Somerset Stav Martial Arts
South Street, Crewkerne, Somerset, UK
I was born in 1959 so I was the right age, early teens, when martial arts suddenly became very popular in the early 70s. Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon and, well it made quite an impact at the time. I had the opportunity to learn Karate from the age of about 14 and I grabbed the chance. I am not athletic, I have always had slightly limited cardio vascular capacity, perfectly okay for everyday life but I can't run all that far or fast. Today I would probably be labelled dyspraxic (we just used to call it clumsy and thus useless at ball games). As a young child I was a little overweight and always seemed to be twisting an ankle or suffering from a stitch. So, I certainly wasn't competitive in sports even when I did take part.
In martial arts training I found a way of developing physically at my own pace and according to my own needs. I found that I could effectively defend myself on the fairly rare occasions that it was necessary. I also discovered a sense of integration that did not seem to come from any other source.
Even as a child I noticed that many people seemed to have a rather fragmented approach to life. If they wanted to be fit they went to the gym or played sports. Some people went to church or followed other religions or practices for their spiritual life. For intellectual progress they would read books and undertake some form of education. Rarely did people seem to really see the relationship between the development of the body, the mind and the spiritual aspects of their lives. Sometimes people even seemed very keen on two aspects of life and yet actively despised the third. Sport and education but dismissed the spiritual. Or very religious and intellectual but no interest in physical fitness. It all seemed a bit odd to me.
Although for me martial arts training brought a sense of integration I also realised that not all martial artists were looking for the same goal. There has always something of a divide between those who do martial arts for sport and fitness, those who want to become deadly combat machines and those attracted by the exotic mysticism of Taoism or Zen. Again there was that separation. Yes, there was the benefits of physical fitness through training, which has served me well all my life and still does. Yes, there is the confidence that comes through knowing what to do if I should be unlucky enough to get into a violent situation. Yes, it is good to know that martial arts is a vehicle for learning and expressing spiritual principles. However, I also realised that without the appropriate language skills and cultural references I wasn't going to understand the authentic relationship between philosophy and practice. To really integrate through martial arts I was going to have to find a way of training that connected me with my own culture and ancestry.
Then, in the early 1990s I met Ivar Hafskjold and began to learn Stav. Ivar had recently returned to Europe after 14 years in Japan where he had studied martial arts to a very high level. When I asked him why he had come back he said that he had realised that he was never going to be Japanese and it was time to come back to he roots. Ivar was ready to teach in the UK and he wanted to see if he could integrate his family tradition of training, Stav, with what he had learned in Japan. At that point I began my exploration of Stav and I knew that I had found what I was looking for. I had not found answers, but I had found the opportunity to ask the right questions. Questions that included: What is my body really capable of if I engage in the appropriate practice every day? Is it possible to learn to see a problem so clearly that the solution always becomes apparent? How can I know what values matter most in a situation and then act accordingly?
I came to realise that we have to find our answers within ourselves. We must learn how to look for the answers and trust ourselves to recognise them when we find them.
So, is Stav just another kind of mysticism then? Not really, we live in a physical world and physical realities confront us every day. As physically embodied beings we must engage with these realities every day. How well equipped are we to see reality and think clearly about what we see? Are we capable of making decisions according to the values we hold to be the most important? Can we act effectively in accordance with our highest values? Having acted once can we do it all over again, each time gaining more insight into who we are and further confirming our purpose in this world?
If you have read this far you might be looking for the same things I have spent my life searching for. Maybe Stav will help you too.
Graham Butcher, November 2016
Please see the Programme Page for details of Stav classes and seminars held at Somerset Stav Martial Arts.
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