Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: A deeper look at the Purple Stage

More research behind me.... more insights brewing...
I have been reading about the Okinawan karate masters of the mid-1800's to the 1930's. They include the great ones like Tode Sakugawa, Sokon Matsumora and the masters of generations after them like Yatsusune Itosu and later. These people lived in a different world than exists today, even in modern Okinawa, let alone in the rest of the world. In their time, Okinawa was an independent nation state which paid lip service to both China and Japan in order to keep afloat. Meanwhile it leveraged its geography as a central stopping point between Japanese and Chinese trade routes to enrich itself and its people. Thinking about the evolution of martial arts, it is no wonder this island became a pivot point and a progenitor of many of the arts we have today. It did this by pulling techniques and concepts from Kung Fu (China), Budo (Japan), and its own native arts (To de) which are derived from both.

The evolution of the people at that time was just as interesting. For hundreds of years they existed in a miniature feudal system on the island, and eventually Japan came in and took over, making them another prefecture of that country and abolishing the Okinawan monarchy and nobility. It was in a sense a big Amber to Orange shift that began occurring in 1879 and did not really complete itself until after WWII. I think that in any situation like that, you have a population Stage distribution, much like in the United States today. Just because a government is going from one Stage to another does not mean the people are all doing the same, just that a certain number of them are and that a tipping point has been reached.

It was in this soup that Okinawan karate was stewed. The people that taught it, particularly the Masters, seemed to have been largely Purple-centered. What did Purple-centered martial arts look like? I would have to say it looked delightfully charming and conscious in its own way. Back then there were no "styles". In fact, styles are most definitely an Amber Stage convention pressed upon the Okinawans by the Japanese who were an Amber-centered society, and in many respects still are. Amber societies require hierarchy and rules and naming conventions. Before the Japanese came around, the Okinawan martial arts did not think about that at all. They had no names for what they were doing except "te", meaning "hand" in Japanese. The word in the Okinawan language was "di".
At the Purple and Red Stages, the purpose of Martial Arts was to strengthen the body and ready it for defense in situations of danger. This involved a lot of conditioning. However, the people who practiced it really had no strict boundaries between themselves and others who taught. In fact, students frequently went from person to person to train. A dojo was someone's backyard, or if they were wealthy or had supportive students, a piece of land with a small building on it. People would meet in the yard and the teacher would teach. That would go on for three to five hours per session, anywhere from three to six days per week. The first hour would be spent on conditioning and exercise and the next two would be actual technique, usually kata. In essence, what these people were really doing was the equivalent of going to the gym every day, and with the same results: excellent physical shape and conditioning. Although more than that, this prepared them for dealing with ruffians and gangsters that were common on the streets in those days. Nearly all of them had the chance to put their art to the test, and challenges from other martial artists were quite common once the Red Stage was entered. For that reason, practice of the art was usually kept secret to guard against this.

It almost goes without saying that many of these old Masters fought tooth and nail against the Amber institutions imposed by Japan: style names, associations, belt colors, teaching karate in gym class, etc. They saw their art as a family affair. Students were only accepted for teaching if they had family connections. This is very much a tribal Stage. Beyond the "tribe", there was no chance of being able to find a teacher. If you were not in the club, you were not going to learn. The later Masters of the early 1900's like Itosu, Azato, and Funakoshi were famous for accepting the Amber principles and bringing the art into schools and police forces. In a sense, it had to happen because the evolution of Martial Arts to the next Stage required something like that.

I will not go into the further bits of history, but it continues to interest after that period, after the belt ranking systems and styles were established and the teachers began to decry tournaments and point sparring (Orange institutions).

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: Skill level and how it relates to Stages

Lately I have had a lot of time to hunker down and do some research on Martial Arts. I am not even done yet, and I have found a lot of things that have both clarified and muddied the waters of fitting an Integral Framework onto the Martial Arts.

I will give you a good one to think about. How are skill levels and Stages related?

On the one hand, skill level represents progress and development along a Line. In the Martial Arts someone's proficiency in their art closely resembles the kinesthetic Line, if you think of skill level as being how good a person's form, conditioning, poise, and accuracy is. Being a Line, it must go through Stages. Look at someone who just started doing Martial Arts today, and compare them to someone who has been practicing for 5 hours per day for 20 years. There will be a big difference. The person doing it longer for more hours will be obviously practicing at a higher Stage along that kinesthetic Line.

On the other hand, it is also entirely possible that this person who practiced for 20+ years believes that his Martial Art is the "One True Way" and must be passed down exactly as he learned it from his teacher, who was blessed or prophetic in some way and had the True Way revealed to him long ago. Meanwhile, the new practitioner who started yesterday can barely take a stance, but believes in the necessity for all the different kinds of martial artists to exist as a system that brings Martial Arts and the Consciousness of the people that practice it to a higher and broader level, and he does this by trying to take his horribly conditioned body through a kata while paying attention to all four pieces of his 1st Quadrant Being.

See the problem?

As I see it, the "Martial Arts" actually encompasses many different Lines. It explains why someone can have amazingly powerful technique, and be an asshole at the same time. It also explains how these Kung Fu and Okinawan Masters alike have amazing form, power, strength, and conditioning, and yet when you read the history of their organizations you can clearly see them migrating from an Amber "Old Way" to an Orange "Corporatized" sporting system. Their bodies and maybe even their State practice are rock solid, but their behavior and center of gravity is still 1st Tier.

Let's go back to the flip side, and here's why I think spreading this idea of Integral Martial Arts will be problematic to current 1st Tier practitioners. You can have a 2nd Tier practitioner who's only mediocre at the kinesthetic portions of the art, i.e. at a lower Stage along the kinesthetic Line than some of these Amber and Orange Masters, and yet this Integral person's ideas are directly applicable for growing Martial Arts as a whole and taking it to a new level as a Life Practice. What are the chances that some of these entrenched Masters are going to give the Integral folks a second look unless they are at least close as far as kinesthetic development goes? Not much.

It's really a good argument for regular solid practice. Although regular practice of Martial Arts at an Integral Stage may not impress too many of these guys unless it's done their way. For example, when an Okinawan Goju-Ryu Master thinks of practice, he thinks of a couple hours a day of Sanchin kata and stepping in the Sanchin stance, with some arm and body conditioning thrown in. There are gifts in that, namely the notion that your physical body is part of your Being and must be paid attention to and kept healthy and strong so it can support your Subtle and Causal elements. However, when I think about how to go about that, I don't think about three hours of Sanchin. I think about the latest forms of fitness and conditioning as set down by modern day personal trainers and physical therapy experts, and then I adapt those things to Martial Arts. Cardio kickboxing anyone? :) Maybe not exactly, but you get the idea.

I've been reading a lot of books and watching a lot of videos, and I've seen a lot of martial artists that have better form and stronger bodies than I do. Nevertheless, I have not found many of these Masters that push for Martial Arts beyond a great way of staying in shape, defending yourself, and maybe learning to navigate the politics in your office a little more skillfully. There's so much more to it than that.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: Reconciling Chi

This is a post I wrote on Facebook about a year ago, and am transferring it here now. Keep in mind that I use Personal, Social, and Physical in place of Good, Beautiful, and True throughout.

