Entrance to the Barn Dojo....

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

It's a mystery to me!

We love mystery. I'm reminded of that bestseller from years ago: All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum. If only it were that simple! We know differently but it still doesn't stop us from wishing it were so. I remember Fulghum wistfully chiding us to reawaken that sense of wonder we had as children. He reminds us how fascinated we were once, watching the sprouting seed. "Remember the little seed in the Stryrofoam cup," Fulghum writes.  "The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why..."  
The yama-uke technique from
Seiunchin kata or the grab head
and knee kick technique.

But am I to believe that modern-day biologists or botanists don't know "how or why" a seed sprouts? This attempt to reawaken a sense of wonder with the world reminds me of the early 19th century tug-of-war between science and art--a world experiencing the growing pains of the Industrial Revolution decried by the Romantics Poets, each on their Rocinante,  galumphing off on their quest to find mystery in nature. 

A lost cause, you say? But according to a recent Huffington Post article, "45 percent of Americans believe in ghosts." Less than 40 percent think Darwin was right. We love conspiracy theories, whether they're about 9/11 or the assassination of JFK. Heck, we're pretty sure they're hiding something in Roswell, and a sizable number of us are not at all sure we ever landed on the moon. It's almost as if we'd prefer not to know. We love a good mystery. Remember Twilight Zone? It could happen. "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy," Hamlet tells Horatio. Oh, how true, how true! And how can you argue against any of this if someone chooses to believe. Someone's faith is hard to shake. It has nothing to do with reason and logic. In fact, reason and logic--the cold, hard facts--can be discomfiting. Faith that doesn't have to answer to logic or reason is, on the other hand, comfortable. I don't think Fulghum has much to worry about. I think given the choice we'd choose ignorance every time. 

Take the martial arts, for instance. It's filled with ritual, and we love ritual. Ritual has no rhyme or reason. We get dressed up in strange looking pajama-like clothes and parade around with colorful patches and belts or sashes that establish rank and position and genuflection. We love to bow. We use words that the novice or outsider doesn't know--a special language only for the initiated. We have special names: master, sensei, sempai. We have decorative shrines. We burn incense. And we have faith that all of this is somehow important to our pursuits--that their meaning will be revealed to us in time. But before you know it, we begin to practice all of these things for their own sake. It reminds me of that story by Borges where the tiger comes into the temple and kills someone so often that it is eventually incorporated into the daily rituals of worship. Someone once told me that I should try performing kata outside at night under a full moon. He suggested that I would discover a new level of meaning in my kata--either that or some mystical experience. 

Mystery. People seem to need mystery. Is this the reason that people are willing to give over their own logic and reason, their control, to someone else, someone who must know...the sensei, the master, the soke? Is lineage the answer? Or popularity? Or the size of one's international organization? Or ethnicity? 

I'll never understand why the bunkai that some people do doesn't look like the kata that it is supposed to explain. Nor why the bunkai that they practice is not lethal--why the techniques seem to be just a prelude to a sparring match where, of course, all kata technique will be abandoned. Nor why the steps and turns of a technique in kata do not appear in the their bunkai. Nor why there is so little talk of principles that reflect an understanding of a system of movement rather than a collection of an infinite number of techniques. Nor why so many bunkai seem to suggest that the attacker will not hit you with the other hand--the one you have not blocked--even though you have left yourself in a vulnerable position. Just watch most of the bunkai that's shown on the Internet. It's a mystery to me!?!