Another year older, a new one just begun.

63rd Birthday. Thank you God/Spirit/Universe.

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Meditation and Martial Arts.

While most types of meditation have overall benefits for any individual’s body and mind, practicing martial artists can require something more.

There are meditation practices that want you to “be absorbed” in the object of the meditation.  It may be an image, a mantra, a sound, a thought, etc. That absorption may be counterproductive in the context of a personal life and death episode.  Fighting is not an activity in which to be absorbed in “your self” or any irrelevant external, because of the little matter of the other self: your opponent or attacker, who is trying to hurt you.

Other types of meditation are “Guided.”  I’m not a big fan of guided meditation. Generally meditation is about going within and listening to the silence within yourself and that’s hard to do while having to listen to someone “without.”

There are trance styles of meditation.  Again, you’re attacker is not in your trance, he’s outside of it looking for every little opportunity to hurt you.

Vipassana is a mindfulness meditation where you exercise awareness, but you start at a very superficial level with a sort of verbal awareness of your body, then progress to awareness of your environment, and of your mind.  It may take some time to get to the level of awareness useful in a fight.

So which meditation types are better for a martial artist to practice?  The ones that emphasize immediate, 360 degree, internal and external awareness.

I found that most in Zen meditation.  I have a friend who is a former Tibetan Buddhist Monk and martial arts master.  He says Tibetan Buddhist meditation is about awareness as well.  I don’t know, but I’ll take his word for it, I’ve trained martial arts with him.

Here is the essence of Zen meditation as taught to me by a Zen Master “Shut up.  Don’t move muscle, don’t move mind.”  I’ll add to that; don’t fall asleep!

In the Zen meditation hall you sit up straight with good posture.  Your eyes are half closed gazing at a spot on the ground a few feet in front of you. You breathe naturally.  Your mind may wander but you let it wander back to awareness of the breath or an anchor point called a Koan.  You do not space out, go into trance, get lost in bliss, or fall asleep.  That’s cause there’s a monk who paces around the meditators with a flat piece of wood, whose job is to help keep you wake by smacking you on your traps if you nod out.

You are, you have to be, aware.  Aware of the point you’re focusing your gaze on, aware of the thoughts passing through your head, aware of distractions being distracting, aware of the monk silently pacing around you, aware of the other meditators in the room, all while maintaining a stable center.  That stable center is your posture, your breath, your gaze, your koan.  That stable center is your spirit.

Prior to Zen, I trained with a Jain Guru. I was taught silent and out loud mantras.  I was taught breathing methods, I was taught gazing and visualization, I was taught prayers and invocations, I was taught how to direct my imagination. Valuable stuff no doubt, but in the immediacy and chaos of a fight, less useful.

Do you need to know meditation to know how to fight? No.  But this is not merely about being a fighter, it’s about being a martial artist.  Soldiers of all sorts fight. Boxers fight.  Wrestlers fight.  MMA’ers fight.  No problem.

But being an artist of any sort is beyond mere craft.

Artistry calls forth the Spiritual.  It calls for inspiration, reflection, flow, an aesthetic perspective.  It calls for harmony with something greater than us, for a desire to communicate and share.  These intangibles are little to no part of the rock’em sock’em fight culture.  Yes, anyone and everyone can fight, but not every fighter is a martial artist.

To go from being a fighter to being a martial artist in any of the fighting “arts” requires going into the Spiritual.  That’s where meditation comes in. And, perhaps all meditation methods converge at some point, so that in the end they’re all good.  But for the martial artist’s immediate needs and particular goals, meditations which emphasize awareness from the outset may be the best.     awareness

That way in a fight you will easily and naturally factor in your opponent, their strengths and weaknesses, your own strengths and weaknesses, the environment, the swirl of energy and emotions, the flux of openings and closings, your own fears and pains, the skill levels of both.

Your body can act, your mind will think without being stuck in thoughts, your plans are continually evolving and even disregarded, your attention is not shaken, you have confidence because you are in the moment, you have acceptance without abandonment, you have 360 degree focus of all these things simultaneously to help with your judgments.

Someone has said “everybody has a plan till the get punched in the nose.”  That’s because it’s their center that has been knocked out of whack.  With awareness meditation training, your center (your self), will not be the thing knocked out of whack.

Training in awareness you will realize, as the Bhagavad Gita says, that the self “Cannot be pierced by a sword, burnt by fire, drowned in water, or withered by the wind” my off the top  paraphrase. That gives you tremendous freedom to fight skillfully, intelligently, in flow and in harmony with all existence and creation.

You are not just a fighter, you are a martial artist.

Training Silat

Training Silat

No Church For Me On Sunday, And It’s Great

I can sleep late, or not, watch the morning news shows, go to any sort of gathering I want, or have sex.  I can do it all happily, with no guilt, or shame.

I’m an Atheist.

Not a “He must be angry at god cause he didn’t get something” atheist, though most of us probably start out like that.

