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Martial Arts

Jump to the following topics (general martial arts):

  1. What are the martial arts?
  2. There are various categories of martial art.
  3. The "soft" benefits from martial arts. 

Jump to the following topics (regarding tai chi):

  1. What is tai chi?
  2. What are the benefits from the practice of tai chi?  
  3. The technique of tai chi.  

Jump to the following topics (regarding aikido):

  1. What is aikido?
  2. Aikido has a philosophical base.
  3. The technique of aikido. 
  4. As we learn about ki, we learn about spirit and intuition.
  5. "Push-hands" is an aikido routine which we can practice.
  6. The principles of aikido can be used in our psychological life.

What are the martial arts? They are a variety of techniques which were developed in the Orient for fighting, self-defense, sport, and meditation. They include aikido, tai chi, judo, tae kwon do, etc. In this chapter, we will examine the martial arts as a means of "moving meditation" -- and we will see that any action -- including the actions which are associated with violence -- can be used for the purpose of meditation.

There are various categories of martial art. In addition to the specific schools of martial art (e.g., karate, aikido, etc.), we can discern different approaches to the study:

  1. "Hard" or "soft."
    • The "hard" martial arts include karate and kung fu. They employ muscular strength, a fierce attitude, and often an intent of injuring or killing an opponent.
    • The "soft" martial arts include aikido, tai chi, and pa kua. They use the energy of the conflict rather than muscular power as a means of resolution. The attitude is detachment and serenity; the intent is to settle the strife harmlessly.
  2. Emphasis on the outer technique or the inner state.
    • The outer technique. Some teachers emphasize technique, for students who want to learn martial arts as a form of self-defense or exercise; these students are not particularly interested in the philosophy or metaphysics of the practice.
    • The inner state. Some teachers present the martial arts as a means of self-discovery, meditation, and an education regarding the energy and principles of life. However, even if we study martial arts as a form of meditation, the outer form needs to be performed correctly -- not to comply with a meaningless rule but, instead, to convey the energy which is innate in that movement. As we gain an awareness of that energy, our "technique" is not built upon the traditional routines which we have learned; instead, it is based upon intuition which guides us in the spontaneous movements that express the energy of that particular moment.

The "soft" benefits from martial arts. In addition to their use for fighting, self-defense, and exercise, martial arts grant the following benefits when used as a form of meditation and self-exploration.

  1. We have unique opportunities to explore spiritual principles in action. Every situation in life grants opportunities, but martial arts test in ways which do not generally occur in our daily activities -- with the immediacy of mock combat.
    • We are learning about principles such as emotional balance, the life-energy (ki or chi), grounding, power, assertiveness, the body, and so on.
    • We study the yinyang through an opponent's attack (yang) and our response (yin).
    • We are schooled in humility as we discover that egotism is a mental distraction, and it is an interference in the process by which our actions can proceed directly from intuition to action (without the irrelevant, time-consuming, and purposeless imposition of a dysfunctional ego's vanity, outrage, etc.).
    • We learn the difference between intellectual speculation and experience-based wisdom. In martial arts, if we misunderstand a principle, our error cannot be rationalized or overlooked; instead, the error is confirmed for us decisively by the immediate pain from an opponent's blow.
  2. We can practice attentiveness. We must learn mindfulness because of the speed and accuracy which are required in martial mock-combat (and the painful penalty which ensues if we are not observant). At first, we are mindful of the individual movements as we practice; later, when those techniques become habitual, and we become more aware of the chi or ki, we can be mindful of that energy, in ourselves and in our opponent. Our alertness is centered in our ki or chi, which responds intuitively with the corresponding yin reception to the yang assault. The analytical mind has neither the perceptiveness nor the quickness to process the necessary data and to plan a defense, so we do not intellectualize about our tactics nor do we speculate about the attacker's possible approach; instead, we focus on the energy which is a source of both knowledge and power.
  3. We learn about the energy of life. In China, this energy is called "chi" (as in tai chi); in Japan, the same energy is called "ki" (as in aikido); the energy is also called "prana" or "life force" (in yoga) or "libido" (in Jungian psychology -- in contrast to Freudian psychology, which considers libido to be strictly a sexual energy rather than the general energy of life); in The Human Handbook, the life-energy is called "spirit" (although, more precisely, spirit is a transcendental entity which is translated into the life-energy of the material worlds). Particularly if we are practicing a "soft" martial art (e.g., tai chi or aikido), our aspiration is to become more aware of this life-energy -- and how to conserve it (through grounding and a relaxed stance), how to apply it effectively (with the correct timing and intensity), and how to interact our energy-flow with that of the world and other people (especially an attacker). The knowledge of our energy is valuable also outside of the martial arts studio; the ki or chi is the vitality which powers our entire life in every activity.

