Saturday, November 17, 2012
Once you know something, there’s no way to un-know it.
Slightly or greatly, it changes you, your view of the world, your place in it, forever. You can’t go back to being the person you were before you knew it. You can’t un-ring the bell.
It’s said that every man’s labor leaves its mark on his body. (No doubt, also true for women.) The shoulders of a boxer, the glutes of a sprinter, the feet of a ballerina, the fingertips of a guitarist – are signatures of their profession.
I would say that your labor also shapes your mind and spirit.
For better or for worse.
If you want to be a musician, but the only time you play your instrument, or even think about it, is during your half-hour weekly lesson, you’ll never become a musician. You have to think about it all the time.
Eat it, breathe it, dream it.
You practice constantly, even when you have no instrument with you. You listen. You become aware of music on many levels. You hear music all around you in the nickering of horses, in the roaring traffic swoon, in the silence of your lonely room, you think about it night and day. You become aware of rhythm. The rhythm of the seasons, sunrise and sunset, the wind in the trees playing weird melodies, the rhapsody in the rain. The rhythm of your heartbeat, fast or slow. The heartbeat of a lover. The oceans. The heartbeat of the earth.
“Musician” isn’t a job or a hobby. It isn’t something you do part-time, neatly compartmentalized away from the rest of your life. It is your life. A way of being in the world. And once you know it, experience it, feel it, thereafter, wherever you go, whatever you do, you do it differently, as a musician, than a non-musician would. And you can never go back to being the person you were before.
If you want to be a swordsman, a fighter, but the only time you take up your sword, or even think about it, is in the salle d’armes, you’ll never become a swordsman, never become a fighter. You have to think about it all the time.
Eat it, breathe it, dream it.
You practice constantly, even when you have no weapon with you. You observe. You become aware of combat – struggle and conflict -- on many levels. You see the same dynamics of combat, the same laws, manifested it all around you. In the struggle between predator and prey, the oppressor and the oppressed, between criminal and intended victim, in sport, in love, in business, in politics, in war. Combat is the eternal dynamic of yin and yang, light and dark, good and evil, ever changing, ever transforming, shifting the balance first one way, then the other, in strict accordance with very clear and constant principles.
"Swordsman" isn’t a job or a hobby. It isn’t something you do part-time, neatly compartmentalized away from the rest of your life. It is your life. A way of being in the world. And once you know it, experience it, feel it, thereafter wherever you go, whatever you do, you do it differently, as a fighter, than a non-fighter would. And you can never go back to being the person you were before.
That’s the gift.
That’s the curse.
Posted by Adam Crown, M.d'A. at 8:48 AM
Tuesday, November 13, 2012
I rarely express a personal opinion (speculation, supposition or conjecture) without identifying it as such. I suppose that’s because I hate to be wrong --- an aversion I developed from having been embarrassingly wrong on so many occasions before I learned how to think! If I weigh in on any subject of consequence, I do so only when I have already critically evaluated the facts -- while always remaining open to new evidence, of course.
There are some people who say they “like” Romney or Obama, Republican or Democrat, the same way they “like” vanilla or chocolate, or prefer basketball over football. It’s a mindless idiosyncratic preference based on nothing but emotion and habit. One cannot factually prove that chocolate tastes better than vanilla, or that basketball is better than football. There’s no real right or wrong here. It’s strictly a matter of personal taste.
Many people – TOO many people – don’t know the difference between a personal opinion based on subjective, idiosyncratic preferences, and an “educated,” or “expert” opinion, which is a well-reasoned conclusion based on a critical evaluation of the available evidence.
Indeed, they don’t know there is a difference. That’s why, when you contradict their irrational personal opinions with a conclusion based on facts, they simply respond, “Well that’s your opinion.” That pronouncement implies the equal validity of all opinions, and is a shot at either raising themselves to your level, or lowering you to theirs.
It’s all relative, they say, and they have a right to their opinion.
While they, indeed, have a right to their opinion, that doesn’t make their opinion right, nor does it require the rest of us to respect that opinion, as if all opinions were created equal.
