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.

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