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Friday, July 29, 2011

More Scratching

Went dancing with the wife last night (side note: heavy deadlifts, while great for many things, do not help your dancing. At least, not if you do them on the same day.). Fun, as always. And, as always, gets me thinking.

Warning. This is not likely to be particularly coherent. I’m trying to put thoughts on paper here, not write something articulate.

The world is full of systems for teaching humans how to move, in relation to various contexts. Weightlifting is about how to move so you can pick up heavy objects. Dancing is about how to move another body in an aesthetically pleasing and harmonious fashion. Fighting is about moving another body in a way that makes that body break. Etc. Sometimes these systems get tied into spiritual experience, like yoga. Sometimes, the practitioners of the system invest a spiritual experience into a system, regardless of whether there ever was one present to begin with.

People find spiritual or enlightening experiences through fighting, dancing, weightlifting, running, etc. The system seems to be irrelevant. You can imbue anything with a spiritual purpose, if you wish. You can discard a spiritual purpose just as easily (how many people in the U.S. do yoga every day with no thought or concern about the meditative aspects of those systems?).

Regardless of the system, there are certain basic principles about how the human body works that remain constant. When a woman makes a turn in dancing, she positions her hands in a certain way to protect her shoulder; if you put the hand where you don’t want it, you have an armlock. Show someone that, and you have a style. Do it enough times, and you have an art. Codify, you have a system. If your system survives, it’s a tradition.

There is a mind-body that gets tapped into in all physical activity. It can run both ways. Tony says “how you think affects how you feel, how you think and feel affects the things you do.” I might add “the things you do affect how you think and feel.” It’s a circle.

I have had students tell me how training with me has had positive benefits in other areas of their lives. Occasionally, there’s a clear correlation (i.e., I’m not afraid to go out because I feel I can protect myself). Other times, the correlation is less clear. What does punching pads or people have to do with performing better at work? Could that have just as easily been accomplished by learning to deadlift two, three, or four hundred pounds?

The destination matters more than the vehicle.

It seems like there should be a way, a method, to tie these things together. To explore human movement and the principles that make it work, in a variety of contexts. To use that exploration to fuel psychological, emotional, or spiritual growth. (The spiritual thing makes me uncomfortable, but it is there. Sometimes.)

If the destination is what really matters, why do we start with the vehicle?

No good answers. Just scratchin’.


MaJeStu said...

Do you see a difference between the "spiritual" component and the "emotional" or "psychological" components?

Jake said...

Short answer? Yes.

Longer Answer.

Yes. A Venn Diagram would actually really help me here. Emotional and Psychological overlap a lot, and Psychological might even encompass emotional.

Spiritual gets into something else. Esoterica. Non-scientific stuff. Not non-scientific as in "I don't know the science behind it, but I know there is some", but really non-scientific...harmonizing with the universe, touching G-d, attaining higher states of consciousness.

It's hard for me to write about it without sounding mocking, partly because I think a lot of people in the martial arts who talk about such things are mostly talking out of their asses. Most martial artists who I've met who pretend to be enlightened are actually just pompous asses. The ones who seem like they might be on the right track not only aren't pompous asses, but aren't necessarily convinced they're on the right track.

I'm also uncomfortable drawing such things into the martial arts (or any physical practice), because my experience has been that, despite their claims, martial artists are not particularly morally superior to anyone else. Sometimes less so. Martial arts can help improve people, but it can also make them jerks. Depends on the teacher.

Not sure that answered the question, but it's what came out.

Maija said...

One of my teachers told me that the Taoist tradition believes that the physical body is a gateway to understanding all the other layers of human experience.
Physical experience - cold and pain for instance are hard to deny, they are 'real' in the sense we can really feel them. So 'Reality' is what we experience through all our senses, and we can also be pretty certain that we have emotions and we think.
Outside of that it's all somewhat of a mystery ... as in not personally verifiable.
In fact when you think about it ... the senses can be unreliable, as can your emotions and your mind ... so the only way to seek wisdom is to play there.
Went to a fascinating lecture yesterday by a local teacher called Liu Ming talking about some old interpretations of Qi Gong and Gong Fu ... basically saying that we all have an aptitude, whether it's dance, playing the flute, fishing, cooking, whatever, and if we can find what that thing is, the physical doing of it over a long period of time feeds in to the energy transfer cycle that keeps us healthy - it is Qi Gong in it's oldest sense, and doing it well, when you really HAVE it, is having Qong Fu. Interesting idea!
It can certainly transcend the physical and lead to other levels of understanding ... though not necessarily.
For me at least Martial Arts have been a great vehicle - they encompass efficient body movement and personal development, along with bringing up very efficiently much of the inter personal stuff us humans deal with in day to day life, basically it deals directly with agreeing and disagreeing, i.e. confrontation.
I suspect you can gain wisdom along many physical paths if your mind and emotions are also part of the experience ... but I agree that the physical element, the part that 'keeps it real', is essential.
...And that's what you need others for too ... to help you keep a handle on 'reality' :-)

Jake said...


Thanks for the feedback, and for stopping by the blog. I've been going back through your own blog, and really enjoyed it.

I want to write a thoughtful response to your own thoughts, but I'm scrambling to leave town. So this is mostly a "hi,welcome, please come back". I say something more thoughtful later :-)

Maija said...

Thanks, will do, and cool!

Jake said...


That lecture sounds fascinating. I keep looking over at some of the Chinese "Internal" (not sure how I feel about that word) arts, and thinking how I'd like to explore them. Maybe in the future.

I might need to go and look deeper into some of Taoist ideas as well, despite my somewhat ingrained discomfort at doing so. Learned aversion to martial mysticism.

Agree that there are a lot of routes to wisdom...sometimes I wonder how you know when you've gotten there. :-)

Maija said...

HAHAHA! I suspect there no 'there' to get to ... and even if there was, the thinking that you had gotten to it would probably move it somewhere else!
I suspect there is only exploring and playing ....

Anyway there's alot of cool old wisdom - after all people have been thinking about stuff for a LONG time, but as with anything, meanings get lost, paths diverge, bullshit appears and context is forgotten ... and most important of all, the actual experience necessary to discern the worthy from the unworthy is pushed aside.
For instance, the so called Internals, and I agree it's not a good term, are really sensible, practical, healthy movement and martial systems, but it's hard to find what's great about them unless you are really smart and experienced, or have a great teacher - few and far between.
Same with Taoist teachings - like anything else, some awesome ancient thinking and wisdom, but layered with all kinds of weirdos, strangeness and generally unhealthy behavior .... such is the way with us humans eh ...... Of course having said that I think Tai Ji , Xing-Yi and Bagua are great, really enjoy practicing them, they make me happy and I hope to be able to continue them till I keel over at (hopefully) a ripe old age :-)

Jake said...


Ha, yeah. If I ever actually think I've "gotten there", where I've probably gotten is needing a swift kick in the ass. Or the head.

Finding a good teacher for the Internals seems like quite a challenge, but I guess that's true of any art. At the moment, it's only a theoretical concern...I barely have time to train the things I'm already working, never mind something(s) new.