As a practitioner of the Martial Arts for the best part of my life, I am still amazed at the influence the art has on the spiritual lives of people and most commonly the young. It is in many instances their first point of contact with the personal face of spirituality.
Far removed from Sunday sermons, it is immediately a spirituality they can feel in their bones and understand innately. In the flight of motion one can feel their own energy mixing with that around them. They can learn to harness fears and problems through understanding the role of emotion in decision-making, and learn to keep their mind still in the midst of dismay.
While these lessons are best related in the context of battle, they are easily translated to life, and are accessible to anyone who embarks along the martial way.
Clearing Away Clouds relates the personal journey of Stephen Fabian, a Senior Advisor to the Shudokan Martial Arts Association, and one of the highest-ranking members of the SMAA Jujutsu Division.
With over 20 years training under the top teachers in Japan, his qualifications as an educator and martial artist lends this book great credibility. His ideas about Martial Arts are the result of pure experience. From the outset it is clear the writer understands his artform and is a generous source of knowledge.
The premise of the book is to illustrate the way nine key lessons contained in Martial Arts practice can bring about self-mastery in daily life. The writer takes the reader from his initial exposure and introduction to the Martial Arts, through his development to a point when the student then becomes the teacher.
Fabian traces his journey from a young college student first grappling with life away from home, to his standing as a professional working in a foreign country. The book illustrates how these lessons shaped his own life, whether in the United States, Brazil, or Japan, when he was both with and without a master under whom to study.
Part of the tale rests on this concept of taking authority over one’s life. As Fabian travels across various continents, he frees himself of reliance on a teacher figure and lets the world take its role. The main concern Fabian stresses throughout the book is that while the nine lessons are the basis for life inside the dojo, they should also become the basis for life outside the dojo.
He illustrates the lessons one must learn in order to attain mastery, regardless of whether it is the study of Martial Arts, tea pouring, flower arranging or painting. The lessons are presented as life lessons in nine chapters:
1. Embrace a Way
2. Accept Responsibility for Your Actions
3. Control the Breath
5. Develop Self-discipline
6. Train Hard, Seeking Aesthetic Refinement
7. Be Patient and Flow
9. Cultivate the Mind of No Mind
While these lessons are certainly not new to many readers of the genre, what sets Fabian apart from other writers is his openness in using his own past experiences as illustration. Few writers of Martial Arts texts choose to elaborate on their own life experiences. Generally they will exercise traditional modesty and control of the ego (a battle that all experienced martial artists encounter at one time or another), but fewer still will bare themselves openly by retelling their own personal discoveries of important life lessons.
In Fabian’s candid account, some lessons came easy and some came very hard. He relates his pitfalls, successes and heartbreaks throughout the learning process, providing a more human vehicle for a reader’s understanding. This tact also lends Fabian the ability to deal with abstract Eastern concepts with a more practical approach far removed from the usual esoteric ponderings. He cleverly demystifies the mind/body connection within Eastern thought without losing the powerful qualities that focused attention in this area can bring.
Overall the book does great service in providing a comprehensive picture of the martial spirit and what the over-used term martial artist really means. The art in the practice revolves around the way that individuals use the lessons found in training to express their true spirit. They learn to view the world in a different way. They will see clearer and further, and recognise that the same beauty flowing through nature also flows through them.
Fabian quickly differentiates between the fast-food type of Martial Art school whose primary objective is the development of commercial “martial athletes” and the more traditional dojo’s or training schools that cultivate the true “martial artist.” Clearing Away Clouds does well to realistically present the personal metamorphosis occurring throughout martial training and relates the subtle shifts in awareness, in a way those new to the subject would understand easily.
It will certainly be enjoyable reading for anyone who has already started martial training as it seems the pitfalls encountered by a Westerner commencing a purely Eastern artform are quite universal, and I personally found it relieving to see that Fabian had experiences not unlike my own.
Clearing Away Clouds provides real life experiences of someone that has used the Martial Arts to help shape their life, and become a better person for it.
– Reviewed by Robert Buratti