Runner 786…a True Warrior

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There’s no doubt in my mind Ultra Runners are real warrior’s in every sense of the word, and so I consider myself very fortunate to know one particularly kind-hearted soul who’s more or less made it his mission these past few years to suffer, as well as enjoy, some pretty awe-inspiring slogs for his noteworthy cause.

His name is Mark Lyons and his steller  Runner 786… blog is filled with real passion and heart and fuel for you brave folk who want more from your life.  He’s a true inspiration.

Please have a good gander at it, and if you are able, show your support with a little donation, or a share for this post or Mark’s excellent blog.

Cheers

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Defeat: A Warrior’s Perspective

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Playing devils advocate here, it seems to me hero’s are quite often hero’s because they shoot from the hip and mostly succeed – pitch the other side of the coin and what are they then?

My answer: the same person they would have been had they not failed – except, however, now rudely enlightened!

Of course this is accepting that if he or she has suffered any psychological trauma from a defeat it will in long run be character building. Because as far as I see it warriors should never regret a defeat, really – they should learn from defeat.

In fact victory or defeat should be inconsequential to a warrior, a matter of course, both holding lessons. Victorious, a warrior might wonder what could have been better. Defeated, a warrior might wonder much and the same – nuanced, admittedly, from a different perspective. This is because warriors, sovereign to themselves, take ownership of all that occurs in their lives. They hold an inner-directive that is centered on growth, through knowledge of self.

Brave enough and generous enough to eschew the petty resentfulness and vindictiveness so commonly seen in the face of defeat, a true warrior at the same time doesn’t attribute too much credit to a powerful other. A true warrior, whilst magnanimous towards an enemy, always looks to himself as the source of defeat. The other is merely a mirror and for that a warrior shows gratitude towards him when, once more risen and able, he lifts up his sword and continues his journey a tad more informed.

Because defeat shows us our limitations, we see more clearly the dangers of this world and what we can and cannot handle.  This should inspire us; seeing more clearly our bounds we can buffet against them until we break through; seeing where we are weak, we can work to make strong.

A warrior knows, because he means to expand, defeat is a thing he will always encounter – he might as well to welcome it in the belief that every defeat holds an answer for him, or at the very least a clue or crack in the clouds that allows him to more clearly perceive a way he can win. More and more he can see what is needed, and build on each lesson.

At first this isn’t an easy concept to grasp. Defeated, the pain, the ache, the wound, the horror, the disillusionment, devours us, cuts to the quick; particularly so if we have suffered a bloody encounter where Hells Grim Tyrant has knocked on our door and rattled our senses to such an extent our mortality appeared so strikingly clear.

To most of us the idea of there being a blessing in the cruelest defeat, a blessing in the most vicious defeat, is absurd. But time is the healer. I know. Even in the face of death there’s a blessing somewhere. Strength to be garnered. A shocking awareness of our mortality wakes us to life, to living more fully with courage and faith, alert to our dreams and our warrior spirit.

Dying is to live with regret and a fear of defeat. Living is to know the heart can bear every burden and see deceit in thoughts of defeat as a terrible thing.  It’s not.  Defeat is a teacher.   An agent of change.  Change for the better when we let go of shame.  Change for the better when we view our humbling as opportunity to let go of hurt and conquer our pain.

Warrior’s: the World Needs You!

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A wee while back on Martial Arts Planet I read a thread by a guy who had witnessed a late night stramash, as they say here in Scotland,  in which he saw some guy raging in a poor woman’s face.

Long story short, watching the happening didn’t make him feel good as in the end he just kept on walking, even as there was something inside him that wanted to help.

You can view the thread here.

To this there was a few varied responses before I made mine.  

Something was stirring…

You probably did the right thing hanging back there friend, so I wouldn’t worry too much about it, but there’s still that nagging feeling that you didn’t feel manly, right? That if you were a real man would’ve gone to her rescue, or at least have had the guts to step in if it really kicked off…because you know you’re a good person and just at that time you didn’t feel strong.

