Martial Arts and Compassion – the new ‘Way’ for therapists? – Syd Hiskey and Neil Clapton

To the uninitiated, at first glance the martial arts may seem to have little to do with compassion, let alone what relevance it might have to you as a therapist.

However, many if not all traditional martial arts are rooted in a philosophy of training one’s whole self (body and mind) and cultivating character strengths in order to become a fearless and compassionate human being. The Do (i.e. ‘Way’) of each martial art are various embodied and entrained ways to help us face and resolve conflicts (non-violently and affiliatively), prevent and halt suffering, and ultimately live a more harmonious life that benefits ourselves and others.

Once we can start to see the martial arts more clearly in this light, it becomes easier to see how martial training might help us develop a more radically embodied compassion as therapists. Martial arts training requires us to develop the following:

  • be balanced and centred across emotional states so as to respond wisely and flexibly in the moment;
  • be sensitive, attuned and responsive to the emotional states and intentions of others;
  • have deep distress tolerance in being with strong (threat-based) emotions;
  • and the courage to persist and take action in the face of pain and threat.

These are all abilities, competencies and attributes that are integral to the two psychologies of compassion (Engagement and Action) as defined in Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT).

Martial arts can sharpen and enhance our abilities as therapists to be emotionally attuned, tolerant and compassionately responsive. It affords us greater confidence to tolerate, work through and repair ruptures that are an inevitable part of therapy, work with fears/blocks/resistances to compassion, and to know when to be more direct or restrained in crucial moments.

Our compassion may sometimes need a fierceness to it that helps us act with courage and integrity, in being genuine and honest in our responses as well as not being afraid to confront others in a respectful and helpful (not harmful) manner.

These strengths need not be confined to the therapy room, with these embodied principles being easily transferable to relational conflicts and challenges in our everyday lives.

So if you fancy cultivating radically embodied compassion that will benefit you not only professionally but personally, why not give martial arts a try?

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Dr Neil Clapton is a Clinical Psychologist working in the NHS. He was awarded a 1st-degree Black Belt in Taekwondo at the age of 13.

Dr Syd Hiskey is a Clinical Psychologist in full-time private practice. He has practised a wide range of martial arts, most recently focusing on Wing Chun Kung Fu and Hybrid Defence.

Neil and Syd founded Fierce Compassion Martial Arts (FCMA) in 2018, with the intention of blending their long-standing interests in both Compassion Focused Therapy and Self-Defence/Combative Arts. The philosophy of FCMA is to draw on a wide range of martial traditions and practices to help cultivate radically embodied compassion, with the aim to be halting, not harmful or hurtful.

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Post image courtesy of Unsplash.


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