The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. – Vincent Van Gogh

More hinging on martial arts today!

So one of the reasons that Southern Praying Mantis Kung Fu appeals to me is that it’s aggressive and decisive.  One of the changes I’d really like to see/make in myself involves fostering those qualities.  I’m naturally sort of an engineer, I guess.  I love details, planning, plotting, and drilling down into reasons and ramifications.  That’s a huge strength in many situations; I’m pretty good at financial stuff, math and science, logic (arguably), and other sorts of technically-oriented things.  The problem with it largely stems from a tendency toward analysis paralysis.  I’m prone to second-guessing myself, scrapping and rebuilding plans at the first sign of resistance, and just plain stopping at the planning stages of a given pursuit.

One of the great ways I’ve run into for characterizing personality types is the STAR system, popularized by Jim Hoyt.  The premise is that most people have one of four tendencies as a primary personality trait, usually with a pretty huge influence on their perspective on the world and interactions with people.  S is for Structure – people who like systems, processes, rules, and SOPs.  A is for Action – people who buy cars because they’re fast, who like being loud and visible and paid attention, and prefer to act from their gut rather than think a question through.  Rs are Relationship people.  They’re the kind of people who are genuinely hurt or distressed if you don’t accept two pops, a cup of coffee, dinner, and dessert when you visit their place.

Ts…  Ts are Theory or Technical people.  At the extremes, a few things might be true.  If they own a fancy car, they can take the whole thing apart and reassemble it in better shape in one afternoon.  If they have a great stereo, they know all the circuit schematics and maybe have added an “11” to the dial because of the technical challenge.  They build their own computers if they’re chipheads and they’re power users in any program they latch on to.  They don’t keep pictures of people in their houses.  Ts, I prefer to think, are not misanthropes, but really do tend to exist in a very detail-oriented, mechanical, and intellectual frame of reference.  A thing that isn’t practical or functional is hardly a thing at all.

I also like to think that I mitigate some of the social issues that arise from being a strong T.  When I’ve taken STAR assessments in the past, that aspect has always been primary for me.  Usually, though, R and A are also fairly high.  To some degree those compensate for the “weaknesses” of a pure T.  I’m not all that often inclined to be social, but it’s not for lack of love for friends and I absolutely cherish time that I spend with them.  There are times when action is required and having some A in me has saved my hide on a few occasions.  I feel like that A also plays a lot into my spirituality, incidentally, since I consider myself largely intuitive and spontaneous despite relatively rational foundations.

What really throws me, and where I want to find a better balance, is in long-term action.  Like I said, I tend to be a pretty thorough planner.  I can incorporate ratios, statistics, scheduling, daily activities, etc etc.  I can understand (I think) how to get from A to B in a lot of different circumstances, especially with time to research and learn where I feel like I’m lacking.  The disconnect is in the doing.  I might stick to a long-term plan for a few days or a week, or stay on top of record-keeping for a long string of related tasks, or whatever else before getting distracted or reconsidering or second-guessing or just becoming disenchanted by whatever plan or by the labor and focus involved…

…Huh.  Maybe I’m thinking backwards about this.  Was going to get back to hoping SPM would strengthen my A streak, but that can wait for another time.  I had in mind that I’m too much of an extreme – such a T that I naturally exist in more or less constant planning and not much doing.  On the other hand, though, maybe I’m having issues not because I’m too much of a T, but because I let too much of my gut-checking, immediate gratification, easily-distracted A butt into my headspace while I’m acting on my grand and far-reaching plans.

That’s probably a thing worth paying more attention to.  As tend to have trouble with things that aren’t immediately visible or visceral.  If I have a 1, 3, 5, or 10-year plan involving amounts of money, situations, rewards, and sensations that I don’t know well-enough to feel in my gut, it makes some sense to me that the A side of me gets bored and restless when I’m acting to make progress on those long-term and lofty goals.  Trying to make the execution of said plans appeal to my T side for the sake of validation and realization might be more helpful than giving my A side such detailed parameters to work in, even if I  am trying to be proactive, aggressive, and in motion.

