Plight of the Weakened Industrialized Man—Or,
How I Learned to Love Training in Pizzy Oregon Weather
By Edward Orem, PhD
Living in the Pacific Northwest is a challenge for any body: the poor excuse for weather west of the Cascades is one of the worst on earth for human health. Luckily our Ch'uan Fa Club meets in central Oregon several times a week, rarely missing an opportunity to train outdoors .
I'm not speaking here of a prepared arena of asphalt or even grass. I mean we use/find/even search out poor footing surfaces, including ice, deep snow, pebbles, desert sand, and forest floor.
Admittedly, it's a challenge to get new students to be involved with a teacher who trains his school outside regularly in the woods and desert, and even on mountain tops. (I never have more than 10 guys—seldom any women—who are tough enough to dare to be different.)
But it's my experience that once the cultivated, civilized martial artist gets exposed long enough to the exhilarating benefits of fresh air, wildlife and trees, his deeper roots take hold. Most of my students now find it difficult—even unpleasant—to go back to the enclosed, stuffy conditions of "normal" training halls. It's not that tough to understand why, as most of us came from peasant stock a very few generations ago, putting our reliance on modern life-style within the realm of the absurdly tenuous—not to mention degenerative.
It may not be chic or socially advantageous to admit your recent connections to Earth rhythms, but it could save your life. For a man to deny his biological heritage is a fatal error. Never mind that the industrialized world is going to hell in a mechanized hand-basket (and taking the rest of the earth's humans with them): you can marshal your piercing powers of striking to the heart of the matter by coming to terms with your natural place in this biosphere.
It is a common musing among older teachers to speak of the great "immortals" of bygone eras in martial arts. We've all heard the stories and wished we could approach the skill levels of the great ones. I think we're sliding over important points that get buried in the telling. The First Principle to successful training is to "Eat Bitter Every Day." If you don't know what that means, you may be incorrigibly industrialized and your male principle de-germinated by urban life-style. You well know that the dominating principle of modern life is to promote comfort and convenience. You tell me how such an attitude can possibly create excellence of skills and evolution of spirit.
Why have the bulk of the great men retreated to natural environment and even harsh circumstance, with only the basics of survival to sustain them, while they cultivated excellence? The answer to this question brings us to the integration of the First Principle with the Second: "Nature shows the Way." Correct me if I am misguided, but I can't seem to recall advice from any culture in synch with its environment that directs us to "come downtown" for wisdom and health.
When a human extricates himself from the rhythms of the Earth he becomes a foreigner in his own house. The strident make-up of the modern life-style has left most of us without the means of carrying forward the natural abilities and skills we inherited as a creature of natural rhythms.
The Zen Tao Ch'uan Fa group recently met with me for a training session that lasted 3 ½ hours. That wasn't too radical in itself (we've met over 2 ½ days before, isolated in the woods), but toss in the heavy snowstorm that swirled around us, and you get the idea. Actually, maybe you don't: we've found that it's difficult to impart to observers the changes in self-regard, the increase in focus and intent, and more importantly, the appreciation of just being outside.