No, I’m an “I really started to study without fear, and think and analyze, and came to a different and satisfying conclusion” atheist. Atheism Symbol

I’ve read many of the world’s sacred writings, including those said to be from god himself, heard the thoughts and counsels of many devout people, contemplated, listened, probed as deeply as I could for the answer to my questions;  Is there a supreme creator being, who is it, does it care, and does it matter?  On all counts, the answer for me was; No!

You can be a deeply devout person to something you call god, without there being such a thing on the other end of your devotion.  I’ve known deeply devout people of various followings, and don’t doubt their sincerity of devotion.  I have been a deeply devout person.  So much so, that it pains me to see Christians, for example, who are satisfied parroting biblical sound bites, acting the part on the public stage with gestures and props, and claiming a higher standing in life over those who don’t do the same.  At least the devout person is not pretending that they’re deluded.

If they were sincere, these followers who pretend to be devout would acknowledge the emptiness of their claims (that there’s no really verifiable god), but also live strong, righteously, and honestly on the merits of their act: devotion.  That could be called faith, faith in devotion.  “Faith without works is dead” the first work in spirituality is being honest and sincere with yourself and others.

Some non-theistic Asian religions accept the fact that there are several different acceptable paths to the personal fulfillment and salvation that practice of a religion offers.  The path of devotion is one path.  However, not everyone is of a devotional character, so studiousness is another path.  You may not be of devotional character, and perhaps not studious, or even illiterate, then the path of works, or, just being nice to people is another.  You may be introverted; therefore, the contemplative path may be yours, and so on.  The god religions, theisms, only acknowledge one path, devotion, regardless of your innate type or characteristics.

Then there’s the matter of belief.  While some espouse the idea of just belief “saving” you, it stands in opposition to the easily verifiable fact that belief will not save you in anything else in our existence.  You can honestly and devoutly believe you can float and fly in mid air, but any who try plummet to the earth in unsatisfactory ways.  Carry that over to anything else, even to scriptural assurances that if you drink poison, handle snakes, etc; and it’s easily apparent that belief doesn’t work enough to bet your life on.

Some religions claim that belief in a particular personality is the requirement for communion with god or a salvation, but that concept is usually tied to obedience, and obedience is usually connected to a spokesman for the religion.  That’s a sticky situation because several spokesmen for the same god often disagree on some essential added particulars.  With all that come the edicts of exclusivity.  Someone put it best by saying (my paraphrase):  “Many teachers will invite you to come, they will show you the light, and when you come they pluck out your eyes of reason.”

These are the god believing religions that demand you put blinders on and not look to the left or the right, upon any other possible source of knowledge, wisdom, or salvation, but to put your stock in what they tell you is there that you cannot see, though that’s all you’re looking for.

These religions will also claim to make you “better.”  That runs the gamut from making you healthier, wealthier, and wise, because you are one of them, to making you morally superior.  Some claim you cannot be moral at all, or that your morality has no value, unless you are one of them.  They suggest that all of your righteous acts are “like filthy rags” according to one of their scripts.  Yet few live any higher a morality than the average Joe.

They have the talk, but can’t walk the walk any better than anyone else.  Ah, but wait, there’s an out for that.  Christians say “I’m not perfect, just forgiven” as if that were a really good god authorized excuse for being selfish, inconsiderate, or harmful to others.  Or they’ll say “I’m a work in progress” with a “ha, ha, I get away with it and you don’t” attitude for being indistinguishable from any jerk anywhere.  So much for being religious or “in a relationship” with god making you a better person.

But, that’s for another post.

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Solo Martial Art Training

You can’t always train at the gym. 

Training in a state of the art gym or dojo is a great thing.  There you’ll likely have space, time, equipment, partners at different levels, and coaching.  But not being able to get to one for whatever reason (money, responsibilities, time, distance) should not stop you from training and even making progress on your own, at home.

If you don’t have a lot of stuff you can do calisthenics and bodyweight exercises (pushups situps, pull-ups, etc.) anywhere.  There’s your cardio and strength straining.

You can shadow box in front of your shadow or a mirror.  When you do, do several rounds, start slow and easy, and progressively add realism and intensity.  I consider this a really important part of martial training; rehearsing your moves with intent and energy will bring them up with intent and energy.  Practice at three speeds:  1. slow and mechanical, 2. Half speed and smoothly flowing, 3. Twitchy, super fast or “red line” speed.

Hit something regularly, a punching bag, a makiwara, a makeshift Item you can hang or post to practice both intentional hitting, and casual hitting, I mean hitting without preparation, no stance, no telegraph. Why?  Because you may not always be in a position to do a perfect hit, but should do a hit anyway.

Visualize the techniques and try them with your eyes closed (in a safe space of course).  Practice from different positions, standing, sitting, lying down.  Try to train both under duress, when tired from cardio and strength, and when very relaxed.

 Rest.Training under too much continual stress may burn you out, and actually make the practice less beneficial.

Train and practice under less than optimal conditions.  I wear glasses.   I train with and without glasses.  A shooting instructor brought this home when he asked; if in the middle of the night I hear a break in at home and a rush to the bedroom door, can I just grab my gun, point, and shoot to 15 feet in the dark  without bothering to look for my glasses?  I can now, thanks to dry fire practice and taking off the prescriptions at the range.  Sometimes, I may be sluggish from a cold/flu and medication.  Yes, I’ve looked to see how effective I am in those conditions, what I can and can’t do, and how fast.