So maybe a lesson learned – or remembered, more properly – during my writing today:  Sometimes it’s better to be constructively unbalanced than to strive for equilibrium.

You don’t bring good to the world by suffering; you do it by getting off your ass and doing good in the world. – Me


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.

Man is almost mad—mad because he is seeking something which he has already got; mad because he’s not aware of who he is; mad because he hopes, desires and then ultimately, feels frustrated. Frustration is bound to be there because you cannot find yourself by seeking; you are already there. The seeking has to stop, the search has to drop… ~Osho

Pneuma – the air, the breath, the life.  The philosophical soul.  The essence of will and thought.

Kinesis – the moving, the changing, the realization, the becoming.  The motion of a body through phases of existence or states of being.

This blog is intended as an experiment of sorts, a journal, and a sounding board.  It’s sort of a result of some decisions and some changes I’ve been making, the most important of which is probably to start willfully shaping myself and nurturing parts of my personality that I think are valuable and present, but… lacking, I guess.

So where am I coming from?  A sort of vague, procrastinating, indecisive rut, in many ways. I saw somewhere that “endurance is another way to excuse sloth” the other day, and it stung some.  I’ve been hanging in there on one of my biggest professional goals, watching other people fail themselves out, excuse themselves from the effort, or coast while I’ve pardoned myself for not achieving what I want to by saying that “I’m still here” and “I’m doing this the right way and that does take longer” and (maybe slightly more reasonably) “I’ve come a long way towards being able to do this but there’s a long way to go.”

I have a habit of letting myself down, breaking promises, and – probably the worst for me – giving in to fear.  I can put myself on the line for what’s right in arenas where I don’t really give a crap about whether I get fired, ostracized, or otherwise penalized for it, but in situations where I want to succeed, I’m often so afraid of sticking my neck out or being seen unfavorably that I may as well be paralyzed.  It’s a cruel irony.  I get so much more accomplished towards ends I don’t give a damn about than otherwise.  And I beat the hell out of myself for the excuses, the cowardice, the lack of movement.  I don’t know if it’s some bizarre sort of coping mechanism or some flavor of emotional masochism, but it’s one of the big things that I’m hoping to change and chronicle with this site.

What’s changing?

To know what is right, and not to do it, is the worst kind of cowardice – Confucius

For starters, I’ve revisited what I consider “right” in my life.  I’ve reaffirmed that it’s more important to do anything ethically and morally than quickly and profitably.  Live a life of wealth rather than get rich quick.  I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ve not been as good in the past at building relationships with people as I’d like to have been.  I’ve acknowledged lots of stuff that I don’t need and don’t use.  I realized a few months ago that when I stopped physical training, I stopped doing what was both a great emotional outlet for me and probably the most powerfully spiritual activity that I’ve got.

I’ve recommitted to action on these points, too.  I’ve decided to study great relationship-builders, to make more effort to learn about and show care for people I’ve known forever and people I’ve only recently met.  I’ve joined a martial arts school again and consider myself to be a serious practitioner (or student, at least) for the first time in years.  I’m exploring ways to be accountable to others and to be more accountable to myself, but kinder.  More encouragement and less threat.  More building and less punishment.  Like I mentioned earlier, this blog is one of those methods.  I’ve decided to indulge in more philosophy and less process, and to work towards more grace rather than more technique.

I guess in the end I’m looking for more peace of mind.  Not peace, not boredom, and not a lack of challenge.  But something closer to serenity, maybe.  Learning to be more for the moment, more for the people around me, and to so thoroughly incorporate what I value into my being that I don’t have to think or to plan or to make time for it.  I’ll live it instinctively and hopefully it will be something that just about every act reinforces to me and demonstrates to others.

So, off we go!  I’m aiming for about an entry a week!  Poke me if I vanish!

Next time, physicality and spirituality!