Part 7 in a continuing series

Life can be lived fully, either on the inside and/or the outside of your skin. Those who live mostly on the outside are considered ‘Hard’ stylists. Those who choose the interior abode are the ‘Soft’, or Internal stylists.

My father was not a martial artist, but he approached life as a Hard stylist. He was a conqueror of material and men, a cosmopolitan warrior, who could skillfully manipulate the tangible realities of a professional building contractor; an engineer and estimator by training. He successfully built and refurbished skyscrapers.

When you live outside of your skin you get your primary nourishment from your external environment. My father was so large to me as a young boy that I caved in backwards in awe of his abilities and worldly experience. It reminds me, by analogy, of the experiences I’ve had on many occasions where a young child, meeting me and looking upwards at my six foot, four inch frame, unable to balance the weight of his tilted head, gets momentarily disoriented and falls backward onto the ground.

Well, my head/mind literally fell back into itself as a teenager, hard into the chaos of an unfathomable, unintelligible inner world of sensations, imaginations and feelings. This inner space was to become my unexplored cavern of unknown depth and cryptic wisdom.  In my early years, this cavernous interior felt like a trap, a solitary prison. It was my own blockhouse (I guess that made me a blockhead) fashioned out of ignorance about myself. My sensitivity felt entrapped.  I wanted to live like my father in the external world with ample money, a nice home and an attractive wife—victoriously, superficially. But around him, and behind my pride for him, I felt awkward, clumsy and weak.  I never seemed to be able to find words intelligible enough to feel like I belonged in his realm. I did not know this was the hallmark of family dysfunctionality. I constantly found myself trying to squeeze my, as yet, hidden, rounded spiritual peg of a life into an ego-constructed material square. Since I couldn’t escape my prison of mental disorganization, I was left tinkering in my gray-celled interior with the strange fluids of imagination, thoughts, feelings, and intuitions. I awakened slowly into the abysmallness of my spiritual condition – a member of the twilight community in the heart of Plato’s Cave (see: The Soul Polisher’s Apprentice, chapter on Plato’s Dojo) I could feel the shackles, but I couldn’t see them. I had trouble back then distinguishing shadows from reality. As the years went by, a profound symbolic image of what was happening to me started to emerge from my unconscious.

I had been so inward directed that I did not know I was not alone. I discovered later that my plight happens to many people throughout the world.  We are like tinkers. Outsiders can’t see the purpose or the value in our pursuing life’s ‘intangibles.’ Those who do, see us as rival Don Quixotes battling with stupid old windmills, or putzing on insignificant, psychic machinery. Hard Stylists frequently minimize soul seekers to excentric tinkerers.

And then the martial arts came along for me, and I saw a tunnel and a compelling light at the end of it.