Sinclair Martial Arts,
Orillia


The war that never ends

- Ian Sinclair

A recent Newsweek article got me thinking about the future of the world and the state of my own mind. It reminded me of the meaning of martial arts, and highlighted some of my obligations as a teacher.


You may have seen the headline,

"The United States has spent nearly $6 trillion on wars that directly contributed to the deaths of around 500,000 people since the 9/11 attacks of 2001."


I have no way of knowing what factors are at play within the various countries factions involved. I suspect there has always been and ebb and flow in the quality of tactics and strategy by the various players. But when a conflict goes on for a long time, there may be a need to look at the conflict differently. If we do, then we might see ALL of the combatants in a new light. Perhaps they are victims of as yet undiagnosable function of their own minds, or subject to a greater social pathology.

Science is constantly changing our perception of the physical universe, and no scientist would presume that we have it all figured out. So, it should be reasonable to suspect that we do not have an accurate perception of the nature of conflict. Tactics and strategy can obscure the real nature of the war, even from the leading tacticians and strategists themselves. We can get so caught up in our own deliberations that we fail to see the whole picture, and miss some great opportunities.


Those who have been in my classes may have heard me say that when the INFINITE game is forgotten, then the FINITE game is doomed to repeat ad infinitum.

…we may win all of the battles, but still lose the war.


When we neglect long-term strategy for short-term tactics, then we fail to understand the variability of our situation. But even some of the best strategists can fail to observe the true nature of our place in the world. So, we may win all of the battles, but still lose the war. We become so focused on the conflict that we forget all about the harmony for which we had struggled so long. It is not unheard of for even the wealthiest of nations to spend so much on their military that they can't afford to maintain the very things that military is meant to protect.


Another common mistake in warfare, is that we forget who we are, and ignore that fact that the enemy are people just like us. When this continues for too long, then all sides inevitably find themselves becoming slaves to the same military industrial complex.

The role of leadership is to prevent this from happening, to minimize conflict, and to avoid wasting both lives and resources. But leaders get caught up aspects of their own demagoguery, such as demonizing the titular enemy. They may even vilify their own people, turn against their own advisors, rebel against their own conscience, and feel threatened by reasonable dissent.


As martial artists, we are the generals of our own minds. We must constantly seek to improve our own self awareness so that we can clearly see the effects that our thoughts and actions might have on either mitigating or exacerbating the eternal conflict. This applies within ourselves, within our immediate family, within our community, and in the world as a whole.

students practising two-person drills.


The good news is that even in the case of global conflicts, it often requires only a little wisdom, from a few good people, to save the people from themselves. There have been several times throughout history when imminent disaster has been averted by one or two people of good will. Extraordinary effort by a few good people has saved us from the brink of destruction, or pulled us back from an apocalypse in progress.


For millennia, the great generals have said, "Know your enemy and know yourself." But you cannot know anyone by hating or fearing them, and knowing the parts must be concurrent with knowing the whole.


Open your heart to yourself and to your enemy alike. Then your mind will be better suited to see the best path forward.


We are taught that, so long as there is a single calm mind and a single caring heart, there is hope for the world. You can save the world by finding the peace within yourself.

How to master a martial art:

Some suggestions from the worst student of some of the world's greatest masters.


Statue of Roger Bacon
Image above: the statue of Roger Bacon at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Oxford, England.

Studying from a great teacher can help. But, really, that will not even get you halfway there. If your teachers are worth their salt, then they will have continued to learn and evolve throughout their lives. You cannot hope to learn all that they know, or even half of what they know.

The meanings of what you learn will change over time, and you will learn new things that improve or contradict your previous understanding.

What worked for our ancestors may not work for us. The world they built is different from ours. The art that they created is theirs. We need to make our own.

In traditional Asian martial arts, there tends to be a lot of emphasis placed on a Confucian vertical hierarchy. That sort of thinking may serve monarchies and franchises. But it is not conducive to creative or critical thinking.
In addition to the "Classics" promoted during the Ming and Qing dynasties, you should also read Mozi, Laozi, Sunzi, and their various translations. Read all the classic texts about martial arts. But don't only read those from one culture. In order to adapt to multi-cultural reality, study the martial arts of all cultures, as well as their customs, creeds, etiquette, and philosophies. And if you want to expand your ability to understanding and make practical use of those tomes, I suggest also reading the works of Aristotle, Jacques Derrida, and the Bacon brothers (Francis and Roger)
😉


Don't be a slave to a style. The style was intended to serve the students. The students were not created to serve the style. If you find yourself more dedicated to the style than to improving the practical pedagogy, then you are becoming a museum piece, and probably a cheap knockoff at that. The style will not make you a master of a martial art, any more than playing Beatles songs will make you one of The Beatles.

When you learn anything profound, the meaning of the lesson is often lost in translation, obscured through interpretation, and changed by the passage of time. What the lesson means to you now might be very different from what it means to in five or ten years.

