Sunday, March 23, 2008

Choosing a Martial Art to fit my Spiritual needs.

What? What does a martial art have to do with spirituality? Well grasshopper, if you go to some TMA (traditional martial art) dojos, you will discover you are being taught along with board breaking (uh sorry martial arts) some eastern spirituality. Even if it’s a little, it’s there. So what should a Neopagan (be they a warrior or not) be looking for? That is a loaded question. Because we as Neopagans are generally proud of being an eclectic bunch, thus meaning the answer is going to be vague. I’ll skip that and move to, what as a Neopagan warrior should one be looking for? Lets assume (a) You are a Neopagan warrior who is fresh to the path and has no training at all (probably a bad assumption) (b) You are of the type of Neopagan warrior who sees that action is often required (i.e. not he Peaceful warrior) and (c) You are mentally, spiritually, and physically up to the challenges training will bring. So what should I be looking for? Trainer: This is the MOST important part. You could be learning the right style (for you) but have the wrong trainer. A trainer should first and foremost be modest. Not humble, no that is a bad trait, but modest. They do not overstate (or even lie) about their accomplishments. This sadly is all too common. There is a feeling that you have to be “the best” to teach. That is not so, you have to be competent, and able to teach first. A style that fits you: If you are slight of build, grappling arts (say BJJ (Brazilian Jujitsu) are probably not what you should learn first. Sure it’s important, but in a situation, grabbing the 800lb Gorilla that is trying to rip your ears off, is not the brightest move, similarly if you are that 800lb Gorilla type, learning a style that relies on speed and fine motor skill (say Capoeira) is probably the wrong choice too. It’s best to start with a primary style then branch out. I say start, as part f the battle is to learn to trust yourself. So if you manage to progress in a style, picking something new up is easier. The best approach once you’ve “blooded” yourself is (in my honest opinion) to train Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). It can be a competiton based MMA, or just mixing different styles in to what you know. Why is this the “best”? Well it gives you a wide variety of skills, hopefully at least two instructors, and hence perspectives. Modern MMA is most known in the cage fighting circuits. Here BJJ is ‘king”, as most of these fights end in grappling and submission. It would be wise to remember that in a real fight submission is not as effective as in a competition, because you eventually have to let go (unless you really wish to cripple the opponent). Apart from sports MMA, there are other styles too. Military Unarmed Combat aka Combatives is a form of MMA (even if the zealots in sports MMA will have a stroke over this statement), as it mixes various techniques (including ground fighting (aka grappling) to form an effective style. So with style, pick one and move on to others, take the best and forget the worst. Confrontation control: This is an undervalued skill. A teacher that shows you how to first assess, then avoid, and last option deal with confrontation, is the best. A fight avoided is a fight won! Sadly many MMA’s ignore this as they are competition focused (even if they are selling themselves as “self defense”). They will teach you effective ways of causing joint and muscle pain, but there is always the chance you screw up, and having tried to apply a hold on Mr./Miss double joints, he/she may decided to retaliate, when a few simple soothing words would have fixed the problem Medical consequences: What you are taught always has consequences. Know them Would I use it? Would you use a technique or a style? Seriously outside the Dojo/gym would you see yourself applying this? NO? Then don’t try. It’s that easy, learn another option. Does it fit my mentality? An important ideal. Many who walked into my Combatives School, walked out fast as it was “too rough” for them. Which is fine, don’t do something you do not agree with. Forcing yourself to try will only cause internal conflict. Ok so that is some considerations, physical and mentally, how about spiritually? Well assuming we are partaking in a Neopagan faith that has martial deities in it (or at least as aspects of the deities they have), why not? Do we think Mars or the Morrigan will appreciate a nice little peaceful turning of the other cheek? Or perhaps letting someone get hurt when we could stand in the way? Probably not. Similarly our actual act of training can be dedicated as an offering to the deities! It’s always hard to make a non material (silver, gold, etc) offering to a God. If (like me) you suck at poetry, it’s some food, drink, or something else. I’ve dedicated my exercise and training to my four patrons (three of which are martial like) Dagda, Danu, the Morrigan and Lugh. Your actual sweet (and in some cases blood!) make a much better offering than just going and buying some cheap silver and offering that! Indeed I think they perhaps enjoyed the lumps and abrasions and cuts I took in Combatives much more than anything else? Weapons: This is a very touch subject. Martial arts at higher levels usually incorporate weapons training into their syllabus, many modern WMA’s (Western Martial Arts) actually focus on weapons exclusively too. A friend of mine (online only) Phil Elmore even wrote a book (Street Sword) on the use of the sword in self-defense. Admittedly he also pointed out it was not he most common way of doing it, but an option. All that said and done. Training with weapons is a great focus. In eastern styles weapons kata’s (ok all kata’s) let the Martial artist achieve an almost meditative state. Can you apply this to your path? Obviously you are not going to be walking around with a sword (Right?) most of the time, so it’s not so much a personal defense option, as a spiritual one? Indeed can you work magic/energy while you train? I certainly can, and it’s a lot easier than you would think. One thing though make sure you are (a) Alone (b) in a room with room (my old bed room at the family house (recently sold) has scars thanks to me not getting this point and (c) Unlikely to be seen by the police! “Officer it’s a ritual” he screamed as he was hand cuffed and taken in for mental evaluation So to close the answer is “ummm it’s difficult” but yes pick and choose for you! Ok in addition to this, are there any martial arts I would avoid? YEP, I’ll not name them directly but at least ONE martial art out there claims to be a survivor of pre-Christian Germanic/Scandinavian times. All evidence points to it being a modern invention (indeed the forms are from eastern martial arts). Don’t be suckered in by fanciful claims. Just like don’t let a high priestess/priest say she/he is from an unbroken line of pagans, it’s rot! Don’t try to learn just from DVD/books, get a training partner at least.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Pagans and the Law.

