Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Balance


I am returning to the philosophy of circles.
When I began martial arts, it was with the focus on the circle. Techniques were always completed with this concept in mind; defences were based upon rounded movements, such as jiu-jitsu usually is. This philosophy became the basis of my training. And while I haven't forgotten this, somewhere along the way I started to take my own philosophies for granted.
You see, as I grew to be a more experienced striker, I learned the value of a linear approach to defence to complement the circle. I learned about centre lines, jabs, and crosses. Attacking on angles and doing kata in line formations. Often, it seemed, the quickest route to reach an opponent was in a straight line.
My circles never went away, though, I just didn't focus on them in the same way I once did. But my mind is returning to it, now, albeit in a more layered manner than before.
I like to look at a karate reverse punch as a good example of combining straight lines with circular movements. The punch, to be quick and effective, must travel directly at its target – in a straight blast of power. The foot, also, lunges into a forward stance, aimed in the same direction as the arm. But, the circle is still there. The fist corkscrews as it is extended; the hips turn in order to generate power. It is a perfect balance of both concepts at work.
Lately, I have been hoping to increase my jiu-jitsu training once again. It's like going home and I'm excited. I am once more thinking in circles both small and large. And I am applying the philosophy to what I have learned in the meantime, blending the two, hopefully, into seemless, coherent actions.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Becoming Immune


In the realm of frenetic commercialism, those who wish to find a quiet mind must work to develop a sort of “materialistic immunity.” Just as the body can become immune to certain diseases, so, too, can the mind subdue the unwanted “noise” of the world.

It is hard enough, I've discovered, to find moments of peace without countless billboards pouring crap into my conscious and subconscious mind. Life, it seems, is challenging on its own, without omnipresent television screens with ego-filled actors telling me what I “need,” and how to be happy. And when I walk down a city street it feels akin to running a gauntlet of materialism, and I know it impacts us all deeper than we think on the surface. After all, that's the point of advertising, isn't it?

But peace can still be found. I try to become consciously aware of my surroundings, and take my power back by holding an internal place of focus amid the chaos.

The martial arts world, an argument could be made, has become increasingly commercial in recent years as well. Some dojos want to sell you what they have to offer, and many teachers and students flaunt their knowledge as if advertising their self-importance, unaware of the impact it may have on other students with whom they train. While most instructors and students I have met have been humble and approachable, there is always that one guy or girl who fails to check their ego at the door.

Again, we need to focus on ourselves. Martial artists train daily to cut out distractions, to breath, and to redirect the energy of an attacker. In this case, the attacker may be ego, materialism, or just unwanted attitudes of negativity. I just try to redirect the unwanted energy. I try to become immune to negative surroundings, and hopefully add a bit of positivity in the process.

It is my way of trying to find a quiet mind in a world that often seems out to confuse and distort what life is all about.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Perseverance


The year 2014, while full of memorable moments in the dojo, was a year that ultimately brought lessons in patience and perseverance.

For the first time in seven years of dedicated training, I hit a point where I could see quitting. Plain and simple. I was down in the dumps; my energy depleted, and my focus gone. But only in fits and starts. I would miss three weeks of class, then go regularly for three more. I binge trained, to be honest, and there were points where I had to drag myself out of the house to make it to the dojo for a training session.

What kept me going was knowing that each time I did go to class, I felt so glad that I did so. I felt refreshed, excited, and pleasantly tired from a challenging lesson. But then it would fade in my mind, and one day off would turn into many more. I was extremely busy with my family life, and my drive was just, well, not there.

Another thing that kept me going was watching my seven-year-old son's classes. I observed his excitement as he advanced to the “bigger kids class,” and enjoyed seeing his progression as lessons in the martial arts unfolded in front of his youthful eyes.

But why was I struggling? I needed to figure this out in order to move forward.

I could pin blame on many factors if I wished: exhaustion; injuries; absent training partners; not enough time; feeling too old; other interests, etc. I also have to deal with mental depression and anxiety which severely impacts my motivation at times.

However, these factors have never stopped me in the past. And who doesn't have challenges to overcome?

So what I had to do was dig deep and decide what the martial arts mean to me. And two of those things, among many others, is the cultivation of patience and perseverance. I realized that these lulls and challenging moments are just part of the deal. Training to get past them is not unlike training in endurance or technique. At times it's just hard.

