Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Denial of Vulnerability and Martial Arts

Being vulnerable is antithetical to martial arts practice, or is it? Everything I've learned, read, and seen about martial arts is all about defending myself and/or attacking the opponent. Deny my vulnerability to my opponent. This dictum has immediate and practical benefits at the level at which these techniques, strategies, and training are intended. Defending oneself and kicking butt has its time and place.

However, to make progress in the more internal aspects requires stepping out of what may be a lifetime of learned denying vulnerability and allowing myself to become vulnerable. This can be really, really tough to do... or not. It depends.

Denying vulnerability can begin long before beginning any martial arts practice. Regardless of the who, what, when, or where involved in the origination of why I developed a "denial of vulnerability" character, the result is that I unconsciously selectively deny vulnerability in situations that I unconsciously perceive as being threatening at whatever level the threat is perceived. This can be as mundane as feeling a need to defend my point of view.

Here are some example phrases that I think describe or indicate a denial of vulnerability:
  • Being defensive
  • Digging in my heels
  • Needing to be right
  • Being dismissive
  • Standing up for myself (rigidly)
  • Blind adhering to rules / not pursuing passion
If you've been following my Zhan Zhuang Journal you have now read over ten years of my Wujifa class notes. While there may be some wonderful insights regarding zhan zhuang and internal gongfu practice, you may also wonder, "Why is it taking this guy so long to get it? Is it really that difficult or is he a slow learner?"

The simple answer is that I want to hold on to those attitudes that show up as a denial of vulnerability. While I've undoubtedly made progress over the years, I'm not going to really "get it" until I allow myself to be vulnerable and live feeling life. If I've learned anything, my biggest mistake is in unconsciously adhering to and applying the "denial of vulnerability" perspective to my training; that mastering internal gongfu is about adhering to the rules (methods) regarding how to "get it".

(Which is not to suggest that rules, guidelines, methods, suggested practice routines are unnecessary. They have their place. However, the method is not the truth. Once you get the feeling, get rid of the method.)

If you haven't seen the movie Pleasantville, I highly recommend watching this. Although I watched this when it first came out in 1998 (and a few times since), I still cling to living in the rule-based black and white world despite having colorful experiences. To "get it" requires making the shift to living color; to being vulnerable.

In past Wujifa classes, in those instances when I allowed myself to be vulnerable or in instances where I was blindsided by a perspective or experience where I became vulnerable, in those instances I made huge progress. But because I just couldn't let go and trust living in this vulnerable 'state', I put those experiences in a box and reverted to my more mechanistic approach to life.

And how is this strategy working for me? It's not. Truth be told, I am the one holding myself back from going further down this path. On the way home from the Wujifa class which prompted my writing this article, I heard the following song on the radio: I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free as sung by Nina Simone.

Sometimes... life has its amazing moments....

Maybe... all of life can be an amazing moment...

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