"It must be exciting to be a fighter, to be totally free!"
~ Jen Yu
I am a martial artist. I live a glamorous life.
I've travelled on several continents. I've hiked and paddled in the wilderness. I am a competent rock climber. I've made love to beautiful women.
I've dived to depths where corals live and fishes swim. I've experimented with various intoxicants. I have hung around in dark alleys. I keep questionable company.
People have paid me to teach them, or their children. I have learned from and argued with teachers of great renown.
To be a martial artist means to be a complete human being. I have fronted an art rock band. I write poetry and do photography. I've taught myself web development and programming. I've had generative artworks on display in three different countries.
In addition to my role as thoughtful action-hero, I've fathered three amazing human beings, whose greatness has little to do with me yet is the thing of which I am most proud.
And I'm just getting started. Being a complete human being means to live in a constant state of becoming.
"I wish I were like the heroes in the books I read."
~ Jen Yu
I know how to drive a city bus. I've worked as a fry cook. I've worked in warehouses, a bookstore, and a bar. I worked for high tech startups. I once was a manager of a skateboard shop.
Although I hold a Liberal Arts degree, I've also studied chemistry, biology, physics, mathematics, and astronomy.
I know how to design and build things. I know how to improvise.
I know how to make do.
"Writers wouldn't sell many books if they told how it really is.
No place to bathe for days, sleeping in flea-infested beds… "
~ Yu Shu Lien
I've slept on the cold ground. I've lost my home on more than one occasion. I've had all my gear stolen from my campsite (on Valentine's Day, no less). My car was broken into on another occasion, this time losing my own and my children's possessions. I vagabonded for five years while raising children and keeping my dojo going. I've been a key-holder in strangers' homes, building a reputation of trust on necessity and the benevolence of the human heart.
I've been taken in and cared for by a good woman. I've settled. I've grown comfortable, and fat… then disciplined, and skinny again.
As of recently I've lost over 50 pounds and am once again the weight I want to be. I do pushups and pull-ups and light resistance work three days a week. I run a mile three of the other days.
Yesterday I broke an eight-minute mile for the first time.
I am a martial artist. I am in training.
Why am I in training? The easy answer, which happens to be true, is that I'm training for Old Age. I know that the habits I adhere to now are the ones that will determine my fitness for however many years or decades I have left. I train to increase the quality of my own life. I want to possess qualities others desire, so that I may be of benefit to them.
Why this particular regimen, at this particular time?
Not listed on my CV is a certain emotional frailty which at times can be life-threatening. That's part of being a martial artist -- facing death from time to time -- but also part of just being human. Just being like a lot of other people. Being normal, albeit in disabling extra-normative ways…
About a year and a half ago I had something of a crisis, much too late to call "mid life." Very probably my life was on the line, but intervention from the same good woman got me through a day. But I still had to choose between life and death.
I chose death.
As a depressive, I possess certain vulnerabilities, among which is a tendency toward suicidal ideation. My détente with this particular demon has often been to become it. There are times when I just need to kill the bastard. That is to say, there are times when I just need to die. Luckily I have a lot of training in that arena.
I took up running in order to kill myself. The person that I was 18 months ago is no more.
I live now, by my training. Other battles are coming, and I know I must be ready. I will do my best, but my greatest assets as a warrior are my allies.
Maybe I'll enlist you.
If I could turn myself into a legend to inspire you, I would. I'd probably even enjoy that.
But I also know there are enough of you who are enough like me to see past the glamour and whose skin is constantly being abraded away by the grit of being alive and feeling a bit too much.
If instead I could inspire you by being the writer who tells you how it really is, I would do that. I don't know if I can, but it's always worth it to try. So here's my message, and one day you may need to give it back to me:
Go ahead. Go deeply into your suicide. Practice death daily. Don't grip too tightly the handle of your intricately wrought sword, wherein lies the pattern of your own glamor. Use all your weapons, all your armor, all your strategy, but abandon them when they no longer work. Naked and defeated, become one with all who suffer, and die.
Let go of being.
Un-being, open to becoming.
There is a glamor to life. It's a circus side show and an exotic harem and expensive theater. Immerse yourself in it fully and enjoy it. Death, not so much. But a martial artist has to be intimate with and hold each in balance.
That's just how it is.
"I had come to a place my master had never told me about.
I was surround by an endless sorrow. I couldn't bear it. I couldn't go on.
There was something… pulling me back.
Something I can't let go of."
~ Li Mu Bai
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA
All quotes from "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"