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.
*I’d like to send a quick thanks to Nathan over at TDA Training for featuring me in his TDA Blitz. He even posted up my logo, which was great. If you haven’t checked out TDA Training yet (Although you probably have), I recommend it. Top notch stuff. *
Last time you heard from me I was reporting on some Elite XC shinanigans. Since then, I have been wheeling and dealing down in Miami Beach. I’d like to tell you a little bit about that trip, and about how my martial arts training affected the whole experience. Plus I’m going to include some sweet pictures. Like this one -
That was the view out of my hotel window, and I definitely enjoyed it. But let’s start at the beginning…
The Call and the Flight
A few weeks ago I was at work when we got a call. It was an invite to present our company (ClassicWines.com) at the Miami International Wine Fair down in Miami Beach. This event is usually relegated to wineries and retailers, but we’ve been in touch with other businesses in Miami so it seemed like a natural extension to have us there as well. It was agreed upon and plans were put into motion.
Time went by quickly between the call and the event, and before I knew it I was double checking my carry-on and setting out for Philadelphia airport.
You may be surprised to hear this, but this was my first flight! Somehow or another, there’s never been a time when I couldn’t drive or take the train to my desired destination. Naturally, I was very precautious and made sure to check everything twice.
As I was going through security, the metal detector alarm went off. Three armed gaurds came running at me very quickly, trying to subdue me. I was able to roundhouse kick one in the face while tossing pens at the other two like shurikens. (Sorry, I thought this part needed a little extra spice).
No, I actually used martial arts to improve my mindset. In a situation that could be very stressful (crowded airport for the first time), I was able to calm my mind and absorb the commotion around me. This helped me navigate around wayward travelers and traverse security with speedy precision. In fact, when in a calm, focused state of mind, I also find that I am more pleasant and cheerful. The folks working at the airport no doubt appreciate a smile now and then amongst the grouchy passengers in a hurry.
Miami, and the Weather is Fine
My first flight went very smoothly and we arrived safely in Fort Lauderdale. With winter weather quickly bearing down on my native PA, sights such as these were very welcome -
On the Scene – Miami Wine Fair
When we got to the wine fair itself, it was easy to let myself slip into a little bit of intimidation. After all, there were a lot of wine-knowledgeable people in attendance. I wanted to blend into the crowd for awhile and not draw attention to myself. Unfortunately, I knew blending wasn’t an option (Sorry Aikido folks, not this time).
In a self-pep-talk fashion, I reminded myself about the other stressful experiences I’ve overcome. After all, if I can pass my sandan testing in front of the watchful eyes of Hanshi Heilman and the Renshi Kai board, I can do this right?
So I went to it, and after my first few successful interactions, the ice wore off and I was ready to go. It reminded me a lot of sparring: as you are padding up before the first fight, doubts and fears are still running through your mind. Your body is still drumming up complaints, instinctively trying to keep you out of harm’s way. Yet, after the clock starts and the match begins, anxiety melts away inside of mushin and kokoro.
Miami After Hours
Outside of the conference itself, I had a really great chance to sample Miami life. For example, the condo we all hung out at after the conference had this for a view -
The island you’re looking at is where stars tend to buy their pads. I was not invited to that island.
The night life was equally as interesting. I’m sure you’ve heard from TV and word-of-mouth about South Beach being a very trendy, very club oriented scene. These rumors are true. We checked out some fantastic restaurants and they really do spare no expense. Very attentive, very courteous. Very loud 80s music (I guess it’s ironically hip?)
One thing I learned about myself while doin-it-Miami-Vice-style is that I’m a very basic individual. I’ve spent many years through training trying to strip down the layers of myself that I didn’t care for or that I thought needed improvement. Experiencing even a modicum of lavishness put me right out of my element.
After All Was Said and Done
This was a great, eye opening experience; but it was my initial intent to make it so. I wanted to walk into the airport, the city, the convention center, the restaurants, and the beaches with fresh eyes. I wanted it to feel new because it was new, and I didn’t want to let myself get buried in all of the contingencies and worries that could have eaten away at me.