Tag Archives: WOOTW

The Three Reasons Why Martial Arts Are Always Spiritual (and WOOTW #67)

I’ve had many conversations with my son, my friends and my workout partners trying to get to the bottom of this question:

Why do martial arts have a profound spiritual effect on people?

In 9 out of 10 folks there seems to be a correlation between practicing martial arts and feelings of spiritual improvement — even when the specific martial art an individual is studying has no obvious spiritual components.  In addition to the aforementioned conversations I’ve done some research and some reading on the subject.  But what I’ve done mostly is a ton of soul searching and meditation.

My conclusion is that there are three primary reasons for this.

Exercise is spiritual medicine.  Exercise creates the ideal brain chemistry for spiritual experience by stimulating the production and release of endocannabinoids (the primary chemical responsible for runner’s high) and endorphins (natural pain killers).  This sets the stage for the next two reasons why martial arts correlate with spiritual experience.  The second one is…

Fraternity is a shared spiritual experience.    Working out with other people, in fact just being with other people, stimulates the production and release of vasopressin and oxytocin, the so-called “bonding molecules” which are linked with feelings of attachment, friendship and love.  Physical touching seems to be extra good and stimulating this release, and there’s a lot of touching other people in the martial arts.

That’s two reasons.  Now for the final one, the big one, the monster reason why martial arts and spiritual development go hand-in-hand.

Martial arts are about being a hero — doing battle with the Chaos Dragon — and that’s about as spiritual as it gets.  Sure, there’s some more brain chemistry involved here, but it’s more than that.  Setting goals and achieving them releases dopamine into your brain and overcoming challenges releases serotonin.  Dopamine is creates the sensation of pleasure and positive rewards, while serotonin, body’s natural anti-depressant, is tied to feelings of self worth, belonging and most of all confidence.  Fighting releases adrenaline, and that’s kind of fun and energizing too.  But the thing to focus on is that martial arts are another version of the hero myth.  As Joseph Campbell described it, the myth goes like this:

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

When you’re doing martial arts you’re venturing into the unknown, facing down God-knows-what potential challenges, and practicing how to protect yourself and the people you care about from harm.  That’s the essential, central story of human civilization, starting with Marduk fighting Tiamat — the world’s oldest known story! — up through Hercules vs. the Hydra, Beowulf vs Grendel, St. George, and so on.

When you’re doing martial arts you’re acting out a story so ancient, powerful and important — how could it not be spiritual?  That’s why in Cabal Fang we fly a flag with a black dragon on it.

Here’s a great article that sums up, and backs up, the assertions about brain chemistry I just made.

And now for the workout of the week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #67

  • 250 kicks as fast as you can.  If you want to kick as fast as a snake and as hard as a mule, you need to do more than 10 or 15 kicks a day.  My prescription is a minimum of two kicking sessions per week, one light (say a hundred kicks) and one heavy (approx 250 kicks) to a max of 1,000 per week.  More than that you’ll be wasting time and putting unnecessary wear and tear on your body.  Split your kicking time between heavy bag, shadowboxing, and focus mitts/pads.  Advanced folks should be able to get these done in under 12 minutes, but if you’re just starting out it’ll probably run more like 20.  If you’re not sore the next day you’re not working hard enough.
  • 10-Count Bodybuilders.  Beginner and intermediate players, do 50.  That should take you 7 to 12 minutes.  Advanced folks do 100.  See if you can beat my record of 16:54 or my son’s record of 16:11.
  • Confront the dragon and make a Hero’s List.  Restriction and adversity breed creativity, not freedom!  This is why your teachers gave you assignments like, “paint me a picture using just these three colors” and “make something functional from this pile of wood parts.”  Set a countdown timer for 5 minutes.  Before the timer beeps, list of 10 things you could do in your life that would exemplify the hero myth.  You might not make it to 10 but you’ll definitely have a list of things that you know you need to do but have been putting off.  Start being a hero today.
Did you like this article?  Then my book will blow your mind.  Buy a paper copy on Amazon or from Createspace or download the ebook here.

At the Crossroads of Arete and WOOTW #66

I just finished re-reading Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance for the third time.  It gets better every time I read it.  Haven’t read it?  You should fix that.

