Saturday, January 21, 2012

Verbalization Practice

After having tea the other day with Sensei MikeE, he challenged me to write down what I think and feel about martial arts, and my place in them.
So here are some thoughts as of right now, not in any particular order. This list is, I'm sure, incomplete and liable to change:

I have been practicing one kind of martial art or another for a total of about 30 odd years ... perhaps 16 seriously.

I believe folks practice martial arts for a variety of reasons, none really more valid than any other, my reasons have generally been curiosity, a love of physical movement, probably a good dose of fantasy esoterica and some historical fascination with swords, the era in which they were important as weapons, and the cultures that used them.

Martial arts are also just COOL.

They make me happy, literally, when I do them, I feel healthier, and they have bled into other parts of my life in positive ways - understanding human behavior and gaining an interest in meditation. Oh, and I don't like how I feel when I don't do them.

I've made some of my best and longest lasting friendships through doing them and have hopefully expanded my imagination and fed my brain too.

I've often been the token minority in the room and guess have grown used to the idea. I do not strongly gender identify ... well actually not at all, and am constantly having to remember that I am considered the 'wrong' gender to be doing what I do because I forget.

I think way more women should practice martial arts - and I think the healthiest class setting is co-ed, for the women and especially for the men, though am happy to teach separate groups.
I would love to encourage more women to participate in martial practice, but am unhappy with the stereotypes that exist today. I am looking for a new path based on the individual, not on a particular gender.

I would not say that I particularly run a 'nurturing' or 'friendly and supportive' class, but I'm a huge believer in the power of play as a path to learning, and the concept that training should feel satisfying if not downright fun. You may feel 'empowered' from it or you might not. It will probably be harder that you thought it would be, and you will suck more than you thought you would. But in my book that's what makes it engaging.
I believe most things worthwhile in life contain failure and difficulty. They should not be 'easy and quick', or involve no effort. The effort and the obstacles are what makes them worthy.
Perhaps that means that some folks aren't up for it. That's OK.

I don't like imposed ranks or hierarchy, and ritual and rigid traditions do not interest me too much. I will know how much respect you show by the way you practice and the way you conduct yourself without formal rules to follow. And the more effort you put in, the more you will get out.

I don't teach for the money, honestly class fees are a token, nothing more. If I was making my living teaching martial arts, I would not be teaching in the way I do.
I believe the time my teachers put into their practice and their understanding, and the effort I have put in can only really be repaid by the student putting the time in themselves and appreciating the exchange that is taking place. The rent still needs paying though, so such is life.

I believe the difference between martial practices and those purely for health is that you have to connect what you do outside yourself. There is a point to them, they are FOR something, and as such what they are for generates how they are done. Lose the meaning, lose the point.

I believe that traditional martial arts hold much good and valid information within them. They may not be the fastest way to learn how to fight but all the information IS there if you know what to look for.  They also have many side benefits that make them a fabulous way to keep fit, stay flexible (mentally and physically) and can be done (if done right) until you keel over and kick the bucket.

As far as conflict in general goes, here is a thought from Rory Miller that I agree with wholeheartedly -
"I don't think conflict is a physical problem most of the time .... and even when it is a physical problem, there are minds and social rules and the world involved. The more of those elements you can manipulate skillfully, the better off you are. Sometimes you play the cards, sometimes you play the person and sometimes you play the table."

I also believe that training martial skills is healthy. Power and skill are neutral elements that a clear mind and a good moral compass point towards good or bad depending on choice.
I believe it is unbalanced for folks to refuse to look at conflict and ignore it as part in life. Chaos and destruction are as important a part of the cycle of life as creation and sustainability.
Scary things should be met, leaned against and explored. That which is understood is in the end far less scary than that which is left a mystery. Martial arts seems to me like a safe place to start this conversation.

In the end I guess I'm a student of Strategy, and see no real disconnect between researching the great warriors and commanders of history, to understanding animal behavior and human psychology, to learning how to debate.
It's all about humans - agreeing and disagreeing. Imposing will and denying it. Working together, and making things happen. Creating change, and protecting the status quo.

I believe stagnation is death and that all things move, vibrate, oscillate, pulse, shimmy and jolt. I read once that if it was not for the volcanic nature of the Earth, the liquid core and the constant motion of the crust, we would all be gone and the planet would be a featureless sphere of dust.
In that spirit I believe we all need to learn to surf this constant movement, and for some reason training martial arts can help with this. I suspect it has to do with becoming comfortable in chaos, accepting that some things may stay unknown, and gaining the confidence to enjoy the ride .... at least that's the goal.

If you think you can learn something worthwhile from me, I would love to have the opportunity to share some of what I have been given by my teachers.
If I can expand your imagination, take your brain into places you had not thought of before, enhance your ability to move, connect to your body and to the moment, and generally improve your understanding and enjoyment of life and the folks that populate it, then I've done my job.

5 comments:

Melisa said...

Well put...

