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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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.

You are more powerful than you know.

Your health is in your hands “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do”    H Jackson Brown Jr.

All inspirational quotes rely on two things; you, and as a result, you being healthy enough to do them! The trouble with health is it does not always heed the romantic rules, 20 years could be 20 days, weeks or months. The beauty and the beast of life is that you never know.

Society promotes the win at all costs approach to life, sport and business. Success in a materialistic and physical format is held in high esteem. There is an abundance of ‘motivational’ videos on YouTube where the merits of dedication at all costs to achieve your goal are promoted and well received.

I am yet to find a motivational health video. The terms holistic and balanced don’t tick our boxes. In life we feel we have to justify our actions and saying “I’m popping out to improve my overall health and wellbeing” does not seem a worthy cause. We are encouraged to be proactive in all things but health, by health I mean physical, mental, spiritual, not going to the doctors.

We struggle with moderation, it’s not really tangible or particularly cool. We’re all or nothing kind of beings. We’re either looking for the obvious rush, blood, sweat and tears, or the TV remote and take-out menu. None of which is really conducive with a balanced healthy approach to anything. When it comes to health, being good to ourselves as opposed to allowing others to be good to us is perceived to be inherently wrong. The obvious exception to this rule is quality ice cream, the gateway to all things good.

The middle road is not cool, never has been. We are more easily excited by the extreme. Health as opposed to fitness is arduous, consistency, focus and discipline (but in the uncool way). I’m not sure it was her plan but Elizabeth Cohead summed up the problem quite well “A sport is advanced by the handful of people who do it brilliantly, but it is kept sweet and sane by the great numbers of the mediocre who do it for fun”. Nobody want’s to be seen as mediocre, regardless of how we perform we’re aiming, in our own way, to be the best. That is of course unless we’re talking about our health. With health it often seems we strive to be mediocre, in order to help advance medical research.

Society is a heady mix of excess disguised as moderation, and determination. Creating an optimum context in which your body can heal, rebalance, and rejuvenate seems somewhat irrelevant until you are face to face with the implications of your inaction.  At this point having laid some groundwork for a healthier approach seems an extremely brilliant idea. I’m not saying become a monk, move up a mountain and disconnect yourself from society just look after your health, little and often.

A quick overview of improving your health with Qigong:

  1. Daily Life Qigong – Doing things that are good, that you enjoy, with others or by yourself.
  2. Health Qigong – Making time for you and your body, creating an optimum context for healthy relaxation, regeneration and rejuvenation.
  3. Common Sense Qigong – Making time for yourself and others when doing things, so the quality is good and stress is low. Taking proactive steps to avoid irrational, fatigue and frustration based conflict.

Health Qigong enables the body and mind to ground itself, this not only has rejuvenation qualities but enables us to better enjoy Life Qigong and make decisions that reflect Common Sense Qigong and help make us happier people.

In conclusion it’s all about happiness and choice. If you don’t enjoy it don’t do it. Life is too short and it’s happening while you read this blog, “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

The Art of Giving

As a ‘giver’ of time, energy, knowledge and or advice you are by default a healer. For some this is a momentary exchange dependant on a myriad of factors for others, professionals, it is a daily occurrence. Whether a councillor, masseur, osteopath, acupuncturist, nurse, GP, teacher or any other form of ‘giver’ the biggest challenge you face is maintaining, sustaining, and where possible strengthening your own energy levels.

It is fairly safe to say that if you keep giving without any thought to maintaining your own health ultimately you will find yourself unable to give anymore. This is a shame on so many levels and helps establish a good argument for why you should be prepared to make time for yourself as well as others.

At the heart of energy work lies integrity. How you wish to practise is of course your decision but owning your approach to healing and life is a key part of healthy energy flow.

Peoples reasons for becoming healers are varied. Whether you view your role as a conduit or facilitator or interpret the word energy from a Western or Eastern perspective for your work to be good you need to be healthy.

If you do not make time for yourself your health will be affected. Liberating the energy of your clients is not really the way the exchange is supposed to work and it affects you as negatively as it does your client.

Society is becoming more and more disconnected, losing the connection with our own bodies and our health has a clear ripple affect. When your health fails the effects are far reaching, like with all energy work it starts with us and works it’s way outwards. I am not saying that as a healer you should always be healthy, it would be nice to think that were possible but I am inclined to think of the people I have heard make that claim in the past. I can say with some certainty that 90% are misguided whilst the other 10% are lying.

