Human Relationships Versus Fragmented Images
By Jeff Brooks
A traditional martial arts dojo is a cultural relic, but it is one
very much relevant and needed today. As modern people we can seek satisfaction
in ways that were impossible for most people throughout human history.
But because of the way our modern life is arranged we are, at the same
time, deprived of many of the good things people long ago took for granted.
One is that we have lost the opportunity to share life with a group of
people whose experiences, joys and struggles we share intimately.
Most of our relationships to others in modern life are not with whole
people. We come in contact either with fragments of people, or with representations
of people. Life in community with whole people, in the flesh, day in
day out, whose lives and feelings matter to us, is something rare to
encounter. Yet it is indispensable to a feeling of wholeness and fulfillment.
The alternative is alienation, depression, anxiety - all the ills the
modern world tries to medicate away - and with which so many people still
suffer. We can cure them through sincere, ongoing dojo practice.
In our traditional karate dojo here in the wilds of Western Massachusetts,
over years and now decades of practicing consistently with a group of
people, we members have a feeling of connection with each other as a
community. We practice with each other and we see each other under all
sorts of conditions, pleasant and unpleasant and neutral. We see each
other succeed at times and we see one another struggle and fail at times.
We all have these ups and downs at times in the course of our lives and
we share our experience of them. Even if we do not hang out socially
or ever speak a word about what it is we are experiencing in our life
of practice, we experience it as a shared life nevertheless.
When we interact with most people in our daily lives each relationship
with a human being - pleasant, unpleasant or neutral as it may be - is
shoehorned into a functional fragment. At the gas station, supermarket
checkout, at the dentist, the accountant's office, the police department,
at school or work, most of the people we deal with most of the time remain
in a way strangers to us. We know them only as their functions. We do
not see them in other aspects of their lives. We do not see them interacting
with their children, their friends, their spouses, their parents. So
the warmth that might come from knowing them as people with whom we share
something fundamental - living here and now - never arises.
We remain separate from them. Perhaps because of this separation people
seem to treat each other pretty roughly and rudely. We tend to take each
other for granted, or if you have lived in a big city long enough or
commute to work in traffic or hurry along crowded streets, we even think
of each other as nuisances. That doesn't just hurt the people we are
rude to on our busy way. It hurts us by creating in us a feeling of loneliness
Functional relationships with fragments of people is one of the unrecognized
but profoundly affecting pathologies of the modernization of relationships.
The other is that we are frequently in relationships with representations
of people. We take these representations to be people, but they aren't.
For example, when we listen to a song we enjoy, what we think we are
hearing are people playing instruments and singing. However, their technical
skill and their emotional communication are what we respond to. But,
when it is a live performance, or when a group of friends get together
to play music, there is a genuine communion between people. But when
you hear a song on the radio or on a CD, recorded in another place and
time, you are not able to enter into an emotional communion with a person.
You enter one with a representation of a person.
That may seem an obvious or trivial observation, but I think this fact
has a profound influence on the way we feel in life. Because in communion
all the people involved experience each other. And they are susceptible
to change as a result. There is a giving and receiving and a sharing
of emotion and of life that is mutual. All people involved are participants,
everyone is respected, no one is left out of the transformative moment
created by the communion of people through art. With a recording this
is not the case. You have a feeling. Alone, anonymously. No one else
can share it. A recording can feel nothing from you. We sense that fact
as isolation, and when the recording ends, nothing is left for us, except
to put on another recording or to feel empty. There is no reciprocation
of affection. The movies, TV, magazines all work the same way. The celebrities
get attention and money but also are isolated from most of the people
they imagine they "touch."
There are very few communities in the modern world in which people can
live together. I do not mean "live together" as in either a
commune or a corporation. I mean invest themselves in a whole-life undertaking
to create lives that are strong, meaningful, complete, shared and aimed
at perfection, and that extend to all ages, genders, social strata, and
from generation to generation. A traditional karate or other martial
arts dojo can offer this. This is certainly not the only way such a community
can be created in the modern world, and it is not necessarily the way
every dojo will function. But it is one way, and a way that works extremely
well, to recover our humanity from the alienation and fruitless agitation
built into modern urban and corporate relationships.
A few days ago I was participating in a training exercise with some
military and law enforcement personnel. I could easily see in their relationships
an unspoken trust, respect and community that is rare - great to encounter
and even better to have as a part of your own life. If that kind of experience
can be created not just among teammates, or people with temporary interests,
but between whole communities of people - as is possible in a traditional
martial arts dojo - then we can go a long way to restoring ourselves,
our families and communities to health.
About the Author:
Jeffrey M. Brooks holds a Go Dan Fifth Degree Black Belt in Matsubayashi
Shorin Ryu, training in Okinawa, Japan and the USA, with Shoshin Nagamine,
the founder of the style, Takayoshi Nagamine, his successor, as well
as with numerous others in the Matsubayashi Ryu lineage and related
traditions. His Buddhist study and practice is with Rev. Issho Fujita,
resident director of Valley Zendo and Geshe Michael Roach of the Asian
Classics Institute. He has an M.F.A. from NYU Film School and works as
a speechwriter for public figures. He is founder and director of Northampton
Karate and Northampton Zendo in Northampton, Massachusetts, offering
classes daily for adults and children since 1988. (www.northamptonkarate.com)
FightingArts.com is pleased to announce its first
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and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding
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