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.