Practising qigong, tai chi or any other health art does not preclude you from the normal rules of life. All practise takes place within our own, ever changing, context. Some days we feel good, others less so, that’s life! Our reasons for practising are our own. My primary reason is to make me a good husband and parent.

If we do not practice what we preach we lack integrity in our actions, this is seen most clearly by those closest to us.      Your support network of loved ones, are the first ones to be affected by your poor health, mood swings and frustrations, and more deeply concerning the first ones to start to feel cynical about energy work.

As a healer you have something; the x factor of health giving, but with this comes responsibility. You don’t have to accept the responsibility but your past, present and future will reflect that decision. Like with all things in life if you take advantage of something for too long ultimately it will bite you in the ass. Ironically it is the more guru type teachers who talk about the universe and our connection to it that fail to grasp this.

Practising Qigong is a selfish exercise that enables you to be selfless with your Qi.

Practising Qigong is a selfish exercise that enables you to be selfless with the Qi you were born with, as well as with the Qi you have nurtured, developed and nourished. To be truly selfless you need to set time aside to be truly selfish.

Selflessness and selfishness are powerful ‘nesses’. If being a good person lies at the heart of your approach to life a balanced approach is required. We should not be extravagant or over indulgent with our Qigong, either ness can leave you unrooted, lost and alone, one feeding the other in a powerful ego driven cycle.

We can all change our approach, if we want to. Whilst it is a subject for another blog, at the heart of change lies you, your desires and motivation.

Your life and Qigong should enjoyable, that is not to say we should avoid the challenges presented but that ultimately the feeling we associate with our life should be one of contentment, happiness, joy and love. Good, empowering qigong is one way of helping achieve this.

To Breathe or to Caffeine

Early morning coffee, it’s a no brainer really! Whilst we recognise the need for breath in life, unless we are really faced with the caffeine or die dichotomy C8 H10 N4 O2 is going to win every time. The fresh bean aroma that greets me as I open the jar, softening as it gently falls from my lovely machine to form the perfect double espresso with crème. Another inhalation, through the nose, to appreciate that dreamy smell before the first drops touch my lips. The perfect temperature to allow the full flavour and body of the bean to be absorbed, tantalising my senses I feel a release throughout my body. I take a deep breath of satisfaction before revisiting the cup, the perfect ceramic transportation device for my perfect espresso.

The room is filled with a feeling of potential, the ‘I can do’ of caffeine, it feels instantaneous despite having being told it takes 20 minutes to kick in I know I can now take on the world! Everything is easier, I’m flowing effortlessly multitasking dealing with challenges, trials and tribulations that may have broken the weary shadow of a man that emerged from bed only ten minutes ago. Deprived of yet another nights sleep by the insatiable energy of two not so well toddlers, they may have been up numerous times throughout the night but they are ready to roll before the sun is up.

The daughter reliably informs everyone that she has looked out the window and it is morning. We were even invited to look but it seems such a long way from the bed to the window. We hoped ignoring the rally call might somehow avoid getting up, even if for 5 more snuggly minutes. Wise to our evasion techniques the daughter enters the room with gusto and announces with a sense of pride that yes it is morning and she is ready to go down stairs. So is her brother, he is now awake and laughing at his sisters bravado, he is in on the joke and is perfectly aware there is no sun light penetrating the edges of his black out blinds. There’s no need for caffeine to give these two a boost there ready to rock, roll and negotiate the descent of les escaliers.

The adrenaline surges of the early hours are no longer there it’s a dull overwhelming sense of duty that pulls us to our feet. Struggling to locate my feet never mind the toilet, I am reminded this is not the way down stairs by the daughter and shouted at by the son for passing him with only a kiss and good morning.  I had wanted to relieve myself earlier but for fear of waking the sleeping beauties, now it’s less about self relief and more about the extra few seconds of preparation. I know they don’t have toddlers as Drill Sargent’s in the forces but the noise and delivery of instruction is comprehensive. Wee completed, son gathered in the left arm daughter in the right it’s time to prioritise balance and awareness and negotiate the baby gate. More of a hindrance to us than the children of late, why do we still have it? A fleeting thought that will not be recalled until the early hours of tomorrow morning. Down the stairs, make the warm juice and start the day with some games in the lounge. All seems happy, oh no, potty for wee required, then breakfast, now all are happy for at least 5 minutes. 5 minutes that’s all it takes….

