What Martial Arts Is Really About…

I haven’t posted in a long time, but I wrote about this recently because it was both shocking…but also avoidable…

As a Martial Artist in several disciplines, I take my responsibilities very seriously – the aim of what we do is to NOT use the physical techniques that we learn. When a situation turns sour, there is no room for ego or bravado. (I’d like to hope that neither exist for any “true” Martial Artist).

Contrary to superficial belief, Martial Arts isn’t primarily about hands-on, physical skills. The more (and I’d argue most) important tools we are given / learn are: 1) AWARENESS, 2) COMMON SENSE, 3) SELF CONTROL. It is my responsibility to employ all of these at all times (keeping in mind we don’t need to be at red-level, ultra high awareness all the time). I owe it to myself, to my family and friends, and to anyone who might be in my vicinity.

A friend, fellow (and well accomplished) ninja, and instructor posted a jarring video yesterday. I won’t share here due to the graphic nature (full disclosure, I had nightmares as a result myself), but what happened is valuable to note…and worth sharing. A Maryland woman was causing a disturbance at a Taco Bell (ranting about the service). A bystander engaged with her by telling her to stop, perhaps thinking it might diffuse the situation (fully well-intentioned, coming to the defense of the employees). The woman left the restaurant, secured a knife, returned and inflicted a severe and horrifying wound on the man.

While we may have good intentions when we engage, we might also be asking for a whole host of trouble. There is a time and place, and it is not always an easy call whether to speak up…but to get involved with someone who is clearly upset (whether slightly so, to incensed), can be incredibly dangerous – both to you, and anyone around you. This could have been avoided – there were indicators. The woman was clearly enraged, and after addressing her, the bystander let his guard down. In a normal, sane world, one should be able to, right?

It’s not always a sane world…

Awareness allows us to constantly assess a situation, and to determine our level of safety. Common sense means we learn the art of biting our tongue and steering clear, even if well-meaning (and even if we feel upset as well). What consistently shocks me is that some individuals think they are impervious to violence and accidents (you aren’t), or that getting involved will necessarily make it better (honest, kind-human mistake we ALL make).

Martial Arts teaches us that staying safe can be as simple as knowing when to avoid a situation. That might even be 95% of it. Awareness allows us to determine what’s happening, and to take the action of avoidance when required. You never know who you are dealing with – an individual may be harmless…or entirely unstable and violent. Whether in person, on the road, on the phone…wherever…second guess your urge to get involved.

The physical components of Martial Arts should be a last resort…but using our brain (our most powerful weapon) should default to ON.

Awareness + common sense ===> safety.

 

Kindness and Compassion

Kindness and compassion are two traits that I personally value high up on the proverbial moral list. I have the great fortune to be close to many individuals who posses both of these, and the absolute honor to work with children with disabilities and among their communities where they are found in spades.

I sincerely believe that each generation has seen the progression of our species and discovered with it an innate and creeping fear – we manage to embark on new territory with frightening (and seemingly increasing) speed. As a Martial Artist part of me feels that the world has become more dangerous, and there is ever more opportunity to abuse and to bully – the forums are countless, whereas…once upon a time…they did not exist. (Think social media, internet chat rooms, cell phones etc…) It’s hard not to see the glaring negatives.

But…my mind is admittedly wired to be overly optimistic. That doesn’t mean I am not based in reality, or that I don’t take life seriously (whether it be bills or the threat of being car jacked.) But I see the immense value in keeping a positive outlook as much as is humanly possible because I have seen the tangible impact it can have. This week I am completely down for the count with a kidney infection – couldn’t say where it came from, but I confess it has been quite painful and body-rocking. I’m a dreadful bore to be around, slow-moving, and probably not smiling a ton… But I feel thankful. I see the good.

For one thing, I feel blessed to have the help and care that I do from my husband and appreciate feeling love from my family. As importantly, I recognize that I’m not terminally ill! I have all my limbs. I have all my senses. I haven’t been jumping for joy, certainly, but I have not lost sight of the fact that this is a short bout. I have nothing to complain about, and certainly no right to be yelling at anyone, nor taking out my frustration in a negative way. This was an out-of-the-blue lesson, as often they seem to be.

