29 January 2015

Dear Rebel, get some creature-tips!

 This is the eighteenth in a series of articles on rebels and rebellion written for the FREE section of 'The Nation'. Scroll to the end for other articles in this series.  'FREE' is dedicated to youth and youthfulness.

Not many people knew of ‘animal styles’ in martial arts until movies such as ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,’ ‘Snake in the Eagle’s Shadow,’ and ‘Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow’ were made.  Apparently the tiger, crane, leopard, snake and dragon are associated with the Southern styles of Chinese martial arts.  According to some classifications the dragon is replaced by the mantis.   It is said that other animal styles also exist and these include the panther, horse, cobra, bull, wolf, deer, bear, boar, python, scorpion, elephant, lion, frog, duck, dog, crow, chicken, hawk, turtle, swallow and lizard.  In other words, anything that moves has a distinct ‘style’ which can be mimicked. 

Now this is not to say that all rebels should learn martial arts or that revolution is not possible if they don’t.  Just take martial arts as a metaphor and think of animal ways, let’s say. 

There’s something that all animals, humans included, share: the fear of death and the will to live.  Rebels and rebellion are about life and death, metaphorically speaking.  We want to live in a particular kind of way and in a particularly arranged society.  If cannot, it is almost like dying, of ‘not really living’.  So we rebel. We want to create a world for life and living, we want to change a world where just being is like ‘being dead’.  The rebel, then, is very well positioned to observe and learn from the life-death realities that prompt (other) animal behavior. 

Google ‘animal idioms’ and you’ll get hundreds of references to animals.  And that’s just in English and the lists that pop up are probably not exhaustive.  What this means is that for centuries people have ‘noticed’ animals and more than this have noticed that human beings often demonstrate certain ‘animal-traits’.  Quite apart from idioms, there are cultures which actually nicknamed people after animals.  In the Native American tradition there are names which would translate as ‘Sitting Bull,’ ‘Running Deer,’ ‘Swan Maiden,’ ‘Salmon Swimming up a Rippling Stream,’ ‘Beautiful Badger going over the Hill’ and so on.  In a small village almost on the border that separates the Kurunegala and Anuradhapura Districts, there are names such as ‘Koombiya Naide’ and ‘Panuwa Naide’, referring to ant-like and worm-like characteristics, obviously. 

The point is, we can learn from animal behavior.  Different creatures have different techniques to gather food (read, ‘collect resources’), hide from predators (read, ‘evade arrest/capture’), defend themselves (read ‘fight back’) and prey on enemies (read, ‘fight’).  The grandmasters of martial arts were clearly wonderful students of animal behavior.  They observed, analyzed and scripted the knowledge into fighting techniques. 

The rebel can do the same.  Of course the rebel does not need to reinvent the wheel, but being observant about the world around you won’t cost you much.  You learn from human beings, you learn from animals.  This is why rebels who are fond of books, especially folk stories and of course Jathaka Katha, are bound to find in them a wealth of techniques which can be employed in rebellion.  Sloth is not to be celebrated in those who want to rebel or fancy themselves as rebels, but here’s a shortcut: collect idioms, especially those drawn from animal behavior. Read. Study.  They can be very useful, both in improving general articulation (rebels need to talk, one way or another, to friend and would-be friend as well as foe) but can help pick the right strategy in all kinds of engagements.  

Other articles in this series