Tag Archives: martial arts

Pragmatic Material Realists vs. Saturated, Infatuated Believers

In my daily life, especially with regard to both martial arts and the zentao lifeway, I often find myself besieged by one of two extremes — the pragmatic, material realist or saturated, infatuated believer. These two extremes are dynamically at odds with one another, yet love to seek me out, the former to argue and debate, the latter to try to gain reinforcement for their phantasmagorical euphoric belief systems.

Pragmatic material realists are the ‘safer’ of the two. People don’t get themselves into dire jeopardy, falling off the crumbling brink of their own sanity, when adhering to pragmatic material realism like do saturated, infatuated believers. Pragmatic material realists are ever steeped in skepticism, and skepticism for any method is very, very healthy. The mind of a skeptic questions, looks for holes in logic and reasoning, examines precepts and purported truths with an intent honed to detecting rot and misguided thinking. I applaud that. I invite it, even sanction and condone it. In fact, I do it myself quite readily and fervently, even in and to myself. It is the zentao way to do so. What I don’t condone, though, is that pragmatic material realists never bother to critically examine their own reductionist beliefs and question their close-minded, tunnel-vision. Worse, they outright dismiss anything and, worst, everything except pragmatically material explanations, no matter how contrived those explanations must become to fit the evidence. These folks ‘make decisions’ about absolutely everything, even when there are no grounds upon which to make such a decision.

Still, though, I much prefer the pragmatic material realist to the saturated, infatuated believer. While I won’t debate them (knowing very much the futility of trying to open a steel-reinforced granite vault whose 150 ton door’s locking mechanism has long-since rusted shut), I’m much more at home with their grounded perspective. Exposing the zentao thoughtway to the pragmatic material realist, though, is purely, for me, an exercise in patience and in accepting futility. Epiphany is beyond their any scope, yet they are apt students of martial ways, even Tai Chi, though it must be taught using principles of Newtonian physics. While the pragmatic material realist might never gain the ease and flow of Tai Chi, at least they gain a comprehension of the body mechanics involved in defending themselves.  Tai Chi is, after all, a very effective self-defense system when practiced as its founder intended.

Saturated, infatuated believers, on the other hand, are utterly and completely immune to any form of grounded, rational thinking. Their ecstasy at any possible supramundane suggestion they can, will, and do conceive, even the most ludicrous, propels them into ever-heightened euphoria. There can be no reaching the insidiously infatuated to bring their hot-air balloon brains back to earth.  Even suggest unlimited thinking to them, and their minds leap to the most fantastical, utterly and completely spurning any practical rationale whatsoever. Try to teach them a martial art, especially Tai Chi, and they embrace, not the self-defense system, but rather some dreamy, completely ungrounded oozing — people fronds waving in the sea of park — that they claim will magically protect them by sheer virtue of belief. To introduce them to the zentao thoughtway would be completely unethical …like handing a lit match to a toddler squatting in a pool of gasoline.

Focused on My Art

Since my injury in a car accident last year effectively ended my ability to teach martial arts to anyone less than at least a black belt who owns the necessary discipline and self-control, I’ve had the freedom to pursue my own art without a thought to “the next lesson.” It’s wonderful–the freedom to go full out…now that the doctors have released me to do so.  I’m still working my way back, but it’s so freeing to be able to concentrate fully on my own center, my own essence, my own art. And the sword–I’ve picked that back up, too, though not when there’s anyone about.  Today, dwelling in movement in moment, there came that unity of self with environment that I so thrill to–an awareness in self stillness where all sound and movement, my own and nature’s, blend and unify–the sound and movement of the grasses as the wind rustles each blade in chorused unison, my own movement and inner being completely harmonized within. An absolute self immersion within Way. I look forward to more and deeper stillness of being–deeply moving, silent, still–and I look forward without ever again having to give thought to student needs. I think teaching sacrifices too much. Better to be and do.

Teaching Martial Arts

I must receive thirty-plus phone calls a week from people wanting to enroll their 3, 6, 9, 12, 14-year-old into martial arts.  I dismiss them with a pleasant, gentle explanation that, 1, we’re not taking new students, and, 2, we only teach adults.  And not all adults, either.  It isn’t the age, per se.  It’s the maturity and mind-state.  I’m sorry, but children — American children (though there are, of course, exceptions) are generally unprepared and unwilling to submit to the rigorous discipline — mental, emotional, physical, and philosophical — required to study martial arts with us.  We’re very strict; we’re very demanding, and we’re very much a traditional school where “fun” isn’t part of the curriculum.

Oh, it’s fun, yes, if you have a high pain threshold and love ever increasing challenges, but it’s not entertaining (except for those occasional guffaws when you lose your footing because someone dripped sweat on the mat).  For Americans, both adults and youth, who have been raised to expect their hedonistic desires fulfilled, who are perpetually conditioned to expect reward for mediocrity, and who have been pandered to their whole lives, our martial arts classes are not quite what they expected.  We tend to direct callers and walkins alike to the McDojos, because, honestly, that’s what they want — instant black belt in exchange for no real effort and no true commitment and self-motivated development.

But what about the prospective student who does hold the duty, discipline, self-actualization, and focus that’s mandatory?  Well, taking on a student means this for the teacher: Be ready to become their life counselor, even after they’ve left town.  You’ll be the one they call, regardless of what time it is, what day it is, or if you’re down with pneumonia when they have any kind of life crisis, from marital difficulties to existential crises.  It’s the way of things, and, believe me, after years and years, taking on new students and adding to the calls for help and advice you get takes its toll.  As a teacher, you become very hesitant to add to your load, especially since, having invested the time and effort to get them to and then through the “gateway” that is earning the black belt, then going further, you are obligated to be there, always.  It’s a life commitment on both the student’s and the teacher’s part.  And it’s tough on both of them.  It’s also extremely rewarding.  My students…my husband’s students, it’s why both of us go to bed with gentle smiles on our faces.  They are our delight, even if they do occasionally cause all manner of bleary-eyed mornings.

This morning’s practice was bitter in bare feet.

It’s twenty-four degrees outside, and my bare feet suffered this morning during practice.  It was good for me, but it definitely made me appreciate putting shoes on to work against an opponent in the second half of my morning regime.  Wow.  Good thing I didn’t look at the temperature before I started.  I would have whimpered and probably chickened out and donned shoes at the onset.  Good for me, though, that I did it, and had a very impeccable (in my triple dragon sash husband’s opinion) session.

Of other interest, we came upon another video of a Tai Chi practitioner who does some very fluid and excellent work.  My only complaint is that he tends to jerk his head aside when an attack enters.  I think he must have been hit hard somewhere young in his training, and the body memory is affecting that reaction.  He also seems to work too hard several places against an opponent. Otherwise, he’s very, very good.  See it here if the embedded video doesn’t work for you: https://youtu.be/93wy9FBFP24

Meanwhile, here is the video itself: