Monday, March 19, 2018

Hesychasm- The Move that Hits

When I was younger I did a combination of American Karate, Kali, and Muay Thai, eventually going on to win a Muay Thai national championship at 12 years old. The smallest fighter in my gym, I was usually called "Killer Bee" for the strength of my hits and a sense of ignoring danger that resulted in me being knocked to the floor more often than not. My sifu loaned me as many books as I liked and I devoured them, particularly a book by international kick-boxing star Benny Urquidez called Training and Fighting Skills. In the book Benny states that the most powerful move in a fighter's arsenal is a spinning back kick. The physics behind it make it, by far, the most potent move a fighter can pull on someone without trying to kill them. Being the snarky young boy I was I asked my sifu what the most powerful move was.

Without missing a beat he replied "Whatever knocks your opponent out and stops the fight."

I was not to be outdone. I tried explaining what I'd read and my sifu laughed. He brought up another instructor and told him to do a spinning back kick. Right in the middle of the move my sifu kicked the guy in the butt and he fell over. It was hardly a kick, too, but merely a shove right as his partner turned and was on one leg. The rest of the class laughed at me and my sifu, who seemed to appreciate whatever disrespectful banter I threw his way, gave me a "I won" grin. I was embarassed. But I learned the lesson.

Whatever gets the job is what should be done, no matter how simple or complicated it is. If it works it works.

As time went on my sifu elucidated further what he meant. Why hit someone with your fist when you can smash a glass bottle into his face, catching him off balance and cutting him? Why block when you can throw your whole body into the incoming blow, throwing your opponent off balance and allowing you to get the opening you needed, and all for the cost of a bruised rib or arm? If the fight ended and you walked away and they didn't then what did it matter? You got your result.

This philosophy has never failed me, but I've sure failed to live it by my fear of appearing strange and my lack of patience to find an actual solution, as opposed to what I can do without thinking. I fear most of us do this and I'm far from alone. Eastern Christian hesychasm teaches a form of this with its prohibition against mental images, an edict of that theology that seems to leave most people puzzled as to its meaning. The mind makes images, it imagines, that's one of its key features! In addition the same Fathers who prohibit images tell us to imagine certain things, like the pains of Hell and the blessesdness of Heaven. Why on earth would they do that?

In fighting terms I think they're telling us to walk into our spiritual warfare without preconceived notions, but to analyze our situations dispassionately and act accordingly with the tools we have at our disposal. Is the Jesus Prayer not working in a particular situation but Psalm 122 is? Love of God, use Psalm 122 right then and there and don't develop an attachment to it. Wait to see if it works again. Build a repertoire of spiritual combative moves that work for you, regardless of how strange they are. Throw out your notions of what you think should work and go with what does.

That being said, get ready for what you think is strange to happen, a lot. The same Philokalia that tells you to ban images from you mind says very clearly in St. Hesychios's writings that, once you shut down the sinful activity, your soul generates good things of its own accord. And then you will notice all sorts of incredible things that God does that no one else can, because He's not talking to them, He's talking to you. You're not being condemned to a mental life of darkness and silence, like Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan. You're merely giving up what you think is important so that way the Bearer of Light can bring you out of your self-imposed entombment back into the light, where everyone is waiting for you and the treasures that God put within your soul. But that means acknowledging that walking into every fight with a demon and/or yourself won't be solving with a spinning back kick but to keep it simple and direct, fighting to win, as opposed to being flashy and feeling good about how you won. How you feel about how you won is far less important than the fact that you won. You're not shadowboxing , but are in a real and constant fight that will last up until the second you draw your last breath. Those last few minutes are, in reality the only moments that matter in your whole life. Everything else is training.

Train smart. Let go of the spinning back kicks.

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