They simply aren’t.
If someone you love needed brain surgery, whose opinion would you seek out: that of a surgeon who had done the operation successfully many times? Or someone whose medical acumen derived exclusively from a basic first aid course taken many years ago?
Obviously, all opinions are not created equal.
An opinion based on subjective, personal bias or prejudice and/or false premises is unworthy of respect and should be shown none.
At one time it was the opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States that a black man had “no rights that a white man is bound to respect.” (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857). At one time, it was the opinion of many Germans that Hitler was the best thing since sliced strudel. At one time it was the opinion of many people ( men and women, by the way)that women were too feeble-minded to be independent and make their own choices about their own lives. (Indeed, some people are still of this opinion.) I consider these opinions to be unworthy of respect because they are patently false, unsupported by any facts.
That’s not my opinion. That’s my conclusion.
The second error the “right to my opinion” crowd makes is to embrace the notion that “everything is relative.” Relativists claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, no such thing as a concrete fact. What’s real or true for you, is different than what real or true for me, and no matter what the empirical, factual basis – or lack of it – for our beliefs, they are all equally valid, the relativist would say. There is nothing right or wrong, they would say, unintentionally paraphrasing the Bard, but thinking makes it so. They would say that there are no “natural” inherent, universal parameters of right and wrong. And they cling to this belief – until they believe themselves to have been wronged.
I propose that what’s True is always True and what’s Real is always Real, regardless of one’s individual ability to see what’s real or true.
What does this have to do with fencing, you might ask?
I had a feeling that you would.
Some folks would say that whether you prefer to engage in what we, much too charitably, refer to as “Olympic fencing” (“sport fencing”); or prefer to throw on your favorite fantasy drag and cavort around as a knight, a musketeer, or a Jedi; or prefer to practice what has become known as “classical fencing,” is strictly a matter of personal taste. That is, they are all, some would say, equally valid examples of sword use, just different “styles.” Vanilla or chocolate, you see?
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The very best “air guitar” performer in the world, does not, from that practice, learn anything about playing an actual guitar -- not melody, not harmony, not chord structure, not rhythm – and therefore neither does the air guitarist learn anything he/she can then extrapolate to other instruments, or various kinds of music. That’s because the air guitarist isn’t actually playing a guitar. He’s pretending to play a guitar by mimicking, in caricature, certain persons he’s seen who, to some extent, actually play the guitar.
The actor, “Olympic” fencer, the fantasy-role player isn’t actually sword-fighting. He’s pretending to sword-fight by mimicking, in caricature, certain persons he’s seen do what he thinks is sword-fighting. Unfortunately, in the case of the sword, what the “air fencer” has seen is NOT the actual use of the sword, but just another “air fencer,” who was, himself, imitating another “air fencer” who was mimicking another “air fencer,” who was imitating another ---- well, you get the idea.
The main difference between the actor on the one hand, and the Olympian or fantasy role-player on the other, is that the actor is honest about what he’s doing. If you ask him, he’ll tell you that he learned his moves by rote, in order to do the play or the movie. He and his “opponent(s)” worked out the moves carefully and practiced diligently so that everyone would remember the dance and no one would get hurt. The actor won’t generally take on airs and wish to be considered a real fighter, any more than after doing Hamlet, he would demand to be addressed as “your highness,” ever after. The actor knows he’s pretending to be something he’s not. Fantasy role-players seem to often to have blurred the distinction, and Olympic fencers have lost it completely.
The sine qua non of fencing is the ability to use a sword to defend yourself in a fight. That is the foundational objective of fencing. There are several theories about how best to accomplish this objective. The validity of any technique, tactic or strategy is contingent upon the extent to which it furthers the objective and does not run contrary to it. That is, ALL “styles” of swordsmanship have, as their raison d’etre, the goal of “winning” the fight, and this generally translates as “hit without being hit.”
As a side benefit, verisimilitude in the practice of fencing may also teach you about fighting, in general, or even conflict, in general. But you won’t be able to apply much of your lessons to other domains, if those lessons were false to begin with.
