A Martial Artist Knows No Bounds

(h/t CBS)

(h/t CBS)

Training doesn't end in the training hall or the day you retire your belt. You take it with you, wherever you go, in whatever you do.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

I often call myself a "martial artist," but upon self-reflection, I had to reconsider what it is I mean by this term. The more it gets thrown around without thought, the more meaningless it becomes. "I love my family," uses the same term as, "I love this pizza." It means different things in different contexts.

It is not always clear, but training doesn't end in the training hall or the day you retire your belt. You take it with you, wherever you go, in whatever you do. It's not only about the physical practice but about the mental and attitudinal changes that the practice brings.

Nomenclature: A System of Names or Terms, or the Rules for Forming These Terms in a Particular Field

Martial arts isn't just stylized violence, though that's what many of us have come to believe. Then it is no wonder that many regard it as a waste of time, just as many consider the humanities a waste of time — since they cannot see any practical day to day usage. (Yet the martial art is the training in what is invisible to the nonpractitioner. That is the great irony.)

We seek utility when some of the most important elements are not quantifiable. The humanities may not make sense when we think of immediate income potential, yet that is not the only purpose of college, for college was also intended to help people lead better lives, become better thinkers and better citizens. Rather than specialized knowledge, the humanities gives one diversity — where a graduate can be good in many fields, in a broad spectrum.

In fact, this was once the reverse. The humanities was once the practical and science the impractical. Many found and still find scientific research to be a waste of money. (Governments still have a hard time justifying it.) Scientists (along with all other critical thinkers) had to argue for inquiry, that knowledge is worthy for its own sake. It does not need to justify itself through immediate gratification. Some of mankind's greatest discoveries came through connecting preexisting knowledge in new and novel ways (that's innovation.) Imagine if we only did those things that were obvious from the onset? Where would that leave us for the future? We would already have perished from a number of catastrophes. This is the novice's approach.

The original creators of martial arts were not inventing their craft to answer one question, but to guide us through a multitude of uncertainties. Today our greatest fascination is: What do you do if you get into a bar fight? (Perhaps the most reasonable answer would be to stop drinking. You would live longer and avoid most physical conflicts.) I can almost guarantee, this was not the question the founders were pondering. Advanced inquiry is about finding systems to handle all of life's mysteries, and to handle them well, with grace and elegance.

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(h/t CBS)

That is or perhaps was the martial artist — one who was capable of many facets of excellence. One will argue that the purpose of the martial arts was always militaristic, yet the most highly trained military operative will say, they aren't trained for killing, but rather, their training gives them the ability to get good at anything that is necessary. The militaristic definition still tracks back to generalized preparedness — preparation for any situation (especially when that situation is peace). One only needs to look at the military leader Marcus Aurelius — or for the pragmatist, perhaps the number of Navy SEALs, who have successfully transitioned to entrepreneurship is more inspiring.

We are transitioning to an age where attacks are less physical and more cyber, wars are fought with buttons, and achievement through income is the new religion. Then the career path of the martial artist is not so obvious. Yet, the purpose is not to win fights but to successfully overcome. Not in any specific area, but in large arenas.

Pedagogy: The Study and Practice of How Best to Teach

Miyamoto Musashi was not only a swordsman; he was also a painter, a poet, a writer, a scholar, a writer, a calligrapher, a philosopher, and a teacher. Bruce Lee was not only a fighter, but also an entrepreneur, a screenwriter, a director, a choreographer, a marketer, a philosopher, an activist, an artist, an author, and an academic. And in their own ways, they were scientists; they were curious and engaged in inquiry, they improved preexisting systems. A martial artist gets good at getting good.

Lee is most famous for sharing with the West the martial concept of wu-wei. Be formless, do not put limits on yourself or your training. When formless, your training can allow you to excel in many ways — if you let it. Do not pigeonhole yourself into a stereotype or a cliché. Free yourself from what is automatic and expected. Be unbound.

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I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.
— Bruce Lee

Many people self-impose limits on themselves; they create a self-identity and only do those things related to that identity. If they are a "jock," they only pursue physical activities. If they are a "brain," only mental/ career pursuits. If they are "spiritual," they only meditate or focus on the church. It makes the most sense to be good at many things. That’s what the brain loves. "The jack of all trades, master of none” is not an Eastern virtue. It is a Western idea from the trade era that has imposed itself onto the Eastern martial arts. The same way the concept of the industrial assembly line has altered our daily lives. (That is not the Way, but is the way of irony. Rather than letting the art change us, we impose ourselves onto the art.)

