Apocalypse, Wow!

Walking home, late at night, you hear something behind you. A sound, unexpected, out of place.

Pulling up to your house, in the driveway, in the dark. Something looks wrong. The window shade never looks half-open like that. 

Or the front door is not quite closed. 

Someone you know well says something, casually, that seems off. 

Or a feeling that you are stuck in a world that stopped making sense. 

What do you do?

The sound pounded from the speaker towers down onto the crowd. The singer was Grace Slick, the band was Jefferson Airplane, the song was Somebody to Love. She sang:

When the truth is found 

To be lies

And all the joy

Within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love

Don’t you need somebody to love

You better find somebody to love

Whatever those lyrics once meant to the heartbroken song writer who wrote them, by the time I heard them that drizzly night, Grace Slick was belting them out with a cold-blooded vehemence that had nothing to do with love, and everything to do with vengeance, defiance and power.

Standing in the crowd on the field at Gaelic Park, long ago, listening to this rockin’ tsunami engulf the crowd in a roar of fear, loathing and desire, I was not too sure what to think or to feel. It was all new. This was a concert. Concerts were cool. This one was not far from our neighborhood. It was summer.

I was not familiar with romantic betrayal, or its remedies. I couldn’t tell right away what the song was about. But I got the feeling. 

The lightshow pulsed, pumped, quivered and dripped blobs of psychedelic madness on the big screen behind the band, but the lightning in the sky overhead intruded, flashed on the projection screen, whiting out the colored lights for an instant, as the rolling thunder reached us through the din. It might have been alarming, but most of the crowd was stoned and oblivious. 

The band did not play on. The music stopped, artlessly, in the middle of the song. Someone must have told the band it was not safe to stay on stage. The crowd booed. Grace, on her way to the edge of the stage, pivoted and came back to the microphone. “We need to get off the stage until the lightning stops.” 

The crowd, ghostly figures moving in the sunset, mooed, “No!” This pissed Grace off. She leaned in toward the mic, careful not to touch it during the lightning storm: “Do you want to see me get electrocuted and end up as a big blue arc?” Some in the crowd roared “Yeah!!” Anticipating an interesting spectacle, probably, nothing personal. Grace stomped off, following the rest of the band. 

The crowd was not there for love. Surprise. They were there for spectacle, for more than a feeling, for a turbo-charged torrent of the rites of spring. 

I felt that something was wrong. I did not linger, analyze or take the time to wonder what to do.  

The high price of free love, humanity discovered, is payable in installments, over a lifetime, in loneliness, resentment and dreams. This discovery has been recently unearthed, like a well-preserved artifact made by paleo people long, long ago when paleo was young.

Travelling through the institutions erected by the mass psychology that attracts the most energy now, you glimpse flashes of the limbic brain of the culture you can’t not see. Travelling through the sectors of society whose values rule, whose presence dominates and whose institutions form the measure of success, you can feel the fever and see the wreckage as you look around, riding along the avenue of your own life, passing through the road warrior landscape, cold, perilous, fascinating – ads and opportunities beckoning, but knowing all the time you better keep moving.

You can feel something is wrong. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you can feel it. You can hear it in the torture of language, now considered necessary and clever. You can detect it in the pro culture ethos of calculation and deception, now re-christened as “smart.” You can sense it in the ubiquitous hunger for something that will make the savage pulse of craving and satiety pay off and stop. You know it first hand, in the yearning for someone you can trust. 

It is possible to circumvent all that. It is counter-cultural. But it is possible. For one thing we can all become someone whom other people can trust. It is possible to learn to do something that people need, and to do it well. It is possible to have human friends, and tolerate electronic anonymity. 

It seems that every generation thinks the current generation has gotten soft. There may be plenty of snowflakes and slackers out there but that’s not who shows up for training. Maybe it is this way in your school too. 

There are plenty of people who want to do something good, something that will challenge them, develop their body and mind. They want a chance to refine their spirit. They discover they can do it by training. They want to apply their potential in every dimension of their lives – at work, at school, at home, in the community and beyond.

No one says much about it, but I would guess most would like the purity of their hearts and the strength of their spirits to radiate out and touch the lives of the people they work with, the people they care for, people they meet, and maybe people they don’t even know. 

That is why we train hard and ask so much. On the technical side, we have an approach to Shorin Ryu that restores its unique power. People notice that we move with unusual speed and freedom. Many people join to learn our technique. But most stay for the spirit that is built in to our training.

Our members get the premise that stress is good. Incremental increases in pressure, at appropriate levels, allow people to achieve their potential, and feel strong and alive. Our members appreciate an atmosphere that comes with surprises, not just drill, and a training method that yields mental and physical toughness, not just performative mimesis.

Our members like to do real work. They do not want the dojo equivalent of a meaningless job where they get a check for showing up, or a rank for paying tuition. 

They are aware that strong people who are accustomed to positive stress, and are well-adapted to surprise and unpredictability are more likely to perform well under difficult demanding circumstances, in any setting – a violent confrontation, work challenges, a family crisis, or anything unexpected.

They know that comfortable people who have been protected from challenges will always live with a baseline of anxiety, and flip out when they encounter an obstacle, a disagreement or anything new. Weak people are fragile. Weak, overprotected people become enraged, despairing, aggressive or withdrawn instead of staying cool under pressure, and taking productive steps to deal with new, difficult circumstances. In groups their limbic brains take the reins, and they can do great harm. 

Good training pressure on the group brings people together, and allows natural connections to form. This makes the group stronger and more resilient, and it makes the individuals stronger and more resilient too. 

Because of the way the human body is designed to respond to periodic, tolerable stress, people develop to levels of capacity which they can draw upon in a crisis – levels which can far exceed what they have done in training. 

We get the power to overcome addictive and impulsive action – where the limbic, reptile, primitive brain is at home – and become fully human. We can choose the right course of action, and follow it, without haste or hesitation.

We can set ourselves clear goals, day in and day out, that change as we adapt and improve. We can achieve consistent successes every time we train. We discover that there is not a limited amount of excellence to go around, as there is in Hollywood, Washington, Wall Street and other fantasy lands. In fact, in the real world, there is unlimited opportunity for everyone who applies themselves and pursues their goals to achieve high performance. 

People criticize me for writing about martial arts this way, as if the only legitimate topics are old masters, good techniques and hoary words of wisdom. Those are fine. But they are not the limit of what we need now from our training.

Because many people have found that the truth – what they believed all their lives – has been exposed as lies. They feel tricked and betrayed and disoriented. At least some of the joy within them died. Many are being pulled down, in their confusion, to hopelessness and despair, to drugs, sex and rock n’ roll.  

You can hear the thunder. We do not need a tip from offstage: the lighting is coming.

We train because when a strong person is struck, the response will be to ring loud and strong like a bell. Under the same pressure a weak person will break, like a window, or a heart.

We can choose. 


Post by Jeff Brooks, author of the influential book True Karate Dō, instructor, Yamabayashi Ryu, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC

Post © Copyright 2023, Jeffrey Brooks

Photo by Vishnu R. Nair, via Pexels

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