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Sunday, February 20, 2011

Facing the Music

There are various Ways. There is the Way of salvation by the law of  Buddha, the Way of Confucius governing the Way of learning, the Way  of healing as a doctor, as a poet teaching the Way of Waka, tea, archery, and many arts and skills. Each man practices as he feels inclined. It is said the warrior's is the twofold Way of pen and sword, and he should have a taste for both Ways.
- Miyamoto Musashi, A Book of Five Rings

My journey into the martial arts has been nothing short of an obsession over the past fourteen months. I have trained, I have exercised, I have read every book I could find, and I have researched every available source on the internet. There are days when it seems the martial arts are the only thing I talk about. My wife, bless her heart, has managed not to complain much, because she knows the martial arts make me happy.

But not so long ago, music made me happy. I spent my evenings in the living room with my guitar, playing old songs and writing new ones. I spent my weekends in the downtown shopping district of Waukesha, Wisconsin, singing at bars or playing outdoor concerts during the summer.  My guitar never used to get put away; it would live in a chair or on the couch for days at a time. Music, more than anything else, has been my life's work to this point.

The opportunities in Waukesha have slowed to a standstill this winter, and the guys in the band have bigger economic problems to worry about than reviving our schedule of low-playing bar gigs. And all the time I spent working on music at home has been replaced by training martial arts, working out to condition for training martial arts, reading books about the martial arts, and now writing a blog about the martial arts.

I haven't written a song since I started training. I'm not sure I've even learned a new song in that time.

There are some, no doubt, who would ask why replacing one passion with another is such a horrible thing. The martial arts are certainly a worthwhile use of time, and the money I was making as a musician was drying up anyway. Why not take things in a new direction?

For starters, as I have mentioned before, I have a talent for music that I do not have for the martial arts, and it bothers me to squander it. What's more, music has been an important part of my life for a long time: it's the legacy that my mother and father passed to me, it's what brought my wife and me together, and it's how I met many of my friends. It's not something I can just throw away now.

There's more to it than that, though.

According to the samurai Confucianist philosopher Nakae Toju (Cleary, p.31-42), a man's practice of the martial arts is an extension of his sense of justice, while his practice of the cultural arts like calligraphy and music is an extension of his sense of humanity. Furthermore, says Toju, the sense of justice and the sense of humanity must inform one another to be complete and genuine: humanity without justice is weak sentimentality, and justice without humanity is cold ruthlessness.

In order to be the man I want to be, the man I want the martial arts to help me become, I need to cultivate my humane self and my just self, in order that they might cultivate each other. I need to be an artist and a warrior. To abandon my music in favor of the martial arts would, in the end, be a betrayal of the cause the martial arts were intended to serve in my life.

So what am I going to do about it? Well, in the long run, I'm not sure.

But tonight, I think I'll reacquaint myself  with a few old songs.

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