Saturday, September 18, 2010

Philosophy and (A) Martial Art

People sometimes say that I seem like the last person they would expect to be interested in boxing or contact martial arts. The implication is that I'm a thoughtful person, why would I be interested in such violent, thoughtless pursuits?

Here's an interesting answer from an instructor of philosophy and boxing, in an opinion piece he wrote in the NY Times. He says in part:

In much of Eastern philosophy, in contrast, the search for wisdom is more holistic [than in the West]. The body is considered inseparable from the mind, and is regarded as a vehicle, rather than an impediment, to enlightenment. The unmindful attitude towards the body so prevalent in the West blinkers us to profound truths that the skin, muscles and breath can deliver like a punch.
While different physical practices may open us to different truths, there is a lot of wisdom to be gained in the ring. Socrates, of course, maintained that the unexamined life was not worth living, that self-knowledge is of supreme importance. One thing is certain: boxing can compel a person to take a quick self-inventory and gut check about what he or she is willing to endure and risk. As Joyce Carol Oates observes in her minor classic, “On Boxing”:
Boxers are there to establish an absolute experience, a public accounting of the outermost limits of their beings; they will know, as few of us can know of ourselves, what physical and psychic power they possess — of how much, or how little, they are capable.
In a different essay, this author, Gordon Marino, writes:
The capacity to tolerate fear is essential to leading a moral life, but it is hard to learn how to keep your moral compass under pressure when you are cosseted from every fear. Boxing gives people practice in being afraid.
I think part of the appeal of a contact martial art is facing up to your fear; learning, as Oates says, something about your limits. I'll likely never know the kind of outermost limit that competitive boxers and martial artists know--but I sure felt a lot of fear before my one tournament; there I learned that I can take a really powerful kick to the gut and keep fighting. And in its own way, I felt fear testing for my black belt--that's where I got my ACL torn, after all.

Even sparring against a young, wicked-fast black belt in class can present fear that needs to be conquered, even if that person has good control and you know it.

I'm happy that a philosopher is backing an interest in contact martial arts.


SueC said...

You only have to read around the blogosphere to realise that martial artists are some of the most considerate, thinking people around. You're one of those people Bob. Thanks for this thoughtful post.

BobSpar said...

Sue, you're right, there are so many thoughtful, considerate people in martial arts, including you, and I'm grateful for your words.

Ellie Belen said...

Facing fear can be so liberating at times. When you come out of the other end and find that you survived, that it wasn't as bad as you imagined, that sometimes you didn't even get hurt, then everything else in life seems easier to face.

I've seen the transformation in people when they finally face this fear.