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Friday, August 31, 2012

Identity, Part II

I'm not really sure what tripped this off, but I figured I'd get it out on "paper" (which is still how I think of this thing) before I start SEVERTEMBER (come back tomorrow for more on that).

One of the things I've struggled with for the last several years was my identity with the martial arts. Specifically, with the idea that I am a martial artist.

I'm sure those close to me are doing something like this:

Which is fair. I've been doing the martial arts for something like twenty plus years now, no matter how you count it. The course of my life has been dictated by my involvement in the martial arts. That is not drama or hyperbole. If I had not found the martial arts, I don't think my life would anything remotely like it does now. I'll leave it for others to wonder if that's a good or bad thing.

The problem that I've struggled with for a while now is this:

I love the martial arts.
I don't love a lot of martial artists.

Martial arts are pretty amazing. At least for me, they have been. They have had an absolutely profound effect on my life, and I really believe that they can do great things for people. A member of a club I visited for a short time once said that he could tell I was a "true believer." There might be something to that. I had something on one of my website versions where I said that I believe the martial arts can have a transformative effect. I still believe that.


The martial arts are also filled with some of the most irritating people I've ever met. Arrogant, pedantic, self-centered egotists, with closed minds and a complete inability to fight their way out of a wet paper bag. While the martial arts have allowed me to have some amazing conversations, they have also drawn me into some amazingly stupid ones.

And the more I got exposed to the martial arts, the fewer martial artists I liked. To the point where I stopped wanting to even identify myself as a martial artist, because I didn't want to be lumped in with these people. I wanted to find something else to call myself, but I couldn't find anything that fit. Combat Athlete seems dishonest, since I don't compete; Warrior is just bullshit, since I don't wage war. I'm sure other things crossed my mind, but it never stuck.

I'm not sure what clicked recently, but I finally became comfortable with the idea that I am a martial artist again. I just have very strong opinions about what the martial arts are and should be, and a low opinion of the way they are taught and trained (at least, in the States). Maybe I can change that. Who knows? Nothing wrong with fighting for change from the inside.


Maija said...

Another good conversation ....

Similar thoughts for me, though more of the head scratching variety regarding the conflicting poles of teaching something essentially dead and useless in the modern day (sword dueling) ... yet having received such 'worth' from the experience, it seems important to pass it on ....
Then, of course, I get to wondering .. 'But why'? Especially because of the lack of tribal comfort it gives, and thus the difficulty in convincing people of it's merit ... but then I practice and I teach, and the beauty and pragmatism of it makes me incredibly happy ... and so the circle continues ...

Anyway, a friend posted this quote today from Thomas Merton that seemed appropriate -

"Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything."

And honestly that's why I like the descriptor 'Artist'. It seems to imply many of these paradoxes that go to create the whole.

Jake said...

That quote is awesome. And very appropriate.

While some of what I teach has more immediate application, in some ways, that makes it harder. And honestly...most of the people I teach self-defense to will never use the physical skills I teach them. Most of the people who train Muay Thai with me will never compete in the ring. There has to be value in the training beyond that of the fight itself, or the training doesn't last long.

The Strongest Karate said...

Just found your blog...

I think Ghandi said something like "Be the change you hope to see in the world". So your sentiment about fighting from the inside seems to be right in line with that.

I used to have a bit of an identity issue with martial arts as well - but not for the same reasons. For a long time I just thought of myself as a "fighter" but as time wore on that term seemed to be more associated with either MMA guys or thugs - of which I am neither. "Karateka" is accurate by definition, but sorta feels like someone else's clothes, if you get my drift.

I guess I'll let time figure this one out for me.


Jake said...


Welcome to the blog! Thanks for commenting.

I think I understand. The closest equivalent I've got is "Nak Muay" for Thai boxing, but that never quite seems to fit right. "Fighter" is certainly out at this point, since I'm not competing (nor do I plan to).

Tim said...

FWIW, I feel similar about my profession. I love libraries, I love that we provide a place for people to get access to the information that they need for work, life, and school, and I love helping people that "get it" and want that information. On the other hand, you say you're a librarian and most people think you're sitting at a desk reading books and occasionally stamping something. Then, in the profession itself, there's a lot of people whose way of being a librarian makes me want to murder people. Anyhow, not a lot of help there, but I just wanted to say, I know what you mean man.

Todd Marabella said...

As a lawyer i dont think i need to mention what working with lawyers is like (although I quite like the vast majority of lawyers i know).

As to the issue of names, you are obviously a Fighter. With possibly some cross classing.

Jake said...

Actually, it's pretty interesting to me that this issue exists in other fields. Perhaps it's a wider issue than I realize.