M8 I well know the feeling, a few years ago I stepped in to help a friend in need and let’s just say that things didn’t go well, and I exited the affray to go call the cops. Afterwards I felt like a coward; that if I was any sort of man I would’ve stayed and fought the losing battle right to the end.

Another time on a drunken night out I went for someone who had slapped me on the dish for next to no reason, again only to fail and feel less than a man.

I guess what I’m trying to say through my example is, do not feel bad, it’s all to the good and can be used as motivation for use on your journey – and our journey together.

I mean, I know – even though time and again I’ve recognised the lost cause I’m fighting, and I’ve appeared to give up – even though I’ve lost a few battles – I’ve not lost the war because bad experiences are cause to train harder, to build up my skills and answer that call to be in a place where the next logical step is to “go save that lady” or “go save my friend” – because that’s the kind of person I’m wanting to be – I want to have total faith in myself, not worrying about the “other” because I have tested myself to the extreme and I know I can do it – because that’s the kind of society I want to live in.

Easier said than done, I know, but hey, get motivated, the world does need people with guts; the guts and the skill to sort out those who would wreak their havoc unhindered by you, me, the police, whoever.

At the end of the day we get what we tolerate and good people walking by doesn’t make the world a better place; good people need to be strong and stick together to weed out the scum. Otherwise if we’re completely happy to defer all responsibility to the police for our safety and the safety others, sadly one day we may have to wake to the fact – all battered black and blue and maybe to within an inch of our life – we live in a very weak society where help comes late if help’s coming at all.

I’m not saying we have to rush into battle, but that if we’re going to do it then we should from a calm and centered belief in ourselves, grounded in training. Otherwise, why are we here? Are we practising martial artists to become stronger people and put pay to the chaos, building stronger communities in which we care for each other, or have we merely embarked on some misguided adventure where the blind lead the blind, modelling nothing but some indifferent route that preaches the self over the whole?

I don’t know, maybe I’m a dreamer, but I’d like to think there are those amongst us who have moved beyond the “I’m alright Jack” attitude and the rivalries of the various martial arts, who through actually being motivated to confront such violent behaviour are at the least prepared to stand together on issues like this. Even if it’s through talk, at least that’s a start.

The sad thing about your post my friend is not that you felt hesitant – that’s perfectly understandable – but that you sensed no-one else seemed bothered around you. It shouldn’t be that we see these things happening and not come together because we are scared. Or is it we are scared because we know we’re alone?

Hat’s off to you, at least you showed care.

Never Give Up – Who you Are is calling You!

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Research Association of Laozi Taoist Culture

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I’ve been away from this blog for quite a while now.  A major project at work to blame.  Work on something I hope is going to change my life for the better.   Something I hope will …no, not hope – something I know is going to free up more time, one day, for me to work this blog amongst other things more dear to the heart – dreams unforgotten.

But how I have missed it: this writing.  Writing about the Warrior’s Journey and feeling outside of the gym some progress in life – a sense that I’m being more of myself.   Answering some call within to be all that I am.  What I’ve become.

Work.  For now unavoidable.  Eating my time.

It’s funny.  Part of me wants to complain more about this.  But here,  accepting  again my Warrior’s mantle, I know I should be killing self-pity.

And so I smile to myself.  None of it matters.  Who I have become is still there inside me, and there I do not feel pity.

Self-pity is so superficial.  Shallow.  Superfluous.

Don’t you just feel that right action makes you feel rooted …enacting yourself by doing what you feel you are meant to be doing?  Pity falls away denying no longer who you’ve become, and yes, maybe work does get in the way of that, tired and lacking in time you fall into to thinking “what the hell is the point?” But action resolves it…no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, each step, each act, each doing of what you really want to be doing is freeing, somewhat.

Like what I feel is happening now, for me, writing this.  The angst ridden writer is no longer here, he’s gone – he does not write, he’s full of self-pity, lost without writing – but now he’s no longer here, because of this act.

When I’m training Wing Chun something similar happens:  I begin to feel I am strong, ideas of frailty start falling away, more and more feeling who I am, truly connecting with the strength I know is inside me, always there.

