Thursday, March 17, 2005

Lessons with the Master

Panic in Detroit - June, 2003


It occurred to me - after this last time hitting the ground at a speed which seemed to defy gravity - this may not be a human being, the one I am facing right now. I recall a slogan, a creed scrawled on the locker room wall at the gym by some devout adherent of physical culture “Pain is Just Weakness Leaving the Body.” If this is true, I feel the weakness draining from my body along with an uncomfortable amount of sweat, blood, and my once steeled resolve into a black void meshing with the night sky under which this drama is taking place. I am desperately searching for my Center- the Core that’s supposed to be there when you run out of options and your back is to the proverbial wall. I am too unfocused to go there on my own. So, I have no choice but to let the kicks, slaps, and guntings that are breaking down my body carry me to it. I’ve found it to be a source of strength in the past against overwhelming odds. Now I’m just hoping to pull together enough to find an escape route.

My body is no longer mine to command. It has been hit and damaged with a callous precision, so that although my mind tells it to raise up and attack again, the neurological pathways (specifically created through years of meditation) lead to dead channels. My limbs are rebelling against me. They refuse to comply on the grounds that I have so wantonly put them in harms way - allowed them to be subjected to such cruel torture. At this point I also have to deal with an annoying interjection by my rational mind (the meta-program I have come to call “The Professor”) who assails me with theories and conjectures as to why this shouldn’t be happening. “Shut up!” I tell him. “You know nothing after all!” “Use the blitz!” he exhorts, “It has always worked before.” I drag myself up from the ground, and dig into the dirt with my feet for traction. Somehow I felt it would be useless. But better to die standing, I suppose.

The blitz failed, predictably and miserably. My arms are wildly hammered down yet again. I am caught in mid-step, actually chambering for a kick. Momentum spins me 180 degrees before he kicks out my supporting leg. The numbness prevents me from immediately feeling the ankle lock now being applied. I am unable to counter this as I have been unable to counter anything else he’s thrown at me during this nightmare. As my hands flail the ground in pain, I perceive another figure other than the one I am trying to survive against. It’s hovering actually, shimmering like a mirage. At once... a vestige of hope! Surely this is an agent of The Other Side. Perhaps the khodam of an amulet or jimat come to fulfill its obligation in return for all of the sajen I have provided every malam Jumat. No such luck. I realize it is merely the spectre of my own arrogance and pride given form. I don’t hold anything against it, though. I created it myself. I was a fool for trusting it.

When did this go awry? It began simply enough as a sparring session. The last session two days ago had been much different. We barely even touched hands then. The videotape showed two players moving, turning, shifting with grace and artistically accentuated movements in time to an implied gamelon. The younger one (none other than your friend and humble narrator) appeared focused and concentrated - to mask his own uneasiness in the face of the unknown. The Elder, glided so effortlessly through his footwork, in what could best be described as a good-natured ‘caricature’ (or maybe mockery) of the younger’s movements, with the smile of someone clearly enjoying the novelty of the experience. Not the grimacing Demon I am facing now. It had finished on an appropriately dramatic note, followed by the resounding applause of the other sixty or so seminar participants. In the span of time between then and now, what had I missed? There had been no discernable change in the atmosphere. Somewhere along the line, had there been some transgression that would warrant such a painful rebuke?

Today, in the pre-dawn hours we had gone out to engage in what I thought would be a relaxed continuation of the past two days group training. I was certainly not expecting this battle. In an appallingly short period of time, I was back on the edge of a spiritual precipice I had previously traversed a long time ago. The physical pain, like years of memories faded in the face of the broader implications for my training now. Almost at the same time that this moment of clarity comes upon me, I am lifted from the ground. The sun is rising. The Demon is gone. The Wise Man in his place offers some agonizingly simple counsel “You need to work on your timing. Lets have some coffee.”

In the initiatory process, Rebirth is always preceded by Death.


A famous General once said “War is any movement in a medium of resistance.” With this in mind, you realize that the agents of resistance (i.e. your foes) can take limitless forms: individuals; corporations; ideologies; the government; nature Herself; even the fractured emotional/impulsive “selves” which vie for control of the consciousness of man against the rational mind may set themselves against you. Carlos Castaneda put his redoubtable mentor Don Juan on record as saying something to the effect of “every experience in life is a Battle of Power.” As martial artists, we study and train for a very specific type of battle, our task being to integrate the higher principles of The Art into our souls in a manner which elevates us above the level of violence-loving sociopaths. To think, act, and live, as it were, like WARRIORS. If you’re like the majority of people privileged enough not to have to fight out of sheer necessity to survive, you get it out of your system by the time you reach green-belt and then move on to the next hobby. A select few adopt Warriorship as a lifestyle. Even fewer attain to anything beyond mediocrity. Only a precious few refine It to the point of establishing a legacy for generations to come - giving to the martial arts what Coltrane and Bird gave to Jazz, by way of analogy. As you live your path, you will meet and greet others who are following the same road. And if you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, and your path is an elevated one, you may be fortunate to cross paths with one of the Great Ones of your discipline. As the saying goes “When the student is ready, the Teacher will appear.”

Now, what they don’t tell you is that He may in fact appear as The Adversary - if only for a moment - and that The Adversary is very likely to be your greatest Teacher. Consider this: what forces you to grow...comfort or conflict? What is the surest test of one’s mettle, ease or adversity? That which forces you to grow must often forcibly dislodge you from your complacency. In my experience, if you want a student to stop growing, give him a certificate. In West African metaphysics, there is a spiritual energy called Obara Meji. An acceptably descriptive mnemonic for this force is “The Resting and Hovering One.” It is an unstable energy. Think of the ‘spent’ feeling that usually follows an important test, or highly anticipated event. Inertia compels you to turn your back to the wind, to rest on your laurels, as it were. The danger at this stage is to fall asleep instead of moving forward. If you choose to rest, you have enlisted the help of the divine Trickster to set you back in motion. His urging will be gentle at first. Then, depending on your degree of inertia, Trickster will have to increase the intensity.

1 comment:

Michael B said...

Kamusta Ka Jeff
I enjoyed the post. I particularly like the euphamisms yu throw in there. I also felt that pain you so eloquently describe. Best wishes and keep rolling .