Another area of martial arts which can sometimes be controversial is chi. Perusing the blogs and forums out on the internet will reveal much colorful discussion, sometimes bordering on uncivil, with regards to the existence of chi and what it does. As might be expected, the viewpoints on it are partial and reflect the Stages of the people who post about it, as well as our upbringing in martial arts. From a personal standpoint, this does not have to be a contentious thing. Many of the views expressed on the subject have a kernel of truth to them.

So what is chi, and how does it work? As something that falls into the Personal area of existence, it certainly is that, personal. It is difficult to prove to or show someone outside of yourself. Nevertheless, there is a good explanation for it and what it can and cannot do. Chi is nothing more and nothing less than the Subtle part of our own bodies. In the Personal area or UL Quadrant, our bodies come into existence as three connected pieces: Gross, Subtle, and Causal. If the Gross piece is the “meat” or base life force of what we are, the Subtle is that energy of life that animates us, and the Causal is that uknowable source from which it all begins.

The controversy over chi merely arises from the differing interpretations that all the Stages give it. Pre-modern Stages, like Purple and Red, give it a magical quality. They post videos on YouTube of old men throwing attackers in all directions just with the powers of their chi. Usually the video is accompanied by reverent praise for the person being filmed, since for some reason he is the only one that they know who can do these things. Naturally, the modern Stage folks, i.e. Orange, jump all over this. They post their own videos of pit fighters taking apart those old men and beating them with their own dismembered limbs. (This is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but videos of younger fighters beating up old “chi-masters” do exist on YouTube.) The modern practitioners completely disavow all existence of chi for the most part. They explain that proper body mechanics are all that is needed to deliver a lethal strike. Experience with real combat also supports this quite well.

The modern view is still just as limited as the pre-modern. While the pre-modern views tend to overstate chi and exhibit something called “wish fulfillment” in their beliefs that superhuman feats are possible, the modern types just say chi does not exist at all. This is a limitation because it compresses all of existence down to nothing but the Physical perspective. It denies the Personal and Social completely by stating that everything is just Biology and Physics, nothing more. A broader post-modern view of chi might push the theory that even though the modern folks do not see it, chi exists and probably has a valued place in fighting applications. Unfortunately, this quickly runs up against the post-modern limitation present in most subjects: the assumption that all things are equal when they are not.

It really takes an Integral view to make peace again between the different interpretations of chi. As talked about with the four Quadrants, things co-arise. Chi exists as a major component of the Subtle body, which simultaneously co-arises with the physical body, and also co-arises with the Social and Physical. Pre-modern individuals truly believe in the magical qualities of chi and what it can do, and though it remains to be seen on a case-by-case basis whether people like this can be exposed to a broader view, there is no need to be angry with them. The gift in their beliefs is to realize that it was pre-modern martial artists in the first place who probably discovered chi for martial purposes. Our ability to sense and feel chi can be enhanced by what they know. By the same token, the modern Stage martial artists bring a lot to the table also by putting an end to the mythology of what chi is supposedly able to do. They wake us up and make us understand that this is a Subtle force and as such it is not a Gross phenomenon. Nobody is going to push an attacker 20 ft. into the air with chi alone.

Without the post-moderns, we would never believe in chi ever again, because it seems to have a lack of obvious application in real fighting. However, it does indeed play a part in real combat. Chi is still a part of our Personal anatomy. It exists and is there whether it can blow an attacker through a wall or not. When a woman is being mugged and fighting for her life and her pulse is approaching 200 beats per minute, she will have an extremely difficult time closing her hand into a fist, let alone being able to concentrate on moving energy through her hand as she strikes. The key here is that she does not have to think about energy at all. The Integral view brings something new to the table. All of these areas, the Gross, Subtle, and Causal are unavoidably connected and present all the time, whether that woman being mugged is thinking about them or not. If the woman brings herself to strike back, the chi will move through her hand involuntarily, because it is part of her hand. This is true if she has been practicing martial arts for 30 years or never.

So, what does the chi do in this example? It delivers the punch. If the woman’s body mechanics are correct, or better yet, if they are optimal, the punch will be harder. Simultaneously, if her body mechanics are correct and optimal, the punch will carry more chi with it. The body mechanics and the chi are inseparable. The energy delivered by her punch is equal to the weight of her fist times its velocity squared divided by two from the Physical perspective, which simultaneously co-arises in the Personal area as chi, and in the Social area as a transfer of whoopass from her to the attacker, which will undoubtedly deliver a message of some sort.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: Also a conveyor belt

It is interesting how religion is discussed in Integral terms as a conveyor belt to accommodate and broaden the practitioners' understandings at each and every Stage from Magenta on up through even third tier. In my opinion that is a key feature of religion's purpose as we go forward into the future. Why else would you have it? Contemplating this further and applying it to another area, why couldn't the Martial Arts be a conveyor belt as well? Granted, most arts focus on certain martial Lines of development, like sparring, kata, breaking, chi, etc. whereas religion expressly focuses on the Spiritual Line of development. However on the other hand as I think I pointed out in previous posts well enough, the Martial Arts don't necessarily all leave out the Spiritual Line of development either. I dare say that any practice of any art can be applied to the Spiritual Line, and the Japanese of the 1600's knew that.

Here's a simple example that has happened to me. It has nothing at all to do directly with martial arts or spiritual development, but in the end it was both. At my job years ago, I was given a task. I had to sort several sheets of paper and put them into an envelope, which I then had to address and prepare for mailing. I had to do that 750 times for the entire mailing list. Probably everyone reading this has had to do something like that at least once in their lives, and it's a good bet most everyone hated it. I didn't. I saw it as an opportunity to practice mindfulness. Instead of pouting, I made the repetitive task into a kata, and I got to perform that kata 750 times. In the end I was quite good at it, but the important thing is I gained the benefits of a kata from doing a simple task: I focused on my breathing. I let my thoughts go and observed them. I put my mind in my body and perfected my movements which brought me completely into the Now. It was a meditation. Instead of having a bad day at work, I had a day that could be chalked up into a long line of non-wasted days of meditation training, and the benefits that flow from that. State practice contributed to the "slipperiness" of my Stage, which did God knows what, but certainly seems to have been positive. In turn, broadening Stages through the happy accidents caused by meditation can be seen as a conveyor belt, and it doesn't take a religion to do that.

Depending on your vantage point, Martial Arts looks quite different. Similarly to people who practice religions, most never change their vantage point after reaching a certain Stage, but some do. For every fundamentalist person that swears religion is about accepting the one true way to salvation through [insert religious figure's name], there is a martial artist who swears martial arts is only a way of learning self-defense as taught by [insert Master's name]. That's fine. Changing or eliminating people who don't think a certain way is never the point of Integral adaptations. Instead, the point is to allow those people to reach their full potential right where they are at, and that often requires pointing out what's broken about the way things like religion and Martial Arts are currently viewed, i.e. with no awareness that there are these different Stages and States.

