Tuning the Spirit

When I perform yogic rituals and practice, my consciousness fits in the ‘mold’ I make. When I performed martial ones, it rested in a different mold. Those modes and states are distinctly different. Tuned to one ‘note’ or another, my being resonates there. One place is based on gentleness, the other on overt strength.

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The choice is an easy one to me; one path is based on opposition to the world, one on harmony. They both contradict each other at their core. One is based on non-violence, the other on controlled violence. One is the way of striving, the other on allowing. The differences are undeniable. The choice is clear. One is the way of force, martial force. The other is the way of power, Divine power. One heals and integrates, the other harms and divides.

Yet these simple and seemingly obvious contrasts are lost to many, or moot. To many (especially those operating on more surface levels) there is no contradiction. For those engaged in mere physical activity, the fundamental purpose of the actions is moot. They just want actions, to get in shape or occupy their time or to become a badass. I get it.

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It is the other group I find it hard to comprehend. Their unperceived dichotomy defies not only logic and reason, but also the truth of the heart. This group insists on confusing a meditative practice with a positive, peaceful one. It sees slow, graceful movements and imagines them similar in intent and purpose with the physical practice of yoga. It tries to integrate the two conflicting paths, hoping for harmony by stirring oil and water, hoping to mix and blend the two.

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This group thinks spiritual intent can somehow imbue martial practices with spiritual character, render them non-martial somehow. It ignores the fact that the two practices (and associated paradigms) are inherently opposed. It ignores one basic truism that armies have known and demonstrated through time – in times of crisis, people act from their level of training. They do what they practice, almost without thought, in that one moment when there is no time for thought.

The difference between the two becomes apparent in times of crisis, or when faced by a direct and imminent danger. In this moment, all the theories and paradigms become manifest in action, in physical reality. The differences in response make the differences between the two practices obvious.

The yogi will respond peacefully, their actions reflecting the thing they practice. They will turn the other cheek. The martial artist will respond differently. They will block or strike, place themselves in physical and attitudinal opposition. They will manifest the inherent violence of their practice, just as yogis will typically manifest the inherent non-violence of theirs.

The reflex action is the action we train for, the one we practice in deed and thought, in attitude and being. It is the fruit of the seeds we plant. If you read this and imagine yourself being able to choose your reaction, you may not have experienced that hot, quick instant I refer to. Those who have experienced it know what I mean.

When a ball is flying towards your face, there is no time to ponder, scant time to choose a course of action. You just react…in the manner you trained yourself to, with your practice. If you are a trained athlete, you will react one way. If not, you may react another. One athlete ‘automatically’ thinks to catch the ball, another to hit it, and yet another to kick it back. The non-athlete may dodge it, cringe, or just freeze. The actions and practices they performed prior to this moment largely determine their unthinking, unconsidered reactions.

We are the same way. Why would we, if we consider ourselves on a path of non-violence, peace, and understanding, practice the martial arts of war, fighting, and opposition? How does that serve us? How does that not contradict us, our practices, and our purpose?

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This anomaly, this dichotomy, this contradiction continues to baffle me. I think I’ve dropped it and quit trying to understand when the issue again stares me in the face, confusing me yet again. An increasing amount of yogis (and yoginis in modern terms for female yogis) are blithely integrating kickboxing, kung fu, or tai chi into their practices, like they once integrated cycling, hiking, or climbing.

They know yoga is based on non-violence. It is the first of the yogic ‘commandments.’ They also know martial arts is based on violence, composed of various strikes and blocks. Somehow they resolve the dichotomy, convince themselves their martial gyrations are either spiritual or at least not contradictory to the non-violent lives, attitudes, and practices they outwardly aspire to.

I just don’t get it. I don’t want to. Yet to over-consider the issue (a defect I am all too prone to), I cannot help but hypothesize this phenomenon is based on fear. Fear is a great motivator, a source of all manner of rationalizations that lead us to act in ways contrary to our core beliefs. Fear leads even greed and possibly lust as a (mostly subconscious) motivator.

