Saturday, March 14, 2020

Martial Arts in an Anti-Viral World

Greetings to all! Peace and Safety to you and yours!

So, as we are all aware, the Covid-19 virus has taken the world by storm. There is much information online and off, so I will not pretend to inform you more about it. Of course, there is also just as much misinformation to be found, but the simplest response you can find is in an old adage: An ounce of prevention beats a pound of cure.

That said, let me offer some perspective that should not really surprise you (coming from me, that is) at a time when you may be distracted by all the hype and panic that surrounds the situation. That perspective, I should warn you, comes from my own view of humanity and our tendency toward the sensational. Still, I will try to keep it plain.

As a child, I (and many people I know who grew up to be productive members of society) grew up in an environment lacking of opportunity to really impact the world in a positive manner. We had to muster the fortitude that would allow us to keep striving for what we could only imagine was possible for people like us who were surrounded by the constant reminders of a society that was ready to write us off. Still, we persisted, all the while reaching into that void that was our own yearning for a better life.

Sure, we might have imagined having the unfettered wealth generation that could grant our greatest wishes in a material world. We may have also posited that certain resources would never be afforded us, no matter how well we behaved just because of our skin color or our societal class. That spurred some of us to dig deeper and force life to acknowledge us, in one way or another. Either way, we played against the odds, as it were.

Today, the world panics in the face of yet another threat to humanity (I may be dramatizing a tad, here), and people seem to be grasping for things that they think will be instrumental in the post-apocalyptic world that our media, movies and imagination have proffered us. The preponderance of marketplace disarray and greed may lead us to think that all could be close to lost. But we all agree that the science is real enough that we understand that we are at risk, no matter what any outlet tells us about this latest viral threat.

Now, to my point:

What are you doing to keep your peace? This is important.

Of course, you are doing what you can to keep yourself a little more distant from your neighbors and stranger, as they rightfully suggested we do to minimize transmission of viruses or infection. Also, we are all finally becoming (at least) a little more aware of the need to behave more responsibly, especially in terms of hygiene (i.e WASH YOUR HANDS WITH SOAP, which is even more effective than Purell, etc.) and becoming more aware of the natural habit of face-touching. But what about internally?

Anyone who has been involved in martial arts for a period of time understands the value of the mental aspects of training. That leads to a certain amount of self-awareness, to say the least. The other side of that is that we, ideally, become more conscientious about our surroundings and other people with whom we must exist (hopefully in peace.) That, in turn, builds a sort of responsibility towards others in our sphere of existence.

For those who are not actively training, it is easy to avoid the crowded space according to the recommended protocols (avoid crowded scenarios, etc.) It may even be an easier transition when you factor in our current leanings (as a world society) toward virtual- and augmented reality granted us by modern technologies, the world over. Still, many of us require a certain level of actual interaction with others, which is very human.

Whatever your position or your leaning, it is important for us all that we maintain some method of peace-keeping. That applies both to the external and the internal. So my question is key to the very survival of us all.

Whether you are actively going to work, school, the gym, the dojo or the yoga center, things are changing. We are being asked to stay at home or alter our scheduling to avoid excessive interactions with others, since that might further put us at risk. That change has a certain cost, and we must be mentally prepared to pay it to remain on the safe side.

Flowing Bronze Martial Arts Society has been offering a live class via online video chatting as a test pilot, over the past year. It happens to fit in line with our mission to help take martial arts training into the future, given the technological advancements of our world. If you are attending classes at other schools, studios and scenarios, do not give up on your training (and thus your peacekeeping skills) for fear of contraction. That would be like tossing the baby out with the bath water! Instead, ask your teacher, your guru or whoever you are studying with, to take your training to the next level using technology.

If you have been considering training, and this situation has caused you to put it further into delay, stop defeating yourself before you start. Seek a venue (school, teacher, etc.) who can offer you the training you need. Great martial arts teachers have (for centuries, I am sure) always found a way to teach students, even in the worst of times and scenarios. Perhaps this is just another opportunity for both you AND a teacher to show what stuff humanity is made of.


Tuesday, August 14, 2018

The Journey of 36 Chambers.... Years

LIFE’s PATHWAYS - 36 years

In life, we are all given to certain motivations, whether in the name of survival or in the name of happiness. If we move through life without aim, I believe that is the extent of the quality of your life. It is with a degree of focus that we are able to see the flowers that line the paths we choose to walk.

