Wednesday, September 11, 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 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 this terminology is 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 them 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 areas 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 arenas. 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 feeling 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 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, especially students, about where you train and apply these principles and how deeply, as well as where you don't or haven't yet.