What’s Missing From Most Western Training Methods

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I’m generally not someone who automatically assumes we in the West have gotten it all wrong. I’ve known people through the year who are convinced that anything that comes from India, or the East in general, is somehow superior, more “right” than anything we do in this part of the world.

Again, I’m not one of them.

Hell, part of what I liked about DDP Yoga was that it was all the exercise without the mumbo jumbo.

But what if some mumbo jumbo is something we all need to add to our training, particularly our combat training?

In particular, I’m talking about the intersection of training and spirituality.

As it stands, when most of us train, it’s about us. We train for us or we’re training for our next fight or we’re training to defend ourselves. Sometimes, we say it’s not really about us, but about those we care about, those we have to defend.

That is to the good.

But recently, I watched a clip about Kalaripayattu, supposedly the first martial art. It was interesting in general, and I think this is something I’d like to study more in-depth (academically, at least), but one thing stuck out to me.

In the clip, it talked about their schools. It seems they build the building, scrap a fair bit of topsoil out of it, then dedicate it to one god or another within their belief system.

The reason this stuck out was because of an article I read several years ago about Kushti wrestlers, also from India. In particular, this part:

Regardless of the exercise, they are all used in a practical manner. Nothing is fancy or flamboyant. Quite the opposite, the gymnasiums of Akhara are of pure minimalist design, with earthen floors, no fan or air conditioning units, rarely any mirrors, no sound systems. If you are lucky, there is a water pump for your rehydration needs. The equipment is equally spartan, constructed from clay, stone, bamboo poles, wood, and iron. This is fitness stripped to its most bare and naked form.

Rarely will you hear screams for “One more rep!” or the clanking and clashing of heavy iron. Egos are left at the door, for the Akhara is also a temple to the Hindu god of strength, Hanuman. This monkey deity has a shrine at each gymnasium, and before and after training the wrestlers will pay their respects by offering simple prayers. As such, each Akhara is by definition a holy place and is treated as such by all who enter.

So, basically, this is another school for combat that has room for worship of a sort.

They train at church, to put it in Western terms.

Now, again, what they do in India isn’t inherently superior, but I can’t help but think they got it right on this one.

Do I know why I think that? Hell, I haven’t got a clue.

To be clear, I don’t want to introduce Indian mysticism or Hindu faith into my personal training. As I’m not someone who has any interest or belief in that direction, it would be more of a mockery than anything else. While I typically roll my eyes at every utterance of the phrase “cultural appropriation” not offered in jest, I’m also not an insensitive ass.

Well, not usually.

But something I really want to explore is a way to bring Western beliefs and spiritualism into western training. So much of it is missing.

You see, when you walk into many karate dojos, the teachers make it clear that the martial art is about more than fighting. They give you a list of things it’s about, but there’s often a spiritual aspect to it as well. The student on his knees in the corner, eyes closed, as he waits for his sparring opponent. The shrine to Buddha in the corner. Things like that.

Now, walk into a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or MMA school and look around. A lot of that is absent. You won’t find it.

Some might argue that since those schools’ training is more effective in the real world, it probably doesn’t matter. They might be right in many ways.

However, some of that other stuff serves to do more to help us keep ourselves in check than anything else.

You see, when you’re training to fight, you need to understand aggression. You need to foster it. But when the training is over, when you’re away from the cage/mat/whatever, you need to keep it in check.

That’s where the “spiritualism stuff” comes in. It tones that down, keeps it in check for the rest of the world. At least, potentially.

All of this is easy to say, mostly because it’s just my early morning ramblings about a five minute or so video on YouTube. But this is something I really need to explore, at least to some degree.

No, I’m not telling everyone, “Y’all need Jesus.” I have my faith and you’re welcome to yours. In fact, I’m not even sure we need religion in our training, especially as it’s such a thorny subject for so many people.

But I do think we need something.

I’ve touched on this before, I’ll admit. I find the concept intriguing. The trick is to find a balance that’s right for each of us.

For some, they can basically build a chapel and set up a wrestling mat and call it good. For others, they need to be a bit more subtle. I’m probably in that latter camp, to be fair.

Yet I think it’s also good to create a spiritual connection with our training, something we can feel good about while we train to hurt people and break things. Something that can keep us grounded and focused on not becoming the monsters we’re seeking to combat.

Hell, I don’t know if this is making any sense at this point. It’s not a concept I’ve successfully managed to flesh out with any success in the past and unless I figure out a way to bounce the ideas off of someone else, I’m stuck. Still, I maintain that not only is it an interesting concept, but one we should at least consider.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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