By the time I started training in martial arts, I had seen Bruce Lee onscreen and a few other Kung fu movies on network television or at the McVickers Theater in downtown Chicago. I had read a few comic books with themes that included martial arts or Asian culture, and had already been enthralled by the notion of being involved in that overall culture. My dream was to be that super hero or that martial arts master, but I did not expect I would find an actual way to do it.

I think that we are all moved to certain directions that call to that part of us that wants to be fully expressed, and always toward the end that is our walk into purposefulness. Whether that purpose is love, comfortable lifestyle or even material gain, it serves us to tread to the degree that we feel compelled to have it. Naturally, the only thing that can stop that journey is our own drive or lack, thereof.

Even if there are a thousand obstacles along the way, the singular wire that we are willing to walk is the one that we choose to try traversing. This is, of course, if we are strong or willful enough to continue onward despite the many crosswinds that might blow us off-balance. The will allows us to climb back up of the goal or the purpose is clear enough.

This is a simplification, of course, of the process. Still, it is nonetheless true and seminal to the eventual success one might take to. The power of self or of love for others or some ideal can often be the proper fuel to get and keep the momentum for the long journey ahead.

It has been thirty-six years plus since I began my martial arts journey, not counting the time that passed while the seed of the idea was germinated inside my imagination. There were the deterrents that would have held me back had I not felt strongly enough about it. There were also the limitations of my feeble physical body, bettered internally with asthma and lack of athletic tendencies.

The promise, despite all of the things that were my prominent hinderances, was worth the steps that I knew I would have to take to reach my mountaintop. The hope of becoming more than I was shown to be by society’s indictment of people like me living in circumstances like the ones I grew up under was worth all the stall that were thrown in my path. The way I pictured my design was more colorful than any drab existence that the “real world” could paint as my lot.

That enabled me to climb my own personal mountain. That allowed me to get to the gates of my own temple and endure the years of under training and misinformation to learn to discern my truth. That powered me to stand and elevate my mission to the point where it would hold me erect until I could reach another level where the temple beyond my own imagined one was.

We all have our temples. We use those imaginings to carry us beyond our current realities. We draw on those past lessons, whether those came about haphazardly or by calculation. It is always that which empowers us. 

What are your temples? How did you make it to the place where you could really embark on your journey? Are you there, yet? If so, then good on you. One final question would then be the right question to ask yourself:   What is next?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Planting a Seed: Appreciation

It's a beautiful day out, and I managed to get some drive time in as I went shopping for groceries, travel clothes, etc. Along the way, I found myself doing something I do often. The jazz was playing on the radio, and with the windows down, the breeze was accentuating the absolute blissfulness of the moment. I said aloud, "I love my life."
Then I thought about it. Most people probably focus so much on the bad things that are constantly coming around that they don't appreciate those little golden notes that life allows thru the cracks of the barrage of sour ones.
Here's something for you to use if you would like to improve your life and your perception of your life:
Every little positive thing, no matter how minuscule it may seem, should be given a moment to solidify on your spirit. They happen, but we are trained to ignore them, since they don't seem to amount to much (in the grand scheme.)
For instance: A breeze blows and feels good to you. A song playing evokes a happy memory. A light changes to green just as you are about to come to a stop. A beautiful piece of music soothes your mind for a few seconds or minutes, removing your trouble or trauma for even that brief time.
So often, we dismiss these trinkets, and miss the opportunity to fortify the self. More of us have to realize and take advantage of these moments. With so many external forces beating us down and stealing our joy and other treasures, we simply MUST start to fight with the only weapon that assailants of any type cannot stand up to: Your own appreciation in perspective.
Love your life in those little moments, and Life will love you back, exponentially. Your seed becomes your shade tree or even your mental yacht, after some time. I try to impart this to all students that manage to cross my path. Teach your young people and your friends this idea. The more trees you have around you, the better your chance of finding shade and empowerment.
The simple affirmation: "I am loving my life, so Life loves me, back." (Use it, freely... and figure how to make it your own) - -

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Future of Martial Arts - Part 5

And we arrive to the final segment of this topic. So, now I can adequately answer the question that I posed, weeks back: What will martial arts instructions look like, in the future?

Look at the youngest generations you can see in the world around you. What do you notice about their mentalities? What are the marketing geniuses of the world (take your pick of the advertisers and marketers online or on television) doing to reach them? Are you paying attention to subtle changes over time? That's one of the clues to how martial arts can continue to flourish, for certain.

