Getting to the Truth of Martial Arts

This blog is established as a forum for sharing information and passion about the internal martial arts of Kung Fu.  Click on comments to browse various topics and feel free to comment.  The aim of these posts will be to cut through all misunderstanding in order to arrive at a truth.  Too often, martial arts stray from their ultimate end and devolve into some other than an art or simply without anything “martial”. 

This Blog’s specific purpose then, will be to respectfully sidestep that which is neither martial nor art, and come to an understanding as to what is true internal martial arts.


39 Responses to “Getting to the Truth of Martial Arts”

  1. Rodney Bundy Says:

    I think that the quest for the Martial arts starts with a person willing to share with others their passion. I know that is the case in my life I wonder what I would be like if a certain person did not take an interest in me to teach me?

  2. ralvoid Says:

    Indeed, Rodney, one cannot overestimate the role of the teacher in martial arts. For our association – which is non commercial of course – we give great respect to the lineage holders who have passed down the arts over 35 generations. At the beginning and ending of every lesson, we show respect to the Masters who taught not for profit or gain, but for the purpose of spreading the art (and I can surmise they did it for the betterment of humanity).

    A month with a good teacher is worth years with an average one. Too often in the West we undervalue the teacher by picking out a few ostensibly negative traits, and lose focus of the value of the gift that the teacher is giving us.

    The more precious we perceive something to be, the more we work to perfect it. So those of us who see the martial knowledge we receive as ordinary have little reason to do it anymore than a salsa dance. But if we see it as a rare gift, passed down for centuries and not diluted or tainted by inferior motives, then we start training for the love of the art and nothing more.

    As Rumi says, the longing for God is the return message. And as Shrfu Ed says, we should do Kung Fu for no other reason than because we want to.

  3. Cristina Says:

    To feel good with your outter and inner self, to eliminate the fear of others and of the unexpected and to create a dimension between space and the “nowhere” where your body can still move and generate energy while without friction and resistence.

    That’s what I seek in internal kf and what I think its purpose is.

    Each person has different objectives as far as the results to gain from martial art teachings. They are all worth mentioning because those reasons keep people interested in learning MA and thus those reasons are why MA still exist.

    So, even if one constructs the purpose of MA as one that is not the most educated, or sofisticated or “true”, it should not be underestimated or denigrated as mistaken.

    In fact, even with the non-perfect intention (as long as not a distructive one), one can learn MA and then, just by learning it, the true meaning and purpose of same arises in oneself.

    I personally started MA because of an undefined attraction for the ability to “artistically” fight. For the beauty of the movement within it, and lastly but not least important for the desire of gaining the power and the skills to not always feel “too small” or “too weak”. So, self-defense was a major objective. Yet, I believe that if I am still miles away from being able to defend myself in every and all situations. But at the same time, I am firmly convinced that the internal power given by the internal kf is not only the physical one but is within the mental capacity of refuting and contrasting fear.

    And that, I feel it and experience it every day.

  4. ralvoid Says:

    Cristina’s response was quite articulate, even eloquent. She raises the intriguing “internal” aspect of our art, and explains it in relationship to movement in general (“move and generate energy without friction and resistance”).

    Indeed, this is the essence of the internal side. Shrfu Ed likes to say: “We need to learn to get out of our own way.” And after we get out of our own way, we feel more supple and fluid in our movement.

    This internal side can be explored to infinity. But before we go there, why don’t we get the mor eobvious terms defined: “art” and “martial”.

    What do we mean when we say something is martial? And what is a martial art exactly? Is the aerobic display of “wushu” martial art? Is MMA cage fighting martial art?

  5. James McAllister Says:

    To me, martial arts at its core is one of the most pure methods of looking into one’s true nature. To truly study martial means to analyze the truth present in all situations and respond accordingly. To the true martial artist, there is always a way to win. Martial arts is more than just winning though. The true character of a martial artist does not shine when they win… You can only truly know a man when they have hit rock bottom. That is when their true essence begins to shine.

    True martial arts are like anything that helps to cultivate the mind, the body, or the soul. Martial arts are not necessarily special in anyway. They teach a simple skill; how to defend oneself. However, because the set of skills necessary to defend oneself in varying situations is so broad, the essence of martial arts is often extrapolated to encompass many different aspects of life. To me, the true martial artist understands not just how to defend himself from a punch, or a kick, but also himself. This is where the idea of internal martial arts comes in to play for me.

    Internal martial arts involves the flow of energy within the body. That energy flow can be comprised of physical, (blood) mental, (thoughts), or even a spiritual (a form of chi?) nature. To me, listening to my thoughts, feeling my blood flow, and getting in touch with my life force (chi) have all been important aspects of my internal martial arts training. Only after I have started to delved into these aspects of myself, have I truly realized just how much work I need to do in order to feel at ease within my internal world. Too often we go through life and deny ourselves the opportunity to listen to what the center of our being is telling us. Too often, we as human beings even go against our own better judgment to please others or to make things easier on us. Tapping in to the true essence of what we are and who we are as individuals is what internal martial arts inevitably means to me. Sadly, I am discovering that such an introspective road leads to limited contact with others outside of such disciplines, however, just like how in tai chi, it is important to establish the balance of one side of the body before switching to the other, I also feel that it is most important that we truly know ourselves before halfheartedly meeting others without a firm grasp of what you have to offer that person.

    The principles of internal martial arts apply to all aspects of life. Remain relaxed, but not lethargic. Move with sensitivity to your surroundings. Don’t anticipate the movements of others. Keep your awareness soft. Focus on what your doing. Live in the moment. Move as one piece. When an opportunity arises, go for it. When one door opens, another one closes.

