As someone who focuses on intellectual pursuits it’s easy to neglect the body. No matter how much one may identify as existing in ones mind, you will always have a physical form. And that form matters. Learning is an admirable goal in life, but you’ll always be neglecting a part of yourself by not developing your body. Mental development means learning about the world and seeking inward knowledge through introspection. The physical analogue of this is body mastery.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I haven’t provided a compelling enough argument in favour of this goal.
In the grand scheme of things, we may not be here for a purpose but that doesn’t mean we should waste the opportunity we have. Life can, and should, be meaningful. It’s up to us to figure out and decide on what that actually means. Any philosophy ultimately start from a personal philosophy, you must understand yourself before you seek to understand the world.
Humans are arguably the most important things to understand (because it’s what you and I both are, I assume) and they’re made of mental and physical parts. In fact, you’re likely to know their physical parts more than the mental ones because that’s what’s most apparent to you. You can’t truly appreciate their physicality until understand your own and you won’t understand your own until you have taken some control over it. Hence the term body mastery.
And here we come to another of those great caveats. In the same way we all have mental blocks to work through, we have physical ones as well. Again, like mental stuff, our physicality is shaped by our actions, regardless of if we plan it. As we go through life, our body and mind adapt to how we treat them. Neglecting either leads to a life not fully lived. When you chose to pursue this you will have a harder time the longer you’ve spent neglecting it.
No one is fully responsible for their actions as a child, nor are they responsible for their genetics (and epigenetics or other pre-birth ramifications). Everyone has limitations because we’re all born and shaped differently. Because of all that, many people will have limitations on them ranging from minor to severe. The key here is that you are not being judged by comparison to anyone else. It’s less about overcoming limitations and more about working within them. Whatever skill you’re attempting to learn, you learn it within the context of how you can get the needed result within this mortal form. It’s your body, it’s your control over it that’s being developed. Everyone can do this.*
Now what do I mean by body mastery.
Well it’s probably different than what others mean. Linguistically, the term just fits what I’m trying to describe best, so it’s what I use. To get rid of any preconceived notions, I’ll start by saying it isn’t to achieve anything specifically. It’s not about winning competitions, looking a particular way or hitting some arbitrary goal. It’s challenging yourself in a physical context, learning how your body functions and utilizing that to develop a complex skill set. Convince your body to listen to you. Master it.
You have to set some kind of goal though, if only to help you in your development. It shouldn’t be something arbitrary and it shouldn’t be external. Something that requires strength and finesse will be well rounded because it requires balancing strength training with flexibility and most importantly, bodily control. For me Martial Arts are the best fit. For others maybe it’s rock climbing or dancing or gymnastics. It’s gotta require skill and long term training (and obviously be of a physical nature).
I find an established skill set is the easiest to engage with. Having a school of people with shared goals is a great support structure. They can assist you when needed and the system as a whole gives you a sense of progress. Testing oneself can be a great way to understand progress. Martial Arts are geared towards this but the others have their own form of progress. In dance it’s the creation of new bodily art. In climbing (or other wilderness adventuring) it’s surmounting obstacles. I will admit that I understand these other forms less because I don’t practice them, so my emphasis may be on martial arts. That’s not because I see it as superior but simply more familiar.
I’ve been practicing various Historical European Martial Arts for almost 3 years now. If you’re unaware of it, it’s basically learning to fight with various swords, bows, and other pre-firearm weaponry. Modern schools are normally based on one particular historical school with a large amount of interpretation of documentation going on because they were not continuously practiced.
I’ve waxed and waned in the amount of time I commit to it, but I’ve yet to stop doing it. It’s become an integral part of me. Spending a bit of time every week trying to train my body to perform something with great precision, it’s almost a therapeutic thing. Coming away from training, I have a renewed sense of confidence; I feel like closer to my skin, to my physical self.
There’s this point where the bridge between mind and body are fully united. The strongest I felt this was back at my last rank exam. It was during the portion that tests your basic skills under continuous duress (roughly 20 min). I was focused on the task at hand but also not directly thinking about it. The time flew by and I barely felt tired. I’ve heard this phenomenon referred to as zen, as no-mind, or as a flow state; regardless of what it’s called the effect is the same. It’s a very euphoric state that can stimulate some powerful mental creativity. That part is realized after the fact though, I’m usually not conscious of the new ideas yet. The zen state isn’t solely something to be reached from body mastery though, other ways to achieve it would be endurance activities, drugs, and many forms of art (and sex actually).
What’s important here is to live a full life. Embrace all the parts of living, mental and physical. Be the little voice trapped in the skull and the hairless ape wearing clothes.
*With many further caveats; Of course there are extreme physical examples that can stop you, not to mention many other societal factors that can (and do) impede one’s ability to seek any life development goals