I have a very difficult relationship with martial arts. I like them. I’m not very good at them. And I’m deeply troubled by them.
I’m especially troubled by the masculine, macho garbage that’s promoted and highlighted the world over in sports and popular culture. There is misogyny, sexism, and gender violence across the length and breadth of the world’s practices and practitioners of martial arts (including, and some might say especially, the armed mercenaries of the colonial state and private capital.)
But I’m also quite fascinated by them. Have been from a very young age. With no real training to speak of save a year at a raggedy Bangalore sports club and some occasional self-motivated workouts, it’s a fascination that has nevertheless stood the test of time.
Not that I’m particularly good at it or even super motivated to become good at it.
For instance, my “martial arts” practice these days consists of reading Bruce Lee’s JKD stream-of-consciousness once a month for 10 minutes, maybe followed by Paulo Coelho’s Manual of the Warrior of Light for another 10, then shadow boxing for a very vigorous 5 minutes, followed by a less vigorous 5 minutes of simple kicks, all while watching Futurama. Wait for a month. Repeat.
So it’s safe to say that it’s not exactly some UFC or Navy Seal shit that I partake in. If you’re looking for that, you’re in the wrong place. I think the martial arts I tend to practice is more the kind for those who also need daily rest and relaxation time with their amazing loved ones, human and non-human, alongside hefty doses of sitcom watching, comfort foods and beer; more Homer Simpson than Chuck Norris when it comes to warrior prowess.
Nevertheless, and with that disclaimer-cum-shameless-nod-to-popular-culture, I’d like to explore what I’m self styling as anti oppressive martial arts, trying to engage with it from the standpoint of three things: love, soulfulness, and non-violence – aka “all that boring, wimpy-ass shit about finding inner peace and all”
I’d like to briefly expand on those three things that define this kind of anti oppressive martial arts for me.
Going ass-first, let’s start with non-violence, and to that we can add, the prevention of violence.
I’m going to borrow a concept from the genius Bruce Lee where he spoke of “zones” of attack and defence. If I remember correctly, they are the kicking zone, the punching zone, the grappling zone, and the trapping zone. To that, I think a particularly important zone is actually the zone of non-violence and violence prevention.
Because truly one of the core values of martial arts, I am beginning to realize, is non-violence.
I mean, just think about it for a minute.
Why the hell would I want to get into a fight?
I am about to become a father for crying out loud.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in self defense and safety from harm or evil. I truly do believe in my loved ones and myself protecting one another.
But to actually have to use violence in order to do that is only if there’s absolutely no other choice.
Ideally, my loved ones and I just want to lead a peaceful, non-violent, fun, safe, and healthy life. (Wouldn’t you?)
So I think a really important tool (or weapon, if you want to get all into that martial artsy language) in anti oppressive martial arts is the ability to prevent violence, avoid violence, calm violent situations down, and promote nonviolence. Because if we’re really honest with ourselves, the times when we are faced with no other alternative but violence are way less often than we are often led to believe, especially when we choose to not be poisoned by male egos and violent mainstream pop culture. For the most part I do believe that safety and preventing harm to loved ones can almost always be done without violence; indeed violence often makes things much worse.
Which then brings about a mindset that is needed in order to avoid violence unless faced with no other alternative, because that varies for many people.
What is the kind of warrior mindset that first and foremost values nonviolence?
I call it soulfulness.
Soulfulness in martial arts for me is about remaining calm, breathing, understanding that our souls can never be harmed by evil, and invoking some spiritually liberating thought in order to deal with any stress or pain, no matter how severe.
Was that a bit too much to digest right there?
No worries. I’m happy to break it down a bit more…
I’ve written previously about how in moments of extremely high stress or pain, often the best (and during the moment, only) thing you can do is to remain calm. Take that breath. And get your shocked system in order to take the next best step to protect your loved ones and yourself. Any training, thinking etc. can go out the window and as such, it’s important to just stay calm and remember to breath.
In order to prepare for that however, it helps to have a belief in the power of our souls. Deep down, fear and panic ultimately comes from our sense of mortality and vulnerability. From personal experience, I’m convinced that people with a liberated sense of spirituality tend to do better in crises and with traumatic situations than those who don’t have that soulfulness or spiritual liberation, because the idea of our indestructible souls is an idea that can provide great strength and courage against that mortality and vulnerability. It can help us brave a lot of evil, especially since evil in this world often has a lot more money, power, and wealth than we do.
Having something to spiritually invoke, however your spirituality might manifest in your life, can be very useful in such moments. In my case, it happens to be a personal chant to the divine feminine, but it can take many liberated forms.
Which brings us to that which we need in our daily lives in order to help us with soulfulness and non-violence, which is love.
We are nothing without love and community, i.e. a family of our choosing, no matter how small or large. Our spiritual liberation and sense of peace can only reach it’s full potential with love.
How, you might be asking yourself right about now, have we come to this in an article about martial arts?
Because I ask myself ultimately why I even do that monthly workout. Why I have this weird fascination for the martial arts, maladroit though I may be in every attempt at them.
And it’s because with every failure I realize that, deep down, at a primal level, we all ultimately fight to defend and protect those whom we love. Thus for me, any true (and relaxingly stress-free) study of the martial arts absolutely must have love at its core.
So the next time you workout on that long bag or smash the air as you shadow box or do your regulation 100 kicks (in my case, a month from now) – remember that it’s very ironically about the peace, spirituality, and love.
You’ll have the most stress-free workout ever.