I also believe that training martial skills is healthy. Power and skill are neutral elements that a clear mind and a good moral compass point towards good or bad depending on choice.
I believe it is unbalanced for folks to refuse to look at conflict and ignore it as part in life. Chaos and destruction are as important a part of the cycle of life as creation and sustainability.
Scary things should be met, leaned against and explored. That which is understood is in the end far less scary than that which is left a mystery. Martial arts seems to me like a safe place to start this conversation.

Dragan Milojevic said...

Brilliant post. For the past few years I have had many problems trying to convey that any reason to practice martial arts is legitimate, as long as it is authentic and recognized as such. In other words, know why you are here and it will spare you frustrations of training in a wrong group and/or with people who see you as a jerk and viceversa.

However, while I agree on the stance that training should be satisfying and fun, it should also cause just enough "frustration" (for the lack of better word), as it challenges one to train more and improve.

Maija said...

I have often been motivated by frustration lol!

maree said...

Hey Maija,
I appreciate Mike E’s call for you to self-define, although as women in martial arts we seem to constantly be the ones who are asked “why are you here?” I know Mike E a bit so I doubt that he is asking you to justify why you are doing it at all, but to clarify for the potential student what your higher-altitude vision is in a way that hopefully helps them connect to why they want to train with you.
“I think way more women should practice martial arts - and I think the healthiest class setting is co-ed, for the women and especially for the men, though am happy to teach separate groups.”

Agreed. There are great settings for all-women training that serve a good purpose. But when we step into the IMA training space (be it a park or a dojo) we should be ready to meet all types of people and check out how the applications and flow works against them. It’s good to have a woman teacher in the room, too. Because that is the first chisel on the walls of sexism that students are walking around holding in their heads. Then it is a little easier for the woman student to step up and do an application or flow with a male student. After a few years of coed training, we learn to drop much of the garbage that society has instilled in us about each others’ bodies and space around them, fragility vs. toughness, sexuality vs. physicality. Where women don’t step into the room, all this content of the training experience is lost. I’m not saying that we need to evolve to a post-gendered world. I’m saying that women have a lot more to experience in physical relation to others than society has set up for them. I’d like to see more transgendered people on the mats, too. We learn from each other and grow while having fun. There has been too much focus on talking through things since the rise of psychotherapies in the West. We are witnessing a return of physical movement as healing as relational therapy. Now Somatic therapy is formalizing it, making a market for it, you know. It was here all along. It is in the martial arts.
Toward clarity, perhaps you can unpack this statement?
“Power and skill are neutral elements that a clear mind and a good moral compass point towards good or bad depending on choice.”
Where I come from, “neutral elements” are blocks of neutral color in a painting. Would you help me see what you mean in respect to martial arts practices?
As a fan of MMA, power and skill are what to watch. As a practitioner of internal martial arts (IMA), power is something I explore through depth of whole mind-body-spirit presence in my stances, and matched movement of intent and structure in forms and applications. If I were to compete in MMA, I would wish that I had started training as a teenager. But when I asked our teacher Luo de Xiu if that is the best age to start to train IMA, he said that starting in one’s thirties is really ideal, because it is so much about the ability to control the mind and stay focused, not just about raw movement. I bring that up here because I think you are emphasizing the impulse to flow and move in your reasons to practice, and I think maybe you are avoiding point out the draw of IMA and Eskrima as opposed to dance, running or other forms of movement. There is wholeness rather than oblivion. To watch MMA, one can see the raw violence of their directed skills and power. If we actually did what we train to do (follow through on that nasty throw or use live blades) then our arts would look more like that, too. But we like living outside of jails so we just go half-way toward the meaning of the movements. And we have few enough workout buddies without taking them out. So it looks less powerful and the experience of the power is more subtle. You wisely keep your teaching focus on strategy, rather than the results of particular moves. You hint at liking meditation as a reason you do these arts. But isn’t there something more that a teacher can impart to the student about why and how we are doing IMA?

Maija said...

Thanks for the comment maree.

As far as explaining more about the term 'neutral' here.

Power and skill, in martial terms imply the ability to impose one's will on another. Whether this is a 'good' thing - self protection, defense of others, diffusion of a situation, or a 'bad' thing - self aggrandizement, bullying, ego massage, is up to the individual and their intent.
Hence the power and skill are neutral elements that are driven by the intent .... hence the need for a clear mind and a good moral compass.
I guess I am keen to point out, especially to women, that power, and it's aspect, violence, are not to be looked away from. They should be explored and accepted as parts of life. They are a part of us as much as anything else, and it's only our intent that makes them either used for good or bad. There is nothing wrong with having the ability to say 'No' in the strongest possible terms.

As far as your question about why ...? That's much harder. I can't find one honestly.
I think there are a myriad of reasons, all as valid as the next, though I will say that if it's purely to learn to fight, there are much more efficient ways to do so than IMA.
It's a weird, esoteric, practice with seemingly very little practical use in this day and age. For me at least, the fact that I really enjoy doing it, it keeps me healthy physically, even tempered emotionally, and mental highly engaged and entertained. The fact that I can also talk about it for days and never tire of it's beauty and strangeness seems reason enough.
After all, why not?

Sorry, bet that wasn't much help ... :-/