Autonomous Kenpo

by Stephen LaBounty (2007-10-02)

In these times, following someone else's rules has far less appeal than inventing one's own, even if the rules were made by God! Here's an example: the word obedience. How does that word make you feel? Be honest now, don't analyze it and come up with a politically correct metaphor so you won't be considered "rigid".

What comes into your mind: dog training? slavery? marriage? parental control? (does that still exist?). Is it something that you equate with stiff-necked, locked-step loyalty to some idea, philosophy or, in this case, teacher or system? Well, for many it very well might, though it can have some positive connotations for others. Some look at it as docility and no martial artist worth his/her salt wants to be considered docile!

It is my belief that a few martial artists became weary of obedience, which can translate into "weary of discipline". Not possible for a true martial artist in my way of thinking.

Everyone wants a "no-fault" life. You know: "It's not MY fault," or "I'm not going to get involved." This is becoming more the norm than I had even believed, even though I was, and still am, looking at all of these conditions without a jaundiced eye.

Many, many martial artists of today yearn to be considered independent, daring, creative, morally and physically autonomous. Most will get their wish and die so. In practice, human beings always accept some kind of authority, and in order to endure, the authority must be seen as legitimate. The teacher, the system then, is obeyed out of respect, out of concern for the common good, or for fear of punishment. Internalizing the authority of the teacher as the "law" becomes the temporary substitute for their thinking, and so the "yes ma'am's and yes sir's" are recited as part of the custom and ceremony of their dojo.

In recent decades, an astonishing number of my contemporaries as well as many others, have become suddenly enlightened. They've washed their hands of external authority entirely, and vested themselves in a sacred mission in their own self-actualized, but at times whimsical, importance.

But however vigorously these anarchists may reject the concept of obedience, they rarely escape the rules. For to have traveled on the Kenpo road for anytime, the rules are necessary for progress. Those who eschew the ceremonies, titles, uniforms, and such, forget the past so that for some, it doesn't come back to haunt them. They move ever forward to increase the fold with their knowledge and skills, and to look back would be disastrous. But they have to remind their willing listeners that basics, power, stance, faith, family, tradition is what glued them to the system (even though they may have left it) and though they don't honor all of that anymore it's still a part of the history and thereby not distancing themselves from the majority of common-sensed pupils.

Some go so far as to vilify the past as unimportant, medieval, out of touch and then amass thousands in a movement that becomes art without form or music without melody. Yet, as they stumble into a god-like fog, they justify promoting themselves in rank, in print, and in the "pulpit" of public opinion. Then they become "legitimate". Or so it seems.

Everything we are in Kenpo, everything we have in Kenpo we owe to teachers immemorial. We owe it to their obedience to an idea or concept that was put into action, tested and re-tested. In every generation the challenges abound and change is needed. But without the obedience to the fundamental principles of an individual, dedicated, obedient warrior who in battle applies his skill, no true evolution takes place. The ancient warriors believed that in virtue came true emptiness, thus true happiness.

The primary virtue to me is obedience. What it means to me and what it means to you can differ, but it is necessary and always will be.

I write this as a catharsis for my own soul. I do not mention, nor infer anyone's name or association. I am Edmund K. Parker's student still. He was not my god. He was not my spiritual leader. He was my friend, teacher, and mentor and remains so. He gave me permission to evolve, and in exercising that permission, I am obedient to his wishes. He did not give me permission to elevate myself falsely or let my runaway ego dominate my honest thinking of war and art. In that I am obedient as well.