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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Four Passages From Dune

Every now and then, I manage to read a book, and come away with the feeling that I haven't absorbed it. This was the case the first time I read Dune; I knew, technically, that I had finished the book, but for some reason, I felt like it hadn't stuck with me at all.

Luckily, I stumbled across a copy of it on CD at my local library, and decided to give it a re-read (listen), and confirmed my suspicions. There was a lot from this book I didn't absorb the first time around, including some wisdom directly related to the martial arts.

Passage One: The Litany Against Fear

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing......Only I will remain.

This is probably the most well-known passages from Dune, though I think most people only remember the first two lines. Which is unfortunate, because I think it's the rest of the litany that's actually more valuable.

The important lesson of the litany is not to have no fear (which is a fantasy of a goal), but to FACE your fears.

If there's something that scares you, challenge yourself to go learn about it. Experience it. Confront it. Tony Blauer talks about this process extensively in his work, and his Cycle of Behavior provides a great model to think about how to attack the things you're afraid of.

Regardless of the focus of your martial arts training (or, indeed, whether you train at all), learning to face and overcome your fears is a valuable skill, and a valuable lesson.

Passage Two: "Mood's a thing for cattle..."

"I guess I'm not in the mood for it today," Paul said.
"Mood?" Halleck's voice betrayed his outrage even though the shield's filtering. "What has mood to do with it? You fight when the necessity arises - no matter the mood! Mood's a thing for cattle or making love or playing the baliset. It's not for fighting."

"I'm sorry, Gurney."

"You're not sorry enough!"

Halleck activated his own shield, crouched with kindjal outthrust in left hand, the rapier poised high in his right. "Now I say guard yourself for true!" He leaped high to one side, then forward, pressing a furious attack.

Paul fell back, parrying. He felt the field crackling as shield edges touched and repelled each other, sensed the electric tingling of the contact along his skin. What's gotten into Gurney? he asked himself. He's not faking this! Paul moved his left hand, dropped his bodkin into his palm from its wrist sheath.

"You see a need for an extra blade, eh?" Halleck grunted.

Is this betrayal? Paul wondered. Surely not Gurney!

Around the room they fought - thrust and parry, feint and counter-feint. The air within their shield bubbles grew stale from the demands on it that the slow interchange along the barrier edges could not replenish. With each new shield contact, the smell of ozone grew stronger.

Paul continued to back, but now he directed his retreat toward the exercise table. If I can turn him beside the table, I'll show him a trick, Paul thought. One more step, Gurney.

Halleck took the step.

Paul directed a parry downward, turne, saw Halleck's rapier catch against the table's edge. Paul flung himself aside, thrust high with rapier and came in across Halleck's neckline with the bodkin. He stopped the blade an inch from the jugular.

"Is this what you seek?" Paul whispered.

"Look down lad," Gurney panted.

Paul obeyed, saw Halleck's kindjal thrust under the table's edge, the tip almost touching Paul's groin.

We'd have joined each other in death," Halleck said. "But I'll admit you fought some better when pressed to it. You seemed to get the mood." And he grinned wolfishly, the inkvine scar rippling along his jaw.

Along with LOLCats, the biggest product of the Internet seems to be motivational posters, quotes, sayings, videos...if you want inspiration, the Internet will provide.

And I love it. I really do. There are mornings where the right quote, or the right little speech can have a great effect on my whole day. Ross Enamait shares tons of great stuff on his blog, and I would be lying if I said I've never used it as a pick-me-up.


At some point, particularly when it comes to fighting, the question of motivation or mood becomes irrelevant. If you're about to step into the ring or onto the mat, the question of whether you're in the mood to fight or not doesn't matter...the fight is on. This is doubly true in self-defense, where, by definition, you're engaged in a fight that you didn't want to be in (if you wanted to fight, it's probably not self-defense).

Everyone can perform well when they're feeling great. It's learning to perform when you're not feeling up for it that's the challenge.