Tai Chi

What is tai chi? It is one of the martial arts, like judo or karate. However, most people use it as a type of "moving meditation." Some of the concepts here are specific to tai chi, but others are similar to those of other styles of movement meditations or dance meditation.

What are the benefits from the practice of tai chi?

  1. We gain physiological benefits.
    • We improve our muscle tone, blood circulation, and other aspects of physical health.
    • We also enhance our sense of balance, and our precision of body movements.
  2. We improve our mental facilities.
    • We enhance our ability to concentrate, as we focus on the movements of our body.
    • We become peaceful as we perform these slow, gentle motions.
  3. We become aware of the body's energy -- the "chi." As we become more attentive and yielding to this energy, our "center of gravity" drops to the level of the hara (which is in the lower abdomen); we relax our muscles and our will, and we allow the energy itself to move the body instead of willfully directing the activity.

The technique of tai chi. We can learn some of the basics from videotapes and books, but we truly need personal instruction in order to master the subtleties of the positions and movements. However, for the purpose of meditation, we can employ our own intuition to develop routines in which we use graceful movements to explore the movement of life-energy through us. Some general suggestions:

  1. Do the movements in a manner which is graceful, light, gentle, and relaxed. The chi itself is propelling us, so we do not need to be forceful. Although tai chi is a series of distinct movements, they flow into one another seamlessly, to permit a continuing and increasing flow of chi. To create this slow motion, we can pretend that we are moving our body through water rather than air; we feel the density and benign resistance of the "water."
  2. Be aware of your breathing. In tai chi, we inhale through our nose while moving outward (i.e., raising or extending an arm or leg); we exhale through our nose while lowering or withdrawing an arm or leg. The breathing is centered in our lower abdomen.
  3. Move the body as an integrated whole, including the head, torso, arms, legs, and internal parts.
  4. Allow the motions to follow a curved line, not a straight line. The arms are never fully straightened.
  5. Maintain a posture which is erect and balanced .
  6. In the feet, experience a warm, grounded connection to the earth. (To enhance this connection, we can do tai chi without shoes.) Our feet and legs are our stability and our strength.
  7. Be expressive with your hands, as they extend the chi outward or they withdraw it backward (depending on the direction of the movement).


What is aikido? Aikido has two aspects:

  1. It is a means of self-defense. It is one of the martial arts -- a "soft" martial art, like tai chi. The techniques can be used when we are violently attacked.
  2. It is a type of meditation. Some people practice aikido for the same reason that they practice tai chi: to learn about self-discipline, and their body, and the "ki" energy which powers the body. This ki energy (as in aikido) has also been called chi (as in tai chi) and prana (as in the practice of yoga); it is the energy of life -- an energy which is founded on the nature and dynamics of spirit. Aikido teaches us a depth of mindfulness which extends beyond our physical activity into the energy which underlies that activity. As we learn about this energy through the practice of aikido, we can apply its principles to other styles of movement meditation.

Aikido has a philosophical base.

