Wishful Warrior

This whole ideal of Budo, that martial arts practice brings enlightenment — what is it referring to? What is enlightenment via martial arts? Well, provided it actually exists I’ll say it could be one of three things:

  1. Achievement of an adept, deeply intuitive level of martial skill in which one’s psyche has assimilated into the nature of physical combat and such movements (the complete naturalization of one’s being with one’s practice)
  2. Deep awareness of what the martial arts actually are and overcoming any romantic delusions about them, as well as transcending the notion of fear, especially with regards to physical threats
  3. Total, full-blown Nirvana/Nibbana, in which all ignorance and illusion is dispelled

Number one, if I were to dissect that, I’d say it could refer to any practice in which one completely dedicates themselves. Like that tacky book, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” — practicing one thing can lead to a deeper awareness of everything. Practicing a musical instrument one’s whole life leads to a complete intuitive awareness of the music, which transcends any technical knowledge — just look at the training regimen of Indian classical musicians or Japanese Bunraku puppeteers. It’s nothing new — way old Chinese and Greek philosophy.

In such cases it seems like the individual becomes a holy patron of the tradition or idea in question; one becomes like a god of music, war, love, etc. through diligent one-pointed mastery of the subject. Many adept martial artists then fall into the camp of simply being elite killing machines. Is this enlightened? Not in any traditional religious sense. Ha! But what does that mean? Not much.

As for possibility number two, I am reminded of William Blake’s famous phrase: “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.” Or as Spare would say, by exhausting our desire or obsession with something we come to realize what it actually means to us. After years of practice, one learns how important or useless the martial arts they practice actually are. And in realizing the ultimate potential or value of something, it becomes easier or natural to relinquish.

But here the situation can only apply to people who are initially obsessed with violence or fear violence. They’re people who want to be involved in it or get over their fear of it. In the modern population, the majority of people don’t care enough about violence to pursue martial arts. Almost everyone would be going against their natural tendencies or interests, even though violence is always floating around in our heads; (like sex) we know it’s not functional to obsess over it.

And also, it seems like a cop-out to say a person is enlightened because they’re so good at inflicting violence that they no longer perceive it as a threat from others. This is more like an arms race or a typical tough-guy routine. It’s easy not to fight when no one else stands a chance against you.

In the last scenario, which just generalizes that full-blown enlightenment is achieved through martial arts, I would say it is a questionable association because so many terrible people have become efficient martial artists and did not achieve enlightenment, while a lot of people have become enlightened who never had anything to do with martial arts or violence. If people become enlightened through the martial arts, it’s possible that they were going to become so anyway and they happened to spend their time doing these things.

Man, I’m asking a lot of dumb questions here. Basically, most martial artists are not any more enlightened (in the cosmic sense) than anyone else. Martial artists are just on top of some of the subtlest aspects of the physical and athletic experience.

More to come…

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