I've rarely gotten drunk. But I love the notion of drunkenness. I don't swear a whole lot in public. But profanity springs from my lips much more freely than prayer does.
Reality just seems more, well, real when it is lived on an intoxicated blasphemous edge -- whether this be conceptually philosophical or crudely physical. Neat and tidy sobriety isn't congruent with the cosmos' natural wildness, though we humans do our best to smooth rough edges and tame savage beasts.
At the end of this post I've included an excerpt from a chapter in Daniele Bolelli's terrific book, "On the Warrior's Path: Philosophy, Fighting, and Martial Arts Mythology (second edition)."
Now, if you're tempted to stop reading because your interest in martial arts is slim to nonexistent, give this post a chance.What we're talking about here is an issue that goes way beyond martial arts: is the straight and narrow a more productive path than a curving and unrestricted way?
If you read the excerpt from Bolelli's "Sacred and Profane: Combat Sports as Athletic Philosophy" chapter -- and I hope that you do -- be aware of your reaction to the two contrasting instructional styles he describes in such an entertaining fashion.
This likely will be an indication of what sort of spiritual, religious, moral, mystical, or philosophical teachings and practices you're most attracted to.
Admittedly, Bolelli features some extremes. But few of us are precisely balanced at a mid-point; it's natural to tilt one way or the other (for example, how many people are so perfectly bi-sexual, they're equally attracted to both sexes?).
I bought the second edition of Bolelli's book, even though I'd already read the first edition (and blogged about it in "Bruce Lee's Taoist life lessons") because two new chapters sounded intriguing to me.
I'm glad I did the Amazon deed. Bolelli is much more into martial arts than I ever was, but we share some common experiences and attitudes on both the philosophical and fighting fronts.
I talked about this in a 2004 post where I congratulated my martial arts friend, Dave, on his black belt accomplishment. (I'm in a black gi on the right; Dave is next to me, in blue; Warren Allen, our instructor, is in the middle, in back.)
After almost nine years of traditional Shotokan karate training where everyone had to wear a plain white gi (and only females wore a t-shirt under it, which helps explain my habitual t-shirtless look), I much appreciate Warren’s hang-loose Taoist attitude toward the dojo dress code. Discipline is needed in the martial arts, but dressing exactly alike doesn’t teach anything except rigidity.
It’s interesting that my changeover from the linear, dogmatic, structured Shotokan training to the Pacific Martial Arts circular, eclectic, flowing style has pretty much paralleled a similar change in how I approach meditation and spirituality. I’ve become much less rigid in my philosophical/metaphysical beliefs during the years I’ve been trying to achieve a similar openness in my martial arts training.
My new Church of the Churchless site reflects this creedless creed mentality.
Daniele Bolelli's comparison of contrasting uptight Shotokan and hang-loose Jujitsu classes rang true to me. I trained for nine years in a traditional Shotokan dojo where we practiced the sort of rigid discipline you can read about in the extension to this post.
When I switched to the eclectic Pacific Martial Arts style, the training was just as tough and demanding -- more so, in fact -- but not as anal. This meshes with Bolelli's description of the Brazilian Jujitsu class he observed, a martial arts style that I learned just enough of to know how much more I had to learn about it.
Anyway, read on for an interesting take on whether sober is better than drunk, and sacred better than profane.
(If you'd rather watch than read, check out Jackie Chan's classic "Drunken Master" on Netflix; it can be watched instantly for free if you have a Netflix account; from about 1:20 to 1:27 is a generally comedy-less look at drunken-style kung fu.)
Excerpt from "Sacred and Profane: Combat Sports as Athletic Philosophy"
in On the Warrior's Path (second edition), by Daniele Bolelli
It is a summer evening, in the physical education building of a major college campus in Southern California. As I am walking down the corridors, I take a peek inside a room through one of the open doors. About twenty gi-wearing practitioners of Shotokan Karate are kneeling on the floor in monastic silence.
They are lined up in hierarchical order from white to black belts. Their posture is impeccable. You could literally hear a pin drop. It is both beautiful and eerie at the same time.
