Martial Arts, As I Currently Know It:
First, it is about you / me. What am I doing? How strong / tough / competent am I? Me.
Some people, I think, get stuck there. I was, for a time. Sometimes I revisit it.
Second, it is about the school, the team. Your school, your partners, your team, your students. It’s not just about you, although we can all acknowledge it’s always, at some level, about you / me, but it’s also about the people in your sphere who assist you in doing whatever it is you think you are doing at this point in your life. Us/Them.
I am often there. I think it I could have spent my whole life focusing on me and my team, except that I came, at some point, to a realization about # 3.
Third, I realized that I wanted the community to support me and mine, but that while I was making a dent in the community, on a scale from 1 to 10 I wasn’t really affecting it, engaging it, at a place that communicated or exercised my potential —-so I began to work on that, to become a more engaged citizen. To measure one’s skills as a martial arts teacher not just on their own skills, not just by the skills of their students, the size or profitability of their own school / team, but on what impact the efforts had upon the core, the heart and soul of the entire community? It was like becoming a white belt again. I was a good athlete, I was a decent teacher with a good following, but this realization required something far bigger from me. To solve my own “problem” was one thing, to deal with “problems” with a student, I could do that, but to address and help with the issues of an entire community? I had to re-tool.
Fourth: I came to think that there was a community I was engaged with beyond the community I resided in. I realized I was a member in a bigger school, the international martial arts community. As soon as realized that I was, for the MA community what I was in my very own school, as in leader, student, organizer, janitor, and active member, I began to expect more from myself —to gather about me the skills I’d need to really be a contributing member. Everything that applied to me, my school, and my community, began to apply to the family I was in. No separate self.
And now, my fifth level of understanding has been that, together, we are one massive, powerful, capable, connected work force not just for personal development (a key factor), not just for school development (a key factor), not just for community improvement (a key factor), and not just for the betterment of the martial arts community (a key factor), but that due to the scale and scope of our numbers and shared values, we could be a force for some kind of improvement / change in the world. For real.
There is a direct and strong connection to the struggle of mastering myself, the arts I’m practicing (wrestling with, literally), to the struggle and skills needed to be a, for example, Wangari Maathai, a Rosa Parks, a Lech Walesa, an Aung San Suu Kyi —-or, in other words, a simple, single person, like you and me, who by the nature of their contribution, came to be known for their efforts on a global scale.
To actually DO this, well —-it’s a bit like, I think (I imagine), walking into a dojo day one, seeing all of these people with skills you can’t exactly comprehend, and wondering if it will ever happen for you. It’s almost overwhelming —unless you get your head around it and just start showing up for class.
That is my present practice. To not just ask myself to be a good black belt, to not just ask myself to be a good school owner / leader, to not just ask myself to be an engaged and participative member of my community, to not just ask myself to be a leader/teacher/student of the bigger community of the martial arts, but to ask myself if the highest level of the practice isn’t stepping up, with what I know, to be a part of the change I’d like to see in the world.
It seems impossible. It seems like I’m such a white belt —and the level of skill or knowledge or courage or whatever it is that it takes to do anything of importance on this particular “team” —is too overwhelming to engage.
However, every morning I wake up, there I am. Every time I put on a kimono, there I am. Every time I think of my practice, there I am. And every time I sit down to listen as a student or speak as a martial arts teacher, there I am.
Knowing that/this, is why you constantly hear / see me rallying the big audience, calling for engagement and participation. It is a special kind of delusion. A particular kind of crazy. Fortunately / unfortunately, it seems to me that it’s what I’ve been training to do —and as, for example, my son Keenan pursues his quest to be the best BJJ competitor in the world, I’m sort of on my own quest to do something in and for the world.
I don’t really know why; it would be so much easier just to run a school, buy a nice car, vacation in Hawaii, and not give a hoot about all the rest of it.
Part of the problem was/is, I think I took all that teaching from my instructors to heart; you know, “If you can’t, then you must, if you must, then you will.” The “Tenants,” the student creed, Funakoshi’s ideas about the development of character (what DOES that mean???), Ueshiba’s ideas about the art of peace. When my teacher said I was working towards mastery, I took that stuff to heart. For real. So what is that? How does it manifest itself in action? I look to my heroes for the answers.
In the spirit of truly doing “epic shit,” I can think of no bigger challenge.