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!