Research other methods beyond what you are taught at the local school.  Some places just teach one thing, say Mesopotamian Kung Fu, that doesn’t mean you can’t train Jiu Jitsu for yourself on your own time, or a spin kick, or a particular kata.  Who are you doing this for, the school/instructor, or yourself and your family?

Speaking of family, is there someone that might help you out A LITTLE BIT at home,  If they’re not training for themselves they probably won’t want to be your training partner, but “help me work out this  move for 5 minutes” might be feasible.  Don’t hurt or aggravate them, and they might help you again.

I tell my students over and over, that they are taught in the gym but learn at home, and that everything is homework.  This is what makes a martial art yours, and part of your lifestyle not just a “class” you take.

What’s with the personal development stuff??

It’s a part of me, my life and practice as a martial artist, where I come from, and where I want to lead others to. 

Almost everyone with a belt , certificate, or a little experience, can teach a martial art.  Traditions provide a template for what to teach, in what order, and a baseline for achievement, mostly having to do with memorization. Get a snazzy logo, set up a shingle.

Personally, I am not interested in being a regular martial arts instructor.  For me, martial arts from the beginning, were not about the awesome power, skills, and physicality obviously visible.  It was about the self control, self perfectionism, and expanding consciousness that I saw, that some of those things represent.

I remember one of my karate instructors, Sensei, now Shihan, Charles “La Pantera” Bonet.

photo by Rick Vargas

Charles “La Pantera” Bonet.  photo by Rick Vargas

He  would occasionally shout at us when we were under performing “You think that punching and kicking is what makes you a black belt?  I can teach a monkey to punch and kick, but that won’t make him a black belt!”   I understood that to mean that he was looking beyond the surface, to the consciousness which animates the body, and to see there developing intelligence, sensitivity, the progress of evolution in relation to knowing ourselves and others, and values, not just how solid our front stance was.  Many instructors can only look at your front stance. That reduces the potential richness of martial arts training to an activity like gymnastics or boxing…

Well, it’s true.  Some instructors can only teach the physical aspects of a martial art. The other aspects require having been instructed in such things to begin with.  For example, not many instructors have much if any instruction or experience in the arts and practices of meditation, and may consider it trivial in spite of scientific evidence of it’s benefits to the brain, consciousness, and body.

Few have spent significant time in profound thought or study about the human condition, therefore, in discussion can only offer uninformed or unthoughtful opinions on matters of life in general.  Ego, elsewhere considered an obstacle, is paramount in many aspects of martial arts life and instruction.  Humility is often replaced by ritualistic, cultural acts of respect (nice bow!)

About my group under Sensei Bonet, we did learn to punch and kick, and quite well 🙂 and my classmates from 30+ years ago are renowned masters with great skills. But even the least among us, skill and credential wise, were being taught to become potential “masters” of ourselves. That’s where I’m headed, and the journey I invite others to join me on.

In my training group, your self awareness is important, and the physical actions, a tool for developing that self awareness.  I have two pet peeves: your breath, and your gaze, vital to the functioning of your body and mind, and coach you accordingly.  Helping you to manage your tensions, fears, and emotions is an ongoing goal.  The expansion of your consciousness, intellectually, academically, socially, etc. are important to me.

In the process, you might learn to punch and kick real good too!

That said, I am not a suitable instructor for everyone.  I don’t give belts or certificates.  I’m not really training anyone for a fight sport.  I don’t even follow the structured progression of a particular style.  I scrutinize character.  I prefer adults with full lives over youths with nothing better to do.  I like the freedom of greeting the group, and starting with something that feels like the right vibe at the time.

I have a degree of skills that qualify me, and though certified, I feel the terms “Master” and “Guro” are overused. I understand that in the Filipino Martial Arts it refers to a teacher, but, I have studied under people with whom the term Guru meant a “dispeller of darkness”  a rather serious metaphysical matter.  I’ll use the term with teachers I have trained under, but am not too quick too call anyone that off the cuff.  My friends call me Rick and if they want to use another appellation I suggest “Coach.”

HEY!

Im giving a talk Saturday, February 23, 6:30pm at:

Half Off Books
2641 Enterprise rd.
Orange City FL 32763  Phone: 386-917-0100

Personal Protection For Everyone
The New Self Defense Paradigm

A fun and illuminating short lecture and demonstration on the matter of self defense for everyone, not just young athletes, professional responders, or martial arts experts.
Coach Rick specializes in short term self defense training for regular people, with average physical attributes, and little to no interest in “martial arts.”  If that
sounds like you at all, come enjoy this one of a kind seminar.

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Kali Silat in Campbell Park, Deltona FL on Sunday

At 1pm under the shade trees or in the shelter.

There are variations on the 64 attacks and the abecedarios.  Here’s a friend and instructor, Dennis Ocampo, doing the version I train and teach, then showing his sinawalis.  SinaTirsiaWali Kali Silat.