Hopping into the shower this morning, I saw a nice big long-legged spider sitting in the tub.

As a life-long arachnophobe, this presented me with a bit of a dilemma. My past response would vary between chucking a number of objects into the tub to try and kill it, gathering my courage and choosing a large object to squish it with, deciding I didn’t need a shower for another week or so, or waiting for my wife to come home and kill it for me.

In an effort to overcome my fear, I’ve been learning about spiders. As a result of that learning, I’ve come to appreciate the function they play in keeping a balanced ecosystem within and without the home. This type of spider feasts on black widows and other spiders that are not so nice to have inside, and also eats silverfish and clothes moths. So…the only real problem with the spider was that I was choosing to let it bother me. That’s not a good reason to kill something useful.

Especially when it only took me a second to throw out my thoughts and reach down, scoop the sucker out of the tub with my bare hands and let him scamper off across the floor to somewhere safer.

In that moment I realized I’ve come to be a new person.

Last night in class I had students working on dealing with some styles of fighting that had caused them problems in tournaments and open sparring times. As part of this process, we were working with rapier and buckler and I taught them some of my favourite tricks.

During sparring one student was trying to use one of the tricks, but was failing because she was trying to apply it backwards…rising instead of dropping.

When I talked to her about it afterwards she remarked that she knew what she wanted to do, but her body wouldn’t do it. She said she was having a hard time breaking out of her patterns.

I laughed, and told her that she’d gotten comfortable, and that you can’t learn when you are comfortable. Change only comes when you put yourself at risk.

Becoming a better martial artists is a continual process of moving out of comfort zones and braving changes that will usually result in a net increase of failure in the short term. It takes time to break out of the comfortable that has brought you success to a certain level. Time and courage.

Courage is a funny thing. The stoics use examples of heroism to explain courage, but expect it to be a daily virtue. Something we practice in the small moments in our life.

We just wrapped up another eight hour self-defense workshop, and again we noticed a consistent response, a pattern of change that happens in students.

A big part of the course is learning to observe the world around you in new ways, to categorize baseline behavior and recognize aberrant behavior. Coupled tightly with that we teach students to make decisions. We present a simple decision tree to use when a threshold of behavior is breached. One of the decisions is to report, and we make sure students not just know local police non-emergency numbers and 911, but also become familiar with how the process works once your start the call. The first time you call 911 it can feel like the scariest commitment in the world, and we want students to not have to feel like it’s such a hurdle. Knowing that there is the non-emerg number to call helps you feel like there are tiers, and the choice becomes easier.

The consistent thing we find happening is that we send out students overnight to go a find a busy spot and observe, and record their observations. And it’s an absolute given that every time we teach this segment, someone is calling non-emerg or 911 that night. Every single time.

It’s not that they are suddenly winding up in bad places, but more that the small act of becoming observant and feeling empowered to report means you are more involved in the world around you. Things you might have shrugged off or walked past or assumed someone else would deal with or maybe just tried to justify as not that big a deal…suddenly become something you can usefully act upon.

Small bits of courage lead to change, to new patterns of behaviour, and to becoming a new person.