Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Friday, March 09, 2012

Fighting as Religion

I had previously posted about Cameron Conaway  (author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage Fighting Poet), a mixed martial artist and award winning poet. Mr. Conaway was kind enough to write this guest post for Cook Ding's Kitchen.
When I read this, the idea that resonated with me was that through a very different path, he's coming around to some of the ideas which animate the practice and ideals of Budo, not  unlike Nick Evangelista's The Inner Game of Fencing. I also thought it was a timely post during the Lenten Challenge.
Mr. Conaway's website is right here. Please pay him a visit.

Fighting as Religion
Cameron Conaway

Frank Shamrock and I discussed the issue of spirituality in the context of the martial arts.

“If I had to be categorized I’d be a secular humanist,” I said.

“Fighting is my religion,” he said.

His tone was measured. This was clearly a concept he had spent much time thinking about.

“Wherever I train is the temple – on the mats, in the bathroom brushing my teeth, it’s all keeping the body in check and this is all part of training.”

For the next few weeks this idea of fighting as religion swirled in my mind. Frank’s definition of training didn’t just include mat time or time at the gym. Even acts like brushing his teeth took on new dimensions. He wasn’t just brushing because we are supposed to, he was brushing because the health of the mouth is often a good indicator of the health of the body, because keeping the teeth in good shape will increase longevity and free up more time for training (no root canals, for example).

In this sense, fighting as religion would stick with us everywhere and be a constant source of good. Those nights where we just want to crawl in bed and sleep we wouldn’t – we’d have an extra incentive to brush our teeth first. It would make walking past a Dunkin’ Donuts stand that much easier. What once were minor daily habits would intensify and take on an importance similar to getting to the gym (something many of us martial artists value quite heavily). We’d strive to learn new languages or engage in deep conversations with friends, in part, because this would increase the health of our brain and fighting is a brainy activity. While the Gracie family have written detailed accounts of how fighting was/is their life, this concept of fighting as religion seemed at once different and more noble. Essentially, it wasn’t only about the fight competition or the sparring at the gym. Everything in life became a minor battle easily won. These easy victories and the overall tangible quality to each would make this religion of sustainability and rationality. Something that could be a positive force that changes our entire lives by not just changing the way we think about things, but making us think about things we normally wouldn’t have.

I am sure this is nothing new. In fact, I had this mindset when I was training for my own fights and I’m sure, for example, that judokas currently training for the 2012 Olympics in London have a similar mindset as well. However, now that I am retired from the fight game I’m interested in finding ways to still incorporate this mindset so that it is as feverishly sticky as it was when I had a huge fight coming up. In the end, I suppose it’s a matter of asking a question. What’s your fight?


walt said...

"What’s your fight?"

Good question! And worth finding a real answer to, as well.

I've never had a "feel" for organized religion -- but religion per se, or that which re-calls or connects one to a higher, more inclusive perspective, has seemed necessary and invaluable. It certainly seems that humans perform better and are happier with a "focus," or a "something" which organizes. One man prays, another chants, a third trains -- others scheme.

But I can't imagine a real Master of anything regarding his/her art as "part-time," or else it would be called a hobby. Whatever the fight, it must be lived, all together at once.

Nice article; very clear!

Rick Matz said...

"What's your fight?" reminded me of a TV show I used to really like, Northern Exposure.

In one episode, Chris-in-the-Morning got it in his head to carve a totem pole and is going through a lot to get it done.

Ruthie comes in to check on his progress and tells him that an artist has to fight for his art; to see what he's made of, or it's meaningless.

Substitute "life" for "art."

Please pay Cameron's website a visit!

Paul said...

Agree with Walt that there ain't no "part-time" masters on any art worth doing. With religious like devotion is commendable, unless it becomes..."too orthodox", that reminds me of the famous (or infamous) fight between the old Gracie and Kimura as well as the "death match" of "Jet" Benny (the later fight led to a ban on full contact fights in HK for many years)

Rick Matz said...

I agree. There are no part-time masters. There are damn few masters! There are also those who have mastered more than one art - whatever those arts might be.

The study of budo (in whatever form) however, should enhance one's life; not replace it.