Wednesday, February 18, 2004

I have a friend who practices karate. She has earned a black belt but still has problems with her style. She gets hurt sometimes and recently she hurt her fingers blocking a blow. Later her sensei and she had a combat wherein her sensei hit her four times in her hurt hand. Now she's thinking about leaving the dojo, maybe finding a male sensei to change the emotional equations. Years ago at one of our quarterly bonfires I spoke with her about her martial art form. Now, in explanation about what a sculptor, caregiver, househusband is doing talking about martial arts...aside from the idea that anyone can talk about anything even without prior knowledge.... for many years I practiced stick fighting. This is an American version of the art and is couched in medieval European forms. Yes, I'm talking about the Society for Creative Anachronism, but not the way it is now, the way it was in the late 60's.

The group in Phoenix was started by two people who were very much into science fiction and happened to see a demo of the SCA at a con. One of them was a karate person and he was excited by the fighting as well as the costumes. The other man, not a fighter, was a writer and was interested in the whole thing, the social aspects, the opportunities: the whole thing. I think he probably saw the group for it's potential better than the fighter, but it's hard to say. The point in this case is that my first instructor was a karate man, and a damn good one. We practiced our moves based on a kind of adaptation of karate form, but with weapons.

Ever the one to notice the fringe elements, I noted two weapons in our collection that they had brought back from the con that we did not use. They were short clubs and I was told they were demi-mauls or long maces. I asked if I could have one to practice with and took it home and modified it. I have always enjoyed reading about physics and science as well as history and art. The maces were too long, too easy to knock aside. I shortened the mace and attached a strap above the hand. I had thought to attach the strap below the hand on the end of the mace, like I saw in many museums, but it seemed to me that that arrangement was to allow the weapon to hang from a saddle, as the mace was oftentimes used by horsemen. Since I was not on horseback I needed a strap to prevent me from losing the mace if I lost my grip. Later I discovered the strap thus used was an excellent way of extending my control over the head by working as a tendon directly attached to the shaft. By flexing my wrist certain ways I could advance control from the hand to the head of the mace and create spiraling blows rather than linear blows, which were easy to track and block.

One thing to know about martial art forms is that they tend to be codified and static. A sensei will often mold a person into an image of the ideal fighter, but the stamp of approval is on completion of certain moves in a defined manner. Back in the 16th century a young samurai named Miamoto Musashi began a career as a very good fighter. He learned quickly and while still young defeated many an experienced fighter. After 30 years in undefeated conflicts, he began to wonder why he had been successful, and here is where he showed the true soul of the samurai. An expression of his was "All things with no master." This was a great break with tradition, but not with the theory of combat he had been given. In other words, although they taught samurai to learn poetry, fighting, dance and so forth, they actually encouraged young men to emulate their instructors. It was ego in action. The goal of a samurai should be ego-loss, from the influence of Buddhist teachings.

So Miamoto studied his own form. For 30 years he studied himself, living wildly and having many duels with as many people using as many types of martial art forms. Then he wrote a book for his disciple called the Book of Five Rings. This is a book that should be in every high school and taught with a rich variety of martial art forms. Football as a martial art forml teaches many things, and not just the ones the coach speaks openly about. The screaming coach, or sensei, declaring that young men must go out and "Kill, kill, kill!!" does not do much for the individual in advancing higher thought. Not available to Miamoto in the 16th century, but available to modern students is a form called aikido. This uses mostly spiraling moves which deflect rather than block and which channels the fighter's energy into a focus which can overwhelm the opponant. In the dojo students are given partners, not opponants. They take turns learning moves but begin each session with quiet meditation. So different from the gym environment!

Now, when I began to study the mace I also had to study myself in relation to the mace. That's how I do things. I was rather tall at 5'-10" but painfully thin and asthmatic. I weighed in at 125 lbs. and was being taught by a man schooled in karate who weighed much more than me. My fellow students were all much heavier than me and had backgrounds which generally included school team sports, unlike my "special PE" classes: swimming (which nearly drowned me during an asthma attack) and golf. Actually golf kinda helped my mace work, as did bowling. One aspect of stick fighting is that each weapon can be a different length and therefor have a different kill spot: the place where their force is most effective. The mace head is it's kill spot but the broadsword has a spot about 8" down from the tip, where the force is greatest and least likely to be deflected. I quickly learned that the sword would kill me at arms length but the mace could kill at elbow's length by using a spiral line to bring the mace head in. So the thing to do was advance into my special kill range, inside the sword's kill range which made the sword ineffective. I had to rush my opponant.

