Marge Simpson: “Homer, is this another one of your get rich quick schemes?”
Homer Simpson: “No, no…this scheme is SURE to make us rich. And quick!”
One of two things is going to happen in this post – either I’m going to reveal some fantastic money making secrets, or I’m going to use ‘getting rich’ as an analogy for training. You take a guess.
There are all kinds of ‘brilliant’ ideas people create to get rich quick. The most famous is the pyramid scheme. These ill-conceived concepts crop up because it can be very arduous building up money. Heck, I know if I could get $100,000 tomorrow I’d look into it. It’s also the reason why we play the lottery (and ignore the mathematical improbability of winning).
Sadly, the same is true when it comes to martial arts. Instead of financial pyramid schemes we see promotional pyramid schemes, where groups of ‘experts’ get together and promote themselves to extremely high ranks. I’m still waiting to hear about the world’s first 20th dan…it’s bound to happen. More harmful are the schemes where instructors ripoff their student body through inflated monthly fees, testing fees, belt fees, etc etc.
But lets focus more on the training side of things.
At home I’ve got this gigantic glass jar where I keep all of my loose change. You’ve probably got something similar, yes?
I’ve put a ton of coins in there and have been storing up for years and years. Despite that, the damn jar looks virtually empty!
Also, the bb gun hole wasn’t my fault.
It was a great day when I first realized I could no longer see the glass bottom of the jar because I had saved up enough change. But since then, I’ve gone on autopilot. I no longer really watch the level of the coins rise because it’s such slow progress. I know I’m putting money in, but to constantly fret over how much (or how little) is in there would be wasted energy.
Martial arts training can be very similar. How many workout sessions can you think of where you really thought to yourself, “man – I’ve improved by leaps and bounds today!” If you’re anything like me, those occasions are few and far between. Most of the time training seems like a struggle against futility, improving skills so slowly that it barely seems like any progress is being made at all.
At first, I watched my progress in karate like a hawk. I was really pleased about things I could do and opined about things I couldn’t. But since then, I’ve gone on autopilot. I’ve simply done my best when either stepping onto the dojo floor or exploring martial arts on my own. The journey in itself is becoming more and more the goal.
So to you I say keep dropping that change in the jar! I know it doesn’t seem like a lot. Whether you’re in top form and toss in fifty cents each time, or if you’re struggling and only have five cents, remember – you’re building the total and one day you’ll take a peek at the jar and wonder where all that money came from!
We all have a small piece of real estate in our minds reserved for bad guys, and we drop by for a visit every time we think about carjackings, rough neighborhoods, or the safety of our loved ones. It’s here we imagine all the unpleasant outcomes and dangers the world has to offer us.
This seemingly masochistic piece of human nature is one of the reasons why martial arts are so important in modern society; but I think true martial value might come more in overcoming the little bad guy inside, rather than a big one outside.
Self Defense…Value and Limitations
The more things change, the more they stay the same. As far back as human history goes, there has been a need for one individual to protect him/herself against another. That’s why when discussing martial arts, one of the first topics always brought up is self defense.
Karate…BJJ…Kung Fu…they’re all methods of combat, and unless you’re a soldier, you’ll be fighting as an ordinary citizen. Thus, learning a combat art is an extraordinary way to increase your physical capability of defending yourself.
Furthermore, we live in a society that does not permit the casual carrying of firearms. These laws have pulled us out of ‘old west’ mentality, but have also delivered the bad guys a distinct advantage against the good guys (us). One recourse left to the modern citizen is combat training.
Yet, when you boil it down, the greatest fighter in the world can still get shot from ten feet away or stabbed in the back. So…why even bother with martial arts if their primary purpose is so compromised?
Sure, Kick and Punch (But Also Think)
As you’ve probably heard me harp about before, the benefits of mind and spirit are just as critical in training as body. For example, a skilled instructor can not only teach a student how to fight, but also how to detect and avoid bad situations. An experienced martial artist is just as adept at conflict resolution as he is at conflict “resolution” (Seagal style).
Furthermore, a martial artist will analyze his surroundings at all times and realize ways to avoid potentially risky environments. In doing so, the probability of getting into a brawl or encountering a desperate gunman are drastically reduced.
But…be that as it may…no one can completely control the world around them. Bad things will still happen no matter the effort and attention payed. Once again, why bother with training?
So bad things are going to happen and we can’t stop them. What an uplifting post. But don’t worry, there is a little light at the end of the tunnel.
