The Great Moment (Lesson) in Defeats by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

A long-time student of mine recently asked, "Sensei, I don't get it. Why is it that you still seek out teachers of your own?"

I could understand his confusion, after all I have been teaching him for years.

He knows there is still a lot for him to learn and then, he sees his OWN teacher doing the same.

Gently, I responded, "one needs to progressively find bigger and better opponents to lose to and do so elegantly."

"WHAT?" he exclaimed, "Find people to lose to? Sensei you mean win against, don't you?"

"Let me tell you a story."

We settled in for a cup of my home brewed chai (fresh ginger, strands of saffron and smashed cardamom blended with black Darjeeling tea).

"First, I studied Shotokan karate and got my Black Belt. I thought I was a hot shot until I ran into a kenpoka who left so many marks on my body I will NEVER forget it. THAT beatdown meant a few years dedicated to studying with him, earning a rank, and then, as you well know, I went to check out a jujutsu man. He mopped the floor with me. I signed up and for many years it was intense Aikijujutsu time."

"I studied with him and his teacher for many years. Time and life happened, we moved to different places and I started to teach, although I still traveled regularly to the hombu dojo in Phoenix to continue my education and work on some Chinese Internal Arts. During this time I've met many a martial arts teachers, some really good... some not so good."

"A few years ago, I met an Eskrima man in Stockton who moves so damn fast that slow motion videos of him are blurry. He is a strange old school teacher. He started teaching me to do things with sticks that I never thought were possible. During this time, a few other teachers have crossed my path too, including master teachers in Wala Wala, who have taught me how to 'connect' systems. True masters all."

"I have routinely driven 100 miles each way to Stockton to study with one of the best Eskrimador's on the the planet, and 800 miles each way to Wala Wala to learn how to learn."

"To many this makes no sense. Especially given that I have multiple 'ranks' in various systems. But rank is not the goal. My goal is "radical simplification." This simplification comes beyond the systems and teachers. You have to transcend them one and all. This does not mean one loves or respects them any less, rather it means they have loved you & guided you enough to see you grow beyond them. That is success."

My student still had this look of confusion on his face.

"As your skill gets better, and you seek those far greater than you, a strange thing happens. You start finding universal principles and it comes down to the purest expression of self. A radical undoing of systems, methods, and teachers into just YOU. It is an expression that transcends it all, preserving the purity of that self-expression. And therein is simplicity. Doing just enough while growing vastly. One begins the process of mirroring the greater patterns of nature itself, instead of mirroring man-made constructs ...(ego, systems, styles)."

"The goal," I concluded, "then becomes to start becoming ever so ordinary, while pursing extraordinary knowledge. "

He looked baffled.

Time to change tracks.

"We have both had multiple injuries, yes?"

He nodded, remembering his own injuries through the years.

"What did they do to you?"

"They took away my training, and made all things harder I guess?" he chuckled.

"But you did not stop. You started looking for new ways of pursuing your purest expression, your art."

He nodded, but complained, "yes, but I am not doing the technique correctly, am I?"

"As long as you follow the principles, and are getting the desired effect, then the Art is doing you. SUCCESS!"

A few days later, this theme continued with two different students. One had recently hurt his back badly while the other is a very seasoned Taiji practitioner/teacher looking for the what next.

The student with the injury was disheartened, contemplating whether he would ever be able to do the arts. I told him, "Yes shit happens, the only thing that matters is how you respond. True, your back is injured and it will take away rotation from your movements. It is a big loss. And could be a great opportunity. There are at least two other planes you can move on. Further, I would use this to take the work inside (yes internal aspects of the work) and see how that flowers. Learn to accomplish a lot with very little. That in itself can become your Magnum Opus, your great work. That is true art, true alchemy."

I know he was not convinced, however each person must arrive at their own decisions/destiny. I promised to show him how to move along the two other planes and still pretty much accomplish it all. He may not realize it right now, and instead he stands defeated by the "big thing" of the moment. How one responds to this - take a back seat or look for another way to move- makes all the difference.

Later that evening, the seasoned Taiji proponent wanted to explore more control and accuracy with edged weapons. I shared some of my methods with him including:

1. Swinging coconuts and bananas tied to a pendulum, and working on the strikes for distance, control and power. There are many drills here for spreed, power, control, timing. (Will write more on these later and about teachers who taught me some of this)

2. Handicap training: where limbs were tied up, made unuseable before trying to accomplish the same tasks. Training with non-dominant hand, on your knees, while lying down etc. you get the idea. Pretty much the akin to when samurais' with lost limbs would still have to fight. If you don't train for this scenario, you won't react correctly when needed.

3. Tuishou (Push hands) & Hubad (tying/untying) with feet tied together, taking away the ability to firmly root. This gives birth to interesting new variations and new ways of moving and unbalancing the opponent in order to "stay safe"

4. Blindfold training with ear plugs: When sight and sound are taken away, and you try to even do the forms you know well, something strange begins to happen. Try it. You will discover new senses or perhaps new ways of using senses you never had.

5. Environmental training: Using proper form in varied environments and seeing how differently only moves.

I concluded, "these are methods of defeating yourself, and seeing what emerges. What emerges here is truly you, and perhaps the purest part of your art. This will be beyond any known system or teacher, for these adaptation/henka will force you to follow the path of least resistance. There is no other way. It will force a rare simplicity and elegance regardless of the art. Here we move in the now and one cannot call it Aikijujutsu, GungFu or Eskrima. Yet the movement has encompassed them all."

"These defeats with greater and greater opponents (obstacles - whether externally or internally imposed) can become what Bucky Fuller used to call Great Moments. This is that moment when you are about to discover what you are made of and develop new ingenuity to overcome the obstacle. When this has been overcome, you are all set to go discover your next big opponent to fail against. May you keep losing to greater and greater opponents and emerging for the next big fight."

I winked and he smiled.

"I get it." he said as he swung the stick fast in strike#2.

Success is the progressive realization of a worthy ideal. Elegant simplicity is that ideal for me, and the best way to it is failing elegantly to greater and greater opponents. Here is to learning that simplicity and becoming ever so ordinary.


Until next time,

Train Smart,


Mahipal Lunia