Anyway, one of the ideas central to the book is the Ancient Greek concept of arete or excellence.  Pirsig’s point (as I see it anyway) is that you as soon as you pluck a flower it starts to die, as soon as you mount a butterfly under glass you’ve destroyed it’s ethereal beauty, and as soon as you define excellence you’ve killed it’s dynamic, transformational potential.  Excellence (Pirsig uses the word quality) has to be ever-receding.  With excellence you never arrive.  Arete is a carrot hanging on a pole in front of a mule.  It should never get caught and eaten.  

As Lao Tzu said in Tao Te Ching,

“The tao which can be described is not the tao.”

The other day I stumbled on to an unusual coincidence concerning arete.

Flashback…

My mother had some challenges in her life that made it hard for her to be positive.  She always struggled focus on the future and on moving forward.  But she had a Bible passage that she clung to as an inspiration to be positive, and she passed on the wisdom of that passage to me when she gave me my bible about 40 years ago.

A couple of weeks ago something pretty awful happened, something really shocking and scary that put me on my heels.  So I reached out to that passage for some much-needed comfort.  The passage is Philippians 4:4-9, and it goes like this:

“Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance.  The Lord is at hand.  Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  And finally my brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.  What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.”

There are two things I want to point out in that passage.  The first is that Paul says “the peace of God, which passes all understanding,” which sounds a lot like the tao, or like ever-receding goodness.  The second is that, in the original Greek, the word Paul used for “excellence” is arete.

Yep, arete.

There was a Greek goddess named Arete who personified the idea.  According to Wikipedia,

“The only story involving Arete was originally told in the 5th century BC by the sophist Prodicus, and concerns the early life of the hero Heracles. At a crossroads, Arete appeared to Heracles as a young maiden, and offered him glory and a life of struggle against evil; her counterpart Kakia (κακία, “badness”), offered him wealth and pleasure. Heracles chose to follow the path of Arete.”

The concept of arete is an example of universal wisdom, and it’s embedded in all the world’s great philosophies and religions.  The quest for arete is personified in the tale of every hero, and I think also in the idea of Logos.

Which is why arete inheres in the Cabal Fang concept of mettlecraft.  Want to know more?  Get a copy of the book and read about it.  Ebook here, hardcopy here.

And now for the workout of the week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #66

Part One — High Intensity Circuit Training.  Set up four stations — a hitting station, a lifting station, a swinging station and a squatting station.  Set a timer for rounds of 2:00 minutes, no breaks, and complete 8 rounds — that’s 16:00 minutes. For the hitting station, hit a stump with an ax, punch a heavy bag with your fists, or beat on a tire with a sledge.  For the lifting station, flip a tire, squat press a barbell, lift a sandbag, etc.  You get the idea.   Improvise!  You must go as hard as you can — hit, lift, swing and squat with the maximum intensity you can muster.  Take as few 12-count breaks as you must in order to finish standing up.  Video below.

Part Two — Meditation on arete.  What the hell is excellence anyway?  Well, if you don’t have any idea what it is, you probably aren’t going to have any luck in your pursuit of it!  So set a timer for 8 minutes.  Assume your usual meditative posture and meditate on arete.  When you’re done, get out your training log or journal and write at least 100 words on what arete means to you.

 

 

TRUTH! (and Workout of the Week #65)

“Truth?” you ask.  “What about it?”  Well, truth is a big deal.  So much so that you can, as a thought experiment, divide the world into two camps: (A) those who believe in rigid, timeless, objective truths and (B) those who believe that truth varies from person to person and objective truth is a fantasy.  And it sometimes seems as though the evening news is just a blow-by-blow retelling of the unceasing conflict between the two.

In this video, philosopher Michael Patrick Lynch walks you through how to start getting at the truth through the idea of shared, common reality.  He says,

“Protagoras said that objective truth was an illusion because “man is the measure of all things.” That can seem…liberating, because it allows each of us to discover or make our own truth.  But actually, I think it’s a bit of self-serving rationalization disguised as philosophy. It confuses the difficulty of being certain with the impossibility of truth. “

One of the best TED talks I’ve listened to in recent memory.

