In many blog posts, essays, and Facebook entries of people I follow on the Internet there is the recurring theme about just what does a person get out of practicing the martial arts if they were to name one, two or three things. They run the gamut from the martial to the spiritual, or both, the budo, the warrior, the samurai creed, the bubishi, this teacher, that sensei, zen, out-of –the box, body-mind-spirit, and so on and so forth. All true. The bottom line is that no one who practices any martial art is ever the same. This transformation–sometimes called the path, the way–is very typical of the martial arts experience and pretty much its overriding virtue.
The very first thing I newly experienced when I began was that I must quiet the mind and let the body speak. That was the first and everlasting hurdle to understanding the martial arts experience. The body has a language that the mind must learn to listen to. The body instructs the mind in this language. That is why the emphasis on the no mind: the don’t think but do. Somewhere along that path the mind learns to dialogue with the body in the silence of doing. It is not as effortless as it seems. Just the opposite. It is constant struggle to work out a middle ground. The mind meets the body in stillness and movement, in rituals of breathing, focus, and rooting.
It begins with a teacher, students, a designated place, the basics, the abc’s, the formalities, the ceremonies, the history of those that went before, the eternal circle of learning, the legends, the myths: the style. It begins amidst a crowd and ends in the loneliest spot on earth: yourself.
All else–the hateful comparisons of just what is the truer manifestation of the art, who’s the prince or the jester, the saint or the fool, is the mind in the hall of mirrors.
Sports are the vanities of youth, only arts permit aging. A person practices his martial art from the workplace to the lover’s bed, and all place in between. A martial artist is not a blowhard, but he who derives meaning from the doing of his art. As a martial artist ages, his art ages with him. It will be an art full of gaps and holes, in tatters, but yours. It will be you.
In sum, a martial art is learning defeat with style. The ultimate kata or form is learning how to die. To live and die with style, with meaning, with humbleness and awe.
Old foes once, body and mind are in step on the path of time.
The spirit soars.