Natural Buddhist Martial Arts

The term ‘natural’ within the context of this essay refers to any response to external aggression that originates within the human mind as is manifest through the human body, unaided by modern technology, or any outside support.  Natural refers to making use of what is already there, rather than being assisted by a developed, or sophisticated device, designed by another and developed over many years.  This does not include the natural environment or attributes occurring within it.  For instance, parts of a tree, rocks, water, and geography may be used, and this includes such weapons as a staff (and derivatives), the bow and arrow, and bladed weapons.  The human intellect has the ability to look at objects and see clearly certain interactive connections that can be used for self-defence purposes.  This use of the environment is ‘natural’, immediate and is associated with the ordinary human need to ‘survive’.  Survival requires the placement of the body into a certain and beneficial alignment with the inhabited world around.  The human mind is aware of the need to survive a priori.  It is the need to eat, keep warm and dry, to reproduce, and to avoid injury and illness as much as possible, as well as recovering from such experiences.  The environment is often hostile in and of itself.  Natural disasters have the power to wipe out entire species in one event, or slowly deplete the gene-pool overtime through the continuous taking of life.  Humanity has developed a sense of impending doom from the environment it has had to inhabit over thousands and millions of years.  The irony is that the environment that ‘kills’ is also the environment that ‘heals’ and ‘protects’.  It envelops the human body that is able to move more or less independently within it.  The feet, although touching the ground, are not directly connected to it, like a plant or tree.  Naturalness also refers to the human mind and body itself, and within the context of self-defence refers to the mind and body being used ‘where it is’, with no augmentation whatsoever from the environment, to respond to externally threatening situations, which within this context has to be expanded in definition beyond that of a potentially hostile material environment, and include physical threats from other living entities such as wild animals and other humans.  Generally speaking it is the threats from other humans that martial systems have been developed to repel.  Of course, humans, like animals, often engage in group hunting rituals that make use of the forward planning capacity of the human intellect to out-wit animals in a hunt so that they may be killed for the material benefits their bodies provide the human pursuers.  Offensive techniques of chasing, out–manoeuvring, cornering and killing, that have been applied to wild animals in the past, have also been adapted to counter aggression from human individuals or groups that have psychologically defined themselves as ‘different’ and ‘separate’ from other human groups, and in so doing, defined those other human beings as permanent ‘outsiders’ and as a consequence, legitimate targets of the hunting ritual.  Separate and distinct human groupings develop a mind-set of ‘belonging’ that applies only to those individuals that are already ‘known’ – demoting other human beings to the status of ‘unknown threats’.  This kind of thinking has pursued human beings into the present, with the development of nation states and arbitrary geographical boundary markers which are periodically fought over through the use of modern, (i.e. ‘technological’) human warfare.  Large human groups often fight one another, and this habit is reflected within society where inter-personal violence is a regular occurrence for many people.  Aggressively minded individuals can attack other aggressively minded individuals – and exactly the same culturally conditioned mind-set fights itself through the bodies of different individuals – or, aggressively minded individuals can arbitrarily attack other human beings who do not share their violent disposition and are, therefore, completely unable to defend themselves in the face of such an attack.  This kind of aggression can be harnessed by governmental agencies contained within a nation state, and disciplined into military and paramilitary uses.  Individuals who are not particularly aggressively minded can retain their relatively calm mind whilst learning martial techniques and survival strategies.  Learning to defend the human body from an external attack is an adaption of the ability to hunt, in response to the potential threat of being ‘hunted’.  Once an individual or a group perceives another individual or group as the ‘excluded other’, the conditions for self defence exist.  Therefore the environment, the human beings that inhabit it and the specific psychological thought patterns related to the production of physical force, may be termed ‘natural’ as these attributes are present without the requirement for them to be developed or otherwise ‘contrived’ in some artificial manner.