And now for the Cabal Fang Workout of the Week.  Sorry, by the way, for missing last week.  Stuff happened.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #65

  • Heavy Bar training drill.  Get yourself a heavy bar — a digging bar, barbell bar, etc. — and pick it up.   Small folks use a #20, big folks use a something heavier.  Beginners work for 6 minutes, intermediate 12, advanced 18 — do not put down the bar for the duration of the drill.  Move that bar around like you would a staff if you were fighting — spearing movements, jabs, pokes, blocks, bracing maneuvers (striking with the portion between the hands), and so on.  In addition, practice your Figure-4 locks.  If your arms completely gas, put the bar behind your neck and do 10 to 20 Squats, then start again.  Wear gloves if you’re a tenderfoot.
  • 24-Hour commitment to truth.  Make a commitment to speak the truth for the next 24 hours.  The point isn’t to be blunt, rude or hurtful.  To avoid that you’re going to need to slow down, choose your words carefully, and express what you’re feeling.  Note: this isn’t the first time I’ve talked about truth.  If you like this one, you might appreciate the previous one.

 

My New Every Day Carry (“EDC”) and WOOTW #62

Marble’s safety pliers. This was your granddad’s multi-tool.

Recently I’ve had several meaningful conversations with friends and acquaintances inside and outside the martial arts regarding the subject of “EDC” or “every day carry” — referring to pocket knives, pistols or what-have-you.  I used to carry a tactical folder with assisted open by S.O.G.

But I read a couple of articles about how carrying a weapon increases stress hormone production and I watched the episode of Through the Wormhole called “Is Gun Crime a Virus?” and I started wondering.  If I didn’t have a weapon on me, might I be more relaxed and more likely to use my head and avoid trouble?  I started thinking.

And then I listened to an episode of the AOM podcast with Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry) She talked about how the world is lots safer than we all think it is, which made me go looking for data.  And I found said data on ourworldindata.org  which is the coolest website ever.  Did you know that minimum wage in the U.S. puts you in the top 10% of wage earners worldwide, and a salary of $50,000 puts you in the top 1%?

Anyway, what I found out was, that the homicide rate in the U.S. is about what it was in 1965 and that, generally speaking, the world is safer than it’s ever been.  I kind of already knew this.  But apparently you have realize things over and over again in order to permanently realize them. 

In the end I decided that what was good enough for Grandpa is good enough for me. He didn’t need to carry a pistol or a folding pocket sword and neither do I.

So here’s my new “EDC.”

Marble’s safety pliers, unfolded this time. Pliers, Phillips head screwdriver, knife blade, file/screwdriver combo

If you want one you can get it from Old ’97 Knives in Danville, VA.  The owner’s name is coincidentally Ronald Mitchell (no direct relation I’m aware of).   When I ordered mine I had ’em in two days.

Moving on…

If I’m going to make Cabal Fang the best martial art it can be, then I need to become the best Robert Mitchell I can be.  So, in addition to being enrolled in online seminary to improve my spiritual education, I’m also pursuing my continuing martial education by becoming an Apprentice Coach under Mark Hatmaker — gentleman, scholar, martial artist, coach, and mud runner extraordinaire.  The Cabal Fang Workout of the Week is one of Mark’s.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #62

A BOXER’S GRINDER

• Push-Ups 30

• Squats 75

• 3-minutes of hard shots on the heavy bag as if your life depends on it

• Sit-Ups 30

Beginners do 1 set, intermediates 2 sets, advanced players do 3 sets, and complete nutcases do 4 sets.  I finished 4 sets in 39:01.

Updates: Travel, 501(c)3 Status, WOOTW, etc.

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Temple Fund Recycling Efforts

See slideshow above.  I’ve been accumulating aluminum and other recyclables to benefit the Cabal Fang Temple Fund.  This past Saturday I took the first batch up to C&C Cullet on Route 1.  Four bags of aluminum cans, two auto batteries and 80 pounds of scrap metal earned us $50.00 to add to the Cabal Fang Temple Fund.

What’s the Cabal Fang Temple Fund?  It’s the fund to build or buy dedicated space for training and other activities.  Current balance $388.00.

More to come!

Travel Postpones Next Workout of the Week

From Thursday through Saturday this week I’ll be in Radford, VA for Karate College 2017.  Workout of the Week #62 will be delayed until July 1st.  Can you make it a week without it?  Sure you can.

501(c)3 Tax Exempt Status

A couple of months back I mailed the IRS our 501(c)3 paperwork for Cabal Fang Temple, Inc.   What was their reply?  A letter stating that they will give their ruling in no more than 180 days.  Um, okay.

