The Theatre of Magickal Imagination, by Mahipal Lunia, Sensei

I have been in a writer's block for a while, and at 0630 hours this morning, disappeared. In a second it was gone. That inhibitory state that held me prisoner was gone, and a magickal excitatory state kicked in. So as I drove to the dojo for the Saturday 0700 lesson I knew it was going to be a lesson on

The Magick of State Control.

I sipped my coffee as the lesson was organizing itself in my mind. Frank Herbert came to mind, yet again:

"This is the awe-inspiring universe of magick: There are no atoms, only waves, and motion all around. Here, you discard all belief as barrier to understanding. You put aside understanding itself. This universe cannot be seen, cannot be heard, cannot be detected in any way by fixed perceptions. It is the ultimate void where no preordained screens occur upon which forms may be projected. You have only one awareness here in the screen of the magi: Imagination! Here you learn what it is to be human. You are a creator of order, of beautiful shapes and systems: an organizer of chaos."

I parked my car and after a quick bow in we began. I knew I had to find a way to bring this esoteric concept to life. We worked for a while with focus mitts, pushing ever so gently into a state of deeper flow, leaving the mind behind and allowing one to just happen. And thus we began Randori: many against one as is the norm at the school.

As they finished one round of Randori it was time to insert the lesson in, I began, 

"Most self-defense situations are over before you know it. It is a matter of less than a minute. Training for anything more than that, and you are in the realm of sports fighting. That is a different metaphor and thus a different training method. You need to be able to get into states of controlled insanity - at will. Remember we want to unleash everything over a short period of time: 10-30 seconds."

I saw some eyes glaze with that "what the hell is Sensei talking about now?" look. Best to give them an experience of it rather than talk a lot about it. I turned to one of them and "shifted" into that other state. Two students instantly stepped away and my "target student" gulped.

"There I got you. you felt that " I said. She nodded as it started to sink in.

One of my students objected, "but Sensei, I am not a violent person. I don't want to harm anyone."

"I rather never have to fight - ever. Yet there might be others who come in and engage in a battle with us. We need to be able to shift out of this peace-loving state into something else. Something else that will guarantee the survival of ourself and our loved ones. And for this, you need to create an alternate persona to come on out. Think of Bruce Wayne and Batman. We all have an access to those states of being, those which we consciously choose to invoke/evoke. We work with them. Remember these are here to serve you, not the other way around."

"Your will is the force that inscribes on the dark obsidian of your soul. And with that same will you bring forth and work with that alternate persona to ensure your survival in those precious 10-30 seconds of controlled insanity."

Some students were not tracking.

"Think of improv theater. You put on a new hat and act that out. Once the act is over, you put the hat away. BUT, while you have that hat, the YOU is put aside something else engages with the truth of the moment."

Some of the more scientific minded students nodded. (I reach them where they are, be it science, alchemy, philosophy or psychology, otherwise what one considers teaching can in fact become a violent act.)

"Theatre was once considered the realm of the Gods. It allowed the Gods/Archetypes to pass through the actors to pass down lessons. And in the process, theater transforms the actor, the stage, and the audience. Think about what an important part theater has played in the development of martial arts in the East. More on that at another time, but for now let's return to the Magick of State Control.

It is a simple process once you are initiated into the method. Approach it with a sense of deep play, an ecstatic form of play. Exemplars of any sport or craft are those who approach their art with deep play, with what Diane Ackerman calls a sensuous rigor bordering on the maniac. In other words, there is a deeply held somatic pattern that has to be accessed. Read her highly recommended book "Deep Play":

"This book invites people to look closely at the human saga, and consider how much of it revolves around play. Simple play, elaborate play, crude play, sophisticated play, violent play, casual play. Most animals play. Evolution itself plays with lifeforms. Whole cultures play with customs, ideas, belief systems, and fashions. But it’s a special caliber of play, deep play, that makes thrill-seeking understandable, creativity possible, and religion inevitable. Deep play awakens the most creative, sentient, and joyful aspects of our inner selves. More than anything else, our passion for deep play has made us the puzzling and resplendent beings we are." Diane Ackerman

So with this sense of deep play, sense of theater, sense of evocation, let us begin the process of entering into that excitatory state where we leave old limitations behind.

