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Martial arts and spirituality. What does that even mean? This is a question almost all of us ask. But few of us ever get any real answers. Some say it's mixing religions such as Christianity or Islam with martial arts. Some think it's dressing up in flowing clothes, spouting koans, and seeming esoteric. Some say it's simply, "a bunch of crap".
However I believe It isn't any of these things.
To understand the relationship between Martial arts and spiritually, you must first understand what each of them are on their own. Most of us pretty much understand, or at least have a clear concept of what the martial arts are. I'll define it here as the study of physical conflict. But there are lots of reasonable definitions. Most of us have spent enough time with the martial arts, that we have a pretty clear definition, at least for ourselves. It's spirituality that many of us have a hard time with.
To many, spirituality is simply going to church and reading the bible. While these things are spiritual things, they are part of a religion, and not the spirituality itself. A religion is a school of spirituality. The main goal of these schools is to put people in touch with their spirituality. The practices of a religion (prayer, bible reading, church services, worship etc.) are designed to put you in touch with your spirituality, but they are not the spirituality itself. By adding the practices of your religion to your martial arts, you are not working with spirituality, you are simply adding more practices. Which most martial arts systems already have more then enough of. Religion's are to spirituality as Martial arts are to fighting. They are schools that point to a thing, but not the thing itself. Mixing the practices of a religion into your martial arts doesn't train your spirit.
The trappings of spirituality are not the spirit. While different physical objects can help evoke your spirit, they are not the spirit itself. Wearing a Zen masters robes certainly does not make you a Zen master. Reciting words and incantations that you don't understand does not make you a spiritual person. Seeming aloof and exotic to other people doesn't do a thing for your spirituality either. It starts with you.Your spirit is at the very core of what you are. So how could you find it in things outside of yourself?
Because of our tendency to confuse spirit with practices and trappings, many of us come to the conclusion that spirituality is just a bunch of nonsense and doesn't exist at all. However if you look to the normal instead of the extreme we can readily see examples of spirit in our daily lives. Some common indications of spirit are: "the spirit of giving", "the Christmas spirit", "Fighting spirit", etc. We all understand these examples, and accept them with little doubt as to their existence. The reason is because we've all experienced them or seen them in our lives. We don't think of these things as being different or special, they are just part of life.
Spirit is complete manifestation of true self. Let's look at it in terms of "the spirit of giving". Most all of us have been over taken by this at one time or another, and are quite familiar with it. We know that it is a feeling of joyful giving. It can seem almost addictive. You just start giving things, maybe even expensive or important things, to people you care about. Every part of you wants to give. Once you surrender to your spirit, everything seems to come together for you. The same can be said of "fighting spirit". When someone has a strong fighting spirit, they except the fact that they are in the midst of struggle. In fact they happily engage, excepting what is happening, exhibiting a kind of joy. They do this even in the face of agony or defeat.
Your spirit shows itself when you stop putting things off. Without fearing what is about to happen, simply being in the moment, naturally. We've all had the experience of getting up in front of a crowd to give a talk or present something. Maybe we allowed ourselves to be intimidated by the crowd, kind of shinking inside of ourselves. Not being the best showman we could be. We didn't have the "showman's spirit". We didn't allow ourselves to do as well as we could. We just didn't have enough "spirit" to make the best presentation we could. Spiritual practice's are those that teach you to except what is happening and who you are in order to let yourself, your spirit, shine through. When you are coming from a spiritual place you are acting without fear, worry, doubt, or any kind of dependence on what will happen next, you are simply being you, right now.
Understanding spirit, and spirituality in this way; its connection to the martial arts is undeniable. Martial situations are ones that require strong spirit. If your spirit isn't strong you'll never get through extreme difficulty's. If your spirit isn't strong it's impossible to come through tragedy and not be a victim. And for these very reasons Martial practices make wonderful training grounds for the spirit. Lending the martial arts to being a wonderful spiritual practice. Most religions and non-martial spiritual schools have to add practices in order to train the spirit. Challenges and difficulties must be faced in order to strengthen your spirit. Non-martial spiritual traditions add things like: abstinence, fasting, tithing, worship, routine, strict moralities etc. in order to challenge their practitioners. Martial practices however have a built in set of challenges: fighting, physical fatigue, and habitual practice are the necessities of a martial method. Practices like these make simple sense in the martial arts. You never have to ask, "why do I need to be in good physical shape" ," "Why do I actually need to test my skills against someone", or "why do I need to train so much". The reasons are clear, if you want to be good, you'll have to do these things. You must use your spirit to get through these rigors, this trains the spirit. It's hard to hide behind lies, and clever excuses, if you're not training hard, it's clear that your spirit is not in the practice.
The great thing about spiritual training is that it will naturally start to spill over into the rest of your life. When you honestly take on training in the martial arts, you take on a spiritual practice that makes you a stronger person. Dealing with things directly and honestly starts to be much less challenging. When you willingly participate in physical conflict, dealing with the grumpy bus boy suddenly isn't a big deal. When you force yourself to joyfully except vigorous exercise, doing yard work is no problem. A strong spirit is useful in all facets of life, and will do far more for you then make you a good fighter.
You must pay attention to this. You must actually make Spirituality a practice. If you fight simply because you're mad, or "want too" you're not training your spirit. You are simply giving in to an indulgence. If you show up at your Dojo and simply go through the motions, you're not training your spirit. If you get excited and feed your ego every time you pin someone, or give them a big throw, complaining every time you are thrown, you're not training your spirit. You must stay ever mindful, taking care in all of your training. This will make your practice something phenomenal. Something that will strengthen your spirit, and increase your martial ability. Eventually there will be no more "spirit of giving,", or "fighting spirit", because everything you do will involve spirit. Giving you something we could all use a little more of in our lives, Joy.