Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Martial Yoga?

Or Combat Training?

When I decided that I wasn't committed to real time combat training I hesitated to call what I was doing "martial arts". But when I looked at what I was doing, it still involved kicking, punching, deflecting, timing, centering, targeting, pushing, pulling, dealing with physical pressure and so many other things that are "martial" in the sense that they pertain to fighting.

I thought, Well, even though I'm using martial training games primarily for health and personal development, I can strike way harder and faster than I ever could before I learned this stuff, it certainly involves martial components and attributes, it is useful for "self-defense" in the sense of dealing with the physical world, gravity, and time...And it might even "work" in physical encounters with average untrained but potentially threatening people.

I was hard pressed to call it a dance or just a health art. Dancing is very presentational, expressive of personal emotion, and does not usually pertain to things like punching and kicking...so I decided to compromise and call it "martial training" or "martial yoga" to differentiate it from "combat training" or real time, real intensity, fight training. Compared to some T'ai-Chi teachers, I'm very martial. Compared to others, hardly at all. I know it's not an ideal compromise but it's one I can live with.

I certainly do not tell my students that I'm going to teach them how to fight. I tell them right from the outset that we are going to learn about components of fighting but at slower speeds and lower levels of intensity. I tell that we'll be using martial training games to develop better balance in all kinds of ways. I tell them that what I show them will be a good posture and movement foundation for going further into combat should they every want to, but that they would have to find a different teacher should they go that direction.

Actually, very few people come to me wanting to learn how to fight. Most of them are out of touch with their bodies, have no sense of themselves in space, have no ability to push or pull or even know where their centers or boundaries are. Not to mention issues like bad posture, muscle tension, emotional blocks, tight breathing, poor balance...I really like helping regular people get a handle on this stuff. Some of them are more interested in the martial side of the equation and we go into more of the partner work. A few want to go further into more combat related stuff and when they do, I send them off in search of teachers who can help them do that and with my blessings.

There are also lots of things that work in different life arenas. I'm proud and happy to be doing what I'm calling "martial yoga"...I do forms, partner work, some structured and some improvised, but all with an eye towards maintaining, while it is being challenged, the essential T'ai-Chi principle that I call "unforced balance". I have core general principles that guide me as well as specific forms, exercises and training games to help me understand and apply them.

To me, the main difference between martial yoga and combat training is the arenas where the principles are being tested and how deeply they are being tested. I test the hell out of my T'ai-Chi, I just don't test it in martial combat. What I do might be useless in a street fight but it is plenty useful to me in many other ways that have been just as life-saving.

There are plenty of combat experts who are not so good at staying married, or being happy, or taking care of their health, or balancing their checkbooks, or expressing emotions, or being good friends, or playing the guitar. And I can still respect and admire these people. They've just chosen to apply their principles in certain areas. We can romanticize the idea of the enlightened master who applies the deepest principles to every single area of life equally, but I've never met anyone even close to doing that.

There's a tendency to downplay or ridicule people who choose to apply their principles in arenas that we don't. For instance people who train for combat may say positive things about people who do martial arts for health and fitness, but sometimes I can feel an underlying vibe of disrespect or dismissiveness. Likewise, people who train for health might give respect to people who train for combat but again there can be this underlying vibe of judgment against the violence involved.

In reality we all pick and choose where and how deeply to apply these principles. None of us has unlimited time and talent to study and apply everything everywhere. I just see it as differing levels and areas of application, all of which have value. We can't study every grain of sand on the beach, but we can study the ones that call to us and admire others who are called to study different ones.

I do think that without some free-form pressure testing, whether it be daily life, combat, or both, the arts tend to be more theoretical than practical. But there are many ways and levels to pressure test. I think it's up to every practitioner to decide how far to test what they're doing. And I think it's a very good idea to be as honest as you can with yourself and others about where you train and apply these principles and how deeply, as well as where you don't or haven't yet.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Best of Gene Burnett...

For What?

Since I write and record so much music, people sometimes ask me if I have any “best of” CD’s. In fact I have 4 that I put together a couple of years ago. Sorry, they’re not available at my site, I only sell them at shows. (All of the individual songs are available for downloading free or with a donation, along with the rest of my music, at www.GeneBurnett.com )

I decided to put them in categories because different people seem to prefer different aspects of my music to others. I called them “Clever”, “Explicit”, “Serious” and “Love”. I don't really think in objective terms when it comes to songs, but I tried to pick a blend of my own favorites and songs that other people seemed to like the most. 