  1. Think of what/who that protective/fighting persona would be
  2. Now create a space in front of you where you see this persona bring its energy and perform for you
  3. Seek to know it and become it. With a sense of deep play, step into it (you have done this a million times as a kid, remember when you played Cowboys and Indians?)
  4. Become it and let it move through you, move you
  5. Let this superhero/anti-hero/animal/force now unleash and do its thing (in this case protect you with its controlled insanity
  6. As you reach the peak state of feeling this energy, anchor it with a very specific stack of triggers. I tend to use a specific physical movement/tension, word and breath pattern, and bang, I am there. (Read Robert Dilts article on Anchoring for a detailed understanding of the process of anchoring. However, remember you don't need to know how the car works in order to drive it.)
  7. Do this process a few times until the state is yours to command
  8. Begin shadow boxing (or more specifically within the Chinese Arts it is called Ghost Boxing). Let this energy inform you and unleash your weapons for you. Remember DEEP PLAY, leave aside your judgments.
  9. When done return to yourself with a trigger for your normal self. In other words put away your improv hat and step off the stage.
  10. The "trick" now is ready. I had the students fire the trigger and do their randori. All but one moved better as through my MAGICK.

It is hard for them to argue with their own experience. And if it works for you, use it. Don't let a label or prejudice stop you from accessing these exquisite states (and I would categorically say these states are in themselves deep initiations).

I reminded the students that these are powerful states, and to hold lightly. If one tries to grasp them strongly it will take over and make you its victim (paraphrasing Frank Herbert today, yet again)

It was time to finish the class with their stretches, yoga, and meditation. There would be more on this some other time.

We wrapped up and walked back to our cars. As I started driving home, my phone rang and the student on the other end said "Sensei did the samurai ever do this?"

"Yes they did. Do you remember when HRV sensei taught us the specific shugendo version of Kokyu ho (breathing excercises for now). Those breathing exercises were done in the dark and such states were accessed to not fight "alone". My research into some of the old tengu methods and other esoteric traditions shows that this THEATRE OF MARTIAL IMAGINATION was an important preparation of going to into war."

Silence on the other end of the line.

"Whether the Samurai used it or not is not the issue, " I continued. "The issue should be whether it works for you. Go read the Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts or Tengu: The Shamanic And Esoteric Origins Of The Japanese Martial Arts By Roald Knutsen. Really read the old stories of how many a Master learnt. Lineage while interesting does not guarantee usefulness. Remember the Ming Liu lecture on lineage: lineage is a cult you like, a cult is a lineage you dont like." We both laughed out loud and I continued, " I will always choose functionality over so-called authenticity. If it works use it, enhance what you have, layer new learnings in. Again DEEP PLAY. Process not specific technique."

He confessed he was a bit skeptical but promised to give it a shot.

"You know I seriously studied theater with a rather elusive underground theater. He pointed me to the work of Jerzy Grotowski. A particular quote by him is etched in my consciousness. He makes a profound statement."

“Why do we sacrifice so much energy to our art?
Not in order to teach others but to learn with them what our existence, our organism, our personal and repeatable experience have to give us; to learn to break down the barriers which surround us and to free ourselves from the breaks which hold us back, from the lies about ourselves which we manufacture daily for ourselves and for others; to destroy the limitations caused by our ignorance or lack of courage; in short, to fill the emptiness in us: to fulfill is a ripening, an evolution, an uplifting which enables us to emerge from darkness into a blaze of light.” 
― Jerzy Grotowski

He listened intently and then after a moment said he would try this with that sense of Deep Play. And to do this religiously every day for 5 minutes for the next month. It made me happy. Personal repeatable experience is where the proof is at.

So what does this have to do with fighting?

Everything. Invoking/Evoking states that allow you to do what is necessary to survive that you may not otherwise be able to do. This Theatre of Martial Imagination can be the key to liberation.

Don't take my word for it. Go try it for yourself.


Go find a teacher of the old ways, non-commercialized ways. Gain entrance into their inner courtyard and experience it from them before trying it. Which arts did you ask? I say all old ways be it Aikijujutsu, Opera company based gung fu, Silat or Eskrima.

Go get into that state of Deep Play with the Theatre of Martial Imagination.

And welcome LIBERATION!

Mahipal Lunia


Recommended Readings

The Demon's Sermon on the Martial Arts, Issai Chozanshi

Tengu: The Shamanic And Esoteric Origins Of The Japanese Martial Arts, Roald Knutsen

Internal Arts explained…/internal-martial-art…

Explore the "World of Jianghu" if you dare:

Super-LearningSheila Ostrander, Lynn Schroeder, Nancy Ostrander 

The Einstein FactorWin Wenger, Ph.D

Tesla's Mind Labs

Deep PlayDiane Ackerman