Who is Your Audience? Martial Consciousness

Martial arts can be a mirror. Like Alice, I stick my hands out and they sink into the loking glass.  The nature of martial arts encourages looking inward, staring outward and trying, somehow, to get audience and self-perception to agree.

It’s important to know just who and what you are looking for. It’s important to know who you are demonstrating for, who is watching your form, who you are trying to impress, or even scare.

 Of course, when you start your martial training you have an audience:  your instructor. You want to show him just how good you can be. You may be a blossoming Bruce Lee or, when you slip and fall, a Jackie Chan in the bud, but you want him to be there witnessing the event.

At home you try to show your parents but it is difficult. They may demonstrate a titanic lack of interest in what you are doing. Sometimes this can hurt, but the thing to remember—when relatives are the audience—you may be doing something they just can’t understand. Breaking a board they can understand. Standing in a peaceful, almost meditative, state might be a bigger stretch.

Then there are your friends and peers. You know, instinctively, that there is a danger if schoolmates are not  appreciative. At least your parents would never pants you in the locker room.

martial audienceBut it can all reverse if some kids find what you are doing to be very cool. Good friends last in this practice, generally presenting a sympathetic audience for years to come.

What about the possible audiences in your martial school? Their attitudes to competition, tournaments and demonstrations? Of course, a fine performance and a good audience can bring out the best in you.  But in any case, some aspect of you reserved for the inside always stays on the inside. This is where you start distinguishing what you want to do from what people want to see.  The best bet is to take part in everything, but be on the look-out for the truth of what you really enjoy.

By the same token there are aspects of martial arts that can never become visible. We may try to show their effects by publicly breaking bricks, beating our sparring partners, showing off that perfect side kick. At that level we are just trading eyes for whoever is watching us, but we are still watching a video of ourselves.

As you progress, performance skills will increase.

You will learn how to project what is inside to the audience, the sense of power, the grace, even some emotions like a bit of anger, the joy of movement. If you were a singer this would be the ability to communicate who your song is for—your mother, your lover, your dog, apple pie—just by the act of singing. This follows a pathway, from your inside out, that will communicate that subtle message, and stir not just your heart, but the heart of the intended and the audience listening.

People will tell you “just be yourself” but not explain which self you are supposed to be. That changes with the audience. The trick is to find that part that doesn’t change. The arts give you “presence.” At this point, demonstrations of your abilities are no longer simply performance. Now you are letting yourself shine through. The audience sees not only what you are doing, but some flicker of what is behind what you are doing.

As you push your way to new skills and discoveries you will find the interior training becomes more and more enticing. When these experiences start to weave together into one tapestry, it no longer matters for whom you perform. The inside audience takes the place of everything else.

I no longer do rehearsed demonstrations. When the situation seems right, I go up and do my routine following the form as I would follow two branches of the same river. The external audience watches me, trying to see the hint of the internal. And, strangely enough, I end up commonly watching the audience as though they were also performing. Performances like this are more like jamming with other musicians and now things come out that are a surprise, even to you.

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