Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Myth of Invulnerability

As a young child I stared at the silver screen in fascination of the Hollywood martial arts. The young, strong and muscled characters could dispatch a legion of people who stood in their way on their quest for righting wrongs and fighting evil. They gained their miraculous powers through the study of the martial arts - a form of magic it seemed. I think Hollywood advertises for the martial arts more than anything else. The message they sell on the behalf of martial artists is the myth of invulnerability. The martial path is a path of ultimate power - preserving one's own life and dispatching the life of another.

As I grew into my life in the martial arts, more legends were handed to me. I learned of the great teachers such as Ueshiba of aikido, Mifune of judo. A devoted cult of the faithful rise to support the exploits and legends of the greats. Here we go beyond Hollywood. Now we find the real men who were supposedly invulnerable. The stories of the great masters whose pictures are on the wall seem more credible to the young artist as now I found living proof. I found a man called sensei who had hints of these powers. He told stories of the greatness and invulnerability of the men he has met. Sensei assured that the masters before him out shined even the greatness of his own understanding. As I have grown I look back and see that these great men were no more invulnerable than anyone else. Now they are cloaked in myth, and their exploits border on legend and fact. The quest for invulnerability continued on.

Years of training turn into decades. But I look at myself and I find myself no closer to any form of invulnerability. My body still breaks, and I still feel fear. My maturity erases the the foolishness of youth. The myths a young man learns about the arts is the opposite to the martial reality. The martial path is NOT path of ultimate power, and no form of invulnerability is obtained. While yes, skills are developed, the deeper lesson that emerges from our training is our ultimate vulnerability. The myth was given to us only as a something to eventually disprove.

In opposition to the modern movies about the martial heroes, the writing and stories that came from the samurai shows a different view of the martial path. Typically the old stories of the samurai end in failure and tragic death. The hero fails and there is no happy ending. It seems to me that the traditional tales do not prop up the myth of invulnerability. Instead the old tales remind us that even though we walk the martial path there is only one destination and that is our ultimate mortality. Invulnerability is a myth. Accepting our vulnerabilities is truly one the deeper lessons we learn from the martial path.


  1. The first time I came across or noticed one of these stories was in a high school literature class with Beowulf. "What? Our hero who was once young and victorious got old and needed to kill something to pump his ego, so he went out and got himself killed? End of story?!" The modern hollywood interpretation is a pretty good example at the modern misguided interpretations of these old caches of wisdom. Or maybe just the lack of an attempt to interpret them at all.

  2. Miyamoto Musashi was forced to withdraw from the battle of Shimabara in 1637 when, with his friends the Ogasawara clan, he joined the attack on the base of the castle, and was struck and injured by a rock hurled from the ramparts. He was 53.