Once upon a time. A long, long, long time ago. A primitive man or woman stared out of their cave shelter. They were cold, hungry and terrified. There was precious little on the menu for their tribe to eat but they themselves seemed to feature heavily on everything else’s menu. And then a miracle happened. They thought to themselves, “How can I ensure that we don’t starve and that we have some way of stopping that blasted sabre-toothed cat from eating us!” And shortly after that, some really good ideas started to occur to them. Ideas that had sharp, pointy tips and ideas that smoked and burned.
Last Christmas day 2016, I lived through a major martial arts failure which could have easily cost me my life. It all started with a minor Dad-fail on Christmas morning as my 2-year-old son was unwrapping presents. This was the first time that he understood enough about Christmas to get excited. I knew that he would appreciate his Christmas presents for the first time and I was really looking forward to giving him something special. He loves cars, machines and vehicles of every type, so I thought I’d go the extra mile and get him a small remote-controlled quad-copter drone. I had assumed that the technology had advanced enough so that controlling it would be easy enough for him to master. I was so wrong.
We’ve been very privileged over the last couple of weeks to have hosted our martial arts instructors from South Africa right here in Australia. SiGung Marco Kavalieratos and SiFu Christian Hanche. The learning experience for us has been phenomenally intense. It’s felt a bit like a thermonuclear bomb going off in our heads because of the sheer volume of training and exposure to new material. Both SiGung Marco and SiFu Chris are extremely experienced martial artists. A pair of the most competent martial artists I have ever had the pleasure of training with. Their collective wealth of experience in terms of combat, application, technique and background knowledge is a real treasure of the system.
Many years ago, I saw a film called “Beautiful People”. It was released in 1974 and was in the style of a nature documentary but with a strong 'object-lesson' narrative binding the stories together. Stories about various interactions between animals and humans in the African bush. It left a big impression on me as a child.
One story began with a Bushman (or San) hunter who needed to find some water. He noticed a baboon in a tree nearby, so he carefully dug out a hole in the side of a large termite mound and stuffed it full of melon seeds, making sure that the baboon could see what he was doing. He then left the immediate area and hid to watch what unfolded. Once the baboon could see that the man was gone, he climbed down the tree, rushed over to the termite mound and stuck his hand into the hole to grab a handful of melon seeds.
I occasionally help with instructing kids Kung Fu classes. It's not my forte, I tend to prefer teaching adult classes. What I have noticed is that kids can't resist a race. Regardless of what physical activity it is, kids tend to want to compete against their peers to finish first. This behavior pattern is generally not noticeable but becomes quite problematic when teaching traditional Chinese martial arts. Picture in your head how difficult it is to teach quality of movement to someone who is clearly only interested in beating his or her class-mates. It makes for some hilarity when a little kid is trying to learn zig-zag stepping for the first time but is also trying to beat little Johnny across the class. Tripping and falling over their own feet, looking somewhat like a capering pixie.
This morning, I got up at quarter to five to get ready for my morning training session. I was a bit slow in getting out there today because we hosted our Corporate Retreat yesterday and I had to really gun it to get through all my training in time to host the event (even so, I only managed to finish my training yesterday at nine thirty and the Retreat started at ten, so I cut things pretty fine). I also turned 43 years old this morning. Well into middle-age. On the slippery slope of inevitable decline. Getting ready to push up some daisies.
And yet... And yet... I have cause to celebrate how privileged I am and have been in my life. I am 43 years old and aside from a few old training injuries that are slowly being fixed by the structural correction of traditional Wushu training methods, I am in perfect health. I am 43 years old and I have never been as fast, strong, fit or combat-effective as I am today.
As the head of a martial arts centre, there is a lot of pressure to appear perfectly confident and poised at all times. This is what is often expected of a professional martial artist.
The motivated, positive and confident exterior is of course not always a true representation of what I am facing inside. I am human just like everyone else. We all struggle. Even those who claim that they don’t.
I’ve always been fascinated by the world’s most renowned fighters throughout history. From the mythical Greek heroes to accounts of modern soldiers excelling under fire. One of the groups that has always appealed to me are the Nepalese Gurkhas or Gorkhas.
We live in a society amongst hundreds of thousands or even millions of other people. Behavioural laws have developed in order to ensure that our society runs smoothly. Without these laws, social interaction would become increasingly dangerous. The breakdown of these social laws is explored in many apocalyptic movies and series. A popular modern phenomenon is the zombie apocalypse genre which explores how the breakdown of social laws makes life increasingly dangerous for the survivors who have to contend violently with other humans jostling for dwindling resources.
This will have to be the first in a non-contiguous sequence of articles describing my reasons for training martial arts since one article does not provide enough scope to cover the ground. I was inspired to write this article after reading an online report discussing some of the latest military technology being developed by Russia which gave me cause to recall my reasons for training martial arts.
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