Extending Your Line by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei.
"All of that is crap, if you cannot kick ass EVERY time you are just full of shit and wasting time!" He screamed as I continued to walk my circle on that cold winter evening.
After completing my single & double palm changes on thecircle, I walked up to introduce myself to this young man. He was somewhat surprised and quickly turned apologetic for his outburst.
"No offense, I am just saying, you know..." he mumbled.
"It's weird. Every time someone says something offensive they seem to add 'no offense meant'. They never quite understand when people say 'just saying', they are in fact stating." I smirked and asked him to sit with me at the park table.
After a moments hesitation, he sat down. He introduced himself and revealed he had trained in a hard style of Asian kickboxing for a few years but his injuries forced him to take a break.
After a little chit chat I asked him how long as he been on a break. "About five years."He continued:"What is the purpose of you walking around in a circle? It just looks gay."
"I am glad you got the gay part right, it is indeed all about joy. Not many get that term you know. But why do I walk? Let me ask you this: why did you study the martial arts?"
"To learn how to fight, how to win," he answered with a mixture ofpride and confusi, this man in his early thirties.
"And what were you fighting for?"
"Championships. It gave me a high."
I nodded, "Is that all?"
"What else is there?"
"A lot more, a lot more. The purpose of Martial Arts as was taught to me is to have a high functioning life. This means firstly we need to have a good, healthy and long life. This means paying attention to our nutrition, our longevity practices, and exercises that maintain a high degree of functional mobility. That means having the ability to discern what is important and worth fighting for. This is about being aware, about being clear on what truly matters and who matters. And finally to have the ability to defend what matters. thatrealm of learning to fight."
So yes, Martial Arts to me is having a high functioning life, knowing what is truly important and the means to protect it
He looked at me like I was insane.
I laughed out loud, thinking back of times when I looked at others that way too. I gently asked him, "So what would you do if I was to pull out my blade and go for you right now?"
He smirked "You wouldn't, but if it was 5 years ago, I would have had you for breakfast."
"But it is not five years ago, and here is my blade" I said drawing out my steel tanto, always on me during trainings.
He gasped and his shoulders dropped.His face turned blood red with anger. But there was nothing to be done.
Putting the blade back I said, "I could argue that if you had followed the old way of longevity, discernment and sharpening your blade, perhaps you would not havefrozen just now. You might have taken better care of your quality of life as a martial artist, perhaps you would have discerned better on how to engage with another martial artist, and finally you would have had a back up plan as a martial artist."
He was embarassed. That was not my goal, nor the prize I was looking for. He seemed like a young guy who probably still has a lot more to live for. I told him "May I share a small story with you? It wont take too long."
"Everyone, especially here in America owes a great debt of gratitude to GM Ed Parker. Thousands upon thousands of students have been touched by Mr. Parker's genius. One of them was the author Joe Hyams. One day, after another a particularly hard sparring session with Mr. Parker, and Joe failing to connect even once, Joe had the regulardebriefing. Mr. Parker drew a line on the floor and asked 'how do you make this line which representsyour opponents skill shorter Joe?' After a moment of thinking, Joe responded, "I would cut it into half and third.' Without saying a word Mr. Parker drew a longer line next to it."
My "student" of the moment looked at me, puzzled. "What are you saying dude?"
"The lesson of the parable for Joe was to make HIS line LONGER than his opponents. Instead of worrying about making an opponent fail, it is about making yourself better."
He looked up at me, his stare now a gaze as I continued, "that parable from Zen in the Martial Arts by Joe Hymns left a huge impact on my life. Think about it, it is sage advice for life. When we are caught up in in competition, we usually are thinking about cutting the OTHER guy's line AT ALL COSTS. That cost is usually us. If we don't handle ourselves right though, we end up with broken bodies, broken relationships and most importantly, broken lives. That to me is the exact opposite of what Martial Arts is meant to be."
He seemed to ponder a bit, then he looked up at me and quipped, "that's all good and fine in hindsight, but how does it help me now?"
"It's never too late to begin the journey to wholeness. You still have decades ahead of you, why not live that in the most exquisite manner possible?"
"You are one of those painfully optimistic guys, aren't you? Let me be straight with you I cant stand the Tony Robbins or Wayne Dyers of the world," he warned.
"Is thinking about your death, and having that drive your decision optimistic in your book?"
"HELL NO! Thats morbid!"
"Good. Listen. There is a way to start living exquisitely starting right now. But that requires you to understand something about the warriors of the old. This pattern has been found among the Samurai, the Rajputs, the Chivalrous Knights, Native Warrior-Sorcerers. Yes among them all, so there is some truth in there. If you want to listen for a few minutes, I will share it with you."
He nodded politely.
