Rambling on: One of my mailing lists essays...
Rambling on and on
“A change is as good as a rest.” My good friend Ken used to say when we would be practicing bagua together. Many years my elder and the father of one of my closest friends, Ken was one of my favourite people in the world. We spent many hours drinking tea and talking when we were not walking circles and unwinding the palm changes together. Many of his words come to my mind often, especially when life is undergoing one of its changes.
My tea room is in shambles around me as I write this, everything being carefully taken apart and packed or given away as I prepare to move. My life is going through a serious change, a shift in paradigm is happening regarding my martial arts and my career. The move to a new apartment is simply allowing it to be seen physically as it takes place.
In 1999 I had trained long and hard to become a teacher and started my own club. Brick and mortar, a few wall hangings and a weapons cabinet were the décor among which my first students and I started training together. I began travelling farther and farther over the years as they passed looking for more teachers to answer my questions and show me other ways towards what I was searching for, which even I was not sure what it really was. I moved the club into a bigger city, another location, had a school flood right after finishing renovations, taught in the park through the northern Canadian winter one year, and kept moving forward.
I moved to the mountains in 2006 and met some of the greatest friends I will ever have, great teachers, masters, and professors of Chinese Medicine. Spent years training near the stream by my home on Iron Mountain, wrote books, renovated schools and drank gallons of tea with friends. I took teenagers and helped them become adults, fought challengers, lost a son, and travelled to challenge people myself. Eventually I came back to the city I grew up in and reunited with my first generation of students, many now teachers themselves.
Now I have given up brick and mortar, am no longer holding onto the trappings of being a “Kung Fu Teacher” and giving away weapons to students and their clubs. I realize that the trappings I once thought were so important were just clutter on the walls of clubs that I had needed to reinforce my own experiences. The doubts I had within that started my journey into martial arts in the first place in the eighties are finally faded and I keep pushing forward towards more understanding. Without the burden of the brick and mortar school, advertising, students to keep track of, rent and bills to pay I am able to spend more and more time simply training on my own – the same as when I started over thirty years ago. It is invigorating, exciting, and peaceful. I am so glad to have made it this far.
Years ago, I really realized that not only all the styles of martial arts are climbing the same mountain, but more than martial arts climb it as well. Chinese Medicine for example is not a different entity than Chinese Martial Arts but instead like a different style itself of them. A balancing force to the martial path, they are not different things at all but two sides of the same coin. The more I have studied, questioned, and researched the more I can see the influence of the thought paradigms of Chinese Taoism, Chinese Buddhism, and Confucianism on both the martial and medical sides. Paradigm change has been my focus in the last few years of my training and it has allowed me to continue to move forward, luckily with the guidance of some great teachers towards more understanding. The farther I go the more I realize about the importance of change.
I’m not even sure why I am writing this rambling piece among the ruins of my tea room but seeing my gatherings of my life laying about me and moving them on to other people and letting them go has me inspired.
Dantian in the energetic sense is a construct of the mind thus, mind is Dantian. Where the mind leads the relationships can concentrate. Yi Ling Qi.
Shi means ‘influence’ like the influence a mafia boss has when he enters the restaurant. Nothing needs be said, everyone feels the change and the effect of his influence. Shi is a result of mind intent changing not only the ‘energy’ of the room but the body language, speech, everything about the person exerting their influence.
Everybody sucks at martial arts, every one of us. So, observe the traps others fall in to and work to avoid them. The trap of ego “I don’t suck at martial arts!” (yes, you do, to forget that is to remove being a beginner and that stops your progress.) Offend your own ego in order to find that place you were when you started training. Ego is the greatest enemy of the practitioner, nothing stops and solidifies your advancement like thinking you know it all.
Stop training what you are good at. You are looking at your reflection in the water instead of working through the things you find hard. Stop showing off to yourself, stop stroking your damn ego.
Take everything as seriously as life and death. How you wash the dishes is as important as your ability to kick fast. The mind leads every activity be it physical or nonphysical. If the mind is weak so is your martial arts. “Pursue enlightenment as if your head is on fire.” It needs to be done right NOW.
The mind should not reside in fantasy or reminiscence. The future and past are not the present, nor will they ever be. That punch coming at your face is the present, be HERE or get smacked. No different folding your laundry, it is a chance to practice. The mind is YOU. YOU are trying to be good at martial arts yes? Then do the work to improve YOU.
No one cares if you can kick over your head, do the splits, or wear the right clothes. You are the one caring about frivolous appearances. Get over yourself “The Dao does not care what you look like.” Lao Tzu said speaking to Tie Guai Li. A modern version of this is “In your twenties you think everyone is looking at you, judging you. In your thirties you realize no one is looking at you. In your forties you realize no one was interested in the first place.” If you are concerned with you as you should be. Do the work to change the mind to change the body.
Age will catch you, that does not mean you stop. It means you change the how and what you are training by the season of your life. Let things change, fighting that change is like getting a fake tan at fifty and trying to look twenty – you will fail. Train by the seasons, not only of the year but of your life. Train the physical and train hard when you are young. Integrate the mind and body when you are middle aged, work on the mind – philosophy, history, language etc. when you are aged. Your martial arts will never cease to improve.
Take some time, drink some tea, enjoy your life. It will never be the same as it is today ever again.
Neil Ripski 2018