Martial Musings: A bonfire for those Titles, Belts and Scrolls
If you are easily offended, don't read this.
This is a personal meditation on a few things I see rampant in Martial Arts...a few things I disagree with. This is not aimed at any one person or system, but rather a self reflection on the artistic expression I hold dear.
This week, a young 30-something man introduced himself to me as as a Grandmaster of not one but two different systems. I was left speechless by this marketing of his martial accomplishments. Undeterred, he insisted on being called Grandmaster and to be respected for his self-given rank in the Martial Arts. I obliged with polite smile, bowed and then walked out.
The word Samurai is thrown around far too freely. It evokes the esoteric imagery of the fearless warrior, principled life and honorable death. To the Japanophile or Martial Arts nerd, the word Samurai invokes a bunch of texts such as
- The book of Five Rings
- The Hagakure
- The Unfettered Mind
- The Lifegiving Sword
I want to take a step back - and set a few things right.
In the 1990’s I saw a documentary by two brothers Lawrence and Lorne Blair’s who were exploring Indonesia. The documentary left me in an odd mixture of disbelief and awe. It was my first introduction to the esoteric world of Chi or Ki. They managed to get a very private and mysterious man who they called “Dynamo Jack” on tape showing some rather strange abilities.
Most students of the Martial Arts will have heard their instructor tell them to relax more. When relaxing, most students shake off their bodies and “try” to relax their muscles. Some of them may think of relaxing in terms of going dead or limp. However, soon they will realize that relaxing is a state of being that is also present when they move.
Relax Damn It! Let go, let the motion be, dont try to do the technique, let it flow through you. I have found myself saying these words over and over again in the dojo. And yet the words seldom sink in deep enough to cause real change.
Modern life, especially with all of the technology we have is driven by stress. Unless you actively get on a program to de-stress as a martial artist, you are in serious trouble. Why should you care about it?
Wham. Bham. Take some more punishment. Condition harder, sweat it out. Now to prepare for that one (a handful at most) encounter/s, most ardent practitioners put their bodies and minds through a lot of abuse. It is almost a cliche to hear of martial artists’ with bad knees, hurt backs, jammed joints etc.
Martial training usually has one focus - survival. This means doing maximum damage on your opponent while sustaining minimum impact on oneself.
These past two weeks have been rough in the dojo. One student has a herniated disk in the neck, another has hurt her foot really bad and the third hurt his back during a fall from his bike. One asked me if s/he should still train and what advise I would have for them. So I shared my own personal story.
I had abused my body for many years, pushing it to limits - someitmes in the name of performance, and sometime becuase I did not know better. Just the previous week I had hiked up Dana Peak on a shugyo with my boys.
Some of my students and instructors were excited about the possibility of having access to an indoor dojo. I stood somewhat aside, and one of my students observed my disapproval. He sheepishly asked me, "Is there a problem Sensei? It might be nice to train indoors."
"This park is sacred ground to me. And there is a reason I train outdoors. Do you know what it is?"
"We don't want to be tied down paying for the training hall or compromise how we teach?" he answered, almost as though it were a question back to me.
Martial Musings: Defining oneself and one's practice AKA This is not your friendly neighborhood McDojo I had a strange conversation this week. A millionaire father contacted me to "do my aikido and fix his 3 children" who were aged between 18 and 23. He also expected prompt responses in writing about when he wanted me to show up, then spend 2 hours each day with his kids. He then wanted to know if I had the facilities to accept his AmEx card, as he would not use any other card. Finally he emphasized his "kids" would be driven by a private chauffer.
Training in different environments is a critical aspect of our training. It informs how we hold and change our structure, influencing how we move. Additionally we have sought to make the most beautiful places in the world our dojo - the place where we practice our ways. The aesthetic aspect of training trains a worldview which we believe to be imperative in becoming whole martial artists.About El Tajin: Located in the state of Veracruz, El Tajin was at its height from the early 9th to the early 13th century.