"Death is a great equalizer, and starts to put a lot of things in perspective. When you meditate on it, Death suddenly clarifies everything. The Hagakure: Book of the Samurai is one of those great classics. The author Tsunetomo Yamamoto places a lot of emphasis on death as the ultimate teacher. "
“Bushido is realized in the presence of death. This means choosing death whenever there is a choice between life and death. There is no other reasoning.”
“Even if it seems certain that you will lose, retaliate. Neither wisdom nor technique has a place in this. A real man does not think of victory or defeat. He plunges recklessly towards an irrational death. By doing this, you will awaken from your dreams.”
"Many say the Samurai waydoes not apply in their life today. I would say it does. Even in the modern times it has served as a great advisor. In the modern classic by Carlos Castaneda, The Journey to Ixtlan, he shares his learnings from Don Juan Matus. During his conversation he wakes up to this wise reality of death when he is in deep self pity. In short Don Juan explains this same fact, but coming from the world of a sorcerer."
“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you're about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you're wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, 'I haven't touched you yet.”
"What I am saying is make your death your mirror, and begin to see things as they are. When we look at things from that perspective you have moments of rare clarity, without any spin. So the problems at hand can be seen exactly as they are. Again Don Juan's words say it so much better than I can. Read those books by Castaneda, they could change your life."
“In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”
"And these moments of decision, forge our destiny. Much like the blade is shaped with the hammer (decisions), the forge acts as the death of the old form. get that clarity, and make a decision, most importantly ACT.
Actions for a warrior stem in going to war, war against the apathy of inaction or out present state. Now you put everything you have at stake for that one turn on destiny's wheel, as though this is your very last act on Earth. Usually Magick begins at this point. The trick is to keep on keeping on until death has finally touched you.
Lastly capture the learnings on a regular basis. Put down what you have learned through your battles. This recapitulation captures your insights. When you have captured the essence of it, it speaks as though poetry and rings true to all levels of your being. And then you wake up the next day and repeat the cycle" I laughed.
I call this the Mirror, the Sword & the Pen. Death is the mirror which shows you things as they are, the Sword allows you to go to war against your enemy/apathy, and the pen captures your learning. This is a great way to begin the process of Extending Your Line.
"If you were to apply this to your life, what do you think you would have? Don't answer right now, think about it. And if you ever want to explore it more you know where I train."
With that I stood up and extended my hand. He stood up and shook my hand and muttered a thank you. It was getting dark and I was hungry. Time to go home to some fantastic home made palak paneer, basmati rice and a cup of ginger-saffron-cardamom infused chai.
Weeks passed with life in cruise control. Then, one evening as I pulled into the dojo parking lot I saw a familiar figure waving at me. I waved back, though I never expected to see him again. After the usual pleasantries, he said, "our last conversation made me think a lot. Esp. the notiong of extending ones line. Thinking about my death was not easy, but it gave me a clarity. I don't want to live in my past glory and I want to fix the anger I have and find a way to to begin training in something else. Can you help me?"
I offered him to come attend the current class as my students were waiting, and we could chat after class. He hesitated for a minute and then said yes. After a quick warm up, he was working on Atemi (striking arts) within our system.
"Our strikes have a language, and knowing it is the difference between right use or chance. Different strikes serve to either bring the opponent in, move them out, clear the way or shock them still. The trick of our ryuha (system/battle strategy) is knowing when to apply what." With that, I walked the students through the 12 strikes, and 10 angles/henka within each strike.
"This is quite different from what I am used to doing. We just worked on the speed and power of the strikes in my other school. There seems to be more depth here and it is not as hard on my injured joint," my new student commented.
"Martial arts are meant to be soft on you and hard on the poor guy who attacks you," I said as my students all laughed. "Aiki is not just harmony with the other, but most importantly harmony with yourself."
"How does one go about becoming good at this way of moving and doing Martial Arts?" the newbee asked
"By becoming an Apprentice to Power, and forever embarking on a journey to Extend Your Line" I said, letting those words linger for a few moments.
I knelt down, and the students sat on the green grass. They knew a talk was coming and this would probably take a bit of time. They all relaxed into a quiet attention. As I looked at my students, I was reminded of the hours spent talking with my own teachers through the last twenty odd years of apprenticing under them with a singular goal - to extend my line. Now the roles had shifted, and I was the one talking while others listened. Much like my Sensei had prophesized to me one Friday night when he said, " Mayur (as he calls me), you come and work out on Friday nights while your mates party. One day when you play, others will pay to see you perform." I found myself chuckling and began.
"Like any worthwhile skill, and working on extending your line is a long process. In the days old, they called it apprenticeship. Some called it becoming an journeyman. Some simply called it being an uchi daeshi (live in student). Different words, same idea. In the modern times Robert Greene has done a masterful job at communicating this process. I highly recommend you read his book Mastery if you want to understand. The gist of it as follows.