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Our culture promotes fear – yellow alerts and terrorists. The idea that we think we need a Department of Homeland Security or a National Security Agency shows how little security we feel in our homeland. Daily injections of the ‘news’ (things that have already happened and are history instead of news) make us fearful…constant reportings of suicide bombings, rapes and murders. The news media sells fear…this ‘news’ is how they increase ratings, advertising revenues…money. Fear sells – they are the merchants and TV observer culture members the willing consumers.

It is understandable that in a world of chaos and uncertainty, people cling to ideas, attitudes, and actions that give them the illusion of control. Martial arts does that admirably. In America, they even use this illusion as a selling point; martial arts increases self-esteem.

That it uses a poor and shifting foundation on which to base this foundation, no one seems to notice. That it builds this on a base of violence, no one seems to care. Might makes right, in this view…if you have might, it will be alright.

Yet might inevitably fades with time. Might is relative. There is always someone mightier. Might is transient. This makes any foundation built on might inherently unstable and illusory. To fight fire with fire is an illusion. Most often, violent responses simply evoke more violence, create escalations rather than resolutions. Live by the sword, die by the sword is a more apt aphorism.

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Yet we ignore these inherent solipsisms, cloak ourselves in sophistry. We think we’ll be a bit safer if we ‘know’ and practice a bunch of kicks and blocks. We base our sense of self-confidence and safety on some martial moves, on the idea that we can kick some ass, that we can somehow punch or kick our way out of some problems, that violence will somehow solve anything.

We do it without blinking.

I can certainly understand the increase of young female yogis practicing martial arts, especially in this fear-ridden culture. It must be a scary world to some girls, full of creeps and users, haters and pervos. Yet do they really think that a year’s worth of kickboxing or Tae Bo or even kung fu will help them against truly mean people, bred and raised amidst hate and violence?

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Is it worth it to contradict one’s basic beliefs for the illusion of safety or spirituality?

If one wants to find peaceful physical expressions, why not dance, yoga, sports? Why if you want peace, do you wave a sword during a dance supposed to be for peace?

I would love to ask some of the people who buy into it, but avoid it for the potentially violent division it may cause. People in this fearful world often perceive questions about their choices as challenges to their selves, rather than inquiries. Those who practice the art of opposition may be more likely to do so. I don’t want to risk offending anyone. I don’t even really want to write about it; I’d prefer write about things that unite, inspire, or enlighten us, rather than those that divide us.

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Yet I am a writer, and I write about things that amuse me…or confuse me. I write not so much to seek answers (for few read these words and even fewer respond), but to define my questions, to fix them in time, to watch them grow and change as time flows.

My ideas on this may change; I practiced martials arts for decades, and now practice peace. Perhaps my life experiences or ponderings or interactions with others will result in an even more evolved understanding of this issue. The issue is a non-issue when seen from the point of non-duality, or of karma.

Still, I wonder how I will come to understand this seemingly unresolvable dichotomy, how I can begin to understand the conflicting emotions and motivations involved in this unlikely integration of opposing practices and paradigms.

I won’t try. Striving and seeking are yang, the martial way. Instead, I will allow, drop, create space for new understanding and acceptance. That is yin, the peaceful way of yoga. That is my practice, and there is no need to compare or contrast, no need to seek to understand.

Instead, I will tune myself to other modes of being, resonate at other notes. I will concentrate on my own practice, and allow others theirs, with no reasons or explanations needed. All good, all one.

I’ll just rest here in my own peace, perform my own practice. Until the next time a person who seems to really get the idea of ahimsa (non-harming) suddenly embraces a martial art under spiritual pretexts. Then I’ll scratch my head aloud (in print) and let it pass…another cloud of thought, another issue off the subject of the main issue – peace and love, and how to live that, how to practice that, how to be that.

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