Discipline

dis·ci·pline //  (d s -pl n)

n.

1. Training expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.

2. Controlled behavior resulting from disciplinary training; self-control.

3.

a. Control obtained by enforcing compliance or order.

b. A systematic method to obtain obedience: a military discipline.

c. A state of order based on submission to rules and authority: a teacher who demanded discipline in the classroom.

4. Punishment intended to correct or train.

5. A set of rules or methods, as those regulating the practice of a church or monastic order.

6. A branch of knowledge or teaching.

tr.v. dis·ci·plined, dis·ci·plin·ing, dis·ci·plines

1. To train by instruction and practice, especially to teach self-control to.

2. To teach to obey rules or accept authority. See Synonyms at teach.

3. To punish in order to gain control or enforce obedience. See Synonyms at punish.

4. To impose order on: needed to discipline their study habits.

Definition taken from the free online dictionary

(Please ignore the aspects relating to compliance or submitting to authority, because I certainly don’t advocate or believe in that).            

I am endlessly fascinated with the development of skill as the means for undertaking the profound existential journey. Regardless of what it is, almost; whether it’s building a wall as in Solzhenitsyn’s ‘One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich’, reaping a harvest as in Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ or even a seagull obsessed with flying, as in Richard Bach’s ‘Jonathan Livingstone Seagull.’

In fact, the last example is probably the best one. The seagull of the title is obsessed with flying for the joy of flying. The other seagulls think he’s a nut-case; life is about the flock and flying is a means to an end – a full bill and a full belly shortly after. Jonathan is out over the ocean from sun-up to sun-down, perfecting his tricks, experimenting with a slight tilt of his feathers in the hope it will allow him to achieve a given manoeuvre. If he gets it wrong, gravity will punish him with a crash-landing on the surface of an iron-grey sea.

The two disciplines which fascinate me most are fighting and art. Art is inferior in this case, however, because when art is at its best, it functions as a portal. You don’t see the technique; you look right past it and through the eye of the artist themselves. The technique is a subsidiary pleasure.

Fighting, on the other hand, is pure technique. It’s a broad concert of techniques which foreground skill, but are closely buttressed by raw fitness, brute strength and physical courage. A ritual fight, which is what ‘sport’ fighting is, is in many ways much worse than a street-fight. It is premeditated, and you live through the months of build-up, lying on your back at night with all your terrors sitting on your chest, breathing into your face. It’s an ordeal magnified many times by the size of the audience. French colossus Jerome Le Banner, says, ‘Sometimes I walk out into ze arena and think, ‘What ze ‘ell am I doing ‘ere?

Years ago, I saw an amazing documentary called Jazz by the American doco maestro, Ken Burns. In one of the later episodes, he interviews a certain academic or commentator who relates a story about Sonny Rollins playing saxophone in a late-night jazz bar on the eve of Easter Sunday. Apparently, in the middle of a solo, Rollins suddenly belted out a series of notes that hit the listener on the ear at a funny angle. Turns out it was a phrase from Irving Berlin’s ‘Easter Parade’. The writer checked his watch and sure enough, midnight had ticked over into the AM at that very second.

In Zen and the Art of Archery, German philosopher Eugen Herrigel talks about practising until the project and object become one. Until the technique becomes as natural an extension of you as your arm or leg.

I am fascinated by this.

According to the Buddah, life is suffering. Probably the thing that obsesses me most about kickboxing is that it’s all about suffering. No amount of technique or fitness training can get you away from the fundamental fact of kickboxing; win, lose or draw, it’s all about pain. In fact, the heavier you are, the more painful it is. What I like about kickboxing, and sport generally, is that the more pain you can ingest, the fitter, faster, stronger and more skilled you become.

I’m not opposed to drugs, generally speaking. What bothers me is addiction. There’s nothing more sad and pathetic than addicts who run as fast as they can up blind alleys of misery, beating their heads against the wall at the end until the repeated abuse kills them. In life, you have to swallow the pain. The pain will make you strong. There’s nothing more tragic than an artist like Edgar Allan Poe; a magnificent craftsman who built monuments out of pointless, needless suffering. That kind of misery is a disease. Sometimes, it needs medication. Oftentimes, it needs hard work.

Now drop and give me twenty.

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