The Meaning of Strength

Forrest TokyoWhat is it, ‘to be strong’? Why do we push ourselves every day to be fitter, faster, stronger, more fearless, more capable, more efficient?

Who can jump the furthest? Who can run the fastest or climb the highest? Who can face the most danger? Who can do the most twists in a somersault? How could we get to a place in our minds where any of these things matter to us? Arbitrary things, all of them: quick to come and quicker to go; easily gained or lost, easily learned or forgotten; affected by the most random and trivial of things, such as lever length, genetics, training, tendon and ligament position, anatomy, injury, predisposition, substances, drugs,  nurture, nature, anything! Meaningless, in and of themselves. So where is the meaning? What gives our movement meaning?

In a few score years you will be gone. A few more decades after that the walls and gaps you jump will be gone too. Fast forward a few millennia and the very rock and stone it all rested upon will be altered, changed, and – eventually – gone too. Enough time and the planet itself will be stardust again, scattered by a supernova. No records will stand then, no medals or points, not even the memory of those things. Transient, to be sure.

Heraclitus said it best, ‘Everything flows; nothing remains’. So what does it matter that you can jump 11 feet rather than 10? Is it just ‘to be better’, is it our nature to want to improve for improvement’s sake? Is it that we must constantly prove ourselves to ourselves? Does it all come down to our cultural conditioning, our education; the need to compare and compete both within and without ourselves?

I hope not.

I think not.

What matters, surely, is us. What gives it all meaning, is us.

PK02P 0049The temporal nature of things does not render them meaningless, not at all – quite the opposite. It is the very fact that all things are transient that bestows upon those things the potential for ultimate meaning – because that thing, that jump, that moment is unique and unrepeatable: much like us. So it really does matter, quite a lot, what you do with that moment. It is we who give meaning to the moments and the actions, both our intentions for and our actual experience of them, and each moment will be nothing more nor less than what we make of it. So if you do this jump simply in order to impress others, for example, or to beat your rival in a contest, and that is your motivation, that is your goal, your desire, then that moment’s or action’s meaning is no more than that: a flash of primal ego, driven by a no-doubt genetically-fuelled will to power. And where is the meaning in that? Is that really the best we can do?

But infuse that same moment with a will to understand who you are, through challenge, through adversity, through movement, and instantly that same arbitrary jump becomes filled with meaning, with power and substance. It will resonate in you, and throughout your life, and no doubt long after your body is dust. It means something.

In the end, the movements don’t matter. Truthfully, the art itself doesn’t matter – you could experience this in any action, in gardening, or fighting, or the study of quantum physics: what matters is you who practice the art, for you are what gives it meaning in any and every moment. So what does it mean, ‘to be strong’?  Why is being strong better than being weak?  Is it at all? Or is the process of becoming strong just a vehicle, a path for us to focus our own understanding of ourselves, our world, our lives, and our place in the order of things? And if so, does it then follow that the only real ‘success’ can be found through edging closer to that understanding, that indeed all knowledge is only self-knowledge?

In this case, a traceur’s true test is not in how far he can jump, or how quickly he can move, or how many muscle-ups he can complete, or even in his level of ability: but rather it is in what he finds in the art – what he finds in himself.