I realized at a very early age–perhaps seven–that the reality I was offered by family, society and church organizations was not the real world. That realization caused me endless grief, and probably was the origin of my interest in fantasy, the stories that we tell ourselves, and others, to define, empower, control, or destroy.
I knew that if I accepted the stories others gave me, I’d be limited by their concepts and goals. Deciding to find my own, I asked “where can I find the role models and knowledge to create a different path?”
I was raised by my mother and sister. The question “what is it to be a man?” was paramount: without that, I couldn’t get the kind of reactions I craved from either men OR women.
The answer I came up with was that those lessons were most fully encoded in the disciplines traditionally operating in the male sphere: martial arts and similar “protect the community” disciplines. And the men who I encountered who were most fully “male”, who got that “male” response from men and women, were most often fighters, police officers, veterans, martial artists. So I went in that direction. As time went on, I realized that most American martial arts wasn’t like Kwai Chang Kane’s experience in the Shaolin Temple: a congruent mix of culture, philosophy, meditative, health advice, fitness, and self defense.
In fact, that would have been IMPOSSIBLE in 70’s America. I’m not sure its possible now…but maybe. Just maybe.
So what I did was seek a school that had the “fighting” aspect, and then find the health, meditation, philosophical and other aspects in other places. Man oh man, did that require I look far and wide into Yoga, Meditation, hypnosis, NLP, and other disciplines. I did gain martial skills, but they were a shell around my fear, and that fear kept breaking through to the surface.
I remember a fine young black belt who once asked me: “Steve…when will I stop being afraid?” and I had no answer for him. A few months later he committed suicide. I’m not saying I could have saved him, but I swore I’d never be without an answer again.
My doorway to that inner world came when I met Terry Letteau, Shorei-Shito-Ryu instructor who taught me a meditation that helped me gain clarity, to see that the fear was just a natural response, and not a sign that there was something wrong with me. That took me to Swiftdeer, who taught me to connect the physical and spiritual realms, so that Yoga and martial arts and meditation all started becoming the same thing. Later, Scott Sonnon’s “Flow State Performance Spiral” gave me Western analytical terms to understand these eastern mystical concepts, and the whole world changed.
Now, I simply practice the arts for the fun of it, and because your body needs a discipline. Self defense? I’ll either talk my way out of it or pick up something and hit you with it. But what I love, and I mean LOVE, are the men and women who have the “Warrior” aspect of the arts (often they have martial skill, have served in the military, train military and police officers) but also exemplify the philosophical aspects, are gentle souls who teach lethal arts.
I met Sijo Antwione Alferos of the Whipping Willow Association through Steve Muhammad. He is an easygoing man who teaches largely Filipino arts, usually weapons-based. His knife work is particularly impressive. But he also treats his students like family, generous to a fault with his knowledge, and just a good and decent human being.
Having realized that I am unlikely to attend a formal school with regularity again, the idea to seek out a seminars every month seems like a good substitute. Sijo Alferos’s “Whipping Willow Association” meets at least four times a year, and Saturday morning I drove down to Buena Park to his house to join a group of twenty students gathering in his back yard for training. I take such pleasure in that, the simple pleasure of being a student among other students, just learning.
One of his black belts, a lady named Gigi I’ve seen in his circle for ten years, taught us the use of the Sarong as a flexible weapon. That was fun–Danny Inosanto taught that same tool early this year, so I felt less of a complete Klutz. When they broke for lunch, I knew I had to head home (the last AFROFUTURISM webinar was yesterday at 3pm) but before I did, I engaged in conversation with Sijo about different subject…and the question of what it takes to age gracefully in the martial arts (hey! I’m sure that subject will be of interest to me one distant day. Ahem). He said that he knew many serious badasses in the arts who had not been able to handle the loss of their strictly physical abilities. I suspect that because his emphasis is on blade and weapon work rather than how strong his body is, this particular issue was not as much of a problem for him.
Specifically, he refers to the spiritual path within his discipline as “Naigung”, to be considered differently from “Chi Gung”.
Roughly, Naigung means “No one knows who I am better than myself.” This is definitely what I sought as a child. The “Who am I?” I speak of. As a child, you get your definitions of self from your environment. By the time you marry and have children, your search to be self-sufficient forces you into the “what is true?” and by the time your parents die, most of us are dealing with the “who am I?”
The sooner you start engaging, the better off you are. While life itself provides you with the lessons you need, the Sufis and other spiritual groups seek to “die before you die”, to face and examine these realities before they are thrust into our faces. Perhaps while your brains have more neuralplasticity. Eventually, almost all of us “get there” but there is definitely advantage to buying your ticket before showtime.
Sijo Alferos spoke of a core philosophy of Naigung: the “Three phases of Consciousness”. I recently acquired a Boocosa digital recorder keychain (I found that the “steath” USB recorders didn’t seem to function cleanly with my computer: they didn’t always show up as disks when I plugged them in) and have the intention to capture more of these Pathways to Power when wonderful people like Sijo share with me. With his permission, I captured the following statement, and share it with you:
“There are phases of consciousness: the Awakening, the Treatment, and the Dispersement. The awakening is like the first time you are first introduced to a thought. The first time a thought is introduced to you. The first time a concept is introduced. It is an Awakening.
“Now as you start to think about it, and you start to speculate, on different ideas from that, that becomes the “treatment”. Its what you do with it. What your mind does with it, your body does with it. I showed you a technique, and you’re saying “what if I did it this way? What if I did it that way?” If I stepped back a little, or if I stepped forward? All that is the awakening, because you’re coming into understanding of what it is.
“The Dispersement is when it becomes YOU, and it is fluid. You disperse it and so now you can teach it. Now you’re the end conclusion of it. The first time that you experience the treatment, that’s the awakening to the treatment. So there’s an Awakening that results from the treatment, but the first time you experience the Treatment that’s also an Awakening. And the the first time you experience the Dispersement that’s an Awakening.”
So awakening, treatment and dispersement are not a straight-line or a vector, but a triangle, with each pointing at the others and feeding into them.
He also said that “At first, you serve the art. Then, the art serves you.” Meaning that at first, you enter a discipline and simply “serve” it by doing precisely what your teachers say. Later, you internalize, and “the art serves you”–informs your actions without conscious thought.
See how this relates to the Competence Continuum:
- UNCONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE ( you don’t know a bicycle exists)
- CONSCIOUS INCOMPETENCE (you know they exist, but cannot ride one)
- CONSCIOUS COMPETENCE (you can ride one if you concentrate)
- UNCONSCIOUS COMPETENCE (“look ma! No hands!)
Art is self expression. CRAFT is self expression plus the specific technique that represents the language of dance, or pottery, or writing, or martial disciplines. Craft must be integrated to the level of “unconscious competence” before you can really express yourself, in the same way that you cannot dance as long as you’re saying “one two three one two three” in your mind.
The path to master, right there. Moreover, the path to self-discovery. You can and should apply this to a movement art, an intellectual art, AND the path of interpersonal relationships. Do that, and you maximize your chances of genuine personal evolution.