When you imitate a teacher, you are not only imitating their positive attributes. You are also imitating their pathology. I remember when, as a student in my 20's, my teacher said to me, "You move like an old master." I was flattered, thinking that a decade of training under great masters was starting to pay off... until he said, "But you are still very young. Why do you move like an old man?" I thought I had been imitating the perfection of my teachers. But I had been really just been mimicking their external shape, and often their weaknesses.


We should learn from as many teachers as we can. But we should never, at any point, presume that we have understood them. And know that there is only so far that a teacher will take you. You must learn how to learn, and how to critique both yourself and the ancestors.

So, here are some basic steps that I recommend to students wishing to becoming a master of martial arts. These are not my ideas. They were passed down to me by my teachers.

Step one: Question
Step two: Hypothesize.
Step three: Predict.
Step four: Test.
Step five: Analyze.
Step six: Repeat

Very good.
More practice.


1 Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. 2 Jaques Derrida. 3 Francis Bacon. 4 Aristotle. 5 top Yip Man and Bruce Lee. 6 Boxers of ancient Thera.
Above images 1: Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei. 2: Jaques Derrida. 3: Francis Bacon. 4: Aristotle. 5 (top): Yip Man and Bruce Lee. 6 Boxers of ancient Thera.


About the author.
Ian Sinclair is a Canadian martial artist with a studio in Orillia, Ontario, and students around the world. He has 40 years experience in martial arts, healing exercise, and meditation.

Tai chi is a martial art. But most tai chi students don't practise one.

There are so many benefits to practising a martial art that many schools are able to profit without actually providing the "martial" component. This is true regardless of the style or school, and has resulted in a lot of students being deluded into thinking that their path to mastery is inexorable. While a martial art school can set you on the path to mastery, it is you who are the vehicle, the driver, and the navigator. The path can lead you. But it will not take you there if you won't move.

The fact is that most students are not interested in going all the way, and there is no need for me to tell them that they should complete the journey. I am happy to give them whatever benefits they want to take away with them. If they follow this path for a while and then diverge, I am glad to help them on their way. But I want to give them all the tools necessary to take them as far along the road as they want to go, because I believe that the world becomes a better place when true martial artists are allowed to follow their personal journeys toward enlightenment.

While most of my students come to learn tai chi for the physical and mental health benefits, a significant number come to add tai chi skills to their martial art. Some of my students are jiujitsu or mma teachers or competitors, some are with military and law enforcement. But whether they come to improve their health or combat skills, the art is the same.

The most recognized benefit of tai chi is health of mind and body. This is in spite of the art's history as a martial art. Those who do not wish to practise tai chi as a martial art, can continue to progress indefinitely without participating in the more "martial" aspects of the curriculum. There is some overlap, however. Tai chi "for health" students may learn about the martial applications, or combat principles of the art without ever practising them enough to be able to apply them. Sometimes these students think that knowing a little about a martial art means that they are martial artists.

This is the same with many martial arts. The exercises and drills which are taught in most martial arts classes will not, on their own, guarantee progress to martial mastery. There are several important elements that are omitted from regular classes because most students are not actual martial artists, meaning that they are not mentally or physically prepared to do the training that is necessary. You can't efficiently teach advanced skills to those who don't have the proper foundation, just as you can't teach students with whom you don't share a common language.

But tai chi is still practised as a martial art to those who wish to go there. It even has several sport components.

Bridging the gap between "Tai chi for health" and "Tai chi for Martial arts"



One important element of tai chi is refining the ability to maintain mental and physical balance in the face of external conflict. At one stage, this involves an exercise called tuishou (Pushing hands). In practice, tuishou is a cooperative exercise intended to develop skills that can be applied in meditation or in combat. In sport, the goal is to uproot your opponent. Points are given to the competitor who remains balanced while their opponent stumbles or falls.

Tuishou can be a bridge for those who want to develop some advanced tai chi skills without fully embracing the rigours of martial training. It can also give advanced martial artists of other styles a skill set that may be lacking in their normal training.

There are three main types of tuishou matches. Each type has a variety of different rules and formats, depending on who is organizing the event:

  • Fixed step tuishou requires to competitors to keep one or both feet still.
  • Restricted step tuishou allows forward and backward movement of the feet but does not allow sideways stepping, or reversing of a stance. The foot that is in front must remain ahead of the other.
  • Moving step tuishou allows competitors to step anywhere within the arena (often a square or circle similar to a boxing, sumo, or wrestling ring.) Points may be give to the competitor who ejects the opponent from he ring or downs them by push or throw.

Some types of tuishou competitions are very subtle affairs. Others are hard to distinguish from mma, or judo, or wrestling. This video demonstrates a tuishou competition with a rule format that is somewhere in the middle.



Here is a demonstration of basic taichi training methods and applications.

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