I also think sometimes the Universe wants to say, “I really think you need to slow down for a minute because YOU won’t on your own!” Frustrating that may be for a personality type like mine, I have to accept it. It’s not a fun stroll in the park, but there is value in having to slow down (or flat out rest.) There is an additional benefit in that it reminds me that I need to be kind and compassionate to myself – it’s okay to rest.

Even when I feel horrendous, I know how blessed I am. It’s important to say thank you to my loved ones to express my gratitude for the kindness they show me, or others along the way. For instance, I appreciated that the ladies at the blood lab were as sweet as they were – it was a little thing, but they were kind, and I noticed. I even appreciate the people who make the amazing whole wheat english muffins I’m eating.

The world is a tough place – whether more or less so than the past, who knows… I think each era comes with some pretty challenging circumstances. But we don’t have to be bitter, or treat others unkindly. We don’t have to abort compassion to buffer ourselves, or lash out in response to someone else’s poor understanding of proper human interaction. Lofty it may sound, and perhaps also unrealistically utopian, I truly believe that the more compassion and kindness people show one another, the better off we all would be.

I live in a tough town. Some days I really notice the effect… My DNA defaults to seeing the world from someone else’s lens (or trying to), and to coloring everything with an empathetic heart. But there are days I feel like an angered animal in my own skin and I sincerely chalk it up to the environment (40 years of living with me gives me good insights when engrained M.O.s are changing.) It’s an interesting experiment in a way – incredibly enlightening, and I’ve welcomed the learning. It has taught me just how valuable it is to maintain my own standard of airing on the side of kindness. Why? I don’t want to contribute to the downfall I see around me (and I don’t want to be pulled further into the depths with it.) 

My recent travel was also quite a fiasco, between cancellations, unexpected delays, missing connections… I was tired and frustrated but yelling doesn’t help anyone in a situation like that – it wasn’t the gate agents at the airport who were responsible. It wasn’t the pilot or stewardesses… Various people kept asking why I was smiling and it occurred to me that I guess most people don’t (a fact that actually made me feel sad.)

I didn’t really know who was to be held accountable in all cases (two planes themselves for breaking? A mechanic long gone who maybe could have done a better job? A supervisor who should have triple checked the panel work?) But would it matter if I did know who was at fault? Not really… There was no sense in getting crazy because at that moment all I could do was be resourceful and figure out my next move. I couldn’t control the external circumstances, only how I was going to react to it. I wasn’t trying to catch a flight to Tokyo, I wasn’t stuck in a hostile territory (well…that can be debated!), and I knew I’d figure out a way to get to my destination at least in 24 hours.

Having compassion and kindness for the players involved encouraged them, also, to have the same for me. And they did. They took care of a lot for me, including arranging a long drive to get me to my destination and sending me a credit for inconvenience – I saw them feverishly trying to get my bag pulled at one point… They were legitimately putting in the effort (which we should be honest doesn’t always happen these days even if it is at the common core of a job description.)

I spent 20 minutes on the phone after the fact waiting for a manager so I could commend the key people who helped – I could tell that acknowledgement and appreciation would matter to them, and a kind word can go a long way. I sent an e-mail doing the same just to be sure it got to the right people. Will I ever see those agents again? Probably not. Does it matter? Absolutely not. To spread kindness and compassion doesn’t take a lot – in fact, I’d argue it takes less than to hate, to be angry, and to yell. But it changes lives. It makes people want to return the favor, to work hard…it helps them to feel good about their contribution and to, therefore, continue making a positive one.

If everyone could do the same, the environment would shift dramatically. Though it isn’t realistic to expect everyone to eagerly jump on board with a “love more, hate less!” hippie-like mantra, it doesn’t hurt to live that example as much as we can. And it doesn’t mean we can’t seek out environments which are more in tune with these principles – it is impossible not to feel the shift when compassion and kindness are blooming in spades around you, and when you recognize that there is a choice about what we do with what’s presented to us. 

The Dangers of Anger

A friend of mine – also a highly accomplished Martial Artist – posted a very thought-provoking video yesterday of a young man throwing a full-scale temper tantrum at his teacher. To feel frustration, disappointment, some upset is to be human – it will happen in life. But to get to a point of anger and rage is simply not okay. Ever. Even when there is no physical violence, the words and actions can still be as damaging as if there were.