The term ‘combat’ refers to the actual use of the human body by the mind to react to experienced aggression within the immediate environment.  It is the awareness of a threat perceived through the senses and understood as such by the human mind.  In this respect, the ordinary human mind perceives the world through a dualistic filter that sees the human body as the attribute that must be protected from an environment that exists permanently exterior to it.  This perceived threat includes any and all attributes that can inspire fear and cause harm.  The environment, the climate, wild animals, the suffering of illnesses and injuries, and of course, the potential threats that other human beings represent.  The most direct of responses is the ability to move the human body itself in the face of present dangers.  The ability to move the body appropriately can prevent injury and death at the point when both could be suffered directly.  This ability is the essence of all effective self defence, and such is not merely a physical response, but is rather an attribute of an aware human mind that sees clearly what is happening, why it is happening, and consequentially what can be done to prevent physical injury and death.  These calculations have to be instantaneous if they are to be effective, as the attacker always holds the element of surprise over those who need to defend themselves.  This physical advantage owned by the unprovoked aggressor is over-come by a superior surveying of the situation at hand.  The human mind has the potential to ‘see’ things in a direct and immediate manner when under pressure from the environment.  It is an instinctive awareness that cuts through the usual chatter that exists within the mind.  As a result it provides the defender with an existential advantage over the arbitrary aggressor, providing that the aggressor’s first move is not successful.  The aggressor is making use of a very limited advantage that works through surprise, but the surprise as an attribute is short-lived if the intended target is not immediately neutralised during its initial deployment.  Instinctive awareness informs the aggressor that an advantage is to be had in an unprovoked attack; as such an attack breaks the usual norms of life, and immediately plunges a relatively peaceful, everyday situation into one of adrenalin-fuelled survival.  Such an attack can work due to its inherent ability to change ‘peace’ into ‘violence’ without any warning.  Of course, its effectiveness depends upon no ritualised warning being issued at all.  There is no posturing, or display of potential power, but rather the direct application of physical force through violent action.  Equally important is that exactly the same instinctive awareness is providing the defender with a much more effective, long-term counter-strategy, (providing the aggressor’s first move is not successful, and that the defender’s mind and body are not rendered immobile at the point of attack) by the sudden chemical changes that occur within, that are changing the inner terrain so that the defender can respond in a beneficial manner.  Some times instinctive behaviour, without prior training, can respond effectively, despite the fear associated with the ‘suddenness’ of the violence and change in circumstance.  Self defence systems, whilst providing physical techniques, deployment and mobility theories, should also, through their training regimes, assist the practitioner to become aware of what it is like to experience intense fear within when confronted with an aggressive environment without.  This familiarity is providing an inner and outer training that is essential if self defence is to be effective.  Self defence can not be effective if it is merely a method of moving the arms and legs in a non-threatening environment.  Self defence training should educate the practitioner in exactly what to expect within the mind should an attack occur, because what happens in the mind immediately manifests within the body.  Fear is usually the over-loading of the human system with chemicals that are actually designed to maintain its survival.  The problem occurs around the ‘suddenness’ of its deployment, which is essential for survival considering the threat.  Effective self defence educates the practitioner to both accommodate and appreciate these inner changes and perceive them as necessary for survival, rather than as a detriment to it.  Self defence should be as much an inner education as it is an outer technique.

