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To me ultimately martial arts means honestly expressing yourself.

Bruce Lee

Like a moth drawn to the light, I have always been drawn to martial arts.  Practically before I could walk my father was teaching me how to wrestle.  From the age eight every morning was filled with miles of running and after school hours of practice.  Each weekend was filled with road trips and tournaments across the west coast of America.  Cutting weight, bruises, sweat and blood were the norm.  After high school this led to a short stint in learning how to fight with my feet in Tae Kwon Do and then training with a true legend and one of Bruce Lee’s initial students Sijo James Demile in a form of Chinese Boxing called Wing Chun.  I then spent many years away from martial arts as I moved away from Seattle and spent my time focused on business.  I didn’t realize the missing in my life until I started training again a few years ago with my friend and Sijo’s head instructor Korbett Miller.  I am back to my grappling roots in training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I feel at home again.

Yesterday I realized the depth of my home and reach of the martial arts community.  Bruce Lee’s first student Jesse Glover was laid to rest in Lakeview cemetery in Seattle roughly 50 feet from Bruce’s gravesite. The martial arts community came out in force to pay respect to Jesse who was an amazing teacher in his own right and an individual who positively impacted the community. I met Bruce’s wife Linda and listened to the words and humility of incredible martial artists and human beings.

One Jesse’s students spoke about being humble. I reflected on these words as the root of a true artist is humbleness. A true martial artists does not train to kill or maim, or to DEFEAT.  A martial artist competes with themself on how great they can be, on removing any barriers that confront them in their own greatness.  Greatness is not defined in winning and losing.  It is not defined in beating one’s chest and screaming to the world that you are the greatest.  A true martial artists knows there is always someone better.  All one can do is uncover the greatness within oneself, to reveal their true expression, or as Bruce Lee’s called this ‘honestly expressing’ oneself.  Martial Arts is thus an expression of the capabilities of one human being, constantly striving to better oneself, to defeat those barriers which limit our true self-expression.

During the service I also heard the words of dedication and repetition.  It has been said that a black belt is simply a white belt that does not quit.  Receiving a black belt in most disciplines typically takes longer than receiving a Doctor’s degree.  Belt color is irrelevant, but persistence and dedication is a way of being that once developed becomes one’s way in life.

As I stood among the tombstones overlooking Lake Washington, I thought of death.  Death has always been at the forefront of a Martial Artist. It has also been at the forefront of Zen practitioners. The famous Samurai turned monk Shosan constantly beat this drum of focusing on death. If one is present to death and that this life in this body will pass in a blip in Universal time then one can truly live.  Once we come to peace with dying can we truly live.  We can let go of fear and understand this is only a transition for our energy. A warrior understands this and then completely respects and appreciates life.  Being present to death creates a presence to NOW.  All we have is right now.

I am grateful that I have found a way to connect my mind, my body and my soul in martial arts and in other areas such as meditation and yoga.  Finding passions in life that allow us to reflect and expand ourself move us from an ordinary life to an extraordinary life.  It is here we find balance and our true self.  It is here that we uncover our true being.  It is here that we strip away the layers and we become who we are meant to be.  It is here that the honesty dwells within us.  It is here that we honestly express ourselves to the world and to this universe.

Bruce Lee was a true pioneer.  He was ostracized for teaching martial arts to non Asians.  He was ridiculed for training across different martial arts versus sticking to one style.  He was the original cross trainer, the original Mixed Martial Artist.  More importantly he was a philosopher who studied Buddhist and Taoist ways.  He was the embodiment of honestly expressing himself.

In this I will always remember the words on the back of the memorial bench at his gravesite:

The key to immortality is first living a life worth remembering.

Call to Action: 

    • Find your passions in life that push you to the best that you can be.  Inspect and grow each day.  Look within for growth.  You will not find it outside of oneself.
    • Honestly express yourself.  Remove the fear and barriers that keep you from full self-expression connecting your mind, your body and your soul.
    • Live a life worth remembering.  It is not about you.  What are you committed to on this planet as this is far bigger than you as self, as an individual.
    • Be LOVE

Thomas D. Craig

Author A Cup of Buddha