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Friday, 11 February 2011

I Don't Want to Grow Up

One of the benefits people have when training with me is not only hearing my wonderful jokes (did you know prawns never give anything to charity? Well basically, they are shellfish) but also having to endure occasional rants about some of the people and things I have to deal with (hey, training is supposed to be cathartic).

I was training with Chris (a fellow musician) the other day and was moaning about some of the musos I've had to deal with over the last year. Chris made a very astute point: "music is one of those industries where men don't have to grow up to do it". It's very true - as evidenced by the prima donna / adolescent /egotistical behaviour of even some very succesful musos, let alone us lot at the bottom of the pile. But Chris' comment got me thinking on a wider level and it is a point that can also be made about sports and the martial arts.

I think it's fair to say that the general structure of martial arts is prime ground for motivating and encouraging the adolescent mindset. I've already referenced this before in terms of marketing and over-competetiveness. . It's hard to think of a martial arts movie that doesn't have a revenge plot as it's central theme. It is also a strong factor in the cultural perception of traditional arts, where the young man finds the older, wiser father-figure/ guru to lead him on his journey

All well and good perhaps in the right circumstances, but older doesn't neccesarily mean wiser! The hierarchical structures in many arts can be both a trap for the unwary and a purpose-built control device for the egotistical. As corny as it was, the original Karate Kid (I've not seen the JC one yet!) illustrates this point perfectly - the wise teacher encourages his student in all aspects of life and to find his own path. The adolescent/ego-driven teacher demands blind obedience and destroys the health of his students. Hollywood film-fantasy of course, but with a touch of reality to it.

What do we mean by "grown up"? To me it's a person who can exercise a degree of control over their desires and emotions, has a certain amount of self-awareness and understands the consequences of actions. Or, to put it in shorthand, isn't an a-hole! Immature behaviour can be witnessed every Saturday night outside pubs, usually by young males trying to establish a place in the pecking order and all the other things associated with pack behaviour (ie the domain of the "middle brain" as opposed to the intellectual).

The same behaviour can be seen in less directly confrontational  fashion  in even the nicest social setting, where establishing status (measured by wealth, body-type, who you know, take your pick) is very important to some people. Or in martial arts by people who have a compulsion to put down what anyone else does, whose teachers are infallible super-men,  or who feel the need to bite the hand that has fed them

In self defence terms, we have to recognise behaviour and where it comes from, both in ourselves and others. This is a very important part of training - and how you train will impact directly both on how you are viewed by others and how you react under pressure. Never being tested, physically or emotionally in training is like being raised as a spoilt child - everything is laid on a plate for you. The real world is not so forgiving.  On the other hand constant agressive practice, with no balance, will usually lead to a constantly agressive person. In everyday life this is not a recipe for a good time - you will be in conflict with those all around you. To an adolescent mindset, particularly one raised on gangster-culture (old school or new), being a tough guy or top dog, this might seem like a good thing. At least in film, music and video games it comes across like that. The reality is the pain of broken relationships, probable run-ins with the law and a life spent looking over your shoulder.

So it does sadden me when we see gangster culture being portrayed as cool in the martial arts press, or guys posing with guns as though they are hardened-killers. You tend to find that people who have been through the mill of real life-and-death violence are very mature in their outlook, quiet and humble. They understand only too well the consequences of actions and the reality of strife.

We need to understand this in ourselves too (know yourself being the Systema motto). We all have our moments and tantrums, times when we need to take a breath, take stock of what is happening and adjust accordingly. That might be something not going right in training, so we bend the rules a little in order to "win". It might be in a domestic situation where, actually your partner could have a point about your behaviour. Or it could be a potentially dangerous situation where you have to make a decision about whether to go forward or back. In each case, being immature / adolescent won't be constructive

Men in our society are coddled more than ever before. We don't have to fight wars, we generally have comfortable jobs that don't involve long hours of hard labour, we have all kinds of gadgets and toys that mean we can extend our adolescence out for our whole lives (you can prise my Star Trek phaser from my dead, cold hand). There is even now a huge range of "product" to protect our delicate skin and condition our hair (don't get me started). But amongs all of that we have to take stock of some harsh realities at times and maintaining a "grown up" attitude in training can only help. I shall leave the last word to the marvellous Tom Waits

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