Like the case with religion, Martial Arts needs to be reframed. It needs to accommodate practitioners at all Stages in an organized fashion and with understanding of the attitudes that 1st-Tier waves have against each other. It also needs to look more closely at States and how they can be used not only in combat, but in every day life.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: More Exploration of States

Last night in my class, we spent time playing with the State I referred to as "Mind of Moon" in my last blog post. What was interesting was that we discovered more about the various Stages through which Mind of Moon progresses and how it is experienced differently by different students. Earlier I offered the possibility that Mind of Moon was a gross State, like waking, because it involves interacting with the waking world, and well, because you do it while you are awake! It is not something that is done necessarily during meditation, and certainly not during sleep. Nevertheless, this State has a progression.

I don't know exactly yet how to map these Stages to any kind of Graves, Keegan, or Gebsner-named Stages, but here are the Stages I see with Mind of Moon:

Stage 1 - Gross Vision - The student interprets Mind of Moon simply as peripheral vision. Now, peripheral vision has some scientific and physical constraints. In order to see, light must hit your retinae and activate rods and cones which are photoreceptors connected to the two optic nerves that go to your brain where the pictures are made. A region on your retina where the photoreceptors are most concentrated is called the fovea. You instinctively line up your vision so the light hits the fovea because that produces the most detail in what you are seeing. The other parts of your retina have fewer receptors than the fovea so the parts of your vision outside this spot are less detailed. Thus, biologically, your vision is indeed less detailed in your periphery. You can pick out motion and shape, but that's about it. Reading detail outside of the fovea is difficult, if not impossible as you get farther away from it.

Stage 2 - More Detailed Vision - At this Stage, the student is able to see more detail in the periphery while in Mind of Moon. It's not that there's any defiance of the laws of Biology or Physics. Rather, it is that the student learns how to tolerate the blurry vision in the periphery and read it more accurately. I will use myself as an analogy. Without contact lenses, my vision is probably somewhere around 20/500. In other words, I would have to hold this text about 5 inches from my nose in order to see it clearly enough to read it. So, you may guess that when I walk around without my contact lenses, I see the world as one big blur, and that's mostly true, except that after doing this for 30+ years, I start to understand what certain blurs are, and I can accurately identify blurry objects because I've seen them often. Walking around the room, even if I've never been there before, is not a problem. Pretty much every near-sighted person reading this knows what I am saying.

So it goes with this Stage of Mind of Moon. The fovea is the only place registering clear objects, but the student learns to identify more accurately what the blurry objects on the periphery are. The brain interprets this as seeing in a more detailed fashion.

Stage 3 - The Other Senses - Eventually the student learns that "taking everything in" means more than just looking at all of it. When standing in a room or in a field, what does it smell like? How does the ground feel beneath your feet? How do the little currents of air moving between your fingers feel? What sounds are there around you? Until now, looking at everything was a big mental exercise, but after that becomes second nature the student is able to put the vision stuff on autopilot and branch out with the senses.

Stage 4 - Gaining Interiority - Until this Stage, Mind of Moon is just an exterior thing. All focus is on what's happening outside of the body, and it's really all the student can do to keep track of that with the mind. It's quite taxing in the beginning. However, eventually it does become natural. As soon as the instructor calls out "Kiotske!!", and the students move to attention, BAM! Mind of Moon. There's no thought. It just happens, and from that point all the techniques during that hour or so of class are executed that way. Eventually, the student begins to incorporate internal messages into Mind of Moon. How am I feeling? Do I like this place? What does this place feel like?

Every place we go throughout the day and throughout our lives has a certain feeling or "vibe" to it, as some would say. Most of the time, people ignore this sense, but it is there. You have an emotional opinion of where you are, whether you tap into it or not. It can be very subtle, but it does produce a physical effect. Incorporating this physical gut feeling into the rest of the information you get from Mind of Moon is what happens at this Stage.

Stage 5 - Awareness - Ken Wilber once did a great podcast of "The Five Reasons Why You Are Not Enlightened". In that podcast, and in some of his books, he speaks of flipping the perspective of awareness. Instead of you being aware of X or whatever, you realize that X is within your awareness. You are in a room right now as you read this, most likely... or maybe in a car, but I hope you aren't driving! In either case, you are not aware of the room. The room is within your awareness. The "You" that is being aware is not your body or your mind. It is that thing that encompasses everything that can be encompassed, i.e. everything in your awareness. At this Stage, the student realizes that Mind of Moon is awareness. It is about being aware of that thing that is aware, and how it simply envelops all the things within it, as it.

As part of the curriculum I teach, I have people practice this quite often. It is one of the main exercises I give them outside of class: be in Mind of Moon while you drive your car or walk to school. See everything, your windshield, side and rear-view mirrors, your speedometer, your hands on the wheel. It's not easy! After a few years of practice, the students gain a lot of detail in what they can see, but it takes a while!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: Making sense of States

General Integral Theory acknowledges any number of States, but particularly focuses on the ones that everyone has access to when it gives examples: waking, dreaming, dreamless sleep, witnessing, and non-dual consciousness. Being able to put yourself into these States is not so much a matter of what Stage you are at, but more a matter of how practiced you are at getting into these (and other) States. On the other hand, the way you perceive each of these States and which State your central identity clings to changes very much depending on your Stage. How does this work in Martial Arts?

Thankfully, we do not need to reinvent any wheels here. We just need to organize what's already been found through over a thousand years of Martial Arts exploration and assign some language to it. So let me focus on trying to do that.

First, it is important to note that these States can be thought of as mindsets in Martial Arts terms, and that they correspond to 1st Quadrant (Personal) selves. Wilber's concept also holds true: every self has a body. So waking corresponds to gross physical stuff. Dreaming corresponds to the subtle body. Dreamless sleep and witnessing correspond to the causal self, and finally the non-dual corresponds with Oneness. I put forth that all of these items are discussed in a Martial Arts context in detail already by many sources and here's an attempt to lay it out:

Mu-shin: No-mind

Starting from the top, No-mind seems to be a correlation to dreamless sleep and/or witnessing. In particular, No-mind requires focus on no particular thing, especially not focus on focusing! It is the ultimate letting go, and it is non-directional. During the State of No-mind, things arise as they need to. From a Martial Arts perspective, this is basically the arising of victory. Musashi and Takuan speak of winning battles through No-mind, where there is no separation between you and your opponent. Here's a great quote from Sun Tzu about that:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

The way I read this, if you are in No-mind, i.e. causal consciousness, there is no separation between you and other things. You are "Not Two". So, really the idea of any conflict at all is silly, or at best beautiful because it is a perfect expression of something rising out of itself, as itself. What is a winner in that case? There is only One, so it's not really relevant in this State who (or what) wins or loses. On the other hand, the farther you are away from No-mind, the better your chances of losing will be, especially since losing actually exists on that level of separation.

Mind of Water

This is a term used a lot by the Martial Arts practitioners that taught me, and their teachers, and so on. I did not see it used anywhere else until I read Takuan, Musashi, and Sun Tzu. At this point, I'm suggesting (but still exploring the possibility) that Mind of Water corresponds to subtle consciousness, i.e. dreaming. The ancients describe this state as never letting the mind stop at something, because whatever the mind stops at will cause it to be cut down. (I'm paraphrasing Takuan here.) Meaning that the mind should flow around and not focus attention on any particular thing, but when it needs to then it can. At rest in the Mind of Water State, the mind is like water flowing past a riverbank. Thoughts come and then flow onward down the river without stopping by for a visit. Then the next thoughts come down the waterway and move onward just like the last. This feels like a basic relaxed mindset and being at ease but alert.

