We spend our lives faced with choices, everyday we are deciding about this or that, what to wear, where to go, who to interact with etc. The options for these types of choices are clear-cut. However, for the uninitiated, there is another world of choice that many of us do not even realize exists. These are the decisions that your mind makes for you thousands of times a day, every day. Most people don't even know that a choice may actually exists for each of these auto response reactions we have programmed in our heads. That people react differently to the same situation is a clue to this phenomenon.
We are programmed from the very start, some say by genetics, some say by our environment. Whatever the answer, from birth we continue to program our minds on what we see, hear or do and that is based on our culture, parents, teachers, environment etc. The human mind is a learning machine far greater than the largest or most powerful computer. Unfortunately, also like a computer, if crap goes in, crap comes out and our prisons are full of examples of this.
Mind programming takes away our need to relearn something every time we encounter it and is an essential part of the learning process and being human. Some auto responses are good some are not; most people don't know the difference and that is a problem. That we have an automatic response to almost every situation makes us predictable, and predictability leads us to conformity and mediocrity. Once we do something with a self-satisfying feedback a number of times (even from the smallest thought), it starts to become an auto response; this process starts from day one. The mind is very good at figuring out problems, not always the optimum solution, but once solved we are quick to use the same response time and time again to a varying degree of success. That the solution is not optimal and worked once or twice in a fixed situation years before seems irrelevant and means that it will ultimately work against us. In a life or death struggle anything but a 100% success rate is unacceptable and continuing to do the same things can never attain that success rate. The definition of insanity is 'doing the same things and expecting a different result' an amusing anecdote, but so close to the truth. By this definition, most of us are insane.
Enter the martial arts. Through emotional and physical programming we have become the way we are, we react to stimuli from our environment in a more and more predictable way, as we get older. This predictability leaves the individual open to manipulation, attack and ultimately defeat. So many individuals have been brought down because of their absolutely predictable behavior. That most people don't see that they have a choice to this auto response is the issue. They live their lives in the mistaken belief that they are the way they are and there is no choice, how very wrong.
For EVERY situation there is a choice, we may not like the options and if we have been programmed well enough then we are down right uncomfortable about any alternatives. Regardless of this uncomfortable place, there are always choices, accept this and start getting comfortable with chaos because we'll never cover all the bases. For the martial artist on the path to self-discovering and fulfillment, the first step is to recognize that choices always exist, for most that is not an easy step, reactions and thoughts are the very core of who we are. The next step is gaining knowledge, the mind sets it's own boundaries in a world that has no boundaries, and therefore everything is possible where we think this is or that isn't possible. Don't use your conscious mind to accept of rejects this or that, as we all do hundreds of times a day. If someone can think it then it is possible, who are you to say it's not? The 'head in the sand' response is the land of the bigot, the extremist and the ignorant.
Gain knowledge, look at your response to situations especially those reactions you never considered; why you do something or think/react a particular way. To quote Juvenal (AD 60 - 128) 'know thyself'. Start looking for the options. I can strike this way OR that way, the knife can do this OR it can do that, I can get mad OR I can get even OR I can forget it. Be a leader not a follower, continually question and challenge the process.
This path of self-discovery allows you to make choices, and then you are in control of your environment rather than the other way round. Free thought makes you unpredictable, and the man with a free flowing mind is, in terms of combat, a uniquely dangerous individual, someone who stands out amongst his brothers. Right thought, right action! To do this without conscious thought is the ultimate goal, but that can only be reached through a process of rigid self-discipline and hard work. We recognize these characteristics in the tenants of most martial arts styles, yet so many fall by the wayside. We are way too insulated in our created synthetic worlds, mere shadows of our ancestors that faced the life or death struggle everyday.