Training a martial art helps me with life, all life:  “I can” –  becoming my mantra.  “I am” – a crescive knowledge of Self.

And there’s a very real feeling the journey’s back home.

The journey’s within.

Maybe these words resonate with you – maybe they don’t.   To me, however, if the world beats us up, knocks us from our sublime centre, it’s always because in the course of time we have allowed this to happen, albeit unconsciously, by  being more focussed on what’s happening out, than what’s happening in

In is where everything’s at, all that we cherish: our peace, our assuredness, our clarity, our magic, all the good things we project on to the world, such as our love for our family – all felt within.

Here my writing’s no different from a martial art, in that as acts, our effectiveness in them relies on us digging far deeper than we do with most things in our day-to-day lives; they call on us to re-jig our focus and bring our essential self more to the fore.

At least I know through my writing that this is the case.  Whenever I try to make my writing “mental” I really, really struggle, and there’s never a feeling that my writing is flowing.

Likewise, with my Wing Chun, a relaxed state is best…

Flow comes clearly from a far more rooted place than the mind, which is frequently skittish unhooked from the heart.

Though it may appear as something we just happen upon, flow is felt as something knowable and known, a resonance we aptly align ourselves with in an aspect of trust, a letting go and letting it happen sort of thing, as opposed to a fight to attain.  Flow comes not from struggle, but an effortless effort, à la wu wei: natural action.

Hooked up, heart and mind aligned, wu wei can also be said to be like being “in the zone”, although that’s only useful up to a point.

As reference to an experience that is commonly known, or at least are able to observed in others we may think of as masters, paragons at the top of their game, whatever that game may be, being “in the zone” as a label points at least to a mode of being in which desirable outcomes are far more likely to be realized than not; it is most certainly there.

However, it says little of the way, or the how to get there; it does not speak at length of how these talents and desires have been explored and expanded, or even allowed to come into being.

In this regard Wu wei speaks more clearly of the harmony we have to sink into to align with our self, the true self at the heart of our being as much as the self we have created through our desire to be more than we presently are.  A self that calls us constantly on, impels us to act.

In denying this self, our discord is clear: we simply cannot expect to be happy being less than we are!

Who we are calls us.  And we truly are something we can never give up.

Aragorn – The Warrior King!

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Arwen: Why do you fear the past? You are Isildur‘s heir, not Isildur himself. You are not bound to his fate.
Aragorn: The same blood flows in my veins. The same weakness.
Arwen: Your time will come. You will face the same evil, and you will defeat it.

I didn’t initially set out to find an image of Aragorn to use as gravatar of A Warrior’s Journey – I first had mind to the indomitable figure of Spartacus so ably portrayed by the excellent and able-bodied Andy Whitfield of Blood and Sand fame, a series which very much emboldened and swelled the passions within.

However, I could find none so compelling and sovereign and vivid as the above of Isildur’s heir riding to battle, none so apt.

Here the sky lours behind him, his world is on fire, but he has conquered his doubts and is set to his task, it matters little he faces conquest and death, in his Warrior Power he is unflinching and vital and ready for all.

We all have our doubts.  The flow of our Warrior Power falls back from a flood at times and dries to a trickle.  It is then we are left with a sense we are feeble and false, and that what courage we have formally shown was nothing but the fruit of a lie.  As with Aragorn our past comes ready to haunt us.  We know more keenly the smother of work that hardly inspires us, relationships that lack the lustre of old, evanishing dreams once held close to our hearts, goals we are unable to realize…the list goes on…

Bereft of our Warrior Power we may submit to a world we do not much like, no matter how much we may seem to protest and struggle.

Aragorn inspires hope.  Having taken up his sword, Anduril, Flame of the West, he is assuming his power: steel in his heart and steel in his hand, he’s ready to cut down all that stands in his way.  He no longer doubts his claim to the throne.  He has made a decision.