    Internal martial arts to me involves understanding who another person is better than even he knows himself. It is not about who hits or kicks faster or stronger, but who understands their own individual situation the best and who can capitalize on that knowledge the most efficiently. Sometimes, this understanding involves a fight. However, I don’t believe it has to. I believe knowing oneself is the key factor for any true internal martial artist, and this knowledge is never dependent on the presence of a physical confrontation in order to manifest itself. Knowledge of oneself and one’s surroundings is what brings survival, and in the end, that’s all the martial arts are ever really about… survival.

    MMA is designed to give people entertainment… I do enjoy watching it sometimes, however, ultimately, there is nothing entertaining about the need to survive in a serious life or death situation… This is where I tend to draw the line between what a true martial artist is, and one who fights for sport. (In other words, those who fight to prove something to themselves, or to their friends)

    My 2 cents on the bugger. This post is probably riddled with grammatical/writing errors, but whatever, no time to proofread.

    Comments welcome.

    Gotta pack.

    Good posts so far.

  6. ralvoid Says:

    Thanks for the 2 cents, James. Two lines in your post struck a chord with me and I think deserve some more attention:

    First, you write that “martial arts are not necessarily special in anyway.” While I am admittedly biased since I have invested a great deal of effort in developing martial skills, I have always believed martial arts provides us a unique vehicle for self-development. As James touched on, knowing both the self and the adversary is what martial arts is alll about – the 2 truths of self and other.

    For me, I have perceived an antagonistic (or even violent) relationship as the ULTIMATE relationship. And I am using “ultimate” here as in the “end” or the “extreme” of a relationship. The point is, when hostility has arisen, all means of reconciliation have been exhausted, and where violence or destruction of the “other” is the sole focus – we are most definitely at the end of our relationship.

    From within that “extreme”, our expectations dissipate and we shrink to our true ability (to borrow Mike Patterson’s phrase). Thus, against a resisting opponent, in the face of inauspicious circumstances, and against all odds, we have left nothing but our SELF. Knowing what is our true ability helps us to know our “self”. And knowing our true self is what life is all about.

    James also writes: “…who understands their own individual situation the best and who can capitalize on that knowledge the most efficiently.” In short, this is what I am trying to say above. Knowing your self and your situation will aid you on knowing what is the next move in your life: do I become a monk or a doctor? Do I take the train or the bus?

    In essence, when we see things as they are, not how we want or expect them to be – as so many martial artists do, then we know what ability is needed and what training will take us there. I remember vividly being 14 years old studying Taekwondo, watching black belts spar. They truly did not know how to handle attacks from mcuh lower belts. This realization is what made me quit martial arts until I was 22. And so I often ask myself if a 14 year old could see this, why can’t the vast majority of adults see it?

    Anybody? Why so much dancing and delusion about what violence really is?

  7. Alberto Says:

    Hi to everybody.

    I would want to begin in to quote Wang Wei: “If I realize me that someone looks me with hate, I don’t react. I confine me to stare at him in the eyes, having care not to transmit him some feeling of anger or danger. And the fight, even before to start he is already ended. The enemy to be beaten is inside of us. The martial arts don’t mean violence but knowledge of itself same and the others. ”

    What has brought me to begin this walk, in this new world for me, Her martial arts, have been the fact to seek a Street, the Street to discover who am, my essence, to discover the energy that can be me, to believe in myself, and to face the world with more safety.
    The importance of the Master is fundamental, it is the lighthouse that can conduct you to this objective.
    To the moment I don’t want to express me in technical aspects, I don’t believe to have its abilities, but only of what has brought me to choose this discipline.

  8. Rodney Bundy Says:

    well I think The Legendary Bruce lee said it best when he said “Expressing yourself honestly is hard to do.” Although glamorized and held to a statue apart from other martial artist, even he realized the core of martial arts; honestly expressing yourself. The problem in this society is deception has become a common place visited by countless people in a failed attempt to mask their true identity. The sad truth is no one person is more powerful then the human element. So how do we establish this human element or spirit if you will? I think this is done by honestly expressing who you are, because in that expression much power is obtained. When we except who we are and learn to look at ourselves honestly, it will be easy to look past the deceit of man. That to me is where true power can be found.

    People dance around what violence really is because people feel they gain power from believing that they control a mock bout of violence, rather then relying on the honest expression of themselves to empower them. To honestly express yourself means to become vulnerable for the time it takes to gain the power sought after.

  9. ralvoid Says:

    Some powerful stuff, Rodney! Indeed, expressing ourselves honestly is putting all we got out there, kind of like we are doing on this blog or when we speak up in a classroom discussion. Contributing or giving input makes us vulnerable, but it also seems to be a prerequisite for growth.

    You covered the “martial” extreme quite well, Rodney, but what abou tthe other side of the coin: the art? The MMA and UFC cage fighters, and many full contact fighters are dealing with full-on violence, albeit in a controlled setting. Are they practing martial arts, or contributing to the art in any way?

    • Rodney Bundy Says:

      I believe the only contribution that a UFC fighter is giving is shear publicity. More people seek out martial arts simply because they have seen it on tv especially on UFC. I think those fighters have missed the key component of Martial arts and that is a true fighter never fights. Although bouts are fun an exciting, their purpose in most cases is “pride” I can beat the word and cant nobody touch me is their mindset. Some of the UFC guys are legit but I think they are few and far in between

      • ralvoid Says:

        Good point: the UFC and its ilk are publicizing martial arts, but not necessarily practicing it. But I wonder about the consequences of attracting a person to the martial arts through such a brutish sport?