Now, take a look at how our educational systems work, the world over? When you see how different cultures approach it, you get an idea about different angles of the furthering education within their several constructs. And once you see how the most effective systems work, you have a very telling narrative about key elements and their places within the whole. Just as telling are those parts which seem to be failing the people, such as financial and quality issues.

As for the actual dojo, dojang, kwoon or club business methodologies, one needs only look at the news to see how businesses are faring in any given society. That will always tell us what is not working, and what may yet be an option. Still, it beckons back to my earlier points about operating a school as a business.

In my opinion, we have two primary ways to go about the proliferation of true martial arts instruction:

The first one is back to the core method of qualified teachers teaching with direct interaction to pass down the actual art in question. This is the private or semi-private method, wherein the teacher is the actual teacher (and not the CEO, necessarily). That presupposes that he or she is qualified and willing.

The challenge comes when the teacher needs to eat and pay bills. It is not a new thing to have a commercially-viable school for that purpose. I am just saying that when the world (or your society) gets to a place where no one has money to give, what will happen to such schools? The private or semi-private instructor has the option of going with other options to build intrinsic value in the minds of the student, such as bartering or other such payment methods. I am also saying that this path may require freely giving this training to worthy causes or individuals.

Whether of not the teacher incorporates the technology of the day to facilitate that direct training with some level of counseling involved to create the deeper relationship that a teacher and student should have is dependent upon the circumstances. The important thing is the connection that is formulated and formalized between the two of them. Of course, this does not have to be one-to-one, only.

The second way, as I see it, is a systematic one. That could mean by governmental or corporate instigation. It is not a new one, if you think about it. The military in many countries trains fighters in various styles of fighting.  In China, students learn one or other style of wushu or tai chi. Some corporations offer (in Japan, I think) compulsory group training in internal martial arts or basic fitness based on internal martial arts.

One of my own missions has always been to teach the youths of inner cities and impoverished areas, and I have taken a few steps along those lines. Community centers and local park centers also provide such opportunities. They are usually under-funded, but one of my goals is to eliminate the need for such red tape by creating sponsorship programs that shoulder whatever minimal costs they are. Of course, the real challenge in such ventures is that the competing programs may see it as a threat to their ability to make money with their own programs. Fair enough. I understand that. Still, it's worth the consideration.

In conclusion, I will say this:

As independent qualified instructors, some of us don't see a way to further the mission without opening up a traditional (western traditional) school. That relegates us back to the days of yore when it's either in your garage, the park, a laundry room or the living room. Wherever it takes you, the important thing is the task at hand. That said, I applaud you. If you use the web to teach, be sure to spend some of that time with the students. This is not a call to socialize training, as the point is not to create a social club. This is to facilitate appreciation and as a mentoring apparatus.

If you are just starting off on this journey as a student, and you have found a good instructor with whom you feel that right connection, stay focused on the training from the personal perspective. The proliferation part will occur in its due season. As you progress, keep an eye on the world around you for the best ways to make that impact that you sought to have on your own life. Having a mission will keep you on the right track.

Don't fixate on the setting, as the environment will only serve (in the long run) to enhance your internalization of the training. In other words, you will likely look back and tell your students of your experiences as your instructor did for you. It adds to the magic of the journey. Finally, be consistent. Without this, you may as well youtube your way thru the martial arts. Trust me when I tell you the journey is much more fruitful with a direct connection to your teacher.

The future is up to us all.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Future of Martial Arts - Part 4

Up until the 1970's, martial arts were largely taught in closed door schools. It received a bump (in the U.S.) from veterans returning from deployments, then more so when the video age came about in the 1980's. I am oversimplifying, but stay with me. Once the movies could be made and taken home to practice by, the possibilities grew exponentially. Such tools made correspondence lessons more viable.

During the 1990's the internet burst forth as a way to interact and learn, so a few industrious schools took the previous correspondence model to the next level by offering online courses. There are very few that do this with live interaction, which is probably due, in part, to the challenge of bandwidth and scheduling madness. The bulk of their revenue, I'd imagine, came from those sales of physical video or subscription to their downloads and streaming video content.

Even so, the amount of content across the world exploded onto YouTube, making the model almost obsolete. That was especially so in the case of virtual schools which did not have a live interactive element. There are a few that survived, including a couple that seem to have a good operational model in place. 

