Saturday, 18 September 2021



The physical side of traditional martial arts is usually all about punches and kicks and throws and weapons…

 Your Grandma runs a bar in town called Looters, and when you drop by after a class, she immediately asks you “Did you learn how to drop a bucket over somebody’s head and punch ‘em in the gut?” or “Did you learn to fight a hundred guys with just a carrot in your hand?” Stuff like that.

 A lot of my seminars in the past have dealt with physical technique and the power trajectories that drive them. But here’s something else. I was reminded of this part of martial training after I recalled Bruce Lee’s famous phrase “Be like water.”

 As Joe Biden would say, here’s the deal. When I first started training in Tai Chi, the classes themselves were very special because, and especially to a gawky teen like me, Tom Sifu was very cool. I enjoyed the classes very much but each time I left the training hall, I went back to just being a teen. After a few more classes, something truly weird happened. I found myself getting into a Toronto streetcar and sitting down in a seat…but I was still back in the training hall. I sat Tai Chi, I looked out into the street with a Tai Chi consciousness, and I breathed as though I was moving through a Tai Chi form. That lasted altogether five or ten minutes. Then I went back to thinking how I could be a jazz band leader while playing the tuba ‘cause that’s what I played in the high school band.

The same thing happened after the next class, and then the next. Each time, Tai Chi’s out-of-the-training hall influence lasted longer. My anxiety about whether the girl three rows over and two seats down in French class truly liked me. She was kind of classy. When the teacher asked her to get rid of her gum, she took the gum out of her mouth and flicked it super casually through a very sparse opening in one of the side windows right out into the Spring air. This does- the-super-classy-girl-like-me anxiety, and much more, got laundered out by Tai Chi.

 What I found was that in the space of the Tai Chi training hall, we move like water. After a while, that water gradually flows out into the rest of our day. For prolonged periods, I’d walk like Tai Chi along the sidewalk, or I’d sit relaxed and comfortable yet fully alert. The same results came out of the Jiu Jitsu classes and the Karate and the Kung Fu training.

What really got to me was when we went out to eat after training. We’d sit at one of those round tables while the food was set out on the table’s centre. Everyone would have her or his own plate in front of them. The idea was to grab what you could with your chopsticks from the main bowl and place it on your plate. Of course, I was useless in this. Then I looked over at Tom Sifu. He held his chopstick’s right near the top. Everything he did while eating was done with complete elegance. It was as if he was moving about the floor with a double edge sword in his hand. I realized that I could perform my everyday things such as eating or talking to others or just simply walking around a street corner just as though I were practicing my Tai Chi, Karate, Jiu Jitsu, etc. It seemed silly to me then to think that Kung Fu starts at 7:00 PM and ends at 8:30 PM. If you train, Kung Fu doesn’t end.

And I saw this when meeting all advanced students and instructors. The Father of Canadian Karate, Tsuruoka Sensei, moved like a cat on…and off… the training hall floor. Hatashita Sensei, the Father of Canadian Judo, was the same, as were Shihan Forrester, the Father of Canadian Jiu Jitsu, Nakamura Sensei (Kendo) and Kimeda Sensei (Aikido). They were training all the time, and they were living their martial arts all of the time.

So when we say do that punch or perform that kick, we should also say do the dishes like a fighter who has just got his first job at a restaurant after immigrating into a foreign land with just a few dollars in his pocket or comfort a friend with a heart trained like a martial artist versed in the compassionate side of the martial arts. The art and the training hall live in all of us. There are no boundaries.


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