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Gavin Mitchell

Welcome to the website of Gavin Mitchell, a showcase for my martial arts and writing.

 
Some of my articles on martial arts and meditation can be found below on this site. However, to get the full complement my book on the subject can be bought by clicking here.
 
 
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CHOOSING NOT LOSING

There are those in the martial arts field, as in all others, who view the past through spectacles that are possibly too slightly rose tinted. According to the prevailing social demographic at the time, it was likely you lived in a small village and never stepped outside the boundaries from the day you were born until the day you died. One day you might be visited by a passing martial arts master, one of those who made it their life’s work to teach and travel, and they might take you on as a student. You might then be shown san ti, or one zhuan zhong posture, or instructed to walk round in circles, after which the master moved on. They would most likely not visit for several years (during which time they would travel to other students in other villages) and for the next several years you would stand in that posture or walk around in that circle, particularly because you didn’t know what the next part of the martial art was. In several years’ time, when the martial arts master came back, if they found you hadn’t practised they’d just move on to the next village; of course if you were a diligent student they would teach you the next piece. However it was most unfortunate if the Manchurians or the Golden Horde or some time lost band of Vikings attacked the village inside of those several years in which your art had little combative application, and it was due to this fact that villages evolved their own homegrown styles. All the inhabitants for generation on generation would have compulsory daily training in this indigenous style, and usually only scholars were let off. It was such a village style that legend has it Yang Lu Chan learned when he gained entry to the Chen village, subsequently to adapt it to his own family style.

Those who indeed view the days of yesteryear with perhaps an unrealistic shade of nostalgia and optimism usually also deplore many of the trends of the modern age. In these days people are not usually content to stand in san ti or zhuan zhong or walk round in circles for several years because they can go on Youtube or Wikipedia, watch the video or read the article, and then want to learn whatever they’ve just seen or read about. Conversely it is also the case that a fight is as much, if not more, likely to break out at the local boozer today (whether Shankill Road Belfast or Sutton Road Walsall) than in the northern part of China in the days of Ghengis Khan or Ragnar Lodbrok.

True Taoism which has its own martial arts in the modern world (as do most other cultures) considers instead that no time, place or given situation is any worse or better than any other because all have their advantages and disadvantages. One can choose to be Leipniz, Nietzsche or Schopenhauer, one can choose to be Eeyore, Jack or Pollyanna. Choosing is an act of will. However, to choose effectively and efficiently, the will needs intelligence. It might perhaps be true above all other statements that the modern newcomer to martial arts is faced with more choice than ever before. Any adult education service of any town or county will offer large numbers of martial arts, any street anywhere in the world can offer at least one, and major cities can offer a full gamut running into the triple figures. And so, to make their way through this bewildering labyrinth, the beginner might ask themselves one question: what do they want?

The first group of questions leading to choice should perhaps be purely administrative. For instance, what time does it start. Some arts and teachers are stickier on this point than others; some will allow students to come in when they can while otherwise will impose militaristic punishments such as pushups per minute late, or perhaps even seconds. The beginner should carefully consider their other time commitments and see what they have available. Some may prefer morning, afternoons or evenings of weekdays and some may prefer weekends. The arts are meant to be an enhancement to, not a subtraction from, human lives. The beginner should also consider how long it lasts. As well as whether the classes will eat into their other time commitments their physical fitness and endurance may be called into question (some arts may challenge this more than others) as well as their boredom threshold or their ability to absorb information.

Cost should also be a consideration to the beginner. As a start they should consider their disposable income but also they should consider how much they are prepared to spend; perhaps if they are spending more than they actually make they should seriously consider the value of what they are actually learning. They should take care to note any other costs; insurances might be considered sensible, but regular level hikes might not be. Above all else in this article the aspirant will be most earnestly warned against those whose ultimate goal is not to teach martial arts but to defraud the public of money; beginning students especially must be careful.

What most usually signifies the practise of the martial arts above all else to the uninitiated is apparel, and what usually symbolises the martial arts above all other things for the uninitiated is uniform. It is not however the case that all martial arts require uniform; in some uniforms are indeed de rigeur but in others they are anathema. Why each martial art should go one way or another is a difficult matter based partly in tradition, partly in culture and partly in psychology but ultimately, the beginner will have to consider whether they want to wear a uniform or not and how much this is likely to influence their decision. Some will not want to get their regular clothes dirty or damaged and find that getting suited up focuses their minds on learning and the task at hand while others will not want to defray the cost of a special suit, or find that spouses, parents, carers or significant others complain about why they have to have their ‘karate suit’ washed so often (or might not want to do it themselves.) Most people will however want to ‘fit in’ and not be seen to stand out, whether wearing uniforms where no uniforms are normally worn, or vice versa. The beginner should however beware of the club or organisation which specifically makes them buy a given quantity of their own clothing prominently emblazoned with brands, names and logos – particularly if the gear can be brought from no where else, and especially if the price hike is significantly greater than similar (or in many cases identical) clothing which can be bought from high street sports shops, open markets or the web. This is a cynical money making exercise and is to be avoided at all cost (however, if gear with logos is available but is not compulsory but simply there for people to purchase, this is a different matter as students might just want this to remind them of their yearly course away, or whatever). It is worth noting that uniforms in most martial arts are traditional only and as such are quite simplistic. In most cases, coloured white the same suit, available in a generic product from innumerable companies, is suitable for karate, judo, jujitsu, aikido and various others. The same suit coloured black is suitable for ninjutsu, kobudo and various others again. In most cases wearing a store bought basic variety will not be objected to, and the student should be encouraged to wonder why they might be being harassed into buying ‘our’ gear. On a final note it is worth being aware of an unwritten rule not to wear one school’s uniform to another’s classes; unless it is one of the generic variety which doesn’t have a logo, it is considered disrespectful to the masters.

The beginner should also consider whether they have to be at a particular standard of health. While in most martial arts there is a progression as to the physical difficulty of the exercises carried out, it is indeed the case that some arts are more demanding than others. While most people in reasonable fitness can study most martial arts successfully (at least after the last twenty pints or five packs of cigarettes have been coughed up) it is when individuals have a physical infirmity or a serious, long standing injury that care needs to be taken in choosing the art. It is worth noting that some arts have an emphasis on physical therapy and gentle healing techniques, while others are going to have a large proportion of rigorous fitness training and all out combat. Someone with a serious injury or infirmity had better take care to choose the former, as attempting to get on with the latter is likely to lead to a bad experience all round. Conversely, someone whose taste is for circuits and punching and kicking things is likely to be bored and frustrated with hand waving and chi gung. It is also important to be aware that some arts will specifically devote time to attempting to treat or help people with injuries and infirmities and consider it part of everyone’s training and development to do so, whereas others will simply not know what to do in these cases as it’s outside everyone’s experience; or worse, consider such a person a liability or inconvenience. Someone specifically looking for specialist help and physical therapy should carefully consider how they are reacted to, and treated when they walk through the door.

A prosaic piece of information that may seem too obvious to even mention is where’s the class. However, the student should carefully consider their journey time. Most beginners will not want to travel too far on a regular basis and for basic skills they should not have to. Aspirants attacking the higher levels should seriously be considering travelling all around the world in search of the highest levels of instruction, but such considerations are outside the scope of this current article; in any case, even they are going to be concentrating on practising (and likely at that level, teaching) the basic skills the majority of the time and long journeys are likely to be less frequent in number. Beginners who will be regularly practising the entry level disciplines should be able to find frequent instruction close to home. It is not unusual for people to travel for a time equalling the entire length of the class or even longer to get there, then whereas some might get digs and attend another class the next day or travel back in a leisurely fashion some even go all the way back again right afterwards. However, the beginner may want to consider that doing this on a regular basis is likely to detract from the entry level skills early on; and the martial arts are not so rare at the beginning position that they should have to.

Another artefact of the martial arts that perhaps can seem daunting to the uninitiated if the majority of their experience has come from the television is etiquette. It is however worth noting that those who have just walked through the door are unlikely to be expected to know arcane facts and modes of behaviour that only a complete cultural immersion is likely to give. In more traditional martial arts where weight is indeed placed on such considerations, then as well as not being held to them right off the bat beginners are also likely to be readily directed to information whereby they can learn, particularly in the modern information technology era where frequently asked questions files can be readily downloaded, printed and copied. Indeed, where thorny points of etiquette are rigorously enforced and proliferate to the point where one might be expected to have a master’s degree in the history of the originating land before one could be expected to remember them all or the rules seem frankly bizarre and arbitrary, the beginner is encouraged to question what need is being met by this or what purpose is being served. If they are led to the conclusion that the only need is to assert the otherwise phantasmical authority and stroke the ego of the sifu or sensei (or worse, sigung or master or shidoshi; given that such titles don’t just come out of cornflake packets, the beginner should research their authenticity carefully) or put down the students and keep them under the thumb then it’s wise to go elsewhere.

One consideration that might be important is what standard are the other students at. It is often said that any class will die without beginners; conversely, if a class is entirely made up of beginners, if they are all at different levels then administration is likely to become rather difficult. However, most people would find it uncomfortable to be at a significantly lower level than everyone else present (unless they are on a seminar circuit, in which case they are probably not stark beginners to start with) and being the only white belt when everyone else wears black is a daunting prospect. In most cases though classes are usually anxious to attract beginners and will advertise themselves as such; in most cases they will be delighted to have new blood on board. The only time beginners are unlikely to be welcome is at particular advanced classes where a given skill set will be taught that would be impossible for the uninitiated to get anywhere with; however, these will also be advertised as such and will probably not be advertised to the public in any case, or at least anywhere that the beginner is likely to come across them. In these cases, the effort is usually made to keep all but senior students away, and elaborate entry requirements are laid out which may, or may not, be rigidly enforced.