Developed martial systems are often a blend of attack and defence, harnessing the beneficial elements of either response, whilst down-playing, or removing the negative aspects.  Invariably these systems have been used in out and out warfare between the competing militaries of different human groupings, and adapted by individuals for inter-personal usage.  This development is an observable, historical process driven by innovation.  When one human grouping developed a particular type of weaponry technology, this gave a short-term military advantage over the perceived opponent, until that opponent developed a counter-technology thus changing continuously the balance of power created by the threat of a military response.  This process is clearly observable today and appears to have developed through an agrarian phase into an industrial and technological stage.  Generally speaking, traditional Asian martial arts developed during the early (pre-industrial age) agrarian times, surviving intact well into the 20th and 21st centuries.  These arts comprise of the use of the human body through various combative strategies, that make distinct use of the arms and legs in a manner based upon a recognisable attribute often related to the movement or attitude of an animal, or of a particular way of organising the human mind and body for military purposes – such as ‘long fist’ (changquan).   Many of these styles have either been invented by a particular Chinese family, or borrowed directly from the military and become associated with a Chinese family name, such has been the association within Chinese culture of the ability of a human grouping to be able to defend itself, and the survival of particular Chinese clan names down through the generations.  With this association has been integrated the requirement of spiritual development, particularly with relation to Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism.  This spiritual emphasis has added to the requirement of physical survival, the necessity to associate martial training not only with requirement of over-coming an outer opponent, but also in over-coming the inner opponent of human ignorance.  Even before the arrival of Indian Buddhism in China, Confucian teaching directly associated an advanced martial ability with a greatly developed and ennobled personality.  Studying the spiritual books, ingesting the deep meaning, and performing well with the bow and arrow, became indistinguishable.  When Indian Buddhism adapted into the Chinese cultural milieu, the idea that martial practice was as much a spiritual activity, as it was a physical necessity, permeated into it, along with various Confucian and Daoist thinking, creating a thoroughly sinotised form of Buddhism, unique to China.  The potential destructive force contained within structured martial systems is morally tempered by the spiritual discipline inherent within the learning process itself.  This attitude essentially ‘spiritualises’ an activity that has developed upon the material plane itself, that has the function of defending the practitioner from external attack, and if need be inflicting physical damage upon the bodies of others.  This transforms fighting on the physical plane out of its purely materialist manifestation.  Traditional Asian martial arts, although making use of unarmed combat, also use certain weaponry such as spear, staff, sword, bow and various other pre-modern technologies.   These weapons of wood and metal are used as appendages to the human body, and are used within the structures of the unarmed movements themselves.  Generally speaking these weapons are made use of in a very similar manner to how kicks, punches, blocks and holds, etc, are used within a particular style.  A style, particularly within the Chinese tradition is a habit of response to an external threat, preserved within a particular set of movements and passed on from one generation to the next.  These preserved sets of movements create the ‘form’ of the particular style, that presents itself to human perception.  Styles differ due to the existence of diverse definitions of how to effectively respond to a physical threat.  Each style is relevant to the conditions that have produced it – different conditions, therefore, have created different styles.  As a style is often associated with a clan name, the concept of ‘lineage’ is created whereby the style (like the family name itself), is passed down through the generations unaltered and uninterrupted – with the idea that the style itself can not be changed, just as the family name can not be changed.  Survival of the human body whilst confronted by an external threat is intimately associated with the idea that the clan structure survives all outer challenges to its existence.

In modern society, traditional Chinese clan associations still exist, as do martial arts styles closely associated with them.  There are family styles passed within generations and there are styles that use to be passed on within families, but which now have branches that are taught outside of the family environment in public halls where any one can attend as they see fit, and who do not have to acknowledge or respect the Chinese culture that has given rise to the art they practice, or understand the spirituality that underlies the martial structure.  In a sense, this is a structured return to purely materialist martial practice, which does not recognise any requirement for higher spiritual development.  However, within China the Ch’an school of Buddhism has always embraced martial cultivation within the context of a thorough mind development.  Certain Ch’an temples – such as the Shaolin – have become very famous, but in reality many Ch’an temples have facilitated martial practice all over China.  However, martial practice within the body is acknowledged as actually occurring within the mind itself, and it is through the mind that physical mastery is developed.  Within the Ch’an tradition, there is no duality between the mind, body or environment, as all things arise and pass away within the mind.  Martial perfection is nothing other than realising the Mind Ground.  In reality, the act of seated meditation is martial practice, with the movements of the arms and legs being merely an extrapolation of the mind itself.  Therefore martial practice only becomes ‘natural combat’ if the body is realised as appearing within the mind, and that essence of the mind is thoroughly realised.  Different styles of martial arts are simply physical manifestations of different thoughts in the mind.  Mastery of mind and body lies beyond the thought process, and Ch’an Buddhist practice provides a method to purify the qi.  This involves reconciling the past, present and future into the eternal ‘now’.

