Enter the still and silent spirit of martial arts
More than a quarter of a century after thoroughly enjoying the original 1984 Karate Kid — and watching it repeatedly on TV over the years — the 2010 Karate Kid turned out to be more than just a nostalgic walk through memory. A simple tale of the inner transformation of a 12-year-old (Jaden Smith) from a fearful boy in a new school in a new country as he fights off a bully in a tournament under the guidance of a Kung Fu teacher (Jackie Chan) to a dignified return, the film explores the many facets of courage — and spirituality.
Kung Fu, Chan tells Smith in an intense moment, is in taking the jacket off and wearing it again. His point: the martial arts are not just about fighting, but life itself. It includes the physical stances, exercises, balance. But traditional martial arts also embrace an inner training where the mind, body and soul come together in a spiritual balance through breathing, stillness, calm.
Within Chinese martial arts, are other forms — Judo that plays with throwing and grappling; Karate that goes further into blocking and needs greater force. Beyond China lie more — the Korean Tae Kwon Do that’s similar to karate, but where the feet become the instrument of force; the Japanese Jiu Jitsu that uses the attacker’s strengths against him. In their essence, all martial arts are for self defence, not aggression.
But more than the glamorous fighting aspects, these arts are about harmonising the body, mind and spirit. They are first spiritual then martial, with their roots in Taoism and Buddhism. The 18 weapons — from sabre, spear and straight sword to axe, steel whip and hammer — that are taught in the second stage, where these weapons are seen as extensions of the body.
In this respect, the Chinese martial arts are similar to the Indian tradition, where the spirit is the guiding force of the body and all martial skills are, in addition to preservation, a technique of self-discovery. It is in this light that we need to see arts like Varanasi’s masti yuddha, Kerala’s kalaripayat or Andhra Pradesh’s kathi samu. It is a way of life and something whose roots like in religion but whose body resides in the science of prana, life. The common currency of Chinese and Indian martial arts is playing with the duo of energy and peace.
While Hollywood has explored the physical aspects in films like the Karate Kid franchise and actors like Steven Segal (he practises akido and supports the Tibetan freedom movement), the deeper aspects of the art are visible only to those looking for it. In Prahar, Nana Patekar plays Major Chauhan who in one tender moment tells a child that you fight not with your arms but with your mind.
Over a busy and loaded weekend — the Germany-Argentina and Spain-Paraguay matches — I managed to catch Karate Kid 2010 twice in the same hall. And came out with insights that some Western reviewers have debunked as cliché and predictable. They probably think that martial arts are about technology, guns, bombs. Good luck to them and their noise-surrounded readers.
For me, it’s the silence and stillness of the East — any day, any lifetime.
SOURCE: CUTTING THE EDGE