The other day, out of curiosity, I asked students in one of the digital art classes that I teach approximately how many hours a day they spend in front of some kind of monitor: a TV, computer, smart phone, etc. I was somewhat mildly surprised to find that even in Hawaii, with the sun and surf so near at hand, most of the students spent a huge chunk of time gazing at photons coming out at them from LED and Cathode ray tubes.
They’re doing schoolwork, homework, watching television reality shows of people not looking at monitors doing things in the fake “real world,” Facebooking friends back and forth, sending and receiving Tweets, watching movies, texting on cell phones, and so on. One robust young man who looked like a linebacker for a professional football team said he spent at least 11 hours gazing at a computer screen on a school day. A wan, thin young lady admitted to about eight hours. A military veteran said, well, maybe seven to eight hours doing school work, but it was better than when he was in the military service, working as a legal adjunct, writing up briefs. Sometimes he would put in 18 hour days writing up reports on a computer.
Whoever we are, as long as we are dealing with parsing and creating information in this modern society, we spend a whole lot of time sitting, reclining, slouching, lying around, gazing at a screen, our bodies disconnected from movement save for the clickity-clack of typing or moving a mouse or other pointer around. There’s no way around it. In an information and technology driven society, many of us, my digital art students included, will need to acquire and use skills that require manipulation of digital information. But that has got to take its toll on our bodies and, subsequently, our health.
I was thinking about it, and I thought that perhaps I too often pose critiques of martial arts and koryu, pointing out this esoteric issue or another. What’s wrong with that, what’s the problem with this. On the other hand, there’s a lot of good going on if you do any kind of martial art that gets your booty out of the reclining chair and burns off fat, regardless of what you do.
That’s because whatever budo you do, you’re moving. Now, I will still argue that there’s “better” martial arts training practices and there’s also important aspects of martial integrity, and other things that will qualify and quantify what I think are best practices in budo. These are important, because repetition of bad practice will only hurt, not help one’s health and well-being.
But back to the main point: Our human bodies, over thousands of years of evolution and survival of the “fittest” has become a biological machine that needs movement to stay fit and healthy. Then, in the past half-century, a new revolution has come and gone: the Information Revolution, in which digital processes have taken center stage as the driver of many economic, social and personal advances. It’s unprecedented. Our bodies are not geared for sitting around doing nothing all day while our brains do all the heavy lifting. We need to find time to rebalance the equation, to make sure our bodies and mind are both moving along healthily.
One student that I queried looked up from his computer monitor and asked, “Hey…what DID you guys do before computers?” What indeed. We watched television, when the reception was good. We played board games. We spent a lot of time in face to face conversations with our play pals, shooting the breeze in tree houses, dirt forts, on the beach, after work. We read books. Real books, printed on paper pages. There were movies, of course. I remember being there at the beginnings of the computer age and playing computer games, like Atari and PacMan. Writing term papers? That was a typewriter and big bottles of White-Outs. When I was in graduate school in Fine Art, I was keen on seeing what main frame computers in the university’s computer lab could do by way of visual art. And all I could get them to do by my own programming was to draw wireframe cubes and squares. So I went back to painting and printmaking by hand.
Still, in any day and age, there were ways to avoid physical exertion: binge drinking, imbibing illicit substances, hanging out, chewin’ the cud, doin’ nothin’ worth nothin’ at all. It just seems that nowadays, it’s a heck of a lot easier to be a sloth. And this urge to kick back and eat a bag of potato chips has to be countered with fun, meaningful exercise—not as a chore, but as something enjoyable, that the body craves and needs. Budo can do that, if you enjoy that kind of training.
What I have always enjoyed about budo training, in addition to its health benefits, is that it has other beneficial characteristics besides physical exertion. Done right, martial training can address overall joint dexterity, coordination, and mind-body unity. It also gives you a healthy dose of grounded reality. You may take on an “avatar” and be the hottest streetfighter in a video game, but if you can’t really lift your leg up past a bulging tummy, then you’re living in a fantasy world. There’s a place, of course, for fantasizing and entertaining games and movies. But some younger students that I encounter sometimes put too much emphasis on insubstantial projections of themselves on monitors and screens, and don’t work on themselves enough as living, breathing human beings who have to interact with other real people and real life.
So there are lots of peripheral positive benefits of good budo practice. You have to learn to interact with your peers in a social setting that involves cooperative group work and learning. You develop meaningful bonds based on shared experiences and goals. You find mentors and become a mentor. You find lifelong friends in the “real” world.
You could argue that an avid amateur golfer could find the same benefits in his own sport. I’m sure you can argue that point. Hey, whatever rocks your boat and gets your booty moving. It’s just that for me, martial arts training gets me out of my easy chair and away from the video screen, and gives my body a workout it needs and craves. It’s a great break, a wonderful relief. I love digital art and photography, but the eyes and mouse finger do need a rest sometimes.
So I may rant and rave in these blogs about some inequity or problem in budo, real or imagined, perhaps overblown or seriously endangering martial arts integrity. But in the grand scheme of things, I just love doing budo. It is a healthy outlet for my body, and it also helps keep my mind sane and active, too!