Let’s think statistically – how often do people get robbed or assaulted in their life? Once or twice? Some unlucky few experience it more often, but many experience it less. On average, we are all likely to face scant few situations where fighting is called for. Now how often do we think about getting robbed or assaulted? bullied? accosted? raped?
It’s much more often. This is true for everyone.
What martial arts really gives us is the strength to face these fears with courage. Rather than shiver at the thought of walking to our cars alone, we can command a straight posture and say to ourselves “sure you might attack me, but it won’t be as easy as you think.”
We can use our training to solidify our spirit and determination, which will exude from us in a way that deters would-be aggressors, prompting them to try an easier target.
Ultimately, we transform our internal bad guy into a constant reminder of our martial calling, using him to spur us forward and remind us that we aren’t so easily drawn down into dread and fear.
Sure, any of us could be shot. Any one of us could be gone tomorrow. But I’d rather go knowing that I didn’t live in helplessness.
Martial arts…Budo…is what we can thank for that.
This is not a recount of personal experience, just an exercise in theory.
As martial artists constantly endeavor to increase their knowledge and ability, they make internal connections that hadn’t existed years, days, or even seconds before. Just as memories and experiences burn new pathways through the psyche, so does every moment pursuing “the martial way”.
Furthermore, no living thing starts off matured. Even the tallest redwood tree begins as a tiny seed. The same is true when practicing the arts. In karate, there is a symbol known as Mitsu Domoe that can be used to demonstrate the kernel of knowledge that every martial artist begins with -
In dojo all over the world, instructors are sitting down with fresh beginners and stating very simply, “your training is a combination of body, mind, and spirit!”
Unfortunately, the prongs seem woefully far away from each other. As the beginner struggles to punch and kick properly, he/she is hardly concerned about character development. Truly, body, mind, and spirit appear perpetually separated.
Of course time goes by and diligent training continues. Practitioners learn more and more about each portion of their art, and eventually come to understand that there is more to each piece of the Mitsu Domoe than initially stated. For example, body doesn’t simply mean physical fitness. It involves a complex combination of movement and ability. In fact, it could be broken down inside the “body” prong like this -
Here we see “body” made up of speed, power, and technique. If the martial artist maintains a balanced perspective in his training, soon his understanding of mind and spirit will grow as well. He’ll begin to think like this -
Arriving at this stage is noteworthy because it can be very tempting to make training lopsided. For example, it would feel rewarding to achieve a deeper level of knowledge in the body aspect of the arts. In order to experience that feeling more often, a practitioner might focus predominantly on body, leaving mind and spirit behind.
But let’s say time and dedication has allowed the practitioner to acquire skill in all three aspects of his training.
Despite his efforts, there is still a disconnect. As you’ll notice above, there are substantial white gaps in his knowledge and understanding. He must continue to dig and explore, which can be intimidating. Having achieved a level of ability (and maybe even a black belt), he could easily “accept his limitations” and call it quits.
But should growth continue, it would look something like this-
An odd tapestry begins to develop and connections are made where there were none before. Navigating between aspects of the arts becomes easier, and body/mind/spirit doesn’t seem so impenetrably separated.
Of course, there are still plenty of white gaps, agitatingly prominent inside a finely woven web. Should they ever be filled, the shape would turn into this-
Dazzling and intricate! It’s funny to think that this was built one piece at a time.
As he’s dug deeper and deeper, more gaps in knowledge have been revealed to the practitioner. Where the beginner saw one gap, now the experienced exponent sees many. Perhaps more than he could ever tackle. Of course, the joy is in the journey, so the exploration must continue.
Hereafter something fascinating happens. Technique, mental acuity, and keenness of spirit have become so interlocked and interwoven that the Mitsu Domoe has taken on a unique form-
Unusual – this phase seems less impressive to the eye and actually has some bumps and ridges. The crisp definition of one aspect from another is gone and it’s tough to say where one prong ends and another begins. The center seems to permeate outward.
What exactly are we looking at here? Is this the same karate that we saw our beginner practice?
No, this is a bugeisha’s art. An art that has followed the way of balance, and is taking on its own form. At any time this art can be broken down into basic elements, but when used fully, can barely be recognized as anything other than unique.
At this point, it is a matter of will more than anything that allows the bugeisha to continue onto the next phase-
It’s everything, and it’s nothing. Through decades of filling the mind with techniques, theories, philosophies, and strategies, the bugeisha eventually arrives at nothing at all. This nothingness cannot be achieved by lesser means, and it cannot be penetrated by anything lesser than itself.
The bugeisha and his art are one thing, which is no-thing.