I am always seeking new ways to expand my understanding of martial arts, and new tools to enhance my perception. I quite unintentionally stumbled onto an old dynamic that I know will not only re-enforce my own perceptions of the Martial Way, but will strengthen and enhance understanding and perception for my students.
I could say that I did almost literally ‘stumble’ into this. The past few months, I have been dealing with a sciatica issue (as well as misalignment issues with my thoracic and sacral spine). This is a result of old injuries, decades of throws/takedowns, etc. A minor leg sprain a few months ago certainly didn’t help matters. Apparently I am not as unbreakable as I thought I used to be!!! Then again, I’m 53, not 20. Even as physically active as I am, even with all the internal form and energy work I do, the intensity and realism training just caught up to me (remember, this what I do for a living, so it is nearly CONSTANT). I am, however, pleased to say that I am recovering quite well. Fortunately, the fact that I am very flexible and have a rather strong core (despite a ‘Beer Buddha Shield’ over it ! ), has made my chiro treatments much easier to accomplish, so my recovery is positive. It WILL take much time. “The oxen are slow but the Earth is patient”. One of the malingering effects of these issues is a weakened left leg, some reduction of general functional neuropathy, and the resultant stability issues. ‘A hitch in my git-along’ as my Great- Aunt Ellie was wont to say. So, though I am steadily improving, I have occasionally been using my hiking staff to provide stability and to aid mobility for specific situations. Mostly, for when I am teaching martial arts………
Rather than just opt out of certain internal exercises that we do to start training and get energy flowing, I began to simply work with the hiking staff (which, appropriately enough, has a beautifully carved bear’s head to top it. Ghost Bear is everywhere!!) In essence, I was doing an internal quarterstaff form. This was not planned, and was just an organic impulse. I am glad I heeded that impulse! I could do the forms, build energy, and give my low center, muscles and joints the stretching and working that is so needed. Let me tell you, it was invigorating! I have cross-trained with quarterstaff in the past, and have even applied my own unarmed martial training to it. As a side note, I have to say that I GREATLY prefer European weapons (generally)- same principles as the Asian counterparts, just more simple and direct (just my perception, anyway). Basic and direct is the name of the game, in my book. We focus so much on unarmed tactics and weapons extraction for real-world application, that dynamics like quarterstaff (and SPEAR,one of my other favorites!) just get overlooked. Last week, doing internal form with my hiking staff was like reconnecting with a long lost friend. Since then, I have been religiously doing forms at home with the staff- this will prove to be a net positive for my recovery and re-strengthening.
The staff, of course, is one of history’s earliest weapons. It is fairly easy to learn, it is quick, and used properly will deliver tremendous blunt force damage. Aside from its solid practical application, working with the quarterstaff (or any weapon) also strengthens one’s connection to ALL the martial arts principles, and allows a greater range from which to expand perception. At its essence, the staff is only a projection of one’s focus. It is not ‘in your hands’. It IS YOU. When this subtle understanding is realized, there is no demarcation between the external weapon and one’s center. It is all flowing as a balanced whole. We use the staff in precisely the same way we would execute any of our unarmed techniques- there is no difference. It expands our understanding of leverage, energy redirection, circular motion, interception and redistribution of force, and the ‘push-pull’ dynamic that is so very critical for our counterstrikes and take-downs. Using any weapon for this type of training re-enforces our perception of circular motion, and even our internal perception of hard/soft, yielding/unyielding, positive/negative. Water and Iron.
This culminates into sharper subconscious perception. It trains our minds with its own ‘muscle memory’. It need not be a proscribed form, per se. Just applying it to what we already do, moving as though we were working ‘un-armed’, makes the subconscious connection even stronger. We move as fluidly and organically as we do with The Empty Hand. Because, in truth, it is still the Empty Hand. Whatever we hold for training/understanding/self-defense, it really isn’t there. It is part of our balance. It is part of our focus and intent. It is US……..
“There is no spoon………..”