Satori: Mind of Mirror and Mind of Moon

The best example of Satori comes from a book I read by Dan Millman where his teacher held up a knife and told him he was going to throw the knife at Dan's face and Dan had to catch it. The teacher wasn't serious, thankfully, but was merely proving a point and showing Dan what Satori felt like. Satori is total pinpoint concentration devoted to a single thing. In my training this has been called Mind of Mirror. When you punch through a board or a ribcage, your focus is ultimately devoted to a single point just before the impact. It zooms in at the last split second.

Mind of Moon is the opposite: open awareness. The ancients touch upon this concept when they discuss where the eyes go during a confrontation. Many argue for having the eyes focused on no particular thing, but instead seeing everything all at once and zooming in with Mind of Mirror when the final action is called for in a strike. The eyes will train the mind to go where it needs to, and how to switch between Mind of Moon and Mind of Mirror accordingly. Daniel Goleman in his new book, Focus, alludes to "top down" and "bottom up" attention. Top down attention is basically Mind of Mirror. It is conscious focus and thought directed at a single problem or object. Bottom Up attention is open awareness which allows the unconscious brain to make connections between things it sees but may not have put together consciously.

Both of these States, I think are gross States, because they deal with physical attention, but at the same time they can be portals to other States. For example, Mind of Moon and Mind of Mirror are both the first steps to two different kinds of meditation. Hold one of those States long enough, and you will begin to rise up through Mind of Water and eventually to No-Mind. So I think one thing that Martial Arts points out is the fluidity of States and how they can (and do) flow into one another. It seems to me that you don't just achieve a State and stay there for any length of time, just as you don't stay awake for 24 hours per day routinely.

As always, this is a work in progress so other thoughts or speculation on how States might be dealt with in a Martial Arts context are welcome.

The other thing that makes this a giant mess is how States are perceived differently at different Stages. This post is just a basis, colored by whatever my own Stage is. In future posts, I plan to sort out how other Stages might interpret these same States.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Martial Arts for Personal & Spiritual Development

Vacation is a wonderful time to kick back and contemplate. I just returned from a rather enjoyable session this past week. Activities included hanging out in Miami enjoying the sun and sand, trying to clarify my thoughts of what I'm trying to convey about "Integralizing" Martial Arts, and how those thoughts could be made more useful to those involved with teaching and studying their respective "Ways". The focus of these meditations was a simple question: What evidence is there that people have used (or are using) Martial Arts for spiritual development, and how far back does it go?

History was never my best subject, but I did find some pretty definitive evidence going back centuries. One of the most famous examples was from a series of letters written by a Japanese monk named Takuan Soho to a samurai friend of his where they discussed the spiritual aspects of swordsmanship. Beyond technique, Takuan talked about mindset, and even in his own way he talked about Spirit and Oneness after the Buddhist fashion of the time. That got me thinking a little more about samurai, so I checked out Miyamoto Mushashi's book on his personal Martial Art. As one of the greatest swordsman who ever lived, Musashi believed that his Way was not only about fighting, although fighting was a significant part of it if not the very core manifestation. Musashi's Way was one of getting to know the Self, and using the art and other arts to further the depth of knowledge a person has of his or her own interiority and the outside world together as One.

Having two good examples from the 1600's, I wondered more about modern times and if anyone published thoughts on Martial Arts and spiritual development. There is a fair amount written on that subject. Gichin Funakoshi's book comes to mind, where he tells about his Way and the history behind it. Funakoshi believed that karate was a method for living a lifestyle and improving the self, and not just a way to improve fighting skill. Another book I read last week was by Joe Hyams, who studied with Ed Park and Bruce Lee and had many anecdotes about how karate improved and even saved his life outside of class in normal every day life. This book resonated with me because it was the first one I found that had applicable modern lessons that I myself remember learning in the dojo and applying outside.

With all this material, however, something is missing for me. There's something left to do yet. The basis for using Martial Arts for personal and spiritual development is definitely there! It has a rich history. However, it is not Integral. In order to be Integral, something has to honor or take into account AQAL. Interestingly, Martial Arts does take into account a good bit of AQAL already. Books on spiritual and personal development in the martial arts cover the 1st Quadrant (UL) pretty well. Books on fighting and technique cover the UR Quadrant. Some of Musashi's writings even talk about how one relates to an opponent, which is very much a LL Quadrant phenomenon. There are even books on the business of martial arts and how to distribute them to students more effectively, which covers the LR Quadrant. All these perspectives are represented, and there are many "Lines" you can pursue in the Martial Arts which are all covered by books: grappling, breaking, chi development, kata, etc. What's missing is clarification on States and Stages and organization.

Honestly the literature is a mishmosh. It is like the literature on Psychology and Evolutionary Biology before Ken Wilber organized and made sense of it. There is also little to no talk of Stages and how Martial Arts look differently depending on vantage point. Additionally, there is almost no talk of how States, i.e. meditation, work into the equation and how they change with Stage, e.g. the Wilber-Combs Matrix. I feel this is what is needed here. Even in religious institutions, there is little accounting for Stages. Ken Wilber is writing a book called The Fourth Turning, which talks about how Buddhism which traditionally acknowledges its own evolution is expected to leap again to a format where Stages, States, and other discoveries are more properly incorporated. As with Buddhism, I do not feel this has been done yet with Martial Arts.

So there we have it. I see a clearer mission now of what has to be explained. There are also two other perspectives to deal with: teacher and student. Conveying this to teachers so they can distribute it to their own students is a different task than developing a program for individual students to work through. I am in the process of doing both through my own class in Ridley, PA (for students) and through my writing (for teachers).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Integral Perspective

In the course of my career, I have been a researcher trying to publish new ideas to the scientific community. At this point I probably have a little over 30 publications in various scientific journals, conference proceedings, book chapters, and non-peer reviewed articles in trade magazines, and that does not count thoughts I have blogged or white papers I have written. Through all of this writing I have learned that new ideas are difficult to come by. Even if you apply a seemingly new idea to your area of research, you often find that the idea is not new. Whether you figured it out or not on your own, someone probably did it already!

So goes my expectations for the way I am trying to portray martial arts on this blog. I have not yet found it explained this way, but I'm ready for it to turn up. What have I found so far?

This is going to sound a little comical, but I have found a lot of talk of fighting. Go figure. In certain cases, I have found discussion about classes being offered that take both the "spiritual" and self-defense aspects of martial arts into account. Getting warmer. However even in these cases, I find certain things missing that would classify the teachings by that school or person as "Integral" according to the theory of the class honoring AQAL.

I guess the biggest difference between what I am talking about and what is out there right now on the web is that I am trying to use martial arts as an all-inclusive tool to understanding Life, if one should choose to use it that way. Life includes a lot of things. After all, it's Life! So while I am advocating that people are learning to fight, the understanding of fighting itself differs at each Stage of Consciousness. So does the purpose of fighting, as does it's symbology. However, fighting only covers the "martial" part of "martial art". There is also the "art"part where there are many opportunities to figure things out. To say that I teach martial arts for "spiritual" purposes is also true. However, again, it is partial. My class still includes things that many people don't think of as spiritual. I happen to see all actions as part of the necessary and perfect expression of All That There Is, which therefore makes them automatically spiritual, but when I start talking about driving to work and making dinner afterward as spiritual, people tend to get lost because they usually only associate fancy meditation techniques with the term.