        Does anybody know of a particular MMA fighter who has real martial skills? I know some of the grapplers and those with wrestling backgrounds exhibit some real skill and have lengthy training backgrounds, but is there a fighter with a quality stand-up game that is not boxing? Cung Le maybe?

        And you touched on the slogan for the Kung Fu School – True Fighters Never Fight. Before I launch into a diatribe about this, can somebody offer some feedback as to what they thnk this phrase means?

  10. ralvoid Says:

    Alberto: interesting analogy of the lighthouse. I often use the metaphor of the master as a guide: and he knows the way out of the jungle. Without the guide, you are stuck in the forest.

    Master Kao says that there is nothing magical about this knowledge in and of itself: it is just like knowing where somebody lives when you need that person. After you find out where the person lives, the knowledge becomes less mysterious. The secrets are revealed all the time – says Shrfu Ed – only when you grasp their meaning do they become meaningful (or secretive).

    Funny how I see secrets flying in or face almsot daily, yet we walk right past them thinking we understand them. As Sun Lu Tang says: “The secret to Martial Arts is practice, practice, practice.”

    But to Alberto, and to all wishing to respond, I ask this question: why did you choose martial arts as your path and how has it helped you so far in accompishing your objectives? Can you give some details about your studies, experiences, awakenings?

  11. Rodney Bundy Says:

    True fighters never fight simply means the biggest fight people have is with their self and their human urges, maybe one of them being to bash somebodies face in simply because they looked at them wrong. A true fighter has learned to master this impulse inside therefore they never fight. Anytime they use their art it is strictly to do good whether to teach or stop an attacker. Another concept to consider is a true fighter never fights because a fight is normally describe as a struggle between two opposing forces, it can not be considered a fight if there is not a struggle….

    • ralvoid Says:

      Indeed, Rodney, the “true” fighter will not oppose another’s energy but will alwsy go with it, piggyback on it, then turn it against the opponent at the last moment. Watching a true master fight is like watching water meander through crevices, or like honey run down a glass. His body is like cotton, and you can never get to his center.

  12. Alberto Says:

    It is soon perhaps still for seeing some differences in comparison to before, but I feel that when I make the lessons of Kung Fu I am well, I like, I feel benefit.

  13. ralvoid Says:

    Okay fellow bloggers, what are the elements of power? List them all with explanation if you so dare.

  14. Rodney Bundy Says:

    Elements of power? not quite sure I understand this subject well enough yet

    • ralvoid Says:

      Rodney: All things are composed of elements, or parts. Even energy and “power”. So I will pose the question in a different way: what attributes, circumstances, qualities, states of mind, or other factors contribute to increasing or affeccting one’s ability to issue power?

      One obvious attribute is physical strength, but what are the others?

  15. alberto Says:

    For me the power besides the physical strength, is the true knowledge of if same, to come to know who the true one is Me. A sort of illumination.
    Knowing really if same, believe both inevitable to acquire an advantage and a superior power to the others

    • ralvoid Says:

      Alberto: Shakespeare wrote: All the word is a stage, and all the men and women merely actors. And the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that one’s true character is revelaed only under great stress (Sartre was in a German POW camp so maybe he has some insight here).

      The point is, martial arts puts stress on us in an environment of fear (i.e. fighting). Studying martial arts, therefore, helps us to come to know our true character. People who wish to merely “fight” do competitions; but people who wish to “study” fighting eventually gain some insights into their true selves.

  16. alberto Says:

    They agree… then if I have not understood you badly you also share my opinion on the fact that departs some power it is knowledge of if same.
    I am liked as you have approached the thought of Jean-Paul Sartre to the philosophy and “study”of the martials arts. Interesting

  17. ralvoid Says:

    What of the elements of power fellow bloggers? What role does strength play? How about agility? What about intention? Anyone?

  18. Davide Says:

    Hi everybody!!

    Such a nice place and nice people to discuss, I am glad to find everybody’s words beautiful and enlightening.

    So, what are the elements of power?

    First of all, I think self knowledge and self awareness.

    And I’m not just talking about physical knowledge; one also has to know and be able to feel his mind, his emotions and his energy (I mean *actual* energy, that cool sensation you feel in your body, not just a new age empty word).

    Because I think this is the best way to overcome fear.
    I mean the fear of one’s self, the fear of that huge subconscious that we feel in meditation, and also the fears constantly spread by the media (for example the swine flu: it had to be the ultimate plague, and now nobody considers it anymore, at least here in Italy. The same thing happened for SARS, d’you remember?).

    Internal KF can be a mean of work, in this direction: it increases perceptions, improves body’s health and brings mind, body, emotions and energy to a stable balance.

    And in this balance is the prime root of “power”.
    Because this balance is the first step of the longest journey, the one that leads inside ourselves.
    Nobody can hope to get to know himself if he is constantly distracted by media, by everyday’s life happenings, if he’s not aware to be,as Richard quoted, an actor in the stage of life. Balance is needed.
    Once this balance is reached (and it can be increased till the last day of our life), then it’s time to start facing fear: fear of the world and fear of oneself. This fear is an ordeal that every searcher has to overcome: and only a calm and peaceful mind can succeed the trial.

    So, the more we work on fear, the more we know ourselves (and vice versa) .

