We always hear about ‘martial arts spirit’. But what is it? Is it intensity? Is it faith? Is it Anger? What an elusive concept!
Consider this clip-
Even eclectic guys like Bruce Lee concerned themselves with martial spirit. It’s very universal.
If we analyze the above scene from Enter The Dragon, we see that Lee is quite unimpressed by his student’s first kick. It was merely a technique. When kicking the second time, the student showed ferocity in his face and kicked with greater power. Again Lee was unimpressed. This anger was not what we wanted. Upon his third try, the student briefly achieved what Lee calls ‘emotional content,’ a kick exhibiting the true character of the student. Unfortunately, the success is short lived and the student must suffer more taps to the head. So what’s the difference between an angry attack and a spirited one?
Experiencing Anger and Spirit
Let’s start by analyzing both states-of-being. Anger is a primal urge that we all understand. When angry, we feel our temperature rise and our face redden. Adrenaline strikes our system and we are prepared to lash out. In many ways, being angry enhances our readiness for the rigors of combat.
Unfortunately, it also comes with some serious side effects. When very angry, we experience tunnel vision and lose some of our fine motor skills. The worst symptom is the clarity of thought we forfeit. How many times have you heard, either in person or on tv, ‘I don’t know what I was thinking…I was just so angry…I flipped out!’
Martial spirit is not the same. Sometimes referred to as kiai – focused or concentrated life force. Sometimes referred to as aiki – united spirit. Martial spirit is the lightning expression of everything that makes you you. When exhibiting martial spirit, you will still feel signs of physical stress. It’s different for everyone, but some tunnel vision and adrenaline pumping are likely to occur. The difference is, when utilizing martial spirit, you forfeit no clarity of thought and no consciousness of action. There is no ‘flipping out’ here, only dominant intent.
Let’s take things one step further. After suffering from a bout of sever anger, how do you feel after all is said and done; after you’ve taken a walk and cooled your head? Generally speaking, you would probably feel very drained. A small amount of depression is likely to set in, both in regards to your actions and the situation in general. You would also likely feel a burdening amount of stress, and desire to be alone. (Please remember these are just common results, you may experience anger differently).
But if you were to use spirit instead of anger, the result would be different – you would feel invigorated! You would experience a sense of power and forcefulness, as if you could have handled a situation twice as bad with no regrets. You would also feel appreciative of those people around you – both the friends who are behind you, and the opponent whom you dominated.
The Taking and Giving of Life
There is another concept in the martial arts that relates to what we are discussing. In Budo, there is such a thing as Satsujinken and Katsujinken – The life dealing sword and the death dealing sword.
Katsujinken – The sword that takes life. If a Samurai were to kill for the sake of pride, ego, or out of agitation, it was considered Katsujinken. This killing was not meaningful, and protected neither family, nor honor, nor state. Anger can be considered Katsujinken in that it is fueled by that which is negative. Even more perplexingly, sometimes the action of the Samurai (or an angry individual) is correct – but he still has followed a negative path to achieve positive ends.
Satsujinken – The sword that gives life. Often Samurai were called upon to perform meritorious deeds that involved murder, espionage, and warfare. Furthermore, there were occasions when a Samurai took it upon himself to slay bandits or dangerous Ronin (rogue Samurai). These are the same violent acts as an angry, vengeful Samurai might commit – but when done with Satsujinken, right reason, the Samurai knows he may have saved many lives by his actions. This Samurai proceeds invigorated by his martial spirit and will likely show his opponent full respects.
People often wonder how Samurai acts of suicide and dueling could be done ‘respectfully.’ This provides a small peak into that mindset.
Cultivating Martial Spirit
Luckily, you and I rarely have to make such monumental, life and death decisions. Most of the time, like Bruce Lee’s student, we just have to figure out how we want to express ourselves.
In order to cultivate martial spirit instead of anger, jealousy, etc., it’s important to keep the end feelings in mind. After training, if you feel powerful, capture the essence of that training session as best you can. If, after training, you feel bitter, let it go as best as possible. Before you know it, you’ll be able to summon that forceful spirit when you need it.
And when you do, I see it going a little something like this -
Read More / Comment
Common phrases you’ll here for totally-awesome-get-skill-quick programs:
“Forget all that bowing and scraping. I’m going to teach you the no-holds-bared, real-deal version of what the martial arts are all about!”
