Beyond Self-defense

On the home page of our dojo’s website, it says “Beyond self-defense.”

It is a critical point for martial arts practitioners. The posts “Mistaken Zen” and “Zen Confusion in Martial Arts” are about martial arts. They make the case that to go beyond something you have to go through it. This matches our experience, but still we would like to believe there must be a short cut, a work-around, or “one weird trick” that can save us the trouble. There is no such thing.

To go beyond the river you have to cross the river. To go beyond the finish line you first have to get to the finish line. To get beyond the beginner stage of practice you have to go through the beginner stage of practice.

There are people who say they use martial arts in a way that goes “beyond self-defense.” “Karate-do” for example: as a way of life, a way of personal cultivation, a source perhaps of deep insight, is sometimes considered to be completely or partly concerned with matters which are “beyond self-defense.” 

For serious practitioners it is. But it depends on what you mean and how you train.

Martial arts have been adapted in some places and times for non-martial purposes: Physical health. Mental clarity. Sudden insight. Athletics. Socializing with other people. These may not be going “beyond self-defense.” They may be going around self-defense, or they may not be concerned with self-defense at all. They use modes of movement and states of mind derived from self-defense practice which are put to other uses. Not a bad thing, if that is what you are looking for. But they are often “other than self-defense.” They are not “beyond self-defense.” 

Sometimes “beyond” is used to imply that a martial arts-derived practice that is concerned with inner cultivation and health is morally superior to one which is concerned with protection and defense. That is “other than” self-defense. It is not “beyond” self-defense. (I think you can also make the case that it is not true.)

It was to make this point clear that I wrote about the influence of the “Flower Sutra” and the “Tea Lady and the Diamond Sutra.” The error sometimes made in martial arts is identical to the error sometimes made in Zen. “Avoiding” and “going beyond” are not the same.

To go beyond self-defense we need to proceed through demanding self-defense training. We need to transform our bodies and minds in the heat and pressure of action – inside the dojo and perhaps outside as well.  We need to deeply penetrate the meaning and purpose of our techniques, and be able to apply them spontaneously and effectively, under pressure. We need to develop the quality of character of a warrior – calm, clear, purposeful, strong, and totally committed.

Then we are prepared to apply martial arts in the realm beyond self-defense. Only by going through the risks, rewards and arduous labor of mastering it. Not by going around it. 

That is the meaning of the sub-head on our home page “Beyond Self-defense.” 

That is the direction of our practice. That is the way to use martial mastery to fight the Good Fight in all aspects of our lives. 

Post and Photo by Jeff Brooks

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Post and Photo Copyright © 2019 J. Michael Brooks and Mountain Karate, LLC

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