For my money, nothing makes you tougher than outdoor work. Being outdoors no matter the weather, doing physical labour? It can break you faster than anything. It’s easy on sunny days and overcast days. But burning heat and pouring rain? Every part of you wants to fold up and call it quits, but you can’t. You tell yourself one more step, one more hammer nailed, one more rock lifted, and you will give up. One more. You just keep saying that over and over, until you are told it’s over and done and you can go home. Sometimes the relief is so strong you feel like you are going to break into tears.

But then you gotta get up and do it again tomorrow. You learn to accept the hardship. You learn to accept that rain is just going to always be there, and you need to stop thinking about it. You learn that scorching heat and salt in your eyes is how life is, and always will be. Coolness and shade are for other people…at first you resent them, then you stop caring, then you pity them. They will never know what it is like to be one with the lash of nature.

Compared to all that, getting punched in the face is nothing. That other guy can can punch you over and over, but eventually he’s gonna get tired. You know the rain never gets tired. The heat never stops. The wind will blow the snow in your face far past your point of madness. And there is always the potential to punch the other guy in the face, or block the punches. No matter how good he is, you can always try to stop him, and still have a chance to do so. Ain’t a lot you can do about the weather, despite what clothing manufacturers tell you.

Fortitude is a virtue you don’t hear much about, but we talk about courage all the time. It’s a thing other people have, but we don’t. It’s a thing that only occurs as a response to opportunity.

Working security one night, talking with another guard, and his cel phone rang. It was the drug store across the street…man with a gun just entered the place, matching the description of a suspect in a string of recent armed robberies at the store. Our brains shut off, we were in our vehicles in seconds, driving over the sidewalks and road dividers, careening into the parking lot at high speed, spinning out and slamming on the brakes, flying out of our cars and into the man coming out of the store in his hoody…

Case of mistaken identity, and panicky employees. Thankfully. Was it courageous of us to charge into an assumed armed man? I’d say no. We both thought ourselves stupid afterwards, dumb as bricks. We moved on instinct, not courage. Had we thought, weighed the options, and then decided on a course of action? Starting that action would have been courageous. Acting without thought, on pure instinct? That was ape thinking. Just brainless animals…

Courage for a lot of people is just getting out of bed in the morning. Or picking an apple to eat instead of a bag of chips. Or saying that no, I’m tired tonight so I’m going to stay home. Courage is the physical expression of the choices we make to be virtuous.

It’s what I love most about fencing. Not the physical motions, or the attacks or the defenses, but the courage it takes to say “Yes, you got me. Good shot.” I get to be practice being a stoic every time I fence someone, and I have to fight against my instincts, my anger, my shame, my sense of righteousness…and admit my loss. It’s a meditation on honesty and courage, and hits a truth you will never find when sitting in a quiet room with crossed legs, incense, and peaceful thoughts.