Let me reiterate: the intention of my class is to make the student a better fighter, but also a better meditator. Moreover, it will also make the student a better driver, a better cook, a better parent, and a better coworker among other things. Students in my class probably won't be better fighters than if they had gone to a Gracie dojo to learn, and they won't be better meditators than if they had gone to a Buddhist Temple, but if they wish to specialize in one or the other, I can help them find that somewhere else. Instead, what they get is a rounded awareness of all aspects of life in the 21st century suburban and urban setting, and since all of my students happen to LIVE in a 21st century suburban or urban setting,this is very useful to them.

The beauty of Integral Theory is that you can drop it onto an existing path to self-realization and bring that path into clearer focus. My idea (which I have not seen duplicated in the same way yet, but am giving it time) is to drop Integral Theory onto an existing martial arts class and make that class a path to self-realization and broadening of Consciousness.

It's lonely though, waiting for other classes to come out of the woodwork and start exchanging. If you feel like you would like to, please contact me.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Fitting all that Integral into the Art

Now that I am a little over a month into teaching my newly minted Integral Martial Arts class in Ridley, Pennsylvania, I am learning first hand how overwhelming it can be for the teacher. If you read the literature on Integral Theory, the generally accepted view of when something is considered "Integral" is if it includes consideration and honors all Stages, States, Quadrants, Lines, and Types. The abbreviation for this is AQAL, standing for "All Quadrants All Lines...etc."

What I can tell you is there is a significant difference between gazing at your navel to map out an Integral curriculum that honors AQAL versus figuring out how to TEACH AQAL and actually include AQAL on a day-to-day basis for a 1-hour class. There just isn't enough time. What do they mean by "include and honor" anyway? So let me offer my take on it.

As I mentioned, there isn't enough time to make people consciously pay attention to AQAL overnight. In fact, doing so might confuse the hell out of a student that initially thinks he or she is coming to class to learn how to throw a punch. I mean, you really need to teach them how to throw the punch in the first place! So, my attitude has been that there's no need to convey AQAL overnight. There's time, hopefully, to introduce things little by little as the student can incorporate and integrate it into his or her consciousness. In my class I have paired down the Quadrants into the Good, the Beautiful, and the True, and renamed them the Personal, the Social, and the Physical. (See previous blog posts on this.) These names help them remember things when studying the different perspectives of techniques. First and foremost, it starts with gross motor which lies squarely in the Physical. After integrating that, the student can learn how to breath through it. Breathing starts to bring attention to the Personal, and from there we can start to talk about the gross, subtle, and causal aspects of a punch. However, again, you cannot get into those things unless the student can do the physical parts of the punch without conscious thought.

Just doing those two things are a lot, but there's still a third (and fourth) perspective to take into account, both of which are melded into the Social aspect. This is a little easier to do. Any time an exercise is worked with a partner, it is Social. The students must consider what is happening with their partners, and they can no longer think solely about what is going on inside their own little heads, else they might wind up accidentally hurting someone else during the exercise. Doing this changes the whole thing: how it feels, how it moves. Tall students have to adjust to short students. Stiff students have to adjust to loose students. Slow students have to adjust to fast students. There's always a meeting of minds, and a meeting in the middle somewhere. During partnered exercises, I call attention to these things as the Social. There are other things within this perspective that I can call attention to, such as the dojo itself, but I won't get into that here. In any case, it does not necessarily require complete gross motor control to do a partnered exercise, but it sure helps. Plus, the student can tap into a partner much more easily if brain power can be diverted from keeping good form. Thus, as the students mature, they gain better insight into the Social.

So that leaves the life practice that I'm trying to help each student build outside of class, tailored specifically to the individual. There's very little time to help them with that in class, so often what I find I do is spend a few minutes with a particular student after the class is done, and then on the next class that week I pick a different student and talk. It's slow. It's probably not optimal, and I'm probably going to change things as I get better and get advice here and there, but it's going well so far.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Integral Martial Arts Practice OUTSIDE The Dojo

Next week I will be starting a new adventure teaching an Integral Martial Arts class as the Ridley Sports Club in Ridley, PA. This is my first crack and teaching a truly Integral school. My friend Nathanael Chawkin and Sunstone Yoga gave me an idea for using wrist bands in addition to belts as a means of tracking student progress. Belts will be a traditional market for tracking progress within class while the wrist bands track progress OUTSIDE of class. This is a work in progress and will be evolving as things get clearer for me.

This is a draft of a sheet given to students about the OUTSIDE of Class work:

Integral Martial Arts – OUTSIDE The Classroom

Martial arts can be a powerful vehicle for self-development. This class uses the study of a number of different martial disciplines for personal transformation and growth. The class honors the traditional values of fitness, discipline, and self-defense while weaving in deeper insights from meditation, breathing, and other elements. Students will be taught techniques from a number of Eastern and Western styles and guided through their own construction of a life practice both inside and outside of class. Based on Integral Theory, a profound system for understanding the universe, students’ progress will be marked in class with a more traditional belt system. For marking progress outside of class, a wrist band system based on a color scheme for Ken Wilber’s Stages of Consciousness is used. Specifically, the wrist band system marks a student’s level of understanding of the practice of Martial Arts: what Martial Arts means to that student, and why they are practiced.

Stages of Understanding Martial Arts
Student practices martial arts because he or she idolizes a central figure in the class (living or not), and sees being a part of the group as necessary for growth. Student feels a connection with ancient forces that have practiced before, and wants to connect with them. Sees the group as a support structure for self-defense, a source of belonging.
Student practices martial arts for personal power. Perhaps the student was bullied and decided he or she needs to learn how to fight for self-defense purposes. In some way, the person either feels powerless or sees the martial arts as a way of gaining more power and ability for self-preservation.
Student sees his or her martial art as the one true way, either to enlightenment or to perfect self-defense. Student forms identity from being a part of the class and having relationships with other class members, in order to be accepted and to belong. Student upholds the principles of the class as the ultimate truth.
Student practices martial arts in order to personally achieve something. This could be belt ranks, trophies, recognition, becoming the ultimate fighter, or all of the above. Student is very interested in technically perfect execution of the martial art, and what the optimal technique for something is.
Student sees martial arts as a fun and convenient path for achieving harmony and enlightenment, especially along with other practitioners. Student does not think that any particular martial art is superior but believes that his or her current class most aptly expresses an open belief system that holds all martial arts as equal. Student uses this as a platform to learn as many different things as possible.
Student sees martial arts as a tool that can serve practitioners of all stages by addressing them where they exist. Student realizes that his or her own practice stage is simply one partial step along a greater path of unfolding that will change yet again, one day. Student understands that his or her own practice is addressed in different ways, spanning pre-Modern, Modern, and Post-Modern means.
Student sees martial arts as a means of addressing the growth of others in which ever stage they occupy. Through the growth of others, and service to others, the martial artist grows in turn. If the student is not inherently a teacher, he or she understands that practicing martial arts in this time and place along with his or her class perpetuates the growth of others automatically.

