Tag Archives: kung fu

Kung fu as the God That Failed

Truly fascinating article regarding disappointment in the wake of cultish enthusiasm.

A big part of martial arts instruction is clarity in what you are teaching. Practical application and traditional form both have their place and feed into each other — the way ballet can supplement a football player’s training. If you’re more in tune with your body, you’re more in tune with your environment.

Coping with setbacks from physical injury to disillusion will be part of your experience under a good teacher. Ideally, you learn mental and emotional resilience alongside calisthenics. Finding one art to rule them all is a non-quest, because it’s never about one style being more effective than another; it’s about learning what works for your body-type, your personality, and the challenges you’re likely to face.

via Kung fu as the God That Failed.

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Top ten reasons martial arts schools make your life better

I haven’t written about the katana side of katanapen in a while, so here’s a quick update in my martial arts life.

Yesterday I had to formally resign from my dojo due to inconvenient life-reasons. We parted on good terms; and I’m sure I’ll pick it up again when the situation is more conducive. It’s always painful losing a school, so instead of mourning I’m going to list the top ten ways being part of a dojo has made my life better. This is what I’ve learned from being in multiple schools, and multiple styles, over the past few decades.

1. Exercise – It’s healthy to be healthy. There’s a wide range of styles and dynamic movements, so even if you have chronic injuries you can work around them. If it isn’t fun, I don’t continue — and being able to train with my friends makes the most grueling workout bearable.

2. Self-discipline – You can accomplish anything you want to, if you put the work in. Being part of a dojo taught me how to adapt and problem-solve, no matter what I was trying to do.

3. Lasting Friendships – being part of a dojo has been the #1 best way for me to meet people I have something in common with. When you go through something intensely difficult, you bond with people who understand.

4. Second Family – The people you train with are your brothers and sisters. Period. if you need help, you have someone to go to. If someone needs help, you learn how to be there.

5. Community-building – you make friends, you perform at events. You participate in charities, marathons and fundraising. Some dojos can help you get things like first aid and CPR certifications, or host blood-donation events. The greatest teachers build relationships with other schools so we all learn from each other and promote good will outside the tournament circuit. There are dozens of ways good martial arts schools give back to their communities.

6. Hierarchy – You know where you stand, and where you want to go next. You constantly grow in mind, body and spirit.

7. Reciprocity – the key part of hierarchy. You defer to those above you so that they guide and help you on your path. You mentor those below you both to refine your own knowledge, and to help foster a community of upstanding citizens. That’s not just respect — that’s love.

8. Responsibility – I learned to own my mistakes, and also take pride in my accomplishments. I learned to help my brothers and sisters because their behavior reflects on me as much as mine reflects on them.

9. Identity – I’m always a martial artist, whether I’m wearing a uniform or not. I still see how I see, and move how I move. The lessons I learned in the dojo shape the way I live my life; with honor, justice and efficiency. I can be too serious at times; but when I do agree to something I do it whole-heartedly. It’s also great for kids and teens because you get a clear sense of how to be a good person in a secular context.

10. Outlet – I’ve always had a rotten temper, and when I don’t have a way to channel it, I lose my mind. The dojo was always a place to cut loose in a safe way — surrounded by other people who ‘got it.’ Training made me feel better. There’s always a sense of accomplishment; and the folks in your school are always there for you.

If your dojo isn’t giving you all the things I’ve mentioned; you’re in the wrong school.

You might notice that I said nothing about learning to harm human beings. I took that part out of the equation because learning to harm human beings has never helped me. What has helped are the peripheral skills — mental sharpness, preparedness and observation,  and most importantly, how to diffuse situations before they come to blows.

Anyone can learn to break things. It’s learning how to build ourselves up — build our community up — that makes being part of a dojo worthwhile.

For more information on how to choose a school and the benefits of martial arts practice, please check out Forrest E. Morgan’s book, Living the Martial Way. I had to write an essay on it a long time ago, and I find it’s still worth a re-read now and again.

Night training at Mt. Wudang

Night training at Mt. Wudang

Commercial vs. Eternal Writing

There seems to be a big philosophical split between commercial writing and eternal writing. If you’re in one camp, you tend to think little of the other. For every web-site describing the Eight Steps To a Successful Novel, there’s another that emphasizes the purity of authentic expression in all art forms (because grammar is The Man’s way of keeping us down). If you’re open to what each side has to offer, the next thing to consider is whether you’re eager to publish, or eager to publish this story.

Say you want to publish just to get your name out there. Commercial success requires collaboration. Collaboration (even in ideal situations) requires some compromise with your editor, agent, publishing house and/or scriptwriter and director. You may have to demonstrate flexibility and versatility in order to maximize your access to opportunities.

On the other hand, if you have a soul-deep connection to your story as it is – you must honor that connection. Compromising on your baby hollows you out. The more specific your needs, the longer it may take you to find a dream team that doesn’t want to change what you have. If you’re committed to telling this story, then that’s the only story you can tell.

Ultimately we’re pursuing mastery: the balance of technical expertise and purity of expression. A ballerina will practice dancing thousands of routines in her lifetime. Only a few of those will be opening nights with giant crowds. As he hones his craft and develops technical excellence, he’ll be better able to express his art at will. His greatest and most breathtaking performances may take place in the studio, with only his reflection as a witness. Does that make the standing ovations less gratifying? Is commercial success or highest excellence more important?

I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive.

The more you write, the more you read, the more you study – the more you hone your craft – the closer you are to excellence: your ability to manifest your dearest aspirations. Whether skin-deep or soul-deep, your writing is always yours.

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.”
― Aristotle

The ludicrous element in our feelings does not make them any less authentic.”
― Milan Kundera


(Fun fact: the Greek arete and the Chinese gongfu are similar terms; the former expresses manifestation of one’s full potential, and the latter describes any study, learning, or practice that requires patience, energy, and time to complete. It is implied that athletics are an integral part of arete
, and the word gongfu/kung-fu has become synonymous with martial arts in its modern usage.

Healthy body, healthy mind, eh?)