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.
Special thanks goes out to Lizzie for inspiring this post. In the comments section of my last entry, George Alexander Interview Part 2, Lizzie asked a very simple question: Do you believe in Chi?
Interesting. Both the question and the wording.
Most people have heard of Chi, even if they have only the faintest familiarity with the martial arts. Shows like Kung Fu, combined with slews of low budget martial arts movies, have made Chi a household concept. Supposedly, Chi is that magical power that causes Shaolin monks to levitate and smash concrete with their bare hands.
Kung Fu with David Carradine
Of course, the question wasn’t “what is Chi?”, but “do you believe in Chi?” And I would like to answer that directly – I don’t think Chi is something that needs to be ‘believed in.’ Chi being “mystical” is a bit of a western manifestation of something they was initially misunderstood. This mysticism has persisted because it translates well into movies is perpetuated by charlatans who know they can make a quick buck.
Chi (or ki) is mostly just an eastern explanation of the natural energy we all have. A more modern term is biokinetics. Your ability to apply force on an object or to move your body is all powered by Chi. Further, Chi can be focused. When you contract your muscles and well up your energy for a sharp punch, you’ve essentially focused your Chi.
We all know energy exists. If you watch a fire, you see heat and light energy being emitted from the chemical reaction taking place. When we eat a good meal, we feel revitalized because the body is replenished with the natural chemicals it needs to create the energy that fuels our body. It’s not mystical…it’s just life!
Therefore, you can say I do believe in Chi…in the traditional sense.
This leads us to the bigger question, the Chi elephant in the room – do I believe in the miraculous abilities espoused by “Chi Masters.”
No. For the most part. 95% of Chi manipulation I have encountered involves gaijin pretending like they are David Carradine. It occurs often. There is nothing mystical about striking someone in the temple and watching them get knocked out. There is also nothing mystical about striking two vital points that cause an electrical disruption to the brain. There is ALSO nothing mystical about temporarily cutting off bloodflow to the brain.
These are just effective techniques. You can use a light ‘Chi’ touch because a compliant partner in a calm state is very receptive to disruptions in his/her body. In other words, kyusho isn’t mystical. It just takes tons and tons of practice.
Chi That I Don’t Buy Into
As I mentioned earlier, some people use the myth of Chi for their own personal gain. Somewhere along the line, “the no touch knockout” started to make an appearance. This baffles me. In all the old texts I have read (think bubishi), there is never a mention of the no touch knockout. If this is such an astounding technique, wouldn’t the Okinawans have at least hinted at it in their most important martial text?
Maybe it was too secret…who knows. But none of the senior instructors I have ever trained with have claimed to know this technique, nor have they ever seen it done by the Okinawan masters of the previous generation. Nor are there any tales handed down through the generations of Okinawans about this technique being used. Yet…here it is:
I’m not here to make any judgments about the character of this instructor or the students; I’m merely suggesting that this technique works on the students for reason other than the myth of Chi.
Consider this: hypnosis is a voluntary state of mind. People willingly interact with a hypnotist in order to cure small ailments or unveil buried parts of their psyche. The mind is a powerful tool, and when combined with will, can be affected dramatically.
If you were told over and over again that you’re feeling Chi energy from your instructor, and all your peers are telling you you feel it, and you really want to feel it…guess what…you’re going to feel it.
Why is this dangerous? Because it turns into this:
This was just a sporting event. Those Chi students could be in for a lot worse in real life.
Chi That I Won’t Discount Right Away
I’m a skeptic, it’s true. But that certainly doesn’t mean I’m closed minded. We are far from unlocking all the little mysteries that make up the human mind. The first kind of Chi that I do not discount is physical conditioning plus trained willpower.
Shaolin Monks do, in fact, break cement slabs. They lay on beds of nails and endure spear thrusts without any puncture wounds. These feats are truly impressive, but they come from years of rigorous physical training and learning how to control the energy in the body. Think of it this way: if you are just standing around and someone sucker punches you in the gut, you are bound to go down in a heap. But if you tense all your abdominal strength and focus your entire being into absorbing that blow…you’ll be ok (assuming you’ve done adequate physical training). These kinds of dynamic feats are impressive and serve to show the adaptability of the human body.
The other kind of Chi I don’t readily discount is healing. Acupuncture, Qigong, Tai Chi, and others all claim to have healing properties. These arts use the Chinese meridian theory of Chi flow in the body. Much like Kyusho can be used to disrupt electrical/blood flow, so can healing be used to promote it.
These healing arts get very complex, utilizing different times of day, meridians, vital points, and more. How much is myth and superstition vs how much promotes health I couldn’t possibly say. All I’m saying is that this is Chi that seems feasible to me.
I’d like to leave you with something that blurs the lines. At first when you watch this, you’ll be inclined to disbelieve. I know I was. But by the end I was left scratching my chin. How much of this is Chi fluff…how much is real? I’ll let you decide.
Special thanks to everyone for reading and commenting. Feel free to ask questions the way Lizzie did!