Friday, November 18, 2005

The Truth About Fighting

Over the past year or so I've been trying to grasp the fundamental tenets of fighting. What I have come to understand is that the only true and guaranteed victory comes when an OPPONENT CHOOSES to not engage. Most of what martial arts is about is what to do when that is not the case.

What I've also found is that the higher the level of expertise in a fighter, the less willing they are to fight just anyone. First, because challenging or accepting a challenge from someone who is not as skilled is not rewarding. If they win, it's what's expected. If they lose ... well ... nuff said.

However, the most important reason for not fighting I've finally realized is based on one of the most fundamental exercises we learn in our style of Kali. That is empathy. The first thing I learned in Kali was the parry-check exercise. One person punches, the recipient uses his hands to blend with and redirect the punch, then follows with his own punch. The other person then "receives" the punch then counters. The purpose is to both defend yourself and understand the opponents rhythm, so that you can choose to break the rhythm to land a punch.

Empathy is like an emotional parry. You acknowledge what's going on in someone else's life, then contribute a kind word or action in return. Who wants to fight someone who truly understands their problem? Conversely, who would want to fight an opponent when the opponents problems are truly understood?

Of course, empathy without integrity is meaningless. Hollow. Not believable. In order to attain that complete victory by having an opponent choose not to fight, it is more important to manipulate their will than to do it physically. The best (and easiest) way to do that is not through intricate planning, deception, and intimidation. It's simply by being consistently nice and honest. A smile can be a remarkable tool in that respect. So can a pat on the back or a kind word. A "Thank You".

Other than God Himself, there is nothing more powerful than the free will of an individual. To parry someone's anger, even in small instances, can prevent it from building into something more serious. It can also plant the seeds for a positive and fruitful environment.

Another truth is that parrying/empathy applies in a lot of life's aspects, and especially in martial arts. Kali as an art in and of itself, probably isn't any more or less effective than any other art. What has made my experience with Kali so meaningful is that there is an understanding of the history, meaning, and evolution of the weapons we use and the movements that we practice. That same understanding applied in any other martial art would eventually lead its followers in the same direction we are headed.

In the few styles that I've learned, the more the instructors understood the meaning behind the art, the more effective it seemed to be. When I took Judo I learned Jigoro Kano's motivation in creating a martial art that could be played safely. In Brazilian Jiujitsu I learned why Carlos Gracie felt the need to give smaller fighters a set of skills that could match them equally with larger opponents. In both cases, that understanding added an immeasurable level of meaning to the form and I learned effective ways to win in a fight without permanently injuring an opponent.

As an instructor in kung fu, however, I did not learn the history and evolution of the style as thoroughly. Rigid forms and drills left little room for interpretation, because there wasn't a true understanding of what was being taught. No one kicks from a horse stance in a real fight. No one punches from a front horse stance in a real fight. Even in our sparring, no one actually used a horse stance for more than the opening minute. So why was it so important? Not only were the fundamentals not understood from an evolutionary perspective, but other styles were ALWAYS frowned upon as being inferior. In an environment of empathy towards other forms of martial arts, a fighter could not help but have an improved understanding of martial arts as a whole.

Unfortunately, slamming other styles is a common trait in fighting schools everywhere. Bruce Lee eventually realized the benefits offered by different fight styles like boxing and fencing. I understand that Jet Li has come to the same conclusion. On a different level, Malcolm X eventually learned from his visit to Mecca the value of muslims from every nationality, and it had a powerful negating effect on his militancy. This was in stark contrast to the "white devil" mentality of black muslims of the time. Even the greatest boxer of all time, Mohammed Ali, is now known as much for his compassion and integrity, as for his fighting skill.

The point is that the true objective of fighting is to gain peace in the life of the individual and the community. To become a great fighter, a person must be empathetic to other styles, and people, and have integrity. What's interesting is that the best fighters are probably the most adept at positioning themselves so that they never have to fight, and can therefore choose to lead a peaceful life as an individual, and act as a peacemaker in their community.

More so than in any other style I have been able to learn this from the tenets I've learned in Kali, but, again, I find that it is more in the teaching than in the rules of the style itself. I guess the fact that I still like watching The Ultimate Fighter means that I still have a long way to go. I'd better start practicing.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday

This is a special week. Not just because today is my birthday, but because yet another one of my closest friends lost a parent. This time, though, there was no warning. That same friend found out this week that his wife is pregnant with their first children: a boy and a girl; twins. For him, I'm sure there is some metaphysical message for why both life and death have been juxtaposed so closely at this time in his life.

For me, I'm trying to figure out if there's some similar meaning between my two friends, Eric and Erik losing their parents between months of each other. Oddly enough, they are both the same age. I remember one night spending the night in Eric's guest room and having a dream that birds flew through a window and landed on the bed I was sleeping on. In the dream I couldn't move, and the bird walked up the blanket, on top of me, towards my face. I told Eric about it and asked him what he thought it meant. His advice, "it means whatever you make of it".

It didn't really help me put much meaning into the dream, but it did make me remember that I have free will. Our dreams, whether in sleep, or in life are what we make of them. We have a great deal of control over our own destinies.

When I was a kid I had chosen this birthday as the day in which I would accomplish my goal of becoming a millionaire, so that I could begin a life of philanthropy. Well, I'm a long way away from there, but it doesn't look as improbable as it once did. I do still intend to pump up my donating and volunteering efforts in the hopes that I can help give someone hope in their own destiny, though.

Both Erik's father, and Eric's mother did just that. They created legacies that enabled the success of not only their immediate families, but of their extended families, and their communities. I'm happy, and lucky to have known both of them, and I sincerely hope that my contributions in life can come close to equaling theirs.

I used to ask myself, "What does it mean to be an adult?" It has eventually come to mean being totally responsible for one's self. To be a good adult (a good man/a good woman) means being responsible for one's family. To be great means to assume responsibility for an entire community. I don't know if I have it in me to be a great man, but it is very helpful to have personally known a few shining examples.