Martial Arts Vision?
On his blog, my Boston Martial Arts Black Belt friend Chris Penn posed to me the question of how one develops vision. How do we become visionary?
I call Chris a visionary. He looks at information technology that to most of us is arcane abstract futuristic speculation and then he shows me exactly what I as An-shu need to be doing as a communicator of our martial ideals right now and into the future. Turns out it is not abstract. It is not futuristic. It is indeed here today.
How do we become visionary? A visionary has a sense of what will be in demand tomorrow long before most others even recognize what is coming into fashion today. A visionary can look forward into the future and see what will be of great importance and need at some time yet to come, and at the same time, look at the present and see those currently overlooked or under-appreciated ideas, technologies, resources, and people that will someday provide the perfect key elements for effectively meeting those future challenges.
Vision can produce results from different approaches. One can be so familiar with a technology that new possibilities are discovered or recognized as the culture changes around the former vision of the use of the technology. Old dog learns new tricks.
On the other hand, one can be so immersed in the search for a solution to a given problem that new discoveries result from seeing the problem with fresh new vision. New tricks require new dog.
To-Shin Do, our martial art based on the techniques, principles, strategies, and spirit of ancient Japanese ninjutsu brought forward in a form highly relevant for 21st Century western culture, has been called visionary. I have been called a visionary. What does this mean, really?
In truth, the visionary martial art of To-Shin Do came about as an accidental result of my discontent with the state of martial arts training in the early 1970s, when cutting edge breakthroughs were knockout matches in a ring and stylized karate kata solo patterns performed to music soundtracks. Meanwhile, I was futilely seeking noble rescuer-protector warrior training. The ninja secret agents of a 1960s James Bond novel were my heroes. Most of my ’70s peers just snickered at me. Many openly guffawed when they heard I was off to Japan to find the ninja. I was not seen as a visionary. They thought I was crazy.
Then came the 1980s and Western politics and economy and social dynamics moved restlessly towards personal responsibility, personal potential, and personal preparation taking on a new glow following the confusing convolutions of the 1960s and ’70s. The legendary ninja – self contained general and commando, warrior and philosopher, anonymous shielder of the community who acted from protector compassion as opposed to champion ego – seemed to be a perfect hero in an age that promoted personal accountability.
What my buddies mocked in the polyester and big hair ’70s became the martial art icon impossible to top in the 1980s. Martial arts magazines could not print enough cover stories about the one American qualified by experience to speak of the ninja night warrior, moving silently in the darkness righting the wrongs of a cold and mechanistic set of world conditions.
All this changed radically in the early 2000s. Self-directed masked warriors striking in stealth at large popular winners from a morality steeped in murderous violence against all outside their order were no longer ninja movie heroes. They were now zealot terrorists from a culture that hated ours to death. We were horrified, enraged, and infuriatingly helpless as these phantom warriors caused incalculable damage to our ways of life. Western financial stability and freedom of travel went into a tailspin, black-masked killers gloated and jeered us from internet video clips, and all our might was powerless to stop them.
Predictably, the new martial icon of the 2000s became the lone MMA athlete stepping into the cage of rage to fight another man in a straightforward contest of brute strength and ability to tolerate pain. Nothing ambiguous. Nothing surprising. No way for a sneaky one to overtake a bigger one. Might makes right in the cage, and we in the West desperately eat that up right now. In celebrating the cage we grasp for what looks like control in a grotesquely chaotic world. We call it “no holds barred” but of course holds are barred and we wish with all our hearts that the bigger wars were like this too. The big guy with the superior fire power and the best technique and the righteous alpha male anger should win. In a black and white world, he would win, and he would be us.
What’s my vision of the martial arts once we get through the current financial, social, and political doldrums that cause us to desire pure escapism? When the cage has become too much a commercial entertainment product and the hype bloats to the point where the edge becomes a cliche and young people grow restless just watching while a select few pros participate, we will move on to real mixed martial arts. Grappling and punching and kicking and locks and chokes and pragmatism over stylization – the powerful reality that we call MMA or mixed martial arts today – will expand to include training for uneven 2 against 1 confrontations, sneaky weapons appearing in the fight, terrain and environment considerations, psychology and staging complexities, and the truth that sometimes the good guy who must win is not the biggest, baddest, and most furious. Add to that some training in how to develop vibrant personal health, how to realize a spiritual peace based on unity with a unified universe, and how to cultivate the heroic attitude of being big enough to protect others – a philosophy that feels so rich and good once you have tasted even a little bit of it – and we will be at the pinnacle of true mixed martial arts.
That is my vision of the future. Of course it is no surprise that I am clearly describing our ninja martial art we have been teaching in America since 1980. As To-Shin Do we can once again be the ones to help others see that there is a discipline where people can learn to retake control over their lives and learn to rely on themselves and the visionary community they come together to form in this increasingly fragmented world. Such a vision is what we need in the martial arts next. I’m betting my entire future career on that vision. Let’s watch and see.