What Makes a Martial Artist?
"What is it about the martial arts that attracts such weirdos?"
"What makes you think we are all weirdos?" I replied.
"Look at you. The way you walk, the way you look at people, the way you use your body, your posture even your hands. Everything is contrived."
"Perhaps it just looks that way to you."
"You see? You even speak in cliches."
"What do you mean?"
"Your words, like your moves are predictable, moulded by calloused ideas and training practices. Such a soulful warrior you make..."
And so the conversation continued...
Years later I now look back on that first discussion - perhaps obsession would be a more appropriate description - and wonder how anyone can justify a half century pursuing a single "path".
Why Begin a Martial Arts Class?
Many do so from an Interest in oriental philosophy, many others, in search of self confidence, or because it can offer (to the globally confused) a simplified world view where everything is either black or white: East or West, Right or Wrong, Succumb or be Overwhelmed, Yin or Yang.
Some even strolled in through the dojo doors, talking of fighting, fitness, discipline, spirituality, or - and I swear this is true - because they liked the idea of wearing a neatly ironed starched white uniform.
I suppose we all reminisce now and then as to the whys and wherefores of our origins. Some may look fondly back to that series of Kwai Chang Caine, others go further to that bull-slayer himself - Mas Oyama. For many, I am sure, it would have been that classic coliseum fight in Way of the Dragon between Lee and Norris, East and West, oriental and occidental, form over freedom. Hairy over smooth chested opponents!
But it wasn't just about the attractions of the East. Back in the early 70's the United Kingdom was - culturally speaking - something of a desert. The consumerist culture had been officially launched with flares and Sticklebricks. Little remained on the streets of Inner London that was not for sale, other than the discarded and broken hopes of previous times.
To find meaning in this otherwise meaningless moment, we all searched further afield for inspiration. Most people settled for the haircuts, postures and the songs of ABBA. Some, however, stumbled beyond the glitter and the glam and into the local dojo.
For the next decade or two I'd keep searching, flirting between styles of karate, taekwondo, fencing, judo...ending up during the mid 80's training in Way Lin - in East London. You may just spot me in the video below - I'm the small one with stripy bottoms, doing his best at dodging the Instructor's* flying fists.
This article was originally written as an introduction to the historical novel One Last Thing: Featuring the words and actions of Bruce Lee, Mas Oyama, Kwai Chang Caine, Cheng Man Ching, Rocky, Carl Jung, Marshall McLuhan, Seth Godin, Lao Tsu, Dr. Who and a plethora of characters from the popular history of the martial arts. Find out more about the book here.
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