A Book Review by Wee Sun Ngiaw
Last weekend saw me making a bee-line to the bookstores, scouting for a topical subject that I have been passionately involved in for the past 4 decades of my life – Martial Art. Literally speaking, it has left a deep cellular imprint in the genetic code.
The common martial art books found on the bookstore shelves are the typical guidebooks printed with glossy photos and step-by-step instructions interspersed with some historical and basic philosophical background of the martial art and the author.
This paper back book entitled ” Martial Arts Teaching Tales of Power and Paradox: Freeing the Mind, Focusing Chi, and Mastering the SELF”. caught my attention with its unique title and thought it would be refreshingly uplifting to write a preview and shared some thoughts on the different approaches towards pursuing martial art.
Most of us martial artists took up martial art for various reasons: –
– for exercise and fitness;
– for self- defense;
– for out of curiosity;
– for improving self-esteem and confidence;
– for instilling self-discipline;
– as a hobby and pastime, etc;
Very rarely do we take up martial art for its aesthetic and spiritual values. On the contrary, as we gain mastery and attain higher Dans , unknowingly and unconsciously, this self achievement has a delusional tendency to heighten our narcissism – the pleasure-seeking falsehood of the ego.
Yet the very nature of the cultural and traditional practices that we martial artists adopt in the dojang such as bowing, paying respect to the seniors etc, and the strict commands often employed with ‘militaristic’ intents, tend to portray a mistaken over-emphasis on the egoistic self, the unyielding demand to be respected, rather than ‘ RESPECT’ that has to be earned in effortless spontaneity.
As years passed and gone by, and gaining more proficient and skillful in the execution of the many movements, kicks and punches, getting promoted to higher and higher Degree (Dan), calling ourselves Masters, Grandmasters, and Supreme Grandmasters, after having exposed to all the grueling test of breaking boards, tiles and bricks, of free-sparring and getting our body bruised all over, our perspectives and outlook would have evolved, our motivations and aspirations would have elevated from the physio-physical aspects to the quintessential and spiritual nature of the art itself.
Unavoidably, by the time this ‘shift’ dawns on us, some of us may have already reached our sun set years of age. But nothing is ever too late to unlearn and learn, for it is in the very word ‘learn‘, that it is the ‘earn’ aspect that our genuine respect will receive its glorious humility.
Inherent in the epistemology of martial art, therein lies the ultimate motivation -the pursuit of Perfection and Self-Mastery – in the trinity of mind, body and spirit. There has to come a time after so many years of disciplinary practice, a shift in consciousness has to occur, whether this shift occurs in tumultuous fashion or in a spontaneous manner.
For it is at this deeper level, that the attainment and experience of the present-moment awareness, and of mindfulness of everything surrounding us, both manifest and unmanifest, that our life will be far more enriching, peaceful, and blissful. Then and then only one truly understands the significance of:
- Hi (Humanity),
- Sum (Goodness)
- Oui (Justice)
- Duk (Virtue)
- Yeh (Courtesy),
- Chung (Loyalty)
- Ji (Wisdom)
- Yong (Courage)
- Sin (Trust)
and the tenets of Courtesy, (Ye Ui) Integrity,(Yom Chi) Perseverance,(In Nae) Self-Control, (Guk Gi) and Indomitable Spirit (Baekjool Boolgool)
It is in-depth awareness of the breath, of mindfulness of the execution in the movements, of being in the here and now. It is the encapsulation of experiencing form and formlessness, of emptiness, the cognition of wu wei and sunyata.
Wu wei (Traditional Chinese characters: 無為 Simplified Chinese characters: 无为) is an important tenet of Taoism / Daoism that involves knowing when to act and when not to act. Wu may be translated as not have; Wei (2nd tone) may be translated as do, act, serve as, govern. The literal meaning of Wu Wei is “without action” and is often included in the paradox wei wu wei : “action without action.”
The practice of wu wei and the efficacy of wei wu wei are fundamental tenets in Chinese thought and have been mostly emphasized by the Taoist / Daoist school. The aim of wu wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the Tao, and, as a result, obtain an irresistible form of “soft and invisible power” over things (the self, others, a country).
Bruce Lee’s PHILOSOPHY RARE
There are three aspects of being, which the martial arts aim to develop: Body, Mind and Spirit. These three aspects must be developed in balance for a person to become properly balanced as a martial artist and therefore as a person.
The first aspect, Body, is developed through the physical exercises involved in martial arts training. Rigorous physical conditioning exercises lead to increased strength, endurance, flexibility and equilibrium. In addition, repetition of martial arts basic and advanced techniques leads to improved physical ability and fluidity of movement.
The second aspect, Mind, is developed through mental training. Meditation teaches the student to focus his mind and to coordinate his thinking with his movement. It also aids him in his abilities to relax and to concentrate. Mental training also calls for active learning in the way of listening, reading and thinking. Students are not to restrict themselves to learning just about the martial arts, but must learn about history, philosophy, law, science, medicine and any other subject that might have a bearing on the martial arts.
Following the philosophy and ideals of the martial arts develops the third aspect, Spirit. Practice of the martial arts is a pursuit of personal improvement. It is not enough to have a strong mind and body the true martial artist should also strive to be strong in spirit. He should have a goal in life and a firm foundation of beliefs to guide him. The true martial artist is humble but confident, willing to give way to others but unwilling to accept injustice.
By developing all three aspects of the martial arts trinity a martial artist can become a total person and eventually a master. Without equal development of all three aspects, a martial artist will never achieve balance in his life and will never be a true artist.
The Code of the HwaRang Warrior and the Nine Virtues
The Code of the HwaRang Warrior and the Nine Virtues of the HwaRang are to be observed by all students of the martial arts. They were compiled by Won Kwang Bopsa and taught to the HwaRang knights to give them a proper code of conduct to live by. Together they form the foundation of all Korean Martial Arts philosophy.
THE CODE OF THE HWARANG
1. Be loyal to your country.
2. Be obedient to your parents.
3. Have faith and honor among friends.
4. Perseverance in battle.
5. Justice — never cause unneeded harm.
About Martial Arts Teaching Tales of Power and Paradox
A collection of parables and teaching stories from the martial arts traditions of Japan and China that emphasizes their spiritual foundation.
• The teaching stories in this book are based on the lives of martial arts masters and are meant to inspire questions and insights for the student.
• Written for martial artists and anyone interested in Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Zen, and Taoism.
True martial arts should never be confused with simple combat techniques. Rather, martial arts are a way that an individual, after a long and difficult apprenticeship, can gain a profound understanding of the true nature of reality and one’s place in it.
Over time the apprentice discovers the laws governing the subtle forces of life and realizes that their mastery is only possible after one has mastered oneself. “He who has mastered the Art doesn’t use his sword: he compels his adversary to kill himself.”
Most of the stories in this book are based on actual events in the lives of martial arts teachers who have achieved legendary status. The almost superhuman abilities of some of the masters described here are evidence of the secret powers that can be wielded by those whose martial arts training is not simply the learning of physical techniques but involves the mastering of the subtle energies of the mind and body.
By reading–and comprehending–the tales in this book, we can acquire the same essential knowledge that these masters had–that extraordinary forces are within the grasp of those who have achieved inner peace and self-mastery. ~