Wrist Bands and Practicing OUTSIDE of Class
Periodically, instructors will evaluate students on their progression and understanding to see if there has been a change. If a change has occurred, a new wrist band of the appropriate color will be given to the student. It is important to realize that “understanding martial arts” is a way to describe more than just a factual knowledge on the subject matter. Cognition is necessary but not sufficient by itself to advance to a new wrist band color. More is needed. To demonstrate true “understanding” at a certain Stage, the student must live the Stage in his or her whole psyche. This level of understanding is something very difficult to demonstrate falsely or with intellectual understanding alone. All new students will begin with a Purple wrist band, and many will likely advance up by one or two colors quickly until their wrist band color catches up with their actual level of understanding. At that point, the student may have the same wrist band color for quite some time before the next one is bestowed.

Working OUTSIDE of Class
Working on self-development outside of class is optional for all students, but highly recommended. Techniques within this school cover three different aspects or viewpoints:

• Personal – This viewpoint deals with anything “below the skin”. Your personal domain is made up of your Body, Emotions, Mind, and Spirit.

• Physical – This viewpoint deals with anything “outside the skin”. Your physical techniques and form, as well as the dojo are all physical.

• Social – This viewpoint deals with any interaction between you and someone else outside of you. It includes sparring, interactive exercises, and interpersonal relationships.

All work OUTSIDE of class is in the Personal domain. The intent for these exercises is to increase personal strength, control, calmness, and happiness, while decreasing negative emotions and thoughts. This work will be divided into “Modules” offered to the students, which they can modify to their own liking at will based on their personal beliefs and convictions. Modules fall into four categories:

• Body Modules – These deal with physical training as a means for dealing with emotional stress, fear, and pain, as well as increasing awareness of personal energy and aliveness.

• Mind Modules – These deal with both mental and emotional exercises. They can be used to uncover buried feelings, but also to increase personal knowledge of facts and figures.

• Spirit Modules – These deal with increasing personal consciousness and mindfulness of the present moment.

• Shadow Modules – These deal with addressing unacknowledged pieces of ourselves that hamper our efforts at being happy and fulfilled.

A number of modules from each category have been selected based on research regarding their effectiveness. These will be offered as options to students, but students are also encouraged to develop their own modules that suit them with guidance from the instructor.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: The Physical Perspective --- Gateway to Everything

Perhaps you have watched dozens of cheesy Kung-Fu flicks that used to air on Saturday afternoons, or perhaps you are an avid Pay-Per-View fan of the UFC. Maybe on top of that you have read a few books on martial arts techniques, some of them with pictures. Whatever the case, through those different media you are looking at the "face" of martial arts. You are looking at The Physical outward trappings. All of these things that we traditionally think of as "The Martial Arts" that deal with punching, kicking, killing, maiming, and all that other good stuff are real. There are hundreds of books written on them by dozens of teachers, and many people make their living off of teaching these physical techniques to students.

To study all of the intricate physical details about martial arts that every unique teacher has put out would take lifetimes. I am not going to do that here, except to say that most, if not all, of those things in those books are true.... but also partial. If you have read the previous posts on this blog, you will understand that The Physical perspective is only one third of what happens in the Martial Arts, along with the Social and Personal perspectives. Each of these things is not separate, of course. I am only pointing them out separately to make things easier to write. They all take place simultaneously, and co-arise together. They also evolve through Stages together.

So what about The Physical?

For the most part, this is the easiest thing to think about. Find yourself a teacher, and if you already have one, just keep doing what you are doing and chances are you will develop your physical talent in the Martial Arts. Depending on your reason for living, you will adapt your physical techniques to the way you see the world, and whether or not you think the world is a nice place or a dangerous one. But what if you want to go farther than that? What if you realize that this physical stuff only goes so far? (I mean, how many 80-year-olds do you see wiping the walls with 23-year-old UFC fighters?) What if you truly feel that the internal stuff that happens with your own mind and emotions matter? Or if you feel that your interactions with people are something you need to improve?

Then, you are ready to begin broadening your view, and it just so happens that The Physical aspects of Martial Arts are the perfect gateway to that road. After all, we go to class and we practice on our own by physically doing something. We move. We perform. We spar. The only difference between doing these things forever and getting nowhere in your life and doing these same things and finding yourself on a road to fulfillment and happiness is intention.

Intention is the key.

So here is the dirty little secret about the power of intention: If you have a persistent bad habit in Life, it's usually reflected by some bad habit you have in Martial Arts. Intention links these two things together, so if you fix one, you fix the other. By coming to the dojo and working hard on that technique or that bad habit in class, you are doing yourself a favor for the equivalent bad habit in Life. When you intend to fix that problem in class, and you do, you will find that the problem also clears up in Life *as long as you link the two together and intend to fix one by fixing the other*. This can be something as silly as correcting a stance, or much deeper.

The other day, I lost a sparring match pretty badly to a fighter with far less control, but also far less experience and skill. It was pretty brutal. Going over the loss in my head, I could see a lot that I did wrong, as far as techniques went. However, the real problem was the hit to my confidence and even my whole reason for teaching and practicing Martial Arts. I got stressed, and I criticized myself, and beat myself up over it for a bit. Nevertheless, even at my low point during that self-loathing session, I still held the intention to learn from the experience, to learn both about the techniques and Life. As I began to turn inward, I realized that this loss was a great lesson. It was not a lesson about winning or losing a fight at all, but more about my REACTION to winning and losing battles.... but not just winning and losing battles with others. It was about winning and losing battles with myself. I realized that this stress I felt from the interaction was exactly equivalent to (and caused by) my criticism of myself and my own fear of learning through confrontation.

The key realization is that sparring is resistance. When you spar, and you study how you react and work during sparring, you are gaining exact insights into how you resist Life, and what you do when Life resists you. My resistance to learning about what I did wrong was analogous to my tendency to resist resistance itself sometimes, and then to beat myself up (spar myself) over the fact that I did that. Cleaning this up, along with looking at the technical details of what I did wrong in that fight, will possibly improve my sparring.... which I actually do not care about as much. On the other hand, it will definitely improve my capacity as a teacher and as a fully humanized human being.

Therein we have an example of a lesson through The Physical perspective, which spanned into both The Social and The Personal. All three perspectives are One, and completely inseparable.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: Viewing Them from the Social "Quadrant" or Perspective

So now let's look a little bit at Martial Arts from the Social "quadrant" or perspective.

From this view, Martial Arts is about you and I, together. "You and I" could mean literally you and me. It could also mean you and your school, you and your opponent, you and your web forum and other blog readers. Ultimately, it means you and the rest of the world. You and I make a "We". All I have done here is simply rename the "We" quadrant in Integral theory as the "Social Perspective" to describe the aspects of Martial Arts that are social.

Martial Arts from the Social Perspective

Unless you are practicing alone in your room, there is always someone else involved with you while doing your thing! The first question to ask is who is that someone else, or maybe multiple somebodies? The second question is what is your relationship to them?

In the conventional Stages of Martial Arts, your "partner" may be a sparring opponent, an uke, or even a mugger. The object is to beat them somehow, or otherwise dominate them. Though this has its applications and its uses, it is also limited. There are other realms of possibility for the Social aspects.