Standing in the center of the room addressing his disturbingly well-behaved crowd is the head sensei. A prominent belly hangs unceremoniously over his black belt. His voice is deep, and you can tell he is fond of hearing himself talk. He measures his words slowly, somewhat emphatically, just to make sure none in his audience will miss even a syllable.
The unreal silence returns to follow the end of each sentence. There is much gravity in his tone. The topic of his monologue is the philosophy of Karate. He quotes abundantly from the sayings of Shotokan pioneer Gichin Funakoshi. With tremendous self-importance he speaks of "the spirituality of the way of the warrior." I get the gist and move on.
Just a few doors down, another martial arts class is about to begin, but the differences between the two are not subtle. The art being practiced here is Brazilian Jujitsu. Students are informally stretching while they chat about their favorite porn stars.
A heated discussion is taking place between fans of Jenna Jameson and those who argue for Tera Patrick. The latter's performance in what I assume to be a lost gem of cinematography entitled Farmer's Daughters Do Beverly Hills is being analyzed in detail by the two conflicting sides.
While this fascinating intellectual debate is taking place, the instructor is lying in a corner, visibly fighting the remains of a very altered state of consciousness. One of his students, respectfully voicing concern for the well-being of his mentor, asks him how he is feeling: "What's up, dog? You look like shit" are the precise words.
Far from trying to deny the obvious or being embarrassed about it, the instructor begins telling a sordid tale of a night spent drinking every conceivable form of alcohol known to man or beast.
"I woke up with my face on Joe's ass, and next to me was this drunken stripper who passed out while hugging my dog." Uplifted by this inspiring story, the class begins the training session, but not before the instructor lets out a monumental burp that echoes throughout the room.
Perhaps no more than thirty feet separate this room from the one where the Shotokan guy was preaching about the spirituality of martial arts, but we might as well be in separate universes.
When the physical portions of the two classes begin, the differences are further magnified. In the next room, Mr. Shotokan is doing his best trying to live up to the archetypal image of a martial arts master: an excellent imitation of Mr. Miyagi but without the accent.
Some techniques, very beautiful but also very unlikely to work under the pressure of a real fight, are described in the tiniest details. The explanations are punctuated by references to authority figures such as Okinawan Karate masters from the glory days of the art. The students emit powerful kiai at every other move before pausing to analyze their techniques in further detail. It is clear that they think very hard about every step they take in the dojo.
In the Brazilian Jujitsu class, the instructor makes it plainly obvious he is a firm believer in the idea that the word "fuckin'" is an indispensable component of any proper sentence in the English language (as in "When your opponent is in fuckin' top mount, you are one step away from being totally fucked. So you need to fuckin' do something quick or he is going to drop some fuckin' big rights in your face. So push on his fuckin' hips, and explode sideways like to free yourself...").
As far as respect for authority figures goes, Brazilian Jujitsu pioneer Helio Gracie gets praised in the course of class for being "a hobbit-sized mean motherfucker" who was able to defeat much bigger opponents.
The Karate class offers a picture of elegance and self-discipline, respect, and self-restraint. The Brazilian Jujitsu class is a never-ending sequence of burps and dirty jokes, sweat and testosterone.
The Karate guys worry about whether their elbows should be at ninety or seventy-five degrees during kata. The Brazilian Jujitsu guys compete their hearts out trying to choke each other unconscious.
Had I passed by these rooms when I first started martial arts practice, I wouldn't have had a second of hesitation. In no time I would have turned into one of the Shotokan groupies of the potbellied master. Now I can still relate to both groups, but I am much, much more at home among the tattooed, sweaty animals from Brazilian Jujitsu.
If you are wondering "Why, God, why?" you have my sympathy. Since my current barbaric tendencies may strike many of you as odd, I will do my best to explain.
To learn Daniele Bolelli's explanation, buy or borrow his book, "On the Warrior's Path" (make sure it's the second edition, as this edition has two new chapters, one of which starts off with this excerpt).