The Warrior's Peace - Part I
by Ian Sinclair
“I am not a pacifist. I don’t believe in passive anything.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
When I tell people that I teach martial arts, and not violence, it becomes clear that few people truly understand the nature of martial arts, just as few understand the real nature of peace.
It doesn’t help that the particular martial art that I specialize in is one of the most misunderstood. Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan, or Tai Chi for short) is one of the most famous martial arts in the world. There are innumerable stories about tai chi masters who, in spite of their size, age, or gender, have defeated opponents who were seemingly more formidable than they. But to many people today, Tai Chi seems like “old people sneaking up on trees”. The most recognizable element of the art - the slow, graceful movements - may seem relaxing, and there is growing scientific evidence of the health benefits. Yet even some people who practice taijiquan cannot conceive of it being effective for self defense.
Tai Chi Chuan belongs to a category of Chinese martial arts called “internal martial arts”. It includes a physical workout that can be adapted for any age or fitness level. But the primary focus is on the harmonious cultivation of mind, body, and spirit through the refinement of subtle internal alignment, the co-ordination of deep tissue, and the cultivation of qi (internal energy). Other traditional martial arts, such as karate, train these aspects also. But the order in which “internal” and “external” aspects are taught is different. (I must note that don’t believe that there is such a thing as a superior martial art, only superior martial artists.)
To practice any traditional martial art is to constantly seek balance and harmony within an inherently violent world. To create peace in our daily lives requires constant effort, and great skill. As long as we think, feel and breathe, then balance and peace will be elusive. We must seek them constantly or lose ourselves to war and death. When we wait for times of war to struggle for peace, it is like starting to dig a well when we are already thirsty. Likewise, if we wait until someone attacks us before we seek balance, we have already lost.
A physical attack is someone trying to upset our balance, by striking us, throwing us, or killing us. Balance cannot be maintained if it doesn’t exist in the first place. So, the martial artist cultivates physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance; and learns that these are all one and the same. When balance is strong, defending it is easy.
If, out of fear, we attack an enemy that we don’t understand, and abandon our principles to do so, then we will have lost the war before we fire a shot. We will have sacrificed our balance to attack the person who threatens it. This is like a nation suspending human rights in order to "protect freedom".
Learning techniques to defend yourself is pointless if you don’t feel worth defending. Likewise, it makes no sense for a country to spend all its money on a military defense of its way of life, while not investing in that way of life. Yet people and nations often fight to avoid their own internal problems.
Martial arts are not methods to become successful at violence. Violence is much easier than that. In fact, all we need to do to increase the violence in the world is do nothing. The inherent self-destructive tendency of any closed system, family, society, or geopolitical entity will inevitably prevail unless energy is administered for the maintaining of balance, peace, health, expression, and continued creation.
I once asked a student of mine (a beleaguered Physics student at UBC) how things were going. Her desperate reply was, “Entropy is winning.”
We don’t create wars. We allow them to happen by not actively creating peace. Violence, whether international war, or a dispute between two neighbours, happens after a considerable time is spent being complacent about our neighbours’ well being, and about our own inner peace.
If, through our cowardice, we choose to bathe in our own opulence, or obsess about our own hardships, then we are not actively engaging the World. We cannot see how our own selfish actions offend our family, friends, neighbours, allies, or enemies. We will be the victims of terrorism who cannot fathom what we did to provoke an attack. In fact, we will have done nothing, and that is precisely the problem. The guilt of the terrorism is clearly on the heads of the terrorists. But the responsibility for the state of the world lies with each and every one of us.
No one deserves pain. But that is irrelevant. Retribution will come surely to any who do not take responsibility for the happiness of their enemies. We are all responsible for the world being the way it is. And we must each accept total responsibility for actions or inaction that will affect people around the world today. We might not know how our actions affect the movements of the planets. But ignorance is not innocence, nor is it bliss. Our own ignorance is the cause of our own misery.
Martial artists must develop a profound awareness of their World, and of the oneness of mind, body, and spirit. With practice they will realize that there is no separation between thought, emotion, and action. They will also see the separation of people and things as an illusion created by the ego.
Every thought we have, no matter how subtle, creates an emotional response. And every emotional response has a physical effect. Knowing this enables a martial artist to seemingly read an opponents mind; and helps us understand how close friends or lovers are able to know what the other is thinking. This is also behind a lot of other so-called “mystical” abilities.
Have you ever experienced a relationship that was so harmonious that both people would finish each others’ sentences, or sigh at the same time. Have you ever thought of someone just as they phoned you?
Can you have that kind of rapport with your enemy? For that matter, can you have that kind of relationship with yourself? I often tell my students that, if you want to be able to read your opponent’s mind, you should practise by reading your own. If you can be aware of the subtle workings of your own mind, you will find that it is relatively easy to know the intent and motivations of others.
Every successful military strategist will tell you that it is essential to know your enemy and to know yourself. What few of them bother to mention, however, is that you can never learn anything about anyone by hating them.
“Hatred is a poison, which we drink ourselves and hope that it makes our enemy sick.”
- a native proverb
Our unconscious actions can cause others to hate us, or cause hatred to become anger. Anger is the hatred of hatred. If we do not understand the anger of our enemy, it is because we are not aware of our own hatred towards them. We might say, “I don’t hate them. I don’t even think about them.” But there is no easier hatred than indifference. If our awareness is limited, and our actions are self-serving, then we are certain to become the targets of malice.
To be able to know how an enemy is going to attack requires sensitivity, awareness and understanding. To respond appropriately to the attack requires wisdom, hope, and compassion. These qualities: sensitivity, awareness, understanding, wisdom, hope, and compassion are all expressions of love, the opposite of fear, and the fundamental attributes of a master warrior.
Courage is not an attribute of a master warrior, though it is often a useful tool for fighters. Courage is an aspect of fear. It is a coping mechanism which heightens our short-term awareness and gives us the energy to fight or flee. When a person is afraid, then the back tightens around the kidneys and adrenal glands. This pulls the shoulders and head back, affecting balance. The chest is then automatically forced to bravely stick out as a counterbalance. If there is fear with no courage, then there is no balance. However, fear continues to destabilize the person whether it is balanced by courage or not. Courage may balance fear temporarily, but it does not truly stabilize the person.
Master warriors do not fear death or life; and they desire neither life nor death. They do not wish for the past to change, or hate the enemy for trying to destroy them. They do not cling to anger or regret.
Master warriors wage peace constantly; seeking the divine in every moment, every place, every person, and every thing. They understand that true victory only comes through the disciplined, compassionate, unrelenting search for the ultimate point of balance that is the source of all creation. That point is like a quantum singularity that can only be attained through the perfection of unconditional Love.
This article, a version of which was first published in the “Orillia Packet and Times” contains excerpts from a book-in-progress by Ian Sinclair, a teacher with 23 years experience in Taijiquan (Tai Chi), Qigong, and Chinese martial arts. He has been a performer and consultant for film and television, and won national and international martial arts championships. Having taught since 1990 in Vancouver, he moved home in 2003. He now teaches classes in Orillia, Ontario as well as offering seminars, demonstrations and lectures. Ian can be contacted at 705-770-0279 or firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail: Ian Sinclair C/O Cloud Mountain Martial Arts, 247a West Street North, Orillia, Ontario, Canada L3V 5C9