The first time I experienced this was fighting my sensei. He was a left handed fighter and much stronger than me, so it was important not to get hit. It hurt a lot to get hit, even thru the padded surcoat and leather gloves. The fight begins with a marshal announcing "Begin". You then have a second or two of posturing and examination, followed by the initial blows to register the defense, ie, to find weaknesses. For me, that moment was when action was required. Miamoto writes in his fifth chapter, "The Void" that a fighter must fight from within a void, with no thought, no plan, no stance. You strike before you strike, using your lizard brain, not your frontal lobe. This was exciting for me because I felt I thought way too much and had many headaches. I wanted to find a void, a place of quiet. My mace flew of it's own accord to a spot on my sensei which was not protected and he dropped to his knees, squeeking, "It appears that William has found his weapon... and we will now be required to use cups."

I have tried to explain to my karate friend how one can use the inner self, the chi, to overwhelm any opponant. As Miamoto said, "One fighter, ten fighters, one hundred fighters. It is all the same fight." She insisted that you use different moves to fight multiple fighters and I tried to express how inside the void all blows are the same. You can only kill one person at a time, but you can overwhelm many fighters at once by using your chi as the weapon, by becoming the weapon. In karate the weapon is your body and you must extend your chi into your hand, your foot, your expression. She couldn't wrap her head around this thought, feeling that you must always retain control somehow to direct the force. This is not true. That uses the frontal lobe and you should not be using any part of your brain because you have left it behind as unneeded baggage. You are the weapon. It is not merely a fancy expression used to impress fighters. A good analogy or example might be the orgasm. You don't have an orgasm using your frontal lobe. You don't say, "Oh yes. This is good. I will now have an orgasm. Yes, now I will get wet or hard and move thusly and now I will come. Yes, that is good." It wouldn't work. You have an orgasm from within a void. A brief void, but a good one.

When she hurt her hand in a fight everybody knew it. She told them, she told her sensei. She expected her sensei to avoid that spot, to protect the injured fingers. She also held her hurt hand in a fist, to protect her fingers. She put her hand in front of her and entered the fight thinking about her injured hand. She got hit four times in that hand. Now, the first hit was a mistake and you could even say it was a good thing to happen so that her inner self would be willing to do anything to avoid future pain, but the next three shots were just stupid dogged ego. Had she been taught in aikido the blows would have been deflected in a spiral and the response, coming simultaneously, would have been to follow the line of the incoming blow back to it's source, striking a killing blow while redirecting the offensive weapon away. Since she was struck four times she clearly did not understand one of Miamoto's best stances, or grips. It is called "the Letting Go of the Four Hands Grip". When something does not work, you drop it. You forget about it, it does not exist, you can always look at it later. You drop it with your body, the two hands, as well as your mind, the other two hands. Only ego would have you get hit four times because you are convinced of a response which has not merely failed you, but failed four times. That's ego.

The ego will also allow you to declare that each mistake had a reasonable explanation. It doesn't matter. The explanation is that you failed to stop your opponant from hurting you. I once tried to explain that the mace could be thrown effectively. Many pictures from the middle ages showed spears and arrows flying at the lines and often there was a mace in there flying head first. Now my arsenal includes two steel maces, one with a spike. The armorer who made it did so from my design and told me that the spike was a mistake and would get in the way of a swinging blow. He said the numerous spikes on maces in museums was an intimidation device. He had never studied ancient thinking patterns. You never throw a weapon without expecting someone to get hurt. The thrown mace was accurate at several feet and carried a tremendous force. It could be used, for instance, to impale a man to his own shield. I have demonstrated this on occasion using a braced shield against a wall and showing how the spike penetrated the shield at exactly the spot where a man's forearm would be. Try to lift a shield and think about a fight while your arm was broken and bleeding along with an extra 7 lbs. hanging on that shield. The person I was arguing with was a duke, a polished master fighter with a huge, well fed ego. He liked to use the greatsword and declared that I would be killed quickly when I threw my mace away. I suggested that the move to throw a mace also put your hand exactly where your alternate weapon would be, like a sword or dagger on the left hip. So we faced off with our padded mace and rattan greatsword. The marshal said, "Begin!" and I threw my mace and drew my sword. The duke was hit soundly in the center of his chest and staggered back, swinging his sword, trying to deflect that which was no longer there. Binocular vision has it's drawbacks when attempting to see a moving object coming up your center. The duke suggested we try again, as he was sure that he understood the problem. I suggested that a dead man cannot "try again" but that made him get grumpy and we did it again: same results and he was even more grumpy. Pure ego in action. A smart man would have dived for the ground with the sword upraised to guard the center. He was trying to knock aside my blow and run up to kill me, something that would be hard to do from the ground.

When faced with a truth, especially one which hurts, we tend to try to rationalise it as a mistake, an error which will not happen again and so, of course, we are unprepared for when it does. Each truth carries with it a part of our reality and denial of reality is not healthy. You let go of your previous stance, your previous held beliefs. You can always go back later in a peaceful moment and mediate on the problem, not to bring it back into your mind, but to bid it farewell and work with the new truth. Life is change, and truth is alive. When a teacher hurts you, they are part of a new truth, and looking for a new teacher who does not teach that truth is foolish and ego-driven. We drop the stance with four hands and do something new.

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