Claiming our Warrior Power is just such a decision.  It entails facing our fears, commitment with patience, self-discipline, a willingness to partake in aggressive encounters whenever need calls, the will to live with passion…

Our Warrior Power does not settle for a dreary existence, its eye is where the challenges are, the thrills and the dangers…

Knocked down, it’s the energy that helps us rise up…

Beat down, it’s the energy that says we will never submit…

It’s the energy of life that carves for us a path of our own…

Of course Warrior Power is easily seen through the examples of Aragorn and Spartacus and such of that ilk.  But it is  also displayed in less obvious ways:

The babe that takes its first strides in the world.  The will to lose weight and transform ones shape.  The marathon run for a charity cause.   The meditator who cuts through the noise of the mind.

A Warrior’s Journey need not be one of conflict and war.  Rather it is the simple assumption of our power to determine our lives as we see fit, the courage to follow our hearts.

At the end of it, with our dying breath, is the knowledge of a life well lived:

“Then a great beauty was revealed in him, so that all who after came there looked on him in wonder; for they saw that the grace of his youth, and the valour of his manhood, and the wisdom and majesty of his age were blended together. And long there he lay, an image of the Kings of Men in glory undimmed before the breaking of the world.”

—Description of Aragorn’s death

Please feel free to comment and share.

Guest Post For Wing Chun Community Blog

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Before I tell you about myself and my blog I’d like to thank Roman and his friends for giving me the opportunity to write for you here.

I’d also like to express strong admiration for their community building efforts and their willingness to be open to others whose styles, training methods, and outlooks may differ somewhat.   While our bias may be towards that which we practice, in essence our message is one and the same:

The Martial Arts are Good for You!

This has certainly been my experience so far, although I have to admit in the beginning to having my doubts.

Basically my story and the story of my blog comes from how I’d grown tired of aggression wherever I saw it, having played rugby for years and becoming increasingly wearied of the “rough sorts” around me who liked “dishing it out”, agitators who seemed to see brawling as much with teammates as the opposition as part of the game.

It certainly wasn’t a place where respect was encouraged, a total contrast to what I’ve found through the martial arts where they teach you respect, where respect is expected, and where it’s not given, it is more or less asked for, demanded, really.  Not just respect for the Sifu, but for each other.  I’m a big fan of being treated with respect.

So my insecurity with the martial arts had more to do with my previous experiences with the rugby than anything else.   It also had to do with a certain denial of my own aggression, which I feared.  On the rugby pitch I did at least have an outlet for it, through playing hard but fair; I certainly wasn’t one for throwing punches, cheap shots, when things would erupt, as often they did.  My way was through tackling hard etc.  But without this, I found I could no longer ignore it; and it was difficult, for a while I couldn’t reconcile the idea of being a nice person with smacking somebody, even in defense of myself.

On my blog in a post called Beginnings I talk about this, when I mention an “unsavoury scrape” which more or less meant I could no longer ignore this side of existence.  And I think this is always the case: we can run from our demons, but not forever, and if we want some peace in our lives, then we first have to meet them, face up to them.

This doesn’t mean we have to jump in at the deep end or get ready for battle and fight our way out; just “facing” is fine.  It’s just like when you stop swimming and struggling upstream, the current will take you; and sure enough while there’s rapids and difficult waters down this river, there’s no Niagara Falls or really dangerous passes you are needing to tackle, at least not immediately.  Tackle these things when you’re ready and willing, when you’ve built up your skill; with skill comes confidence, so you’re more and more able to handle difficult things, dangerous things.

This is what my blog is about.  I have in my short time in the martial arts seen so many give up before they’ve hardly begun; they see this long road stretching before them, a deep plunge that they cannot quite fathom, and they fall back on evasions like “I don’t have the time” or “it’s not really for me”.

For them, martial artists and fighters remain alien beings, when in essence it’s not like that at all; they don’t see them as people who’ve got used to doing something over a long period of time, who’ve developed the mettle to act in a way that seems brutal to them, out of a habit of practise, which becomes increasingly normal.

