Ouch. I hurt myself. No one is better at knowing my weak spots than me. I did something silly and serious. I knelt down to meditate. Creak. Groan. Grr. Since 1984, I’ve been training in the martial arts. Since I moved to the island, and especially since My Triple Whammy, I’ve missed working out in one of my style’s dojos. A few weeks ago, a local, internationally known sensei agreed to let me rent time in his dojo so I could train somewhere besides my living room or carport. Step one. Kneel down to meditate. And listen to old joints complain. It’s good to be back for many obvious and un-obvious reasons.
Remember the original Karate Kid movie? My style, Shobayashi Shorinryu Karatedo, is very much like the old guy’s style (Mr. Miyagi.) Karate is about not fighting. Karate is about defense. The biggest fight is with the self, not the other.
Most folks react as if karate is all about punching, kicking, and shouting – like the villain in that movie. One of the lessons I’ve learned is that whoever attacks exposes their vulnerabilities, and not just physically. That’s an interesting lesson to reflect on during today’s politics.
The main benefits are less obvious. They influence my approach to personal finance, entrepreneurship, and how to deal with people.
Do not move unless it is to your advantage. Also, do not block the punch that will miss. It is too easy to react when there’s nothing to react to, to start defending when someone is merely posturing. Address real threats (of which there are enough to keep my PretendingNotToPanic.com blog busy), but pause and notice how many times people read between the lines when there are no lines, when nothing was said. Moving for the sake of moving can feel like getting something done, but it is wasted energy that may be needed later. Of course, when there is a threat, act. For me, for a while, that meant working seven days a week. Now, I’ve been able to keep my house, have built some equity in it, and can start taking days off.
Tight no-tight, and breathe. People see Bruce Lee’s phenomenal physique and think martial artists are iron-solid sculptures in muscle and bone. He wasn’t tight all the time. To be tight all the time is another waste of energy. Tight is also slow. To conserve energy, be relaxed and fluid; then, to act, tighten everything at once or in such rapid succession that a punch isn’t a fist, but coming from an entire body. I kept that in mind during that seven-day-a-week work schedule because I knew I couldn’t do it forever, and that the longer I did it, the more counter-productive I’d be. Throughout, find time to breathe. Without breath, energy gets depleted. Breathe, and be able to continue.
The biggest fight is with the self, so don’t fight it, befriend it. In business, there’s an exercise that’s meant to get to the core of a situation. Keep asking “why?”. Be like an annoying little kid and keep asking yourself “Why?”. Why are we acting and feeling this way? Why are we in this situation? Why do we care? Why? Why? Why? I even ask myself that when I write a post. Know yourself and know half the battle. Karate takes that further by asking about the other half of the battle, when there is one. If there’s an opponent, why do they feel and act that way, why are they in this situation, why do they care, why, why, why. Understand them, know both sides of the battle, and find there may not be a battle. Hard to do, but karate is not known for being easy.
I’ve been training for decades, and know that I’ve only begun. My drastic retreat as I defended my essentials for life meant my training has suffered. So, it’s no surprise that I have a bit of self-imposed suffering to do.
At least in my style, a typical class starts and ends with meditation. Kneel, or sit in lotus, or at least sit, and breathe. Just breathe. Work and chores and everything else is outside the body. Just concentrate on breathing.
But, about those creaky joints. Oriental and Asian martial arts history is mostly folklore because many of the documents and institutions were destroyed in various wars and societal calamities. One story leads back to the early Shaolin temples that predate karate. Supposedly, in China, a master of mediation and defense came across a temple that housed threatened monks. The monks regularly were assaulted and robbed. They prayed, but they didn’t meditate, it was that long ago. The visitor realized they should learn how to meditate first, to calm themselves. Unfortunately, the monks were so out of shape that they couldn’t sit or kneel for long enough for proper meditation. So, the visitor decided to train them for self-defense in the meantime, with the side benefit that they’d be able to meditate better. And so began at least one martial arts tradition.
I sympathize with those folkloric monks. Even though I’ve been maintaining my practice through the various formal exercises, I’ve neglected the basics of stretching and strength training. Those basics have less to do with fighting techniques and more to do with being able to sit in meditation for very long (something I have also lacked the time to do.) One of the ironies of martial arts, at least for me, is that the speed and strength of youth are gone, but my understanding of the techniques means my young self and body would have a tough time sparring with my old self and body.
Trust intuition, because in a fight the subconscious can be a great ally.
The less baggage or weight or whatever we carry around, the easier it is to be flexible and mobile.
The person who wants to fight might just beat themself up if you give them enough time; and don’t be that person, and be prepared, just in case.
There are too many opportunities to fight at every level from the global to the societal, to the national, to neighborhood, to the internal and philosophical. Lately, I’ve focused on the personal, particularly the personal financial because food, health, and housing are basic needs for survival. It is nice to have reasons for optimism that I can loosen up from that battle, to breathe, and to move to advance.
Now, if only I could kneel without having to pop a pill.
I thank Kyoshi Warren Berto of Shorin Ryu Seibukan Karatedo for the use of his dojo. In typical Whidbey fashion, an international master in a style similar to mine just happens to have a dojo within walking distance of my real estate office.
I thank my sensei, Kyoshi Jerry Gould (retired), of Shobayasi Shorinryu Karatedo for teaching me for decades. In typical Pacific Northwest style, I walked into his dojo without knowing until several years later that he was the chief instructor in North America for our style.