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The Way of MAMBA

Throughout my early childhood and into my middle adolescence my greatest concerns, my ultimate preoccupations focused on overcoming the abject terror and violence that at times defined my existence. Early on in life I realized that the solution to that problem did not reside solely in physical conditioning, technical preparation, or cognitive speculation, for in the face of life-threatening peril if we are without a resilient mental constitution such attributes can quickly uproot and leave us stranded in helplessness and despair.

I believe that it was as a result of those early impacting experiences that my interest in the martial arts and other Eastern practices and methodologies was focused more on the mental capacities that lead to enduring tranquility in the face of disaster than on the mere physical manifestations of power or technique. It was not nearly as much the fighting prowess of “Kwai Chang Caine” from the syndicated television series “Kung Fu” that captured my imagination as the wisdom and serenity of the Shaolin masters who trained him. It was not nearly as much the cinematographically dazzling dynamics and cries of the likes of Bruce Lee that inspired me, as the television images of the Buddhist monk who, protesting religious injustice in South Vietnam, self-immolated and died, immutable, motionless and silent.

Over the years it became evident to me that it is only with a strong psychological, philosophical and even ‘spiritual’ foundation that the edifice of our existence can be counted upon to weather the storms of life’s adversities, disappointments and disasters; it is this foundation that enables us to appreciate the magnificence and wonder of ‘being’ – no matter how objectionable the load we carry, how heavy the rock we must roll.

It is not in the moments of fashionable victory that we find the real champion; it is not in the hours, weeks, or years of celebrated discoveries or renowned achievements that we discover authentic ‘greatness’; it is in those inexorable instances lived by individuals who time and time again, whether faced with innumerable failures and tragic disappointments, threatened with dying in total anonymity, or living in abject poverty, demonstrate their unrelenting rededication to ‘the cause’.

Show me a man or woman whom, after being repeatedly beaten down and even broken by the implacable and unremitting forces of a reality beyond their control, and whom without seeking refuge either in fantastic dimensions or in fictional beings, stands up yet again on their own accord, in spirit if not in shattered body, and I will show you the true meaning of inner fortitude and personal power. Find an individual who even in the thick of life’s sometimes unpredictable trials and tribulations, cruel losses, untimely setbacks, and heartbreaking tragedies derives ‘meaning’ from the mere fact of being alive, and you would have found someone who has mastered the elusive art of being happy.

It is not the person who, if afforded the luxury of calm and comfort, can achieve a state of ‘mystical awareness’ that we need admire. Rather it is the individual who, when faced with the unpredictable disasters of the life truly engaged and is caught in the wicked clasp of circumstance, manages to rapidly recover their composure and demonstrate ‘centeredness’ that we need seek out, for these people have obtained something beyond what books can teach or techniques alone can foster: wisdom.

Wisdom, the combined knowledge and practice of that which leads to happiness and harmony in one’s life in spite of circumstances is what we all ultimately seek. Personal power alone is not sufficient, for without the mental mechanisms to guide its potential, without the philosophical/spiritual context within which to apply its resources, we are but a Titanic: unstoppable in our motion and condemned to meet our demise at the inevitable encounter with life’s innumerable and unforgiving icebergs.

The human existential condition is by its nature fraught with inevitable loss – or its threat: loss of life, loss of health, loss of youth, loss of property and possessions, loss of loved ones, loss of innocence, and so on, and therefore becomes tainted by the accompanying grief and anguish that naturally ensues. But it is in the chaos of war that we encounter all of life’s most deplorable aspects in their extreme: carnage and mutilation, devastation and dispossession, pillaging and desecration, famine and disease, etc.

It is not surprising that many individuals return from the battlefield mentally traumatized and emotionally defiled and disturbed, unable to successfully reintegrate themselves into the ‘normality’ of their previous peacetime existence. Nor is it surprising that elite warrior castes sought philosophical/spiritual methodologies – such as the Samurai and Zen – in order to develop the mental and emotional capacity to endure the vileness of warfare and inwardly reconcile the gruesomeness of their experiences within the context of a way of life and being.

It is for this reason that to me the real martial arts aim to teach more than just techniques of physical power; they must seek to set the practitioner on a path to the self-empowerment, discovery and improvement that leads beyond an accumulation of information or the memorization of movements – a path which leads to the immutable spirit that derives from mind and body coordinated in harmonious action. This is the Way of MAMBA.

- Shodai Sennin James A. Overton-Guerra