I was the same.  The gap was too big.  I couldn’t see the process of handling a little bit more, and a little bit more…over a long, long time…as the way that this happens, as the way that I’d change.  But it is exactly the way; it takes patience, commitment, constant appraisal, much more than courage – courage is over-rated!

My blogs about that, fuel for the journey, musings on the martial life, hope for beginners etc.  It’s a record of discovery, of recovery, and balancing up.  I was out of kilter before; my martial practise has helped me to be more at peace with myself, more at peace with the world.  It isn’t about a journey into conflict and violence, it’s about becoming yourself removed from your fears.  Your potential is waiting!

N.B.  Roman and friends can be found here.

 

Getting What You Want from your Martial Art Part 2

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Coach 01

Image by jonas_evertsson via Flickr

What to look for in an Instructor Part 2

Another important thing to look for in an instructor is sign of total belief in what he is teaching.

Questions to ask:

Has he been tested?  Has he used it for real?

If he hasn’t had to defend himself, then in what other ways has he tested his art?

To what degree has he trained?

So on and so forth.

I know from experience some instructors don’t take too kindly to being scrutinized, they like to be king of the hill, and as they certainly have  acquired some skill over time and ably display it now and again, they give the impression that they know what they’re doing, even as they remain tight-lipped over their story.

However, to my mind, the “right sort” will be far less reticent than this and you should, at least, without having to probe too far, be able to discern if they are the “real deal” or not before very long.

Look for related incidents, scrapes, training exploits and episodes where techniques were really tried and tested against considerable force; your instructors attitude should shine through in all of this, he should be able demonstrate the worth of his knowledge through narrative without hesitation.

You should see evidence of certitude, which is freedom from doubt, not just through the demonstration of certain “moves” but through his “perspective”, through his words: i.e.  this works because…we do it like this, because…when I did this once, this happened…so on and so forth.

We’re looking for evidence of empirical knowledge, over and above the mere repetition of what has been taught for an eon (this is not to undermine the purity of tradition, mind you).

Do you honestly believe he can handle himself?  Stare unmitigated hate and aggression straight in the face and remain undaunted, downing it even before coming to blows?

Because one day your instructor may be confronted, and what are you going to think if he crumples in fear?  What use your champion’s skill if he’s unwilling to use it, in times of grim need?

There’s no getting away from it, a sane person would prefer not to fight, but to my mind someone with skill and absolute belief in what they are teaching – most certainly a person who professes to be a “Master” – should be able to face hate and aggression straight on with a look in their eye that more or less says:  “Are you forcing my hand?  Because I will f^%&ing destroy you!”

Talk of personalities all you like, the idea of this not being in your nature, you’re not wanting to fight….when it comes to the crunch, what are you really going to do?

Instructor’s, sufi’s, sensi’s, are no different, and to my mind you want to be under one who has completed his training and turned base metal to gold.

Someone who knows without a doubt what works and what doesn’t and doesn’t hold back in telling you where you need to improve, what you need to know, and of the dangers there are.

Yes training is fun.  We meet with our friends and build up a sweat and make better our skill and harness our motives…but in the end, we’re either going to get a rude awakening some night on the town and wake to the fact we’ve been poorly instructed and that our efforts were futile –  or know that we’ve, as they say round my parts, tain the right path“.

Be honest with yourself, ask now and again, even if you think you’ve found the right place: Is this working for me?

If your answer is consistently yes, then you’ve probably found someone of character you would want to stay under.

High Winds and Tyrants

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Near Hassendean. Grey skies over yellow fields...

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Last thursday, a black night the end of a black day,  I set off for training all by my lonesome, the  savage wind howling its din in the dark, the words of Burn’s apt:

The wind blew as ‘twad blawnits last;
The rattling showers rose on the blast;
The speedy gleams the darkness swallow’d;
Loud, deep, and lang, the thunder bellow’d:
That night, a child might understand,
The deil had business on his hand

Admittedly there was no bellowing thunder, but there was everything else: millions of speedy gleams in my headlights and debris strewn everywhere on the road, branches and twigs, puddles the size of Loch Ness, near, that threw up great waves that seemed like they’d drown me each one I drove through.