The final question therefore following on from the above is are beginners welcome at all. As described above, it is most likely that they will be in almost all classes, and those catering only to the higher levels are not likely to be in the milieu or geographical locations that the uninitiated are likely to come across; rather than local residents going to local sports centres, community centres or church halls, the closed door sessions are likely to include delegates from huge organisations usually coming from hundreds of miles away. Still, if it is a question that particularly troubles the beginner it cannot hurt to ask.

After the administrative considerations of choosing a martial arts class, it is also important to consider the type of martial art. Currently there is a bewildering plethora available for the beginner, and while they are indeed very adequately explained on Wikipedia and demonstrated on Youtube these mechanisms are perhaps most useful for those who know what they’re looking for and are searching for additional information. For the stark beginner, the variety can be baffling.

A useful jumping off point is the geographical point of origin of the martial art in question. Currently martial arts are available from all over the world, with recent surges in popularity for those from Brazil, Korea and the Phillipines. However, the majority of martial arts in the public eye and those most readily available come from China and Japan. It is at this point that websites like Wikipedia and Martial Arts Register can become useful, as they often group descriptions by country as well as by the other characteristics that will be discussed further on. Often the geographical location is broken down further within the nations; for instance, hard style kung fu is said to come from the Shaolin temple in China, xingyi, bagua and taiji are said to come from the Wudang hills (also in China) ninjutsu is reputed to originate from the Iga and Koga provinces of Japan, and Okinawan karate comes from that particular Japanese island. If a student has a particular interest in a specific country, especially if they are also studying the history, culture, anthropology or language, then they might consider immersing themselves in an indigenous martial art as well. However, for the serious student the technical aspects of the martial art are likely to overwhelm its geographical origins as a consideration. It is worth noting that there are many indigenous European martial arts which are studied to this day, though admittedly they are in the minority. The reason for this is that once firearms were invented the populace of Europe converted all out to their mass manufacture and started gleefully shooting each other and abandoned beating each other up. It is often archly and pretentiously said that this didn’t happen in the East because they had too much respect for each other to merely gun each other down at a distance, thus they carried on with their noble martial arts traditions and expressed a preference for killing each other with bare hands instead. It is however more likely that the fact that firearms grade steel is far more plentiful in Europe than in the East has more to do with this particular social development.

Another basic differentiation between the martial arts, one which is generally considered more of a ground level difference than geographical origin (as all nations have variations of both forms, to greater or less degree) is whether they are hard and soft. These are terms which are more difficult to pin down, but one consideration is that hard style martial arts tend to be more offensive in intent, whereas soft styles tend to be more defensive. In accordance with this hard style arts tend to concentrate more on striking, punching and kicking while soft styles focus on throws, locks and holds. Whether a style is hard or soft does not depend on its geographical origin, nor does it depend on whether it is internal or external (which will be explained below).

What is generally considered the most basic dividing line for all martial arts is whether they are internal or external, and it is probably the most difficult of all considerations to pin down. The simplest explanation is that external arts rely on external, muscular strength, speed and power whereas the internal arts rely on developing the same amount of power, strength and speed internally. It is how this is done which becomes difficult to explain, as some then rely on an account of the building up of chi energy which is a thoroughly arcane concept for the beginner; or by generating energy through the tendons, fascia and internal areas of the body rather than from the gross muscular-skeletal system which is scarcely less confusing. It is perhaps better for the beginner to consider the practical differences between the two approaches and make a judgement on those rather than on relying on concepts it can take years to grasp. It is generally considered a truism that the internal arts take longer to learn and certainly much longer to gain enough skill to rely upon in combat (though hopefully in the modern world the need should not arise). It is also usually the case that external arts will rely more heavily on physical fitness, so that classes will spend a lot of time training this (by contrast, internal classes will spend more time training forms, abstract sequences intended to drill fighting applications into the subconscious brain. Another difference is allegedly that internal martial arts rely on training the subconscious brain whereas external arts rely on training the conscious one.) The exponents of either then go on to state that it is eventually possible to gain a higher level of power in one and not the other, or that in one approach it’s easy to become an intermediate but hard to go any further but in the other approach the opposite is the case; however, these are arcane arguments which are unlikely to be of interest, or ready comprehension, to the beginner. It is however worth noting that the internal arts are supposed to start internal but progress to the external, whereas the external arts go the opposite way. At their top level all arts are considered to be both internal and external equally, at least in theory.

Perhaps the last of the obvious considerations is whether the art is modern or ancient. Beginners, particularly if their sole point of contact is the television, books or comics, are likely to assume that all martial arts were invented thousands of years ago. This is not necessarily the case; while it is true that human beings have been learning to fight since their evolution and have been passing on these skills from the dawn of time, martial arts are generally considered to originate from the time that they were named or founded, usually by an attributed individual (Bruce Lee being the most recent, and famous, with Chuck Norris having carried out a similar, if perhaps slightly less well recognised, achievement). Most do have ancient roots (if only due to biomechanics; since there are only just over two hundred bones in the human body and there are limited ways they can all move relative to one another, and basic considerations of anatomy, pressure points, and weak points are still the same) but many also include modern sports coaching or psychological techniques. In particular a modern trend is to blend martial arts, leading to the rise of one tradition called simply mixed martial arts, or others grouping a particular geographical area. This is likely due to increased communication and travel technology, in the past the arts would likely have been more isolated and such mixing would not have been possible. Opinions are divided as to whether this has been to their benefit or detriment. In any case the beginner will therefore have to choose whether they wish to study an ancient or a modern art. Many prefer the idea of studying something hundreds or thousands of years old, considering it gives greater authenticity and proof of efficacy through longevity, whereas others might consider something that was invented only decades ago to have more modern application and less useless cultural artefacts which are not relevant in today’s era. It is usually at this point that the notion of lineage also arises. While most students are justifiably proud of their lineage, beginners should be careful that being fewer generations away from the master or the founder is not as important a guarantee of quality as, say, how much a person has practised the material, or how many people they can attract to a class and hold on to.

It is at this point that the beginner, having considered the aspects of geographical origin, hard and soft, internal and external, and modern and ancient, in the martial arts, should move on to several cultural considerations which are likely to critically affect how they get along with them. Another common assumption in the martial arts is that they all have belts, with the legendary black belt equating in the public eye with the rank of master. This is not in fact the case as many martial arts not only do not have belts but also do not have what the belts actually signify, rank being awarded on passing a test. It is also not true that black belt conveys the rank of master, it is more akin to an initiation – stating that the student has proven their worth and is ready to get on with the real work. Belts should not be an excuse for the students to throw their weight about or boss people around – if this is observed it is a clear indicator to progress rapidly to the exit. It is however a sign that the student has gone through another in a progressive series of tests and, by passing the tests have proven that their skills have increased. Many schools have the same progressive series of tests but do not use belts, going by certification or some other method instead; functionally, however, the system is still the same. Belts and certificates are usually also a sign that the student should be taking on increasing amounts of teaching responsibility; there is an automatic progression into teaching in the martial arts. While many wax lyrical about the mystical transmission of giri from teacher to student and how students are then obliged to teach because of this magical debt which has transformed their lives which can never be repaid, etc., it is perhaps more prosaic to state that nobody can truly be sure as to whether they can do something unless they can in fact teach someone else to do it. It is also not true that belts are an ancient tradition in the martial arts, whatever may be believed (or disseminated) in fact this is a tradition going back only a little over a century, and was introduced only to make the teaching of the arts easier in a modern sporting and school environment. There were originally only two colours allegedly, black and white, while a black belt was awarded with time rather than through gradings. Indeed the proliferation of colours, and stripes and tags between colours, has led to the exercise being more to make money, one of many unscrupulous practises which will be discussed in greater depth later. A more fanciful legend has it that the belts were never actually washed and someone was a black belt once it was dirty enough to become black. One is led to wonder whether this was very hygienic, whether anyone would want such a smelly, greasy item next to their pristine white suit, and what clinches it is experiments carried out by people where they’ve actually found that the belt never does become very dirty at all. Many have also dragged their belts behind their cars to give them that authentic distressed look, leading them to conclude that other distressed belts they’ve seen are for lineage holders (or other guys who spent their youths tying their belts to the backs of their cars). In any case, the beginner should consider whether it suits their particular learning preference to have tests at regular intervals of what they’ve learned; in most cases there are both advantages and disadvantages to this. Some people like to have clear goals or ends in sight, or like to know what they have to achieve next; others find this merely annoying and demoralising and resent the exercise of being tested. Conversely where there are no tests or grades it’s possible to plateau or become completely lost; with no direction or discipline having any advantage over any other, there is no point doing anything at all unless the student acquires some other reason to reach a particular goal or point – which they might anyway.

Ranks are conveyed by belts and so logically, it’s possible to conclude that where there are no belts there are no ranks either. This is not always the case, and in most cases it is usually obvious what kind of pecking order exists in any given room (due both to the progressive nature of the arts and humans having evolved as predatory pack animals with alpha led structures) but the weight which ranks, and their attendant titles are accorded is another cultural consideration which may become important to the beginner. In some arts ranks and titles are taken extremely seriously while in others they are actively avoided and discouraged; others still are entirely indifferent. In many cases the ranks can proliferate so greatly a dictionary of the native tongue is required to understand them all. In many cases the ranks are left in their native tongue, and usually these have no cultural connotations in Western lands – note however that this may not be true when the terms are translated into English. After decades of the kung fu turtles being on television most people have no problem calling someone sensei, but calling someone master implies a degree of servility in the modern tongue, even though master is an authentic rank in most martial arts. In any case the beginner should carefully consider how they feel about all this, and what degree of importance it strikes them with. In most cases the terms are indeed sprinkled only occasionally as cultural colouring, but if they are proliferated or are insisted upon the student should consider again what need is being met; if it is to make the leader look big then again it’s time to question what’s going on. The beginner should also consider whether the cultural mores and considerations which were appropriate in twelfth century Japan, or sixteenth century China, are culturally appropriate in twenty first century Britain, Canada or USA, and what should be considered to be appropriate standards of behaviour and propriety in modern nations.