Recently a facebook friend asked me if I'd make a non-categorized “Best Of” album, like the best 10 songs that pretty much “sum it up” for me.

This post is my answer.

Since I have a musical parliament in my head and heart, I really can't pick any 10 songs and say, these are the "best"...I always think, "The best for what?" I don't really believe in good or bad or better or worst when it comes to songs. They're like medicines really...only valuable and "good" if you've got the condition that that particular medicine can treat. I wouldn't say aspirin is a good or bad medicine...it's good for headaches, not so good for bleeding ulcers.

I think I used to be more consistently "me" in my songs. They were a deliberate attempt to express and convey a consistent worldview and personality and emotional experience. But somewhere along the way...sometime around 2005 or 6...That whole project sort of fell apart. I began to be more comfortable living in the dynamic tension between my opposites, rather than picking sides and trying to become my ideal self. Or maybe my concept of "ideal self" widened dramatically. In any case, I started to see myself as more of a parliamentary discussion between aspects of my self, rather than as a single entity seeking some kind of purity.

As a result, I turned myself loose from writing mostly about my personal emotional life and began to give more and more of my internal "members of parliament" their songs too. I could write in characters, I could bend my experience, I could express emotions and opinions that I wasn't in 100% agreement with, I could write topical songs, funny songs, silly songs, songs with adult language, basically whatever the hell I felt like writing about, whatever released a charge for me. It’s writing for the joy of writing and for the catharsis of personal expression. It's definitely not writing with an eye towards a professional career in "the business".

I still write about my personal experience of love and life, and all of my songs express a more or less Taoist world-view...but the songs themselves come at these things from all over the map in very different ways. I have some favorites but they come and go over time and generally lean towards whatever I’ve just finished...I like them all...but for me to decide which songs are "best", I'd have to know what you'd want the music to do for you.

I tend to think that most people want to laugh these days. At least the people I meet at shows...whenever I have my "best of" CD's for sale at shows, hands down the best seller is "Clever"..."Explicit" (which is more or less an R rated “Clever”) is #2...with "Love" and "Serious" a distant 3 and 4. Not that “Clever” and “Explicit” are not also serious in their own way, because they are, but they’re also light-hearted and on the humorous side. I also have a few fans (hate the word but don’t know what else to call them…) who tolerate the funny stuff but whose favorites are all songs that most of the other people who like my music have never even heard of. I'm actually about a half dozen loosely connected songwriters.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Doing What Feels Most Deeply Right...

Is What Feels Most Deeply Right To Me.

One of the things I write, sing and talk about a lot is doing what feels most deeply right to me, rather than doing what I think is right regardless of how it feels. To me, this is in keeping with the Taoist principle of wu-wei or so called “non-action”, which I like to translate as “unforced action”. The idea is that the best actions are unforced, uncalculated, and flow naturally from one’s inner being in response to one’s environment. By doing what feels most deeply right, I am trusting that right feeling, that inner feeling of “Yes.”, to guide me to the right life for me.

I should clarify that when I say that “I do what feels most deeply right", I'm using the word “feeling”, not so much in the sense of, “I am feeling angry.”, but more in the sense of “I am feeling this table.”

I'm looking for a "right" sensation in my whole body, which includes my emotional response, my rational pondering and planning, my gut reaction, everything really that makes up "me" as I know me, which is essentially a bodily phenomenon. It's a holistic, all things considered, "feeling" that I follow.

I’ve found that the physical practice of T’ai-Chi, at least the kind I do, has really helped me to let go of a lot of the tension that previously blocked my experience of my body and therefore clouded its messages to me regarding what felt most deeply right. This is because this right feeling is a total body feeling. It includes thoughts and insights and sometimes words, but it is essentially a bodily experience. And, as my body became better aligned and more relaxed, it was easier to feel into my thoughts and feelings and to zero in on which paths, choices and actions felt the most deeply right. I could say the same thing about the practice of writing songs and singing, both in private and in public. I keep getting better at being able to tell the difference between what feels right and what I want to feel right. This can be tricky sometimes. So far, trial and error has been my main and best teacher in this process. 