But getting through the challenges, and finding joy once again on the path, is worth all the struggle and discomfort.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Compassion

Unconditional compassion may be one of the most important qualities a human being can strive to possess. To be selfless is a major key to opening the door to true understanding. I, like everyone else in the world, find this hard at times. I do not have a violent temper or anything like that, but I am human, and humans do not always live up to their true spiritual potential. It's part of the gig. It's part of learning.
I am good to people who are good. I am also good to people who are not good. Because Virtue is goodness.
I have faith in people who are faithful. I also have faith in people who are not faithful. Because Virtue is faithfulness."
-- Tao Te Ching
Compassion, while to a certain degree natural and latent in us all, sometimes needs to be practised and honed just like any other skill we seek to learn. When we practise a martial art, for example, we expect difficulty and challenges along the way. That's why we practise so hard and so long. Our approach to spirituality should be no different.
"The Art of Peace begins with you. Work on yourself and your appointed task in the Art of Peace."
-- Morihei Ueshiba
And compassion does lead to peace in the end. Sometimes the process feels painfully exhausting, I admit, but our spiritual teachers were definitely onto something when they preached patience and kindness. In reality, anger and frustration merely cloud our minds. They obscure our focus and mental clarity.
"When a delusion like anger is present, we lose control."
-- The Dalai Lama
So although we will invariably fail at times, the pursuit of unconditional compassion is a worthy path to embark upon. It will not only help us fine tune our own spirituality, but it will make us better teachers to those around us as well.
"For hate is not conquered by hate: hate is conquered by love. This is a law eternal."
-- The Dhammapada

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Duel




A renowned warrior came into a field to do battle.

The first challenger he met was his greatest adversary: Ego.

Both soldiers drew their swords and engaged in battle. They fought for many frantic minutes with no harm coming to either individual; both becoming increasingly fatigued as the conflict went on. But at a crucial moment, when the first warrior had Ego nearly defeated, he misjudged his opponent's strength and was pushed off balance and fell to the ground.

Ego, a smile coming across his face, raised his weapon and prepared to finish the conflict with one mighty swing of his sword.

But before he could do so, a chill breeze moved across the field, and on it sailed an arrow that pierced the armour of Ego, causing him to fall dead to the ground. The first warrior, incredulous, looked to his right and saw a third warrior carrying a bow.

His name was True Self.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Qi For Two


It exists. It doesn't exist.
We all know the debate over whether or not qi, or energy force, is an actual source of power which can be tapped into by those with the know-how to do so. My attempt here is not to take sides; it is not to prove or disprove qi energy. Rather, it is to relate an interesting situation in which I find myself as a student of martial arts.
For a few years now, I have studied under two different instructors, although I still consider my first sensei to be my main go-to teacher. That said, I have enjoyed and benefited from delving into another style of martial art, one that I hope complements my original knowledge and training. It seems to work, and I have fun while doing it.
So what i find intriguing is this: while I have great respect for both instructors, and try to soak in as much information from each one while in their respective dojos, they differ in one main philosophical outlook. One teacher believes strongly in qi energy, while the other views the emergence of any extra force during a technique as more of a mechanical phenomenon, i.e. something more tangible and physical.
I find the contrasting outlooks of great interest. I find it symbolic of the split in the martial arts in general. Yin and Yang, perhaps. And I don't view one instructor as less effective or less wise. After all, one major thing both teachers have in common is that the technique works best when it is done properly. With proper mechanics. More power comes from this, whether accompanied by qi or not. As to whether more energy can be added is a different story, one that I prefer to leave be for the time being.
Because like I said, I'm not taking sides right now. Instead, what I try to do is embrace the teaching of both, all the while exploring the options myself, in my own mind.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Siddhartha



It was almost twenty years ago that I first read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The book, a fictional account of a wandering monk in the time of the Buddha, is a story sure to trigger spiritual contemplation in any reader. It traces the protagonist's journey through asceticism, worldly desires, and eventually peace and reflection. It is ultimately about seeking truth in all its mystery, which, for Siddhartha, is what life is ultimately all about.
Although it is difficult to remember my exact thoughts about the book twenty years ago, what I do realize is how differently the words feel now that I have had much more life experience. Don't get me wrong, I was still very spiritually minded as a young man. At least as much as today. However, our consciousness seems to be ever-expanding, and as a result, time truly does give us perspective.
One of the things that really struck me this time reading the novel was the fact that this was not just a westerner's interpretation of Eastern thought, but a fusion of Eastern thought with Western mysticism. Hesse was, after all, German, and his take on Eastern philosophy was still seen through the eyes of the West. That said, the truth is the truth regardless of where one lives, and therefore the author still manages to cut through to the core of Siddhartha's contemplative nature.
While doing this, Hesse very deliberately draws parallels between the Buddha and his character, Siddhartha, but is very careful to separate the two in their approach to spirituality and teaching.
At the heart of Siddhartha, is the idea that, "Wisdom is not communicable." Instead, it is seen and heard everywhere all at once, and everything in life is timeless and unified.
However, regardless of which age I happened to be reading this novel, the author's words made me reflect deeply upon the nature of life and reality itself. While now I can relate more to the different stages of Siddhartha's life, perhaps when I'm older I'll look back with even more perspective upon Hesse's eloquent story.