He posed some very interesting points about why people react this way (because it isn’t a response, it’s a reaction), about avoiding the discussion because it’s too close to home, or because we have differences in opinions (which are nothing more than the lenses we’ve gained through our experiences)…

As a Martial Artist myself, and someone also studying a personal protective defense system, my priority is non-violence. My priority is to have enough wherewithal to exercise control of my person and my reactions / actions / words, even when pushed to the point of anger. I had coincidentally just posted a snapshot of an article I read on a plane this weekend speaking to the very idea of walking away, of non engagement. . .

This teen’s anger is horrifying on so many levels. Respect (in my own world) is of the utmost importance – the things that are said, and the actions taken, are testament to the complete lack of respect for another human being. . .and they can, as above, be as damaging as if the teacher was struck physically.

This also calls to mind the idea that help is desperately needed – but I wonder whether it would be sought, or if someone who knows him would every attempt to initiate that conversation. Sadly, I doubt it. I suspect he will go on to injure himself or others in some way…

It isn’t my training that has me thinking this way, though, but rather that I too am human and have never liked confrontation. Human beings are “flawed” by nature but we have the capacity to be empathic, compassionate, and loving – we have the ability to learn control of all aspects of ourselves and to do good in the world.

I commend the teacher for not reacting as I believe that is what might have kept him safe. The wiser man is the one who walks away from the “show” and doesn’t react to the anger with the same.

 

Martial Arts – Respect Your Beginnings

I’m not sure I’ve seen a cuter image…!

Respect those who teach you, and who give selflessly to further your growth and learning in life… And respect where you came from.  Your actions and behaviors will speak volumes of their own when you uphold values so noble as these.

 

 

Martial Arts Wisdom – Revenge and Anger

In Martial Arts we say we hope we never have to use what we learn – the idea isn’t about trying to prove something, nor to assert any kind of feigned dominance.

Along those lines, we are taught that ideas like “revenge” and “anger” serve only as injurious deviations from our true paths.  The Universe finds a way to right things without the heavier, shall we say, karmic repercussions of going down that road.

To seek revenge or harbor ill will is, as Buddha says, holding the proverbial hot coals and assuming both that they will burn another…and also that we are impervious.

The truth is the reverse – to seek such things is to diminish our own self-worth. It is a disservice to ourselves as willfully negative actions and thoughts hinder the flow of “good” that has the potential to continually manifest in our lives.  It is far wiser to let go of resentment, and to be as the Martial Artist aspires to be – free of the burdens that come with animosity and bad blood. 

It isn’t always an easy pursuit, but it is a noble one and worth the aspiration. Neither human being nor circumstance has the right to turn us from the higher road.

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Summer 2017 – Garnier Skinactive Honey Flower

I often see new skincare crop up overseas before it comes to the States, which means that I at least get enough time to read reviews and see if it’s worth tracking down (before our stores decide to give us the option!)

As a Martial Artist and athlete – not to mention, a fair-skinned woman who is as subject to time and the elements as we all are – skincare is a big deal.  I’m pretty religious – and devoted – to my regimen and products, but I’m ever curious, as the skincare world is rapidly innovating (particularly with more and more exposure to other cultures and markets.  I have a plethora of posts (and there are more!) about Asian skincare, a personal favorite topic.)

Anyway, the Garnier Skinactive Honey Flower range appears to be in the UK presently – you can check it out here on superdrug.com and a variety of other UK web retailers. I learned about the newbies via Reallyree.com, where you can also read what the products are like.

Why bother with this new collection?  (Always the question I ask myself because I have a TON of products already. I am, essentially, my own store – but, ladies, the investment IS worth it.  Trust me.) Per superdrug.com’s description:

Garnier’s first toner made of 96% ingredients of natural origin, enriched with Honey Flower, known for its nourishing properties. 

reallyree.com

These products, therefore, are designed to be gentle with your skin, and less filled with things you can’t pronounce – both are big pluses. They are also specifically helpful to dry or very dry skin – come the colder months, that might be really important for most of us!

