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Pete Starr on Immersion

June 5, 2007
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Pete Starr author photo, B and WThe western approach to the study of a given martial arts often tends to be, well… a bit shallow. In many cases, it’s viewed as a pastime, a hobby to which we give only a small part of our attention on one or two nights a week. In this regard, it’s not much different than bowling, scrapbooking, or any one of a million other hobbies that people “do.” And when they’ve “done” it for the evening, that’s the end of it until next week.

Even in Asia, this kind of superficial approach is becoming more and more prevalent. People attend a martial arts class at certain times, on certain days but other than that, they don’t give training much of a second thought.

I suppose much of this kind of attitude comes from their expectations. That is, people want different things out of martial arts such as, training in self-defense, fitness, or increased strength . If what they want out of it is superficial that’s how they’ll approach it. Kind of like an aerobics class.

Those who want more out of it, who want to really delve deeply into the subject must immerse themselves in it. Completely.


For people who are serious about martial arts, training and study never ends. It’s a perpetual thing. This is what martial arts were designed for… immersion.



It doesn’t necessarily require that you save up your rocks and pennies and hop the next flight to China, Japan, or Okinawa – although that actually would help – but it does mean that you need to acquire a real grasp not only of the techniques of the art (which anybody can do), but the culture from whence it came: Its history; Its underlying philosophy; The principles upon which it is based, and much more.


A martial art is not only so many techniques and forms, and putting on a baggy uniform twice a week. It’s a way of thinking.



It’s a way of living, a lifestyle. It affects everything that you do; how you think, how you feel, what you are. If it doesn’t, you’re a hobbyist.

Immersion has nothing to do with buying fancy uniforms, exotic weapons, or expensive kicking bags. Previous generations of martial artists had few, if any, of these kinds of things. They made do with what they had. Although they almost certainly would have taken advantage of today’s martial arts supply companies, owning all kinds of nice “martial arts things” isn’t what made them what they were.

It was the way they lived their respective arts…day in and day out. They didn’t “do” their karate or jujutsu or kung-fu just on Tuesdays and Thursdays. They lived them. Constantly. Every day.

Over the years that I’ve taught I’ve had several pupils tell me that they really wanted to master a particular weapon – sword, staff, or whatever. And I’ve always told them that if they truly wanted to master a weapon they must not only strive to master its techniques and form(s), they must practice the great secret of weapons training.


Here it is:
For at least two hours every day at home, carry that weapon with you at all times.



Yep, that’s it. If you want to carry it around for more than two hours a day, that’s fine but two hours is a minimum. You don’t have to constantly practice the strikes and cuts. Just tote it around with you and never put it down during that two-hour time period. Ever. For any reason.

After a few weeks, the weapon begins to become an actual part of you. You’re used to having it with you. It doesn’t feel foreign to you. It doesn’t feel like a weapon, per se. It becomes as natural as your hand.


You see, that “feel of a foreign object” is what prevents most people from ever mastering a weapon.



They only hold it in their hands for a very short time each week. They never really get used to it. It’ll always be foreign to them, no matter how hard they practice during training time.

But if you just go about your daily life at home and carry it with you constantly, you get used to it and it literally becomes an extension of you. You’ll find yourself “playing” with your chosen weapon; doing all kinds of different things with it to amuse yourself. And that’s the secret.

This same secret applies to the empty-handed aspect of martial arts. Don’t just do it on training nights. If you do that it’ll always feel “foreign” to you. You have to carry it with you all the time. Eventually you’ll start unconsciously “playing” with it to amuse yourself. That’s when it begins to become a part of you.

And, immerse yourself in your chosen art. You have to go beyond physical technique. The physical technique is just the outer shell of the true art. You have to look inside. Training involves more than just physical practice; it involves the study of every aspect of the art, and then learning how to apply what you learn to your life.

Like my teacher once said, “Kung-fu is more than just punching and kicking. Anybody can do that.”

Bio: A martial arts practitioner for nearly 50 years, Pete Starr is a black belt in Kyokushin karate, trained in traditional shao-lin, xingyiquan, and baguazhang, and the author of The Making of a Butterfly, He lives and teaches in Omaha, NE. His upcoming book Martial Mechanics comes out in the Spring of 2008.

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