Monday, April 18, 2005

Introductions and such

Here goes my first attempt at a serious “Blog”:

This first post may well be the hardest because I hope to describe "me". Now one would not think this too hard to do. However, after trying to explain myself to a colleague I found myself to be somewhat of an enigma to myself!

Should I "label" myself and if so, how? I could try to use any of the following descriptors: independent, thoughtful, curmudgeonly, humorous, funny, sarcastic, hopeful, self-motivated, benevolent, helpful, humanistic, civil libertarian, etc.

I suppose the best way to describe myself is by attempting to explain my core philosophy; the one that drives all the others--be they humanistic, scientific, etc. Moreover, for the most part, labels often come with baggage and preconceived stereotypes, which is something that I’m hoping to avoid.

My core philosophy is something that has developed over approximately 20 years and has been molded by my experiences with the following: Christianity, a liberal arts education, the martial arts, a blend of eastern and western philosophy (in particular, both eastern and western versions of naturalism), the military, factory work; and, having worked in a maximum-medium security prison. It’s suffice to say that I went from the stereotypical traditional conservative Christian to someone who almost can’t be classified or identified (especially to some of my long-time friends).

Now I never had a name for my eclectic worldview until I started to read the writings of the late Bruce Lee. Unbeknownst to many, Bruce Lee was a very intelligent man who, among many accomplishments, majored in philosophy. In addition, when he was incapacitated with his back injury he spent many months studying both eastern and western philosophy. During this time he developed his philosophy of Jeet Kune Do.

Jeet Kune Do--the literal translation is "way of the intercepting fist"--was conceived by Bruce Lee in 1967. Those who understand the "philosophy" of JKD are primarily interested in its powers of liberation. Thus, in the broader sense, JKD can be used as a mirror for self-examination and self-actualization.

As a martial art Jeet Kune Do is not a new style of kung-fu. Bruce did not invent a new art or style, nor did he modify a style to set it apart from any existing method. His concept was to free his followers from clinging to any style, pattern, or mold. In other words, Lee wanted his students to see the total picture--both in the martial arts and in life.

This notion of seeing the total picture is summed up from a line that Lee said in Enter the Dragon:
"Don't think; feel. It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory.”
This is not to say that Lee's martial art was a hodge-podge of "whatever worked." Rather, Lee advocated a systematic approach of "core techniques" that helped to develop speed, distance, power, timing, coordination, endurance and footwork. Once students learned his core Lee then encouraged them to "research their own experiences, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add to their experience what was specifically their own."

The most important lesson that Lee tried to teach is this: Jeet Kune Do is not an end to itself. Rather, if utilized properly it can lead to self-learning, self-discovery, and self-actualization. JKD is a prescription for personal growth; it is an investigation of freedom--freedom not only to act naturally and effectively in combat, but in life.

No surprise here but the JKD philosophy is definitely eastern in concept. Moreover, it may be hard for western minds to grasp the fullness of the idea (I know my western and scientifically biased mind has not completely grasp it). The essence of JKD as I see it is this: No art is superior to any other. That is, the object lesson of Jeet Kune Do is to be unbound, to be free: in both combat and life to use no style as style, to use no way as the way, to have no limitation as the only limitation. Neither be for or against a particular style. In other words, Jeet Kune Do 'just is'.

To borrow a phrase from “information literacy”, the JKD person has “learned how to learn”. However, this learning is not mere memorization and regurgitation of knowledge. Rather, it is based on a core of knowledge that allows the person to "research their own experiences, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, and add to their experience what is specifically their own."

Another component of JKD is adaptability. Or, as Lee often advised:
“Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.”
So, after having developed my philosophical worldview, it was not until three years ago that I finally found a term that could be used to describe it: Jeet Kune Do!

Which leads me to my first digression of sorts… I find myself biased, or as Lee would say, “clinging”, to two things: 1) Science 2) Not backing down. The first is really hard for me to overcome because I see science as the best way to examine, explain, and experience the world. In fact, I can plausibly explain many of what, for lack of better term, I would describe as “spiritual” experiences that I have had—be they religious, meditative, etc. However, I do not see this as lessening the experiences. I’ve always said that there is wonder enough in this world and when you get right down to it, humankind knows so very little about “all this”. I suppose this is one of the reasons I continually read and research in the areas of religion and philosophy; and, at least “try” to experience the world through a different view (i.e., the metaphysical view).

Not backing down is another matter. It comes from my inherent “rebel spirit”, was made worse by working for four years in a very rough factory; and, was further reinforced by working in a prison. In essence, I consider this one of my greatest weaknesses, yet it is an area that I have made great progress in. I often jokingly refer to it as the Don Quixote syndrome. Thankfully, my various experiences in the martial arts (Aikido in particular), helped me to realize that the direct approach is often a waste of energy. Moreover, it often does as much harm as it does good. In fact, by the time I started to work in prison I realized that the direct approach was not going to work because 1) I’m a small guy, and 2) I was outnumbered! Now this is not to say that I would completely yield. Rather, it means that I became “pliable” and only resorted to hard discipline or force when reason failed.

Ironically, once again, Lee was way ahead of me! He advises:
“Be soft, yet not yielding. Be firm, yet not hard."
Which leads me to my last digression: Last night I was channel surfing when I happened upon a Steven Segal movie. What “greatly” annoys me about Segal (besides his bad acting) is that he is not demonstrating true Aikido. Granted, I only made it to yellow belt (or 7th Kyu) in Aikido, which is not even close to expert. However, I did learn that Aikido is often referred to as the pacifist’s martial art for a reason!

The essence of Aikido is to neutralize your opponent without hurting them. A true Aikido stylist would go out of his or her way to NOT hurt their opponent. Anyhow, this is enough digression for the first post. Two caveats and then I need to sign off for the night: 1) I’m planning on experimenting with various blog templates so expect changes, and 2) I can’t guarantee that my foray into a serious blog will last! Book recommendations: Bruce Lee: Words from a Master, Jeet Kune Do: Bruce Lee's Commentaries on the Martial Way, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and The Tao of Gung Fu. All from the Bruce Lee Library.

Also John Little's The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee.

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