You can choose to BE what you desire to be.
Or you can choose to PRETEND to be what you desire to be.
Life is short.
That’s my opinion.
Posted by Adam Crown, M.d'A. at 5:25 PM
Monday, November 5, 2012
Once upon a time, it came to pass that I ran across an old sabre.
It clearly had seen some use, the edge having been re-sharpened. A knowledgeable colleague dated its manufacture to the late 19th century. Rumor had it that the weapon had seen service in World War Two, and I confess that, on kissing the blade, I imagined I caught a whiff of nazi blood still clinging to that cold, hard steel.
A notion I found quite pleasant.
Not many people know it, but units of Polish cavalry served with distinction during that war, fighting successfully in more than a dozen engagements. The Nazi propaganda machine was so effective at serving up a mirror-image of the truth, that you can find some of their lies perpetuated in history books even today.
In one encounter, for example, The Poles executed a wild surprise charge against a “superior” German force and more or less routed them. The Nazis claimed that the foolish Poles had committed suicide by throwing their antiquated horse cavalry against the invincible tanks of the invincible Reich.
Hitler wasn’t big on admitting mistakes.
In any case, the sabre in question bore an inscription on the blade. Unfortunately, it was in Polish and I don’t speak it, so I had to find someone who could translate. A young woman of my acquaintance was up to that task (and any other task as well, but that’s another story).
The inscription said:
“God, give me a good sword and no use for it.”
I find that equally poignant and profound.
Therein lies a valuable lesson for today.
Posted by Adam Crown, M.d'A. at 12:38 PM
Friday, November 2, 2012
OF DOING AND BEING
There are two ways to exist.
One way is to be uncentered, awash in an emotional maelstrom, adrift at the mercy of unpredictable currents of fate, lost in memories of the past or anticipation of the future, removed from the present. In this mode you see all things only superficially. You see the tip of the iceberg, but never understand what lies beneath.
You generalize, categorize, simplify until other beings are only things, unconnected to you or each other, things which you use for your own purposes, things without intelligence and curiosity, things without empathy or morality, things with no hopes, needs, cares, fears or dreams that you are aware of, or that would matter to you if you were. As a result, in this mode, you, yourself, become a thing, a caricature, merely a collection of the things that you use to do things that you do. I call this “doing.”
The Other Way is to be centered, in the moment, awake and aware. This way you see all things the way they are and know their true nature as well as their inextricable connection to you and to everyone and everything else. In this mode, you see other beings as alive and vibrant as you are, yourself, with intelligence and curiousity, with empathy and morality, with hopes, needs, cares, and fears and dream as real, possible and important to you as your own. I call this “being.”
When you are doing, a horse is a thing that you sit on and move around, a sword is a thing in your hand that you wave at your opponent. The things are separate from you. You’re a rider, a fencer. You use a thing to do a thing.
When you are being, a horse is a being of magnificent beauty and power, of strength and wisdom and spirit, and you let that being fill you up until you lose any sense of separateness from it. You lose all consciousness of yourself, and exist only as the horse. The horse becomes you, until you become the horse.
You’re not a “rider,” i.e., someone who merely sits on a horse and moves it around. You’re a “horseman,” “horse” and “man” combining synergistically to become one thing that is neither, yet both, all at once.
The horse’s legs are your legs, the horse’s eyes are your eyes, the horse’s heart is your heart.
You feel what the horse feels, you know what the horse knows.
When you are being, a sword is a living being of beauty and power, of strength and wisdom and spirit, and you let that being fill you up until you lose any sense of separateness from it. You lose all consciousness of yourself, and exist only as the sword. The sword becomes you, until you become the sword.
You’re not a “fencer,” i.e., someone who merely holds a sword and moves it around. You’re a “swordsman,” “sword” and “man” combining synergistically to becme one thing that is neither, yet both, all at once.
The steel is your flesh.
You feel what the sword feels, you know what the sword knows.
“To be is to do”
“To do is to be”
“Do Be Do Be Do”
Posted by Adam Crown, M.d'A. at 8:09 AM