While we are a few technological bounds from Matrix-level education, I think the realistic flow of technological growth would be more about the biological pre-dispositioning side than the plug-in type. After all, we are now awake to the idea of smart drugs that allow us to learn faster. By the time we get to the place where the brain can be force-fed information that the body can readily adapt and assimilate, we will probably have run through the gamut of apps and software that telecom companies and marketing companies can impose on us. In fact, the governments will have already taken the model to a place where we probably should NOT go to, but what are you going to do? We just have to wait for it to filter down to consumer level use.

As for martial arts lessons, I don't see it staying in the standard modus operandi where we go out to the brick and mortar on the school's weekly schedule. Life is too fluid, and each new generation seems less likely to want to adhere to a schedule set by someone else. Likewise, I don't see it being perpetuated in the realm of video playback in any format, in and of itself. It just loses the mentorship angle, which is too important to any real martial artist who can call himself such.

Let's address those before we go on:

Discipline is one of the key elements to learning martial arts or any other art. Keeping a schedule helps to build that discipline, of course. And it fosters the student's ability to create positive habits on his or her own time building the SELF discipline part of the equation. Time invested has the benefit of successful outcome. Life may be fluid, but even wildflowers keep a schedule. Somehow, this has to be ingrained in the mind of the student, even with the systematic resistance to the limitation. The future training model has to address that.

Video playback may seem like a way to further the mission, but while it provides a way of review or even explanation of technique concept, it pales in comparison to face-to-face interaction with a capable teacher. It does solve the problem of proximity (teacher may be too far away, or you may not be able to travel to the local school with regularity), and it works perfectly as a librarian tool and catalog, and beats the heck out of hieroglyphics, to be sure. Still, the limitations are in the lack of interactivity.

We have all seen the Sci-fi movies where the interactive Artificial Intelligence fails in the face of certain existential questions that were not or could not be programmed into it. Makes me laugh, every time, because I get it. Imagine going to a mentor who gets a critical error because of a question not foreseen during programming.

Onward: So the future (just my humble opinion) of martial arts training is not to be locked into either of those two variations, based on those factors. Where CAN it be heading to, in the near future? What model(s) might there be that would maintain the heart of the martial arts while addressing the changing times?

Who knows tech may come about in the next 100 years or so? Who can say if the world going into another war or governmental change won't effect how we are trying to perpetuate the martial arts, now? Will we be allowed to teach or share information online with students across the world in certain countries, let alone travel to them (war changes geography) to share or further knowledge?

I don't know that, but I do know this: Having gone the route of an autodidact, without a teacher for many years; and having trained substantially in the presence of teachers in Japanese, Chinese and Korean disciplines, I understand the difference in how I have been able to appreciate the information I have received. Add to this the time spent in the company of a multitude of other people's masters and students near my own level (some below and many above), and my perspective is broad. Couple that with time spent teaching students at different levels and of different mindsets, and I would say I am just a little more open minded about how we might proceed in the mission of proliferating martial arts.

That is not saying I am more or less awake than any other martial artist. It is simply saying that I know change is afoot. I think I can wrap up this topic in the next entry. For now, I think I have gone into near novel status with this post, so I will bid you a fond see ya' later until then.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

The Future of Martial Arts - Part 3

Alright, then. (In my Carl de Billy Bob Thornton voice)

So we have explored the issue of age and of character as they relate to martial arts training. Now, let's jump into the universe of technology. After all, it changes the training, the thinking behind the application of techniques, and even creates opportunities to get ahead of impending or potential dangers.

Primitive implementations such as sticks, blades and fisticuffs vary per culture. The mindsets are different, and the advancement of their applications came about as times changed. They gained in effectiveness until they gave way to tools that negated their impact on warfare. Yet, the limbs that wield them are global. The minds that fashioned them and fine-tuned them continue to grow.

The idea of exponential effect increased our reach and power, bringing about faster and more devastating weaponry. This could take our discussion so far as to include weapons of mass destruction, but we will stay on topic by limiting ourselves to that of armed combat on a one-to-one basis. That is not saying that one man cannot destroy or absolutely defend himself against multiple opponents. It does, however, speak to the fact that only one person can only truly battle one person at a time, even as he faces multiples.

Anyway, in this day and age, we learn martial arts in a school that teaches us the basics by drilling in the techniques. We learn to string them together in the form of step-sparring or forms, which leads us deeper into understanding of the concepts that make them effective. Then we stretch that understanding so that we can use our tools or weapons while applying those concepts and techniques even more efficiently.