A final consideration is the extent to which competitions are given prominence in the art. Some arts consider their whole raison d’etre to be competitions whereas others actively avoid and discourage them, whereas in different environments competitions are available but it is a matter of choice whether or not to participate. The beginner must then decide whether they have any great desire to take part in competitions or not. Some arguments for competitions include that it gives people the opportunity to try out their skills and see if they work, and gives them a benchmark to see how they have progressed. The counter argument to this however is that given the number of rules and safeguards that exist in competitions to prevent the participants killing each other, it is never going to have any relevance to a real life or street battle; and if someone feels the need to prove themselves by competing then it points to a misguided and rather neurotic ego need that the individual should look at curing in themselves, rather than encouraging. It is also argued that once competitions are introduced the exercise becomes more like a sport than a martial art. It follows on from this that youth and strength are automatically rewarded and give a considerable advantage, and if the notion of talent is believed in then it can be argued that your placing in competition is likely to be a foregone conclusion anyway, so why bother. It is certainly the case the people do have natural advantages of height, strength, dexterity, speed, agility, suppleness and so on, all of which will come to the fore in competitions; and if the beginner possesses these, or not, then a realistic weighing up of their own abilities may influence their decision (and they may decide to compete anyway even if they feel they are wanting in such characteristics.) Another argument in favour of competitions is that they build character and spirit, conversely the non competitive arts emphasise that they too are practised for the individual’s personal development and self defence. The choice is down to the student.

It is also worth noting that there are many other disciplines available for study which offer many of the same practises and subsequently, benefits of the martial arts. These can include self defence, yoga, energy healing, meditation, and so on. These skills are all perfectly valid if they are taught properly (though the same potential exists to defraud the public as described below) but fall outside the scope of this article. It is instructive though to describe some differences between self defence and martial arts. Typically, the main difference is that self defence courses are brief, often only lasting weeks, while any martial art that is seriously pursued is a lifetime commitment. This automatically wipes out any notion of belts, titles, gradings, certification or progression; the time simply isn’t available. Also, martial arts usually have considerable background and cultural artefacts from their native land; serious students usually have at least some degree of interest in the milieu in question. This is also usually excised from self defence. If this sounds like it appeals to the beginner, they are of course welcome to participate.

The student must however be most earnestly warned against a trend which is perhaps modern, or perhaps has existed for all time; the type of school where the goal is not to teach martial arts of any stripe, but to defraud the public of money. In modern parlance this has been named the McDojo. In olden times, it is said, schools were only allowed to open with the prior permission of a well known martial arts master, and the school was enabled to stay open through their patronage. However, if a school opened which was not known to anyone, they would then be challenged by every other martial arts school in the borough. Only if the school was victorious through all these challenges would it be allowed to remain open – it had proven its authenticity and efficacy. In the modern times, perhaps fortunately, law enforcement prevents such full scale battles. However, it leaves the way open for the dubious practises of the McDojo.

Fortunately, there are a number of tell tale ways to spot that any given school has such tendencies. The most glaringly obvious is that the student has to sign a contract with the school for a given length of time, measured in the several months or over (many legitimate schools charge by the month solely for accounting purposes); it’s clear that this guarantees the McDojo a given income for a given period of time. The reason for the time period is as follows; during that time the student can’t just leave because they’ve realised that what’s on offer is of egregious quality, meanwhile it may well be the case that cash is being extracted directly from their bank account or credit card by direct debit. The obvious refutation to this practise is that students should be sufficiently impressed and pleased with the service that’s being provided that they should want to keep turning up and paying of their own accord. The fraudulent contracts can also be spotted by the fact that there is practically no way to get out of them other than by dying.

Belts are also used by McDojos as a means of making easy revenue (as opposed to legitimate schools, where they should be used as a teaching aid only). For instance, one of the tell tale clauses of the fraudulent contract is that it guarantees a black belt within a given length of time. This is not possible as whether baseline talent exists or not, if the student does no work then it will not happen; or at least if the rank is granted then it has no meaning. In most traditional arts black belts take between five and ten years to acquire, and the student should think carefully about any time scale that is significantly less than this. Another hallmark of fraudulent schools is that there is a proliferation of belt colours, often with stripes or tags in between the colours as well. All this means is that the increasingly regular tests make more money for the school. Legitimate and traditional schools usually only have five or ten junior belts and senior belts, with very occasionally the senior belts going up to fifteen. When there are significantly more than this the student should consider what is being achieved here (and go through their contract with a magnifying glass). The belt fees should also offer a flat fee structure with no level hikes, though the junior grades may cost less than the senior grades. If the price starts to increase significantly then the student needs to do some math, as the only way the costs can be justified is if they cover administrative fees, the cost of the belt itself, the time of the teaching and grading staff plus their reasonable travelling expenses. If it starts looking like a vast profit is being made on top of these then the beginner should look elsewhere.

Another tell tale example of McDojos is fraudulent claims. One very transparent claim is for elevated rank; beginners should be aware that advanced ranks in traditional martial arts are granted only to people who have been studying most of their adult lives. Other, similar claims are training with semi-mythical figures who can’t be found by the most basic of internet search engines, or having a background in military special forces. Conversely, proponents of chicanery can claim to have trained with famous figures of the martial arts world, who may have no knowledge of them, or may have spent far less time with them than is being claimed. It is also worth noting that the dead can’t speak out and say that they have nothing to do with this person; at one time, having trained with Bruce Lee was a common assertion (those who authentically trained with him are well documented and have their own system). Fake schools are often unrealistic about rank; high level (legitimate) black belts are rarely under thirty, and if there are large numbers of black belts still in their early teens or younger then the student should consider this questionable (this does not apply however where children are being taught separately to adults. Where children and adults are taught together though there should be some acknowledgement that they are junior.) A possibly very obvious claim is being able to perform supernatural feats, the most common one being able to move or affect someone without touching them. It is usually the case that the student is told that they too can learn to do such things. Such claims are almost immediately followed by a refusal to demonstrate them, or an explanation that any given failure of a demonstration is due to spurious reasons (one recent TV documentary contained the assertion that a chi powered knock down at a distance failed because the presenter’s toes were misaligned.) The student is left to wonder for themselves how useful such questionable powers would be down the boozer when a fight kicks off. Another fraudulent claim is to be the repository of secret, hidden knowledge that is millennia old and has been handed down to themselves alone – usually the deadliest hidden techniques of KUNG FU (pronounced kung fu) Conversely most martial arts claim that there are no skills that cannot eventually learned by anyone if they practise hard enough. The beginner is left to decide whether they will put their faith in such assertions.

Another tendency which has already been described is the compulsory purchase of the school’s own uniforms; this can also extend to equipment. Note that while this may be required by insurance companies, it should not be substantially more expensive than similar equipment available elsewhere.

It is at this point however that what are obviously fraudulent practises even to a beginner start shading into questionable practises that may only become clear, or relevant, to an intermediate. Intermediate students have their own choices to make as well and, at their level, they must start making hard decisions about the culture and the psychology of what is on offer; in the full knowledge that when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas, and who they associate with is likely to affect their own personalities, their entire lives, and the type of teacher they will eventually become.

Perhaps the most important consideration for the intermediate is the calibre of the instructor. This includes not just their martial skills, their understanding of and the ability to communicate them – which will eventually be seen to be of secondary importance – but their good moral character. This is likely to affect the entire culture of their organisation in every possible aspect, and eventually the intermediate will learn to take account of this. It is said that students end up with the teachers they deserve, and that teachers end up with the students they deserve; the intermediate will come to find this as a truism as they naturally gravitate to teachers who suit their own personality and their moral compass and walk away from those who do not.

Following on from this is that the intermediate should judge the organisation also by the calibre of its senior students. As they have selected the teacher and vice versa and in most cases both parties have spent years or decades with one another, it’s clear that the senior students will come to reflect the instructor and, by trickle down theory, the organisation as a whole. How they appear, seem or actually are is therefore a measure of the whole gestalt entity. In external arts their appearing physically fit is held in great store; however, even when physical fitness is not essential they should at least look like they know what they’re doing. Their own good moral character is as critical as the teacher’s, as the teacher should be taking pains to ascertain that how they are and the way they present themselves is how they would want, in the full knowledge that they will be judged by these students. Indeed an interesting barometer, in the unlikely event that the intermediate from outside ever gets to see it (at least in environments where disciplinary matters are considered correct to be carried out behind closed doors; the intermediate can judge for themselves what it might mean if they do not) is how the instructor keeps the senior students in line when they perform actions deemed to be unacceptable. From a purely prosaic level, the intermediate is likely to be spending the majority of their time being taught by a senior student as the chief instructor moves on to other people; in the question of whether they are someone the intermediate would want to be taught by, all the criteria for an instructor apply.

The character of the instructor and the senior students plays a large part in making up the organisational culture, which the intermediate should also observe and consider carefully. This is likely to be created in classes run by the instructor and the senior students, and their dedicated followers will comply with and reinforce it; often, the higher levels find they do not have to do anything as the rank and file react to enforce the status quo. There are many important aspects of organisational culture which the intermediate should consider, perhaps most important being to what extent they are expected to comply with it. This can extend to such apparently irrelevant considerations as are all parties expected to eat and take breaks in the same places, eat the organisational sponsored food rather than anything people might have brought in (often regardless of expense) and stop at each other’s houses. In some cases violating such unwritten, corporate sponsored rules can result in opprobrium being expressed all over the outsider.

