The Warrior's Peace - Part II
by Ian Sinclair
LEVELS OF SKILL IN MARTIAL ARTS
The physical techniques taught to beginners in martial art classes are only the most superficial aspect of the art. The real skill comes with the development of awareness and with the expansion of consciousness. There is no meaningful progress without the development of mind, body, and spirit.
I have developed the following list in an attempt to describe the typical progression of a traditional martial artist’s mastery of combat. This is based partially on my own experience, and on my limited understanding of the teachings of great masters.
Level 1. Ultimate denial. No Skill. No winner.
The enemy attacks me without my awareness. I may never know what hit me.
By maintaining ignorance of my attacker, I justify claiming innocence. Like the elephant who absent-mindedly steps on a mouse, and then blames the mouse for biting back.
Ignorance of the Law, even of Natural Law, is no Defense
Level 2. Passive denial. No Skill. No winner.
I see the attack as it happens. But I do not respond.
Although I see the attack, I don’t know who the attacker is. I have no real understanding. It is the same as not seeing.
Level 3. Active Denial. No Skill. No winner.
I see the attack and cower from it, trying to hide. I act as if believing that, “if I cant’ see it, it can’t hurt me.
I know who the attacker is. But I don’t understand the relationship between me and the attacker. I don’t understand the attacker’s motivation.
Level 4. Blind rage. No Skill. No winner.
In response to the attack, I lash out while cowering. I fear and hate the violence even as I participate in it.
I still do not understand the enemy, and even more, my response makes it clear that I don’t understand myself.
Level 5. Tactical rage. False Skill. No winner.
I keep my eyes and mind on the target as I lash out, striving to destroy my enemy. But in the process I forget my own balance.
These first 5 levels of skill may exist when I have little or no understanding of myself, or the interrelationships between myself and others. I cannot defend myself if I don’t understand the enemy. I cannot understand the enemy if I can’t understand myself. Ignorance of the self or the other is denial. To deny the realities of the self means immediate death. To deny the realities of the other ensures eventual death.
Level 6. Physical Technique. Following. Technical victory.
I accept and follow the attacker’s movement, allowing me to defend and then to counter while maintaining my own balance.
This is the first level of skill that demonstrates self knowledge. It shows that I understand what I am defending. My defense becomes a natural expression of making myself more comfortable and secure, almost to the complete neglect of the enemy. This is a very difficult but crucial breakthrough for any martial artist. The interesting thing is that when this level is achieved, the number of persistent conflicts encountered greatly decreases.
Unfortunately, what often happens is that a student demonstrates this level of skill for the opening encounter, but after the first engagement the defender regresses to level 5, 4, 3, 2, or even 1.
It is not practical to rely on this level of skill. Maintaining this level of engagement is extremely difficult. One can only follow for so long, which is why it is essential to progress to higher levels of skill.
Level 7. Joining. Temporary victory.
I follow the energy of the attack, allowing me to join with the attacker’s movement. I can now defend and counter simultaneously. Most spectators will be unable to see who moved first. The attacker feels that each of their attacks backfires on them.
This is the first level that shows a level of rapport with the attacker. At this level I am able to move with the attacker as if we both have the same idea at the same time. My movements seem natural and as automatic as normal breathing. I feel as if I know the attacker because I know myself.
Level 8. Sticking/Adhering. Technical victory. Pre-emptive attack.
I follow the intent of the attacker. This allows me to join with the attacker’s qi (energy), and intercept the attack as it forms. This is like shooting the enemy’s gun before it has left the holster. Most spectators will probably think that I moved first.
This is the level that can be referred to as "extraordinary skill". If I have this kind of skill I can, for all practical purposes, read the attacker’s mind. If the attack is real, I can stop it before it happens. But if the attack is not real, I will not be goaded into moving against a feint.
However, while I may seem to move before the opponent moves, I will still have missed much that has gone before.
Level 9. Compassion. Pre-emptive defence. Mutual victory.
I follow the attacker’s ultimate motivation, and join with the intent of the attack. By understanding the motivation that precedes violence, I become their ally, and thus, neutralise the thought of attack.
In contrast to level one, where I show no responsibility for my condition, level 9 demonstrates a sense of care and connectedness to all sentient beings.
When the great Japanese martial artist, Morihei Ueshiba, said that the true spirit of Budo (the warrior way) is love, he was not speaking merely of an abstract idealism, but of a very practical method. If I want the most effective defence against a powerful enemy, I must love them unconditionally. There is no other way to lasting peace and security.
Level 10. Divine Method. No enemy. No conflict. Perfect victory.
There is no distinction between me and the rest of human kind. I am one with all sentient beings. Anyone who would try to attack me would automatically defeat themselves by the nature of their own attack.
On the surface, this may seem like a purely abstract philosophical concept. But it refers to a state that is achieveable by individuals. Unfortunately, explaining it in terms that can be understood by the inexperienced is impossible. “The way that can be spoken of is not the Eternal Way”. The person who has achieved this level makes the universe a better place simply by existing.
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