Friday, October 17, 2008

Facing Facts

I think I need to face the fact that I am no longer a martial artist..
Dead time here gets pretty dead. Not much room to wander, working out more then twice a day feels excessive. I like to read and lay in the sun, but there is a limit. If the internet was up, I’d be calling friends at weird hours or researching.
So in a fit of boredom I stepped into the only martial arts class going on base. The instructor is skilled at what he does. It’s a decent class and a good workout. But it’s not me, not anymore.

I used to love this stuff- the precision, the repetition (sort of) the feeling that I was learning to do stuff exactly right. Now it just all felt slightly off. Artificial.

From the very start- warm ups. I quit doing warm ups over a decade ago because, tactical operations aside, I have never had a chance to warm up before a fight and I want to train with the body I will have. It’s also an incentive to stay slightly warm and stretched constantly- doing isometrics whenever you are sitting, stretching the spine and hips in such a way that no one notices.

Then basics- there has been some degradation there. It’s been a long time since I practiced punches or kicks or “blocks” on air, in a static line, or in bare feet for that matter. After years on ballistic and structured striking and infighting, I’m slower and less precise in my basic tsukis and ukes than when I was fanatically training under watchful eyes.

I didn’t really feel like an alien until the instructor started explaining things, talking about "bad guys" and "real fights". On every single particular, he was wrong. Let me amend that, to be fair. Every single description he gave of ‘what will happen in a real fight’ or ‘what a real opponent will do’ did not come close to matching my experience.

It was hard to keep my mouth shut, and that, in and of itself is reason to go back- the double discipline of keeping my mouth shut and emptying my cup to learn something else.

It’s a balance, though, because time spent here will actually degrade my ability to defend myself unless I put it in a different part of my brain. I used to love this kind of stuff, but it is so clearly not what I am any more. For 27 years I've been a dedicated practicing martial artist. Over the last years it has changed. I'm still practicing, still learning, but what I do doesn't look or feel anymore like 'martial arts'.

So if what I do isn't martial arts, what is it and, by extension, what am I?


Don Weiss said...

Maybe you have moved to "combatives", or "martial science" or "martialist" or whatever the term is for efficient use of the body to deal with a violent situation? Taking some of the "art" out of "martial arts"?

Kai Jones said...

Dead time here gets pretty dead.

You could knit. :) Or write, of course. How about learning to dance? We could send you lessons on DVD.

So if what I do isn't martial arts, what is it and, by extension, what am I?

I'm more interested in why you need a label for it. What's the label for, you or others? Who will use the label? How would the label limit you? Are you thinking "Name something and you control it"?

I'd argue you are doing martial arts--you're synthesizing all the things you've learned, from formal style to practical experience, into mastery of the art of applying physical and mental power to achieve a given goal (usually moving other people away from using violence to damage others).

Steve Perry said...

If you have something that works for you and you find something else that doesn't work for you, that seems to be an easy problem to solve.

If you want to stay sharp, start your own class and practice the stuff you know works. I don't know about you, but I find that teaching something -- anything -- to somebody else means I have to understand the how and why of it better than just learning it myself.

I generally pair up with a beginner during classes when we train. Yeah, I'm not going to get a chance to practice the new drill as much as I would with a senior student, but teaching somebody basics requires that I have those, and can lay them out in a way a newbie can understand.

In medicine, one of the old saws is "See one, do one, teach one." If you have a skill, showing it to a newbie at it benefits you both.

You get bored too easily. Make yourself useful.

Anonymous said...

"you get bored too easily, make yourself useful."

Yeah, second that. :)

Sorry dude, you've become the kind of person that invented aikido, or judo, or uechi ryu, or tai chi.

You know the real martial art. Everyone else is still trying to learn it.

Mark Jones said...

I think Steve (and Anonymous) are on to something. If you were designing a martial arts course from the ground up--one that you were going to teach--what would you teach? And how? You've often said that a given art is about something in particular--what would yours be for and about, and how would that influence your decisions about its form?

Anonymous said...

I don't know you personally, and obviously, I've never had the chance to train with you directly.

But you've got something that very few "martial arts" instructors have: REAL experience. And you couple that experience with understanding and wisdom. That's even rarer. Add the ability to actually relate all of that... and you really move off the chart on rarity.

If simply being a student for a while feels beneficial to you... go for it. Let someone else structure the class and just go through the drills.

But I don't think you'll be able to. And I don't think that they'll let you. Those who want the real thing will notice the difference, and seek you out. So, you might as well start teaching.

As to how your training has changed, let me try my hand at an analogy. I enjoy woodworking; it's a hobby, and I'm decent. But what I do, and how I do it, has a significant qualitative difference from the work of a professional. Even though the end product is similar (or even identical)... the way I get there isn't the same. In the same way, most folks today, even the most serious, are "hobby martial artists." "Martial tradesmen" are a different breed; their training is oriented towards REAL fighting and REAL use of force. Not idealized in a ring, not tough on the training floor... Your training came to reflect your direct and real experience that, most of the time, the first punch comes with little perceived warning and little prep time; that there are often two or three more guys waiting a chance if you give it them; that "perfect form" goes out the window when the adrenaline hits and your heart rate goes up... and so on.

What have you become? There's an old word, which has become overused -- but it's still the best one. You've become a warrior. If you don't like that word -- you might consider how Gordon Dickson described a Dorsai soldier once: a Man of War.

Drew Rinella said...

Don't let the man put you in a box.. man!!

Anonymous said...

I don't know what it is you have, but like the other comments, I suggest that you could teach it.

I've finished your book, and as a martial artist learning how to swim on land, I think what you have to teach can be of great value to us who just want to learn to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Anonymous said...

[b]I used to love this stuff- the precision, the repetition (sort of) the feeling that I was learning to do stuff exactly right. Now it just all felt slightly off. Artificial.[/b]

I've been in the that place for the last couple of years, and found it uncomfortable for a while. These days I'd have to agree with Kai,why you need a label for it?

[b]So if what I do isn't martial arts, what is it and, by extension, what am I? [/b]

You're just you, probably the best thing martial arts can help you discover.


Unknown said...

jks9199 took the word I was shouting in my mind out of my head...Warrior.

But you have always been that. You've combined intelligence, skill and compassion in the best ways to keep yourself and others safe. I don't think of this as a "box" or a change of label...

I think this is a realization of what you're always working toward. Spiritual, physical, a warrior. There is a goal there that I don't think is ever exceeded because the definition of warrior evolves with the expanded understanding.

It's an old word and one that I wished wasn't so overused because I think it has moral and spiritual implications that other labels miss.

Anonymous said...

Thomas Perry in his novel "Pursuit" argues that the word "warrior" is mis-used in it's modern usage. Simply put, "warrior" is one who's vocation is war; one most comfortable in battle, taking lives. For much of history, and especially Japanese history, that seems to hold up. Only recently during the propagandization (forgive me for that word please) of military enlistment has the term "warrior" been used to imply some sort of noblility.
I'd suggest that Mr.Miller is in fact a martial artist. He's just so much more experienced than most that they cannot comprehend him. His pursuit of finely controlled conflict resolution ought to place him firmly in the ranks of those whose pursuits in the martial are art.
I am a recent fan of your work Mr. Miller.
-Martin Kelley