The Fierce Joy

dog-455651_640Dog tired, I slogged into my home dojo.  I’d been training three days straight at sister dojos and my body wasn’t used to the intensity yet.  I remembered I’d promised to get equipment out of the storage closet and to grab the newly instituted attendance roster from the office.  That ate up some time.  I stretched and that got me through until the start of class.  Normally I practice kata for a bit before the start of class, but that night, I didn’t feel like it – not one bit, and I love kata.  I made it through warmups.  Then Sensei started us on a sparring drill with partners.  I confess I shlepped my way through the first rounds of that drill.

Sensei called a halt.  I wasn’t the only one dragging.  Sensei upped the ante and made some rules involving pushups for penalties.  Suddenly I remembered a drill I’d done earlier in the week that I knew would be of great help in this drill.  Between the challenge of not getting pushups and the realization of exactly how I could do better, I began to have fun.  My partner caught my energy and we really pushed each other hard.  I felt what I call, “the fierce joy.”  I even laughed as I did my pushups (and I’m not fond of pushups).

After all of us completed our pushups, Sensei said, “Now that was a lot more exciting to watch!”

Wait – didn’t I say I was dog tired?  What about the sore muscles I came in with?  All that was lost in “the fierce joy.”

I know many of my blog posts have been about the fear and anger I’ve been facing down.  But from time to time – and these times are getting more frequent – I feel “the fierce joy.”  It’s hard to describe this emotion.  It’s a wild sort of calm.  I know I perform better under the influence of “the fierce joy.”  Every successful technique brings elation, and every unsuccessful attempt at something puts a fire in my heart to do better.  I’ve felt this “fierce joy” in tournaments, while practicing kata, in seminars, during drills, and even when I sparred with, er, well, truth be told I played the role of “mouse” in a game of “cat and mouse” with someone who is vastly better at Karate than I am and has the rank and trophies to prove it.  I’d love to feel “the fierce joy” every time I set foot in a dojo.

Sometimes I find “the fierce joy” when I’m exhausted.  The other day, a senior student at another dojo said, “When you reach that place – when you’re so tired that you’re at the point of ‘fight or flight,’ it’s a bestial thing but there’s a kind of purity there.”

Bestial – I suppose scientists could put electrodes all over my skull and tell me exactly which parts of the brain are activated when I feel “the fierce joy.”  They’d probably tell me the more “primitive” areas are lighting up like Christmas trees.  Purity – yes, there’s nothing duplicitous about the fierce joy.  It comes straight from the heart and spirit (and maybe a cocktail of hormones too).  The fierce joy lives in the moment and therefore is undiluted by the baggage of our past or the worries about our future.

“The fierce joy” is the opposite of panic.  “The fierce joy” takes the bull by the horns, pushes through fear and doubt, and exults in triumph.  This is a gift for us fighters – I know I learn better when I’m in that place.  Yes, “the fierce joy” can be quenched. Pain, a reprimand, an injured comrade, or a fire alarm can end it very quickly – and that is a good thing because sometimes it is vitally important to switch modes of operation!  But on the whole, “the fierce joy” is a fantastic emotion that helps me push beyond where I once thought my limits were.

How often do you experience “the fierce joy?”

Author: Joelle White

I began training in Karate in June of 2014 after a 27 year hiatus.

16 thoughts on “The Fierce Joy”

  1. This is a bit like when I said to my husband that I find kumite relaxing and fun……that is the force joy right there……much better name for it. I find I can even get it thinking back on those times in class.

    1. Hi, Rach! I don’t really think of kumite as relaxing – I have to force myself to relax (at least I’m getting better at catching tension) but I’m starting to think of it as fun – which helps me relax 🙂 Kudos to you for finding the fierce joy every time 🙂

  2. Joelle,

    I like your thoughts here. The fierce joy you mention is the spirit that I think all senseis want their students to bring to class. It is what is desired when your instructor says, “Be a good partner” during a drill or “Pick up your spirit”. Your use of the Tiger is an interesting and good choice. Okinawa and some Japanese karate teach techniques that represent tiger clawing movements, but tigers also represent that quiet, raw power that can be unleashed suddenly and with amazing quickness. The tiger knows what he can do. A karate practioner who has this fierce joy surging through them is bringing a level of energy into their workout that can be contagious. It allows you to work through pain and discomfort to have a better experience.

    I always loved to come to class when I knew I was getting to line up and work out. I knew that the feeling of pushing myself to give my max would make me feel great when I was done. I expect that this feeling is mimicked in other athletic pursuits, to include avid Cross Fit practioners, who love the effects from their efforts. For senior karate people, I have heard the references to the mental toughness that comes with keeping your fierce joy with you throughout your workout. It can help you learn that the only limits to what you can do, are those you let into your mind. It is written in many older karate texts I have that your real learning comes when you are tired beyond belief and are pushed beyond that level. I love to feel that joy when I come to the dojo.

    I tell students that the real benefit from their training, from a self-defense point of view, is that they can switch into that persona of self-confidence when suddenly confronted with a need and not be a frightened deer unsure of which way to run. Once they harness the ability to tap into that energy available with your fierce joy, they can move easily into a defense response that will surprise and probably overwhelm an attacker.

    I would encourage you to remember that the joy you feel is real and a good sign that you are on track to really profit from your interest in karate. Keep sharing your thoughts and keep an introspective eye on how you are reacting to events in and out of the dojo. You may be receiving a challenge to grow and learn that you didn’t expect. Train hard and keep delving into the broad, wonderful world of the martial arts.

    1. Ossu, Sensei Tony!!! [bow]

      What a joy to “see” you here!!! I’m sorry I’ve overlooked this comment for days – I’ll have to find the setting that emails me whenever someone posts a comment. I’ve been missing listening to your sage advice after class, but at least we can keep in touch even though we’re now on opposite sides of the country!

      OK, so when I hear those cues coming from a Sensei during class, I’ll know to do an attitude check and try to find that fierce joy if I’m not there already.

      Tigers are cool. It’s amazing what we can learn from animals, isn’t it?

      Keeping one’s head in a life-threatening situation is a vital skill, and thank you for telling me the fierce joy can be a tool for that.

      Never fear, the other Senseis and Sempais are making darned sure I’m challenged to grow and learn. I’ve noticed an uptick in intensity lately, so yeah – I wasn’t expecting being challenged so much this early in my training. I haven’t quite reached my one-year anniversary yet! I guess the prior training from years ago had sunk in more deeply than I know.

      Again, fantastic to “see” you here! Thanks for reading and commenting.


    1. Ossu, Sensei Ando! [bow]

      LOL, I’ll be happy if the term makes the circuit of the martial arts world and I hear it used by a Sensei who’s leading a seminar 🙂


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