    The more we know ourselves, the more we have power, because I think, it’s totally useless to seek power over someone else if we’re not able to control, or better, to flow with our inner self.
    When a man is able to do that, every obstacle is removed : He will always find the right teachers, practices, situations, and so on. It’s what I and many people I know have been living, for years. And the only thing that will make a difference, (it’s what I think can be the only true difference between human beings) his the effort he puts in training and searching.

    Of course, it’s the work of an entire life, and for those who believe it, it may be the work of several lives.

    So what we have to do is train, train, train 🙂

    • ralvoid Says:

      Thanks for the entry, Davide. You introduce a new element to power: BALANCE. The Chinese speak of “whole-body-movement”, which is possible only if the body acts as one mass or unit. The result is such that the body is completely balanced, the weight is equally distributed, and the body is able to generate power from any side or limb (not just the attacking hand).

      Internal KF no doubt develops this ability or “state”, but Shrfu Ed teaches Vinyasa Yoga as well – which seems to develop this “tensegrity” rather quickly. This makes me wonder whether traditional systems are complete and “perfect” in their training or whether they can be improved upon? Bruce Lee was a self-proclaimed innovator… did he invent anything useful for us?

      And you also mention “fear” and “self knowledge”, Davide. These are enormous topics, but well worth exploring in relation to Internal KF. In short for this post, I will say only that: how your mind works and perceives phenomena is the key to wisdom, or to knowing reality (or truth, or “self”).

      The difficulty is in finding a truly wise person who has discovered this “true perception”, and having the will and resources to stay around that person. The teacher is the guide, but he/she can only show you as much as you can see at that time. One problem is that students visit a teacher and learn something (or nothing) during their first few weeks, and they think that is all the teacher has to teach.

      If the teacher is truly wise, then this supposed lack of learning is the result of the student’s inability to perceive the truths being taught. This is why so many students switch teachers and styles. Once we find a wise teacher, we should stay with him or her until the teacher tells us to move on.

      Truth is often transmitted orally, and in person. More about this later. This post is long enough.

      • Davide Says:

        Well, I think that improving and evolution are endless, and a concept as “perfection” cannot exist, at least in our world.
        When a man starts to learn a martial art – or another physical work – in mere decades he can learn the work of hundreds or also thousands years; and the more time runs by, the deeper the evolution will be.

        But what’s the *direction* of this evolution?

        It’s very important to consider.

        I think about karate.

        According to my sources, in XXth century it deeply changed. The concept “one punch, one kill” – “no second attack” was introduced; also, a lower fighting stance was added; and the famous “OSS!!” greeting, comes from Japanese navy.

        From a complex martial art (very similar, in some aspects, to internal KF), it became a mere killing tool.

        Is this evolution? No, I think.
        What I call evolution goes from developing a function, to developing many functions; in the same time, going from simplicity to complexity; as time goes by, all this operations become faster (but this doesn’t mean that evolution rushes or hurries up), and also, they evolve in beauty. And all this content is condensed in always smaller “space”. Example: a movement can have a martial value, but it’s also good for your health; and, in order to reach the ability and the concentration required to perform that movement, a man must work on his mind, evolving in this way his concentration. So we have fighting, health and mind stillness, all in one movement. Which other contents can we introduce in a movement? Endless, of course.

        This is what I observed in every traditional kind of teaching – from martial arts to Yoga to meditation, but also traditional dances, harmonic singing and so on. (and here’s my 2 cents about Wu shu and K1 issue).
        A discipline spreading 360 degrees, not just going in a straight line. Going in a straight line is what modern Karate did – to “go” to a place, it lost many many important things. When we expand -just like when we “hold the ball”- we don’t actually move, but still reach farer places.

        After all these words, a question: what is the use, the *function* of Internal KF in the western society, nowadays? Karate was born and taught to give poor people a chance to survive.

        **Internal Kung Fu, and I think this is a very important topic, comes from movements used by the monks, by people engaged in an inner search. This can explain many aspects of IKF and also, can let us guess what its function may be, for the single man but also for the whole western society. **

      • ralvoid Says:

        Davide’s reply speaks of the evolution of an art, from simple to complex, one function to more functions. This reminds me of the “circle” of martial movement, which grows smaller as skill increases.

        But Davide also introduces a fascinating subject: IKF was created and flourished by Chinese monks (Buddhist and Taoist). So how does this origin help explain the functions of IKF? Does this mean we are practicing spirituality by practicing IKF?

  19. ralvoid Says:

    WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN YOUR TEACHER? Since this subject has been raised, it is important to discuss the qualities to seek in a teacher.

    What should we look for in a prospective teacher?

    What is the importance of a lineage, or a pure system?

    Does style matter?

  20. Davide Says:

    I think that this, as well, is such a critical topic.

    It depends o what a man is looking for, and also, on what he is able to see and observe. But there’s often a “sensation” which does not come from the mind – is when you know something without needing explanations, a pure intuition that is rarely wrong.

    Now, for the teacher-

    I think that a good teacher is someone that experienced a whole evolution (which affects body, mind, energy, emotions and also the “quintessence”, the deepest I) by practicing what he teaches. And this goes for whatever he’s teaching.

    I think that a teacher must love his tradition enough to be able to be a teacher even when he has no students. I hope I was able to describe this subtle, traditional concept.

    For what concerns the lineage, I think that a real tradition MUST evolve. Don’t care if it was born in China 5000 years ago- there’s a huge difference from *that* China to *this* China!!!! And Chinese people’s bodies are completely different from ours! And my body is completely different to, for example, my girlfriends’, and so on. Two people cannot execute the same movement. But a movement can *live* in different people.

    When our society thinks of Tradition, it thinks about antiquity and similarity to that ancient past. But this is totally the *contrary* of what a tradition truly is.

