A closer look at martial over-importance and task-specificity

I am, as many know, generally results-focused, not process-focused. I have not always been that way. I used to be smitten by fantasy, magic, mysticism, minimal-input-for-maximum-output…well, that one I´m still a little taken by, if being honest. But, as maturity, age, and life experience take hold, often one has a far more critical-eye on these things. I am practical sometimes to a fault, even mechanical with the clarity of why I invest in the things I invest in. I know the reason. The goal. What the by-products of it are. The bilateral benefits. Where it fits in my particular matrix.

That being said, tai chi and chi kung are akin to many martial arts in their “classical form”, where little minutiae is often treated with reverence and ultra-importance. Stances being 70-30 weight distribution. Hand exactly a foot-and-one-eight away from the body, index-finger curled at 45-degree angle, posture curvature, ad nauseum. Best placement for chi to flow to the meridians. Which organs representment which types of illnesses and how to heal and massage them. Mind-control. Precise pressure-points on the body and their associated numbers, and of course dim-mak, the famous touch-of-death. It is, outside of style-preservation and self-importance – all. utter. bullshit.

It places inherent value on the process over the end result. If these arts were, in their original incarnate, use, culture, environment, need – used for combat, violence/counter-violence, function it is simply all bullshit. Minutiae has never been, nor will it ever, be the final-straw in a successful usage of a thing. It is a multi-layered contributor of the overall picture, but not the picture itself. Faaarrr too much importance and emphasis are placed on perfect technique (whatever that is), stances (we never stand still), body positions (dictated by engagement), weight-distribution (fluid, never static), posture (form has little place in play), and the like.

Let´s take the 2 examples above. IF their inherent goal is to improve overall fight-fundamentalism, function, practicality, adaptation, why are these things utilized with such dogmatic allegiance? Is that mentality even viable or useful anymore? Does it really matter? I dunno. I´ll leave the answers to the individual person, as it should be. You probably can guess where I stand on this. These little adherences have never, ever manifested themselves in any tangible way in any violence, counter-violence, self-defense, combatives, personal-preservation, hell, business, inter-personal interaction, or functional-toolbox in any skillset or trade that I´ve ever experienced…nor seen, outside of the aesthetic realm.

It´s why when I hear “experts” telling me my practice is flawed, my posture not exactly culture-acceptable, it´s not like the “creator” meant it to be, my movements not extended sufficiently, my form not ideal…it is, to me, like having a to-and-from work-driver telling a race-car driver that what he/she is doing on the track is illegal. Like an auxiliary police-officer or ride-along telling a military-vet he/she is shooting all wrong. A newly-graduated childless child-psychologist telling a mother or father of 4 that the books say she/he is doing it all wrong. It all comes out in the wash, doesn´t it. Add on top of this the extremely-diverse reasons for doing a thing or becoming proficient at it and it makes it even more trivial and pretentious.

So, instead of just being a whining critic, what are those macro-tangibles that the little micro-ones add to? Well, personally, I care little for form, minute-details, how the old “masters” would perceive me, nor how the new ones like what I do. The old lived in a different time. Different culture. Different society. Different need or necessity. Different social-construct. So, no, I am not allegiant to keeping things the same as they were – for the simple sake of keeping things as they were. The new are predominantly infatuated with mimicking other cultures, pecking-order, maintaining the status-quo, being part of a lineage, and holding exotic titles.

I, personally, find practicing tai chi & chi kung makes me more loose and relaxed during fighting, sparring, or playing – or personal conflict itself. I find it triggers and anchors me to my breath and what it´s doing in the midst of stress, tension, pressure. I find it focuses my mind entirely on the task at-hand without distraction. It streamlines my movements for greatest impact or affect by concentrating and grounding my power. It wires me in to exactly what my body and all of its moving parts are doing under that duress and connects them as a moving, 3-dimensional unit. It is an intrinsic element that allows my external skillsets-training-experience-exposure-tactics to do what they have been taught to do – when they were taught to do it.

And maybe that´s where the term “internal” gets so abused and misused. It is not a magical chi element. A thing that makes you believe you have so much power and efficiency, that external-force is entirely unneeded and moot. To be lazy in one´s training because, dammit, I have chi-powers. That power and explosivity are somehow generated entirely without muscle-exertion or external-effort. Maybe, MAYBE, it is internal because it forces one to deal with one´s physiology, state, mind, energy-expenditure (force-to-fatigue ratio, not magic) as one´s “system-2” (voluntary/conscious) does what is supposed to. A system-1 (involuntary/non-conscious) progression from system-2 training, development, awareness. Maybe. It is not LARPing, fantasy, magic, mystical…but something very tangible and pragmatic. Yet, I do not honestly think I have heard more than a handful (if even that) of internal-folk discuss this in any meaningful way. They are often far too busy critiquing form, position, minutiae than to just. figure. this. all. out. by. exploration. Play. Test. Trial.

We, succinctly, have 2 systems simultaneously functioning in times of duress. Our “internal” – physiological reactions to adrenaline, human-conflict responses, emotions & past traumas, capability – and our “external” one – training, experience, physical-condition, natural ability, physical gifts, etc. The internal one often goes hand-in-hand with time, experience, exposure, training, immersion – just like the external one does. The more we are “in-the-shit” in whatever capacity that refers to (business, combat, politics, relationships), the more our systems adapt and respond to uncomfortable incoming stimulus. The problem in most martial-training is that it often entirely neglects the first over the second without acknowledging the first whatsoever or with lip-service only. If you fail, it´s inevitably on you, not failure of methodology or instructor: a traumatic event for the student is met casually by the instructor with just simply “train harder”, “spar more”, “more sweat in training, less pain in battle”, “always training or lose ability”, “you put-in what you take-out”, and so-on and so-forth.

On that mention, does this explanation also transfer over to interpersonal interaction, business, politics, etc.? Of course it does. It always does. Doesn´t it? Next business meeting, political-speech, debate, discourse, conversation, business-deal – notice the very direct correlation between “performance” and physiology. The more comfortable in one´s body, jointly-connected, at-ease, comfortable with the uncomfortable – the higher generally the ability. The greater the capability, the greater ability is showcased. (Insert infinite metaphor-choice here). Remember, one can have the single-most dominant ability in the world, but without the capability to implement or apply said ability, it´s a decoration. An anecdote. A cool party-trick. A well-versed shallow-understanding vs. a deep- and profound-understanding of the potential of where a thing can go and what a thing can do. I simply don´t care what the “stylists” say as I´m not particularly allegiant to style. System. Art. I am interested in the functionality of a tool because I understand that, at the end of the day, whatever and however wide the context, it will be on me – not my style, art, system, method, belt-ranking, title – it will all be on me, as a person.

In fairness, if your entire shtick is process, aesthetics, artistic merit, style-preservation, really, that is absolutely fine. Forgive me if you´ve taken offense here. I have literally zero issue to take-up with you in any way. BUT…not everyone is. Acknowledge such. Just as there are a number of ways, successful ways, to do a thing well, there are a number of reasons to do a thing and a number of definitions of “successful.” So, don´t get caught up in the martial-dogma of perfection, uber-importance, minutiae-significance, and elitism. Most often it´s pushed by self-important folk that think the minute “errors” (remember, perspective equals subjective) they can point-out in a painting are more unfortunate than the fortunate way the overall image takes one´s breath away. I, for one, would rather have holistic-understanding than compartmentalized-expertise any day of the week.

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