The permanent misfits are those who because of a lack of talent or some irreparable defect in body or mind cannot do the one thing for which their whole being craves. No achievement, however spectacular, in other fields can give them a sense of fulfillment. Whatever they undertake becomes a passionate pursuit; but they never arrive, never pause. They demonstrate the fact that we can never have enough of that which we really do not want, and that we run fastest and farthest when we run from ourselves. (pg. 47)
What ails the frustrated? It is the consciousness of an irremediably blemished self. Their chief desire is to escape that self – and it is this desire which manifests itself in a propensity for united action and self-sacrifice. The revulsion from an unwanted self, and the impulse to forget it, mask it, slough it off and lose it, produces both a readiness to sacrifice the self and a willingness to dissolve it by losing one’s individual distinctness in a compact collective whole. (pg. 59)
It is doubtful whether the fanatic who deserts his holy cause or is suddenly left without one can ever adjust himself to an autonomous individual existence. He remains a homeless hitch-hiker on the highways of the world thumbing a ride on any eternal cause that rolls by. An individual existence, even when purposeful, seems to him trivial, futile and sinful. To live without an ardent dedication is to be adrift and abandoned. He sees in tolerance a sign of weakness, frivolity and ignorance. He hungers for the deep assurance which comes with total surrender – with the wholehearted clinging to a creed and a cause. What matters is not the contents of the cause but the total dedication and the communion with a congregation. He is even ready to join in a holy crusade against his former holy cause, but it must be a genuine crusade – uncompromising, intolerant, proclaiming the one and only truth. (pg. 87)
– Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
I am running away from my frustrated self. My blemished self. I came all the way up north to pursue my “holy cause” of “practical karate”. I came here to find the right soil to grow in, but really I came here to get away from the disgruntled me, the me that does not have the talent or skill to make something of myself in this life. I am a “non-creative man of words”, a failed artist. This blog was partially created out of contempt for myself. I never really got anywhere with my martial arts. Not that I needed to get anywhere. But I never really got things. I am good at imitating others. Good at copying behaviors and physical movements. Not so good at being myself. Silently, I’ve hated those I’ve admired. Hated their talent, skill, athleticism, their confidence. The hatred was for me though. A deep self-contempt for what I don’t like about myself. I’m basically a sensitive guy. I cry when I get yelled at or called names. I cry when I get punched. These are not the desired qualities of a “tough” martial artist (ironically, I think the image of toughness is a joke, but somewhere along the way I got caught up in my own joke). I’ve hated myself for not standing up to name-calling, taunting and other forms of bullying. I’ve hated myself for being scared of other people’s aggressive or violent behavior. Through martial arts, I thought I’d be able to learn how to handle myself more confidently in a fight. I thought that by sweating hard enough and doing what I was told, I’d be able to accomplish this. But my karate training was “cultural preservation society” stuff. And while my Sensei may have been able to handle himself physically, I’m not my Sensei. I should have transitioned out of karate when I left my dojo over two years ago now. But I couldn’t reconcile the guilt I would feel if I gave it up fully. The guilt I would feel about paying a visit to my Sensei and having nothing to show for the time I’ve been away. Maybe the only real reason I’ve kept training was to keep up appearances, to look good in the eyes of others. If so, that just needs to stop.
I wonder though, does martial arts training have to be about being tough? Can’t it be about being healthy? About improving health? About feeling good (not necessarily about looking good – form follows function anyway) in your own body? I don’t want my training to be something I do because I hate myself (the self that cannot stand up for himself). I want my training to be functional; I like knowing how stuff works (there needs to be The Way Things Work for martial artists). I want my training to give me confidence in handling myself mentally (because the ass follows the brain doesn’t it?). Belts and awards and competitions don’t matter much. What matters to me is the everyday. The conflict that arises on the job, in relationships, between friends, with strangers. Maybe I’m delusional, but I believe that the right training can help a person to recognize the smallness of a man or woman being rude to you. The smallness of a man yelling and spitting at you. The right training can help you to make a choice to walk away, to disengage your monkey mind from their monkey dance. Or again, maybe that’s just my fantasy. The story I tell myself to keep training, even though I will never find what I’m looking for, which is essentially to be something other than myself.
I was thinking about ending this blog now. I don’t want it to be something I’ve created out of contempt for myself. If it’s going to be anything, I want it to be from my heart. Not a platform to condemn or defy. Just a platform to express what’s true for me. I am attracted to the ancient in what’s modern. Which is why I’m drawn to karate I suppose, with its hundred year old kata. And what I really like about a so-called “practical” approach to karate is that it makes what’s ancient alive again. Instead of like cleaning the tomb and washing the bones, it breathes life into the practice. It makes it exciting and invigorating. It actually makes me feel more respectful to those tombs and those bones. This is something I’ve blogged about already with my experience in those private lessons with Sensei Wilder. I feel like I’m actually learning something instead of learning to obey someone.
What I think is needed is a living karate society. Not a karate “preservation” society. But I really don’t believe it’s necessary to abandon what’s old just because. The point is to understand what’s in the old so that we can utilize our modern understanding to make it relevant again, at least the parts that are relevant to our times. I think a campaign for “kata literacy” is what’s needed if karate plans to stay with us in the 21st century.
But I’m rambling again. Wishful thinking. Part of the desire to be here in Seattle is so that I could gain some functional legitimacy with what I’m talking about. Otherwise, I feel like I’m not qualified to start anything. I’m looking outside for some approval. Looking for other, more qualified people to give me the go-ahead. Looking for the experts to say, “Okay, you’re ready now.” So I don’t know what to do with myself here. I mean, if I want to box, grapple, yoga, I don’t need to be in Seattle for this. There’s plenty of that in California. Do I really need to be here? Maybe not actually. But can I get what I’m looking for here?
I don’t know. Haven’t articulated what I’m looking for as a student yet. Maybe I just need to go home.