Tuesday, June 5, 2007
When Does A Class Become A Cult?
While browsing through Bagua videos I came across this one of Jerry Alan Johnson, who is demonstrating some applications of the animal forms of Bagua. It's a very theatrical production, with the participants wearing long Taoist robes and some cleverly edited slow motion for effect. As I often do, I found this guys website and gave it a look. I found it interesting for various reasons.
First, it appears that the Bagua this group practices is secondary to their practice of Taoist magic and sorcery. I actually have no problem with this, though I'm sure it scares the crap out of people who practice Evangelical Christianity. Taoism mimics the cycles of nature, which may be our best instructor. Let's face it, man's attempt to be dominant over the earth has brought us to the tipping point of global warming, war for resource extraction, and general degradation of the non-human life on the planet. His website lists classes and books on Talismans and charms, ritual, and some more esoteric practices such as use of intoxicating herbs and sexual magick.
Not exactly my cup of tea, but upon reflection, it is no different than any other shamanic practice found all around the world.
Take the Catholic Church for example; it is the largest organization practicing "White Magic" in the world. It includes ritual cannibalism, eating the wafer (flesh) and wine (blood of Christ). The ritual chanting is in ancient language, a new Shaman (Pope) is chosen with symbols such as puffs of smoke coming from the Vatican indicating selection. The whole mythology about Christ rising from the dead and appearing in the flesh is an attempt to preclude Gnostic self-enlightenment within the Church. Enough of that though...
Years ago in Portland, there was a woman's self-defense school called "Pokulain" (spelling?) which means "A rose with thorns". They practiced an Indonesian art that specialized in ground fighting, which assumed that women had a better defensive position in a low crouch very close to the ground. It became rather controversial at one point, with a few former students claiming that the school had become a cult. There were candlelight rituals, with oaths and sharp knives being passed among the members. Undoubtadly, this type of ritual is common in Indonesian arts which often delve into esoteric mysticism. On the front side, that's not so bad. However, there were some women that just wanted to learn effective self-defense. This practice offended them, and they made their opinions public.
Two thoughts: If someone teaches a martial arts school, they should make clear what the students should expect. In this respect for instance, informing students about Aikido founder Uyeshiba's spiritualism adds context to the art. Same with the concept of Yin and Yang in Chinese arts. But candlelight ceremonies with sharp knives may be too much for the average student.
And the students responsibility is to have enough self-respect to know where to draw the line. They should survey the potential class, become informed about it and decide if it works for them. If some instructor, through ego or abuse or esoteric ritual causes conflict, move on. That's the beauty of practicing the martial arts, at any level. We analyze and decide for ourselves.