Hereford: Sensei Tony Smith (5th Dan) Presents Me with a 'Rare' Okinawan Goju Ryu Karate-Do Badge! (2005)
In the West, Asian martial arts have been thoroughly commercialised and converted from a battlefield spiritual art – into a vehicle for making money. The instructors ‘sell’ their knowledge to classes of students – with an emphasis upon a very narrow definition of ‘self-defence’ (in the UK, many such teachers attempt to relate to their students by assuming they are in a pub on a Saturday night – and another drinker ‘starts looking at your bird’ and such other laughable narratives! In other words, the ancient martial arts of the East are taught to students in the contemporary West as a method to ‘defend’ themselves from attacks from other Westerners in a social (leisure) setting! Teachers of this type tend to cultivate a ‘cult of personality’ mentality throughout their school, which suggests that their art contains some sought of ‘mystical’ core that grants invincibility to each practitioner, and certain defeat to all those who are unlucky to confront it!
Ironically, I have been shown evidence of so-called ‘contracts’ signed by students when setting-up their monthly bank payments to the instructor. In the small print a disclaimer reads ‘The ‘student’ acknowledges that the movements taught are for guidance only, a may not be effective in any position of ‘self-defence’ - and that the instructor has no liability whatsoever for the well-being of the student.’ A lawyer-friend of mine advises that such contracts and ‘clauses’ are common-place nowadays in the martial arts scene which tends to target large classes of young children – where the training is sold to parents as ‘play’! The teachers do not care about the psychological, physical or spiritual well-being of their students, as the individuals concerned exist only to generate income and pay the bills.
In the expensive leisure centres, for example, the martial arts are sold as ego-trips for well-off and very rich! These people like to pretend that for the duration of the lessons they are legitimate martial arts fighters, when in reality the classes are designed around retaining their comfort levels in an air-conditioned room, with movements that do not go beyond a light cardiovascular workout. Each lesson is a self-contained episode as there is no guarantee that the ‘clients’ will be back next week! There is no continuation, but only the repeating of the myth of a deficient self-empowerment that occurs within one of the safest and crime-free environments on earth! The teacher must alter everything and change whatever the clients want changed to keep their attention levels up and to keep them coming back for more (whilst paying the ridiculous membership fees)!
Should a student progress in their martial arts practice and attend long enough for the teacher to take their presence seriously, he or she may well be considered suitable for participating in martial sports. This is a safe type of combat within which neither of the participants actually hit one another – but purposely throw-out their arms and legs to empty air in the direction of the opponent! He who throws enough such techniques is declared the ‘winner’ and the instructor’s school receives all the kudos for this success (hence the interest shown in the student by the teacher). Then there are the mixed martial artists who roll around on the floor in one-on-one bouts – each trying to ‘submit’ the other. In some versions, kicking and punching is also allowed during ‘stand-up’ periods to excite the fee-paying crowd! Although presented as the ‘best’ type of martial arts, modern militaries do not use this type of fighting simply because it does not work in reality (on the battlefield).
Legitimate Asian martial arts do exist. They exist in Asia and they exist in the West but they are well-hidden behind the thick blanket of highly commercialised martial arts. If a sincere student genuinely seeks-out a proper martial arts teacher, it is highly likely that they will be drawn into something very similar to what is described above. In fact, given the current conditions, such a scenario is virtually inevitable. In such a situation it is better to make the best of what is on offer in the outside whilst retaining you own inner freedom. It is a matter of bidding your time until you encounter what you are really looking for. Until that time, adaptability is the key to ongoing development. Understanding a situation does not mean that you have to be in conflict with it. It is better to remain quiet and meaning onto a situation and breathe new life into it. Traditional Chinese martial arts do exist, but they are difficult to find and even more difficult to enter!