In an assembly line, every task is separate. Each person on the line knows only one task. Work becomes cheap, and everyone is expendable.

We believe life is the new assembly line, and every component should serve one task (like a cog in a machine). And we tell ourselves this is how it has always been. Yet history tells us otherwise. We envy and aspire to be like those martial artists who are without boundaries, yet we do not recognize the difference is us. We are the ones creating our own boundaries. We stand in our own way; they do not.

Agency: The Capacity of an Entity to Act in Any Given Environment

I have seen martial arts schools advertise “no limits.” What they mean is no limits within fighting. Everything outside of fighting is off limits. But that is not what “no limit” means. Martial arts sets no limits, I do not mean this in a metaphorical way, but in a literal way. Yet with the advent of the assembly line, as craft and skill disappears, so have the other prominent features of martial arts.

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People fear being good at one form will hurt another when in fact being good at one helps the other. Musashi said, “From one thing, learn 10,000 things.” For all the legendary martial artists, there is no separation between the pursuits of the physical, mental, spiritual, and professional. And there shouldn't be. A martial artist's identity is to seamlessly pursue them all without conflict.

Somehow we forget this fact, though every day in the dojo should serve as a reminder. We constantly meet and interact with people who are exceptional in ways beyond the mats. We can develop qualities in the dojo, for use in the real world. We are not training, we are being groomed. Groomed with a framework for life engagement. Our skills can never dull, as life becomes our continuous practice. We have access to information as valuable and as useful as an Ivy League education. It all depends on how we use it. Do we only use their gym facility, or should we use this higher education to also acquire new knowledge?

Rather than wondering how exceptional people use martial arts to maximize their lives, and if whether we are not living up to our potential — we think nothing of it. There are artists, writers, chess champions, startup billionaires, and Wall Street tycoons. Actors, comedians, singers, surgeons, and lawyers, all the way to the most loving parents, husbands, wives, sisters, and brothers. We're surrounded by versatile brilliance, and we think nothing of it. We close our eyes and ears and continue to insist that it's only for fighting. Yet we will be the only ones missing out. Yes, only using it for one purpose is a way of doing it. It is not the best way, but I agree, it is a way. Just like having an opportunity to spend a day with Albert Einstein; only asking him for the time is one way of using your opportunity, I would not say it's the best way, but it is a way.

"It's cool those people train," some will say, "but martial arts does not have any impact on their lives." And if this were true, why are we doing it? If this were true, it really would be a waste of time. And if this is what you believe, you are wasting your time because you will get nothing out of it beyond robbing yourself of time you could have been doing something more productive. To willfully waste your time and purposely get nothing out of it only makes you a fool; for only a fool could learn without learning, and believe in not learning.

Ignorance is the lack of knowledge or information. Willful ignorance is intentionally keeping oneself unaware of facts that would render one accountable: I couldn't have done better if I didn't know better. We've all done this at one time or another, purposely not studying for a hard test, so if we fail, we can blame the lack of studying, not our lack of intelligence. Yet what kind of intelligent person would purposely not study in hopes of having an excuse for failing? Yet we do this with many things, try to gather as little knowledge as we can, only sticking to one thing, to be the master of one, rather than a master. And in doing so, we have mastered nothing. A master of no trades, a jack of none. That is for many, their reality. Sold a bill of goods to become an expendable labor force.

Those who limit themselves the most, are also the most defensive when they see others think outside of the box. It forces them to reevaluate, and they may not like what they find. They may be angry to see the opportunities they missed, that, from one thing, they could have learned 10,000 things. That their lives could have gone much differently, and still has the potential to be different. No, they will insist on sticking to the same ways, and staying the same person — they will also advise you to do the same. In psychology, this is called the fixed mindset. Its opposite is the mindset of growth. A fixed mindset can never grow, not because it is biologically impossible, but because their mind does not allow it. But for this to change, all it would take is for you to decide to change it. That's it. It's not easy, but it is simple.

Conclusion: A Decision Reached by Reasoning

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From the mental and cognitive to the novel connections — martial arts have limitless applications that go beyond the training hall. Many of us have spent more time training martial arts than most have spent pursuing higher education. It would be an extraordinary waste of time if we limited the application to only a small degree in our lives — just as college would be a waste of time if it had no application to real life. And there isn't — unless we find those applications. That's on us.

Some martial artists may argue that the martial arts have served their lives better than formal education, or perhaps they may argue formal education and every other aspect of their lives improved after their courage was regularly tested on the mats. The mindset we create in the dojo and how we apply that mindset to our world is on us. We are our best teachers or our worst villains. Choose wisely.

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