Hello my lovely coffee beans, I know you’ve been waiting for me and I am ready for you… let the process begin. I don’t care about the come down later on, I can top up again, or maybe I do…..

That feeling of emptiness that envelops me as the caffeine vacates and dumps me, leaving me dehydrated, impatient, empty, devoid of something I can’t quite put my finger on. I had an hour of non-stop, all action activity, I took on the world and got my daughter to preschool! Surely my one a day is a good thing, what’s more it helps me have a good clean out. But, there is the question mark.

In the time it took me to make the coffee I could have popped outside, still in sight of the kids, breathed a little, moved a little, smiled a little and given the neighbours something to smile at. A fresh dichotomy, to breath and move or put the coffee machine on?

I am not advocating a ban on coffee or writing this blog to discuss the medical effects of caffeine on the body but it’s worth knowing Caffeine takes energy from your Kidneys to help push you on to new heights of academic and physical greatness, this is far from ideal. The ‘one coffee a day’ model I like to claim to adopting makes me feel like I get the pleasure and taste of caffeine without the negative by-products of excess.

I recently listened to a mini podcast on micro training, by Karate Ka Iain Abernethy, discussing the merits of training when and where you can even, if only for a short period of time. I have always advocated such an approach, stretching whilst stroking your dog, joint mobilising in the shower, Dao Yin on the Move etc

I recommend classes to form a foundation in all training and learning but in time we need to take some responsibility for ourselves, further developing knowledge, skills and health on our own and in classes.  There is a danger we become precious with our training, seeking perfection in all things from location to form can mean we never take the first step.

Feeling sluggish in the morning can mean there is stagnation in your liver, which affects you as a whole. Movement helps the organs, so help them to help you. Little and often is a formula recommended by many (I’m sure the coffee drinkers agree!!), where and how is everyone’s personal challenge but the early morning presents a perfect opportunity! Fresh crisp air waiting for you outside the door… If like me your body is waiting for you to welcome it to the new day, give it a burst of natural vitality, kick starting the body and mind then give this a go.

The process – simple is always best!

Once the, *insert your daily challenge*,  (for me kids) are happy and you have 5 minutes get outside and breathe!!

Big full, wholesome breaths!

Start with one exercise, Raising the Water and Opening the Chest, Happy day Breathing, anything that feels right at the time, connecting your breath with your movement gently focusing the mind on what you are doing. If you can do this facing the sun even better!

One exercise will no doubt lead to another, trust your body, in the same way it loves a coffee it loves exercise more.

You will feel better and happier and your body will appreciate it. There is no down side to this, little and often as and where you can but preferably outside.

There is a third way…do both

You can now enjoy a coffee later in the day, in your favourite coffee shop instead of whilst rushing around the house.

If you are still unconvinced and encounter an advocate of breathing feel confident in reminding them that monks used caffeine to help them through their all night meditations. Then sit back, relax, breathe (through the nose) and immerse yourself in the aroma of endless potential, even if just for an hour! J

Health, Fitness, Happiness. It’s all Qigong!

In principle we are all keen to ensure we are healthy and fit. We can’t escape the basic fundamentals of life;

  • Consumption, food and drink.
  • Stimulation and engagement, of body and mind.

New Year brings with it a throng of resolutions to rejuvenate our approach to life. We are innately aware of our basic needs but achieving them poses us all different challenges. The pressure to be beautiful, fit, healthy, lose weight, be happy, earn more money, be a good parent, partner etc are significant and can at best lead us to focus on a specific area of health at worst lead to a feeling of total disempowerment and depression.

When asked most people agree the important things in life are health and happiness. Our actions tend not to support this idea and, our pursuit of happiness is often at the cost of our health and as a result our happiness. It’s is a cycle that is all too often repeated. We lose sight of what is really important in pursuit of other aims and ambitions.

Individuals often ignore their context when deciding what changes they want to make or achieve. We are contextual beings, with busy lives finding right type of exercise presents a real challenge. All changes take time to implement, a change in lifestyle is an even greater challenge. Finding time for something new can push us over the edge, resulting in us abandoning our health drive all together. Knowing what type of activity is best for you is key to enhancing and sustaining your health and well being.

Exercise is an umbrella word for a myriad of activity. Chinese Health Arts recognise two main forms of exercise, ‘internal’ and ‘external’.  Generally speaking external exercises comprising of high Tempo, cardio vascular exercise traditionally associated with gym and sports clubs, internal exercises constitute Qigong, Meditation, Tao Yin, Tai Chi, Bagua Zhang Taoist Yoga.

