Deng Mng-Dao, The living

wife will agree on my restaurant suggestion for dinner (my success rate is probably about 2%). Still, I trust that source like a homesteader who trusts a gushing well.

On a more subtle level, the ideas I have don’t always give me art that I like myself. I throw away more than I keep. I revise repeatedly. Receiving the creative flow is just the first step. Questions of my own readiness and skill follow. One has to have craft, and that takes decades to develop. The ideas come but they have to be interpreted in the midst of contradiction and practicality. Sometimes pure and abstract ideas can’t become part of the real world.

The fact that so many revelations wither hasn’t changed my faith in them. When I was younger, that confused me. How could something I strongly trusted not lead to constant success? I have slowly understood that I first have to be able to make an idea physical and that my own abilities or the limitation of materials can hinder that expression. I’ve learned that my ideas don’t mean that other people want them, because they are on their own searches. I may have ideas, but so do millions of other people, and the culture may stream far from where I am. I can only offer. I’ve found a faith in the long-term: sometimes an idea has to spread slowly over many years after it's taken form.

How does that intersect with martial arts? You make yourself. You might think it’s in memorizing the movements, exploring the poetic names, researching the history, or even in outright combat. It’s deeper than that. Each day of training is a day of creativity. You make yourself. You begin with the idea, whether it might be good health, grace, strength, or spirituality. Then you struggle to make it real. You strive to overcome the range of motion of which you’re currently capable. You endeavor to make your movements more accurate. You work to extend your stamina. You drive to unite body, mind, and spirit. Each day, your degree of success will vary. You will sometimes be highly dissatisfied with yourself. On a few days a year you may find yourself at a peak and you will be ecstatic—only to realize that when you get to the summit, you can only hike down—or look for a higher peak.

Creativity needs tending—like keeping a fire. Maybe there’s plenty of fuel nearby, but the fire has to be fed, the ashes raked out of the pit, and air either fanned toward it or the wind shielded from it. That takes patience, devotion, and steadiness. Over time, the reward is in the many visions glimpsed in the flames.

The only life I know is a life of making. Acting based on ideas that come from a trusted source. Making things according to a vision. Shaping oneself to be one’s most vital. That is the life of making. Read more