It’s not normally a hazardous thirteen mile journey over to Bowden, the wee Borders village where we train Mondays and Thursdays and monthly on Sundays – although with the inclement weather it can be at times.

Most days it’s preferable to alternative routes: the busier A7 with its dazzling lights and slow Sunday drivers, creating convoys of loathing.  And sometimes its special, like today when coming up Hassendean three deers crossed my path, and further along a great bird, a buzzard, I think, took off from a fence post lining the road and I watched its slow flight over a field; or in summer and harvest when the very same fields are a picture of bales,  golden in glory.

This night, however,  it wouldn’t have surprised me to see a tree come down on the road as I went, such was the wind, and perhaps it wasn’t the wisest to be sticking to habit.  Not that I cared – the point of this post – trees like swinging punches might fell you sometimes, but the danger is worth it.

And I’m liking this thinking.  It’s not that I’m hard or pretending to be someone I’m not – I don’t often take headers into a fire.  It’s just I like making peace with uncomfortable things, high winds and tyrants; high winds things that come into your life uncalled for and callous, like weather and storms; tyrants old fears and crappy thinking and unfortunate folk who get in the way of contentment.

Storms and objections, fear and doubt…whatever…

What to these things are we needing to say?:  So what? and So be it, and sometimes Bring it on ya Bastard!

The way is not always clear;  just like the other night when I drove through those massive puddles and the water from them on my windscreen blocked out the light, there is often a great deal of unsureness as to where you are headed.

What pleased me about the road I took this night, however, the very same road I’ve taken a hundred times over to Bowden, was my commitment.

High winds and tyrants once stopped me taking this road: a grumbling belly or a hard day at work.  Excuses, excuses. Nowadays I get myself going no matter what.  I know that if I don’t train whenever I can, I am being less than I am wanting to be – and that isn’t my way.


Can You Handle Yourself?

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English: Martial arts training session Dansk: ...

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I got into the martial arts for a variety of reasons but the one at the forefront – the most obvious reason for getting into the martial arts –  was that I wanted to be able to “handle myself”, to learn how to defend myself should the need arise.

Little did I appreciate then that in handling oneself there’s as much to do internal dynamics as being able to “deal with” some unfortunate “other”.

Some of you may recognize only a little part of being able to handle yourself in the experience of not training for a wee while (sometimes a while for me is just a few days) leading to the rising of some nebulous tension, state of unease which, left long enough, usually leads to what I could best describe as a case of mild paranoia, where “enemies”, or “threats” would seem to arise wherever we go.

Usually I try not to indulge these thoughts of seeing myself entering scrapes for next to no reason, but sometimes that’s hard.  I’m tense and pent up, with my energy unshorn of its “worthy” release.   So sometimes I fail and upset myself more than I should

Fear is a funny thing: it hides at the back of aggression, masked by annoyance when we feign to be strong.   Fear causes us to picture things going wrong, and our subsequent struggle or fight to right these wrong-doings.   Here, in this state, I become, in a sense, as wary of myself as of any other, this belligerent but frightened me that has always been weak.  And my confidence crumbles, just for a while.

The cure for me is getting back training as soon as I can; even a little helps, some fresh air punching, some kicks, some moves,  enough to  feel the physicality of my defences and assuage the mental fury before it consumes me.

Anger, anxiety, fear and the like, I’ve learned, are  really all grist to the mill – energy to be transmuted, base metal to gold.   As in metallurgy, the science of working or heating metals so as to give them certain desired shapes or properties,  the martial arts beat an altogether different person out of mere dust.  Here we take our flaky, untrained and inconstant self into our dojo,  stoke up the fires of combat, and see taking shape some fiery substance that will one day shine with the luster of life, full and complete as the best of ourselves.  At least that’s my vision.

Being able  to handle myself, so I can walk down the street feeling quite safe; safe from my inner tormentor who imagines danger about me,  more at peace with the world, is more why I train than anything else.  The skills are a by-product that one day may just come in handy.

Training regularly helps me keep peace with myself.