Advanced martial arts practice is ethereal even though it involves the movement of the body. In fact, moving the body is basic gongfu training, a mastery of which should be gained in one’s youth if possible. When the body ‘ages’ - a practitioner does not want the problem of mastering martial technique whilst coming to terms with how ‘ageing’ changes the mind and body. Knowing how to stand, fall, get-up, moving, kick, punch, block and evade, etc, are foundational issues that must be thoroughly absorbed into the deepest levels of the mind and body well before middle-age is reached. Of course, this is not always the case, as some people take-up the practice of traditional Chinese martial arts late in life – but with regards the more robust and rugged ‘external’ techniques – youthful practice is preferred. This is why many older people (with no previous experience) start their martial arts training through one of the ‘internal’ arts – which are a product of an ‘advanced’ and ‘mature’ mind-set.
On the other hand, if an individual is able to build 20-30 years of training prior to hitting 40-50 years of age – then the bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons and inner organs have all had time to experience a ‘hardening’ process over-time - and are far more ‘robust’ whilst the individual traverses into older age. Probably the greater reason for early martial arts practice is that the ability to produce massive (internal and external) impact power (with minimum) effort must be mastered before the body transitions into older age. This observation does not mean that older people cannot achieve this ability later in their life – but to already possess this devastating power is one less burden – particularly as we may also have far more responsibilities as mature people than the average young person. However, with the right type of instruction from a genuine Master, anyone of any age can ‘master’ gongfu regardless of circumstances. Motivation is the key to it all.
The mind must be ‘still’ and ‘expansive’. Its psychic fabric must be simultaneously ‘empty’ and yet ‘envelop’ all things without exception! Although there is much experimentation in the West with the physical techniques of the many (and varied) gongfu styles – very few practitioners are interested in the spiritual or higher psychological aspects of traditional Chinese martial arts. This is because gongfu has been taught the wrong way around in the West to suit the cultural bias of the fee-paying audience. Whereas in China kicking is learned before punching – in the West punching is taught before kicking (because of the influence of Western Boxing). Whereas in China a gongfu practitioner learns to stand still and to stand ‘solid’ whilst defending the ten directions – in the West students are taught to move around before being taught how to ‘stand still’ (this is because Western students do not understand the important of achieving inner and outer ‘stillness’). Whereas in China gongfu student learn to ‘relax’ before assuming postures – in the West students are taught to ‘stretch’ using yoga-like techniques (mostly unknown in China). Whereas students in China learn to ‘strike’ various wooden objects to condition the bones of the hands and feet – in the West, students are encouraged to hit ‘soft’ pads that give a false impression of what it is like to hit a ‘real’ body! In the West, the mind is ‘entertained’ as a means to secure continued fee-paying through class attendance – whilst in China the Master continuously looks for new ways of ‘testing’ the virtue of the student and for any reason to ‘expel’ them from the training hall!
All this ‘inversion’ must be remedied if the highest levels of spiritual and physical mastery are to be achieved. This has nothing to do with rolling around on a padded floor wearing padded-gloves – and everything to do with ‘looking within’ to refine the flow of internal energy. The awareness of the mind must permeate every cell of the physical body whilst the practitioner sits correctly in the meditation posture. What else is there? When advanced practitioners ascend to a certain age of maturity, reality has nothing to do with the ego pursuit of ‘winning’ or ‘losing’ in petty disputes that ultimately mean nothing. Most of the combat sports of the moment are fleeting and exist merely to make money – and they are ineffective on the modern battlefield and not practiced by the military! The final lesson is to ‘leave the body’ with the minimum of fuss when the time presents itself. In a very real sense, a genuine Master of martial arts has ‘already’ transcended the boundaries of material limitation whilst still living. This sense of ‘completion’ and ‘transcendence’ is what draws the already perceptive into his or her presence to receive instruction...