Just like in the Personal side of things, with Social everything is internal, except this time it is internal between two or more people. You cannot cut open a relationship and look at it, but you can see the outward effects of a relationship: wars, marriages, baptisms, etc. So ask yourself at any given point in your practice with another person, what is going on with the relationship at that moment? Are you antagonistic? Are you collaborative? Is that attitude you hold the right one for the right time?

Each person that practices with you sets up a new relationship. The two of you make a different "We" than you and the last partner you sparred with. How is this "We" different from the last one? Maybe you have noticed that sparring some people just feels different from others, even when you account for skill and training. Why is that? What is it within the two of you that sets up a different "We"? How does that "We" affect your techniques together?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Integral Martial Arts: Training from the Personal Perspective

As I write, I realize how difficult it actually is to encompass so many possibilities on a meager blog. In my last post I proposed a series of questions that one could think about while doing Martial Arts from the Personal perspective. I can think of more, but what I want to do here is use some of these questions to broaden the scope of what constitutes Integral Martial Arts.

In the first post on the blog I introduced how Martial Arts can be understood from different Stages or Levels, although I did not detail how I think every single Stage understands training. One of the things that makes Integral Theory complicated is how it all fits together and creates a huge monster, i.e. the Universe itself in all its intricate glory. In this case, not only can the Martial Arts be understood from different Perspectives, but each Perspective is understood differently depending on your Stage.

My questions about breathing, visualization, concentration, etc. in the last post might cause someone in the Red or Orange Stages to ask, "What do I care about these things? They don't help me win fights or trophies. They don't help me fight longer and harder." Maybe they do and maybe they don't. I guess it depends on how you implement them. However, taking that view is limited and partial. For instance, what benefits might be gained from learning to breath correctly? Is that only good for fighting?

Here's a story about that. When I was in graduate school getting my PhD in Biomedical Engineering, I did animal research for years. Mostly, I used rabbits for my research, and ultimately I became allergic to them. If I breathed in their dander, I would come down with an asthma attack. After a string of nights where I sat in bed at night struggling to breathe, I decided to see a doctor. The next day, while I was having an attack coincidentally, I went to the clinic and they measured my expiration flow rate and lung capacity. Both were normal. The doctor was puzzled. He told me there was nothing wrong with me, but I begged him to do something. After all, he could hear me wheezing. So he consented and put me on a nebulizer in the office with some Albuterol and kept a close eye on me. After about 10 minutes I felt like a million bucks. I could breathe normally. So at that point the doctor took my measurements again for expiration rate and lung capacity. Lo and behold, those measurements were close to TWICE that of a normal person. He was floored.

"You have asthma." He said.

I nodded triumphantly. Of course I had asthma, dummy! The only thing was that during an asthma attack my breathing measurements were REDUCED to that of an "average human" my size. While under an attack, I was "normal". While I was well, my usual lung function was about twice normal and I was used to existing like that. Feeling "normal capacity for my size" was odd for my lungs. That's also why during this asthma attack I was able to function just fine, albeit I was a little scared and worried. Physically I was unimpaired.

I attribute this to my Martial Arts training, specifically my focus of study on breathing. In essence, my training taught me how to get through asthma attacks and how to increase my lung function for every day activities. That benefits me every day..... fighting and combat are side issues. I'm talking about walking down the street, taking a run, making love, or whatever the activity. I'm still frequently out of cardio shape and not a marathon runner by any means, but being able to compensate with my breathing allows me to be a little better than I would have been at those things had I not trained breathing.

Even so, I'm still a novice at breathing! I've walked into yoga classes where they discussed things about breathing that cracked open huge doors for me that I never even knew existed! There is a long way to go.

Nevertheless, this is an example of how a skill in Martial Arts affects every day life for the better. There are a host of life skills that can be developed that may or may not be useful in a fight but are completely advantageous in Life.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Integral Theory Applied to Martial Arts: Personal "Quadrant"

Now that I have set some vocabulary for thinking about Quadrants from a Martial Arts perspective, and narrowing it down from four Quadrants to three perspectives, what do we do now?

What if we dissect each of the three perspectives individually and view the Martial Arts from there?

The Personal "Quadrant" or Perspective

Pretty much anything that you cannot cut open and look at with a scientific or physical instrument falls into this perspective. These are the things that go on internally inside you. At this point, Science has not really developed any tools (physical or otherwise) to look directly at anything occurring in this perspective, although one could argue that the study of psychology is at least a start to that. After all, can you detect an emotion with an instrument? You may be able to see the effects of an emotion: change of facial expression, increases of certain hormone levels, etc, but you cannot actually measure the emotion itself and apply some metric unit to it. Now what about thoughts? You cannot detect them either, unless you are talking about measuring brain impulses. Again, here you are measuring electronic currents and magnetic fields, not thoughts.

This does bring up an important point associated with Integral Theory. Every one of these Personal phenomena has some kind of physical equivalent in the physical world. Thoughts have brains. Emotions have guts and hormones, and so on. You cannot really prove that the thought IS the brain or that the emotion IS the cortisol. You can only prove a link between them.

So it goes with Martial Arts. There are internal phenomena, including thoughts and emotions, that happen and they have physical equivalents, or better put, external manifestations of what is going on inside of you. Thus, training from this perspective is all about paying attention to what is going on internally. Here are some appropriate Personal perspective questions you can think about while you practice any technique:

  • Breathing
  • During a technique are you breathing or holding your breath?
  • Can you picture the pathway the breath is taking down to your abdomen and back up through your lungs?
  • When you picture the air in your mind, does it have a color?
  • Does the color of the air in your mind produce any differences in your technique when you perform it?
  • What happens if you picture the air going to places that the air isn't actually going to, like your hands, feet, etc?
  • If you work with chakras, breath into different ones. How does that change the technique?
  • Thoughts and feelings
  • Think about your hands. Do a technique while only thinking about your hands and nothing else. What happens to it?
  • Think about your feet. Put your mind solely in your feet and nowhere else. Was it any different from when you had your mind in your hands?
  • Do the same thing again, but this time put your mind in your ear lobes. What happens to the technique?
  • What happens if you do the techniques while actively trying to stop your thoughts?
  • How does that change when you simply give up trying to control your thoughts and let them happen, while still keeping your mind focused on the technique?
  • Causal Attention
  • What is the one thing within you that never changes, no matter how you do a technique?
  • Can you find it?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Techniques in The Martial Arts

There must be hundreds of blog articles and books out there talking about technique. The largest focus in that literature is about the nuts and bolts of how techniques are executed. Do you hold your hand this way or that way? Does your foot do this and that? What about your balance? Some of the literature goes so far as to suggest which techniques are better and for what reasons, and where those techniques may be used. Countless videos on YouTube show bunkai, or application, of one technique or another.

That's great. A lifetime can be spent studying techniques and building a personal shoe box of techniques for yourself. "Hey man! You got the Five-Fingered Exploding Heart Technique! Cool!" Hell, maybe you know someone who does a Four-Fingered Exploding Heart Technique. Nifty. However, when I think about technique from an Integral perspective, the actual technique itself doesn't really matter. The point is that an Integral framework can be overlaid on top of most techniques, so I want to talk about that without getting into the debates over specific ones.

