It has taught me truth, courage, leadership and self-trust...
For twenty years now I have been a practitioner of KALI, the art of Filipino Fencing. Some refer this to the Filipino Martial Arts. What I have endured and learned in the past two decades has shaped me into the human I am today but, it wasn't just the art itself, it was because of the choice of complete devotion to a path of deepness, a dedication that would demand a different kind of long distance travel. A travel to within.
Over the years of training the practice evolved patiently. Even at the times I wasn't patient. I remember the early days, even the first day, filled with excitement, fright, and eagerness. When it was new it was so difficult not only to get the physical motions down but also to resolve the emotions and still the mind. I didn't realize at the time the journey, the process that would be endured all from that single moment, that single decision, that simple phrase, "yes, I'll go check it out."
What I've learned in twenty years of practice in one thing are so many things. I've learned about fighting, I've learned about nature, people, virtue, potential, courage, bravery, perfection, stillness, decision making, emotions, communication, failure, success, what it means to be dedicated, and I've learned much about myself. I've learned about the battles one has within and doesn't even realize them or chooses to be ignorant of but, the most important things I have learned about are virtue and dedication. This is where everything else truly begins.
There is no dedication without virtue or at least the search of virtue. Commitment is easy. It's just showing up. When one falls off the wagon it is easy to recommit the next day but, dedication you either have or you don't just like a virtuous life you either live or you don't.
Everybody has their own list of virtues but, I believe no matter the list, they all should start with the virtue of truth. Without truth you cannot really be sure of other things. Without your own truth you cannot be sure of yourself. It is easy to know the truth but may be a war to accept it even regardless the reality of it. I've learned many truths about myself during my KALI practice that were upsetting, unfair, and others that where encouraging, and exciting but, nonetheless, each component was and is the truth.
Courage is the virtue that rises next. It takes a great courage to face these truths and act upon them. It takes courage to do the physical. It takes courage to work through the mental and emotional and whether you make the right or wrong decision it takes courage to see it through. However, as said by Aristotle, "There's a fine line between courage and foolishness." You mustn't mistake or confuse the two.
Leading by example is a great example to lead one's life by. This would put leadership in third place on the virtue scale. You love your children so you teach by leading them the way, correct? But, which way do you lead them? As a teacher of the martial arts I can lead my students down my path or teach them about virtues so they can use guidance along their own path and make their own decisions, failures and successes. Leadership is delicate. It's a fragile line between truth and expectation.
Without virtue what does one devote their time, effort, or oneself too? Without Truth how does one love? Without courage how does one respect? Without leadership how does one communicate? How do you do these things and live a life with precision and accuracy?
If you know something is unhealthy for a child and continue the act then perhaps you have love for the child but, you may not love the child and instead be in love with the idea of love or think that love is to be expected. The same follows with love for yourself. If one doesn't follow a virtuous dedication then how does one really trust themselves and the decisions one makes? Often times expectation is simpler than truth.
For many years I thought my practice in the martial arts was about fighting, self-defense, and physical movement, even personal development but, what it's really about is virtue and virtue is about life. One cannot sustain personal development growth without virtue and dedication. In order to live a great life one must be dedicated to living a great life whether it is a life of decisions leading to failures or successes. Whether one is a peasant or a noble, to live with virtue and dedication is the greatest success.
If you are unsure of virtue and dedication but understand the value of, then you must act and search. Without virtue and dedication you will never know true potential.
What's happening to kindness, love and virtue? What is happening to community?
I must admit, as a human I feel lost as a member of this species. More accurately I feel confused and frustrated both at once. What have we done to ourselves? Have we truly lost our way or is this our destiny? Is this our fate?
I look in any direction and I see a dog eat dog world. Everyone for themselves with small pockets of what we once were and had. The world hasn't grown dark, it's us who has.
I say hello to my neighbors and get ignorance returned. I give kindness and then I'm taken for granted. All of a sudden I'm a t fault for all that is wrong in anthers life all because of diversity. Kindness being replaced with ignorance, love replaced with lust and virtue replaced with neglect.
For so long, generations, we have been growing more ignorant with ourselves, in lust with ourselves and more negligent with ourselves. We have more and more books and seminars on self help and less and less on community, each other and connection. Yet, these are the very things, fundamental things we all want, need and are seeking for.
I watched a mother and her young daughter at dinner. She was so excited sitting there so upright, proper and proud. A display in manners and elegance of a true young lady. Not even moments and her mother separates herself and spends the remainder of the time locked on her phone. For an hour I watched this young lady of about seven or eight crushed smaller and smaller. The mother had nothing to say. She had nothing she wanted to give her daughter. Not even an hour and yet life is too short.
This same story I observe more and more just with different characters and settings. We've truly lost the value of time and each other and are quickly losing the value of living.
Perhaps this loss is due to the loss of stillness. We lost connection with each other because we've lost connection with ourselves. Faster and faster we achieve human domestication. Less of the natural world and more of the artificial acting as if we are something unnatural to this world. We move in such a hurry to go from one side of our box to the other. Too many people have forgotten the smell of wildflowers. They've lost the feeling of their hands being in the soil and the sweet and potent taste of a wild blackberry. Most people, cannot even recognize a blackberry without being in a grocery store or a flower without being at a nursery.
