Perhaps you have watched dozens of cheesy Kung-Fu flicks that used to air on Saturday afternoons, or perhaps you are an avid Pay-Per-View fan of the UFC. Maybe on top of that you have read a few books on martial arts techniques, some of them with pictures. Whatever the case, through those different media you are looking at the “face” of martial arts. You are looking at The Physical outward trappings. All of these things that we traditionally think of as “The Martial Arts” that deal with punching, kicking, killing, maiming, and all that other good stuff are real. There are hundreds of books written on them by dozens of teachers, and many people make their living off of teaching these physical techniques to students.
To study all of the intricate physical details about martial arts that every unique teacher has put out would take lifetimes. I am not going to do that here, except to say that most, if not all, of those things in those books are true…. but also partial. If you have read the previous posts on this blog, you will understand that The Physical perspective is only one third of what happens in the Martial Arts, along with the Social and Personal perspectives. Each of these things is not separate, of course. I am only pointing them out separately to make things easier to write. They all take place simultaneously, and co-arise together. They also evolve through Stages together.
So what about The Physical?
For the most part, this is the easiest thing to think about. Find yourself a teacher, and if you already have one, just keep doing what you are doing and chances are you will develop your physical talent in the Martial Arts. Depending on your reason for living, you will adapt your physical techniques to the way you see the world, and whether or not you think the world is a nice place or a dangerous one. But what if you want to go farther than that? What if you realize that this physical stuff only goes so far? (I mean, how many 80-year-olds do you see wiping the walls with 23-year-old UFC fighters?) What if you truly feel that the internal stuff that happens with your own mind and emotions matter? Or if you feel that your interactions with people are something you need to improve?
Then, you are ready to begin broadening your view, and it just so happens that The Physical aspects of Martial Arts are the perfect gateway to that road. After all, we go to class and we practice on our own by physically doing something. We move. We perform. We spar. The only difference between doing these things forever and getting nowhere in your life and doing these same things and finding yourself on a road to fulfillment and happiness is intention.
Intention is the key.
So here is the dirty little secret about the power of intention: If you have a persistent bad habit in Life, it’s usually reflected by some bad habit you have in Martial Arts. Intention links these two things together, so if you fix one, you fix the other. By coming to the dojo and working hard on that technique or that bad habit in class, you are doing yourself a favor for the equivalent bad habit in Life. When you intend to fix that problem in class, and you do, you will find that the problem also clears up in Life *as long as you link the two together and intend to fix one by fixing the other*. This can be something as silly as correcting a stance, or much deeper.
The other day, I lost a sparring match pretty badly to a fighter with far less control, but also far less experience and skill. It was pretty brutal. Going over the loss in my head, I could see a lot that I did wrong, as far as techniques went. However, the real problem was the hit to my confidence and even my whole reason for teaching and practicing Martial Arts. I got stressed, and I criticized myself, and beat myself up over it for a bit. Nevertheless, even at my low point during that self-loathing session, I still held the intention to learn from the experience, to learn both about the techniques and Life. As I began to turn inward, I realized that this loss was a great lesson. It was not a lesson about winning or losing a fight at all, but more about my REACTION to winning and losing battles…. but not just winning and losing battles with others. It was about winning and losing battles with myself. I realized that this stress I felt from the interaction was exactly equivalent to (and caused by) my criticism of myself and my own fear of learning through confrontation.
The key realization is that sparring is resistance. When you spar, and you study how you react and work during sparring, you are gaining exact insights into how you resist Life, and what you do when Life resists you. My resistance to learning about what I did wrong was analogous to my tendency to resist resistance itself sometimes, and then to beat myself up (spar myself) over the fact that I did that. Cleaning this up, along with looking at the technical details of what I did wrong in that fight, will possibly improve my sparring…. which I actually do not care about as much. On the other hand, it will definitely improve my capacity as a teacher and as a fully humanized human being.
Therein we have an example of a lesson through The Physical perspective, which spanned into both The Social and The Personal. All three perspectives are One, and completely inseparable.