Archive for Fighting

Like a monkfish out of water…

Posted in Asceticism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Reality Bites, Relationships, Religion, sex and violence, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 26, 2008 by wizardsmoke

It is interesting how monks, nuns, and those who take religious vows learn to defend themselves from social harms and ills. And those vows to abstain from drugs, sex, violence, harmful speech and behavior are all the more possible because of a secluded monastic environment. But the monastic environment is not meant just to shelter the religious from the world, but to create a safe environment in which they can build a base of profound mental awareness. The ordained may not necessarily ever stop practicing or living in their ordained community, just as any martial artist (let’s say anyone who follows the fabled-to-exist practices of budo, chivalry, gongfu, etc.) does not stop practicing or teaching at their school despite their adept level of ability. Furthermore, religious monastics and martial artists  are both ideally practicing to ward off negative elements in their surroundings.

Wait, are they both? The martial artist parallel stops short because of the outcomes of these different methods of practice. An honest religious disciple is learning to see troublesome elements in the mind before they arise, and easily avoids these things. A martial artist is usually learning to sense violence before it appears in their surroundings. On the one hand, a good monk is exempt from pernicious social atmospheres which may result in lust, greed, crime, violence, etc. and intuitively learns how gauge these things. A martial artist might not learn to perceive these elements, but is better poised to deal with violent confrontation should it happen (which is almost always due to stupid social conflicts, but let’s say we’re talking about horror-story confrontations with occasional, random, mean-spirited groups of thugs, Clockwork Orange-style, or even complete psychopathic nutcases). Here the combat training — in a “do-or-die” scenario with no other choice but to fight — becomes useful.

But what has always bothered me about a number of fighters and martial artists is a subtly angry disposition. I’ve met people in this line of practice who are virulently aggressive people with dysfunctional social problems. They’re not the majority of the people involved (a lot of the angry violent types end up in questionable lines of work anyway), but martial arts rarely has anything to curb a penchant for anger — except to let the person go berserk on another person. And even if a martial arts practice does succeed in warding off negative elements, does it have to be done through the practice of violence (even if in a controlled environment)?

So I admire this about religious vows: even if the ordained do not keep to such precepts or vows, the idea of giving up anger, greed, lust — this is very impressive and admirable to me. Because a number of people who take these vows succeed in keeping them. I know from experience that during the periods one gives up these things, so many formerly conflicting aspects in one’s environment, social sphere and daily life just float on by without causing any mental disturbance.

But talk is cheap, and here I am hanging out with the angry people.

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Wishful Warrior

Posted in Buddhism, Fighting, martial arts, Mysticism, Reality Bites, Religion, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 17, 2008 by wizardsmoke

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…

Dragon’s tears

Posted in Buddhism, Cults, Doom and Evil, Fighting, martial arts, Reality Bites, Religion, Stayin' Alive, World of Emotions with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2008 by wizardsmoke

You know, practicing the martial arts always make me want to cry. I feel like a little kid every time I think about it. Because although the stuff is there to make you stronger or more self-sufficient (supposedly!), the teaching method is so harsh at the end of the day. Sure, maybe we’re all friends, or brothers, or whatever else, but I still feel like the opera kids in the classic modern Chinese film, Farewell My Concubine. The ones who are horribly beaten into submission by their master. But that agony makes them into the most amazing, beautiful performers in existence: true national treasures.

One character sees adults performing an opera and cries: “how many beatings does it take to become a star?” In other words, how much pain does it take, how much suffering must be transformed, in order to become great, appreciated, brilliant or realized? And how many people are destroyed or stray on that path? Too many!

But if something happens to you in a fight, in the world, in martial arts, in anything at all, the underlying conclusion a person has to understand is: it’s your problem. It may not be your fault per se, but you are the one who has to deal with it — alone. And this is where the idea of modern (post-pagan) religion has stepped in, to provide answers for this, to provide practice strategies to deal with the mental agony of it all, or maybe just comfort and a shoulder to cry on.

I suppose if religions or martial arts are actually creating positive habits in our “spirit,” they do so in the way phrased in Buddhism: a person cannot remove physical pain, but a person can remove the mental association or attachment with that pain. When a person is hurt or harmed, the real pain comes from the concept of being harmed, that another person could do such a thing to another. If you actually think about it, it really is a horrible idea. As soon as you empathize with someone being tortured or maimed or killed, it becomes impossible to do it to anyone else.

And yet in some twisted, sick way, in studying fighting we learn to hurt others without thinking really empathizing with their pain. What a disturbing thing. Someone once pointed out to me, there are three lessons in fighting: (1) Being seriously injured; (2) Injuring someone else and (3) you’ll find out!

Tengus, Musashi and Joshu

Posted in Asceticism, Buddhism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Shintoism, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

What are the pinnacles of a martial artist’s path? Endless willpower (the embodiment of faith), natural, animal-like movement and an awareness of one’s place in the universe. Alternatives include trouble with the law, a bohemian lifestyle or a macho complex…

But does this come at a price? A martial artist keeps the peace by intimidating the opposition to a point of no return, by forcing potentially dangerous or malicious people to hide or change. This is admirable, but a martial path is often lonely. It is difficult to befriend people genuinely if one does not perceive themselves as equal. By becoming tough, deadly and virtuous, one is robbed of basic human weaknesses and empathies. Fortunately, a virtuous person is beyond conscious value judgments of character!

An ascetic path would say that basic pleasures and empathies are human weaknesses that cause suffering and the disorder of society. This is true, but at the same time, many people are driven to practice martial arts for very human reasons: for their jobs, to protect their families, for ego boosts (to be tough), or from seeing too many Naruto episodes.

Sometimes, people who take these factors as inspiration are driven to achieve very high levels in the martial arts. But I would not be surprised if the highest levels were achieved by people like Musashi, who had much disdain for society’s records and rules. Part of having a job or a family also involves conforming to society and adjusting to its rules. Here one can argue that this is either a further martial development, or a hindrance to one’s martial development. In other words, Musashi was something of a tengu.

Does a martial artist become so secure in his/her ability to kill or destroy that they care so little about other people to the point of no longer noticing their presence? Is this different from realizing how easy it is to kill or destory people or things to the extent that the existence of such things makes them emanate extraordinary substance and value in the martial artist’s eyes?

It’s like what Leonard Cohen said about his Zen teacher, 100-year-old Joshu Sasaki: “He became someone who really cared about—or deeply didn’t care about who I was. Therefore, who I was began to wither. And the less I was of who I was, the better I felt.”

We don’t know Musashi the man, we don’t know ourselves, but we can certainly understand that people like him, living in seclusion from society, perfecting methods of killing (and some slick painting), with nothing in the world to protect except his deep passion to know the essence of combat, are not normally functioning members of humanity. There’s no human glory in that life, which is one obsessed with violence and so far beyond driven to understand things that it eclipses a normal life. Not saying Musashi had a choice necessarily–he seems like he got dealt an interesting hand to play out in life–but it’s something to consider. Sometimes desire for this stuff can be too strong.

Do you lean towards being a tengu or some noble humanist? Sometimes you’re too far in either direction to change in one lifetime.