I AM …..
By: Arlin Parson, II
What does it mean to you to say, “I am a Martial Artist”? What is the thing that comes to your mind in vivid colors and bright images when you utter those words aloud? Take a few moments and think on these things. Now, please ponder with me for a while the concept of Martial Arts as a philosophy.
“Philosophy” in its literal translation from Greek means ‘love of wisdom’. Philosophy exists for many things. However, if we take the original translation ‘love of wisdom’ and apply it to the Martial Arts, and place the emphasis on the word ‘wisdom’, then Martial Arts has a rich, deep, and profound philosophy inherent in it.
All true Martial Arts at the surface level are about learning those physical techniques that ensure our personal safety through acquiring the ability to defend ourselves against attackers and also to achieve some very remarkable feats of physical prowess. Untrained watchers many times associate Martial Arts skills with flying side kicks and breaking things. But as Mr. Myagi said, “Bricks don’t break back.” Unfortunately, in the 38 years I have been studying the Martial Arts, I have never been be able to pause in mid-air, or stand on the tiniest branch of a willow tree, but that has not hampered the pursuit of wisdom in the Martial Arts. Right now, if I could pause in mid-air, I am wondering what I would do up there.
What I have discovered in Martial Arts training and teaching, is that there must be an understanding of the fundamentals of the human condition to progress to the highest levels. This is why most serious, life-long practitioners of Martial Arts will say that they study a ‘do’, or a ‘Way’. It is not simply the physical techniques in which they study and train, but “The Way” of the Martial Arts. The Way of Martial Arts is a philosophy of life which does not simply seek wisdom and the understanding of life through intellectual, analytical reasoning. The Martial Artist seeks to understand by awareness of all that is around him.
So what does that mean as a philosophy? Consider first that all human beings operate from either reason, emotion or spirit. The philosophy of Martial Arts bases itself on seeking to bring into harmony all three components. Whereas seekers of flash and fame will hone their skills in the physical techniques only to find they plateau in their training when the body is able to be pushed only so far, true Martial Artists will pursue the training of their spirit with equal enthusiasm and continue on to greater levels of ability.
Physical training emphasizes the reason aspect of our human condition through dedicated training, and the emotion aspect through mental preparation to undertake the harsh, demanding, exhausting training required to achieve the upper levels in Martial Arts excellence. Many practitioners neglect the spirit. In order to live the Way of Martial Arts, the third component – the spirit must be trained as well.
To train the spirit we begin with practicing serenity. How, you ask? Begin with what is on the outside—your words and facial expressions. The words that come out of your mouth and the expression on your face reflect what is in your spirit. Train and change your words to be serene and your countenance to be relaxed and serene, and your thoughts will follow. When your thoughts follow, your actions follow. Serenity will produce relaxation also. And remember those first lessons you heard, “A relaxed muscle is faster than a tense one.” Just as your round kick did not perfect itself because you wanted it; neither will your spirit become serene without practice.
Anyone can maintain serenity when all is well in the world and there is no conflict. The philosophy of The Way of Martial Arts is serenity in all things at all times. So, your personal demons are attacking your mind and therefore your spirit?—that attack is yours to defend. It should be done in the confines of your reason and emotion and not spill over onto those around you or come into any self defense situation or training exercise with you. If your emotions are taking over the training of your spirit in a way that you cannot manage on your own, find an instructor to help you just as you would seek help for a physical technique you have problems mastering. This is important in the Philosophy of Martial Arts, and please bear with me here because I speak from experience; I once did not ask for help and let mental battles change the course of my life and the course of my training for many years. The loss was great.
When we observe Martial Arts traditions and etiquette; focus on control and breathing; use our skills to help others; never initiate aggression; maintain serenity; and pursue and give honor and respect, we are exercising and strengthening our spirit of Martial Arts.
If Martial Arts permeate your entire life and affect all that you do, you have embraced the philosophy of The Way. You experience the world around you with senses that are unencumbered by preconditioned responses. You have stopped pushing against the human condition, but accept it and train with it in mind. You stop to wonder at the beauty of the sunset, but know that with your training you can protect yourself at any moment. You can experience all your emotions and share them, but if circumstances warrant, put those emotions in a safe place in your mind while your spirit controls your actions. If training your spirit has become just as important to you as training your body, then you are a Martial Artist.
I am a Martial Artist.