    The (latin) etymology of tradition is to transmit.
    And in order to transmit a knowledge, that knowledge must be *up to date*; that’s the reason why Chinese teachers speak the language of the country they live in, and don’t use their language, which is more appropriate, subtle and full of meaning than our language. It may seem a stupid example, but it isn’t, if you think about it.
    It concerns being up to date, being useful!
    So, a lineage or a pure system is important in the measure it is useful and it brings an actual evolution (see my previous post).

    *The *true* Traditional teachings, also, are always up to date: because the tradition does not go in a straight line, and sees the past in the future and the future in the past, is not conservative. *

    (by the way, I think that eastern disciplines are experiencing a totally new evolution, coming to the West, don’t you think? And this evolution may be one of the reasons that led many masters to spread teachings kept secret for long times).

    Also, I wanted to quote G.I Gurdjeff, a really sage exponent of Tradition:

    “A true evolution is alway an *aware* evolution. There’s no evolution without the evolution of awareness.”

    And this concerns all the fields of human research.

    • ralvoid Says:

      Interesting post, Davide. Could you expand on the changes you think the Eastern disciplines are undergoing through exposure to the West? How so?

      Also, while I agree that a pure tradition is critical to the transmission of knolwedge, how can we be sure a tradition is “pure” or as you write, “aware”?

      Davide, or anybody?

  21. James McAllister Says:

    Something jumped out earlier in one of Davide’s posts. He raised the question, “What is the purpose of internal martial arts?”

    I would venture to say that the purpose of internal martial arts is to find peace within yourself so that you can spread peace out into the world.

    As far as the earlier post regarding the Eastern world experiencing an evolution by coming in contact with the West, I would agree… However, I would not label it as much as an evolution in their culture. It is the process of sharing knowledge. This process has gone on for centuries. Ever since Mathew Perry demanded the harbors of Japan to be opened up for trade, our cultures have been sharing in each others knowledge and wisdom. If anything is evolving here, it’s the entire human race. Not just martial artists from the East. Technology is getting ridiculous and people are trying their best to catch up… Who knows if we ever will.

    The sad truth about martial arts these days is that most of what is taught in a typical dojo is obsolete. The typical person goes through their entire life without having to punch someone. Yet, we throw all our money at these people… for what? Ultimately, it’s just a sense of security we need for ourselves. The only meaning we give our black belts and our testing and our countless hours of training is the meaning we decide to give it ourselves. Does it change the fact that we are going to die one day? No. But the hope is, that through our training, we will have a certain amount of control over our own life and consequently, our destiny.

    If you want to really be able to defend yourself… buy a gun, and every night before you go to bed, imagine shooting someone in the head so that when the moment arrives when you actually have to do it, you won’t hesitate. And if you’re a kid who has a bully problem, just tell the freakin dean, or call the cops. Most people who REALLY need martial arts, just pick it up by instinct. At the heart of the matter, this study of martial arts we continue to talk about is just the natural law being expressed through today’s watered down world of television, fruit roll-ups, and microwaveable macaroni and cheese. I can’t help but think non of us have a freakin clue sometimes. Our human culture is certainly evolving… Into what, I cannot say. Some of it I like… Some of it makes me want to vomit uncontrollably. I just hope that one day, the weak and less fortunate will not have to suffer so that the strong can become even stronger.

    The true martial artist does not train for glory. The true martial artist trains to uphold peace.

    • ralvoid Says:

      Provocative post, James. You raise an important point about technology, which I think we should explore further. Starting with WW II and Bruce Lee’s movies (and Kung Fu matinee), Asian martial arts made their way to the USA. But the Internet has changed this drastically.

      So who can give us their opinion how this massive dissemination of information changes the face of martial arts?

      And in a round about way, I would agree with your true purpose of martial arts as upholding peace. But I think it would be more thorough to present the steps in the chain: true martial arts builds character, which transfors one’s consciousness and enhances awareness.

      Through awareness, artists come to see the nature of the universe and how things work. Once we understand how things work, we see the futility and myopia of violence. As a result, we avoid violence, or at least minimize it, and come to seek peace.

      So if you will accept this logical reasoning, we are in agreement.

  22. James McAllister Says:

    Yes Richard, I would agree with the steps in your logic. That is a very concise breakdown in how a martial artist comes to seek peace in their own lives after years of practicing. You expressed the process very well.

    As far as the massive exchange of information that is taking place in today’s society as related to the internet and television broadcasts, yes, it has affected martial arts as drastically as it has affected just about everything else. People are learning martial arts online now. They just pay a fee and videos of their particular forms are sent directly to their computers which they study in the privacy of their own homes. The enlightening, soul riveting conversations which once took place between student and teacher in the privacy of a sacred temple chamber are now taking place in privacy of an online chat room. College courses are taken online and businesses are managed online. Everything is taking place on a much faster, more interconnected plane than was ever thought possible 15 years ago. This is the future, like it or not.

    Bruce Lee was an innovator and a messenger to all serious martial artists around the world. He is also, still, one of the greatest martial artists of all time. I believe he saw the drastic change in the world taking place during his theatrical career and expressed its breakdown through the creation of what is now JKD. He broke down fighting to it’s most basic elements and synthesized a system that was supposedly not bound to conventional style. I agree with his take on the matter of fighting.

    What made Bruce Lee great was not his take on martial arts however. He was not great because he created his own martial art. Many lesser practitioners have done the same thing. He was great because he had the character and discipline of a true martial artist. He had the mind of a great martial artist. And he did the damn thing by getting his message out through his movies and his books. He will always be considered one of the greatest martial artists of all time because he gave of himself entirely to advance the true spirit of martial arts all around the world.

