Monday, 7 December 2015

Elemental Equation of the Martial Artist

*Originally posted on the FMK blog on the 2nd of February, 2015.

Have you ever wondered what Martial Art is made of? Let me rephrase that. Have you ever wondered what, somewhat contextualised elements of human development come together to create Martial Art, but have struggled to fit the picture within the frame? I know I have! On past occasions, when I have tried to explain the Martial Arts to people face to face and on the spot, I have struggled. I knew within myself what Martial Art is, but putting it into words without sounding too philosophical and more importantly, getting to the point (core meaning) in conversation without getting sidetracked and confusing the other person by explaining what different yet connected elements makes a Martial Artist, has been a skill in itself. In all fairness, an accurate conceptual understanding of Martial Art is difficult to acquire as Martial Art is such a seemingly unique and content heavy topic to learn about. As time goes on however, the easer it is for me to explain what Martial Art is to those who know nothing about it. So in this blog, I have decided to dissect Martial Art; to analyse the elements that when combined, create Martial Art. I believe the longer you expose yourself to Martial Art (or anything for that matter), the more your mind (a picture frame) will be enlarged to cater for or comprehend Martial Art (a finely detailed picture).

First I shall make an analogy. Atoms are the building blocks of all of known creation. Further more, an atom consists of a proton with a positive electrical charge, an electron with a negative electrical charge, and a neutron with no charge, hence it is neutral. An atom can not be created with 2 protons or 2 electrons. Only when a neutron meets a proton and an electron, the positive and negative, is balance created. Balance is the fundamental truth behind realities building blocks. I see Martial Art as being similar. Think of the body as being a proton with a positive charge. Think of your mind as being a neutron with a negative charge. Your spirit is like the neutral neutron. Now, we have all have probably heard the saying "In Martial Arts, we train the body and mind to enhance the spirit". Martial Art is personal optimisation. When the proton and the electron meet the neutron, when the positive and negative forces come to complement one another, the sub-atomic particles come together to create an atom. Everything that we know of is made up of atoms (bounded into molecules of cause), from the bricks of our houses, to the chemicals and electrical pulses in our brains.

Putting my scientific analogy more simply, two opposite forces come together to create both an atom and a Martial Artist. The neutron receives a proton and an electron, and thus is up-graded from sub-atomic particles to to becoming a stronger atomic particle - the atom. The Human Being receives physical training for the body and intellectual training for the mind, enhancing the spirit. This occurrence is relatively rare. When these three elements are combined, the Human Being can transcend the purposeful practice of combative techniques and ascends into a True Martial Artist. Below is a comparative diagram I made to illustrate my theoretical analogy...

Click or touch to enlarge.

I'm now going to list each of what are in my current opinion, the main aspects of human development that are connected to Martial Art and explain how they contribute to the Martial Artist.

Body (Physical)

Physical: The body requires a good fitness foundation to develop into the biological machine/personal hardware of a Martial Artist. Bruce Lee believed that "One of the most neglected elements of martial artists is the physical workout. Too much time is spent on developing skill in techniques and not enough in physical participation." -Bruce Lee's Fighting Method The Complete Edition page 8. I agree with this. A fit body for the Martial Arts in particular, requires good:

NUTRITION: The nutrients you consume in your diet are extremely important. Nutrition is still something I have much to learn about. I recommend that one's diet consist of mainly fresh fruits, vegetables and meats if your not vegetarian. Takeaway food can be consumed occasionally, however I discourage you from ever eating McDonalds sad excuse for food.
CARDEO VASCULAR SYSTEM: Through endurance training such as running/jogging, skipping, riding a push bike, aerobic exercises. Anything where you are constantly moving for a significant duration of time will improve your cardio vascular system. 

MUSCULAR STRENGTHENING: Despite the fact that Martial Arts teaches non resistance (philosophy of the Tao), resistance training focusing in selective muscle groups will greatly develop power in strikes. This can be achieved via the using of dumbbells and resistance bands. Because your abdomen is the centre of your body and you centre of Chi, I would prioritise abdomen workouts relatively high on the list.

FLEXIBILITY: Flexibility is currently my speciality. To be flexible is to have a greater range of movement. You don't need any equipment to become flexible. Earths gravity will do a huge portion of the work for you. When you are stretching, let's say to touch your toes for example, try to go just a little bit beyond your limits. Hold your hand about 2 centre meters beyond you normal boundary of comfit for about 10 seconds at a time, then release. As you repeat this, your boundary of comfit will expand. After six months, what is normal for you will be different to what was normal for you at the beginning. Flexibility is important as it gives you freedom of mobility. It is not easy to become flexible, but once you reach a milestone such as the splits, everything that you went through will be worth it!

