Tuesday, 23 April 2013


When something troubles me, I go for a walk.  I don't know whether it is the exercise, being outside or something deeper and more spiritual, but it enables me to think more clearly about what is troubling me.  A friend of mine recently asked about the connection between Zen Buddhism and martial arts.  With the best will in the world, it is not an easy connection to explain.  However, I started to think about the link for the first time in a while, and that is what is troubling me right now.

This weekend, there is a Wing Chun seminar, hosted by the head of our Wing Chun organisation.  The knowledge he is imparting there - techniques in chi sau and the wooden dummy - are valuable to understanding Wing Chun.  With this in mind, it's somewhat surprising that I decided not to go.

Within some branches of the combat arts, there is a hidden agenda.  Many of these arts were developed by Zen masters and, besides teaching skills in armed and unarmed combat, there is the subtext of a philosophical element.  Some practitioners will spend years perfecting physical techniques, and never understand the spiritual side of what they practise: others will grasp it almost immediately.

In most of the martial arts classes I have attended, there has been something of a macho attitude, somewhat out of step with the Zen underpinnings of the art being taught.  In the Wing Chun class, I have detected such an attitude beginning to creep in.  The students discuss fights they have had in the outside world; some spar (wearing protective pads, of course) and hit each other too hard.  Most disturbingly for me, even the relatively new students are now exaggerating, in their own minds, the knowledge they have of the art they practise, and becoming somewhat arrogant in their manner.

Unfortunately,Wing Chun is certainly not alone in this, though the nature of Wing Chun certainly makes it more vulnerable to the macho attitude.  That which came originally from another culture is necessarily influenced by the culture within which it is practised.  The martial arts, particularly in the age of cage fighting, are losing their connection with Zen.  In a culture that is gradually losing its connection with all that is sacred and spiritual, it is hardly surprising.  Due to the efforts of Ip Man and his students throughout the world in making it a practical fighting art, Wing Chun already had a very loose connection with its spiritual past.  Maybe Wing Chun is better for that.

I can't pinpoint the moment where Zen entered my perspective on the martial arts, or life in general.  I have a feeling it was when I was reading martial arts magazines some years ago, looking at various arts and the philosophy behind them.

So, what am I left with now?  When I attend my Wing Chun class, I am simply learning to fight.  There may be brief moments when a deeper understanding comes, but they are few and far between.  Rather than the physical techniques leading me to Zen, it is Zen that is now leading me to physical techniques.  I believe that is what they call having come full circle.  Is it necessary for me to learn more physical techniques?  That is what I am struggling with right now, along with the thought that maybe arts with no spiritual subtext teach more in the way of pure combative skill.  If I am now able to bring Zen to everything I do, surely I can bring it to any form of art?

It may take time, but an answer will come.

To the trolls

“The difference between genius and stupidity is genius has its limits.” ~Albert Einstein

Much as I would like to say I hate internet trolls, I feel sorry for them.  I really do.  I'm not suggesting for a moment that they are not a nuisance, but that is also all they will ever be - a minor irritation.  Of more concern is their apparent lack of self-awareness.  If you dare to point out that they are a troll, you will find that they appear to take a great deal of offence at what they see as an unwarranted slur on their character.  The truth is that awareness of what they are wounds them deeply, as it would be too awful to acknowledge the depths to which they have sunk.  The likelihood is that they will already have said far worse things to many people, so let's try to understand where they are coming from.

Internet trolls tend to be teenage boys, or anyone who has the mindset of a teenage boy.  Worse, they are often so isolated and lonely that an argument on an online forum, or comment stream is, to them, the only meaningful social interaction they have during their day.  Yes, they probably have family, but we must question whether these are the kind of people who would fit well into a family unit, let alone be loved and wanted by their families.  Imagine how empty your life would have to be before you would consider spending your days sitting by your computer, endlessly searching the forums and comments for a chance to say something deliberately contentious or, more often, to insult someone by calling them an idiot or some deeply offensive euphemism for male homosexuality.

The internet, you see, is something of a safe haven.  Safe from the playground bullies, wilfully ignoring all reasonable admonishment, they feel able to express views that, often, they don't actually hold.  Strange though it may seem, going against their core beliefs is a small price to pay for gaining some reply from an actual living person.  Sadly, it is possible that they have no core beliefs, and believe in nothing, so they have to pretend.  Remember, most of these people are male, and spend a great deal of their time visiting pornographic web sites, sitting by their computers with a box of tissues at the ready: they can only dream about getting physically intimate with a real woman, or man, or farmyard animal.  The assumed persona of internet troll gives these individuals a temporary release from their own existence, from the depressing reality of who they truly are.

Some have replied to the comments of the trolls.  Much as I think it's wrong, I also understand it.  They may feel ashamed to be insulted by someone of such inferior intelligence, and may be all too aware that the trolls feel each "win" validates their existence.  It must be kept in mind, however, that these poor unfortunates are only acting out what they only wish they could do in reality.  We all know that doing it within the relatively safe confines of the internet is cowardly beyond contempt, but we must refrain from reacting to them.  The worst thing we can do is allow them to feel like the righteous crusaders of their fantasies, keeping the internet free of all intelligent discourse and opinion, bringing it down to the level of pre-school jibes and counter jibes, with which they are more comfortable.  Just as it is often impossible to reason with pre-school children, it is also impossible to reason with internet trolls.  Their sense of reason and logic has become warped by the internet being their only source of social interaction.

Wider society has been unfair to the internet troll.  Their meaningless existence, devoid of friendship, love or respect, has embittered them.  The rest of the world becomes, in their tiny minds, the enemy.  It is all too easy for them to blame their situation on those with more fulfilling lives.  Maybe if we stop giving them what they want on the forums and comment streams, they will leave their computers and find that there is another world outside of their limited experience.