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.

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