So, changing the subject…

My Vacation Pictures

Speaking of travel, a couple of weekends back the wife and I took a little trip out the western part of Virginia.  We stayed at Hotel Strasburg which was was fun, but to be honest, I really can’t recommend it.  It’s a 100+ year-old building packed with antiques and it could be the ultimate in “shabby-chic.”  Problem is, it really needs some TLC and a deep cleaning.

But the we stomped around town, went to Luray one day, spent hours in the Strasburg Emporium and the Strasburg Museum, spent a day driving around on Skyline Drive, and generally had a blast.

If you’re that area, by all means stop at E. Pearls.  What an amazing shop!  I was so wrapped up in the place and talking with the shop owner that I forgot to take pictures.   He sells art and terrariums, that’s it.  Somehow he makes those things fit together, and its fun and charming and different and really cool.

And of course we sent to Family Drive-In Theatre and Cooter’s Dukes of Hazzard Museum.  How could we skip those?

See you when I get back from Karate College!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Bar and Grill: Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #61

This week includes a modified version a workout shared by the wrestling encyclopedia himself Mark Hatmaker.  Mark is a gentleman and a scholar, and I will be training with him next week at Karate College 2017.  Can’t wait!

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week  #61: DOWN AT THE BAR AND GRILL

  • Get yourself a bar.  Whatever you have available will work fine — an empty weight bar or a weighted workout bar is best, but a wrecking bar is fine (even two dumbbells if you have to, just go lighter than you think you should at first blush).  I used a #20 digging bar.    Whatever you pick up, do not put down for the length of the workout.  Do 25 Military Presses, 18 Walking lunges (bar at waist or chin, your call), 25  Knuckle Push-ups (squeeze that bar!), and 18 more Walking Lunges.  Do that 3 more times.  That’ll be 4 sets total, a grand total of 100 presses, 144 Walking Lunges, and 100 Knuckle Push-ups.  Take as few 12-count breaks as you need to finish.
  • Now grill yourself.  Not literally of course, but figuratively.  Think of a time when said or did something that makes you feel ashamed.  Analyze it completely, get down to the who-what-when-where-and-why of it.  No excuse-making.  Be honest with yourself.  What can you learn from this dissection?  Have you atoned?  If not, should you?  Did others forgive you, or have they held grudges?  Were you ever punished?  Were the consequences just?  How do you think others who make similar mistakes deserve to be treated?

Putting Out and WOOTW #60

This is a quote from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. The older I get the more sense this book makes. Haven’t read it? Do it.

Big Black a.k.a. Christopher Boykin — who just passed away last month of a heart attack at age 45 — had this catchphrase that I like.  It’s simply “Do work.”  And what that basically means is that you need to buckle down and put in some effort to be excellent.

“Do work” is a modern, slang, short-hand version of a very large and complex idea that’s explored, and think ultimately proven to be true, in the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  That idea is that the quest for quality is what gives birth to all great philosophies and religions, and that it has incredible power to transform individuals and cultures.

The short version goes like this: When people pay attention and strive for excellence they are on the right track.  But when they don’t pay attention and they don’t care about what they’re doing things go wrong.  That’s oversimplified by about six bushes and a peck, and there’s much more there of value that you’ll get if you read the danged book.

But in the meantume, just try it.  Pay attention, take responsibility, focus on quality and “do work.”  Everything that the pursuit of quality touches is made brighter.

And now for the Cabal Fang Workout of the Week.

Cabal Fang Workout of the Week #60

  • Boxing HIIT for Accuracy: Setup a slip ball and a heavy bag so that you can switch between the two.  Set timer for 1:00 rounds and complete 20 of them, alternating between ball and bag.   On the heavy bag rounds, focus on hitting precise targets on the bag.  Put a few “Xs” on the bag with medical tape if your bag doesn’t have dots or targets.  On the slip ball rounds, focus on executing perfect and crisp pops and slips.  Muddy movements are easy for opponents to read!  When done, cool down by walking it off for 3 minutes.
  • Writing exercise.  Get out your training journal and write 100 words minimum about quality.  What does quality mean to you? Have there been times in your life when you have and have not done quality work?  Compare, contrast and explore.