As we enter the Christmas season, there are, of course, plenty of things to reflect on. Last year I talked about martial artists and peace. This year, I'd like to reflect on what is a little discussed part of the Christmas story, and how it relates to martial artists of all religions.
Christmas, as most readers will know, is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus, who Christians believe was the son of God coming to earth in human form. Other religions (Islam, for example) revere him as a prophet, and his teachings of love, peace, forgiveness and non-violence find their ways into many religions and cultures around the world.
Jesus was not born a prince. In fact, he was born to a poor family, and in the must humble of surroundings. The Christmas story tells how, with his parents travelling to another town to take part in a census, and there being no place for them to stay, Jesus came to be born in a stable.
So, how exactly does this relate to martial arts in the modern day?
Well there are plenty of martial arts schools located in plush facilities, where students work in beautifully designed, perfectly lit, mirrored rooms with sprung floors and water coolers, and where they can stroll over to the bar after a session, or perhaps stop off at the pool or the sauna. But by and large, the practice of martial arts is not a pastime of the rich. While access to the sauna might be an aspiration to some, the truth is that most martial arts schools work in more modest surroundings. Even where schools have their own facilities, winter time can mean cold sessions in poorly heated facilities, with the rain coming in, or dark walks to badly lit basements.
Most don't, in fact, have their own places. Though Bruce Lee did have a studio in the end, he and his colleagues used to train at the back of people's houses, in the yard. A famous group of his first students would get together for years in someone's garage. And perhaps a little less famously, when I started teaching with my son Gareth in London's Chinatown, students walked up a dark and foreboding set of stairs into a tiny, cluttered space where we had to stack tables and chairs high just to let us all stand up, let alone jump about. Institute Honorary Fellow David Michael Cunningham trained outside tents in Iraq with colleauges in the army, and the the Institute's Honorary Fellows list is full of tales of community centres, junior schools, community halls. My colleauges at LCTKD, Jon Alagoa and Sami Remili train outside in public parks in London and Algeria respectively, just as I used to do with my sparring partner Jabir Mir back in the day - which got us some healthy crowds!
The Christmas story holds out something for all those martial arts teachers, and their students, who shiver in cold halls while they demonstrate their dedication to their art: truly wonderful things are born in the most meagre surroundings.
Enjoy your Christmas, and may your New Year be peaceful, healthy, and prosperous – whatever your surroundings.