Following on from this the outsider should look at whether they are welcomed or treated as an outsider indefinitely. The most extreme example of this is the existence of an inner circle, usually formed around the instructor and senior students. This inner circle may be evidenced simply by body language and close association, but it can be indicated by the wearing of uniforms, organisational regalia where uniform is not otherwise compulsory or even worn by the majority of people there. If such an inner circle exists, is it inclusive or exclusive, is it clear that the inner circle are superior to all those outside. Assuming this behaviour does not put the intermediate off, to what extent is it obvious how one would go about joining the inner circle; is it a matter of reaching a certain rank (which could be by passing tests, or could be through something more nebulous) or is it a matter of paying a given sum of money.

Subsequently to this, how does the organisational culture reflect upon the classes and the teaching style. Are they militaristic or relaxed, for example. Are the standards of respect and adherence to ritual appropriate for the 21st century industrialised West. Is the confidence of the students built or undermined, are they browbeaten or encouraged. Most important is the attitude towards violence; no matter what some people may try to disseminate, at one time the martial arts had the sole purpose of sudden violence, to preserve life in a lawless world. This can go so far as some classes banning any mention that their practise was ever once a martial art, but less obviously, does it seem that violence is condoned, encouraged, glamourised or discouraged. Which environment would the intermediate prefer to be in.

Given the possibility of violence and physical injury, are the standards of safety that are observed sufficient that everyone will be able to go home and return to their day jobs. Of importance here is whether a competitive spirit is fostered or not even in a supposedly non competitive art. Also, during combative exercises, when it looks like the participants are getting too far into it and may actually degenerate into fighting, how does the instructor or senior student in charge react to this. Do they move immediately to stop the proceedings, watch what happens or actively encourage what’s going on. Some even have the attitude whereby if they observe anyone trying to actually hurt anyone else, they will join the fight themselves and hurt the miscreant badly, who will be entirely unable to defend themselves due to the instructor’s likely vastly superior skill.

There was once an old tradition in the martial arts that you could only ever study under one master at any given time. This was of course easier to enforce in the days where communication and travel between parts of a huge country were virtually nil. In any case, the argument for this was that it prevented any dilution of style or, perhaps, introduction of material for which the student was unready. At the point they were ready to move on then there would be an elaborate exchanging of permissions on all sides. In the modern world in which several martial art schools are likely to be found in any given street, it is unlikely that dedicated individuals will limit themselves to one class or organisation; they are more probable to use their time available to its maximum advantage. However, it is worth noting how any given organisation might react to cross training to that extent, or to having someone else’s student walk through the door. In many cases this is not welcome, with organisations going so far as to hold everyone else’s methods in great disregard or having prejudice or even enmity against one or several specific masters. The intermediate will have to decide whether they want to be in that environment, what it might signify, and whether or not they should keep quiet about their background in a strange environment.

On a final note from the negative, are communications from the officials of the organisation conducted in a professional manner. If not, the intermediate should decide how they might feel about having inflammatory material dropped into their inbox or letterbox on a regular basis. But on a less negative note, the intermediate should consider what progression any given organisation can offer in the art. There are some that are able to offer up to the very highest levels of teaching (usually in classes run by the top level) and some whose experience of the discipline is confined to a week or a weekend’s training, or watching videos. Fortunately, this is usually obvious from the start. More disturbing however is where the enhanced skills are available only to the aforementioned ‘inner circle’. The difficulty does not arise when eligibility for the advanced training is based on time served, demonstration of commitment, or ability to function at the required level; but when it is determined simply and only by the student’s ability to pay a large sum of money to join the higher level. It is down to the intermediate whether this suits their sense of fair play or their bank balance.

A multitude of choices face the individual in the game of choosing not losing, but there is always another choice available to them; the choice to do nothing at all, and sit around eating pies and watching TV. This is of course an option that is open. They might even live to be thirty-seven.

  

I currently teach taijiquan (aka tai chi chuan) and meditation.
 
Classes are open to anyone and are free of charge.
 
West Bromwich classes are held at:
 
Sandwell Central Library,
High St,
West Bromwich,
West Midlands
B70 8DZ
 
The class times are:
 
First Saturday of the month, Meditation 1.30 pm to 2.30 pm
First Saturday of the month, Tai Chi 2.45 pm to 3.45 pm
 
Wednesbury classes are held at:
 
Wednesbury Library,
Walsall St,
Wednesbury,
West Midlands
WS10 9EH

The class times are:

First Monday of the month, Meditation 6 to 7 pm
Second, Fourth and Fifth Monday of the month, Tai Chi 6 to 7 pm
 
I won't be present for the sessions on Saturday the 2nd of July, I will be present as normal for the following sessions.
 
***
 
 
 

Advanced Mind Power – 13 Steps and the 8 Circuit Model

‘As you are now, so once was I.

As I am now, so you must be.

Prepare my friends to follow me.’

Megadeth

The illuminated who have learned the secrets of active mind power have, throughout the centuries, come up against the same pitfalls in their attempt to pass on these secrets to their fellow human beings. On the one hand it is a side effect of being aware that you are master of your own reality, and that you have the choice not to be miserable, self destructive and ineffective, to want passionately to help everyone else to be content, self enhancing and empowered. On the other hand it is impossible to actually fully comprehend any of the truisms of this state unless you are actually there (and, as has been observed by M R James, the state is sadly transitory and fleeting for all but the highly adept). The mind is aware that it yearns for something but it usually knows not what. The first Buddhists were urged not to mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself (modern parlance holds that you shouldn’t mistake the map for the territory); or told a story that, if you had an arrow poking through your guts, you’d probably not want to know who forged the arrowhead, who fletched the feathers, who carved the shaft, etc., in preference to yanking the arrow out and patching up the wound (or, in happier modern times, going to the A&E department so they could do it under X-ray and avoid tearing your internals up any further.) It’s said that the secrets of the illuminated do not need to be guarded because they could be shouted in the most crowded marketplaces in the world and nobody would hear them, listen to them, or recognise them for what they were. It has therefore been necessary to bring human beings to awakening almost by trickery, indirectly.

Various meditative and martial techniques have been used and are known for the purpose of becoming enlightened, and they follow the general principle in accordance with the concept of ‘fire and water’ paths; fast dangerous paths are available which can take, it’s said, between thirty and ninety days to become enlightened (this does however involve having a very great deal of time available to meditate; this particular approach was patented in modern times in an academic environment during the summer holiday) whereas slow safe paths are available which can take up to twenty years. An average figure is cited for standard, basic meditative practises of between three to eight years. However, a late master of this territory commented with characteristic bite that saying you were enlightened and that the journey was finished was like saying that you’d graduated from high school and you were educated. Instead, the question usually asked of those who have made the breakthrough, either by their instructors of them or they of themselves is; where do you go from here?

It can be argued that the power of the mind is all that has raised humans up from the mud, brought them down from the trees, stopped them being at the mercy of woolly mammoths, sabre toothed tigers, the occasional anachronistic dinosaur, etc., and usually those who have realised that they control their own reality and have a glimpse of the abilities that active mind power can give them have been loathe to stand still. One question that has always led philosophers and their modern descendants to wonder, with no avail, is what is mind. How does the mess of fatty tissue making up the central nervous system translate into consciousness. Do other primates have a mind, a consciousness as humans would recognise it; do other mammals; other vertebrates. (A Zen monk once asked the roshi, or teacher, whether a dog had a Buddha nature. ‘Mu!’ was the barked answer, which has been variously translated as ‘no’ ‘undefined’ or ‘don’t ask stupid questions’). According to the model of consciousness which will be discussed later on in this article, even the lowest form of self-mobilising animal life, the worms (it’s worth noting that two layer flatworms, living in the sea, can be considered a far lower degree of evolution than the kind of worms living in the soil which humans usually dig up and look at; these have three entire layers between their skin surface and their digestive system, several more layers of complexity than flatworms or tiny, single layered roundworms) have a mind comparable to the very lowest levels of human functioning. Note therefore that the presence of mind does not depend on possessing a central nervous system. That which even remotely resembles a human’s CNS does not begin to appear in evolutionary terms until the first vertebrates, long after the worms.

It is this first level mind which allows the worm or simple creature to move forward towards food or pleasurable stimulus or backwards away from enemy or painful stimulus. It could be argued that the strength or otherwise of this first level mind is what therefore enables survival of the fittest, or evolution; creatures which are quicker to move towards food and away from enemy obviously survive better and live to reproduce more often than those who do not. Thus the power of the mind really is what has enabled humans to evolve from tiny worms burrowing in the muck. And it can be seen that even a worm has great power. What if a worm were suddenly to have the power of a human?

It is argued by the most advanced practitioners of active mind power that this comparative level of power, to be as far beyond a human as a human is beyond a worm, is available to everyone, but is blocked to them due to their lack of enlightenment; also, they are so blinded by their own barred reality that they don’t even know what they’re missing. Even modern science holds that far more of the brain is available for use than is ever utilised by the vast majority of people. In attempting to explore and exploit these unused areas of the brain, practitioners of advanced mind power have set out to map the territory. While no chart can ever fully reflect any true geography, these prometheans have done their best to codify their findings in ways that other humans can readily understand and put into practise. These codices have needed to be altered and re stated to be comprehensible for each successive culture, but as modern anthropology holds all humans and their cultures are in essence the same; and what is said has always been known but has needed to be repeated, again and again, for another body of people in another time.