“Wanna become a street killer in 6 months? Sign up now for our intensive program that gets rid of all the fluffy nonsense of antiquated martial arts!”
“Instructor _____ _____ has studied the martial arts for over 30 and has black belts in _____, ______, ______, ______. In his revolutionary ‘power of the tiger’ program, he takes only the best techniques from each style and teaches you how to be the best!”
Marketing is fun! Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of schools are selling these days. Somewhere along the line, the stripping down of martial arts got obfuscated and cafuddled. Nowadays, we seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Originally, paring away layers of your art was a very traditional thing to do. Unfortunately, you could only start doing it after years of practice. In the old interpretation of stripping, one begins to investigate the deeper levels of meaning found in kata, practice, movement, and violence. This investigation of your art could reveal -
1. Bunkai. Intepretation of what kata movement actually means
2. Increased efficiency. How to change your body movement so as to decrease time and energy wasted.
3. Purpose. Why are we doing what we do? What relevance does this have to daily life?
4. Improved disposition. With a natural and healthy outlet for stress, overall lifestyle can improve.
5. Plenty else.
In a tricky way, digging deeper into martial arts helped practitioners dig deeper into themselves. The ultimate goal being “perfection” of body, mind, spirit.
The unnecessary fluff, such as structure, bowing, stancing, etc. were all tools to lead students down the proper path.
Nowadays, there seems to be a lack of patience for all that. The goal seems to be finding out the best way to punch someone in the throat (hint: they’re all pretty good.) What we have in these modern students is a sudden increase in technical ability with no sense of control or compass of when to use it. Furthermore, beyond that basic technicality, there is no knowledge of the intricate aspects provided by many years of quality training.
The martial arts of the old masters was leisurely, peaceful, ferocious, and lightning quick all in the same few moments. This was complete integration of art into lifestyle. If one just learns how to kick and punch and grapple, they risk losing that very special quality of classical art.
Devil’s Advocate – As I like to do, I want to poke a few holes in my own theory here. There are situations where pretense, or pomp, takes over an art. This obsession with ranking, military style structure, and hollow technical perfection of kata also drains away key aspects that classical arts try to instill.
It’s a really fine line between b.s. technique collection and b.s. procedure obsession. No matter what you study though, be it Goju-Ryu or BJJ, there is always room to pursue those lofty ‘classical’ goals.
Read More / Comment
The other day I was sitting at home, listening to rain bounce off of my tin roof (I live in an old farmhouse). It was clamorous. The rain came down hard and panged in quick succession. Eventually, as the rain hardened even further, I could no longer detect distinct drops; it became an incomprehensible white noise.
I went through a couple of mental progressions while listening to this shower. At first, I decided that people (myself included, of course) can be a lot like rain on a tin roof – zephyrs of unfocused energy just chattering and chattering and chattering. Making as much noise as we can simply because we can. In the end, just as the rain leaves the roof unaffected, we have made no impact.
After that, I thought – sometimes we are the roof. No matter how much knowledge, or fact, or opinion is presented before us, we close off and force it to bounce away. Ultimately, we are no better for the experience.
When it comes to the martial arts, we are presented with the same rain and roof possibilities. When in the dojo, we have the chance to rain – by that I mean flurry around throwing kicks, making throws, and bellowing kiai. We can zip to and fro, building up a sweat and dominating opponents. But ultimately, when we walk out the door, the dojo is no different than when we came. We made no impact.
We also have the chance to be martial arts tin. Instead of focusing on bettering ourselves, we can close everything off – especially if it feels like it would change us. It’s very easy for us to be satisfied with what we know, and stay stagnant (maybe even rust!)
Personally, I would like to avoid both of those things. Instead, I would like my martial arts training (and life) to be like rain in the forest.
As the forest, we can absorb all of what is happening around us. This is comparable to zanshin, but in a less aggressive state than normally interpreted. Furthermore, we can use the knowledge and opinions of others to grow, even if it isn’t always a complete agreement of minds.
Lastly, and most importantly, as the rain we can help others grow. We needn’t make an uproarious racket – simply provide the forest with something it needs.
Read More / Comment