Monday, December 13, 2010

The Role of Community in Martial Arts and Yoga

Recently I had the priveledge of moving with people I knew from BOTH martial arts and yoga. This gave me thought about the way that mind-body practitioners work to build community. In fact, it is a critical part of both practices.


Do you remember when you got your first car? The thrill of independance? Your sudden ability to go so many places with no help, even take others? Driving is one of the greatest times for independance. For all it's hassles, I love getting behind the wheel of a car. I feel so in control, moving this vehicle around at high speeds.

But on this moving day day I found myself backing a U-Haul truck and totally dependent. You need someone to stand behind your truck and guide you back. At first I found myself trying to look around for myself, but it is hopeless. You cannot drive and see behind the truck. So the best thing to do is to rely almost entirely on the person backing you up; in fact, you have to be totally dependant on their ability to guide you. So suddenly, something you have to depend on others for something you have done a long time without help.

Off the Mat: How Mind-Body Practice Builds community

Now consider the application to martial arts and yoga. Our practice is largely our own, but true parcticitioners of these mind body arts realize that they are practicing within a community. That is one of the reasons teachers are so venerated. The Kula and the Dojang rely on constant development of community and helping each other. This is one reason why I like it so much more than a gym, or other form of exercise.

Training on the Mat for Off the Mat Community

Sure there is a comradarie in many activities, but yoga and martial arts incorporate the building of trust within almost every lesson. From the opening call for brotherhood in a Tukong Moosul class to the closing Om of yoga, one is reminded that your practice is part of a whole.
  • The martial artist must trust that the person who is working with you on self defense will have the judgement not to punch you. I remember my sparring partner messing up and feeling his wiskers as I pulled a punch to his jaw. It is an almost daily occourance that someone comes at you with a crippling blow, then stops short before impact. Without this trust one could never develop a high level of skill; you have to get a feel for the human body.
  • Yoga is kind of different. Although sometimes you get help with a pose, it is very rare that a yogi risks serious injury if their partner fails. However, there is some kind of nurturing love built from the sensitivity of the practice. Yogi's in a group are very much aware of each others practice. Even the notoriously cold Ashtangi's can tell you all about someone else in their class. Yoga also draws out a personality from the practitioner.
On a personal note, I have to say that martial arts was a much more practical training for the task of backing a truck. My martial arts brother and I were very used to cueing each other, and working out the best way to do things. This is born of trying to figure out how to train in combat exercises, or even line people up for sword practice. Yogi's on the other hand just pretty much practice on their own. What you do doesn't really effect your neighbor on the mat beside you. But for both, the trust was 100% there.

Not an Option

I believe it is no coincedence that these two arts emphasize community. At their core they are both about living life in a full and meaningful way. From the earliest days of mankind we have realized that this means depending on each other.
You get a lot of power from the practice of a mind/body art. One might be tempted to think they don't need others. Private practice is indeed encouraged. But in the end, the highest aspiration of most practitioners is to teach others, to build on the art and move it forward. This goal cannot be achieved alone. If you wish to progress, you must depend and be dependant on your community.
So if you are a serious practitioner of Martial Arts and Yoga realize that community is not an option. In fact, is there any human endevour where this is not true? Sure one can drive a Nissan Maxima with no help, but some things, like backing up a truck cannot be done without help.