One model that is likely to be most readily apprehended to modern inhabitants of a Western industrialised society, particularly those who also study the martial arts and the meditative practises associated with them, draws on both basic maths and recent scientific models of the central nervous system. The overarching framework can be called the thirteen steps. It will be readily apparent that thirteen is the total of five plus eight, a set of figures which will be quite familiar to practitioners of xingyi, bagua and taiji – or those who’ve read the article on thirteen postures further up the page. In the same way as the thirteen postures can be divided into the eight trigrams and the five elements, the thirteen steps can be divided into the thirteen keys and the thirteen gates. The thirteen keys are essentially, the secrets of advanced mind power – those which, when their truth is realised, will enable the individual to know that they are in control of their own reality; they will be discussed briefly further on. The thirteen gates can be further subdivided into five operations and eight procedures, and five levels and eight circuits. While the operations, procedures and levels all warrant thorough and exhaustive study, it is the thirteen keys and the eight circuits which will form the basis of this article.

The first few of the thirteen keys are quite simple. The first merely invites the aspirant to realise that since their personality is only a role that they play, then their personality is in fact an illusion and infinitely mutable; therefore, if you can be anything you can do anything. The second states that you must realise that you are a character in a story and you write not only the middle, but the beginning and then end. Those who would doubt the notion of writing the beginning of the story, thinking that it’s already been written for them, would do well to think carefully about how they have sometimes realised that their memory of events is starkly at variance with concrete evidence as to what actually happened. This can be shocking enough when it is simple events, but the aspirant must expand their consciousness to the whole of the story they’ve created for their lives, their self perception of how they came to be, and how this tallies with what actually happened in verifiable facts (who, what, when, how, why, where, and so on and so forth). They will soon find that literally any story can be made up around any events, and thus they really do write both the beginning, and the end, of their self created tale, and are doing so at this very moment. (The notion that different accounts can be constructed of the same events but all accounts reinforce the essential truth has been used both in the Japanese classic story Rashomon and the Gospels.) It is this viewpoint which has been taken as the therapeutic model for the school of psychotherapy known as transactional analysis, in which the counsellor helps the client to realise that by writing their own story to their detriment they have led themselves into a self defeating situation, and assists them to change their own story to give a more positive outcome. Transactional analysis, particularly as it is done by trained accredited personnel (hopefully) under supervision, is far gentler and more safe than the method outlined here; beginning students must be careful.

Another means of stating the same truth is simply that advanced mind power is realising that you are free; or conversely, that you are in a self created prison, a prison created by your beliefs, your opinions, your self perceptions, and ultimately your senses. This is a therapeutic model used by the cognitive-behavioural model of psychotherapy, and the attempt is made by the therapist to help the client realise that the core beliefs they’ve created for themselves, the prison, are holding them back and limiting them to self limiting or self destructive behaviour. The goal of cognitive behavioural therapy is to help the client realise this and help them create a more light and airy prison for them to move around in, whereas the goal of advanced mind power is to shatter the prison altogether and drag the aspirant into the wild four winds, the wide open space and the blinding light of day. Needless to say, one approach is more dangerous than the other and needs to be treated with appropriate care.

A couple of other keys have been used as mottoes of groups that have attempted to teach advanced mind power to their initiates. A recent variant on an old theme has been that nothing is true and everything is permitted, that everything holding you back from realising your full potential and genius is a self created illusion. This was a reworking of a prior motto which stated that the only law you should have was that you should do what you willed. Will was however here used in the special context of being true to your own essential nature, also known as the way of the Tao in that philosophy; rather than an excuse for wanton licentiousness and anarchy. It was held that if everyone followed their own essential nature chaos, evil and depravity would not in fact be the result but universal harmony, peace and love. This is naturally a goal as likely as universal enlightenment, but it is still useful for the aspirant to consider the concepts.

A couple more keys have been used as mental exercises that have been given to those who have reached various stages in organisations that have set out to teach advanced mind power. One being the notion that everything that happens to you and everything you are aware of is your own responsibility; this naturally follows on from the notion that since the only reality you have is your own perceptions, and you are responsible for creating your own perceptions, therefore you control your own reality. Another, similar exercise holds that every action you take is an interaction between yourself and the whole of the manifest universe. There are two possible interpretations for this; one being that since the only universe, the only reality, that you can have is what you perceive, and the more you understand the more control you can have over it, then to possess more understanding, more perception, is to possess more reality. Conversely, it’s said that any separation between yourself and external reality is an illusion and all things are essentially one, or interlinked. Zen Buddhism describes this as tat vam asi, or ‘that thou art’ and describes it as a realisation that can be brought about by the cessation of all physical, mental and emotional activity – the Za Zen system of seated meditation which can be said to take three to eight years to achieve enlightenment.

Other keys are perhaps more confusing. One holds that it is reality that is the lie; because your apprehension of the outside world is fundamentally distorted by your own perceptions, beliefs, views of it and so forth, it is untrue and always will be untrue, unless by realising this you can break through to the underlying essential truth. A corollary to this is the notion that anything anyone ever tells you is a lie, because they can never fully know your reality; they will always view their own as implicitly true. (This is usually one of the first points made in any communication course, that what one party sees as a self evident truth, so obvious it may never be questioned or indeed brought into consciousness, may be totally untrue for the other party, and again never questioned or brought into consciousness. It is what enables books such as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus to make such a colossal fortune). A logical conclusion is that therefore, nobody can ever step outside their own reality as it is never questioned – at least those who do not know the secrets of active mind power. One inference from this is that if people are imprisoned by their own reality, then manipulating it can be used to manipulate them. Naturally, Vajrayana or Tantric Buddhism, with roots in India and Tibet and adopted by the legendary ninja, has it that if you use this key to do anything other than help bring people to enlightenment you will go mad. Hopefully this is a caveat that still works on the unscrupulous; but the student should still be careful who they choose to trust.

Some further keys become progressively more disturbing and the student is urged to view them with caution. One states, quite baldly, that the end of all hope is the birth of all freedom, a concept that should be considered with care. Another idea to be applied with discretion is that to truly vary your reality you have to hallucinate on command; obviously you need to be able to stop hallucinating and return to consensus reality as required as well. Perhaps most dangerous of all is the notion that since people are completely immersed in their culture, their mythos, to the point that they can never question its assumptions or even bring them into conscious awareness, the only way to make any real progress is to go insane, to exterminate all rational thought. It goes without saying that prior to this, the student must take care that they can find their way back again lest they might never benefit from their insights, or anything else besides.

One a lighter note, the final key that will be presented is an amusing little anecdote that was told by possibly the greatest master of advanced mind power of all time and the one who has done the most recent and voluminous work on the subject. During the time of Queen Victoria, two extremely posh young gentlemen were travelling in their exeats from Cambridge University (for such was the milieu in which the master existed at the time) in the same carriage on a train. The one youthful aristocrat noticed that his travelling companion was carrying a shoe box with holes punched around the lid. He pursed his lips and uttered, without a trace of self referential, post modern irony such as might possess the modern raconteur, ‘I say old chap,’ he said, ‘whatever are you carrying in that shoebox?’

‘That would be a mongoose, old bean,’ said the other cavalier, taking a snifter of the finest brandy and puffing out a dense cloud of smoke from an extraordinarily expensive cigar.

‘Whyever would you be carrying a mongoose? Seems a dashed rum affair,’ exhorted the other gallant, taking a pinch of the best snuff and offering it to his companion, who graciously accepted and followed up the gift with the response of a cigar and a balloon of cognac.

‘Well, my good fellow,’ exclaimed the bearer of the mongoose, ‘it is a very sad business. My good friend, with whom I was at Charterhouse, has sadly had the misfortune of his family being reduced to the poorhouse thanks to pater’s gambling debts. My chum might have been able to salvage his own situation had he not had the most overwhelming fondness for the tipple. Sadly his dire straits did not motivate him to better things, but sadly to drown his brain, and drink every remaining drop of the family wealth, in gin. Unfortunately he now resides in Bedlam, and has entered the final stages of delirium tremens. He now cannot shake the notion that his body is crawling entirely with snakes at every passing moment, and his body is so ravaged by the demon drink that he is not long for this world. I have brought him the gift of this mongoose in order to ease the long, painful hours before his final passage from this mortal coil.’

‘But, my good fellow, surely you can see that a ruddy mongoose won’t help with the vapours?’ exclaimed the first gentleman, tapping his cigar ash vigorously into the proper receptacle. ‘It’s merely bally unfair to the poor blighter to get his hopes up.’

‘But ah well, you see, my good man,’ smiled the second gentleman; and paused to relight his cigar which had gone out, and then blow a succession of expanding smoke rings, each through the middle of the one before. ‘This is an imaginary mongoose.’

The remaining keys are left as an exercise for the reader to find.

The eight circuit model of consciousness is one which should be readily comprehensible to the modern person, particularly if they have studied martial arts. On the one hand it bears at least a nodding acquaintance with modern scientific models of the brain, and on the other hand the ultimate goal of all the combative disciplines is to correctly utilise in its correct function circuit 1, which is associated with the reptile brain; and many martial arts do explicitly state this and attempt to overtly train it.

Circuit 1 is more formally called however the bio survival circuit and is present in all multi celled animals. Note that calling it the reptile brain is actually the result of cross-correlating the eight circuit model with the triune model, which is an attempt to divide up the human brain into three parts based on its resemblance to the brains of other orders of animal. Thus, the human brain can be said to be made up of the reptile brain, which resembles that of reptiles; the paleo-mammalian brain, which resembles that of other mammals; and the neo-mammalian, which is unique to humans. The mapping of each of these brains to the first four circuits will be discussed in turn. However, the reader should be aware that the mapping is an attempt to draw a comparison between a conceptual model and a physical one – both of which are in themselves approximations of reality which can never totally reflect reality (like all models.) It is a useful conception only and should not be taken as dogma. It is for this reason that ‘the reptile brain’ can be seen in operation in all creatures from reptiles on down to roundworms. Circuit 1 is a function of ‘mind’ (which is a term to be used with caution as will be explained) and not a function of physical structure.

