Sinclair Martial Arts

Healing Exercise and Martial Arts
• Tai chi • Qigong • Kungfu • Practical Self defence


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 write this article, not as a reaction to any particular political opinion or agenda. Rather, it is a train of thought instigated by considering what sort of tactics and strategy could result in wars being so protracted that they seem to go unnoticed by so many people. It is almost as if the people waging the war itself have become indifferent to the consequences.


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, perhaps there is 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.

Amber Alerts Help Me Sleep

There was a time when, if a child was missing in the middle of the night, the church bells would ring throughout the town to wake everyone up. We would put our coats and boots on over our pyjamas and rush to the town square to find out what the ruckus was about, and join the search. *

Nowadays, we live in a world of noises and distractions, where technology connects us to the world, but isolates us from our local communities. Many of us wouldn't hear the church bells through our insulated walls. The sound from our entertainment systems, would drown out air raid sirens. Fortunately, caring people have created technology that can let us know when we are in danger, or when someone in our community needs our help, using our ubiquitous smart phones.

Last night, in Canada's largest city, an Amber Alert was issued at 11 p.m. Eastern Time. An Amber Alert, for those who don't know, is an
abduction alert system used in many countries around the world. In Canada, it is used when a child under 18 has been abducted and believed to be in imminent danger, and when there is enough information, such as description of the child, the abductors, or a their vehicle, to direct a search. The alert is broadcast on television, radio, social media, and to mobile devices within a relevant geographical area.

When an alert is issued, time is crucial. Regrettably, it is often too late.

The Amber Alert did not save the 11-year-old girl last night. But the suspect was quickly located as a direct result of someone receiving the alert.

As shocking and sad as the outcome was, it was more shocking to learn that some people actually called 9-1-1 to complain about the alert itself. To all of those selfish whiners who complained about a collective effort to save a girl's life, please get professional help, either psychiatric or spiritual. If you are a student in my school, or wish to be, you can be assured that your lack of compassion will limit your education. There is a long-standing tradition within the martial arts that we offer, of teaching the advanced lessons only to students who display good character.

I wonder what systemic social issues have created a world where some people think that rolling over to read an amber alert in the middle of the night is considered a curse-worthy inconvenience. Who are these self-centred buttheads who whine about living in a world where people care about children, and in which the wonders of modern technology offer you the simplest opportunity to help?

My sleep is precious. But it is nothing compared to a child's life. Wake me anytime with your Amber alerts, as many times per night as you like. If I can join the search, I will. If not, I will sleep better knowing that I live in a world where people are expected to care about each other.

- Ian Sinclair

[*See also "
Hue and Cry - Wikipedia"]

You cannot master a style.

The Master's Journey


a photograph of Master Shouyu Liang meditating. He sits in a half lotus position, illuminated by sunlight, framed by natural shadow.
Masters do not become great by practising a style, or by purchasing knowledge, or by self-promotion.
Instead, they practise an art, develop a pedagogy, and transcend their egos.

Many modern schools market "a style" to students who want paint-by-numbers instruction, simplistic knowledge, and self-validation.

The best teachers I know are those who seek to liberate their students from the restrictions of style, from the limits of knowledge, and from delusions of self.


- Ian Sinclair

Fishing for a righteous cause.

- by Ian Sinclair

Legend tells us how Jiang, the Fisherman, became a hero of Ancient China.

The last king of the Shang Dynasty, King Di Xin, was an arrogant, decadent, narcissistic psychopath who did not listen to advisors, and who turned the people against each other.

So, the wise old Jiang Ziya resigned from the Shang court in protest. He went into exile in the land of Zhou, where he spent much of his time fishing. Some of the people who knew him thought it was a shame that such a wise and talented man would fritter away his time in such a trivial pursuit. But they realized he could not seek a position in a rival kingdom due to his employment history. He might be suspected as a spy or punished for the actions of the Shang court. Other people thought that it was just as well that Jiang should retire, since he was over 70-years-old, and too old for the rigours of office.

One day, the wise and benevolent King Wen of Zhou, was travelling along the river and noticed a distinctively peaceful old man sitting with a fishing rod in his hands. It was the old man's aspect that caught King Wen's attention. For neither in real life nor even in a painting had the king seen anything that exuded the mysterious calm of this lone fisherman. The king approached the old man as if drawn irresistibly by a force of nature. After a long and peaceful silence, the king addressed the fisherman, exchanging the usual pleasantries.

The king then asked the old man how the fishing was going.

"The fishing is going particularly well today," answered Jiang.

"What sort of bait are you using?" asked King Wen.

Jiang reeled in his line so Wen could see. To the king's surprise, there was no bait, and the hook was both straightened and un-barbed.

"How can you say that the fishing is going well when your tackle is clearly incapable of catching a fish?" asked the king.

"Well, I did catch your attention, Your Majesty."

So it was that Jiang Ziya found a worthy employer, who was in the habit of searching for wise and talented people.

More than a decade later, while well into his 80's, Jiang Ziya oversaw the defeat of King Di Xin, bringing about the ignoble end of the Shang Dynasty, and the rise of the great Zhou Dynasty.

Dai Jin-Dropping a Fishing Line on the Bank of the Wei River
Dai Jin Dropping a Fishing Line on the Bank of the Wei River

#metoo is Not a Threat to Men. But it is a lesson for martial artists.


It is one of the greatest challenges for martial artists. Can we discern the difference between the real threats and the imagined dangers? Are we still being deluded by our own internal conflict? Can we tell the difference between emotional defensiveness and practical engagement?

Because when we try to assert power by claiming victimhood, then we abuse ourselves as well as others. We create more conflict when we let our emotions obscure the truth. We must learn to free ourselves from our own fear and selfishness and to avoid the negative consequences of that pesky flinch response.


As men, we may feel threatened by 
#metoo. But we are not - not really. The movement is good for all of us if it enables honest communication, self reflection, compassion, and better behaviour all around. If it helps us to be more aware, and more kind and more respectful, then that is a good thing. If it helps actual victims to feel less guilt, and enables their abusers to recognize their responsibility, that is a good thing.

Of course, there are 6 sides to every story, and 64 degrees of nuance. But it starts with letting go of fear, and opening ourselves to the possibility that for a martial artist, one of the best things we can do to defend ourselves is to become more compassionate.



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