People admire strength. Courage. A clear mission. Commitment to a cause. Skill in means. Honor in fellowship. An uncritical willingness to face danger.
No one is born with those qualities. We cultivate them.
We can cultivate them in traditional martial arts.
That’s why people appreciate what we do.
That’s why we do it.
That is why people who don’t do it get interested in it.
These traditional virtues may seem passé but they are not. They are urgently needed. As they have been in every nation and in every generation since the beginning of time.
The Treachery of Images
The rewards of a life cultivated in practice are not available through memories, archives, the internet or the media. They are not available to visitors, actors or viewers. These rewards are only available to practitioners – people who actually do the work.
In traditional martial arts we enter reality.
We can access information in pictures and recordings. We can be inspired by the lives of the people who have come before us. But we train in real life. We accept the risk – to our bodies, our egos – and we act.
We engage with other people. Flawed, fantastic, inspiring, irritating, dangerous or spectacular – they are all indispensable in our training. As we are in theirs.
They challenge us (like kata and kumite) to adapt our habits and pre-dispositions, to remain focused, and to meet the demands of the moment.
The difficulties we encounter can work to our advantage.
Training with weights makes our muscles strong. Training with people makes our spirits strong.
We can appreciate what is good in them and imitate it; we can detect what is flawed and avoid it. What works and what fails to work are testable, practical matters, matters of urgency. They are not abstractions.
We become more skillful and more alive as we train.
No Man is an Island
People who mistake the internet for the world are at a disadvantage. The internet has no center.
They position themselves like the famous king in ancient times, induced by habit, by complacency, or bad advice, to rely on hearsay, spies, and reports from ministers with divided interests, in far off lands, to learn about the world.
That king could never get the real story. He could not respond to what was really going on. He was, intentionally or unintentionally, isolated from the demanding, unpleasant, often unpredictable give and take of the world. He was banished from the one arena in which he really had the power act.
Then the first time he faced a real life threat he was not prepared.
What People Want
Traditional martial artists have many motives and goals. But we all value the vital human connection at the center of our practice.
No person, tradition or civilization endures without it.
Post by Jeff Brooks
Photo Ming Mausoleum, Nanjing
Thanks to René Magritte and John Donne