Circuit 1, put simply, allows the multi celled organism to move productively along one dimension – forwards, towards favourable conditions, like food, a welcoming environment, and so forth – and backwards, away from unfavourable conditions, like an enemy, a disagreeable environment, and so on. Circuit 1 relates simply and only to survival and, when the organism’s life is threatened, circuit 1 operates first and shuts down all other circuits. In particular it shuts down all sense of time and – unless trained by the various methods that will be outlined – consciousness as well, so that threatened with deadly danger humans will react completely without thought, and note time dilation effects after the event – assuming they survive. It is for this reason that the function of all martial arts is to train circuit 1, or the reptile brain as it is usually called in this context. This is because humans have not usually learned the best reactions on this circuit (modern living does not tend to present it with appropriate stimuli) and when danger threatens and circuit 1 kicks in, it is not particularly useful to the human organism to cower or freeze. Therefore the goal is to retrain the circuit to carry out more useful and life preserving techniques when it is activated. Chi kungs exist to strengthen the reptile brain, and the various disciplines like push hands and applications exist to drill more useful reactions into this bio survival circuit.

Humans who are primarily motivated by circuit 1, seeking out immediately pleasurable conditions or experiences and with no other reaction to unpleasant ones than to move away again tend to be viscerotonic, and tend to resemble grown up babies to lesser or greater degree. They tend to be overweight and have underdeveloped muscular structures. However, this is not to say that the circuit is a bad one in moderation; all need to be exercised in balanced proportion with the others, thus those who are primarily motivated by other circuits should indulge in mindless pleasures every once in a while. Persons with poorly adapted bio survival circuits tend to have a lot of chronic symptoms which are associated with stress, as a result of the circuit 1 flight or fight syndrome being too often activated in response to non life threatening artefacts of the Western world such as paychecks and redundancy. Therefore they are usually more susceptible to disease. In particular these individuals tend to have non-efficient breathing and it is for this reason that the martial arts, in their quest to retrain this circuit, almost always have breathing discipline as an essential component. This misplaced stress also manifests as chronic muscular contractions in inappropriate places (usually all over the body) which is often referred to as armouring. Most martial arts, of course, attempt to retrain the muscular reactions as well. According to various psychological theories Circuit 1 is called the natural child and is associated with sensation or the id. How well circuit 1 functions determines how much people exhibit of anxiety or self-confidence, rootedness or explorativeness, dependency or independence.

Circuit 2 is formally called the emotional territorial circuit and maps to the paleo-mammalian brain in the triune brain model. It is worth noting that it is considered to map this way because it is primarily associated with the alpha-led pack structures primarily evidenced by higher mammals such as wolves, mercats, gorillas and so on. While circuit 1 can be said to be possessed by everything below mammals, it is worth noting that crocodiles, snakes and so forth are rarely the subjects of the soap-style nature documentaries which give names and personalities to all the monkeys, desert dwelling rodents and so on and explains their interactions in terms of circuit 2 led behaviour. The reptiles and their ilk are not so fascinating as they lack this circuit, and its concomitant social hierarchies. It is for this reason that circuits 1 and 2 have been called the reptilian and paleo-mammalian brains; bear in mind that there is little other cause, however.

The emotional territorial circuit introduces the dimensions of up and down, in two senses; the first being the simple distinction of vertical displacement first learned when the infant starts to stand up, and the second being in terms of superiority and inferiority in terms of hierarchies and power politics – the typical pack structures of the alpha led, more evolved mammals. It is this circuit which is associated with such behaviour as making oneself look bigger, beating the chest, roaring, flinging excreta at the object of contempt, etc., to indicate dominance – and this behaviour is all too obvious in human beings to those who look. It is also associated with hunching up to look smaller, lowering the head, and cringing and cowering away, to indicate submission to the superior force. The superior individual builds themselves up while the inferior individual shrinks themselves down. In these behaviours, the differences between humans and other mammals are non existent; only the next circuits up introduce differences. Persons who are primarily active on this circuit tend to be musculatonic – they look like typical alpha types, male or female, with muscular physical structures, rippling abs, bulging pecs, mirrorshades, and the other characteristics of the typical 80s action movie hero.

It is at this point that the two-dimensional interaction of the first two circuits – forward and backward, up and down – leads to the four types of person which have been the simplest means of dividing people up in terms of personality since ancient times. If forward and backward correspond to friendliness and hostility, and up and down correspond to strength and weakness, then the four classical characteristics can be seen as Sanguine (friendly strength) Bilious (hostile strength) Phlegmatic (friendly weakness) and Choleric (hostile weakness). These can also be identified respectively with fire, air, water, and earth, and the lion, eagle, human and bull, conceptions which recur in all cultures. In terms of transactional analysis, they translate into ‘I’m OK, You’re OK’ ‘I’m OK, You’re Not OK’ ‘I’m Not OK, You’re OK’ and ‘I’m Not OK, You’re Not OK’. Naturally, these four divisions are extremely basic, but that they have survived from classical times indicates that perhaps after all there is never smoke without fire.

Note that blind, unquestioning obedience to any of these extremes is neurosis and poor functioning. It is most efficient to exist the majority of the time somewhere in the middle of the two axes and move out into one of the four points or corners as the situation demands. However, those who have received a poor mental programming are incapable of conceiving of being any other way than they are. The purpose of both transactional analysis and mandala therapy (a form of Buddhist meditation concentrating on a four-fold geometrical figure, whose resemblance to the two way axis is clear) is to correct these imbalances and try to produce a more rounded human being. In various psychological theories Circuit 2 is associated with the adapted child and the faculty of feeling or the ego. How well this circuit functions determines how much people display dominance or submission, self confidence or self doubt, strong ego or weak ego, high pack status or low pack status, giving orders or taking orders. Approximately 50% of people are primarily active on the first or second circuits.

Circuit 3 is called the time binding semantic circuit or symbolic circuit and is the first which can be called uniquely human. Along with Circuit 4, it is associated with the neo-mammalian brain, which is again uniquely human. (And again, there is little other reason for mapping the two concepts this way; note that the neo-mammalian brain is associated with two circuits whereas the previous brains were associated with just one, which should indicate that no system will ever map completely to another; which should then indicate that all models are only imperfect approximations of reality.) The third circuit enables humans to use symbols, which leads to the possibility of the transmission and replication of human culture with first the spoken and then the written word. The symbolic capacity enables humans to make abstractions, which in turn leads to mathematics, musical notation, pictures, blueprints, maps, artefacts, and so on. It is this circuit which is most commonly associated with the human mind, and at this point the reader can wonder whether or not any animal other than man has a consciousness as they can comprehend it. Fluency with this circuit is most commonly associated with intelligence as almost all means of measuring or judging intelligence in contemporary society depend on human beings’ ability to comprehend and manipulate symbols – at the most basic level, words and numbers – whereas colloquial means of measuring intelligence, such as communication and persuasion skills, mechanical, electronic or IT aptitude, artistic skill, etc. also all depend on the semantic circuit. In psychological theory Circuit 3 is called the adult or computer and is associated with reason. People in general are more usually controlled by the lower two circuits, so that Circuit 3 is often drawn into producing bizarre pseudo-logic to justify bio-survivalist or emotional-territorial goals. The semantic circuit rarely operates purely save on abstract issues with no emotional response, those that are not perceived to affect the person’s survival or territory. Conversely, it is also usually easy to manipulate people by appealing to the lower circuits, and not to their reason; a fact known to orators and demagogues since time immemorial.

In terms of the previously introduced axes the semantic circuit now adds a third dimension, that of left and right where circuit 1 is forward and back and circuit 2 is up and down. It is these three dimensions which humans find most readily imaginable and which led to the first developments of geometry by the ancient mathematicians. Persons primarily active on the third circuit tend to be cerebrotonic, and look like stereotypical eggheads, poindexters, nerds, Goths and the tall, skinny teenagers who, having painted their bedroom ceiling black, lie on their bed listening to the Smiths. They are often hostile to their lower circuit functions, confused and resentful of the overpowering of their rationality. Time only begins to be experienced on the second circuit (when a person is ruled by circuit 1, they have no concept of time) but is conceptualised on the third circuit. The third circuit is also the first which shows any sign of progress in human endeavour – the second two do nothing other than maintain the status quo. It is the third which allows conscious evolution or development. How well the human functions on the third circuit depends how much they display fluency or inarticulateness, dexterity or clumsiness, cleverness or stupidity.

Circuit 4 is called the social sexual circuit or domestic circuit and is primarily associated with morality. It is, along with Circuit 3, associated with the neo-mammalian brain. It is by programming of the fourth circuit during puberty and adolescence that the human acquires a social sexual role. In psychological theory, it is associated with the parent and the superego. It is due to this circuit’s operation that sexual taboos and morality – and by extension, taboos and morality regarding all behaviour – arise and are enforced by the social machine. This morality has generally been the result of attempting to exercise control over a very difficult, frightening, unpredictable and uncontrollable area of human life. Arbitrary and bizarre as many, if not most or all, taboos and morals can be perceived to be, they have all been an attempt to control the uncontrollable in the hope of producing a better result, however the prevailing society might have worked this out at the time. The primary function of this circuit is to produce a responsible parent – it is worth noting that reptiles are typically indifferent to their young, mammals care for their young for a limited period, but humans care for their young for the greatest period of time, up to and including forever. Those who are primarily active on this circuit are always physically attractive, as they are always generating the appropriate signals. The morality defined by this circuit attempts to make human society stable and place checks on the otherwise unfettered progress of circuit 3 – those who pay attention to the media will note that all but the most innocuous of scientific discoveries is always accompanied by an absolute paroxysm of moral outrage in the press, usually based on an extremely limited understanding of the innovation in question which the press does little to discourage, their ultimate goal being to sell papers or advertising time. Faced with this clamour the government then usually regulate the possible progress inherent from the discovery to a crawl, so that circuit 4 is satisfied.

