Sunday, August 13, 2006

Spirituality in FMA

Someone posted the following quote on a martial art digest. Below is my response:

“People confuse filipino fighting arts with chinese and japanese arts. we are not founded by priests. we do not try to "make students better character", or "good people", that is what churches and mosques are for. FMA has one goal, to make good and effective fighters, to hurt people. you cannot do this in your mind or even at the drawing board. FMA has too many people with too many theories, not enough hands on.”

Yes and no. I certainly don't dispute the pragmatic goal of strong fighting skills as the raison d'etre for FMA training. As Master Han says in "Return of the Dragon", who knows how many treasures have been lost to the world because of the lack of the will to defend them. That statement, however, defines fighting skill as an outer level, whose purpose is as a shield to protect the inner. However, inner and outer are not separate but rather are part of each other by definition. A person empowered by their thoughts and beliefs will be stronger than one who is unsure or conflicted.

The power of the spirit was certainly known to Filipinos, the basis for practices like oracion and anting-anting. Before angles were known by numbers, they were taught by name association. Angle #1 was often called San Miguel because Saint Michael is depicted with an upraised sword of truth and justice, depicting that strike. Similarly, the Moros were feared not just for their fighting techniques, because Cebuanos and others proved equal in battle, but because it was the strength of their convictions that made them such formidable adversaries.

We may not think of murder and mayhem as spiritual, but even societies engaged in such practices have empowering belief systems. Viking beserkers were a terror across Europe, but they believed in Valhalla and an afterlife, which helped them conquer their fear of death.

It is said that one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter. Is taking up arms spiritual? Depends which side of that equation you are on. Does it make you a better person? Anything that engages us completely is a transformative experience, which is why the samurai took so readily to Zen, understanding the power of having "one mind." Most modern FMA is taught in a niche of "practicality" but anyone who undertakes a process of change experiences it inwardly as well. The old manongs would sometimes hold their hand over the head of a prospective student to see if they were too "hot-headed" to be trusted with deadly knowledge. They were concerned with the character of their students just as many of us are today.

Esoteric knowledge of the inner self has always been secretive, not just as a way to control power but because the masses were not deemed awakened enough to understand. It takes time to develop someone to a level of understanding, and the repression of Filipino culture under the Spanish diminished this part as well. Martial arts typically in times of war are less concerned with niceties of personal development, and so the FMA became noted for straightforward practicality. Now we live in an era in which knowledge is much more open through literacy and mass communication.

I see no reason not to include deeper awareness through self-examination as part of a curriculum. It may not suit every student, and it isn't the first thing taught, but in my experience such self-understanding enables people to progress further than if they are dependent on others to give them knowledge. Mind-body integration happens regardless of intentionality, but awareness is more powerful than ignorance. The discipline to train the body comes from the mind, and this process develops the spirit and will to succeed. These are not separate things.

Now not every instructor will delve into this. Many may not have the ability to communicate what they themselves feel internally, and so it is only through the training that they lead others towards mastery. Make no mistake, though. Mastery is not just of the techniques, but of the self; polish the spirit and the results will be evident.

This connection is more prominent in many styles of Silat than FMA these days, but the similarity of the arts and cultural connections are a clue such awareness can be found in both. In the end, spirituality is the essence of each of us, not just something to be controlled by religious organizations. When we dedicate ourselves through effort, we elevate ourselves regardless of what it is we choose to do.

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