Saturday, November 25, 2006

Karate lessons in the everyday

Today, my wife and I took a walk with a friend and his family down the "fisherman's wharf." It was a fairly quiet day filled with many opportunities for introspection and even some intelligent conversation as we observed the plants and animals in the area.
A quiet day takes an unexpected turn
While waiting outside a shop, I noticed two seagulls fighting over a perch on a rock. The fight got pretty intense and the white bird scared the brown bird completely away. Having won a relatively minor victory (there were plenty of similar perches available) the bird then merely glared at all the other birds as if to dare them to try to take his perch. The other birds, not to be dragged into his petty games, simply flew off. I admired them as they stretched their wings and swooped about and I pitied the white gull who grumpily contented himself to his poop-streaked lonely rock.
Later, we noticed different varieties of cacti and stopped to have a look. I've always thought that cacti were ugly and have never really taken the time to really see how they really are. Not only was I pleasantly surprised, I also realized that it is true what they say "No matter where you look, there is something to see." How can such a thing exist? Spawned from torment and affliction, yet it obviously has such a serene and gentle disposition.
The challenge
The challenge then, is for everyone to open their eyes and see the world they live in. When just a few days ago I stopped a co-worker to point out a spider wrapping a fly, it was as if a fire had been lit inside him he got so excited! It is essential for us to strike out with renewed vigor and tap the limitless wisdom that awaits us in the mundane. Where can we find a better teacher than in those simple creatures who truly live in and for the moment.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Karate and the martial arts in perspective

Recently a teacher friend of mine and I got into a bit of a discussion over the martial arts and the behavior of a martial artist. She claimed that a martial artist was supposed to be a vessel of serenity and to turn the other cheek in a confrontation. I pointed out that first and foremost the martial arts are literally warrior skills. She responded with an all too common misconception that I would like to discuss here: that the martial arts teach you to peacefully resolve problems.
The martial arts teach you to peacefully resolve problems (and other things people believe about the arts)
When I was growing up I clearly remember the day Sensei taught us all how to avoid trouble with others. He started out by asking for a volunteer to confront him in a strong stance. Then Sensei took a stance and in one fluid motion, pivoted on his feet, turned away and ran. He followed this demonstration with a fifteen minute discussion about how to walk around in the neighborhood (never take shortcuts or paths unfamiliar to you, travel with a buddy, always have a look of self-confidence, et cetera). But in my seven years studying under him that was the first and last time that he did that.
As with the majority of martial arts schools, my karate class was mainly composed of learning forms (karate kata), practicing basic techniques (kihon), and sparring (kumite). While I had an immensely capable and wise teacher, we as students had to learn from the start and lay a foundation toward those higher aspects of the arts. I was taught that if someone attacked me, I was to defend myself.
Unfortunately my teacher friend's introduction to the arts was the Hollywood version where the wizened martial arts teacher takes on a pupil and teaches him to never use the art he's being taught. Another mistake people make is that the martial arts will give its practitioners super-human strength and agility and therefore if a martial artist loses to a non-practitioner in a fight then the martial artist is a failure.
A close friend to the family used to work in a criminal detention facility where once an inmate was making a run for it. This friend was an award winning martial artist who had proved himself in many a tournament, however in a moment of panic he was just as vulnerable and human as anyone else and naturally required the assistance of another officer to detain the would-be escapee.
The martial arts do not make us invulnerable, they teach us to deal with pain. Karate doesn't make us better than anyone else, just maybe better prepared. The fact that we put on a uniform and practice warrior arts doesn't make us the aggressor, but it also doesn't make us the victim.