EXTERNAL CONDITIONING: Conditioning parts of the body to withstand blows. The fists can be conditioned through knuckle push-ups and/or punching sand bags. The arms and legs can be conditioned by using a wooden dummy, a tree or training with a partner. The stomach can be strengthened through abdomen exercises and then having a trustworthy training partner punch you  there; lightly to begin with. External conditioning is necessary for a Martial Artist to turn his/her body into a weapon. 

INTERNAL TRAINING: Chi (internal life force/energy) development is necessary for the advanced practitioner. Chi circulation throughout the body is said to prevent health burdening physical and mental conditions. These are conditions such as asthma, gastritis, insomnia, migraine, depression to name a few. Chi can also be used in combat. My current understanding of this is if you have good chi circulation, you can channel in into a strike in self defence situations. That, combined with bio mechanical technique is where true combative power lies.   

TECHNIQUE: To have good technique is to be skilled. Combative technique should be practiced in a skilful and practical way for self defence. Combative technique should be practiced creatively for pure self expression, and safely for fitness training. Physically practicing the techniques of Martial Arts builds muscle memory which is necessary for street defence.  

Mind (Intellect)

Intellect: Becoming a Martial Artist means that you are acquiring power. With that power comes great responsibility. One needs to think logically and rationally; to act on ones emotions, not react to ones emotions. One needs to know how to act accordingly to situations that present different levels of hostility. For example, if all someone does is grab your wrist, you may like to use a wrist escape technique. You could go all out and break the guys nose, but that would be overkill! A practitioner needs to know how to meet someone's harmful force with his/her own protective force, equally. The intellectual development of a Martial Artist includes:

PHILOSOPHICAL AWARENESS: It is most important to have a basic understanding of the Philosophies of Martial Art as a requirement from the students foundational level to his/her advanced level. For example, a young practitioner who is a beginner should be taught that the combative techniques he/she learns are for defence only. As the practitioner grows and more experience is gained, his/her understanding of the wider benefits of practicing martial art (eg: health, character development, etcetera) should be prospered, allowing it to deepen and become more sophisticated. The sauces of these teachings are Buddha and Tao to name a few. A good sense of morality must also be adopted.

UNDERSTANDING Of PSYCHOLOGY: One must understand how his own mind works and the Human mind in general. This is very helpful for self defence and simply just getting along with people. A fine tip that Bruce Lee expressed for self defence goes as follows: "The main thing is to see the attack coming, which enables you to shout, scream or just concentrate on dealing with the attacker. Make as much noise as possible as this naturally tends to frighten off law breakers." -Bruce Lee Artist of Life, page 22. 

UNDERSTANDING HUMAN BIOMECHANICS: In training, it is important to understand your natural limitations to avoid serious injury. If you understand how the body works in theory (how it reacts to blows targeted at weak points for example), real life self defence you will be at a huge advantage. Further more, practical sparring will improve your mental and physical reaction time.

THEORETICAL KNOWLEDGE: Knowing everything on this list in theory. This type of knowledge is commonly acquired through studying books, documentaries and Internet articles to name a few. 

PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE: Having a good idea of everything on this list, gained through practical experience. It's often likely gained through practice with a training partner. This develops mental and physical reaction time in preparation for the reality of combat.

Spirit (Oneness - Cosmic Unity)

Spirit: The spirit cannot be generalised. It cannot be directly observed immediately, whether it be internally or externally by yourself and others. Sifu Freddie Lee once made a good analogy in saying that you can't grasp the spirit in your hand because it's like water, it will just fall through your fingers (not exact words used so I didn't quote). The best way I can explain the spirit is to say that it is nameless and certainly formless. It can not be seen with the eyes or heard with the ears. However, it can be observed. The spirit can best be described as being similar to the wind. We can't see the wind, even though we know it's there. A meteorologist would most likely tell you that wind is caused by other weather occurrences elsewhere on the globe. A high level of spirituality (the wind) is attainable by the improving changes of such areas as physical health and psychological health (other weather occurrences on the globe). To tell if someone has attained a high level of spirituality, behaviours and traits to look for are:

MEDITATION: Meditation is a way of connecting with one's inner spirit, with one's inner self. It is being awake/aware in the present moment. It is being in a state were you are not distracted by responsibilities and by humanities self imposed rules for society. It is connecting to a higher authority, the highest authority, the only authority, all that there is, the Universe. Through meditation you begin to understand that you are part of Universal creation. You understand that you are one with the whole, one with everything, hence the term "Oneness". Although Buddha popularised the method of sitting meditation, any activity can be practiced in meditation. Whether it be reading, writing running, talking, practicing mathematics. The systems of Tai Chi Chuan focus on meditating through movement with great emphasis. To survive a violent encounter, you can't be focusing on what could happen 30 seconds into the future or the past. You have to focus on what is happening NOW, in the present moment. Meditation will improve all of your life practices, including combat.
Meditation is simply being, for you are a Human Being.

