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.