#126 A Fancy Mess

Bruce Lee referred to the separateness of all the martial arts styles as a “Fancy Mess” or “Organized Despair.” This included the blind devotion of martial arts students who lacked a real sense of individual and personal investigation and growth.

Bruce Lee created his own art of Jeet Kune Do which he called the “style of no style.” He was really interested, both combatively and philosophically, in researching one’s own experience and creating what works for you as an individual. Bruce had his own ideas about his own techniques, what worked best and what had efficiency and simplicity when it came to fighting. He passed these ideas along to his students, but he was open to the idea that these ideas could be tested and changed depending on who you were as an individual.

“A Fancy Mess” refers to the rigidity of certain styles of martial arts which require memorization and regurgitation without any deviation from the style. These different styles were often in competition with each other over which was the best. Bruce was against this form of competition and the rigidity of this thinking.

“In the long history of martial arts, the instinct to follow and imitate seems to be inherent in martial artists, instructors and students alike. This is partly due to human tendency and partly because of the steep traditions behind multiple patterns of styles. Consequently, to find a refreshing, original master teacher is a rarity. The need for a ‘pointer of the way’ echoes.”

Everyone has to start with a style when they are just beginning their studies and it is natural for students to imitate the styles of their teachers as they learn. Bruce himself started by learning a style of martial arts called wing chun gung fu under renowned master Yip Man. However, Bruce believed that once you learn the basics you need to transcend to the next level instead of staying stuck in the routine.

As a teacher, Bruce believed his function was to be a pointer of the way and not just hand down knowledge. With martial arts, teachers would be positioned as gurus with followers. These master teachers had a lot of expertise and knowledge and the people who followed them became blind devotees. This can make people very unaccepting of other ideas because anything outside of their system was deemed “wrong.”

“Each man belongs to a style which claims to possess truth to the exclusion of all other styles. These styles become institutes with their explanations of the “Way,” dissecting and isolating the harmony of firmness and gentleness, establishing rhythmic forms as the particular state of techniques.”

These institutions provide safety, assurance, credibility and status, which all feel good when you are just a beginner and unsure about yourself. That feeling of belonging can feel so good that you shut down your curiosity and become blindly loyal.

There is nothing wrong with being part of a group or having skill in a particular style. It only becomes an issue when it starts to create discord between yourself and other people.

“Instead of facing combat in its suchness, then, most systems of martial art accumulate a “fancy mess” that distorts and cramps their practitioners and distracts them from the actual reality of combat, which is simple direct. Instead of going immediately to the heart of things, flowery forms (organized despair) and artificial techniques are ritualistically practiced to simulate actual combat. This, instead of “being” in combat these practitioners are “doing” something “about” combat.”

Bruce is specifically referring to martial arts combat, but we can all become caught up in being invested in our status we think we have. Sometimes, for example, we do something about living well instead of just living well.

“When you get down to it, real combat is not fixed and is very much “alive.” The fancy mess (a form of paralysis) solidifies and conditions what was once fluid, and when you look at it realistically, it is nothing but a blind devotion to the systematic uselessness of practicing routine or stunts that lead nowhere.”

You have to go to the heart of things when something is no longer working for you, such as in a relationship or a job, and you have to question it, figure it out, and talk to the people involved. We cannot expect to be ecstatic in every moment, nor would we want that, but we can have sense of overall sense of joy and centeredness.

There is rigidity in thinking that only happiness is “good” and anything else is “bad.” However, anything that has life-force, happiness, sadness, love, it is all a blessing because it is all a part of being alive. The true barometer is: do you feel alive?

If you suppress and numb your feelings, they do not disappear, they’re still there. Just because we do not want to feel something does not make it go away. You have to go through all those feelings and learn what you have to learn from them.

“When real feeling occurs, such as anger or fear, can the stylist express himself with the classical method, or is he merely listening to his own screams and yells? Is he a living, expressive human being or merely a patternized mechanical robot? Is he an entity, capable of flowing with external circumstances, or is resisting with his set of chosen patterns? Is his chosen pattern forming a screen between him and the opponent and preventing a “total” and “fresh” relationship?”

If you put up a wall so as to avoid feeling an emotion, it prevents real a relationship from being possible and you do not feel alive.

People fear judgment and so they stay put in the circumstances that are stale or making them unhappy. What we can work on for our self is accepting our selves, our truth, where we are in our lives, and not saying things to others that supports this “Fancy Mess.”

It takes courage and conviction to stand with what is in our heart. You can never judge a person’s own journey or the mistakes that they make on their way.

“Maturity does not mean to become a captive of conceptualization. It is the realization of what lies in our innermost selves.”

To become mature does not mean to become more comfortable in our cage, but to know and pursue what truly lies within our heart.

“Forms are vein repetitions which offer an orderly and beautiful escape from self-knowledge with an alive opponent.”

When you get stuck in a repetition of a form, you are not really in engagement with your self or your surroundings.

“The classical mess is just a bundle of routine, ideas and tradition. When he acts, he is translating every living moment in terms of the old.”

“Accumulation is self-enclosing resistance.”

“Classical forms dull your creativity, condition and freeze your sense of freedom. You no longer “be”, but merely “do” without sensitivity.”

“Because one does not want to be disturbed, to be made uncertain, he establishes a pattern of conduct, of thought, a pattern of relationships to man. He then becomes a slave to the pattern and takes the pattern to be the real thing.”

In your own life look for where there is a pattern that you have mistaken to be the real thing. Routine keeps us comfortable and asleep. To have something come in and disrupt that can be painful, but it helps us realize what it feels to be alive.

The remedy is to be present as often and in every moment that you can. Meet life in every situation fully engaged. Ask yourself: How is this making me feel? How do I feel right now? What do I want to do about that?

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