Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Don't THINK you are, KNOW you are

I was watching The Matrix again on my way into work this morning.  The dojo fight scene is one of my favorites, because Morpheus gives some very good advice to Neo.  Neo awakes from his uploading stating "I know kung fu", to which Morpheus says simply "show me".  They load the sparring program.

Neo starts off with the mistake of overconfidence.  Eager to show his new skills, he doesn't even consider that Morpheus may be better than he is.  Neo's style is aggressive, while Morpheus toys with him and looks for openings.  In reality, we never know who is better than we are.  Pride goes before a fall.  We see immediately that Neo is outmatched.

After being kicked, Neo ponders Morpheus' question "How did I beat you?"  "You are faster", Neo says.
"Do you think my muscles have anything to do with speed in this place?" Morpheus challenges.  "Do you think that's air you're breathing?...hmmm..."  The reality is that while the physical body is important, it is no excuse for poor technique.  Our goal as martial artists is to transcend our physical limits and improve our technique, not just our bodies.  Martial arts techniques use good physics, but are somehow more than that when we invest our energy (ki or chi) in them.

When they spar again, Morpheus pushes Neo harder.  "You're faster than this.  Don't think you are, know you are".  This is not pride, it is CONFIDENCE.  The two are very different.  To truly excel, we have to break past our own preconceived limitations.  We are capable of so much more.  In a sense, The Matrix itself is a movie about learning to ignore the limitations of our world and breaking through to "set your mind free" and embrace the truth with no illusions.  A very Buddhist interpretation, to be sure.

Lastly, to lead Neo to awareness, Morpheus scolds him in classic zen-master style. "stop trying to hit me and HIT ME!"  We spend a lot of time in the dojo trying to build muscle memory and natural reaction.  To reach this level, we have to go beyond "thinking" or "trying" to just "doing" and "being".  Initially, of course, we look at each technique and over-analyze it;  we break it down into discrete movements and patterns and try to remember where our feet, hands and body go.  We step through each technique again and again, like a baby trying to repeat new words.  Our minds are very busy and our bodies are not moving freely.

At some point, however, we must LET GO and FLOW.  This is the essence of Kali Majapahit specifically, of most FMA as well, and of every martial art generally.  This is also one of the central life lessons our training gives us.  We must learn to disconnect our rational mind and allow the body to MOVE with what it knows.  We must transcend technique to experience the ever-changing moments of CONNECTION with our partners.  This freedom is at the heart of good martial arts training and a great lesson on being in the moment.

Go ahead and enjoy The Matrix for what it is, a very entertaining classic Hollywood blockbuster.
However, if you look a bit below the surface, there is more.  We can learn from what we see.


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