June 4, 2015

Taijutsu Truth: Train the Metaphysical with the Physical

This actually came out of a question from a young student of mine saying she stunk at using weapons. Now, I had no problem with her actual ability – she’s relatively new - but I did take issue with her decision to identify herself as “stinky.” It’s an easy trap to find oneself in because we’re just calling reality as we see it. But we must learn to see these kinds of things a little clearer.  

This piece is not about “believing in yourself” – read Charlotte’s Web or something for that. No, this is about the metaphysics we engage in whenever we train and how we ought not take them for granted. Believing you stink may be reflective of actuality - maybe you do stink – but it is a metaphysic to believe so. As well, believing you don't stink is also a metaphysic.

Metaphysics are outside of objective reality, and includes our beliefs and values, even our emotions and feelings. Morality, ethics, our sense of justice and human rights, even numbers, are all metaphysical. This goes to show two things: one, metaphysics are really, really important. And two, we totally take them for granted. Here's how.

There’s a saying, “You will fight the way you train.” And it's true. If our training relies on intense, high stress, fear-inducing conflict, if we don’t look forward to training - maybe we’re even nauseated by its idea - and afterward we are emotionally spent and physically relieved, then we are most probably training ourselves to re-enact all of these same experiences during an actual confrontation. We may think we’re arming ourselves by engaging with these experiences regularly to "inoculate" us to their impact, when in actuality they might just be blunting our effectiveness.  

Training does not have to be some perpetual roller coaster of stress inoculation. Learning to become a good defensive driver does not entail constantly smashing into other cars to inoculate us to “take an accident." It means habituating one’s driving habits and awareness so as to have the time and space to respond effectively to emergency changes regardless of the conditions. This is not a perfect analogy, but I think it a far tastier recipe than brutalizing ourselves and others in regular training just to gain what we think is some modicum of advantage.

For dangerous jobs, like serving LE warrants and military operations, consistent, high-stress training can be beneficial for those specific high-stress moments because it trains known operational tactics reflexively, so they can become second nature. But in those cases, those moments of conflict are generally well known in advance to operators as well as who their enemy is. And success in those operations is most often shaped by operators' pro-activeness.    

But civilians do not have the luxury of prescient intel to know what kind of spontaneous conflict and/or violence they may face in the daily course of their lives, let alone from exactly who. Most folks train martial arts simply because they like it. And maybe they want to learn how to make a better way in their little part of the world and deal with life's difficulties and confrontations, which may – God forbid - include life or death struggle.

Thus training does not require us to rely on exposure to the X-men's “danger room” or put ourselves though the gauntlet of Sakura's ninja Octagon. (I say “rely” here because some “danger rooming” and “Octagoning” is a good idea and often a lot of fun in context.) 

Look, life is difficult, stressful, and scary enough on its own to provide us with all the itinerant changes and variable conditions that we can possibly handle. These conditions will be such that we’ll be forced to deal with them in ways that’ll make our responses far more difficult than we could possibly imagine or anticipate in any regular training sessions.

And this is why I often say there is no such thing as "realistic" training. Only real is real. Training is a educated fiction we produce for ourselves in order to account for the fundamental aspects that are always present in reality - change and its variables. There is no training scenario that anyone could ever craft to account for reality, there are simply too many impossibly strange variables and conditions to account for. Oh sure, some try by incorporating more variables, or raising the stress level, or crafting re-enactments of true-life situations. But this can only ever be a high-stress production; a tactical play put on by willing performers. Only real is real: no one tries to kill you in training, and if they did, it would not be training, it would be real and training ideals like learning to habituate new and better tactics, applications, awareness, and overall behavior, would not apply. 

And with this in mind, we must choose: how would we wish to respond ideally to conflict? With pent up anxiety and stress? Or cool and collected? I'm not saying that just by believing ourselves to be calm and cool we will be, under conditions. It isn't that simple – we have to train and habituate ourselves physically and metaphysically until we actually are. This is a far better idea than marinating ourselves in invented stress, anxiety, and fear that will only multiply with actual conditions.

Whenever we train or pick up a weapon we should have the confidence our common sense is telling us to have: mentally place ourselves in any kind of violent scenario. Would we want a weapon? Of course we would. A weapon means advantage in a way we might not have on our own. So we should be confident that we are in a better position, more capable, stronger, better prepared, than without the weapon or the training. The only reason one might feel less capable or empowered is because we are instead seeing it through a bias (another metaphysic), as in waiting for the instructor to teach us the "proper" way. And a little advice here: don't wait for permission to get better.

There is nothing to suggest that a “well-rounded training” ideal and the “highly competent martialist” ideal are mutually exclusive. In my world they are not, in fact, the more competent and higher ability one has, the more they can gain the confidence to reach goals regarding character and virtue. We should train ourselves to fight the way we wish to fight – calm and collected. That means enjoying training, laughing, having a good time, protecting your partners, telling a joke. Be inspired and look forward to training. And when finished, we should feel better (and better in ability) for having done it.

Simply learning to fight or defend yourself on its own are selfish, immature perspectives in the long run. The better way is to see training as a conduit to becoming the kind of person we wish ourselves to be - a protector, teacher, leader - the kind of person who is in control and command when there is conflict, even violence.

Training isn't just about learning to use martial arts more effectively. It's also about recognizing that we are more effective through training. It is this thought that must come first. For if it does not, then waiting to be instructed is all about training to "become" good at some point in the future, instead of "being" good today, at one's respective level - an entirely metaphysical difference.

1 comment:

Chad said...

'...no such thing as "realistic" training.'

I couldn't agree more!

I've been through more than a few scuffles...thankfully they were some time ago. However, training in the Bujinkan enlightens me on both the physical and metaphysical planes and I'm convinced of its extensive utility in real situations.

I've also been "stinky" with my taijutsu on many occasions...too many to count. On the whole though, I feel that I continue to grow with every training and even in between training (more than the sum-of-the-parts, so to speak). I just wish that I could do it more often, especially these days.

Thanks, James...nice post.