    His work out routines were ridiculous. They were decades ahead of his time. Because of this, many martial artists consider him the prototype of what we call MMA today. He was a huge fan of cross training and he took from the best in all martial fields. He used the vast exchange of information going on in the world to break down martial arts into a more complete and manageable system. It is just a shame his life ended before he could discover for himself some of the more profound aspects of what defines internal martial arts.

    As great as he was, I don’t feel like he had the peace of mind that comes to someone who has consciously denied the necessity of violence in their life. Sadly, I believe he was a slave to violence, much like how a seasoned combat veteran is in today’s times. Physiological stresses take place in the bodies and brains of those who are consistently choked by the continued physical expressions of violence. I believe these stresses could have very well played a role in his tragic death.

    He called it the style of no style. Is that not the ultimate goal for training in the end? We cannot always depend on one technique or style to ensure our survival. However, what we can depend on is the strength of our own character and the permeating presence of our will to carry us through any hardship. This strength of will to survive translates into all aspects of life, (not just fighting) and I believe, this strength of will is the essence of what we call “chi” itself.

    I also believe that this will to survive is the force which sparks adaptation, or as some would call, “evolution”. Having the fluid nature to adapt in a conflict scenario is very oftentimes the decisive factor between who wins and who loses in a fight. Fighters who do not understand this, simply do not understand martial arts. The process of fighting someone involves analyzing their style, their method of moving, (very quickly, of course) and discovering ways to defeat them using their own techniques. Oftentimes, this process involves adapting to their style and synthesizing a new technique as the present moment dictates. One must be free of mind to accomplish this fluidly. One who is not free of mind, will inevitably ignore key aspects of certain situations. Thus being defeated by their own ignorance.

    The true martial artist is attuned to the present moment at all times and is aware of everything around him. He does not give up and will stop at nothing to survive in any situation. When victory cannot be attained, he can and will settle for not being defeated. If he is defeated, assuming he survives his defeat, he makes a change that will ensure that his/her defeat will never occur again. This too, is a fuel that leads to adaptation/evolution. I believe that this ability to make conscious changes in order to ensure that we are not defeated in future scenarios is also an aspect of what comprises the vast concept of chi.

    So, through logical reasoning using this analogy of thought; falling into one solitary style, or system, can indeed hamper the flow of chi in our everyday lives. Because the nature of the mind is limitless, so too shouldn’t the nature of how we train and fight be limitless as well?

    “To honestly express oneself, is very hard to do.”
    -Bruce Lee

    • ralvoid Says:

      Very thorough response, James. I agree with most everything you state except your position regarding Bruce Lee’s no-style synthesis. Of course, true movement must flow from emptiness and not be bound by any particular style. However, Bruce Lee wa slooking for shortcuts and almost totally neglected the internal side.

      Yes, Bruce Lee relied a great deal on sensitivity, but he failed to utilize full body movement, never taught linkage (whold body connectedness), and underestimated the power of internal energy in my opinion. Remember that Bruce Lee was developing Jeet Kun Do in his 20s, when we want immediate results and are still too young to appreciate the virtues of patience.

      In my opinion, had he lived another 20 years, he would have recanted his JKD and begun following an internal style. But as you astutely pointed out, his crazy training methods probably contributed to his early death.

      And one question for you: you mention free of mind. Do you mean emptiness? And if so, can you elaborate?

  23. James McAllister Says:

    So you are saying that even though movement should flow from emptiness of thought, (be like water as Bruce Lee said, same thing) his system was still lacking in certain key aspects. It seems like you agree with his overall outcome, but not his methods at which he used to arrive there.

    When I mention “free of mind” yes, I essentially mean emptiness. Emptiness to me is the realization that all things are changing and nothing is permanent in this world. To live in the present moment with this knowledge will allow a martial artist to act fluidly and relaxed in any situation. It is the key ingredient to eliminate fear and to maximize all chance of success in an intense situation. Freedom of mind is the same concept as emptiness to me. Emptiness is usually considered a more profound revelation to most, but freedom of mind can fit into the same mold of personal revelations by what it implies.

    Also, does not full body movement and linkage come naturally to the accomplished martial artist? Perhaps he did not teach these concepts as specifically as we would expect them to be taught because he simply understood them on an intuitive level.

    How did he underestimate the power of internal energy? Care to elaborate?

    • ralvoid Says:

      Exactly, I agree with Bruce Lee’s philosophy, as he pulled the words directly from his studies of Taoism (remember his degree was in Philosophy and his research paper on Taoism is viewable today). However, I feel his methods to obtain this “no style” and “emptiness” do not lead to these states. To the contrary in fact, most of his training methods were external, relied on natural attributes (strenght, speed, etc), and could have increased tension and fear instead.

      I could write a dissertation on this topic alone, but suffice to say that each and every movement we perform leaves an imprint on our psyche (or nervous system). External arts training tend to leave negative imprints, causing us to tense up at the moment of truth. Internal arts do the opposite. External arts look for immediate results and work with what you have; internal arts restructure your anatomy and muscle structure, which takes too long for most young, impatient people.

      Shrfu Ed says on his Podcast interview that seasoned fighters become more and more internal. The fact is, at age 60 you have more wisdom and experience and figure things out; most 20 year olds do not understand the importance of subtlety and holism. In fact, most people get involved in internal martial arts between the ages of 25 and 40 (after 40 you are too old to get the body into shape unless you have done other training; and under 25 you are typically too myopic to see the virtues of internal training – you are an exception James).

