Success

Determining what is successful or progressive is not easy even when there are tangible means of assessment, you can only look to yourself. The words of others may offer comfort and direction but only you can know for sure. For a warrior toughness should not be measured by physical prowess alone but by their mind intent and spirit. To trust, persevere and overcome in meditation of spiritual and martial nature requires diligence and discipline. I feel blessed to know and train with such a person, Michael Horley GB Judoka.

Press play, don’t press pause, believe, progress, march on. 

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Marital arts should be relevant to real life not ‘the street’.

More and more I see adverts for martial arts classes making reference to ‘the street’ and how this or that art is the best as a result. I appreciate real life plays out on not just one but many streets but it is the essence of the issue with which I I have a problem. A Martial Art should contribute to the development of a person to better help humanity, a vehicle for health, happiness, understanding and contentment.  

There is a key role of martial arts in history that should not be overlooked, but its’ physical relevance in todays society has evolved. A basic interpretation of an arts practicality ‘on the street’ is, I hope, one of self-defence. Interpreting, transferring and evolving a technique learnt from a form, or in a dojo, to be effective in a real life self-defence situation.

Many a martial artist seem obsessed with an Arts’ relevance on ‘the street’. What street? There are some extremely proficient martial artists who would be able to make most things work on most streets, however, the times I have heard a teacher pronounce ‘this is how it happens on ‘the street’ it has been clear they have never been on the street they are making reference to in anything other than a fantasy world they created in their head.

Everything in Martial Arts comes down to context and interpretation. The application of the physical self-defence element focuses on one small element of an art, which in many respects signifies the failure of all other aspects of a practitioners martial arts training.

Creating a relevant context for martial practice that facilitates intelligent thinking, feel, decision-making, contextual awareness and the application of relevant techniques poses a challenge. Life and times have changed, for some practitioners their lives still require and facilitate the application of martial physical skill but for most that is not the case. Teachers need a ‘hook’ to attract students. The biggest problem this creates is not weather or not a technique is relevant or ‘would work on the street’ but the creation of a fantasy world in which these martial arts practitioners reside and the resulting self doubt that dogs the few who question their Arts’ relevance.  

The idea of the ‘street’ and the way it is marketed is quite brutal. As a Martial Artist I went looking for the ‘street’, I found people of all backgrounds and outlooks, on the whole I didn’t find martial artists. Mostly, real proficiency on the street came from a type of person most would not like to associate with or be compared to. Fuelled by anger, drink, drugs, hate, a love of fighting and hurting others. These are not attributes of a martial artist.

The street can be organized, clumsy, inconsistent, unreliable, violent, friendly, cold, wet, hot busy, quiet, full of individuals or groups…

The safe navigation of which is all down to a healthy awareness, interpretation of context and knowledge of self. A full martial arts system can help you achieve this and become a better person. If you want to become proficient on the street you don’t need martial arts, the street is no different to any other arena; to be proficient takes time, experience and practice. As an individual you need to ask what you are looking for and as a teacher you have a responsibility to ask what it is you are imparting and advocating. 

Martial Arts are a powerful tool. Used for good or bad all falls within the realm of the Tao, but it is up to us to make a decision we believe to be in the interest of humanity. 

Practice: It’s not easy, if it was we’d all be doing it.

Our lives are busy and the constant gaze of society means it’s not even on the horizon of our thought process when we get up in the morning. For some an urge to do it makes a brief apparition before they snuggle in for another five minutes of warmth and rest, there are a select few obsessive compulsives who jump out of bed filled with a an overwhelming desire to practice. For most it’s buried so far behind the myriad of other things they need to do once they’ve had a coffee that it seems irrelevant.

For most of us we need structure and guidance to practice.

Despite much rhetoric, practice in meditation is neither easy or natural, but once it gets hold of us we want it in our lives. Like most forms of activity when we’re doing it we love it and appreciate how much we need it. It’s the doing it that’s hard.

I trained with a lot of people who, if their teacher was in residence, would fight to be the first out of bed to show how diligently they practiced. Their insecurity, form and application told the real story of their day to day, week to week training and development. The internal arts are so full of contradictions it is difficult for a student who has a goal of “improvement” to know what to do. The classics of Chinese Martial and Meditative Arts pave the way to more questions than answers.

You know you’ve cracked it when your art it is part of who you are, part of your essence, a feeling that moves with you, positively supportive. Different for everyone and evolving with time. Wanting but not needing, looking forward to but not feeling pressured, embracing and letting go of inner pressure. I’m guessing it’s nice, but it’s not easy. 

Why the rush?

All in good time. We all seem to be in a rush to impress or impress upon others. Forgetting it is not the destination but the journey that is important.