  1. Our intent. In other styles of self-defense, our intent might be to hurt an opponent, but the purpose of aikido is simply to negate the effect of an attack and to reestablish harmony and peace, preferably without injuring the aggressor. The attacker displays an aggressive (hence unbalanced) energy, and the defender compassionately demonstrates the ineffectiveness and inappropriateness of such an expression (by permitting the attacker's psychological and energetic imbalance to create the inevitable physical imbalance -- probably resulting in a tumble on the ground). In our attitude, we harmonize with the reality of the attack; we accept the human reality in which aggression exists, and so we feel no annoyance or resentment when conflict occurs. Those emotional reactions would distract us from our task of resolving the assault, and they would create a contentious yang factor within us rather than the yielding yin which is the appropriate, balanced response. Because of our willingness to be centered in spirit, we are compassionate in acknowledging the injuries which have provoked the attack; our compassion might not be expressed in words but rather in our willingness to join the person in exploring the dynamics of spirit.
  2. Our opponent. The attacker is not viewed as an "enemy"; instead, he or she is a fellow human who is presenting an opportunity for both people to learn about energy ("ki"). We are competing against ourselves; we are challenging the efficiency of our own body and thoughts and the energy tones which can arise during a confrontation: fear, anger, frustration, etc. In any interpersonal relations, we can resolve external disputes only if we resolve the internal ones; otherwise our arrogance and aggression and unskillful actions will exacerbate any conflict which is presented to us. In some schools of aikido, there are no contests or grades; the teachers create a mood of cooperation so that the students can focus on their own development in a friendly and contemplative manner. However, in other schools, the teachers realize that we are in a culture which stresses competition, so they permit competition in their classes; to do otherwise might be hypocritical and even repressive of our ingrained social training, and it might be denying us the opportunity to experience situations which are closer to those of "real life."
  3. The yinyang. In aikido, we learn about this principle of yin and yang. For example, an attack is not 100% yang. The assailant is yin when he is drawing back his fist for a punch; during this consolidation of energy, he is vulnerable. The punch itself is yang. But in the aftermath of the punch, he again exhibits a yin energy -- either drawing back for another punch, or losing his balance because of our non-resistance.

The technique of aikido. When we are attacked, we use the following procedure (as explained in terms of energy and archetypal fields):

  1. We allow the attackers to come close so that we can blend our energy with theirs. We can characterize the two energies:
    • Our yin energy is characterized by a lack of aggression or physical resistance. We are centered in spirit -- balanced, alert, ready to learn and to be tested by life.
    • The attackers' yang energy is characterized by their aggression and physical momentum. While there is nothing "wrong" with yang energy per se, this particular manifestation of it is not guided by spirit (which seeks only the expression of life, not the advantage of one person the advantage of another person); in the model which is presented in this book, we could say that the attack is driven by dysfunctional archetypal-field elements, e.g., thoughts of greed, or the residual energy tones of anger from previous circumstances. While the attacker might have a legitimate need or complaint, the expression of that complaint is polluted by those residual elements, resulting in actions which we label "aggressive." This aggressive position is innately a position of weakness:
      • The attackers do not use the power of their surging life-energy (which is available to people only when they obey the dynamics of that spirit-based energy). Instead, they are fueled by the limited residual energy of dysfunctional elements in their archetypal fields; for example, their actions arise from the charged thoughts of resentment. That charge can be powerful and destructive, but it is easily defeated by well-executed spiritual energy (as explained later).
      • The attackers do not receive information from intuition, which perceives all dynamic factors in a situation. Instead, they are following directions from the charged archetypal-field elements whose only intent is to discharge themselves without concern for the damage and repercussions which the actions would incur. Because the attackers are not attending to intuition, they are not aware of other dynamic factors; thus, the actions are imprecise, and the reactions (from their intended victim) are unexpected.