At this point it is possible once more to divide persons into another four types; which can be combined with the previous four to give sixteen. For instance, those who are viscerotonic and active mainly on the first circuit can be considered to be the element of earth. Those who are musculatonic and active mainly on the second circuit can be associated with water. The cerebrotonic and rational who are active primarily on circuit 3 can be associated with air and those who are active primarily on circuit 4 can be associated with fire. The combinations are therefore air/air, air/water, water/fire etc. Acute consciousness of time now appears in this circuit, giving the final fourth dimension, as the parent’s primary concern begins to be for the future of their children – or the moralist’s primary concern begins to be for the future of their society’s way of life. How well a person functions on the fourth circuit determines whether they appear moral or immoral, obedient or disobedient, citizen or outlaw, parent or anarchist. Most communication breakdowns occur when someone primarily acting from the pressures of one circuit attempts to convey something of importance to someone acting on another and the priorities, context and meaning are completely missed. Transactional analysis, by considering the typical roles of each circuit, attempts to fix this. Around 20% of people are primarily active on the third or fourth circuits.

Circuit 5 is called the holistic neurosomatic circuit and it is the first which starts to give the possibilities of evolution in this lifetime into the post- or meta-human arena. In the martial and meditative disciplines it is most accurately described by the concept known as Kundalini, and it is worked upon by the disciplines of chi kung and pranayama (which are essentially the same with different practises and terminology.) It can also be called psychosomatic, which while being less accurate does convey in the colloquial sense the recognition associated with fifth circuit activation that most if not all diseases are self-created and can be got rid of in the same fashion; the circuit also allows the healing of one’s own injuries and diseases that have been incontrovertibly caused by outside agents, and is thus also associated with the disciplines of Reiki and energy healing. Unlike the first four circuits, it does not activate in all human beings, and in accordance with the old practise of only teaching the internal martial arts or the esoteric elements of religion to those who had survived into their forties, it most often starts functioning around this age group (but can be self-induced at a younger age.) Circuit 5 activation typically removes most minor mental and physical health problems and greatly assists with more serious ones. It also produces a sense of personal joy, delight or happiness which is worth the price of admission alone (of course, this happiness is realistic and does not prevent the person being discomfited or vexed by inauspicious circumstances and dealing with them appropriately.) It is possible to have negative effects from activating the circuit incorrectly (as with all the other circuits) such as from unsupervised chi kung or pranayama exercises (or those taught by the incompetent, unscrupulous or irresponsible) or from forcing excessive quantities of chi energy into a person (often in misguided attempts to induce activation of this circuit or over ambitious goals in healing) but these negative effects do usually work themselves out in time and allow the person to reap all the benefits of the correctly activated circuit. (This should not encourage the student to not exercise due care in selecting teachers or performing disciplines unsupervised though.) Many who have awakened circuit 5 in themselves or had spontaneous activation have been through significant periods of negative experience, to the point that this common occurrence of reaching circuit 5 the hard way has come to be called passing through the dark night of the soul or the abyss. In most cases these persons have battled through the negative and reached the positive, being left with all the benefits outlined above, hugely enhanced personal abilities and glimpses of the possibilities inherent in the higher circuits (usually circuit 5 activation is an extreme encounter with energy which temporarily blasts through circuits 6-8 as well, letting the individual know that there are yet more heights to reach.) A fortunate few manage to miss out the difficulties on their own, and negative experiences can be avoided altogether by judiciously following the safety tips of competent chi kung and pranayama teachers and manuals. Keeping the tongue on the roof of the mouth is particularly important in most practices as it allows the energy to form a correct, closed circuit rather than ‘shorting’ through an open, broken one.

The enhanced good mood of the circuit 5 active person causes them to be pleased by most situations (except those which are obviously seriously unpleasant). With this circuit’s activation most of the pointless and inappropriate drives of the lower four circuits (adrenaline stress in the wrong situations, pack-predator jockeying for position, rationalist disbelief and disgust at one’s own drives, and excessive sexual desire and frustration or moral outrage) can be seen for what they are and their functions redirected more appropriately. It also gives them considerably heightened energies which can be felt by those around them (often translated as charisma, which is also held to come from above-normal reserves of chi energy). In many cases this increased energy can be felt by nearby people resulting in similar, lesser circuit 5 experiences often translating to physical or mental healing (the student is warned to be exceedingly careful about seeking out this kind of experience, or attempting to create it, as charlatans and manipulators are plentiful and disturbed people looking for the perfect guru on whom to hang their mental problems still more so.) Currently, around 20% of the human population are circuit 5 active, though it is not often permanently in operation. Enhanced intuition and creativity are also benefits associated with this circuit, as is seeing the ‘big picture’ and the connections between events. It also gives one the ability to think outside the box of the usual four dimensions and think multi-dimensionally. Bear in mind however that being automatically able to communicate these experiences is not necessarily a part of them, and in most cases any attempt to do so results in the whole thing sounding nonsensical; which leads to one of the problems people find on attempting to teach others which, wanting to share their bliss, they almost inevitably do. Great skill on the third circuit is also required to convey the material in a way that it will be comprehensible to those who have not activated the fifth circuit. The progression from the fourth circuit to the fifth circuit is often referred to as utilising the sexual energy to think with, and indeed one is no longer troubled by the excessive drives of the fourth circuit, or the previous three. The problems of fourth circuit guilt, third circuit perplexity, second circuit bullying and cowardice and first circuit body symptoms are wiped out by the fifth circuit.

It is possible to tell if someone has successfully activated the fifth circuit by whether they appear in glowing good health, and rarely have to visit a doctor. Most primitive tribes depend on their ‘witch doctor’ or shaman; someone who is fifth circuit active and skilled in using these energies to heal others. Those who have spontaneous openings of the fifth circuit have often had prolonged serious illnesses, have come close to dying, or have had sudden, shocking brushes with death; resulting in one of the benefits of fifth circuit activation being the complete loss of the fear of mortality (which is often described as immortality; this is then often mistranslated from East to West as literal invincibility of the body or soul, which is not originally quite what was meant). One of the most famous examples of this is the Russian author Dostoyevsky, who lived in the years of political turmoil coming up to the last gasps of the Czars. Found to be involved in a plot to blow up the royal ruler of Russia, he was sentenced to death and got as far as having the guns trained on him before a last-minute pardon (commuted to incarceration and hard labour in Siberia). This experience activated his fifth circuit leading to a huge enhancement in his writing and universal fame both during and after his lifetime. In the modern day, free fall can also induce fifth circuit activation so long as the recipient is ready. Note however that circuit 5 can only be permanently activated by a great deal of time, practise and adeptship at the meditative and martial disciplines, while those at a lower level must be sustained with glimpses. Fortunately, these are usually enough.

Circuit 6 is called the collective neurogenetic circuit or morphogenetic circuit and hinges on the brain being able to interrogate the person’s own DNA. If evolution is believed, then human DNA has come all the way from single celled organisms. It is not generally known that human DNA strands are many hundreds of times longer than those of the simplest creatures, and the length of the strands and the number of the chromosomes are in proportion to the size and complexity of the organism; also, at least 99% of this DNA is useless in humans and is called ‘junk’ DNA. Conversely, the evolutionary divergences between humans and their closest neighbours have been determined by finding how many genes differ; in humanity’s closest neighbour the number is one alone. As creatures diverge further from humanity the numbers of genes differing still increase by only single figures, with all the rest of the DNA remaining in common. It is not therefore too much of a stretch to conclude that the human genome still contains all the genetic codes of all the creatures humanity has been since it crawled from the primordial soup, hidden in the junk DNA that is never activated; and that therefore, the knowledge of the last four point five billion years is held in human body chemistry.

Those experiencing circuit 6 activation usually speak of memories of past lives coming to the fore, or of speaking with angels. It is worth nothing though that this is only their own experience which is coloured by their own beliefs and expectations, and possibly the abstract nature of communicating with DNA is such that it has to be dressed in such apparel; the archetypes of the collective unconscious, the recurring characteristics of myth and legend. It is not usually possible to deliberately activate circuit 6 other than through very prolonged practise of the circuit 5 activation techniques, once already stable on the level of the fifth circuit. It is occasional accidental flashes or indirect access that enable the experiences to be believed to be past life memories, angelic visions, contact with universal archetypes, synchronicity of coincidence or reprisal of ancient mythic or legendary themes. Holding all this information within it, it is possible to conceptualise the DNA macro-molecule as having its own intelligence and continuity of (un)consciousness and experience, within which the life and death of individual organisms are merely minute waves on an endless sinusoidal graph. Contact with this existence would be interpreted by each person according to their own beliefs and desires, leading to the variety of accounts with a few common themes. By accessing this hidden knowledge that is billions of years old and making sense of it with the lower circuits, the human can reap great benefits, however occasional they might be. Perhaps around 5% of people are stable on the sixth circuit.

Circuit 7 is called the metaprogramming circuit or the neuroelectric circuit and is associated with the mind being able to become aware of itself being made up of the first six circuits and being able to step outside itself. It is known as the ‘no mind’ or mushin state in the meditative arts, where the conditioned self is essentially lost and one realises that one is merely wearing an infinite sequence of masks, playing an endless series of roles, or being manipulated by the drives of the lower circuits. It is the realisation that the mind and its contents are functionally identical. Once the mind has stepped outside of itself and is aware of itself, it becomes possible for the mind to reprogram itself. This can then be used to enhance one’s own abilities, bring back to the surface long forgotten knowledge, or induce interesting new points of view. This circuit can be used to reprogram and overrule all of the earlier circuits. It is possible to activate and program this circuit by visiting Da Mo’s cave in the article of the same name above, then utilising a super computer created in the cave which has been conceived to be able to do all of the above; or, one can use the methods of writing out sentences multiple times or turning sentences into abstract shapes from the previous article on active mind power further up the page to attempt to achieve the same goals. Two things are however important, particularly when starting off; the aspirant must have no doubts in their own mind at all when performing the techniques, otherwise they are automatically sabotaged (think of it as the computer picking up your doubts and interpreting them as a desire for failure) and concomitantly with this, the aspirant should start off very small as this circuit is very easy to self-sabotage. (There are unlikely to be any ill effects, it just will not work but may damage confidence for future attempts.) It is difficult to comprehend this circuit, as with all the higher ones, from a viewpoint that is much further down the chain, but it does work so long as the caveats are observed. Approximately 3% have really mastered the seventh circuit.

