Training and teaching martial arts has long been one of my keystone practice contexts. What happens in this praxis space is more than a “work out” and beyond the physical development of a series of techniques. Engaging on the journey of martial arts training is really stepping into the stream of cultivating a life path and making a commitment to a tradition of building excellence through continuous, persistent hard work and perseverance. It is planting seeds within the field of self-realization that are nourished with practice, discipline, realization, and actualization of that learning into not only our kung fu environment, but further generalizing that learning throughout all the dimensions of life.
The hard work of this practice includes internalizing complex systems of body movement, breathing technique, and martial application one may expect. However, there is also the exploration and realization of the energetic, spiritual, and psychological dimensions of ourselves that we train in within this practice space. We become intimately aware of the holistic bundle of contexts and circumstance that is each of us as we encounter these dimensions of self. Encountering and moving with self in this manner offers far more complexity and difficulty in training that any technique martial arts technique ever does. Through these practices we are building more than just what is commonly thought of as a “martial art”. We are also building sustainable life practices to shape the way we each interact with and within the various contexts of our lives. We are optimizing our human performance, building our capacity for compassion and patience, and offering a learning space that is at once humbling and affirming. We are actualizing our own Genjo Koan with every kick, punch, block and breath and application of practice!
Part of this personal martial Genjo Koan unfolds like this. We are all the walking, talking contexts that we carry with us into all of the situations of our lives. Sure is a handy from time to time to have a sustainable handle on how that shifting context shapes our perception and how our perception shapes our reality. Why? Well, I think of all the days where I am “stuck in my head” not really interacting directly with my environment, but rather interacting through the veil of the mental baggage and mental models I carry into the day and project onto everything I perceive and interact with. During those times I wonder how can I find my way out of my head and back into my body?…I wonder where I fell of the rails and got trapped in my mental model rather than the life right in front of me. At this point, you may be wondering…what does this have to do with Kung fu?
The idea is that Kung fu as an embodiment practice gives you access to expanded aspects of yourself and thus to new ways to understand the interactions you have with and within your environment. Ever heard the analogy of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man feels a different part of the elephant in isolation and describes it based on that single experience. One describes an elephant as being more like a pot, one as a pestle, one as a great wall, etc…Each blind man (or woman) is limited to his/her own perspective and is unable to get the full idea of what an elephant might in fact be. Embodiment practice in the space of kung fu gives a space to realize more fully what that “elephant” is through rooting practitioners in their body, integrating movement with breath, and allowing for flow not only in motion, but in the manner in which our consciousness engages in activity.
Elephants and kung fu, where has the conversation gone! I will try to bring it all back home! Showing up in the space of a kung fu practice provides the ability to understand more and deeper accesses to individual aspects of the physical and energetic continuum that we all are. For me, it provides a space to work with and within dimensions of myself that I can sometimes miss as they are always emerging, coalescing, and dispersing in that ongoing murmuration that is life. Kung fu provides a training context, an interplay of theory and praxis, that helps me to deal with the complicated relationship between self-perceiving self (ego) and the rest of what is…It gives me a space where my performing these skills allows me to assume a generative and supportive place of growth in the flow of this embodied, realized movement. Kung fu provides for me, as Dogen offered in his genjo koan , a context where there is opportunity to encounter a naturalness and presence within the very space of living, and understanding of the context under our feet, and a path to approach ever deepening intimacy in the way we are present. In those times when I am “stuck” as I mentioned above, there is available scaffolding to help me coalesce in presence while remaining open and available to be witness and actor in the moments of my life.
Practice doesn’t always or only happen on a cushion. Sometimes we realize ourselves in any number of the dynamic spaces where we move and are able to appear and disappear within the flow-martial arts, writing, being a parent or a partner. Realization takes place in this part of practice when we find our center and begin to move. That movement, that murmuration, allows me to be more fully engaged in the activity of living. My teacher, Genki Roshi, offered in a poem he wrote for my Denbo that describes this space well. He offered the need, “to hang a bone in space, to swing on it, and to summersault impossible times over infinite distances. To catch a thread of the Great Conversation, weave it across Indra’s Net, then tie it all off into that first bone and make it disappear…” It is in that space we have practical opportunity of realizing ourselves across these vast dimensions of life. That all happens naturally as we embody and realize this “Kung Fu Genjo Koan.”
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