      Bruce Lee’s style was basically a combination of kickboxing, Wing Chun, and Taoist philosophy. He stressed centerline, entry, sensitivity, and trapping; but failed to understand the importance of root and biomechanics.

      Bruce Lee had a root most likely because of his early martial arts training – which was traditional (stand in horse stance for 2 hours each night doing arm drills) – but his JKD students do not have a traditional root (watch them on youtube: they essentially use boxing stances and movement).

      My knowledge of Bruce Lee is not only his books, but is anecdotal through my Wing Chun teacher – Victor Kan – who was Bruce Lee’s senior student for 2 years in Hong Kong. They trained together under Yip Man, who never took Bruce as an indoor student, and even kicked him out of the school after 2 years because Bruce missed too many classes because of his movie making. Yip Man woudl not teach Bruce Lee the second Wing Chun form even after Bruce Lee became famous and returned to Hong Kong. Wong Shong Leung (WSL) then taught Bruce Lee outside the school for 3 years as a protegee (WSL carried the Yip Man torch till his death). WSL was a very solid and tough fighter by all accounts; he never failed to fight when challenged. But his lifestyle was less than ideal, and he was not so interested in philosophy.

      So we see the Bruce Lee synthesis: 2 years of traditional Wing Chun (non indoor); 3 years as WSL protegee’ with street fights as the focus (he did several rooftop challenges with WSL as referee); then he was on his own in the USA visiting masters as he went along (a Praying Mantis teacher in the USA influenced him also). Bruce Lee – as far as I have read – met no high level internal teacher. And if he had, I assume the teacher would have had to hurt Bruce Lee to make him understand and feel internal power. And who wants to hurt a student who is just peeking in your school as he did (and I have done the same as well).

      Bruce Lee was a special person, who had internalized many internal training concepts, but as a teacher he did not impart these concepts.

      I will give more examples in my next post, but for now let me address the emptiness matter. Emptiness is something that exists underneath the fear and tension. Put simply: internal training eradicates the obstacles to emptiness, allowing your true nature express itself in movement. Nobody teaches a cat how to fight, yet it attacks with an absence of tension that is both graceful and vicious to watch. The cat’s mind is not inhibited by conceptual thought; and emptiness is just that: the mind unfettered by coneptual thought which allows for freedom of kinetic expression.

  24. James McAllister Says:

    I believe emptiness is actually our natural state of mind. However, the more I try to accomplish an overall state of emptiness, the more I realize how much the world is actively injecting into our minds. The grasp that society has on us is present from the stresses of work to the responsibilities of simply surviving in such a complex world. How do we maintain a state of emptiness when so much in this world is attempting to define us through its own views and value systems? Why can’t we be like the cat and just be? Why must we constantly be trying to shape our own concepts of who we are based off of what is accepted as the “best” thing to have or be?

    In the martial realm, a kick boxer calls himself a kick boxer. A Marine calls himself a Marine. etc… When does all that end and we just decide to be?

    Is that not when emptiness begins? When we stop attempting to define ourselves according to our merits and just exist non conceptually in the present moment?

    Also, is it truly healthy to live in a state of emptiness? To have no concept of ego self? Does that not shut you off from the rest of the world? Does that not put a man in danger of not knowing who he is? To release oneself of all concepts of self… Does that not inevitably lead to a weakened sense of what it means to exist? How can a man exist fully and actively in this world while consciously deciding to deny that which says he exists as a unique and fully dynamic individual? How can someone truly discover who one is, while denying the ego, which is in fact defining the essence of the man on their most intimate and profound level?

    Opponents of Eastern thought and the concept of non ego argue that dissolving the ego drastically eliminates feelings of self-worth and will eventually lead a culture into a state of collective hypnosis. When the self is denied, does that not dis empower one’s sense of intuition to a certain degree? Many opponents of Eastern religion feel that to eliminate ones concept of ego self is the first step to make such people act according to their wishes. They believe it is a deeply rooted indoctrination that leads to a more socialist line of thought. A more “go with the flow” mentality which makes achieving power in such a society all the easier.

    Does emptiness lead to a deficient sense of self worth? I believe Bruce Lee saw this aspect of his culture and he fought this concept as best he could by getting out in the world and experiencing the world the way he wanted to, despite everything. He was an individual that towered above the rest simply because he believed in who he was and what he planned to accomplish with his life. He was not brainwashed by the collective mindset of the Chinese culture and although he died very young, he lived his life how he wanted to and never looked back. For these reasons, he will always be a great role model to martial artists everywhere.

    I believe this concept of how people view themselves on a personal level is the fundamental difference between the Eastern and Western cultures. Although, it is important to dissolve the ego for the sake of avoiding unchecked pride and greed, at what point does that ego dissolution turn into an underlying sense of weakness? Is not pride the seat of a man’s power? If you do not have pride about what you do, and who you are, why choose to do it? Why choose to be that man?

    Bruce Lee may have been kicked out of Yip Man’s school, but whose fault was that? If his teacher was too caught up in his own little world of Wing Chun to realize the importance of what Bruce Lee was doing by helping to unite the Eastern and Western cultures through the malleable artist medium of film, then perhaps Bruce Lee did not truly belong there to begin with. Bruce Lee was more than just an actor, he was more than just a martial artist, he was an icon in our human culture that helped to bring the study of martial arts to an entirely different level; entailing the entire expression of a human being through the pathway of the martial arts. Like him or hate him, his message is here to stay.