In Integral Theory, you can look at something from multiple perspectives. That is really one of the most powerful aspects of the framework, in that you are not stuck with looking at something only one way. By broadening your view and seeing something from different angles, you can get a more complete, or less partial, view of what it really is. In particular, there are four major perspectives that Integral Theory talks about, i.e. The Four Quadrants. Ken Wilber and his colleagues never say that there are ONLY Four Quadrants. There certainly can conceivably be something other than a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person perspective. However, those four perspectives are the dominant ones that have the most influence over what we do all the time.

My proposal is that no matter what technique you are talking about, from whatever style, you look at it from each of the Four Quadrants. Moreover, you study it from each of the Four Quadrants as part of your Martial Arts practice. Now, for the most part, having Four Quadrants can be cumbersome, so one thing that is often done, which makes a lot of sense to do here is to combine the Upper Right and Lower Right Quadrants into one. Essentially, we are taking all physical external stuff, both your individual external stuff and collective external stuff and combining it into just "External Stuff". Philosophers do this when they talk about "The Good", "The Beautiful", and "The True". I'm going to rename these for the purpose of studying Martial Arts into "The Personal", "The Social", and "The Physical". Those more aptly describe what we need to discuss.

A good way to get this across is just with an example. Let's look at a straight punch from each of the three perspectives.

The Personal

When you throw the punch, how do you feel? Are you angry when you throw it? Are you calm? Are you scared? These things will influence your power. What sorts of stuff are you thinking about when you throw the punch? Are you wondering what you will have for dinner tonight? Are you seething with hatred for your piece of oak board? Do you believe in chi? If you do, are you thinking about where it flows as you punch? These things and more cannot be answered or trained in just one punch. They are something to study, and they are personal. No one can cut you open and see the answers to these within you.

The Social

Who or what are you punching? Are you in harmony with it? Are you anticipating its next move? Maybe there is no enemy there, but you are punching in front of your sensei or coach. What is going on in the relationship you have with your teacher right now? Is your instructor angry with you? Happy with you? Are you doing this to show off to him or her? Perhaps you are doing this as part of a demo in front of a lot of people and they are watching your every move. What understanding is passing between you and that crowd as you throw the punch? What effects will that demonstration have on your school? Will it gain them more members? The outcome of your punch will influence all of these things, and naturally the whole mood and setup of your punch will vary with the environment you are in when you throw it. There's a big difference between throwing a punch in a demo versus throwing one on the street.

The Physical

Here is where the nuts and bolts of your punch go. How do you hold your fist? Do you use a vertical fist? Do you keep one finger uncurled like the Kosho folks do? Do you even make a fist? Are you about to break a bone?

So, the understanding here is that it doesn't matter what technique we are talking about. You can keep your own techniques, honest. The only difference is in how you view them, with new eyes and an Integral Framework. I believe this can potentially open up the study of Martial Arts to a different Stage.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Toward an Integral Martial Art

For about 32 years so far, I have been a martial arts practitioner of various disciplines, Eastern and Western. I have also spent a long time reading the works of Ken Wilber, Eckhart Tolle, Idries Shah, Byron Katie, and many others. The rest of my background will be revealed in future posts, but suffice to say what I really want to do is apply Ken Wilber's Integral Theory to the Martial Arts.

From what little I can find out there on the Internet regarding this combination of subjects, I see some holes. Filling in holes is a pretty good reason to use a blog, so here I go!

Firstly, for a background on Integral Theory, I highly recommend that you read Ken Wilber's work, and some of his compatriots like Robert Kegan. There are already whole blogs that do nothing but paraphrase his many volumes, and I am not going to do that here. I am going to assume that the reader has a basic knowledge of Integral Theory and Martial Arts as well. If you do not, probably the best place to start is with The Integral Vision: A Very Short Introduction to The Integral Approach to Life. It's a quick read with lots of pictures and not too many words. The "hard core" Ken Wilber stuff is exactly the opposite and needs to be distilled.

When I read current web pages on "Integral Martial Arts", they are usually written by or written from the perspective of fighters. These can be cage fighters, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) people, or just folks that have had tough lives and learned to fight for survival. The sum total of that body of literature seems to be summed up in one sentence: If you fight long enough and enough times, you start to realize that there is a "higher state" to fighting and a higher mindset that you reach which makes you stronger and more able to win fights.

That's excellent, but it's not Integral in the sense that Integral Theory talks about. Winning more fights is a good goal for those fighters, I suppose, and tapping into whatever higher states can enhance fighting will definitely win them more trophies and save their lives, even. However, again, this is not Integral. For a practice to be Integral, it must include awareness of all States, Stages, Lines of development, and Quadrants. The abbreviation for this is "AQAL", which is a loose abbreviation, ok, but it roughly stands for All Quadrants All Lines, Levels (i.e. Stages), and States.

In light of AQAL, what these admirable martial artists are pursuing is becoming the perfect martial artists at the Orange Level or Stage. For some of them, it is actually a less broad Red Stage. The people that want to pursue these States and abilities for the purpose of beating other martial artists in contests are operating at Orange, and the ones that argue the only reason for martial arts is to preserve your life during a catastrophe are at the Red Stage. In fact, both of them are correct. They are also partial. My idea is to broaden the scope of what they are trying to say.

As the world becomes more complex, it calls for more complex thinking and more complex solutions. This is the basis for emergence of the broader Stages. From a fighting perspective, if you live in a sub-urban upper-middle-class neighborhood, chances are you are going to live much of your life, if not all of it, without ever needing to fight. If the toughest thing on your streets is a 12-year-old skater with a helicopter mom in tow, there must be some other reason at that point to practice martial arts. Of course, if you are growing up on a street corner in Mogadishu, Somalia, forget what I just said. You shouldn't be reading this blog. You should be learning to fight. Different parts of the world exist at different Stages, and different people do too. The Red and Orange Stage Martial Arts like MMA suit these people amazingly well, but what if that is not you? What if you see the Martial Arts differently, like I do?

In my view, the Martial Arts has a ton of other benefits besides learning to fight. In fact, fighting is probably one of the least useful benefits that Martial Arts teaches in today's world. Rather, Martial Arts can be a whole Life Practice, especially if done from an Integral perspective. From a Four Quadrant view, the Upper Left (UL) quadrant which deals with your internal self is served immensely by Martial Arts. You can learn to feel and manipulate your own subtle energies, including your thoughts. In the Upper Right (UR) quadrant you have all your physical benefits from exercise and physiological enhancements. In the Lower Left (LL), Martial Arts pursues understanding between individuals and among the members of groups. In other words, you learn how to get along with people, which increases your Emotional Intelligence (ala Daniel Goleman), which research shows increases your success at your job and career. In the Lower Right (LR), you can learn about systems for anything from running a business to the practice of healing arts. There is so much there!

Look at it this way.... If you are an average sub-urbanite, how many times in your life do you fight? On the other hand, how many times do you breathe in and out? If Martial Arts can be used to optimize your breathing and improve your health because of that, how useful is that to you? Like breathing, there are a lot of other things the Martial Arts can teach you to improve, and these are things you do every day, rather than something you do maybe once or twice in your life, i.e. combat.