In Chinese martial arts circles there is a respected adage:

When you practice external exercise you must also practice internal exercise to create balance and increase your power.

Harmony and balance in all things is at the heart of Qigong. In deciding how best to achieve balance; all elements of your life and personality need to be to be at the heart of any decision you make. If you are able to look after yourself it better equips you to look after others.

We are often led to believe aerobic exercise is the answer to all our body and health requirements. I believe external exercise has many benefits and for some people it is an absolute must. However, there is a danger that for others external exercise further depletes their body’s energy levels, further limiting its ability to fend off illness and disease. The primary motivation for exercise should be to improve health and well being not to weaken us. Qigong and Taoist ‘Internal’ exercises develop and strengthen the body and mind, through movement, breath and intent leading to an increase in the strength and flow of energy, Qi.

Fitness does not always reflect health. There are lots of examples in sport where leading athletes suffer from ill health. Training to a peak for competition can weaken the immune system exposing the individual to illness and injury.  Conversely there are people who claim to be healthy but are not fit, or are overweight. In my opinion health and basic fitness go hand in hand, it’s when people over emphasise any one element of health or fitness that imbalance results.

Traditional Chinese Medicine equates illness and disease to a blockage within the body preventing the smooth, healthy flow of energy, Qi. In a healthy body Qi circulates freely rejuvenating and sustaining the organs, respiratory, nervous, circulatory and glandular systems, nourishing muscles, tendons, ligaments to ensure we are both physically and mentally healthy. With this in mind internal exercises have been developed to support and strengthen the body against attack.

There are elements where this approach is akin to a traditional western approach to fitness and areas where the approach differs. Poor circulation is a common complaint. Many advocate ‘external’ exercise to increase heart rate and therefore circulation. There is a tangible logic to this approach, however, there are many examples where people have poor circulation and high heart rates. Partaking in ‘external’ exercise for such people places the heart under greater pressure and does not address the cause of the blockage. Increased strain mentally and physically often results in further problems. With this in mind it makes sense to consider another approach to addressing circulatory problems. Similarly this is relevant to people who lead very active or busy lives, to introduce external exercise into their regime before making their bodies healthy and strong enough to benefit from it is neither sustainable or beneficial.

Internal exercises, as practiced in Empowering Qigong, relax, nourish and rejuvenate the person, body and mind as a whole to help alleviate the specific and associated problems. Taking into account the energetic, physical and psychological condition of the individual and providing a frame work on which to build. A well structured internal exercises programme helps our body to deal with the daily pressures it encounters, but can also optimise recovery from specific illness or operations.

I had a client in his 50s who used the methods of Bagua Zhang Circle walking to help him recover from an operation. Advice from a senior medical consultant outlined a specific heart rate to facilitate recovery. Running and other cardiovascular activity pushed his heart rate too high and he found it difficult to keep his heart rate steady, whilst walking normally did not get his rate high enough. 10 mins circle walking 3 times a day helped him achieve optimum heart rate and facilitate his recovery and help improve his general well being.

Health and fitness will always be relevant to us. How best we achieve happiness may well inform both areas. Whether you choose internal or external exercise to  help achieve your goals a proactive approach is a positive one. The most important thing is that you enjoy what you are doing. If there is no joy in what you do, change. Empower yourself to be happy and healthy.

A complete martial system, why practise Qigong?

(In this blog I refer to martial systems in general terms with no specific reference to geographic origin.)

Perception is a wonderful thing. Qigong is perceived in a myriad of ways, for many in Chinese Martial Arts it was always seen as the ‘good stuff’, the secret that unlocked all the mystery of internal power. I like that idea and I love the fact that there is still a little bit magical remaining in the world. However, the secret is that the magic comes from informed diligent practise, with this in mind there is no denying Qigong can significantly develop your mind and body.

I believe Qigong reflects everything we do in life, the practice of Empowering Qigong exercises enables us to develop a greater understanding of our bodies and minds helping to develop our health and clarify our outlook. I also believe that it is important to put Qigong into a martial context for people to better understand where it fits into all traditional martial arts.

Waigong (external) Neigong (Internal) and Qigong are all part of the same whole, a complete martial arts system, mutually supportive and dependant for health and martial outlook.

