Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Kata of Peace

There is much confusion over the nature of martial arts. A first and uninformed look would render the perception that the martial arts are all and only about violence. But there are many of us who practice for peace. Granted, the early martial arts were developed for hand-to-hand combat, for soldiers, and for self defense in a dangerous and violent world. In many instances they are still practiced with these same fundamentals in mind. In many cases we supplement competition for combat so we can continue to practice hard and still live. However, as the martial arts developed, particularly in China, they took on aspects of the healing arts such as Qi Gong and TCM, and incorporated religious philosophy, primarily Taoism. Fundamental to Taoism is the concept of going with the flow, not forcing things to happen. In Chinese martial arts we have the concept of zou, ju in Japanese. Zou is yielding. The Taiji Classics define zou as overcoming the strong and hard the gentle and soft way. The Japanese art of Jujitsu is translated as the gentle art, or the art of yielding. Aikido, which takes this distinction a step further, is known as the art of peace. The goal of Aikido is the unification of the fundamental creative principle, ki (Qi, or Chi, in Chinese), of the universe, with that same principle in each person. Such a unification is the antithesis of conflict. Whereas conflict identifies separate individuals, subject and object, unification sees all as one. In such a state conflict is not possible. Aikido, which came to real fruition post World War II, seeks to provide the student with the discipline of martial training, and the goals of spiritual practice, without the conflict of combat or competition.

Many of the tenets of Aikido are found in the ancient art of Taijiquan. Taijiquan is translated as Grand Extreme Boxing. Taiji, or Grand Extreme, is also known as Yin and Yang. Yin and Yang are the two primary forces of the universe. They arise from Wuji, or the void. Taijiquan practice seeks to work with these two forces and with the primordial Wuji. The return to Wuji is accomplished through meditation and a state of mind that seeks to find the empty in the solid, action in non-action, stillness in movement, and movement in stillness. This is the ultimate goal of Tajiquan. Master Jou, Tsung Hwa says to “aim to be peaceful inside in order to affect the outside. Gradually, the outer movements will reflect inner direction and total awareness (1).” This is a high spiritual awareness that is realized through a combination of movement and meditation, or better, meditative movement. Through the movements of the Taiji form we find ourselves in rhythm with the pulse of nature, and consequently identification with all creation. Again this provides an absence of us and them, subject and object, the root causes of conflict within the individual. If we see ourselves as one with others it is hard to be in conflict.

As practitioners of peace we still must recognize the existence of violence; the violence of the world, and the violence that is within us. Anything less would be foolish and contrary to our goal: a peaceful existence, a peaceful world. The individual forms and interactive practices of the martial arts provide a way to accomplish this. The tenets of Tajiquan and Aikido, yielding and non-aggression, are not natural reactions in times of stress. These are learned behaviors. We each have this wonderful, yet complicated built-in system we know as “fight or flight”. In times of stress or conflict, fight or flight is automatic. Sometimes it is best. But ultimately it is best controlled. Jesus preached to turn the other cheek, but the Bible doesn’t say how hard that can be. It doesn’t have to, we all know. It is difficult. But turning the other cheek, or yielding, can be taught and learned. External conflict often arises from internal conflict. And we all experience some degree of internal conflict. Even if we aren’t experiencing internal conflict, we can run headlong into another’s internal conflict, manifested externally. Rather than fighting fire with fire, we can fight fire with water; we can extinguish the flames. Internal and external conflict can be diffused with the proper approach. But this takes more than blind faith. It takes action as well; at least for some of us. Some of us have to unlearn our fight of flight responses and re-learn better, saner approaches to the conflict we encounter within, and may encounter without. We need to know how to diffuse, how to yield, and how to bring it to a quick and peaceful ending if it gets out of hand. This is not easy. This is the Kata of Peace.

(1) The Dao of Tajiquan, Way To Rejuvenation; Jou, Tsung Hwa; Tai Chi Foundation, 2001; pp. 201.

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