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kung fu, judaism, thought/action, life mastery

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http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/philosophers-for-kung-fu-a-response/

hello, fellow 1gmr's. here's another thing i'd be interested in your thoughts on. the two articles above are related, and on the same topic- one is a response to the other. the story thus far (as the articles relate to me personally):

i often ponder the fact (and discuss it with martial artist-type friends) that, at the age of 15 or so i took kung fu, twice a week, for a year, with a teacher from bermuda who happened to be studying at my college for that year. his teacher was a very famous guy in that world, blah blah, point being: it was no bullshit. it was the real thing.

anyway, the thing i ponder is this: after a full year of study/practice, twice a week with a serious master, i/we (the rest of the class) were only BEGINNING to learn what might be called actual fighting moves- that is, MARTIAL arts. what we were actually learning most of the time till then involved what i would call today "philosophy", and specific types of physical training, and what i can only describe as "dance routines", a la tai chi. it became clear, toward the end of this year, that, had we been able to continue, all these things would have been contextualized into something that would have been a very effective form of self-defence (or murder, if you're into the dark side.)

the first half of the first article here didn't tell me anything i didn't already know- general knowledge, googleable today (tho not at the time). but then it gets, imo, really interesting, the topic being one i have put great thought into over the years.

the reason i put such thought into it is not because i followed up on my initial kung fu training- i didn't. i in fact became a drug addict/alcoholic/eccentrically intelligent weirdo, which culminated, without going into detail, in my first trip to israel, where, after a year or two of manual labor type activities (combined with whatever partying i could fit in) on kibbutzim and moshavim (look it up if you need to), i was introduced (through a series of bizarre "coincidences" that deserve their own book, if i may be so bold) the actual study and practice of judaism.

as anyone who's been here long enough, wading through my bullshit/brilliance (?) long enough should understand by now, being jewish does not mean being religious. it is a (mostly) ethnic/cultural/sometimes political/national form of identification. something like 80% of the jews in the world are not religious by any standards, especially those of the jewish religion. i grew up as one of these. my father's "religion" was science, reason, and logic, and my mother's religion was "morality", judgement, and her own scholarly pursuits- medeival literature, art and art history, and a bunch of other things. nationialistically, they identified very strongly as jews, and even zionists, and i, the rebellious son, spent many years scoffing, dissing the israelis, lionizing the palestinian resistance and arguing against all forms of nationalistic identification. i was, in fact, an early proponant of what is now referred to as "globalization".

but i digress: in my mid 20's, in israel in the mid 80's, i began serious study of torah, jewish philosophy and tradition and history, and the actual lifestyles of various forms of what are lumped together as "orthodox jews"- a study which continues today, though my own identification with particular groups/sects ended long ago. (i believe this will happen, eventually, to any reasonably intelligent person who truly and seriously studies ANYTHING.) i now make bamboo flutes and play guitar in various bands for a living, and these things, too, have a connection to what i want to say:

my initial attraction to the study of judaism and, eventually, it's practice, was absolutely and powerfully influenced by my almost instant recognition of it's similarity (the differences maybe we could discuss another time :)) to my early kung fu training, and my understanding, at the end, of what that training is actually intended to produce. (the world is full of hypocricy and many, if not most kung fu students and students of judaism do not "walk it like they talk it" but that's their problem- the ideas are there.) i was intrigued by these similarities then, and i still am, and these articles brought many things i've been mulling for a long time into clearer focus for me. so, without going into specific issues or asking specific questions, i would love to know what the more philosophically inclined members of the 1gm readership have to say about these articles and my own personal story/comments on them.

addendum: those of you who have been here long enough will remember many many MANY extremely long, heated and (on his part, at least) repetetive arguments vis-a-vis israal/palestine/jews/arabs etc, between me and...uum...he who must not be named (he was eventually banned from the blog for being, if you can believe it, even more of a prick than i am capable of being. :))

anyway, this man, from singapore i believe, actually was a scholar of sorts. his scholarship in matters of the israel/palestine conflict was superficial "just google it" kind of stuff, heavily biased against the jewish state or the very idea of it. lots of bullshit u.n. documents, purely false info from arab news sources, whatever he could find to make israel look bad. as i'm sure you're all aware, this is not hard to do- there is an incredible wealth of anti-israel and anti-jewish material on the web (some of it even true :)).

but what i found interesting is that i think he really WAS some kind of scholar of eastern and particularly chinese/buddhist philosophy. i think he actually considered himself a buddhist. (i may be wrong about this). but it always saddened me that i always felt that i knew exactly what he was talking about when he spoke about confucianism, say, or buddhism in it's many forms, or eastern philosophy in general. and he asked many intelligent questions about everything EXCEPT israel and the jews, based on this "scholarship" of his. he had been a commenter on the site long before i arrived, and a respected one at that (norm isn't exactly a big fan of israel either, you know :)) and i think it was our "discussions" getting completely out of hand, and also revealing his- sorry- racism that got him booted off the blog. in other words, it was kinda my fault.

again i digress. so, how could a man like this, who saw so many things very much like i did (and do) be such a hater? what does this say about my own potential to become like that?

well, now i really am just talking to myself. really, i just thought you all might find these articles interesting, and i would be interested to see any comments you may have. or not. it's been kind of fun and cathartic writing this, so, for the millionth time-

THANKS NORM.

6 Replies

  • well, thanks for finally putting this up, norm. there's an article link missing above- there should be two- but since they're related to each other and posted in the same section of the n.y. times, a little digging should turn up the other one. if anyone should turn out to be interested.

  • I don't agree about kung fu. Is there any evidence that kung fu is a more efficacious fighting style than other more down-to-earth ones like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or even boxing? And there's actual data to take evidence from, from MMA fights. There are certain styles that never make it, like straight-on Karate or Kung fu, usually the more traditional movie-friendly Asian ones.

    Those traditional fighting styles are also surrounded by pure woo. I've been told by people that some Kung Fu master provoked a small quake just by putting their hand on the ground, and Karate or Aikido masters talking about Ki and whatnot. Not saying that they're all like that, but the whole traditional martial arts culture is deep into weird "energy" claims.

    • i agree about the woo-oriented aspects of traditional fighting styles (never heard of brazilian jiu-jitso, though capouera (sp?) like tai chi can, if practiced long enough and focused in that direction, be extremely "effective". and yes, it too contains it's share of woo.)

      this extends to all fighting styles, including boxing, and further to athletics in general. perhaps "chi" is really just dopamine, who knows? almost any human activity which requires great focus of pysical energy will usually be spoken about by the true masters of these activities in "mystical" terms, which are tough to define and therefore tough to argue with.

      i don't think either i or the articles i linked to made much of this woo aspect, or implied that kung fu is a "superior fighting style". much of the point of the 1st article was about how it's not a "fighting style" at all, that there's a "kung fu" of cooking, of walking, of reading, dancing, basically anything you can think of. the articles spoke philosopically, not mystically, for the most part, and so was i.

      so, i agree with you in general about the woo thing, but i'm unclear what, in the articles or in what i spoke about, you're disagreeing with.

      happy new year!

  • I had a similar experience with tae-kwon-do. It did teach me how to defend myself physically, but also (and maybe more importantly) it taught me to avoid situations that would lead to a fight. When I started as a 10 year old, I wanted to learn how to kick someone's ass (a particular person), and by the time I reached red belt (just short of black) I had no desire to kick anyone's ass.

    • :) hey, what's with the blog? anybody home? not talking about the forum. been pretty busy myself the last few days. are all our "periods" in sync or something?

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