Traditionally every young martial artist, regardless of their chosen system, created a solid foundation on which to build through the practise of Waigong. The simplicity of physical grounding enabled them to prepare the mind and body for more complex skills in Nei and Qigong, allowing the body to gain strength and understand the fundamentals of movement. For me my Waigong foundation was created through Kung Fu and Karate.

Traditional thinking highlighted that through Waigong we gain an insight into Neigong, through Neigong we gain insight into Qigong and completing the circle through Qigong we gained greater insight into Waigong.  Without a grounding in each of these areas a practitioner will struggle to understand the other areas of their art.

In simple terms Waigong is the external element of martial arts training.  Balance, agility, speed, strength, flexibility, stance and posture both static and moving come under this heading. The context for Waigong practise is development of the external fighting elements of the system.

Neigong practise aims to refine and develop the skills learnt during Waigong practise.  With a view to creating natural and efficient movement, breathing and relaxation techniques are introduced. Giving the practitioner a greater understanding of the mind and body whilst working to develop parts of the body not previously developed. The mind body connection starts to shape intent, practice and the positive flow of Qi.

Qigong further develops the body and mind through breath, visualisation, meditation, movement and stillness through structured and spontaneous practise. Fundamentally Qigong developed the internal and external strength of the body whilst developing the focus and application of the mind. The strength of martial Qigong lies in its simplicity to tap into and build on a solid foundation created through diligent practise of Nei and Wai Gong. As stated before the incorporation of Qigong into the practise of any martial art will lead to a greater understanding of the art as a whole and is a fundamental part of any complete system.

We regularly meet good practitioners of specific arts who carry serious injuries as a result of their practice, or practitioners who are more academic in outlook. This is often an unfortunate reflection of over focus on a part of a system and not the whole.

I met one of the best advertorials for a full system in 2010 in the form of a 70 year old practitioner of Chinese Internal Arts of Bagua Zhang, Liu Jin Ru. A master of Xing Yi Chuan, Tai Chi Chuan, and Praying Mantis, he embodied a complete system, healthy, strong and happy with devastating explosive martial skill. He like all other experienced practitioners I have met was clear a martial artist must never overlook the bitter with a view to basking in the blossom.

All arts work towards generating physical and mental health, through conscious practice whether that be martial arts. The importance of the Dantian or Hara is as important to calligraphy, or the tea ceremony as it is to Karate or Tai Chi Chuan. To be able to act from a strong centre requires a full, balanced flow of Qi.

Practitioners find their way to Qigong for many reasons. The key to good practice and teaching is understanding what is relevant to personal development. If a complete system is truly successful the result should be a good person. The responsibility for this lies with us.

Maintaining Good Health with Qigong

Life exposes us to stress and illness on a daily basis. With Qigong we can be better prepared to face those challenges and maintain our own health.
Upright Qi is the Qi in the body that enables it to keep functioning properly, enabling us to deal with potential and actual illness. In Traditional Chinese Medicine the increase in the bodies temperature during illness is said to be due to the battle between upright Qi and the pathogenic Qi of the illness.
In the case of a serious illness the prognosis is largely determined by the strength of the patient’s upright Qi. Strong upright Qi can enable recovery from even the most serious illness. On the other hand, if the upright Qi is weak, a slight illness can lead to complications and even death.
Qi Gong practise can support the upright Qi in two ways:
·      By supporting healthy strong function of the organs and body systems to ensure plentiful and vigorous upright Qi.
·      By clearing the blockages and stagnation in the body and mind that allow a disease to invade and take hold.
The first of these can be particularly important for those undergoing conventional medical treatments, which may focus on the removal of the disease but at the expense of the patient’s upright Qi. Qigong can be used as part of a programme to maintain or regain vitality both during and after conventional treatment.
Qigong exercises help develop greater sensitivity and body awareness, challenging the body on a physical and emotional level. With practise a simple Qigong exercise can not only improve health but initiate the healing process within the body.
There are lots of exercise sets that help develop and strengthen all of the fundamental elements of Qigong. Wu Qin Xi, Healing Sounds, Da Shan, Iron body, Wild Goose Dayan, Ba Duan Jin and Dao Yin to mention but a few. Within each of these systems are the keys to unlocking and developing your Qigong potential to greater improve your health. The process will at times be challenging but ultimately it should be fun and rewarding. Knowing where to begin or how to further develop may seem daunting but the answer may be right in front of you.

The language of Martial Arts. Life, Context, Awareness, Translation, Interpretation, Application.

