Sunday, 24 January 2010

Are your rituals helping you?

This is a continuation from my previous post - Rituals.

As martial artists, we all have inherited rituals that have been passed down by the oral tradition from Teacher to Student. Some are around how we treat each other, how we maintain our floors and equipment. They can prepare us for conflict by focusing our minds and intimidating our opponents. Our forms or katas are also rituals. You may have verses or special words to say; You may salute your teachers and class mates. All of these are rituals.

If rituals have not been taught to beginners correctly, how can they benefit from them? Even seasoned martial artists can become disconnected from their rituals. Over a period of time, these activities can become so deeply ingrained that they are done automatically without any thought whatsoever, and their mental significance is lost. So how do you re-connect with your rituals? Like every other scientific theory - you subject them to scrutiny.

Firstly, you must get your history books and study the history and culture of the area where your art originated from. What were the popular beliefs - political, social and religious? What were the seasons like, and the lie of the land? What was the social status of the people who developed the art? What was the understanding of biology, chemistry and physics like? What were the common dangers that people faced? What were the popular weapons of choice? What assumptions were made about fighting?

Put all these together and you start to get a picture of the paradigm that shaped your martial art. Now compare that paradigm with modern day. What are the differences in popular beliefs? Do you hold the same beliefs as they used to? If not, can you interpret these differences, or do they grate with you?

Now, take an honest look at the rituals that you undertake. Understand what they are doing, and consider that they may be trying to influence others, including your teacher, friends, foes and family. They may have supernatural and metaphysical intentions underpinning them. If you do not believe these, can you find a modern way of justifying them?

Now you understand the origins of your rituals, practice them again. They may have an added level of significance once you know more about them. Finally test the outcomes of your rituals against yourself. Are they working? Do you feel different after doing them? Do they influence your opponents like they should? Be honest, scientific, open-minded and at the same time sceptical.

At this point, there may be some rituals that you want to discard. But the ones that you keep will be the ones that work for you, and through your research and greater understanding will have a resonance that can only add to the richness of your experience.

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