How do you cultivate this? Simple--keep training. Even wehn you don't want to. Hell, especially when you don't want to. I'm not talking about doing something stupid, like going into the gym with a raging fever or a bad case of the flu: I'm talking about showing up because it's time to train, even if you had a bad day at work and would rather just go home and eat bon bons. Get out there anyway. Cultivate a willingness to work through unpleasant circumstances.

Passage Three: "Any enclosed discipline sets its stamp, its pattern, upon its students."

A thing to note about any espionage and/or counter-espionage school is the similar basic reaction pattern of all its graduates. Any enclosed discipline sets its stamp, its pattern, upon its students. That pattern is susceptible to analysis and prediction.

Swap out the words "espionage and/or counter-espionage" for "martial art" and you've got a fundamental truth of human combat.

Particular martial arts styles, and even particular schools within those styles, tend to "stamp" certain reactions or patterns onto their students. This is most clearly expressed in combat sports, where you can see the pattern in the way fighters from a particular style or camp tend to express themselves. On a macro level, this leads to things like the differences between "Dutch style" and "Thai style" Muay Thai, or "Russian Judo" as differentiated from "Japanese Judo". On a micro level, it might mean knowing that fighters from a particular camp tend to be more aggressive, or to counter-punch. It might even mean knowing that they always follow a right cross with a leg kick, or that they stand in a way that exposes the right side of their body.

The more you understand your potential competitors, the more you can work to exploit those patterns or weakness.

Of course, this has it's flip side, which is that your school also has its own patterns, its predictable habits and rhythms. It can be difficult to become aware of these (especially if you don't compete, or produce competitors), but identifying and recognizing the ways in which you are becoming predictable (and how potential opponents might exploit that) can be valuable.

Passage Four: "They'd never known anything but victory which...could be a weakness in itself."

He seemed too submissive to Paul, but then the Sardaukar had never been prepared for such happenings as this day. They'd never known anything but victory which, Paul realized, could be a weakness in itself. He put that thought aside for later consideration in his own training program. 

This came up with a group of students last night, and I think it might be one of the most important things to take from Dune

Years ago, Kru Mark Dellagrotte taught a footsweep that I instantly fell in love with. It was an awesomely slick, subtle little counter to an aggressive puncher. So, I did what any hyper-obsessed twenty-something would do when presented with a new toy--I tried to use it like crazy.

The problem, of course, was that I frequently used it incorrectly. The timing wasn't right. Or the range wasn't right. It took a month or two worth of bruising my foot and shin before I started to find the correct timing, and to understand when it was appropriate to use that sweep, and when it wasn't. It took the failures for me to learn how to succeed.

That's a small example: there are larger ones. The fighter who comes back stronger after a loss is almost a cliche. Years ago, Matt Serra shocked with world by knocking out George St. Pierre, but that loss forced St. Pierre to come back a better, stronger fighter. 

If you never fail in training, if you never have to deal with that moment where things aren't going as planned, you're missing out on a huge part of training. You're certainly hindering your ability to use your art in any kind of dynamic environment, where things are rarely go as planned, and are never perfect.

A little failure can be a good thing.

Dune isn't a book that often makes it way onto "must read" lists of books for martial artists, but it probably should. If you haven't read it, do so. If you have, consider revisiting it. There's a lot to take away from it.

Further Reading:
Boris over at Squat RX had a great series on lessons from Dune for Strength Training, which partly inspired my recent re-read.


Maija said...

Awesome. Yes. :-)

Malone said...

Doesn't surprise me that you're a Dune fan, but fun to discover nonetheless.

I'm on the last book now, Chapterhouse: Dune, after a couple years off.

I nearly forgot these lessons from the first books - thanks for the reminder.

Malone said...

Doesn't surprise me that you're a Dune fan, but fun to discover nonetheless.

I'm on the last book now, Chapterhouse: Dune, after a couple years off.

I nearly forgot these lessons from the first books - thanks for the reminder.