Category Archives: Physicality

Clutter

I live!  It’s been a while, and it’s been a busy one.  Lots to write about, but I’m going to try to keep this one short.

On the clarity of your ideas depends the scope of your success in any endeavour – James Robertsons

A thing I’ve been wrestling with lately – more than usual, anyway – is over-commitment.  I feel like I have, or want to, priorities, attention, obligations, and work to do in every direction sometimes.  There’s my wife (recently official) and my relationship with her, martial arts (recently re-christened Iron Pagoda Fitness Club), maintaining and improving friendships new and old, my day gig, my for-now-part-time business, other business ideas that I play with now and again, gaming with friends, hobby stuff, housekeeping, focused diet and exercise outside of the gym, reading, listening, studying, learning…  This list seems to go on forever sometimes, and my tendency is to want to see some kind of improvement in all of them more or less every day.  Preferably something measurable.  Preferably something quantifiable, plannable, executable, and check-boxable.

Naturally, this produces some problems.

That approach makes a lot of sense for a lot of things.  It does not make sense for some of the most important.  I can’t realistically check a box that says that I’ve helped my wife have a better day today.  I can’t realistically say that I have certainly accomplished things that will definitively make me a better friend to Kate or Ness or Chris or any of the mob in Madison.  I can’t say, in advance, that doing X at Y time will make me feel more spiritually fulfilled.  Some things I just need to be opportunistic about.  Some things I just need to do, and perceived quality or efficacy be damned.  I wrote a note to my best friend thanking her for being who she is and tucked it into her gift for standing with me at my wedding.  I try to do something every day that will remind the Cap’n that I’m thinking of her and that she and our life together are important to me.  It’s more important to exercise consistently and to pay attention to what I eat than it is to measure every second, every rep, every ingredient, every calorie.  It’s more important that I show up and work hard at Taijiquan and SPM than that I excel or show immediate, self-perceived “improvement” in every class or with every week that goes by.

Where I start to stumble is, I think, when I forget something that my Sifu mentioned to me the other day: Training is a refuge – a source of peace and stillness – and not a task or a job.  It applies particularly to SPM for me, but to some other things, as well.  SPM is fantastic because it hurts; bruising my body in destruction drills or having muscles so fatigued that it feels like my shoulders shouldn’t still be in their sockets or my legs keeping me standing gets me out of my head and into the moment.  It puts me in the now, where I stop worrying about what I need to do, what I haven’t done, and what’s looming over the horizon.  Painting minis does that for me when I get lost in the details of the model.  Clean brush, apply paint, clean brush, apply paint, clean brush, correct paint, clean brush, apply paint…  Even getting lost in a good novel for hours at a time.  All of them are special meditations for me.  Refuges from planning, maintaining focus, working against some of my instincts and weaknesses.  They’re places where I can flow instead of putting myself on rails.

I need to be reminded sometimes to protect those sanctuaries, and to keep the kind of order required to meet some goals from creeping into my sources of a serenity that is both a goal in itself and a source of energy for continuing to pursue the rest.

Advertisements

Moving Meditation

So one of the most immediately relevant changes that I’ve made lately is to find, research, and join a new martial arts school.  I spent a good 8 or 10 weeks on that project, looking people up, trying classes here and there, considering and comparing past experiences in training, and generally doing some soul-searching about it.

I came to realize without much effort that this sort of training is really a major component of my spirituality.  The idea of Unity  – in the sense of oneness of mind and body – has resonated with me for a long time.  For me, that manifests in muscle  memory, in seeing what amazing power and intelligence my body has, and in building a rapport between mind and body such that they’re more or less indistinguishable. I know that maybe that seems banal.  Most people take for granted that they don’t have to instruct all their muscles and connectors to move with intensity x for duration y and hold at position z.  I feel like when I get to that point, though, I start to grow distant from my physicality.  I start to know myself as a mind being carted around in a sack of meat and bones that’s trouble when it’s not just doing its job.

In training, though, I come to remember how amazing it is.  I’m reminded that reaction time based on physical sensation is up to tenths of a second faster than visual cognition of an event, that quirks of physics allow us to generate phenomenal power and speed, and that there really does seem to be a certain intelligence in what my body is naturally inclined to do in a given situation.  With a little bit of training, a good dose of meditation, and regular, serious practice, my body can be taught in a way that seems analogous to my brain.  As my Sifu says, “Learning Kung Fu is like learning a new language.”  The concepts are like syntax, the techniques words.  Eventually a practitioner learns to let their body communicate in strings of words, sentences, then dialog, discussion, and to prepare for the possibility of a full-blown debate.

The style taught at the school I eventually pursued membership at is called Chuka (or Chu Gar) Tong Long Kung Fu – Chuka-style Southern Praying Mantis.  It’s a boxing style, and pretty rarely taught, from what I gather.  I’m only aware of 2 public schools in the US.  One of the things that so excites me about it is that it’s so different from my prior experience, in terms of conceptual groundwork, execution, style – the works.  The majority of my training has been in Shotokan Karate.  It’s a very hard, linear, long-range style, for the most part.  It focuses very much on long punches and kicks, deep stances, and incredible power.  The last place you’d want to be, using that, is up close and personal.  It’s difficult at best to generate strength and to perform many techniques.  SPM, by contrast, is incredibly aggressive.  Almost everything about it is about closing distance – if you don’t spend a good amount of time in steady contact with an opponent, you may well be doing it wrong.  I’m probably not well-versed in the nuance yet, but the gist is that staying close and staying in contact the right way gives one the ability to read an opponent’s movements extremely well – that physical reaction time I mentioned earlier – while strikes are launched in series, constantly, using subtle, short, full-body attacks.  The difference is like night and day for me, and every class sends my head spinning some.  There are Mantis techniques that work, but that shouldn’t, intuitively.  There are things that my body wants to do, without my input, that happen to be the right things to do.  My biggest problem is frequently that I trip myself up in trying to analyze what the crap just happened during a reasonably well-executed drill, combination, or simple movement.  It’s an amazing sensation, and moments like those are pretty often the highlights of classes for me.

Ultimately, this unity, this awareness and appreciation for my physical intelligence, is a large part of where I get my spiritual fulfillment.  The core of my belief system is that everyone is possessed of a spark of Divinity, and that it’s our responsibility to do justice to that spark – to deserve the privilege and honor its existence.  (The rest is probably for another time.)  Learning to understand the connection between physical and mental and emotional, appreciating the physical intelligence innate in me, and having a blast exploring and discovering go a long way towards fulfilling that purpose for me.