Provide a framework for development built on support, trust and confidence building. Providing an environment for experimentation where actions and consequences can be explored in a positive manner. Overcoming challenges, embracing solutions and providing a context where there is no such thing as failure; just steps to a greater understanding of self and the world around us.

Such a foundation will create happy, confident and resilient individuals who when the time comes will be able to deal with most things thrown at them and when those things seem a little overwhelming they’ll find a solution that helps everyone.

This approach applies to adults, children, babies and animals. From CEO’s to Prefects, nappy wearers and Crufts winners, all of whom at some point realise shitting in the toilet is preferable to shitting on the rug.   

We’ll all get there. When we’re dead others can speculate, in the mean time let’s make it enjoyable. 

What’s with all the pretence?

I returned from to the UK from the US on Friday. I had spent 10 days competing and training in Judo at the Olympic Training Centre, in Colorado Springs. It was lovely, hard work in a training specific environment with everything from food, equipment and physio support dedicated to helping Olympic and Paralympic athletes from mixed sporting backgrounds achieve their goals. The athletes were obviously motivated and dedicated but most of all they were friendly and supportive.

On Saturday afternoon I headed to a local castle with my wife to give the kids a chance to fly their new lightening McQueen kites. Altitude in Colorado made walking up the stairs hard work, Jet lag made walking up the hill just as hard but I was reliably informed by my daughter that was the best place to fly the kite.

On reaching the top I saw what looked like a Yoga practitioner striking some very impressive posses whilst their partner took photos. Impressed at their obvious strength and flexibility and ensuring the kids did not get in the way of the shots I smiled and said hello. Their reaction was dismissive, cold and arguably ignorant. It’s a kind of arrogance or superiority you unfortunately see all too often in the health arts.

I could not help but think I how I had spent the last week with people from all over the world kicking the stuffing out of each other and they were all friendly and nice. There seems to be an inherent flaw in the many of the health arts. Such arrogance may be a result of insecurity, but whatever the reason the balance people love to talk about is all too often lacking.

When all is said and done we practice breathing and movement for health, nothing special or mysterious. The health benefits should positively affect the body and mind and if successful should be reflected in our day to day behaviour. At the bottom of the hill we met some extremely friendly dog walkers, likely no extreme flexibility or breathing techniques at their disposal but plenty of good, healthy, strong energy. There are lessons to be learnt in all walks of life and from all people. Pretence is a disguise like any other and there is no place for it in honest, healthy practice.

The Essence Lies in Rei

rei1

Rei   – Japanese – literal meaning salute, bow.

I am regularly involved in conversations relating to health and martial arts. I enjoy such discussions and hearing different peoples outlook on what is a diverse practical and academic subject.

One such conversation, with a practitioner of many years, left me a little saddened. They reflected on their practice in relation to one of their peers concluding they had been left well behind. Their words made me reflect on the essence of what I practice and why I practice.

The following day I was reading The 20 Guiding Principles of Karate, The Spiritual Legacy of the Master Gichin Funakoshi. The first principle underpinned my feelings.

“Do not forget that Karate Do begins and ends with Rei”.

In all martial and health arts as in life, without Rei and all it entails the fabric of society and human beings is eroded.

For those who believe their outlook lies purely in a Japanese or Chinese lineage it is worth remembering, as highlighted in this book, that before the name Karate Do (the way of the empty hand) was adopted it was referred to as Karate Jutsu (Chinese hand technique).  What’s more once you begin to read the principles their interpretation is clearly open to your understanding, context and art.

It is not always easy to recognise practitioners who have studied for many years and yet failed to grasp the concept of Rei, affording it little other than body and lip service. Humbly they move and speak as though they are all knowing, convinced by their own hype sure of their practical expertise, experienced based or otherwise they are, in their own opinions, experts. They can be so convincing that those around them believe them without assessing or questioning their behaviour.

“A persons deportment may be correct, without a sincere and reverent heart they do not possess true Rei” (P20)

The basic academic/linguistic assessment of the word Rei enables such individuals to tick a box. Believing that knowledge of techniques, forms or meridians somehow elevates them to a place where they can bypass the foundations to revel in what they consider to be the essence. Put more philosophically their lack of root and grounding feeds their belief that their expertise allows them to reside in amongst the blossom while their students and anyone else languish down below. The roots, trunk and branches analogy is relevant in all areas of practice.

If Rei does not relate to life and all that you do then you have not progressed in your art and your art will not progress. Amassing greater academic or physical knowledge does not reflect on an individuals ability to grasp, absorb and proliferate the real essence of an art, it is merely a reflection on their academic or physical ability.

There is no progress without Rei, no substance to practice, no nourishment of the art. Arts began with and evolve through Rei. Rei is the constant in all things and a true reflection of our nature and essence.

In our essence lies our Rei, in this we see a reflection of our progress in life.