Had an interesting discussion today with Pradeep, my friend and training partner, on mysticism in martial arts. It started with him telling me that he read my earlier post on the subject. After expressing a broad agreement with my views, he continued to share his thoughts on why many masters of martial arts claim to have mystical powers, and many subscribe to or even encourage the view that they are to be gained through the practice of martial arts.
He felt that as martial artists grow older, and can no more keep up with their much younger juniors, the idea of a mystic power that they developed through years of practice and that is independent of their physical condition helped maintain their position of superiority. If they couldn’t fight as well as their juniors, or if they couldn’t even lift their legs anymore the claim to a much more formidable power would be their claim to respect.
Of course, neither of us thought that this was justifiable or even needed. The actual value in all the practice they had done so far would be their understanding of the art and its principles, ability to guide others in its practice, and even more importantly, being at peace with themselves and the world. However, for those whose body ages before their practice reaches fruition, they need to find some other imaginary fruit of their practice, which could be why some of the charlatans claim to have strange powers.
But there might be another aspect. Many of these masters might not be claiming these powers with the intention of fooling others. The truth might be that they are themselves fooled into believing in them. My friend gave an example from a Kungfu class that he had previously attended. On learning a new technique that involved grabbing the punching hand to control the attacker, he had found it really difficult to use this against a particular student’s punch that was fast, powerful, as well as nimbly withdrawn.
On discussing this with his master, the latter asked this same student to punch, and demonstrated the successful application of the technique. What my friend could see, however, was that against the master, this student’s punches were slower. He was not punching as best as he could but was instead delivering it right into his master’s technique.
This is what most students do – when their teacher or some senior they respect is demonstrating a technique, the cooperate with it and offer no resistance to make. This may be partly due to respect for the master, but also often due to fear of injury. If someone has been teaching for long and interacting only with his students who always yield to his techniques, he might gradually be convinced of his ability to use techniques that others are not, and may ascribe it to some special powers he has cultivated over the years. At the very least, he will have completely baseless confidence in many of his techniques that will work against his students, but no one else!
It is important for both students and teachers to be honest as well as sincere when participating in partner drills. Either you do your best, or at least let your partner know that you are holding back while they learn the technique. But once they learn it, you should offer more resistance so that you both know the extent to which the technique’s effectiveness depends on the co-operation of the receiver!