Dealing with 'Self'
I've been thinking about this a lot recently, and Matt talked about something that I found interesting in one of his recent podcasts, so I decided to give my thoughts on this situation.
There is a common attitude these days that you should cultivate a personality that will lead to success as some form of self improvement. I quite disagree with this, though probably not for the reasons you'd expect. Quite simply it doesn't work.
This attitude focuses on trying to achieve the result by mimicry of the symptom, it's as effective as becoming a professional athlete by wearing some brand clothes.
The word persona comes from the Greek word for mask, which is quite appropriate. Simply put it is a pattern of behavior designed to give others an impression of who we are, to seem consistent and so we build an identity around this. In reality this is more akin to the way an actor plays a role, only we have several roles that we play as part of our personae, swapping between them usually without recognizing it. I might play the teacher, brother, son, friend and several others all in one day. The important distinction between an actor and a regular person is that an actor is aware of their performance, and the average person is entirely oblivious to theirs.
This is important because in recognizing the roles we are playing we can play them better if we let go of the obsession to seem one way or another. The first step in this is simply to recognize that we are not our personalities, since they change and yet we do not cease to exist. The way that you are not your possessions, your clothes, your political preference, or your job, you are not your actions.
This can seem terrifying to most people at first, letting go of the thing you identify as can seem like a form of death, but going through it will allow you to realize that you will survive such an ordeal and when you learn to stop constantly confusing things with the act of being, then you'll find inner peace.
For me this came through several moments in my life where the identity I had formed was utterly and irrevocably destroyed. Loss of jobs, relationships ending, moving, all kinds of different things can happen to end the whatever it is you base your identity on, and the only sensible solution I've found is to simply stop identifying as that thing, until eventually there wasn't anything really left. Life goes on.
In terms of martial training clinging to an identity can cause useless fear. Healthy fear is generally limited to a respect for what your opponent can do to you, more a recognition of consequence than anything. Most fear amounts to some form of identity crisis. Worry over humiliation, or failure doesn't help you accomplish your goals, and cause a form of hesitation that will manifest the very thing that is feared. With proper training these things become irrelevant, and only the desire to apply your art remain, you are freed up to solve the problem at hand rather than build anxiety over something that could happen.
In many ways, the heart of martial discipline relies on answering the question 'who am I?'. The problem is that it's become too common to answer this question. Just as a sword can cut, but cannot cut itself you experience, but you cannot experience yourself. That's why asking this question and leaving space to not know is important. Learning that not knowing doesn't mean non existence is a powerful place.
From here genuine action becomes possible. It's not guaranteed, but it opens the door a crack. The ultimate goal of classical training is always to create the possibility for intelligent appropriate decisions to be made in context, and classical martial training is no different.
Simply changing one form of persona with another doesn't solve the root problem of not knowing who you are, only facing that and accepting it can do that. Afterwards, the desire to practice and apply your art will become the focus, and other people may or may not recognize what you are capable of, but that becomes irrelevant, simply a label that they use to quickly identify and sort you, the same as 'son', or 'teacher'. However you will remain free to act appropriately to your situation without worry for those labels.