#1590 Areté +1° #391: Pankration = Full Strength

What Kind Of Boxer Are You?

Hi, this is Brian.

Welcome back to another Areté +1°, another micro-chapter from Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential.

451 ideas like this…


Let’s talk about the sport of mixed martial arts.

We may think it’s a new thing and, of course, the way it’s currently marketed is new, but the essence of the sport has been around for over 2,500 years.

In fact, in 648 BC, the Greeks made something they called “pankration” an Olympic sport.

Get this… According to Wikipedia, pankration “was an empty-hand submission sport with scarcely any rules. The athletes used boxing and wrestling techniques, but also others, such as kicking and holds, locks and chokes on the ground. The only things not acceptable were biting and gouging out the opponent’s eyes.”

The word pankration literally means “all strength.” It was an Olympic sport for 1,400 years.

Why is that relevant for us?

As Ryan Holiday tells us in The Daily Stoic, these days we use baseball and basketball and football (American and international!) metaphors to bring philosophical points home.

In ancient Greece and Rome, our wise philosophers liked to use boxing, wrestling or pankration metaphors.

In fact, Epictetus puts it this way: “But what is philosophy? Doesn’t it simply mean preparing ourselves for what may come? Don’t you understand that really amounts to saying that if I would so prepare myself to endure, then let anything happen that will? Otherwise, it would be like the boxer exiting the ring because he took some punches. Actually, you can leave the ring without consequence, but what advantage would come from abandoning the pursuit of wisdom? So, what should each of us say to every trial we face? This is what I’ve trained for, for this my discipline!”

I like that. A lot.

What kind of boxer walks into a ring, gets hit, and then walks out? Likewise, what kind of philosopher walks into the arena of life, gets knocked about a bit, and then walks out?

That makes NO SENSE!

The whole point (!) of our training is to learn how to most effectively deal with life’s challenges.

And, as much as we may sometimes wish that life was more like a beautifully orchestrated dance, it’s often much more like GRAPPLING than ballet.

In The Daily Stoic, Ryan also tells us that “Seneca writes that unbruised prosperity is weak and easy to defeat in the ring, but a ‘man who has been at constant feud with misfortunes acquires a skin calloused by suffering.’ This man, he says, fights all the way to the ground and never gives up.”

Let’s be that man or woman. Let’s dare greatly. Let’s enter the arena. And let’s be willing to grapple with life’s challenges.

If (or should I say when?) you get a bit knocked around by life today, remember Epictetus and Seneca and pankration.


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