Perhaps as we lose our connection with nature, we lose connection with each other? In our domesticated lives everything you need is done for you by people you never see, meet or know about. So then kindness is no longer needed? No more need for yin and yang? No more need for your neighbor, which means, no more need for you as you are also a neighbor. Just as there was no need or desire for the mother to share with her daughter, who is her own nature.
As we remove our connection to nature we remove all our kindness, love, compassion, respect and the courage it takes to be someone's true friend. Happiness doesn't come from love and love doesn't come from things that make you feel happy. Love and happiness come from connection.
To rebuild connection we must look back to our foundation. Rebuild a connection with nature. Go for walks in the woods, amongst the wildflowers and feel the banks of rivers and lakes between your toes. Touch gently, whisper to and feel appreciation for life. Plant a small edible garden or at least nurture and care for a few small herbs in the house. Play music yourself. Skip the grocery store and go to the orchard.
Integrate nature into your life, rebuild the connection our ancestors once had and perhaps the world will begin to vibrate positively and won't seem so dark. It takes you, me and each other as we will always share each other's fate.
As once said by Alexander the Great, "Remember, upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all."
Somethings are worth the wait but, how many things you wait for are not worth the wait? Opportunities simply slip away.
Waiting for others to initiate, waiting for something to get closer to you, waiting to start something, waiting for the new season, waiting for the right moment, and whether it happens or it doesn't perhaps it was just meant to be?
I've played the waiting game many times over and more often than not, I lost. I've waited too long and missed opportunities many more times than I've seized them.
I think about how many times in my life I've said to myself, "I'm going to do that, I can't wait for that, or, I wish I would have started sooner in life."
I realize that every time I've waited or not waited it was a choice I had made. I've also learned that playing the waiting game most of the time (with a few exceptions of course) would result in a loss.
When something is to get done, or something is to be achieved it is best to take immediate action. One of the best guided advice I've ever heard was, speed of implementation.
The most valuable currency in life is time. You often hear people say how life is short but, perhaps that's because so many people spend most of their time not living but, instead waiting. Think about it like money, you can either sit and wait for money to arrive or wait for a paycheck or you can get to work. Life is a lot like that. you can wait for things or you can go do the things. After all, the only way to do something is to do it.
If you spent more time doing the things you've spent so much time talking about, think about how much time you would actually have in your life? Perhaps then, life wouldn't seem so short? Maybe then life would seem much more fair with the time it gives you? I guess it all depends on how you decide to you use your time.
Seneca talks about this very thing in "On The Shortness Of Life" and ah, yes, I've heard this all before but, yet we still ponder on this very thing we as humans have been pondering on for thousands of years. Perhaps waiting for permission from someone or something to stop pondering and start living the life and experiences we want.
I remember the exact moment when I changed my decision making. It was in the martial arts. Before, I wanted to attend a seminar and waited for the teacher to come to my local area. It would be so much easier when they came to my town. It would be more cost effective, I wouldn't have to purchase a hotel room for multiple nights and spend the money on travel plus being in an unfamiliar place. So I decided to wait. The only thing is, the instructor never came to my town. Then, the instructor stopped traveling all together! I felt so cheap and defeated in myself that I couldn't work up the courage and financially plan and instead I missed such an opportunity. This is when my mind shifted.
I remember feeling pretty miserable. I decided, I would never wait for another opportunity again and that I would take action to start creating my own opportunities. I started putting away a little bit of money each paycheck for my "seminar fund" and prepared myself to travel wherever I would have to go in order to train. I got tired of waiting only for disappointment in myself. I thought, never again. Twice, I was burned in life from what I felt were great opportunities (I'll talk about the other one another time, which was my absolute life changing moment!) Both of these times were my fault for relying on waiting.
No more waiting for the stars to align. How would I really know who things are "supposed" to be aligned for me anyway? Maybe life isn't about that in most areas (again, with a few exceptions.) Perhaps life is meant to be lived with courage. Even Aristotle put the virtue of courage at the top of his list. Through courage maybe life wouldn't seem so short?
Maybe instead of fearing death from a short life we should fear not living well and courageous enough from the life we are given?
I get torn about what to do.
Do I continue with what I've built? Do I evolve it? Do I stop and move my life into a completely new direction? Or perhaps do I disappear never to been seen again?
Every few months I'm confronted with this conflict. I never asked for a life of so much recognition. The truth is it was never my dream. When I was a teen and in my early twenties, my dream was to live in a secluded place peacefully where I can live out my days, enjoy the elements around me and die without anyone being aware.
Don't get me wrong, I love what I do. I love training and teaching Filipino Martial Arts to so many. The art has greatly improved my life and I enjoy sharing what I've learned to help others along their own journeys. But, it was never something I asked of. This was the only way I knew how to make a living not for me but for my family.