As investigate of ancient human thought and culture around the world - appears to suggest that the observation of nature served as the basis of the development of spiritual and religious ideology and ritual. Despite the obvious environmental, linguistic and cultural differences, a ‘similarity’ of appreciating the processes of nature becomes evident. Druids are believed to have been a type of shaman whose function involved the bringing together of spiritual-emotional-physical processes both of the inner and outer human-being and the natural world – so that all disruptive and ‘dissonant’ frequencies of life are reduced or removed. Living in accordance with the processes of nature – so that the inner processes of the human mind and body ‘reflect’ the balance and cyclic necessity of the physical cosmos – ensures psychological, emotional and physical (vibrant) health. The British academic – Peter Berresford Ellis – is a world-renowned scholar on Celtic history and he states the following:
‘The Dagda became their father; thus, humankind call him “The Father of the Gods”. And Brigid became the wise one, exalted in learning and much did she imbibe from the mighty Danu and from Bile, the sacred oak. She was hailed as the mother of healing, of craftmanship and of plenty; indeed, she excelled of all knowledge. She showed her children that true wisdom was only to be garnered from the feet of Danu, the Mother Goddess, and so only to be found at the water’s edge. Those who gathered such knowledge also paid deference to Bile, the sacred oak. Because they were not allowed to speak his holy name, they called the oak draoi and those learned in such knowledge were said to possess oak (dru) knowledge (vid) and thus were known as Druids.’
Peter Berresford Ellis: The Chronicles of the Celts – New Tellings of Their Myths and Legends, Robinson, (1999), Page 22
The old Celtic language(s) have a definite relationship with the ancient Sanskrit language of India – suggesting that the early Celtic peoples themselves may have originated in Asia and slowly migrated Westward. Although once everywhere in Western Europe – today - the (ethnic) Celtic people only exist in small enclaves with five of these groupings existing n the UK as the Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish and the people living on the Isle of Manx. Another group – thought to be Cornish conscripts fighting in the Roman Legions – now lives in a small part of France (Brittany) and are known as the ‘Bretons’. Generally speaking, any area known as ‘Galatia’ (or similar) is usually inhabited by Celts or the descendants of Celts, etc. Peter Berresford Ellis, however, suggests that there is a definite similarity between much of the Celtic myths and legends and the Brahmanic Upanishads, and other spiritual texts – often ‘Buddhist’.
‘The Vedas, four books of learning composed in North India, in the period 1000-500 BCE, are named from the Sanskrit root vid, meaning “knowledge”. This same root occurs in Old Irish as uid, meaning “observation, perception and knowledge”. Most people will immediately recognise it as one of the two roots of the compound Celtic word Druid – dru-vid, arguably meaning “thorough knowledge”.;
Peter Berresford Ellis: The Chronicles of the Celts – New Tellings of Their Myths and Legends, Robinson, (1999), Page 7 (Introduction)
What I want to share, however, is a 9th century CE Celtic poem that appears to express the very thinking that lies behind the yin-yang ideology and the concept that governs the interactive movements of the internal (Chinese) martial art of Taijiquan:
I was a listener in the woods,
I was a gazer at the stars,
I was not blind where secrets were concerned,
I was silent in a wilderness,
I was talkative among many,
I was mild in the mead-hall,
I was stern in battle,
I was gentle towards allies,
I was a physician of the sick,
I was weak towards the feeble,
I was strong towards the powerful,
I was not parsimonious lest I should be burdensome,
I was not arrogant though I was wise,
I was not given to vain promises though I was strong,
I was not unsafe though I was swift,
I did not deride the old though I was young,
I was not boastful though I was a good fighter,
I would not speak about any one in their absence,
I would not reproach, but I would praise,
I would not ask, but I would give.
Cormac Mac Cuileannain
King and Poet of Cashel – AD 836-908
Peter Berresford Ellis: The Chronicles of the Celts – New Tellings of Their Myths and Legends, Robinson, (1999), (Dedication)
Shifu Adrian Chan-Wyles (b. 1967) - Lineage (Generational) Inheritor of the Ch'an Dao Hakka Gongfu System.