I’ve been thinking recently about the value of martial arts training in the modern age. As martial artists, there is usually at least some personal motivation that drives our study and commitment to the Art. When I think about what drives me, I have several answers. Primarily, it is my passion for the kung fu. It is my hunger to grow and achieve goals that seem impossible. It’s the sheer joy of kung fu. It is the family community that is the heart of my school.
But, on a deeper level, my motivation is driven by my desire to evolve. The modern human is beset on all sides by a multitude of distractions and stressors. We see ourselves as individuals, separate from our environment, made up of physical, mental, emotional, and – sometimes – spiritual selves. We obsess over the past and future: dwelling on past mistakes and anxiously perseverating over future events that may or may not come to be. Rarely do we see ourselves – our true selves – as we are meant to be. A unified being that defies these narrow views of time and self.
This seems like a lot of mystical nonsense and may even sound a little preachy. It isn’t meant to be. But thinking about ourselves outside of the paradigm of daily living may feel that way, until you get used to seeing yourself through new eyes. Kung Fu gives us the tools we need to expand our vision and gives us the courage to explore these uncomfortable concepts.
So, if you are still with me, what do I mean by a unified being? Just as the tree grows forth from a single root and branches into ten thousand branches, so too do we grow from a unified source and expand into a multitude of aspects and perceptions. All of these numerous aspects of ourselves are an illusion. We are not the branches, we are not the root; we are the tree and all aspects of the tree are a part of who we are. And just as the tree does not exist in a vacuum, we too depend on our environment. Our environment isn’t some hokey concept of forests and meadows and oceans. Our environment includes all of these magnificent concepts, but is also made up of our relationships with each other. We cannot exist outside of our environment; it is defined by our interactions. We are a part of it. It does not exist separately from us and we cannot separate ourselves from it. It is vital to existence.
There is a wonderful quote attributed to Yue Fei:
“From the beginning, all that is discrete must have its unification, the divided must be combined. Therefore, between heaven and earth, all that is disordered has its abode, all the thousand branches and the confusion of ten thousand endings, all have their origin. This is because one root divides into ten thousand branches, and ten thousand branches all belong to one root. All of these events are the natural way.”
Seeing ourselves as the ‘confusion of the ten thousand endings’ distracts us from what is important. Our focus cannot be separated among our physical needs, our emotional needs, our spiritual needs. We cannot be obsessing over the past and future. We need to see ourselves as complete beings, living here in the Now. Only then can our eyes be open. Only then can we see the world for what it is. But this takes courage. It’s difficult to willfully seek out a new way of being.
“What are the benefits?”, you may ask. Being present in the moment – without wallowing in the depression and anxiety of the past and the future – is very healthy. This reduces stress, improves focus, increases attention to detail, and allows you to truly enjoy what is actually happening in your life. Being present allows you to truly hear and see what people are trying to communicate to you. This is valuable in countless ways.
To see all of the aspects of yourself as a single Unified Being is a more complicated concept to explain. Imagine existing in a state where you are aware of your body, how it interacts with itself and its environment, and having the sense of time and emotional capacity to honestly and clearly express yourself. This is about being awake in your daily life. As Mencius once said, ‘If Tai Mountain collapsed at my feet my countenance would not change’. This is what it is to exist truly here in the moment; to be unified with all aspects of yourself.
So, how does one attain such a state of being? I’ve told you the secret before: Time and Effort. This isn’t something we can explain in a blog post. It is a gradual evolution that can only happen with practice and courage. Come join us in class; we work on improving ourselves every single day. You can too.