I should say too that this has a flip side and it’s a very important aspect of my life that I also get tremendous value from listening to what doesn’t feel right. Often I get a very good sense of what feels right by digging into what feels wrong about something I’m doing or thinking about doing. For instance, someone might propose an adventure of some kind that might initially appeal to me, but after a little while something starts to feel wrong about it. I might dig into that feeling and realize that this adventure is not for me, that I need to embark on a different kind of adventure or that some aspect of the current adventure needs to change in order for it to feel right. Through trial and error over time, I end up finding the adventure that’s right for me. But what helps me zero in on that right feeling is examining what doesn’t feel right.

Once I find that “right feeling” way to go, it’s up to me to follow that feeling and go with it, and this is usually not very difficult. Sometimes it’s hard to face that what feels right isn’t what I hoped would feel right, but once I commit to that right feeling direction, things just move and I don’t have to force them.

For instance, say I wanted to lose weight. If I just thought about the rational reasons for doing so and used those reasons to force myself to exercise and not eat things I really wanted to eat, my effort would be pretty much doomed, as most pure exercises of will are.

However, if I want to lose weight and really delve into why, I might come up with some reasons beyond aesthetics or ego. I might find that there are some physical things I'd like to do that my weight prevents me from doing. Suppose I then start doing one of those things, at whatever level I'm able to do it. Not just jogging, unless of course, that's something I really wanted to do. I might really want to hike more, but my weight is in my way. So, I start by walking around the block after dinner. And then twice around the block. And then maybe I start walking to work. And then I pick up the pace, walk longer, etc. What I would do is find things that I wanted to do and do them at whatever level I could. If I found I didn't like that activity, I would find another. But one way or another I would find something I like to do, something that felt right, that also burned calories.

In my experience, I cannot change my nature, I can only allow it to change. This process usually involves surrendering something I've been holding on to, something I've been doing to keep my nature from changing. Often, paradoxically, this thing I've been doing to keep my nature from changing is…trying to change! Surrender, at least for me, only comes when I accept the futility of further action. Accepting the futility of further action comes from seeing that this is so. When I see that trying to change is actually in my way of changing, I can let go of trying to change. This is where insight alone can affect change.

I've tried other methods of changing and none of them work, at least not like this: I’m look for currents I feel like joining rather than mountains I think I should climb.

The ultimate use or outcome of any of our actions is unknowable, especially in the long term. But, if I do what feels most deeply right, it's hard to regret anything I do. I feel that doing what feels most deeply right is the only clue I really have about what I "should" do. And again, by "feels most deeply right" I don't mean the emotional whim of the moment. I mean what feels deeply right in my whole being: head, heart and gut. I have faith that following this feeling will lead me to my part in the whole play of existence. I'm done with trying to write my part. I just want to find it and play it. And this feeling leads me there. If playing my part leads to some bad consequences, what can I say? I should have done what felt wrong? Nope. I do what feels most deeply right and let the leaves fall where they may. And I keep checking because what feels most deeply right is always changing. And sometimes I think something feels right, but I'm actually over-ruling a bad feeling and pretending it feels right because I want it to feel right. After years of living and learning about this, my sense of what feels right has gotten better. But I'm always checking.

As a consequence of living like this, I often do things that make no sense to people who have different goals. If my goal it to make money and develop a following and become famous, the rational thing to do is not to give all my music away on my site and record 2 or 3 albums a year. But if my goal is to do what feels most deeply right, enjoy a creative life, be true to my muse and get heard a bit while I'm still alive, well then, my methods make more sense. People often assume that others have the same goals they do, and then judge their actions accordingly. 

I cannot know the ultimate consequences of any of my actions, but I can do my best to aim for something that I think of as "good". But I generally don't do that. I take in everything I feel like taking in, plan as best I can, and then look for that "right" feeling to guide me to my part in the big play. I don't think of myself as the playwright and I don't know what my part is. Good guy? Bad guy? Example to others of what to do? What not to do? Hero? Fool? Ballast? I don't know and none of it matters in the long run anyway. So I just follow that feeling and have faith that whatever the Universe has "in mind" for itself, I will best serve it by using the body that it evolved, to tell me where my entrance is, which lines are mine and when to leave the stage. Others can judge and review my performance should they wish, but I just want to play my part well and be as sure as I can that it's my part I'm playing, not yours or anyone else's.