A Selfish Investment

Let me tell you a little known secret about the martial arts business. When the economy drops schools fill up. In fact martial artists who are hobbyists, employed at selling cars or landscaping or whatever, abruptly decide to open schools unknowingly reflecting an economic trend.

The reason is actually simple. When the economy plungart_selfish1es people get antsy. They feel the loss of security, they feel it nationally and locally. There’s a lot more homeland insecurity floating around and they respond. The martial enthusiasts also respond and open schools and, voila, three dojos appear on the same block.

But there’s another basic unconscious recognition here. It may not blip on everyone’s internal radar but it’s there to be picked up anyway. When salaries stagnate and financials pressures freeze your options and macro-factors pinch your possibilities, you tend to go inward. People under tension take up water color painting, study languages, enroll in martial arts courses. Though not a scathing indictment of capitalism, it does show the dichotomy between making money and self improvement. (An explanation for America’s amazing ability to produce tasteless millionaires?) But that aside we see that self-investment is a natural association to the martial arts. The return to the warrior is a movement toward an archetypically serene image. Someone who can cope on a personal level.

Martial studies are centered around this belief. External goals such as combat ability, health or art all fall within a range of concerns that retrace their steps—ultimately—to something which is totally personal. After all, unless its required for your profession, spending a life learning to fight is to waste a life. No single aspect of martial can logically justify its intense enticement for certain individuals.

We are talking now just among ourselves. Not to the teenagers who still think “kick ass” is the only criteria for reality or to the “energy vamps” who are completely unconcerned about anything martial but the space dance. The difficulty lies in the ability to grasp the whole art simultaneously. Opera, for another example, is to some a logically inexplicable combination of the arts it is, in itself, an art. The difference is that the cultural origins of martial arts are still too alien for most people in the West to understand and approve the totality. Just because you like opera doesn’t mean you can appreciate Beijing Opera. It is the same with Kung Fu: a 5000 year conglomeration of art, combat, health and transcendental components encased together seems odd, yet it is a thing onto itself.

This ancient and unpredictable conveyance of possibilities allows every single person’s unique and indistinguishable expression to co-exist. I have seen thousands and thousands of martial performances and they still delight me because, I have never seen a duplicate.

All this doesn’t even flirt with the changes in one’s life that occur during the long quest. When I first began my studies as a Kenpo student we practiced a form known as “The Book Set” which, I believe, is still performed. The Book Set was a Southern Kung Fu form of unclear origin, probably something like Mok Gar. Anyway the movements started very simply, evolved with fairly complex actions then ended simple again. We were told that this form represented a martial artist’s life as he evolves starting with simpllicity then through complexity back to pristine and perfected simplicity.

Frankly life isn’t even that linear. It doesn’t even divide into these three levels. It is continually throwing a challenge for your practice. And it’s only in partaking of the different facets of the art, sometimes involutarily, that keeps you moving forward. You want to get back into shape: so you train like you are fighting a match every week. You break up with your girl friend: meditation seems to heal something in you. You wake up with a strange new martial idea bugging you, a new move or something: you find yourself back refining your form at two in the morning with this new insight.

What a great art! It adapts to you as fast as an chameleon on caffeine. A good, really good, workout can take you through stretches like a dancer, fatigue like a runner and serenity like a monk.

You’re a one person show onto yourself.

On the mat you can find yourself in ways never suspected. Surprise your self!


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