaches of our solar system. 

Nowadays, for the most part, we have been afforded the absolute luxury of not having to hunt to feed ourselves. Our meat is ‘hunted’, killed, prepared and packaged by others and presented for our consumption on convenient shelves in local shopping centres. It is given to us in exchange for symbolic representations of resources (money, notes, coins, credit cards). Some of us are even afforded the luxury of choosing to follow speciality diets, such as vegetarianism or veganism. Note that, barring a few exceptions, these diets can only be supported because of the sheer quantity and diversity of foodstuffs available on shopping centre shelves in our modern consumer-driven world. There are parts of the world where it is virtually impossible to practice healthy vegetarianism because of shortages of certain food items.

Even though most of us no longer hunt, our ability to function effectively in human society is heavily influenced by whether we adopt a proactive, hunter’s mindset or not. Because of negative sexual connotations to the words ‘prey’ and ‘predator’ when associated with human beings, I will instead resort to descriptions that are more palatable and that more accurately convey the ideas that I wish to bring across in this article. Descriptions like ‘victim’ and ‘victor’. 

Everyone seems to know what a victim personality is like. We all seem to understand that some people draw negative attention like a flame draws a moth. No one wants to admit that they are a victim and yet there are so many people who live as though they have no power over the path that their lives are taking. They suffocate in negative, abusive relationships. They are constantly in debt. They are addicted to various substances and behaviours. They constantly think negatively about themselves and others. They are afraid of not being accepted in society. They are afraid of offending people. They are afraid of being perceived as ‘bad’ people. They are afraid of failure. They are afraid of many things. In fact, this is how many people live. Drinking fear like water. Let me set the record straight for you. If you are honest enough to admit that you live in fear, you should be ready to take the next step and admit to yourself that you are a victim.

So how does one change from being a victim into being a victor? It requires a full mental attitude shift that takes a considerable amount of time and effort to adopt. We change our mental attitude or posture in much the same way that we correct physical posture. Small, consistent changes over a long period of time.

I believe that the primary attitude shift that is required before we can shed our victim mentality is a change in the way that we deal with fear. Take a page from our early ancestor. They stopped fearing the threats that they were facing and busied themselves preparing to meet those threats. Instead of sitting around in a depressive state doing nothing to prepare for the threats that you face, you could be fashioning spears to slay the metaphorical sabre-toothed cats that prowl the darkness around you.

So where does martial arts come into play in this discussion? Martial arts and other, similar forms of physical and mental training are nothing less than a means of preparing ourselves to face threats. To face fear. As such, they can be a powerful means for proactive, personal change. They are in fact, weapons against fear. When wielded with understanding and mindfulness, they can help to rid your life of fear.

Our particular system, Chang Hong, is filled with many physical and mental training tools all designed to equip a practitioner with the skills and understanding that they need to transition from being a victim in their lives to becoming a victor.

Once upon a time. A long, long, long time ago. A primitive, naked form seemed to grow a foot taller as it stood up straight from its cowering slouch. The rain no longer made it shiver. It looked down to consider a sharp stick at its feet. There was a barely-perceptible glint in its eye. “I wonder what sabre-toothed cat tastes like cooked over a slow fire.”

Written by SiFu Lester Walters, head of the Chinese Martial Arts and Health Centre Australia.