When I think of the skills that will help people to survive the transition to a post-consumer culture (or even a post-collapse culture) martial arts is near the top of the list (along with environmental science and Indigenous skills, basic household skills (including farming and gardening), languages, and socio-emotional learning (SEL)).
Ideally, in whatever future unfolds, we won’t need to defend ourselves because we’ve provided helpful services to our communities, built interdependent relationships, and gained others’ respect (even if they feel threatened by our ecocentric philosophy). If not, hopefully we can use our SEL to diffuse conflicts instead of fight them. But when those two paths fail, Gaians should not be defenseless, but should be able to end confrontations as safely and quickly as possible. Not just for ourselves, but for others who may be targeted by those who will inevitably use force to survive or grow in power as the old systems of order and justice breakdown. Defending those less able to defend themselves is just, as well as a valuable way to spread our understanding of Gaia and our philosophy (as is providing training in those skills).
A year ago, I joined a karate dojo in my hometown and it has been a great experience. Even ignoring its value for when systems fail, the camaraderie I’m building within this community of practice has been joyful—even as our relationships remain almost entirely practice-based. The training and strengthening too have been valuable. As has the mental challenge of learning new kata (series of karate moves that help expand one’s knowledge and heighten one’s instinctive combinations of movements).
The reminders of being disciplined, and to avoid conflict if possible (including being constantly aware of your surroundings) have also been useful. As has the prolific use of “sir and ma’am” when talking with black belts. Showing up with no experience, having to say yes sir, yes ma’am, recognizing that no matter how much I learn there will be ever more knowledge and skill out of reach has been humbling and an ego-neutralizer, which to a proud person provides an important lesson. (Our head of the dojo, who is 70-years old and has practiced karate for more than 40 years, refuses to take the title of sensei as he says he still has much to learn from the 80-year old sensei and leader of our style—who still practices daily and runs a dojo in New York. Humility and healthy aging—two valuable lessons I’m learning!)
Martial Arts and Buddhism
An interesting bit of history—one I had to check if it was real or myth—is that Buddhist temples in China trained their monks in martial arts to defend their estates. It seems that this was indeed the case. But the history is more complex than that. A few of the earliest converts to Buddhism were highly trained in martial skills, and spreading those skills to others—and during that unstable ‘warring period’ in Chinese history, I’m sure leaders quickly found the benefit of having at least some of their monks trained in these skills (not all monks got this training).
Having monks trained in martial arts will certainly be valuable in the disrupted future that’s coming as well. Perhaps one day there will even be a Gaian-style martial arts—a higher likelihood if Gaians seek out and refine their martial arts training now. I imagine the ideal art would incorporate meditation, perhaps yogic stretching (I’ve found a lot of overlap in yogic stretches and karate stances), kata, sparring, and weapons—which are a natural part of martial arts, and are practiced in my dojo. It would also incorporate nature into the practice–outdoor practice, sustainable design, learning in the hot of summer and cold of winter (our dojo—being free of air conditioning—shows that’s possible!). Multi-generational learning should also be a part of the design. My son and I practice together, learning from everyone, including 14 year old brown belts, even 11-year old green belts. Now, we wear green belts and are teaching others, at least informally. My son, who is 7, even corrects the kata practice of 50-year old yellow-belts—which is a good opportunity to internalize leadership and service, and grow in self-confidence.
But until there are Gaian dojos out there, or systems breakdown, it’d be valuable to find a nearby karate or aikido dojo, or kung fu kwoon where the instructor and students are respectful, serious, and clearly know what they’re doing (there is a phenomenon I’m learning about as I explore the world of karate called McDojos—stay away from those!). Practice regularly, ideally a little every day, and one day these skills might save your life or protect your community.