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 ~

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Adding Some Monastic Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at the wonderful blog, The Art of Manliness. I think that we could all benefit in applying some of these ideas to our own training. I know I could.

I haven't really had time for much martial arts training over the last few months. Running has served for my monastic practice.

The full article may be found here. Enjoy.

Few masculine archetypes are as mysterious and compelling as that of the monastic warrior. From the Shaolin monks to the Knights Templar, such men withdrew from worldly distractions and sacrificed common pleasures in order to develop both their spirituality and their martial prowess. Through study, contemplation, and physical exercise/training, they disciplined body, mind, and soul to a keen edge.

Throughout history only a small percentage of men have been capable of making such a commitment, and today, communities of martial monks have all but disappeared. Yet introspective and iron-willed men have followed the way of the monastic warrior in every age — finding outlets to seek solitude amidst even the noisiest throng.

Perhaps the best example of this determination in more modern times can’t be found in some exotic temple or tucked-away monastery, but in a rather less likely place: The skies above Normandy, June 6, 1944.

Major Dick Winters, commander of Easy Company (aka the Band of Brothers), was cut from a different cloth than many military officers then or now. Sober and disciplined, quiet and reflective, cool and resolute, in many ways he lived a life apart from his men. Yet the strength and wisdom he gained from his “retreats” from the world enabled him to lead his troops through a D-Day attack on German artillery, an assault of the French town of Carentan, a bayonet charge on a dike in Holland, the cold of Bastogne, and finally to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest in the Bavarian Alps. And he did it all as a 20-something, just recently removed from college graduation.

In his memoirs, Winters writes that it is his “earnest hope” that his remembrances and reflections will help each reader “find your personal peace and solitude in a turbulent world.” In a time of ceaseless noise and distraction, Major Winters’ message and example have truly never been more needed.
Even for those who adopt a less ascetic form of this path, it is in truth most conducive and productive for the youthful bachelor, who is yet unattached to family and settled responsibilities. Yet every man of every age and station in life can, and must, find ways to follow the way of the monastic warrior — to leave behind the madding crowd, develop himself completely, and fight and lead in whatever kinds of battles he finds himself.

Today, Major Dick Winters will be our guide to learning this hidden and elite art.
If you asked Major Winters about the root of his discipline, how he was able to stay so calm and resolute, and why he didn’t crack after landing in France miles from his target landing zone and without his weapons, spending 70 days on the front line in Holland, and weathering a month of constant cold and artillery barrages at the Battle of the Bulge, he’d point to one key factor: his physical fitness.

The word asceticism comes from the Greek askesis — which meant “exercise” or “training.” For the Greeks this training happened at the gymnasium, which might be, as it was for Aristotle, situated inside a school. The ancients believed a sound body and a sound mind went hand-in-hand.

Major Winters adopted this philosophy in his youth and participated in football, basketball, and wrestling. But it was at Georgia’s Camp Toccoa that his body would reach its full potential.

It was there that the US Army’s paratroopers were tested and trained en route to becoming an elite fighting force. Winters had joined the Airborne precisely for this challenge:
“Airborne troopers looked like I had always pictured a group of soldiers: hard, lean, bronzed, and tough…So I took it in my head that I’d like to work with a bunch of men of that caliber. The paratroopers were the best soldiers at the infantry school and I wanted to be with the best, not with the sad sacks that I had frequently seen on post.”
The physical training required of paratroopers was a big part of what attracted Winters to the unit, and he got plenty of what he desired. “To say training at Toccoa was intense,” he remembered, “is an understatement.” For 13 weeks Easy Company ran 5 miles before breakfast, double-timed it everywhere else, performed rigorous calisthenics, completed daily obstacle courses, undertook 25-mile hikes, practiced all-night field exercises, and of course, famously tackled 1,740 ft. Currahee Mountain. Several times a week, the men ran the grueling 3 miles up, 3 miles down.

Day and night, through dust, storm, and most cruelly, the blazing sun of a hot Georgian summer, potential paratroopers were physically tested to the point of exhaustion. The training was purposely designed to weed out the weak and less committed, and it had the desired effect; of the original 400 members of Easy Company, only 148 made it through.

Winters had no trouble however, enjoying the challenge and rising to the top of the pack; when a “Junior Olympics” was held — consisting of “the best time up and down Currahee, most push-ups, most chin-ups, and the best time through the obstacle course” — Winters won the competition and earned the right to serve as jumpmaster of the first contingent of officers.

Where Winters further separated himself from his peers was in the fact that his dedication to physical fitness neither ended on the last day of Airborne school, nor was limited to the minimum required of troops in the field.

Not only did he not allow his hard-earned fitness to slide after leaving Toccoa, he pushed himself even harder after arriving in England. Though intense day and night training continued for the men as they prepared for D-Day, Winters did his own workouts during his personal time:
“whenever possible, I took opportunity to improve my physical stamina…Not surprisingly, I felt that I was in the best physical shape in my life as Easy Company prepared for the invasion at Aldbourne. This did not happen by accident. Following a rigorous day of training, I would take a run every evening following tea with the Barneses. As they were on their way to bed, I would say, ‘Well, I’m going to take a walk.’ I would go out and run for several miles even though blackout conditions were in effect. Then I’d come home and go to bed.”
Winters kept up the exercise habit after Easy Company deployed for combat missions, finding it invaluable in mitigating the stress that accumulated from having to regularly make life and death decisions. He committed himself to a rigorous routine, in which “there were only a few days that I didn’t run two to three miles, do eighty push-ups, sixty sit-ups on a foot locker, a couple of splits, and some leg and trunk exercises after the day’s work was over.”

Winters felt that it was this training that ultimately allowed him to remain mentally alert, control his fear, and avoid breaking down under stress:
“Because I was in such good shape, my fatigue level never reached the point of physical exhaustion that contributes to mental exhaustion and, ultimately, to combat fatigue. We all experienced sleep deprivation at times—that is the nature of stress—but a physically exhausted leader routinely makes poor decisions in times of crisis.”
For this reason, Major Winters strongly believed that “Moral courage is based on physical fitness.”
Monastic warriors were called not only to cultivate sharp minds and fighters’ bodies, but to develop themselves into men of the highest moral caliber. In this standard too, Dick Winters strove to reach the pinnacle of his potential.

Winters believed that the cornerstone of character was honesty, and that from there you worked to develop a moral compass that was guided by the virtues of courage, fairness, consistency, selflessness, and respect for your fellow men. He felt that integrity was paramount as well, noting that “it is easier to do the right thing when everyone is looking,” but “more difficult to do what you should do when you are alone.”

To these core values, Winters added his own ascetic precepts, choosing to abstain from canoodling with women, drinking alcohol (he was a lifelong teetotaler), and, as we shall see, swearing.
For Winters, keeping his personal honor code was a matter of integrity and self-respect; he wished to be able to look in the mirror and hold his head high. He also believed that moral excellence kept the mind pure and sharp, and enabled a man “to make decisions quickly and correctly.”

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