Kung Fu: Meeting the Master at the Limits of Endurance

imageedit_14_6819071505During training the other day, while practicing Limalama entry techniques at the martial arts school where I train in North Hollywood, a strange sensation overcame me.  It was my opponent’s turn to defend, however I delayed for a moment in administering the attack.  It wasn’t simply because I was exhausted or that my mind was wandering, as I must confess it tends to after long hours of hard training.  

Being relatively new to the martial arts, I have not fully conquered my mind’s susceptibility to distraction.  After all, the appeal of the martial arts is not only the physical strength and stamina it builds, but the mental focus that results from discipline, practice and training.  The hyperactive monkey mind is perhaps the greatest opponent anyone faces in the modern world, and many of us will spend an entire lifetime striving to overcome its imbecilic tyranny.

But my mind was sharper than normal in this moment; in fact, I had noted that I achieved a focus that I rarely experience.  Perhaps I had briefly become too self-congratulatory of my modest success, but still, I was focused on training.  My delay was not due to a mind lost in a self-aggrandizing hall of mirrors, nor to concerns of whether or not I would have enough time or energy to purchase groceries, do the laundry, and clean the house after training.  No, my delay was caused by something far more mysterious and puzzling: I had the distinct feeling that there was a third person training with my opponent and myself, and that it was my turn to cycle out of the “monkey line.”  Yet, when I looked to both sides, I saw only empty space surrounding my opponent and me.  The feeling was fleeting, and when I noticed my opponent wasn’t picking up on it, I simply continued along with our training drills unimpeded.  But I was haunted for the rest of the day by the encounter with this third presence.

William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin encountered this third presence—dubbed the Third Mind—during their drug-fueled cut-up experiments in a Paris hotel during the 1960s.  Burroughs was fascinated by the concept of telepathy, in part because of the appeal of reading the thoughts of others, but also because the existence of telepathy suggests the power of the “thought control,” to shape the inner world of another individual through conscious will.  This fascination led Burroughs on a number of expeditions to the extreme borderlands of consciousness, chasing dragons on the edges of the map of reality.  He once stated: “In my writing I am acting as a mapmaker, an explorer of psychic areas… a cosmonaut of inner space, and I see no point in exploring areas that have already been thoroughly surveyed.”

In his literary experiments with Gysin, Burroughs and his collaborator shared a number of strange visions, and for years following Gysin was a semi-permanent fixture in Burroughs’ dreams.  Burroughs found an explanation for this phenomenon from an unlikely source: the New Thought standard (and antecedent to today’s oversaturated positive-thinking bestseller market) Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich.  Wrote Hill, “No two minds ever come together without, thereby, creating a third, invisible, intangible force which may be likened to a third mind.”  The Third Mind echoes from the days of Galilee, when Jesus spoke: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)

The long hours of training endured by the student of martial arts no doubt produce a disorientation of the senses not entirely dissimilar to that experienced by Burroughs and Gysin during their drug-fueled language experiments.  The body becomes a cut-up itself: bruised, bloodied, pulverized, and drenched in sweat, with limbs agonized far beyond the point of normal exhaustion.  The mind, having been stretched beyond the limits of its mundane endurance, surrenders to the mortification of the flesh.  The monkey is put to sleep, the psychic sense is awakened, and the ambiance of your surroundings is comprehended with stunning clarity.  It is in this lucid psychic space that you train alongside the teachers, masters and legends that have come before you.  When it seems that you can no longer hold your body up, let alone defend your space or render a strike, that is when the spirit of the masters fills your being.

This is not to say that on your last legs during a fight the ghost of Bruce Lee will magically possess you and finish your opponent.  It is only when the body has been purified and made ready through dedicated practice and disciplined training that one is worthy to walk in this psychic temple of the master.  It is not a select entity, but a collective spirit.  It is not a transformation, but a transmogrification.  You “know kung fu” in the Biblical sense, for you have become kung fu.  “Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17)

It was the promise of experiences like this that led me on path of self-attainment.  I was inspired by a desire to push myself beyond the cognitive prison of materialism and experience a world beyond the senses.  My initial attraction to the esoteric arts and sciences was informed by figures like Burroughs, leading me to disastrous experimentation in Chaos Magic for many years with few tangible or repeatable results.  It wasn’t until I dedicated myself to the practice of martial arts that my lust of result perished and in its place grew a profound engagement with a world outside of ordinary perception.  A single act of will required to push your body into extreme conditions is worth a thousand shifted paradigms.

Chaos Magic was once a tradition that sent the practitioner on an expedition to unexplored territories of consciousness, and no doubt there are still practitioners of Chaos Magic who use it to those ends.  But as Chaos Magic continues to grow in mainstream popularity, to the ends of becoming a verifiable fashion trend, it risks losing the danger it once promised to the student of the occult.  Rather than being a perilous expedition to the edges of sanity, Chaos Magic has become a safe haven for cynical hipsters and agnostic drug nerds to explore magical states of consciousness without committing themselves to an established spiritual tradition, lest they sacrifice their detached cool for real attainment.

While Chaos Magic may experience a renaissance and reclaim its tradition of danger, the likelihood of that happening in our lifetime is slim, and the chance that it will even be relevant if such an event does occur is unlikely.  When danger turns to disaster, and the ship of fools sinks to the ocean floor, resourceful rats will flee and seek the stable ground of discipline and the eternal flame of tradition.  Martial arts ignites within the student a passion for danger, and immolates their self-referencing doubts upon tradition’s brilliant pyre.  Through focus, hard work, and discipline, the student slays the monkey mind, crucifies the ego, and walks in the presence of the masters.

Andrei Burke is a poet and critic who currently resides in the Los Angeles area. He holds a B.A. in Film and and M.A. in the Humanities. His work has appeared on Ultraculture and WITCH.
Andrei Burke is a poet and critic who currently resides in the Los Angeles area. He holds a B.A. in Film and and M.A. in the Humanities. His work has appeared on Ultraculture and WITCH.

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