I don't know if you have ever felt this way but, there are times when I just want to destroy what I've built and simply disappear. The last couple of weeks have been challenging. There are many life changes heading my way that aim me towards my dreams. This is a good thing I believe but, it does create a bit of confusion. There is so much more I want to do than just teaching martial arts. I get tired of feeling obligated to answer people's questions who have no understanding of what my intensions of building have been for the past seven plus years. Most take from me and give nothing in return which is fine, I can deal with that but, honestly, I do feel that I don't have too.
I don't think people take me seriously when I say, "if you want to learn from me you better do it now." They must think it's some kind of marketing scarcity trick.
I love my students, who I refer to as my "real" students. Those who train with me and are a part of my deepest group. They are never the reason for me feeling the way I do. In all honesty, it's the rest of those who just talk and talk and talk. I'm to blame for it all of course. I put myself in the spotlight but, I had no other choice. I needed to so I could build a future for my family.
I don't come from a family that supported college education, or pushed for me to become something grand in life. I don't come from a family of "go getters." There was no financial help for my future. I had to figure out how to build my living from zero scrapping my way through. I got so much shit for it too from my peers and it's funny how so many of them are now doing what I did and what they used to give me shit for. Example, teaching my martial arts online is one.
Throughout my life, it seems as if this is a continuing pattern. I take the front of the storm and once the rain steads it's a grand opportunity for others. It's okay though. I know nobody else in my peer group has the courage to step up and do it and take the hits. I don't mind creating opportunities for others. I'm glad others can be successful I wouldn't want it any other way as far as that goes but, the conflict is, do I continue?
It's a conflict I've been struggling with off and on for years. I don't know if it's a common struggle for entrepreneurs but it is one I work through a number of times per year. I guess only time will tell.
There's something really inspiring about an early morning sunrise.
Waking up early when the sun is just barely peaking its first crack of light has an invigorating experience each time. There is a real magic that happens super early in the morning that doesn't occur any other time of the day.
I love waking up early, at around 5am (sometimes earlier) getting ready and dressed as fast as possible, grab my martial arts gear and cameras and run out the door. I go to one of my favorite nature places near me which is about a 15-20 minute drive.
As the birds begin to sing their morning songs and the morning mist glides along the surface of the lake, the golden rays of the early morning make everything mystically illuminated. Everything starts out so calm and quickly becomes filled with energy.
As I hike out to get my morning martial arts practice in, which is also like a meditation for me, I get to witness so much wonderful life all around. The fishing Egrets, grazing deer, I even sometimes get to spot a quick, sneaky glimpse of an owl.
The connection with nature is so important to me. It gives me so much inspiration and so many deep feelings it's near impossible to put it all into words. The connection to nature is something that so many people have lost or forgotten about. It's easy to get stuck in the hustle and grind of the expected standards, especially living in and near a big city. Which is why I make sure to make it a point to get out there each day even if for just an hour. Just to absorb the light, air, and energy that only nature puts off.
I love training my martial arts while I'm out there in the early mornings. The martial arts allows for me a deeper physical and spiritual connection. Even though I'm practicing my slashes and thrust with the swords, sticks and knives, it's not about any sort of violence. It's about the intense focus and clarity in performing each and every movement with precision.
Martial Arts for me is a deepness in the study of the body and mind. Nature for me is a connection between the physical and the spiritual. When I practice my martial arts in nature I gain a much deeper connection and sense of self. I've been working on capturing these moments with film and photography as a way to journal about my experiences. Perhaps maybe, my creative efforts in my photos and films may encourage and inspire others to reconnect with nature and explore in their own ways how the physical of our world and lives can connect with the spiritual in so many different, wonderful and beautiful ways.
Thank you so much for reading my blog. It makes me happy that you find my writings and other works interesting.
If you're not already, you can also follow me on Instagram at @paulingramstyle where I share more photos and short films from my creative works.
In my youth, I remember the times spent at my family's tree farm in central Wisconsin. It was such a magical place filled with memories of running free and wild in the forest, fields and falling out of the canoe into the pond.
I remember the huge dinners we would have. So many people from family to friends would gather. We would make so much food on the outdoor grill. Stories told as we sat in the porch with 30 to even sometimes 50 people enjoying a delicious home cooked meal. We would go out late at night to catch the stars, moon and northern lights while getting glimpses at the bats.
I remember the times spent in Southern Illinois and in the Appalachia Mountains of West Virginia. I still go back every year multiple times to these places to visit family and the forests and mountains but visiting honestly is getting to be not enough anymore. The dream I'm working tirelessly for is to one day be permanently living amongst the forest, its seasons and running free and wild once again as I did as a child. There is no greater feeling than that sort of freedom.
I can't wait to spend so many nights in the woods, gardening much of my own food, drinking fresh birch sap and seeing where the inspirations of nature takes my creativity. I can feel the time getting nearer as the forest calls me home.
It's no wonder with my heritage that the forest and I have such a strong connection. Even today, as I finish out my time living here in the big city area, I must immerse myself as much as possible in nature and do what I can.
One way or another, soon, the day will come that my dream will become my reality. I cannot wait to feel what that happiness feels like.