  2. We are centered in spirit, so the aggression (i.e. the actions derived from these charged archetypal elements) does not "connect" with anything within our own archetypal fields; for example, the attacker's imposition does not trigger a personal response within us, e.g, anger, or an "indignation" constellation, or a "victim" constellation. Thus, from our position of intuition and centeredness, we are free to respond to the attack in any way which our intuition suggests. Because intuition cares only for life itself, it seeks only to defuse the attack such that life can go on for both of us, with the minimum of interruption and pain.
  3. We manage the physical aspect of the attack; obviously, our attitude and energy must be supplemented by physical action. In aikido, we grasp a part of the attackers' body (probably the wrist or hand) and then we pivot in a circular motion, changing the direct assault of the energy into a centrifugal motion which spins the attackers away from us. Because the attackers are probably surprised by our lack of resistance, and physically perplexed by the lack of a stable target, they are unbalanced and disoriented both psychologically and physically; hence, they are overextended and vulnerable. With our grip on their hand or wrist, we can add a slight adjustment to the momentum, to send the attackers in any direction which we choose. One option is to send them directly to the ground, with an aikido "joint lock" -- a painful twist of the shoulder, elbow, or wrist; if the attackers do not submit, we can easily dislocate the joint. However, the ideal in aikido is to cause no injury to the attacker but instead to create a resolution in which the parties are strengthened, educated, and unified by the encounter.

As we learn about ki, we learn about spirit and intuition. Ki is an energetic expression of the substance which we call spirit; thus, as we practice aikido, our awareness of the ki grants the same benefits that we would gain from an awareness of intuition. In either case, we are studying the same dynamics. The ki becomes stronger within us because we are responding to it, and permitting its expression, and eliminating any blockages to its flow. The energy extends beyond our physical body -- as an aura -- and its range increases as the ki intensifies. This energy field becomes so powerful and "dense" -- and our awareness of it so refined -- that we attain various abilities:

  1. Within this energy field, we can sense whatever is happening; for example, we might become aware of the approach of an assailant from behind. We "feel" the advance as distinctly as if the assailant were touching our body rather than merely our energy field.
  2. We can detect more than just physical movement; we can also discern the attacker's thoughts, including the specific plan of action, e.g., a left fist to the head. This is not psychic "telepathy" but rather the detection and interpretation of a disturbance in our force field. An aikido master knows exactly what an attacker is going to do.
  3. We can resolve an attack with the energy itself. When the ki's flow is strong enough, it can repel an assailant simply by the energy field itself, with no physical contact. Martial arts literature gives many examples -- probably not mere myth -- in which one or more attackers ran toward a master and then, when they encountered the field, were knocked backward ten feet or more. The master was so attuned to the ki that he or she would not even need to be aware of the attack; the ki acted automatically. The founder of aikido (Morehei Uyeshiba) demonstrated his ability to knock people to the floor without touching them.

"Push-hands" is an aikido routine which we can practice. In this simple, fun exercise, we explore non-resistance as a means of confronting an opponent. We can try two versions:

  1. Stand 24" from your partner, and place your palms against his or hers. Maintain a low center of gravity by basing your energy in the hara (which is in the lower abdomen). Hand-to-hand, try to push one another off-balance; any movement of the feet is considered an off-balance state.
    • When you are pushing: be careful not to overextend yourself (by pushing too hard, or leaning too far forward); if you do that, your partner is likely to give no resistance, so your force will throw you forward.
    • When your partner is pushing: feel the force but don't resist it directly (i.e., don't push in response); instead, yield and "soften" yourself with no bodily resistance or emotional aggression but rather a simple response to the other person's movements. If the person overextends, pivot your waist, and allow the force to carry him or her to either your left or right.
  2. Instead of putting your palms against your partner's palms, simply stand in one spot while he or she tries to push you off-balance. You are not allowed to touch your opponent; instead you stay erect by relying on your balance, a low center of gravity, and your non-resistance. For a greater challenge, stand on one leg while someone attempts to push you over.

The principles of aikido can be used in our psychological life. Aikido is a physical practice, but its concepts can be applied to psychological encounters; for example, when we are approached by an argumentative person, our non-resistance allows us to be clear, non-confrontational, intuitive, and effective. In our daily life, we can practice "psychological aikido" by noticing the many provocations, e.g., hostile people, a barking dog, a honking horn, unpleasantly loud music, etc. Instead of responding with charged archetypal-field elements, we can seek the balance of aikido -- welcoming the opportunity to interact, and then diverting the attack while we explore the yinyang dynamics of spirit with graciousness and efficiency.


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