Thursday, September 15, 2011

"Stop fighting! You're fighting!" or, "What's Chan got to do with it?

I'm thinking a bit more about the Shaolin/Buddhism/commercialism issue and Barbara's recent post here on this subject, and I think it might be a bit useful to expound a bit on the martial arts from my rank beginner point of view.  It might inform the discussion on why folks might flock to Shaolin and why folks at Shaolin might seek to protect their name.

I don't come naturally to martial arts, and I suspect most folks don't.  One has to seriously practice to get to a level of skill.  It seems part of the "fight or flight" response, triggered by the rush of adrenalin, is that "fight" tends to mean a tense hyper-vigilance.

One of the aspects of Wing Chun, which, I think is shared in other martial arts (it's too profoundly useful not to have been exploited by others), is the notion that force and tenseness are not usually used to the exclusion of relaxed action.  In fact, the vast majority of such moves are made in a relaxed, smooth, flowing manner.  This can be quite difficult when one has been conditioned from late toddler-hood to expect a "fight" simply because someone is facing you who is going to punch you.

In fact, it is so conditioned that folks, myself included don't even know how to punch effectively at first.  Even experienced students in my class will hear the sifu chiding them with a chuckle, "Stop fighting! You're fighting me now!"  All well know the guy is pretty much impenetrable when it comes to actually, uh, fighting. And it's not the point of the exercise anyway.

If you're "fighting" you're not going to be applying the iota of force in the right place and time that makes it all devastatingly effective.

All of the above is to say that martial arts can, and if practiced will teach aspects of ourselves that we didn't even know we needed to learn.

Of course it's the same with a Zen practice as well; thus in John Daido Loori's book The Eight Gates of Zen a chapter is devoted to "body practice," an application of Zen practice in the awareness of the body which might otherwise be called "body kung fu" (功夫) perhaps.

To me, it's an extremely important thing to learn because it has implications for pretty much near everything I do from day to day, most of which I'm not remotely aware of at this time.

And it goes beyond this: it calls into question (just like good Zen practice should) the most basic preconceptions and conditioning I have about myself and others.

If what they do at Shaolin is remotely related to the above, I could see why they would want to make sure it's not ripped off by cheap knock-offs. 

1 comment:

J said...

The martial arts aspects of Zen I respect, to some extent (yet...the code of Bushido was not some PC, touchy-feely thing-- one could conceivably argue ...zen was/is part of japanese imperialism )

It's all the pseudo-philosophizing, Freud-lite and navel gazing that's bullshit.