Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

What does martial arts have to do with englightenment anyway?

I remember once reading an interesting article (or was it a blog?) about this subject. Or maybe it was a discussion of zen and the martial arts. Some histories make a lot of this connection and many modern martial arts practitioners would certainly like to believe that there is something  more spiritual to their practice, that it's not simply a refined method of brutally dealing with threatening physical attacks. Yet that's exactly the way this one commentator put it; that in ancient times, he argued, martial arts was used to kill in life-threatening situations, and that those trained in it--and he applied this also to the samurai--gave little but a passing nod or prefunctory attention to zen or any other spiritual concerns. Hence his explanation of why in many stories some of these olden-day teachers and martial artists did some unsavory things or exhibited less than exemplary morals on many occasions.

But still, many of us, with fewer battles to fight in modern times, hope that there is a sort of spiritual side to training. As a friend of mine often jokes, "So, after 30 or 40 years of training martial arts, when do we become enlightened?" And with that, we continue to train...in the same way that Kosho Uchiyama Roshi sat zen: "Sit silently for ten years, then for ten more years, and then for another ten years."
But still the idea persists--if you just train long enough, enlightenment will come. So, I'm wondering, what are the lessons of training that if nothing else may "point the finger at the moon"?

The longer you train a particular system, the more you begin to see that all of the techniques are interrelated; that is, they are all connected. Or, from another perspective, the body is connected; when one part moves, other parts move as well. Isn’t this a lesson that should be applied to life?
When we train together, we “listen” and receive the other person’s attack. We don’t formulate our response before the other person initiates an attack. So too, we shouldn’t rigidly adhere to an ideology before we consider the merits and shortcomings of the other side. This also reminds me of a line in the Happo: harmonize any situation without difficulty.

When we train together in partner drills or two-person forms, we say, “It’s like a dance; there shouldn’t be a winner or a loser.” Isn’t this a lesson we should take away from training?

I’m reminded of another line from the Happo: Know your opponent’s hand like your own. I think when we train hard and seriously for a long time, we begin to know ourselves. When we honestly can say we know ourselves, then we begin to know others. This, I think, goes back to the interconnectedness of all things.
A simple lesson in stepping: sometimes it is important to step back. You can’t always be on the attack. It reminds me of something I encountered in T’ai Chi years ago: Invest in loss. I don’t remember what book it was quoted in, but it went something like this: Someone once asked Cheng Man-ch'ing how he became so good at “pushing” (in the T’ai Chi push hands drill). He said he spent seven years getting pushed.

The mind guides the intention or something like that. Some say the mind directs the ki or chi. T.T. Liang said, “The imagination becomes reality.” Shakespeare said, “There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” In training the martial arts, we train the mind to direct our response. How then should the mind be used in life?
And then there's patience and dealing with the unexpected, and, of course, balance is very important in martial arts and in life.

I think there were some other things, but I have to go train. If I remember them while I'm out training, I'll try to remember to write them down. But I may forget....That's okay. Just train.

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