If I told you that a lion who was born and raised in a zoo is not a TRUE lion, would you agree?
I imagine that many of you would, and this is because the lion in captivity would lack many of the things that we see as being definitive of a lion — such as its ferocious submission to its instinct to kill and it’s ability to lead the pride. The same goes for a bird which cannot fly. Is it still TRULY a bird?
For a lion to become a TRUE lion, he has to be in his own element — in the state of nature. Only there can he learn to truly express himself as the king of the food chain. This is impossible to simulate within the cages of a zoo.
And is it better for the lion to be a TRUE lion rather than a semi-lion eating slabs of meat off the ground? Definitely. To be connected to and in communication with what you TRULY are is a virtue regardless of man or beast.
So it naturally follows that it is better for animals to be in their rightful place in nature where they can be what they were born to be instead of in captivity. But how about us, human beings? Does this mean that we should also return to nature and abandon our cities for a hunter-gatherer lifestyle?
No. There is something that is fundamentally different between man and beast, and that is our ability to be creative and develop ourselves in whichever way we choose. A lion can never be more than a lion, however majestic its place in nature. A human being has unlimited potential, and we can create our own reality. The cities and the technologies that we use everyday is the very evidence of this.
But I would say that although there is no need for us to roam the prairies and hunt for game, at this stage of our evolution our our creative realities have moved so fast that our physical bodies have not yet had the time to catch up. In other words, at birth our bodies are still built for the state of nature, but our urban lives have so far disconnected us from it that it brings us health issues and unhappiness. Perhaps advancement of medical technology an augmentation technology such as human exoskeletons will come to the rescue in the future and artificially reconcile this disconnect, but I have a much better solution — martial arts.
In the state of nature that our bodies are built for, our operating system revolved around three things — Fight, flight or freeze. When we come face-to-face with a TRUE lion, our response will always be one of the three. You could almost say that these responses lead the way for the evolution of our neurology and physiology.
The latter two are quite simple. We all know how to run (although not very fast for most of us- just being honest), and we don’t need to do much at all to ‘freeze’ in fear. Procrastination is a form of ‘freezing’, and I’m sure that a lot of us are very familiar with this phenomenon, myself (definitely) included. But it is very often the case that we haven’t the slightest clue what to do in a physical fight. But how can we truly be connected to our TRUE selves — at least in the physical sense — if one of the options, the one that requires the most complex movements and physical ability, is completely unavailable to us?
“But I know how to punch, kick and bite. Isn’t this ‘fighting’?” you might ask. I say no. If a lion that was bred in captivity is suddenly released into nature and it makes a pathetic attempt to catch a gazelle out of desperation, is that a TRUE hunt? A lion can only TRULY hunt after training for it by playing with other cubs since birth, learning from the pride, and eventually chasing game with all his might and going through a gruelling process of trial and error.
So this means that unless fighting and training becomes a regular part of your life, you do not know how to TRULY fight, and you are not in full connection with your TRUE physical self. You need to watch masters fight, practice your movements and engage in physical sparring to learn how to TRULY fight. Otherwise you will just be flailing your arms and hoping for the best if you are put in a physical altercation.
Incorporating fight training and martial arts into your life does not mean that you have to actually go out and pick street fights to be connected to your TRUE self. Perhaps you will be put in a position to physically defend yourself, perhaps not. But imagine two birds resting on a tree branch — one that can fly away anytime and one that doesn’t know how to fly. The bird that can fly away is a TRUE bird even though it is choosing not to fly at that time. Merely knowing how to TRULY fight is enough, even though you may not use it.
Martial arts also introduces a relationship with the sensation of pain and discomfort into your life, one that is largely missing in our padded urban lives. There was a period of a few months during high school where my priorities were shifting and I had not engaged in any kind of heavy physical exercise. Then I suddenly realised that I had not gotten a even SINGLE bruise, cut or injury, however slight, during that time. I remembered that when I was a kid, and perhaps the closest to my TRUE self, I had often scraped my knees and bruised my heels while playing with the other kids on the playground and fully expressing myself. I had a positive relationship with pain that made me stronger and feel more alive and connected to the world. The absence of this relationship felt very strange to me, and I quickly went back to the boxing gym, the martial arts choice of mine at the time.
But integrating martial arts will do more than introducing you to your TRUE self physically — it will also connect you to your TRUE spiritual self (there is nothing woo-woo about this, I will explain in a minute). Our urban lives have created many comforts, but it has also created many distractions. Our lives have become much more complicated and complex when compared to the hunter-gatherer days, where to-do lists were simplified down to eating, surviving and reproducing.
As a result of this, we have lost touch with the present moment. While eating, we are worrying about the meeting. While in a meeting, we are texting our friends. While hanging out with our friends, we are emailing our parents, et cetera. We are rarely fully HERE, in the moment. But HERE is where our TRUE spiritual selves are. I have never spoken to a hunter-gatherer, but I imagine when things were simpler and there were less distractions, they were more present to the moment. When they were eating, they were eating. When they were having a meeting to plan the next hunt, they were planning. When they were with family, they were with family.
But regardless of whether you are an urban dweller or a hunter-gatherer, you are never more present to the moment than when you are put in a fight-flight-freeze situation. When you are across a TRUE lion, you have no mind-space to remember last weekend’s party or worry about tomorrow’s meeting. You are THERE. In this way, the practice of martial arts, regardless of the discipline, yanks you back into the present moment and reestablishes the connection with your TRUE spiritual self.
This is not an appeal for any specific discipline of martial art. But I wanted to encourage you to think about how most of us have lost touch with our natural, TRUE selves and gotten lost in the modern reality that we collectively imagined and created. But unlike the lion in the zoo, we can choose to break out of our urban cage of comfort at any time and fight to revive our TRUE selves through the discipline of martial arts.