There is a white belt technique in Japanese Jiu Jitsu called a ‘straight arm lock’; the opponent or uke makes a strike towards the stomach (deemed to be a knife attack) and the response is to move off the centre line whilst simultaneously striking the uke’s wrist, grabbing it, pushing the attacking arm up and away, breaking the elbow joint with a palm heel strike, striking the jaw, then wrapping the left arm over the uke’s attacking arm, grabbing the gi (belt) and pulling down on the uke’s wrist, thus applying a lock.
The move is, of course, easier shown than explained and it is a fairly basic technique to perform. One could feasibly learn the move from a textbook; however, I found that during training I could complete the technique but was not able to make my opponent tap out. It took some patience from my sensei to show me how to go deeper when wrapping my arm around the uke’s arm and how to turn the wrist so as to cause pain when I applied the lock.
To the observer there was no difference; at first it looked as if I was performing the technique as instructed, but over time I was able to become smoother and more efficient, applying the lock every time. Later I learned to continue the move into a position where the uke was taken to the ground and the knife went into the attacker’s throat.
The purpose of this description of a martial arts technique is not to boast about self-defence. The modern street knife attack tends to be six rapid stabs in the back and the theft of a wallet and smartphone, leaving the victim dying in the gutter, not having seen or heard the approach. Gone are the days when a mugger was decent enough to show you his blade before commencing an assault.
The point I want to make is that it can be easy to slip into the world of pure intellectualism where we think we understand something but have never tested it physically. Until the ‘straight arm lock’ is attempted, we cannot know if it works, and when we do get it to work (even just in the dojo) there is a deepening of our understanding.
There are so many things we ‘know’ in this modern age, yet often we do not properly understand these things; neither do we reap the benefits from physical practice. Some things are extraordinarily simple to explain, but one must perform the action many times over to appreciate its subtleties.
From meditation to weightlifting to shooting a rifle – none of these things are complex. Meditation is focusing the attention on the breath with consistency. Weightlifting is moving an object repetitively and increasing the load over time. Rifle shooting is aiming a weapon at a target, pulling the trigger and making adjustments in regards to distance and where the bullet strikes.
There is absolutely no point in lengthening the above descriptions until one begins to perform the activity.
In days gone by, our folk fasted simply because they couldn’t always acquire food rather than an intellectual desire for optimal health. They punched each other in the face to protect their resources. They didn’t read books about such things because the action was all there was and all that was required.
Nowadays we have the false luxury of learning without doing. This can be a pleasure; spending a winter’s evening by the fire reading a book on the exploits of a fly-fisherman is a fine way to relax. And YouTube offers infinite hours of education. But we must never forget that our primary method of learning has to be the physical realm.
Even spiritual exploration is done via the physical; without the sensation of the breath, one could not meditate. Indeed, if there was no sensation, it would mean that a higher state of awareness had been achieved – we would be dead and the body (our vehicle for this realm of existence) would have already been left behind.
One intellectual mistake is to overcomplicate things. I understand that the YouTuber, podcaster and author is required to ‘flesh out’ his or her ideas, but often it gets much too wordy. Of course, paying a wedge of cash for a book on meditation only to be told, “Just breathe!”, or a self-defence manual which stated, “Rip his head off!” might appeal to the TLDR (too long; didn’t read) generation but to an old school chap like me, who enjoys his books, it would look like a scam. And so there is a balance to be struck; no one wants to see the Kama Sutra reduced to a meme.
The moral of this story is to take what you have learned and apply it. Do real things. Walk, lift, fight, ride, breathe.
If the way of the modern world concerns you, then the activism required for radical change lies in the simple acts of your recent ancestors.