1. "First find a worthwhile MENTOR. This is someone whose skill/mastery you want to emulate. Remember, when you get into this kind of a deep relationship, make sure he/she is also the kind of wo/man you wont mind becoming. Many a times the gifts of our trade also have curses on other aspects of our life. They hand in hand, so choose wisely. These days with our seminar culture, these methods are dying. You have coaches instead of mentors and the results are apparent. I, for one, choose one solid mentor over a dozen coaches."
2. "Once you have the mentor, shut your mouth and open your senses. Soak in everything you can without judgement. You are seeking to learn the new reality, new rules and most importantly new modes of being. So pay close attention, ask clarifying questions, the objective is to soak it all up like a sponge. This is the DEEP OBSERVATION.
3. "Then begins the practice mode. You have observed and soaked in all the rules and nuances. Now you begin the work of countless repetition in your own time. The goal is to encode the new skills deep into your Central Nervous System (CNS), such that when the environment sends a signal, the CNS just responds. No short cuts now, this is the drudgery of repetition. There is no getting around it. This is the path to real SKILL ACQUISITION. for example when I started training in Eskrima, it was like being fish out of water. To train in this entirely new way of moving, I worked long and hard. I created my own reward and punishment system. And most importantly I diligently enforced it when no one was even watching. No short cuts chaps, there are no shortcuts, there are only short lived lives in combat."
Everyone roared with laughter.
"Then comes the scariest part I think. A chasm that needs to be crossed. This is the ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATION phase. Once you have the skills, you begin to put yourself and your work out there, inviting both criticism and accolades. You begin the process of resting on your own laurels, sleeping on your bed so to speak. There is no one else to blame. This is personal responsibility for ones art, and the beginning of your path to Freedom. You move from being an apprentice to being a tradesman. A wo/man in your own right, and allowed to sign your own work of art - be it a painting, sculpture or martial arts school."
"This is scary because you will draw flak from others, and compare your own work to the masters. It's natural. Remain open though, remain humble and keep moving. As an example, when this dojo started, I revived the idea of shugyos: going into the wilderness on a sacred pilgrimage four times a year, and making our techniques work in all environments. This was my own personal active experimentation phase, a way to put my own stamp on what I consider MY emergent truths, not THE Truths."
4. "While Robert Greene's stops there, I believe there is one more phase. It is called CRYSTALIZATION. This is what I think of as your unique signature that has emerged from being JUST your truth to becoming something more universal. In someways you're brining an erstwhile dormant archetype into being in the here and now. And the signature is very distinct. It might seem like something that was from the old school but has a very distinct texture and flavor to it. Over time you embody this with your whole being. This is not not a marketing spin or smart targeting, this is WHO YOU ARE. There is no boundary between the art and you."
One student was taking notes, while another recording the session. I wondered if they ever get back to their notes and videos or if they just locked away and forgotten. I adjusted my gi to wrap up the class and of course the one student had to ask another question. It is the same one who always asks when we wrap up.
"Sensei do we have this process within our system? Can you please say how our belts relate to this?"
" The old arts and systems DID follow this before the ranking system came in. Budo was about the lifestle of Extending Your Line. The way I see it is as follows."
- Until OKU IRI (Black Belt), it is called "entrance to secrets." You have not entered yet, This is the period of DEEP OBSERVATION and learning the rules of the game.
- The Journey to MOKU ROKU ( 4th Degree or so Black Belt) is when you have the "catalogue of techniques." This is the time of endless permutations and combinations, embedding the system deep into your CNS. This is SKILL ACQUISITION .
- Stay with the catalogue long enough and you have started becoming a true representative of the art. Perhaps even with your own ACTIVE EXPERIMENTATIONS with the rules. This to me is the MENKYO rank, where in the days old you got the degree and off you went.
- Finally, over time you develop your own CRYSTALIZATION of the universal principles and embody them with Mastery. This to me is the MENKYO KAIDEN.
"This is not unique to us. The Chinese have a similar system. You came in as an outer courtyard student, then progress to become an inner courtyard student. With time you became a kitchen student - meaning part of the family and where/how they eat/live. And finally you went on to become your own master. Universal pattern of unfolding, different names. But don't get caught up on that.
"Remember to extend the line, unfold fearlessly. The only one you seek to defeat is the the YOU of yesterday. In doing so you you will also move from a horizontal orientation of the world (where you are busy relating to everyone else and playing those games) into verticality (where you integrate to individuate). Enough for today. I got to speak to our guest prior to leaving."
We bowed out, and walked with the visitor to my car. He said, "my question on how to move forward has been answered. May I start attending your lessons, and work on Extending My Line?"
"You are already learning, are you not? See you Saturday."