Circuit 8 is called the non local quantum circuit, the psycho atomic circuit, the neuro atomic circuit or the metaphysiological circuit. It is associated with experiences whereby the consciousness seems to step outside of the body and central nervous system entirely, access information and knowledge at a distance such as is associated with ESP, or even create effects at these distances. This has been fairly well documented, with considerable research being done in the West on those who have had this experience while close to death, and into psionics in the East by the old Soviet empire. It is actually mathematically proven to be possible by a quantum mechanical formula called Bell’s Theorem. This holds that every particle in the universe is in instantaneous communication with every other particle; that the whole makes up one single system. Bell’s Theorem cannot be mathematically disproven and therefore must be true; experiments involving it have been replicated successfully several times. However, in order for Bell’s Theorem to accord with Special Relativity, which also cannot be disproven and has considerable experimental support, what is transmitted instantaneously cannot be energy (which, as mass-energy, is bound by Special Relativity to be incapable of exceeding the speed of light) but can instead be consciousness or information; neither of which might necessarily need energy or mass. Perhaps only 2% of people, if that, are stable and active on the eighth circuit with goals and thoughts entirely beyond those of the rest of us.

Those who set out on the path of physical, mental and spiritual self improvement rarely realise where it will take them, or have the same goals at the middle of the road as when they started; however, to those struggling with the most basic of forms, katas or mind-quieting techniques at the start of their journey it can be reassuring to know it is possible to go anywhere at all. To those at the beginning of the path the advanced keys of mind power or the higher circuits of human consciousness can seem attainments that are impossibly far off, and yet the mind does not want to stop when it has started on the route and will likely continue on despite all the doubts and fears of the student. (Which does not mean they can just give up practising). The road can seem difficult, troubling, disturbing and dangerous and can have many pitfalls, particularly if the student lacks access to one who has gone before (the exact translation of ‘sensei’ in Japanese tradition) but in all cases it is possible to come through the fire or darkness, and realise as one great practitioner said that every man and woman is a star, and as another great explorer said, when the doors of perception are cleansed, all will appear as it truly is, infinite.

 

The Journey

The ancient Greeks used to play with the notion of destiny and incorporate it into their myths and live theatrical performances. Players of modern console games where one hero and one hero alone is the Chosen One, only they can rescue cities locked in eternal winter, etc. and so on and so forth will no doubt be familiar enough with the concept; familiar enough indeed to be amused by the post modern irony of a trio of goblins running out to sing It’s Bad Luck To Be You whenever a Chosen One dies. The Greek notion of destiny evolved somewhat from the primitive hero myth to get to the point where someone’s destiny (usually unpleasant) would eventually come upon them no matter what they did to escape it; the classic example being Oedipus, who ended up slaying his father and marrying his mother despite his best efforts to avoid this.

The notion of destiny can however be considered for when one sees another who has risen to the top of their chosen profession (in the field of martial arts, this would be the master or organisation director) one should ask themselves what led that person to climb so high. Did they set out to become a master from the beginning, and if so, what enabled them to successfully complete such a long and difficult journey; or did they have no intention of having anything other than a hobby and just happened to be a victim of a series of accidents (as are we all) leading them to become the master almost by accident, like Severian in Gene Wolfe’s superlative Book of the New Sun. Or was it always in their character, something driving them on from within that would never sleep, that led them forever forward such that they would always rise to the top of whatever profession in which they found themselves?

Or was there something in their future... a barely perceptible, gigantic, shadowy spectre outlined against the blackened and stormy sky... waiting for them to become it?

In any case not many people start going to martial arts classes with the intention of becoming a master, though some who’ve grown up on a steady diet of Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and ninja-themed computer games might. There are those who come to classes simply because they are lonely, want to call attention to themselves by continually moaning that they can’t do it, or want to externalise the problems in their personal lives to a sympathetic ear who happened to be delegated to teaching them form that evening.  These legions had no real interest in learning martial arts to begin with. There are those whose intentions are sincere but who only study one night a week; this suits their needs but, needless to say, they rarely rise to the rank of senior instructor or master.

Those that do rise further, whether or not they wanted or needed to at the beginning or indeed at any point, will find that increasing quantities of time are required and choices come into play about how their training time will be spent. In general they will indeed have to go beyond standing in the beginner’s row one night a week and start seeking out more abilities and knowledge. In general this will require involving oneself with an organisation, for while it is possible to become deadly beyond belief having nothing but one on one instruction and practising entirely on one’s own, the skills of teaching and leadership are generally those that can be learned only with practice. Often, one or more organisations must be joined and they must be progressed through, and those who want to put a lot of time in will either have to find one that has a lot of classes or find a fair few organisations.

There are those students who never study with anything other than one martial arts organisation. Often (except for those with strong, individualistic or extravert personalities to begin with who soon find themselves rising to the top, like the cream) this leads to a collection of shy, diffident flannels with identical, clone personalities; much less interesting, if that were possible, than the proto-stormtroopers who were grown in a vat of the barely-trying cash-in Star Wars prequel trilogy. Even if students are not so cowed by the culture as to become stuttering sheep and extraversion and ebullience are instead hallmarks of the prevailing social tone, those who get to any position of authority will soon start to seem as if they are copying the personality of the chief instructor.

Conversely, those who study with many organisations or who travel from one to another will find that due to all the cross training and contradictory forms, their progress is slow. The counter argument is that they gain a broader base of knowledge, can make up their own minds and perhaps most importantly, can form their own character.

Of those that have gotten this far through this text, or have in their own martial arts career sufficient interest and opinion regarding the field to make their quest for knowledge and skill a significant part of their lives, it might be said that they are looking for something. This may not even be known consciously to themselves but will be pointed out to them by a succession of instructors, some positively, some very negatively indeed. A few heads of school will even go so far as to browbeat and drive away those seekers after truth who turn up in their classes and are deemed to be travelling around ‘looking for something’. On hearing the phrase ‘They’d think I’d be talking about them, and they’d be right’ one might be inclined to question the teaching methods at least, even before getting to the idea of whether one might find better treatment elsewhere.

The reader may have previously come across the fire and water paths, the left- and right-hand paths, and the character classes of Guardian, Sentinel and Consular; perhaps from previous articles in this series, perhaps from other sources, or perhaps even from Knights of the Old Republic. These paths can be considered with reference to their preferences in their own practice. The reader might however also be interested to consider another axis of two other slightly more abstract concepts which can yet be observed in the natural world and the laws of science and physics; law and chaos. Law and Chaos apply less to an own individual’s training regime than to the culture of an organisation as a whole. Lawful systems are those that the general public might consider typical martial arts groups; ones with belts, ranks, uniforms, gradings, extensive syllabi and an elaborate system of commanders and subordinates. These are most likely to be find in martial arts stemming from the Buddhist Shaolin tradition, with the heavy influence of Confucianism. Chaotic systems will be the opposite; no uniforms, no belts, and often (like Apocalypse Now or Starcraft) little indication of who is in charge at any time save that the group will almost always defer to and be led by the individual with the most knowledge and experience; and perhaps less fortunately, the one with the greatest force of personality. While Chaotic systems may be found in organisations practising the Taoist Wudang arts, such groups are just as likely to adopt all the trappings of the Confucian milieu, maybe only for the purposes of administration and marketing.

Students will usually gravitate to Lawful and Chaotic systems depending on their personalities; many want to belong by wearing the uniforms and the belts and deferring to a clear authority, while others will concur with Nietzsche and detest uniforms and their concordant trappings with a passion. However, the system will inevitably affect their advancement. In the Lawful systems it is abundantly clear, and often spelled out on the internet, exactly what must be done to achieve each rank. In the Chaotic systems there is often no consistent means of achieving promotion at all and it is entirely down to the whim of the master. Both systems have the potential to induce deep and abiding frustration in the seeker after truth, especially the driven or ambitious; eventually, perhaps, leading them into the wild multiclassing whereby martial arts takes over their life (conversely such a person may wonder what others, who seem to have little but nine-to-five, holidays and TV, want to get from their lives) but, ironically, their progress is slower with the addition of each conflicting form.

What is, then, ultimately to be gained here? At one extreme there might be those who hoped to gain power, destroy their enemies, revenge themselves on those who bullied them at school and at last attain the fury and might of the legendary Masters Therion and Stochastikos themselves. At the other extreme there might be those who hoped to learn a happy little dance to fill themselves with peace and love as a vehicle to a damp and cuddly enlightenment. Both are likely to find that the reality of the journey, with its hard work and years of discipline, has little resemblance to their fantastic dreams.

The reader is left at the end with one final axis yet to consider... Ultimately the student may be faced with the option of whether, to advance further, they allow themselves to be stripped of all their achievements and themselves as well to become once again a babe; whether they actively seek to lose themselves all together; whether, when encountering anything outside of themselves, they attempt to engage with it, take on its existence as far as possible and understand how things might be from its point of view; or whether they cling to their own personality against all possible influences from the external world to make themselves stronger and stronger as themselves alone. However, one question they may find themselves asked is whether they pursue their training and their techniques for other people or for themselves alone. Along with the certainties of death and taxes, another certainty of life is choice.