I have been fortunate enough to study martial arts from China, Japan and Korea. Having studied martial and health arts for more than 25 years I consider my art to be borderless but with deep traditional roots. When I first read the 20 guiding principles of Karate my main study at the time was Chinese Martial arts, however, the language, sentiment and over riding message resonated with all I aspired to as a practitioner and the values that I had been taught as student. The fact the book’s title made specific reference to Karate did not matter, the fundamentals of communication in traditional martial arts is the same regardless of the original language.
People like to compartmentalise and lay claim to something being the ‘best’, when considering the martial arts the focus is often placed on the combative element. When objectively appraised most practitioners of martial arts do not practise to develop combat ability, they have neither the time, focus or need for such skills. They practise for the best possible reason, because they enjoy it.
I believe all martial arts are effective if practised diligently with integrity. The best teachers and practitioners look to develop themselves and their art through the physical, mental, philosophical and technical elements of their practise. Fearless and without ego they seek to better themselves and their students understanding of their art and life.
Positive consciousness needs to be taken into all aspects of practise, application is determined by context and intent. You should not need to move outside your art to find solutions to health or combat situations, a complete system contains all such tools within it. That said, learning is an on-going process and should be allowed to blossom in all environments; an action, word or slight change in perspective can help positively inform your own outlook. The grass is not always greener but this idea should not impede development, far better to have an informed, open outlook on life. “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them, that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu
Today interacting with other practitioners is made easy through international travel and the internet. When we look back to the documented origins of health and martial arts it is fair to say means of transport and communication were not the same but teachers of the arts have always been compelled to pass on their knowledge. In more recent times Che Soo was one of the main teachers and propagators of the Chinese arts in the UK. During his working life he travelled around the country teaching as he went, he even visited west Cumbria and took classes at the Dojo.
Interaction and evolution of Chinese and Japanese martial artist has been documented in relation to Judo, Kendo, Jujitsu and Karate. It stands to reason, much as it is today, that if a martial artist visits another place they are eager to explore what is on offer and how it is being taught. What’s more in times of war understanding the opponents tactics strengths and weakness was fundamental to ensure victory. As outlined by Sun Tzu “know your enemy and know yourself you need not fear the result of one hundred battles”. Our reasons for practising may have evolved slightly but the fundamentals of relevance and effectiveness in health or martial practices are still evident philosophically and rationally.
I believe lots of martial arts are lost in translation. Not in a literal sense of language but on almost every other level. The arts were traditionally developed for survival in the most fundamental sense, health and martial as one. Over the years traditional martial arts have become diluted for many a reason. When Bruce Lee became a star, Chee Soo took his art and spilt it into three disciplines. Tai Chi, Feng Shou, and Chi Shu. Bruce Lee and others made Kung Fu, Karate and other martial arts popular, the ability and desire to generate income lead to renewed marketing. Marketing led to bigger class numbers, increased class numbers led to ‘client management’ techniques being developed. More teachers appeared and the need to develop, generate and manage income streams replaced the essence and understanding of an art. This loss of grounding resulted in a significant increase in teachers and misguided practise.
A watering and at times dumbing down of knowledge and content has affected all Japanese and Chinese arts in the UK, Europe and beyond. There are now so many teachers teaching different elements of an art it is sometimes difficult to see what is being taught. I have seen lots of teachers delivering ‘combat’/martial techniques that would not work in any context, never mind the one being highlighted. It is pleasing to see people enjoying themselves but I also believe the essence of an art should not be lost. It is important to ensure that whilst teaching and learning techniques evolve they still compliment the principles laid down by the founders of any art. I don’t remember reading any manuscripts where a master who had dedicated their life to the practise of an art said: “Teach any old shit, I don’t care as long as the coin is coming in”.
The reality versus romance dichotomy is as relevant in martial arts as it is in all areas of life. As a bare minimum we should show the art and the student the respect they deserve by being honest about what we teach. Whether practice is for health, movement, combat, self-defence, sport or just for fun, the means gives strength to the end if the end is transparent.
In form and in application we strive for ‘natural’ movement to optimise power generation, fluidity, speed and efficiency of our body in a given context. The goal of a martial art is the same regardless of the country from which it originates, it is merely our lack of understanding that would suggest otherwise. A bloc or parry may have a different name, foot positions may vary but if we understand the essence and the aim of a particular movement or set of movements an experienced martial artist should be able to determine how and what needs interpreting. The fundamentals of balance, posture, and technique are relevant to all bodies and all martial arts. If we keep these principles in mind we can decipher any martial language.