Bringing the past into the present is both easy and difficult.  It is difficult because many people have a mind-set that is trained to take notice only of what is directly in front of the senses; it is easy in the sense that just behind the ‘immediacy’ of sensory perception lies the entire history of a person’s incarnations.  These are not real, as there is no permanent ‘self’ to link them together, but there are changing trends of karma that link one life to another.   The past – even thousands of years ago – is in reality merely an instant.  Time and space does not exist in reality the way that it appears to exist to the ordinary senses.  In a sense, all lifetimes are contained within the present; this includes the present life, the past lives, and the future lives.  Nothing is set in stone, even if there are certain trends that can be discerned.  The Mind Ground – or the enlightened mind itself has no lineages or schools in itself – because it is perfect.  It is only in the deluded human world of duality that schools and lineages appear to exist.  These are varying pathways that lead innumerable deluded beings toward the goal of enlightenment which is beyond dualism and method.  Karma is created through the human will.  Through desire this pulls the world into existence, and sets the agenda for daily life.  Deluded beings think that they inhabit a world that they move within, whilst in reality the act of will, through sensory experience, actually creates objects passing across the senses themselves, misinterpreting the experience the wrong way around.  The world is pulled into position around the senses, and constantly flows across them.  In reality, the karmic entity that thinks that it is an individual does not move at all.  Even if a person undergoes tremendous experiences, and travels around the world, or even into space, it is in reality the karmic will continuously ‘pulling’ reality together around the senses in a constant flow of apparent being.  Every single experience that is happening to the mind and body, that is all the external components and inner reactions, are created not by the externals themselves, but rather by the human ‘will’ which ‘pulls’ everything together.  This ‘pulling’ is termed ‘desire’, or ‘greed’.  The human body is pulled around a karmically created consciousness, which then pulls an ever-changing world of external objects together as they pass across the senses – which mistakenly appear constant and real.  As human beings have a similar ‘will’ motivated by ‘gathering’, a consensus of delusion is achieved.  Everyone’s body is similar, even accounting for diversity, and the karmically created external world is exactly the same, despite the natural variation it contains.  Will power is karma.  It creates the mind, body and environment, and the passing flow of events that are considered ‘everyday’ life.  Nothing exists outside of the reality – except the enlightened mind; this does not exist ‘outside’ of deluded reality, but is the actual basis of deluded existence itself.  Seeing through the ‘will’, which the Buddha saw as being comprised of greed, hatred and delusion, is the Buddhist method.  The underlying essence of existing reality is of course its empty foundation.  However, enlightened reality is neither ‘empty’ nor ‘full’, it is both and neither.  Things are empty of permanent structures, and they are ‘empty’ of emptiness.  The realisation of emptiness cuts immediately through the apparent world of sensory awareness.  The realisation of emptiness is the medicine to the illness of dualistic thinking.

All Buddhist methods and pathways are karmically conditioned and therefore the product of habit in the dualistic world.  Master Xu Yun taught that when the true mind was misunderstood, the Ch’an method was set-up.  The Ch’an method itself is a ‘wise’ delusion which is used as an expedient method to put things right.  The Mind Ground and its function are beyond any method that is used to realise it.  Methods are karmic creations based upon desire.  This may be considered the ‘wise’ use of desire, or the practice of one lesser poison to over-come a much greater poison.  Buddhist methods suit different people due to their karmic propensities.  As time and space is an illusion – re-birth is also an illusion – but this acknowledgement does mean that re-birth does not happen.  Re-birth occurs due to the power of the human will to pull phenomena into existence in a manner that allows for immeasurable variation.  The base delusion of a separate reality is physical matter, and this is the same physical matter – regardless of its diversity of manifestation.  Each human mind has a karmic frequency associated with it that pre-determines that type of life it lives, and whether or not it will be drawn to a spiritual path, and the extent or ‘depth’ to which such an attraction occurs.  The human mind can and will approach reality from every possible type of direction.  The number is beyond measure and the diverse Buddhist teachings represent this reality.  Dharma can be deep or shallow, subtle or coarse.  A human mind can develop depth throughout many existences and as the wisdom deepens, the Dharmic path is adjusted accordingly.  Therefore, particular Buddhist methods may be retained for life-times, but as the individual progresses in realisation, the method obviously changes to match the level of insight.  This brings the attention firmly back to the idea that all methods without exception are delusionary.  When a method facilitates a human being into the enlightened state, the delusionary method itself naturally dissolves from its one-sided existence (in a dualistic state), into the all embracing void that contains all things.  No method survives the enlightening experience, because all methods derive from a deluded mind seeking to free itself from its own corrupted state.  When an illness is cured, the medicine is no longer required.

