I cannot legitimately call Shantaram (a memoir by Gregory David Roberts) ‘Required Reading’ because almost none of its 1,000 pages relate to self-defense, Krav Maga, martial arts, training methods, security, etc. – except this gem of a passage about the author’s involvement in a prison fight that I feel compelled to share with you:

In my first knife fight, I learned that there are two kinds of people who enter a deadly conflict: those who kill to live, and those who live to kill. The ones who like killing might come into a fight with most of the fire and fury, but the man or woman who fights just to live, who kills just to survive, will usually come out of it on top. If the killer-type begins to lose the fight, his reason for fighting fades. If the survivor-type begins to lose, his reasons for fighting flares up fiercer than ever. And killing contests with deadly weapons, unlike common fistfights, are lost and won in the reasons that remain when the blood begins to run. The simple fact is that fighting to save a life is a better and more enduring reason than fighting to end one.

I read Shantaram over a decade ago. And did I mention that it was long? Of all the books I have read, that story about Roberts’ prison fight is still vivid in my mind. When we started Kravology, I read it again. It got me thinking about the power of motivation and how we might capitalize on it if we ever find ourselves in a life-threatening situation.

The motivator in Robert’s case was obviously self-preservation. The will to live is an important motivation when attempting to understand why we do what we do in order to survive.

According to Wikipedia, the will to live is an overwhelming psychological force to fight for survival. Psychologists see it as an important and active process of conscious and unconscious reasoning. In certain life threatening situations, medical experts cannot explain why one person may survive and another may not. A compilation of studies has demanded medical professionals look to the subconscious as a major contributing factor—often it seems the only logical explanation.

Someone who is on the threshold of death may consciously or unconsciously try to stay alive through the belief that they have a reason or something to live for. The opposite is true too. People who may ordinarily survive a situation, often do not if they have recently experienced loss or trauma (think of an elderly person who has lost their long time spouse who then succumbs to a minor illness).

There are significant correlations between the will to live and existential, psychological, social, and physical sources of distress. The concept of the will to live can be seen as directly impacted by hope. Many, who overcome near-death experiences with no explanation, have described concepts such as the will to live as a direct component of their survival.

Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankel M.D., Ph.D. published groundbreaking research on the topic. In Man’s Search for Life (originally published under two different titles From Death-Camp to Existentialism and Nevertheless, Say “Yes” to Life: A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp) found that people who have a clear reason or purpose in life often appear to fare better during horrific experiences than those without purpose.

You may recall the harrowing story of Aaron Ralston who was rock climbing in Utah. When a boulder shifted under his weight, he fell—pinning his right arm against a canyon wall. He was trapped (and had not told anyone where he was going). For the following five days, Ralston tried in vain to move the rock. He ate the last of his food and drank his remaining water—eventually his urine too. He even began videotaping his goodbyes. But then the tides turned.

Ralston had a dream in which he saw himself as a father picking up his son. That vision gave him an overwhelming will to survive—a purpose. He broke his arm bones and sawed through his flesh with a dull pocketknife thus freeing his body from his trapped position. Ralston harnessed powerful psychological forces: love of family, hunger, thirst, and the need for human contact. These forces ignited his motivation and allowed him to do an unthinkable thing to survive.

Should you ever encounter a situation where you are fighting for your life (literally or figuratively), what will you really be fighting for? What is your motivation—your family, justice, or the right to exist?

Mark Twain once wrote, ““The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Consider the purpose in your life, and there you’ll find your motivation.

Then, visualize your purpose and use the motivation it creates to turbo-charge your training.

It may just be the very thing that, one day, saves your life.

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  1. Steven Cunningham

    Great Mark Twain quote!