Here, we see that the technology is closely aligned with the concept to extend the martial artist's abilities into the realm of mastery. But technology gets a bit more complex as we look at the various styles and arts that are available to the average person. Therefore, it stands to reason that one of the things that changes (as far as technology goes) is the method of teaching and learning.

Since the advent of video technology, we have seen a magnitude of instructional videos come onto the market. Of course, there is validity to it as a reference source, and just as there are many who have studied them to improve on skills and understanding, there are those who proclaim themselves to be learned based on the gleaned knowledge. I am not here to judge, one way or the other. In fact, as a young man, it was my desire to have a library of instructional martial arts books that would rival the Smithsonian collection. When video came along, I expanded my library (imaginary, though it was) to include them all.

When I matured, I realized that I would not have been able to study them all well enough to master much of it, at all. Even more importantly, I could not HOPE to afford all the videos that caught my attention as I planned for martial arts supremacy. I have videos that I collected much later in my life, and at a much higher level in my training that I still have not viewed. The fact is that I may never get around to it.

I bear this all in mind whenever I come across a younger martial artist who thinks they need to have all such knowledge that is available. It comes from the older me and the elders who spoke it into my understanding when I tell them it is better to study what you are learning, instead of digging higher. Did you catch that? Digging higher..  That's like taking your shovel and just shoveling the dirt that has already been displaced from the ground, hoping to get deeper. Not going to happen.

Again, there is a place for it. Knowledge is out there to be gained. But the right approach to learning information is to avoid the temptation to gain it all, yet understand very little of what you aspire to learn. The term the older masters often used to describe this is "Mile Wide, Inch Deep."

With this as the basis of my discussion of this subject, let us prepare go more into the speculative side of the matter. In my next entry, we will get to what I hope is the point of this discussion. After all, when we look at where we have been and where it is, currently, some things are evident about the future of martial arts. Right?

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Future of Martial Arts - Part 2

Alright. So, I have already prefaced this subject matter by stating that I appreciate the eventuality of aging affecting the usage of martial arts in battle. Let's go a little deeper. Let's discuss the fact of escalation, especially as it applies to martial arts. After all, the common concept of never bringing a knife to a gunfight is one that has validity in ANY era of humanity.

Age factors even into that kind of notion, because sooner or later, reflexes play a part in how fast you can get the guns going. Let's say that this relates to a scenario where all things are equal, otherwise. But let us take the technology to another level. For instance, let us say that a middle-aged martial artist has an altercation with an older one and they both are equally skilled. The younger has carpel tunnel syndrome and the elder has arthritis, and they both opt for guns. Who would win?

All the factors may play a part, but appreciating that the risk is just as high for one as for the other is key, here. The wisdom of the elder with a hair triggered weapon might cancel out the faster coordination and harder kick of the younger man's weapon. It could just as easily go the other direction, as well. The point is that even an unskilled child with a gun can be dangerous to a veteran in the wrong situation. That's where the wisdom might save his day. It is that wisdom that we should strive to achieve.

Further down the rabbit hole:

In a world where there are so many unskilled people with guns, does it negate the effectiveness of martial arts training? Does the current body of martial arts properly deal with the factor of random violence from out of range? What are the real benefits of martial arts, given the sense of uselessness that everyday news stories about the darkness of humanity tends to make it seem moot?

Sure, the typical school has a list of tenets that show it has its heart in the right place. However, lip service does not equate to outcome. And when the culture of the school (not the same as the cultural leanings or ties) is one of cash flow, as they must be in order to keep the doors open and lights on, it is often just part of the marketing strategy. That is to say that the message gets lost in the shuffle of compromise. It's a sad reality.

Of course, it still sounds nice. In fact, it is always a positive note when the occasional student pays respect to his or her club after a level of success, attributing that success to those tenets and to the mentorship they have received as student. So the question, going forward, is whether or not we can keep even that level of character building as we head into the higher tech that awaits us in the future.

When watching one of my favorite movies, The Matrix, it prescribed a possible manner of martial arts education via instant downloads. Not an inkling of mentorship was alluded to in the science of it all. I guess when AI gets to be intelligent or conscious enough, it may become feasible to believe the same can be inserted into a person. I don't think it will, but who am I to say. I only write the science fiction I can imagine, on occasion.

So that is the spiritual aspect, if you will. In my next entry, I will go a little more into the technological side of this subject.