The expedient wisdom of the Buddha gives rise to methods designed to cure dualism and the suffering it creates.  This kind of wisdom uses delusion against itself until delusion no longer exists in that manner.  Grades of attainment, if they are not complete and total enlightenment, are various grades of lesser delusion that nevertheless still exist within the deluded mind.  There is no such thing as partial enlightenment.  Although a student may carefully progress through various declared stages of verified meditational experience, these experiences, although useful, must be given-up so that complete enlightenment can be realised immediately, ‘here and now’.  These stages are important, but attachment to experience is itself a great barrier upon the path of mind realisation.  Stages that move toward enlightenment are only preparations for the final realisation of ‘emptiness’ that contains all things – they are not indicative of the enlightenment experience itself.  The methods exist to slowly and gradually disentangle the mind from its karmic entanglements.  This process strips the mind of various layers of deluded behaviour in a careful and systematic manner.  This creates a wiser mind and a better individual, as destructive behaviour is replaced with thoughtfulness and kind action.  Such a process also creates a positive karma that moves definitely toward enlightenment and away from delusion.  This expedient pathway is important for world peace and the cultivation of wisdom within existence itself.  This is why these methods exist and explains why each distinct pathway has a set method of progression associated with it.  This is an important observation, as a student on a particular path follows a tradition built-up over hundreds of years that understands cause and effect, and that has been tried and tested by many generations of practitioners.  A particular pathway has a specific direction associated with it, and the teacher shows the student the exact direction to take.  The student must follow the path exactly if the expected achievements are to be attained.  A deviation from this methodology takes the spiritual energy (qi) into unchartered and untested territories that the teacher is not familiar with.  In this case the student can become lost, and the training process wasted.  This is why tradition is important as it preserves intact certain pathways of qi development.  Qi progresses from a state of yin and yang dualism, to a state of completion united at its source.  Qi itself is how the ‘will’ manifests in the world – qi itself is the world and entire universe.  At its most subtle it seems mysterious and unusual, and those who understand its working can appear to produce unusual physical and psychological abilities.  These abilities are the product of realising the Mind Ground and completely refining how qi manifests.  Enlightened qi is purified of any deluded intent – therefore it can be used in an unusual way that contradicts standard materialist thinking.  Purified qi, however, is only the effect or function of the enlightened mind and never its objective.  Purified qi only occurs when the Mind Ground is clearly perceived, although a certain degree of qi manipulation can be created within certain martial and medical lineages, but enlightened qi transcends even these advanced levels of attainment.

Lineages deal specifically with a certain frequency of qi development.  A frequency that has been thoroughly explored, examined, understood and developed into an exact pathway.  A lineage is a form of self-contained knowledge and wisdom free of any disruptive, outside influences.  Any outside influence has the potential power to cause a diversion away from the intended objective and in a direction that the lineage has no knowledge of.  The differing lineages, methods and pathways represent the many access routes that the human mind needs to take toward enlightenment by lifting itself out of the mire of delusion.  The expression of qi, and the teachings associated with it must be ‘pure’ in the sense that it does not become sullied by external factors.  External factors must ultimately be integrated into the method by the realisation of emptiness, but such factors, as being representative of dualism, must not be allowed to enter intact, as this allows for disruption from the inside.  However, once emptiness is realised all is reconciled into the Great Dao.  An effective lineage provides a method that creates the inner and outer conditions that allow for a breakthrough into the Mind Ground, regardless of the particular method itself.  Having discussed about the necessary purity of the lineage or method, it is important to understand that a single person can participate in more than one method or lineage at the same time, by focusing upon different aspects each method provides at particular times throughout the day.  This works because the chosen methods have a combined effect upon a single mind over-time, but with the understanding that neither method is expediently confused with the other method.  The methods are not integrated in such a scenario but remain free of one another’s influence.  Instead, each method drills into the deluded layers of the mind’s ignorance and together hastens the eventual breakthrough.  With careful management and good instruction, various methods can be employed together providing the practitioner does not fall into the trap of becoming a collector of pointless experiences, or superficial spiritual trivia.  However, such commitment to self-cultivation is rare, as many, when confronted with more than one method become hopelessly confused by the alternatives, with each method cancelling the other out, through indecision and shallow thinking.  Just as the will power pulls all physical things into a continuous existence, the lineage or method drives through the physical and psychological manifestation.  This is not a matter of discussion or opinion, but rather a matter of direct experience.  The deluded will power has the ability to set-up all kinds of distortions and barriers that prevent the ‘seeing through’ of its true nature.  This includes the intellectual function which must be disengaged from the practice itself.  The intellect of the unenlightened mind is a very powerful device that has the ability to create and destroy in the world.  However, its functioning obscures the Mind Ground and it must be brought to a halt.  This is achieved through the chosen meditation method, which is contained within a particular lineage or pathway.  The mind must be ‘stilled’ so that its essence can be seen.  Gradual methods ‘still’ the mind gradually, whilst direct methods attempt to ‘still’ the mind immediately. Whatever the pathway, the eventual effect is exactly the same.