This is a topic many in the community hate to see, as it actually implies that we “shock horror” have to conform to societies norms on some level. At one time Neopagans were at the edge of society, the rich and strange or the hippy. But never middle class normal. Sometime around the mid 1990’s this began to change on a few levels. Thanks to Practical Magic, Charmed, etc Pagans became an acceptable path to the majority of society. Sure the ultra hard right still saw us as dangerous weirdoes and used us as excuses for many things, attacked us even, but on a whole, wearing a pentacle (if that was your thing) was no longer painting a bulls eye on your back! With this acceptance came the realization, we could be more public in what we did. Public ritual became commonplace. Indeed some of the best Pagan festivals are open to all, in the middle of cities, or at least in easy reach. So when we went public, certain things had to change. Ritual nudity was not a great idea, and the “great rite” went to a symbolic thing (the arrival of HIV also had a big part in this). What some realized and others did not, is our ritual tools were also something to reconsider. Every decent pagan ritual usually involves fire. Funny thing about fire is the authorities tend to worry about it. Thus the people running a ritual really should invest in training as fire wardens (accredited training) and also getting a fire permit. Imagine if a large fire was sparked by a careless ritual, the media would probably not be too understanding. Ritual Knives, swords, Staves, sickles, and even wands. If it looks like an offensive weapon, if it can be used as one, then it IS an offensive weapon. The law will not differentiate “ceremonial” over “functional”, so it’s wise to either talk to the law first, or not use them. Use of illegal substances in public. This can range from alcohol to hallucinogenic, and every thing in-between! No just no is all I have to say to this. No alcohol in public, and absolutely nothing that can get you arrested. Just don’t. End of story. This leads to the point of “attitude”. Be polite, be calm. Show the police, fire service, or security guard the utmost respect, even if they are idiots. Kerr Chulainn gives the best advice for a ritual in progress that the police try to stop: Stop and listen to them, place the items that may be “weapons” under the alter or the center of the circle, you can reconsecrate them later and they HAVE to be returned anyway (as they are holy items) step out of the circle (you can ground later, it’s not going to kill you or end the world, no matter what some people think), and obey them (gun beats knife). DO NOT try to cut a door in the circle (that will be brandishing a weapon to the police). Ok what rights do we have? The same as every one else. Neopaganism is a religion, and in the USA and most of the Western world, it is free from obstacles. HOWEVER: We are no MORE entitled than any other to practice what we do (i.e. we can not demand reparation for centuries of mistreatment or whatever) but we cannot be persecuted for what we do either. Many Afro-Caribbean Mesopagan faiths (Voodoo, hoodoo, etc) have won court cases to be allowed to follow their faith with out persecution, thus by extension we can too. Find a nice pagan friendly lawyer if people start to question your rights! Ok so we have duties and rights, remember that we have both! Not just rights. Act like a responsible adult, and try to enforce it in the community. If the community will not listen, don’t be a part of it, as the law and the media will not make the distinction between members!