The Art of Resilience

By Dan Arnold

Resilience is a term we’re hearing frequently these days, whether in reference to workplace struggles, family breakups, overcoming illness, job loss, death of a loved one, or another form of traumatic event. The noun, according to, is defined as “1: the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress 2: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.”  

Zooming in more closely, in short, the art of resilience has only two requirements: surrounding the ego to certain realities and developing consistency in our daily routines. What is ego? Ego, simply defined, is that part of us that recognizes we are separate and unique from others. It is within our ego that we compare ourselves to others as being either better than, not as good as, or simply different than.

Photo copyright Dan Arnold. USMC MCT Training 1991.

Photo copyright Dan Arnold. USMC MCT Training 1991.

As a former U.S. Marine and a 30-year law enforcement veteran, I’ve seen a lot of people with natural athletic ability during my journey who absolutely loved martial arts training while they were "winning"—to only later become disenchanted with training any further after getting “smashed” a couple of times. Some people say you either win in martial arts training or you learn. I’d like to think for me personally that I either learn…or I LEARN. In Jiu-jitsu for instance, I love losing. That is, getting swept or tapped out with a crazy move—like having someone cartwheel out of my attempted throw and hitting me with a sweet arm-bar. Then, the challenge becomes learning how to prevent this from happening again…that is my intent anyway. Intentions matter.

Photo copyright 2019 Dan Arnold.

Photo copyright 2019 Dan Arnold.

So, it is during this phase of a person’s training where I believe it is crucial—if not completely necessary—to surrender the ego in order to learn, and ultimately, to become a better person. I surrendered my ego to this by accepting the reality that I did not know everything about what I was learning and had little to no control over some outcomes in my life. Do not fall victim to creating a cognitive dissonance (in, essence refusing to believe something that contradicts an already held belief despite evidence presented to the contrary) with that old line, Had this been a REAL fight, that guy 4 inches shorter than me and a hundred pounds lighter would have NEVER been able to lock ‘me’ down so soundly in a bad position. Deep down, you know the truth. Wouldn't "winning" all the time get boring and cushy anyway?

The following is an updated version of an excerpt from “The Puzzle,” an article I wrote while stuck in a hospital, and I think it applies.                                         

[begin excerpt]
The Puzzle

In martial arts, the emphasis on character development is key. And indeed, I’d dare say the emphasis exists for most positive passions that involve any of life’s pursuits. In the end, the type of people we become is far more important not only to our own survival, but to that of those around us; we are meant to change and expand with knowledge and love, and to care for our fellow man.

When I was laid up in that hospital bed hallucinating on powerful pain meds, muscle relaxers, and steroids that had me nearly breathless, the prevailing thoughts that kept entering my mind were completely outside of my control. The repeating mantra seemed to affirm that only love and gratitude can drive out fear, anxiety, and hate. Self-defense is important—but “fighting” never seemed to enter the equation, and I can assure you I have had a violent life. As I considered the true meaning of self-defense, I realized that ideally, we should develop a way of life where “self-defense” isn’t needed. Think about it: who really wants to have to “defend” themselves, to always be on the defense, in case, because, someone might be ‘coming to get them’? Self-protection, on the other hand (just a slight word deviation), is something else altogether and encompasses much more. “Protection” is a basic human need we all desire and it’s created through the repetition of good habits—in all areas of life. I’ve come to know there can be no duality in this. Ultimately, martial arts are not about fighting to me anymore. Martial arts are about the puzzle—the puzzle that exists in my students, training partners, and teachers. The puzzle of bettering one’s technique, the puzzle of victory not over others—but victory over oneself. [end excerpt]

Developing consistency in life requires us to be authentically ourselves. We cannot be or act one way for others but think, act, or do things that conflict with our “desired” self-image.  (Remember ego?). This means embracing the development of good daily habits that will ultimately improve our health, confidence, and self-esteem. Habits such as:

  • Exercise—keep moving with 45 to 60 minutes of exercise a day consisting of a combination of aerobic and strength-building exercises. Activities like biking, speed walking or jogging, resistance-band or body weight exercises 5 days a week would be a good start [consult a health professional before starting any new exercise program]; 

  • Sleep—get the mandatory 7–8 hours’ sleep every night with a consistent sleep-wake cycle; and

  • Diet—consult a nutritionist or research for yourself but what we eat, and just as importantly “when” we eat are vital to our overall health. Strive for a balanced diet of complex carbs (vegetables) and lean protein (chicken or fish) and avoid sugar and caffeine at least 5 hours before bedtime.

Developing good habits creates a natural resilience at your very core by eliminating the risk of developing unhealthy coping mechanisms and/or addictions.

About the author…


Daniel Arnold is a former United States Marine and a 30-year veteran of law enforcement and security. In addition to hospital and prison security work, he is also a respected martial arts trainer who has competed locally in combat sports. Dan has been an ACE-certified fitness instructor and is currently an NRA-certified firearms instructor with marksmanship awards in both pistol and rifle. Dan lives in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio with his wife and two daughters. His first book, Violence and Ego: Understanding the Principles of Functional Self-Defense, was published in April 2018 and is available on