PEACE WITH INNER SELF FOR PRACTICALITY: If someone verbally abuses you in the street, know that if you retaliate verbally, you will be adding fuel to the fire. Martial Art is about avoiding such a situation at any cost, because the most valuable possession you have is yourself. If a random guy bumps into you in the street and he wants you to apologise, you need to know that just saying sorry should be enough to defuse the situation. There is absolutely no need to protect your pride/ego. If you do so you will have resorted to the level of that random guy. A Martial Artist is greater than this, he/she is an evolved Human that operates on a higher realm of being. Many people are controlled by their egos. Martial Artists are in control of their egos.

ENLIGHTENMENT: "Zen or enlightenment is the majestic, sublime experience of cosmic reality in its transcendental dimension, where all dualism has disappeared, where the enlightened being is emancipated from the illusory prison of the physical body and becomes the infinite, eternal universe as he or she realises that the personal mind is in reality the Universal Mind." -Wong Kiew Kit, The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu, page 189. Enlightenment is considered by many to be the highest state of human development. It's an awakening/realisation. It may start as a conceptual realisation; however, when you are fully enlightened you will know it, with every cell in your body. That is why when an enlightened individual enters the room, his presents is can often be felt instantly by others. When an individual has attained enlightenment, the illusion of differences disappears. The individual can see everything for what it is - one Universe.

When all these ingredients/elements of human development are combined, the final product is the Martial Artist or the True Martial Artist as some (including myself) tend to call it nowadays. Now I'll explain how these elements are found in the Martial and the Art.

COMBAT: This is the 'Martial'. It requires a fit body, a knowledgeable and creative mind, and an indomitable spirit. It implements substance or theme to the Art. Your body needs to be conditioned to survive in life threatening situations. If you have a good cardio vascular system, then you might be able to out run the aggressor. If you do so, then you would have have been more successful then if you had to engage in direct combat because you preserved you life and the life of your aggressor. Sometimes we may not have the opportunity to run. If that is the case we must do what we can to survive. To survive, it will greatly help if your limbs are conditioned (hardened), but not mutilated. To survive a violent encounter, you cannot rely on only your intellect to guide the execution or your techniques. If you do, you will hesitate in being too slow to strike, thus providing the aggressor with wide windows of opportunity. If you rely only on the mind, you will be like an ineffective mechanical man. To survive a violent encounter, you cannot rely on only emotions to guide your technique. If you do, you will be like an irrational animal with no control whatsoever. Thus you will make many mistakes proving to be fatal in a life threatening situation. A collaboration of mind and emotion is required. You are able to use you primeval emotions to fuel an indomitable spirit, but they must be guided with the knowledge of the mind. Professionalism and balance are required.

ART: When art is implemented into the combat, it becomes something greater. I feel it is important to understand the correlation between a craft and an art. Combat alone is a skill, a craft. It takes someone with a high level of creative intelligence to transcend a mere combative practice into something artistic. For such a transcendental occurrence to take place, the combative practice must become an aesthetically pleasing experience for the practitioner. It becomes so when the techniques executed are dictated by an intrinsic impulse. When the intrinsic impulse is aloud to be expressed with out external or internal interferences (eg, the ego), that is true art. If this stage is reached, the practitioner would have transcended the craft of combat into something on a higher realm, a deeply personal realm, an artistic realm. This is what we call 'Martial Art'. 

My sincere thanks for reading!

PS: I really enjoy writing blogs like this one. It is a way for me to freely express myself. I create these blogs at my leisure, writing them when ideas naturally come to me. I'm very spontaneous really about it. I wrote this blog over the cause of three weeks, adding paragraphs here and there. As I am now in Year 12 (my last year of high school), I don't think I will be able to creat many more blogs as large as this one too the same consistency (2, 3 or 4 per month for example) because life is starting to get hectic. I'll still be present on this blog though. I just thought I'd like to let you guys know. Any way, keep up the great work everyone!  :)

Train Hard, Train Soft, Train Safe.

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