That said, if you already use such products, and find that they work nicely for you, I don’t know whether these are totally necessary.  But again, they’re out online at least, which means you can also snoop through the reviews and see if they make sense for you.  More and more companies are going the more-natural-less-harsh route so you certainly have a fair share of options.

7 – 5 – 3 Code – For Life, Relationships, and Martial Arts

The 7-5-3 code is essentially an amalgamation of ancient principles, heavily influenced (and beginning with) the heroic, notoriously stringent way of life – or Bushido – of the Samurai.  The moral codes and principles by which these fierce warriors lived continues to guide many modern-day Martial Artists, whether taken as the 7-5-3, or in segments.  The values within, however, can apply to all people in all walks of life – they are scarcely relegated to the Arts and I daresay the world would be a better place would that we all followed suit. . . 

The 7-5-3 Code as a sum total purportedly originates with the Valente Brothers, three generations (same family) of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners who have learned from Grand Master Helio Gracie directly.  Though I am a practitioner of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu myself, I confess that I’d not heard much about the family prior.  That said, each of these points are ones which have been at the core of the five Martial Arts I have practiced (Hapkido, Taekwondo, Ninpo, Japanese Ju-Jutsu, Brazilian JiuJitsu (some Kumdo in addition)) in one way or another – they provide the framework and foundation not only for us as Martial Artists, but again as human beings.

7 Virtues Of a Warrior

  • Rectitude
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Politeness / Propriety 
  • Honesty / Sincerity
  • Loyalty

These seven virtues relate to the way in which we interact with one another, on the mats, or off, whether with training partners, strangers, coworkers, husbands, wives… For the Samurai, there was an intense focus on how one conducts oneself, the values to which one would ferociously adhere, and the overarching respect and appreciate of life in all circumstances, with all people.  The maintenance of moral integrity was at the heart of the code, strengthened further by honest, and loyal conduct.  The Samurai were infamous for their fearlessness, and though known for their strength in battle, they asserted a level of compassion and kindness towards fellow man.

5 Keys To Health

  • Rational Nutrition
  • Sensible Exercise
  • Efficient Rest
  • Proper Hygiene
  • Positive Attitude

The five keys to health are incredibly important for everyone, particularly the modern-day Martial Arts practitioner or athlete. Without the proper fuel, our bodies will not function at their best.  Without rest, and a positive attitude irregardless of the circumstances, we cannot meet the challenges with our full capabilities.  Hygiene is an incredibly important point not only for our own health, but out of respect for our fellow training partners.  And sensible exercise requires that we push ourselves in a healthy way, knowing our limits, respecting our bodies, and backing off when necessary (often much harder said than achieved when dealing with athletic minds!)

3 States Of Mind

  • Zanshin – Awareness, Alertness, Preparedness
  • Mushin – No or Clear Mind
  • Fudoshin – Emotional Balance

The three states of mind are the principles by which to guide our personal, inner relationship.  These states not only preside over our physical bodies, but are at the core of the Arts which we practice – in some cases they feel like elusive, impossible concepts, but they are the endpoints to which we strive.  In fact one of them was at the heart of Hatsumi Sensei’s Ninpo theme this year!

Zanshin requires that we are always alert enough to accurately assess our surroundings, relying heavily on our muscle memories – this is where the hard training, and meticulous repetition comes into play. Mushin, a key theme among the Ninja for 2017, is, in essence, the ability to clear the mind of all techniques, to flow with the opponent’s movement, and to create.  Fudoshin is the emotional balance which we all endeavor to reach – with the turbulence of life, this balance fluctuates, tipping the scales to one end of the spectrum, and perhaps back to the other.  It takes hard work and self-reflection to achieve this balance, but the goal is ever-present.

Taking It Together

These 15 principles are – for all intents and purpose – ancient ones.  They are neither novel, nor particularly difficult to understand.  But to achieve these 15 singularly, or particularly in harmony, is a skill in and of itself – the pursuit of these virtues is a noble one, and gives a structure to Martial Arts practices, but also to life.  These are the foundations on which we can build our relationships with ourselves and others, on which we can build our strength of body and mind, and the principles that govern our mental, spiritual, and emotional well-being.  

The Seven Virtues Of Bushido

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