    Whether or not he believed in the essence of his system of JKD is a matter of great debate, but regardless, his true message of complete expression of the individual self lives on. I feel like that is his greatest accomplishment given his background and what he had to overcome to arrive there. It was his message to the world, and it still rings true across the world today – It is not the style which makes the martial artist.

    If you ever hope to understand others, you must first aim to understand yourself. This is one of the primary tenets of his JKD and the backbone of which his entire system is derived. He breaks down fighting to it’s most fundamental level and keeps it within that realm. To him, fighting became a science. He studied it in great detail from his own perspectives, based off his own experiences, completely unfettered by the illusion of style. This was his primary contribution to the world of martial arts and its principles apply to a myriad of different disciplines. It was an evolution in thought that he personally helped to usher in; which was completely independent from the social programming of the concept of martial lineage.

    It is only natural that many other martial artists would dislike him for doing what he did. Most martial lineages have deeply rooted families that go back centuries with people who closely studied the martial arts just like he did. They themselves studied the martial arts and created their own system for teaching the proper principles within them. They created a system and called it such-and-such fist. And in order to give their system life, they had to preach it’s effectiveness, must like how a street preacher will go out on the streets and preach salvation to anyone he/she sees. He believes in his system and in order to give it life, he must propagate that system through his word. “This fist will grant you a sense of security above all others, buy my product!” “Don’t read his bible, read mine!” Pretty much the same thing…

    I believe Bruce Lee saw all that and just tried to get people to self-actualize themselves through emptiness. His JKD was not so much a fighting style to me as much as an exercise in his personal liberty as a self actualized artist. A testament to his will as an individual. A scientific, detailed statement revolving around the principles of what he believed to be the truth of martial arts at the time. I agree, that JKD is lacking in certain key aspects, and perhaps if he had spent more time building more rapport with some closed door teachers instead of making movies and fighting, his JKD would have had a more comprehensive training method behind it. Again, it is just a shame that he died so young and he will not have any say on how the world will truly choose to interpret his message.

    Yes, loyalty and commitment play a HUGE part in the martial artist’s path, but when does denying the ego for the sake of the whole (turning away from his movies, and being more committed to Yip Man’s classes) become too heavy a price to pay for one’s liberty? Especially when you look around and all you see in your heart is a substantial portion of your peers who really are just hypnotized by their own false senses of security?

    You must understand, I don’t idolize Bruce Lee. I really don’t idolize anyone for that matter. However, I realize what he did for martial arts and I will always appreciate him for that. For better or for worse, his views and his works helped to unify the Eastern and Western cultures on a level that had previously been undefined. And that, to me, is worth appreciating in spite of the key points that were left out of his martial teachings.

    • ralvoid Says:

      I think I need a book to reply to your post in full! In short, I do not see “emptiness” as a tool used by the state to coerce /manipulate its populace. Emptiness is a state of mind, which is better experienced than described.

      However, you might be onto something when you describe a man’s failure to exist healthily in a state of “emptiness”. I have heard a good description of this as: you gotta be a somebody before you become a nobody. This adage stems from Zen teachers coming to the West, and attracting a decadent, miscreant strata of our society.

      The Zen Master preaches emptiness and the students walk around in a daze saying: I am you and you are me: we are one and all is one, before jumping off a bridge to end his misery.

      This is definitely not emptiness as I understand it; this is mental affliction. To transcend ego, we first must have a stable psyche as well as social life. I think this is why we train Kung Fu for so many years before learning meditation. You gotta have self-worth and utility before your mind is ready to absorb higher truths and practices. This topic is best discussed with Shrfu Ed (and I am arranging a way to do same at the moment.)

      And as for Bruce Lee, he was indeed a remarkable figure credited for popularizing martial arts in the West, but his Kung Fu speaks for itself. A person’s life IS his art; Bruce Lee died at age 32 from an apsirin, a troubled man. My primary problem with Bruce Lee was that his Kung Fu did not match the philosophy he was espousing.

      But your concerns of loyalty are imperative, showing us the importance of finding a quality teacher. Any teacher who would hinder your self-expression to your detriment is clearly not acting in your best interests. In the end, we are all hypnotized (I prefer the term “asleep”) to a larger or lesser degree, and it is the teacher’s role to awaken us.

      Thus, finding the right teacher/lineage is a crucial part of self-actualization, and comes about through luck, circumstance, or karma. Having the discernment to recognize the quality of an art (and the teacher teaching it) is the first step; next we must have the courage (and the resources and circumstances) to follow that teacher. No enlightened teacher will invest his time and teachings in a vessel (i.e. student) not fully committed to the art, lest that student get only half truths or the incomplete teachings and leave thinking he/she has the whole picture.

      Our world is full of people who believe they got it figured out. But the first step on the path to wisdom is to admit that we know nothing. Only then do we become the empty cup, poised to be filled by the Master’s wisdom. Your discernment, courage and karma then determine what sort of wisdom that teacher will be pouring in your cup.

  25. James McAllister Says:

    A very thorough and respectable response. Thanks.

    Emptiness can be a tricky subject for many people, westerners especially. Coming from our backgrounds and our studies, I think it is important they we try to fully illuminate that which emptiness is for those aspiring and committed to reaching higher states of consciousness.

  26. Andrea Macrì Says:

    i’m Andrea Macrì and started studying tai chi discipline with Richard just 1 mouth
    i’m really happy to learn this especially for spiritual path and then mind and physical power too, so i would like to thanks master Shrifu Ed and Richard&Cristina too

    sorry for my bad english 🙂

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