Terrible Craft

December 26, 2014

I don’t remember the exact quote, but I was reading one of Rory Miller’s books and came upon the observation that martial arts is about taking healthy bodies as your raw material and turning them into cripples or corpses. That is true.

Most martial artists train for reasons beyond cultivating the ability to hurt people. Some do it for sport, others for emotional control, others for fitness, others for connection with the family and friends they train with. There are a lot of reasons why people train martial arts beyond hurting people. Nearly all of us who came for self-defense have stayed for a number of those other reasons.

Nonetheless, the irreducible basis for our terrible craft is doing damage to the human body. If you just like to play rough, you could be doing hockey, rugby, or football, where the object of the game is something other than hurting the other players. (Unless you play for the New Orleans Saints.) If you just like movement and tricks, you could be doing acrobatics or freerunning. If you’re in it for the magic of contact and camraderie, you could be doing ballroom dance, partner yoga or Contact Improv.

But you’re not. You’re doing punches rather than planches or plies, and there’s a reason for that. It will be worth your while to inquire into what that reason might be. The answer I get most often is, “I have to stay active, and this is way more fun than running on a treadmill.” Don’t stop there. Not everybody thinks dodging punches is more fun than a treadmill–why do you?


Christian Yoga Resources

December 23, 2014

In our pursuit of yoga-style exercise, we have found a number of resources very helpful — most of them not authored by Christians. That’s another post for another day. Today, we’d like to share with you a number of yoga resources created by and for Christians. We don’t vouch for everything they say about the theory of Christian yoga, but when it comes to what’s on the mat, we have found them helpful, and we think you might, too.

Susan Bordenkircher has a book/DVD combination that is a pretty good place to start your Christian yoga practice. She also has a few other DVDS on her website. We began our group practice with nothing but these three DVDs.

Brooke Boone’s Holy Yoga has a number of DVDs, a couple books, downloadable resources, a subscription service and teacher training.

Yahweh Yoga has DVDs, CDs, a book, online resources and teacher training.

PraiseMoves has built their brand around not being yoga, but rather a Christian alternative to it. They have a number of DVDs out.


Which Price?

December 19, 2014

God made our bodies to be deeply and incredibly adaptable. This adaptive ability was not destroyed as a result of the Fall. To this day, your body will adapt to whatever you do.

But everything that has a front, has a back. Every adaptation costs you something.

Check to see how much range of motion a good cyclist has in his quads and hip flexors. Ask a roomful of Yoga Journal cover models about SI joint pain, and watch as their hands unconsciously move behind them to rub that area. Ask a roomful of black belts about their wrist and knee injuries.

You can’t spend thousands of hours on a bike without losing some range of motion in your hips. You can’t spend thousands of hours on King Pigeon Pose without it affecting your SI joints. You can’t spend thousands of hours punching and kicking things without taking a toll on your joints.

But you can’t get good at anything without spending thousands of hours. Everything that has a back, has a front. Do a little of everything in the quest to avoid paying the price of expertise, and you won’t have any expertise to show for it.

The question is not how to avoid paying the price. The question is, which price are you called to pay?


Movement Starvation

December 12, 2014

We live in a culture of movement starvation. It wasn’t always this way. Through most of human history, basic human existence has required a substantial amount of movement. Most work done by craftsmen was intensely physical, as was the basic work of life: fetching water, chopping wood, carrying heavy loads to and from market, planting gardens, hunting, gathering, and more.

Now, gardening and lifting weights are hobbies. The basic movement skills involved in stalking prey or fleeing predators are the province of elite freerunners. We sought this life of ease for good reasons. We don’t have to run for our lives from tigers; we don’t die of thirst if we’re too hurt to carry water; we don’t starve if we can’t weed the garden. We have sought for a more advantageous life, and we have succeeded. But in this broken world, everything that has a front, also has a back. If it can help you, it can hurt you. We have made physical ease our idol, and it is destroying our physicality. We survive without physical activity, and we are turning into Jabba the Hut.

Now that most physical activity is a choice for many of us, movement will have to become a conscious physical discipline. The early Church ascetics were right that we need a strong dose of discipline in order to thrive. But it must not be a destructive asceticism of sleep deprivation, starvation, and other forms of abusing our bodies that were so common among our fathers. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and our “asceticism” should be a discipline of physical joy and gratitude, not a destruction of the gift God has given us.

When we recover our joy of physical movement, the sheer bliss of being our bodies in the world–then we lay hold of a little piece of the Kingdom of God.
Gratitude is best expressed in right use of the gift. So we express gratitude for our bodies by using them well. Look at your body. It was never meant to sit around. So go do something, just because you can.

Take a look at the different categories of natural human movement: walk, run, throw, catch, lift, (play-)fight, carry, jump, swim, climb, crawl, tumble. Think about the last time you did each one of these, and pick out your bottom three, the ones you do least. Do one of them, even a little bit, before the end of the day. Then do another one tomorrow. Find little ways to smuggle extra variety of movement into your day, every day. Challenge yourself a little, every day.

It might not be incredibly joyful at the beginning, but stick with it. The more you do, the more you can do, and the easier and more fun it becomes. Move!


What is Folk Physicality?

July 28, 2014

Folk adj   originating among the common people, reflecting their collective experience, lifestyle, and traditional forms

 

We are not only our bodies, but we are not other than our bodies. We are more than flesh and bone, but we are flesh and bone. We are our bodies.

We have always been our bodies, and in the long run of human existence, we have learned a fair bit about ourselves. This knowledge is passed down from generation to generation, some of it codified into formal curriculum, some not. Think about it–how did you learn which cuts call for a band-aid and which do not? Who taught you how to stop the bleeding when you cut yourself? Who taught you to keep a wound clean until it heals? All these things are folk knowledge, common as air–ask anybody. Everybody knows.

Our knowledge of common wound care is a living tradition of folk knowledge. Does everybody do the same thing? Does everyone agree over whether a particular cut needs a band-aid? No. One person says yes, put a band-aid on it. The next says no, leave it alone. The third says use a band-aid during the day, but take it off at night.

Like wound care, some of this physical knowledge is kept alive because it keeps us alive. Some of it is more sophisticated, and more easily forgotten. Have you ever wondered why we tell someone to “just shake it off?” Because you can physically reset your body after a shock by shaking yourself. But how many of us know that “shake it off” is more than just a figure of speech?

In the technological West, much of the knowledge we used to have about our bodies is gone. We are surrounded by gadgets that do our physical work for us, and consequently we live lives that call for little physical skill.

Unfortunately for us, physical skill is a use-it-or-lose-it thing. The less you do, the less you can do. So our bodies forget.