Stilling the mind is only the beginning of the enlightening process.  Stilling, in and of itself is only the cessation of the endless stream of thoughts – this is not enlightenment, but it is a very crucial stage of attainment.  The method must take the practitioner beyond this attainment.  Stilling thoughts is often mistaken for the experience of ‘emptiness’.  It is a type of emptiness – as the mind is now free of thoughts, but this is only the experience of a ‘lack’ of some thing.  It is a refreshing state that is peaceful and tranquil – such is the relief the practitioner experiences that this stage is often mistaken for the goal of enlightenment itself.  However, this state has cleared the surface mind of obscuration, and the meditative method must now progress further into the depths of the mind structure itself.  This appears empty because as of yet there is no insight into the mind’s deeper structure.  True emptiness has not yet been experienced, but with dedication and good guidance, such an experience should not be far away.  With further training, the depths of the mind are penetrated and insight into true emptiness is gained.  This insight itself is ‘empty’ of structure.  As the fibre of the mind is cognised – an all embracing oneness is realised that includes all things.  Perception is turned the right way around, and the body and environment are clearly seen as manifestations within the mind that is no longer limited to existing just within the human head or brain.  There is a spacious awareness of emptiness that has no barrier or limitation.  Within this awareness all things arise and pass away.  The mind itself exists within the ten directions and exists beyond material definition.  It reflects all things like a mirror.  What was once thought to be solid is now viewed as merely ‘passing’ and the practitioner, although apparently existing in a physical form is now free of the tyranny of materialism.  Time and space are seen as being present in the ‘now’ – with this ‘nowness’ existing for all time.  Karma is transcended in this state as the will is dissolved into all embracing oneness.  Actions occur, but they no longer have the habitual power they once possessed through the deluded mind that grasped after everything it came into contact with.  This enlightened state is the normal state, which is obscured by delusion in the ordinary mind.  This is why spiritual development is both easy and difficult.

Natural combat has nothing to do with fighting, and yet as a response to violence it brings peace to the world.  The true mind reflects all karmically created phenomena clearly and the body is in exactly the correct position for an immediate and effective response.  There is no anger, aggression or fear in the enlightened state.  There is no such thing as ‘fighting’ between different individuals as all duality is transcended.  There is only empty movement appearing within the mind and all contradictions are resolved.  Martial arts in this state become an advanced re-balancing technique that removes all dualistic attributes appearing within the mind and body environment.  Violence can not occur, as the conditions do not arise that would allow it to manifest.  The body and mind moves in a relaxed and uncontrived manner, creating the appropriate martial shapes as they are required.  There is only a sense of profound peace even within the midst of intense combat.  The enlightened mind permeates the body and environment and allows for a profound and thoroughly new interpretation of reality.  This wisdom transforms how the mind trains the body, and how it is used within a martial context.  There is a direction of movement coupled with a pure intent and no distinction can be found between the two.  This understanding sets the agenda for the highest level of spiritual and martial mastery and its teachings are beyond the simplistic building blocks associated with ordinary martial training.  Within this physical-spiritual space, martial movement is no different to the breathing process itself, which is the basis to the entire working of the biological body.  The breath is the key that opens the doorway to the uniting of mind and body, but it is the essence of the mind itself that gives rise to the breath and the physical body it inhabits.  Purifying the mind of all negative karma reduces the requirement to respond martially within the environment, as the violent conditions do not arise, but when a martial response is required it is both swift and effective.  In reality there is no distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘martial’ as both arise from the same Mind Ground.  The realisation of this reality may be considered Buddhist martial arts.

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