Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Somewhere along the way, we lost track...

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word 'dichotomy' thusly: a division into two especially mutually exclusive or contradictory groups or entities ; also : the process or practice of making such a division

Any practitioner of Kung-Fu who has been paying attention for more than twenty minutes knows exactly where this is going, however; I promise that this will not be the same bland rehashing of the same argument. My issue is that, if we as martial artists had kept the words of the sages and elders in our minds all along, this argument never would have happened.

My conclusion, set before my facts, is that Chinese martial artists are unsupervised children fighting over a bunch of fucking cookies. We didn't make the cookies. We don't know what the cookies are for. Maybe someone is saving them? Maybe the cookies are poisoned? Who fucking knows? Its pretty damn ignorant for us to say, "I know what a cookie is, I can make a cookie, I've eaten cookies so I can make some really big ass assumptions about what THESE specific cookies are for. Later, I'm gonna yell at some people for saying these cookies are their cookies or really even talking about the cookies in any way that doesn't clearly indicate their mineness."

Sound stupid? So does every person who claims their 'traditional' lineage is an untouchable line of bad-ass throat cutters. Their dipshittery is only matched by the thousands of 'contemporary' martial artists who claim that their connection to the Shaolin Temple dates back to when Walt Whitman and his dinosaur army built it. Shut the fuck up, guys, nobody believes either of you.

What is more, the intense hatred between contemporary martial arts factions and tradition lineages has created very real, non-philosophical differences in the art that are now harming practitioners as well as Kung-Fu's integrity as a whole.

Humor me for a moment more, I promise there's a point coming.

I have huge respect for contemporary wushu. The athleticism is uncanny, the training bitter beyond imagining, the dedication unearthly. I come from a traditional background and I believe firmly in the strength of traditional's training, ethics, spirituality and power. I was always trained that each of these two spheres of martial ability flowed into each other. They overlapped, in essence, making them... well... NOT a dichotomy. A talented contemporary martial artist has learned so much about the art of movement, about their own body and about the efficiency of combat that they would naturally gravitate towards the fighting methodologies practiced by traditionalists (who have over the last century especially proven themselves to be amazing fighters).

On the other hand, traditionalists seeking to learn more about their bodies, to turn themselves into a perfect physical conduit for their art would in turn move towards some of the contemporary training that has yielded such amazing physicality over the years. Why not? Those fuckers can fly just as well as we fight. Why waste a resource?

Apparently over dumb fucking pride.

Inside Kung-Fu published a rather insulting article last month regarding what a 'true' martial art is, essentially playing its traditional and contemporary readers against each other in a not-so-subtle way. Its bullshit and to have one of the only Chinese martial arts focused publications do it is further proof of their stunning lack of integrity.

This sort of animosity has, in turn, pushed both sides far from each other. Rather than overlap, sharing and natural flow the argument has polarized each side. Now, a wushu competitor must be capable of almost inhuman numbers of turns in competition to qualify for high ranking. Gymnastics. Flash without fire.

How has traditional martial arts responded? It has decided that the only martial styles and techniques that possess any sort of worth are the most brutally effective, murderous acts of barbarism that exist within the medium. What if I want to fight a guy without ripping out his throat (I know, I know, I wouldn't but... just imagine)? Well, if I do what Inside Kung-Fu says is 'traditional'... I can't. Gotta kill him. What is more, there is so much emphasis on these 'street effective' techniques that a lot of these Inside Kung-Fu 'traditionalists' look like... well, exactly what they are... fifty year old, bearded, aging fat old men who are pissed they can't do a 540.

It is our responsibility to move ourselves, be we traditional or contemporary, back to the center, back to peace and understanding. There is no point in this dispute, it serves no one, and only hampers the progress of a practitioner both as an individual and as a part of a whole.

And that is how it should be.

A whole.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Room

I love allegory. Allegory provides us with a means for conveying complex emotions in a way that illuminates those complexities while still allowing the thing itself to remain as it is to the reader, perhaps well known, perhaps obscure.

It also helps you pick out the dumb people in a crowd. They won't get it.

A lot of people ask what Kung-Fu 'means to me' or why I 'do Kung-Fu'. People want fortune cookie answers. They want the "Kung Fu isn't something you do, its something you become" quote. That's fine and, for a lot of people, I suppose its true. I personally do not feel like these anecdotes are as descriptive as they should be.

Kung-Fu is a room.

Imagine, for a moment, that you come to me and tell me you are interested in learning Kung-Fu. I am overjoyed but remain somber. I respond by pointing to a series of pictures on the wall.

"Do you see these people? I can assure you that each of these people has done what I am about to ask of you. Each of these individuals is a great master, transcending the expectations of human accomplishment to become expressions of martial perfection. You must understand before you do this that they have all done it before you. It can be done. When they finally accomplished the task I am going to lay before you, should you decide to proceed, they found the world changed. They found joy in the smallest of things. The simple act of moving was like birdsong, like sunshine, like their first kiss. Nothing will ever be the same. It will be hard. It can be done."

And then you are in a room. This room has no doors. The walls and ceiling are all solid cement. The only way to get out of this room is to pick a wall and run at it over and over again until it breaks.

There are two ways to strike this wall with the appropriate amount of force. Two approaches, both strong and weak in their own ways, that others have used to accomplish this task.

F=ma, right?

Life is messy. A lot of martial artists pretend that the tranquility idealized by classical martial arts are a sort of coat that we all wear. We all get our magical 'I'm a monk' parka once we start to train and then nothing bothers us after that? Bullshit. Martial artists carry as much of the world, if not more, than everybody else.

To get out of the room you either get rid of it and hit the wall faster or use it and hit the wall harder. Pick one, pick a spot and start running. You will fall. It will hurt. You will quit. Later, you will try to run at it again. It will still hurt. At some point you're going to get scared of the wall and stop running at it for a long time. Later, maybe, you'll take a couple pushes at it. Eventually you'll start pretending you aren't in the room anymore and you'll try to go on with your life. You're lying. You're still in the room. You'll wake up here one night and you'll smash yourself into the wall some more. You'll wake up bruised, bloody, sore and happier than you've been since you tried to leave.

And then one day it will chip. You'll take that flake of stone and you'll carry it with you forever. You'll show it to everyone. That is your piece of the wall. Every fighter has his first piece of the wall with him right now. We haul that thing around with us forever in our pocket. Later, we put it on our shoulder.

That's what Kung-Fu means to me. I'm not out of the room. I don't even know how cracked my wall is anymore. I've decided to switch walls a couple of times. I've had friends who have stopped, more than I care to talk about, for reasons both sad and aggravating. At some point this allegory broke down and I stopped writing as though I were describing this to someone else who was about to start training. I'm in the room. It does that to you.

Oddly enough, most of the help I've had with the wall has been from people who don't give a shit about the wall, who wouldn't even know about the wall if it weren't for me.

This post is for those people. More to come.