Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Time to pause

Finally had a chance to watch Jet Li's Fearless a few days ago. Actually, only a part of it as the movie was almost halfway through by the time I arrived at the place. I remember being a big fan of Chinese-style martial arts as a kid. My father, who has always been an advocate of physical fitness in the family, would include Ed Spielman's Kung Fu in our regular prime time TV viewing schedule (along with The Wild Wild West, Bionic Man and Wonder Woman). My brothers and I got our first lessons on Asian martial arts philosophy from David Carradine's character Kwai Chang Caine. As my father used to remind us after each Kung Fu episode: never use violence except as a last resort and for defensive purposes only.

Don't know how my brothers eventually took that teaching to heart. For a while, we were enchanted with the thought of learning a few martial arts tricks and actually spent some time poring over this karate book that my father bought for us. But throughout most of our teenage lives, I suppose all of us adopted a more pacifist attitude, thinking that running was still a better option than slugging it out with an aggressor. In fact, I still recall the night when my two younger brothers went out for a drink with friends and got into a shouting and stone-throwing match with the local tambays (Filipino for bums). With guitar in hand and the barangay tanods (local volunteer peacekeepers) on their heels, my brothers negotiated dark detours and arrived at our house half-drunk and drenched in sweat.

I have since recognized how violence is intricately woven into our modern, market-homogenized, ecologically-alienated lives. (Perhaps I should insert "male" before the "lives".) In most cases, it shapes our whole personality, it defines who we are, without us even knowing it. It's like each of us has been unconsciously nurturing a Mr. Hyde within and the monster rears its ugly head once in a while. Make that "most of the time", especially for those who have surrendered their lives to this fearful shadow. My father was wrong. The problem was not about deciding when to be violent or when it is justifiable to be so. For many people, particularly men, the problem is how to prevent their violent natures from inflicting harm on others and taking over their own lives.

Master Yoda, that old little green Jedi warrior in the Star Wars movies, had interesting insights on what animates this dark side:

Fear is the path to the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering. (Master Yoda to Anakin Skywalker in The Phantom Menace)

In Fearless, Jet Li's character failed to appreciate such wisdom early on and became entwined in a series of events that led to the death of his mother and daughter. Wandering aimlessly, Jet Li soon found himself in a village where he would be getting some lessons on coming to terms with his violent nature and achieving peace with himself. In one scene, he was helping farmers transplant rice seedlings into their terraced land. He was slow at first, but found an opportunity to make up for it and get ahead of the pack by taking advantage of these periods when the farmers would stop planting, stand up and close their eyes to feel the cool mountain breeze. But, the farmers later had to go over Jet Li's work again as the planted seedlings didn't have the proper spaces between them. Learning from this, Jet Li would soon be doing the ritualistic pauses and taking in those head-clearing breaths.

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