Chekhov, Love, and Trust

On my way back now from an excellent, rejuvenating week with the National Michael Chekhov Association (NMCA), my second time attending their Teacher Intensive. The last one I went to was in Florida, and this was my first time up in Maine, where it’s hosted by the USM Gorham campus. Lovely area up here, plus a great group to play with. Not sure when I’ll make it back to finish my certification (I still need to do a capstone project) but I hope to see more of the same faces when I do, unlikely though that may be (we came from all over, including Canada and India). I had a blast doing a scene from a farcical comedy of [bad] manners (Blithe Spirit – still don’t really like the play but it did give us some fun scene work) with someone who’s done a ton of Commedia and physical theatre, and reminding myself what it’s like to perform live theatre (it’s been about a year), as well as the student and teacher aspects of the workshop.

With the imminent move to Wyoming, I was more than happy to join several of them after the closing dinner last night in an expedition to dip our feet in the Ocean. While I hope to get back up to the family (in-laws) place in Montauk some time in the coming year or two, it’ll be a challenge getting the family there from Wyoming, so this might be the last Atlantic dip for a while, and it just felt right.

So walking near the boardwalk in Portland, ME with good (if mostly new) friends, I spotted a man and a woman wrestling on the grass of a park in a way that made it not immediately clear if it was playful or serious. Not wanting to judge prematurely (I certainly played that way when younger and with the right friends – anyone remember the game “Wink”?) the other SAFD CT and I still instinctively veered across the street to keep an eye on things for a moment, determining it was playful just around the time the bicycle police rolled up. It brought up in subsequent conversation though the Mattis quote, “Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” Here, put more eloquently (if less succinctly) is an elegant counterpoint to that paradigm.

The real question for those of us who regularly cross between the lands of theatre, stage combat, and martial arts, is if we can have it both ways. I want there to be a “Yes And” for this, as we like in improvisational theatre (which life basically is), but I know you can’t really live with one foot on each side of that fence, and sometimes you have to pay a toll when you cross the border.

This week I’ve got an editorial in the current issue of Friends Journal as well, the journal of the pacifist Quaker “Religious Society of Friends” I was raised in. It’s an edited (by them) version of a comment I left online a few months ago, but again reflects that boundary I regularly visit, a dual citizenship that has I think partly come to define who I am.


Wishing you all Beauty, Ease, Entirety, and Form, my friends.


  1. Posted July 7, 2014 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I think perhaps another word than ‘martial arts’. Really the dichotomy is between the world of people who think it isn’t okay to hurt other people, and the world where using violence is a reasonably way of dealing with problems. I study martial arts, because I want to understand those people (it is necessary, obviously, for a stage combat person to understand that!), but though that makes me a martial artist, it doesn’t make me a part of whatever that other world is where violence is on the table as a solution to problems. Lots of folks get into martial arts because they are in that mindset, and others develop it while they are there. It is essential to mastering most _actual_ martial arts, in fact (certainly many martial arts masters are teaching how to kill people, and trained students to be willing and able to do so), but it isn’t synonymous.

    • Posted July 7, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      True, perhaps combative arts would be a better term than martial arts, in a world where martial arts includes wushu demos, olympic foil fencing, kata demonstration, taiji or aikido or kyudo as pure meditation form, etc. Combatives is a less accessible term for the general public, despite it’s increasing use in the ‘industry’.

      …and I do believe that if you study combatives, it changes how you view human interactions. As I said on one of the Facebook threads, theatre (of which stage combat is a part) asks that you trust people you’ve only just met, make yourself vulnerable be it emotionally, physically, socially, professionally, while combatives teach you all the bad things people can and sometimes actually do to each other, and to see the world through a filter of weapons ranges, concealed threats, and taking advantage of vulnerabilities while avoiding your own. It’s not just typical baggage, it’s an essential ingredient if your training is for anything other than style and fitness and creative expression (which is where most of us stage combat people dwell anyway, to be fair).

      There’s a certain zen quality it would require to both know exactly who’s capable of what when (inasmuch as we can ever anticipate these things based on the cues of body language, wardrobe, energy, etc.), have some baseline ability to deal with potential violent threats, AND to still choose to remain open and vulnerable as a default life choice. It’s worth striving for I think, and better to me than either putting my head in the sand or closing myself off to the world.

      I lived a couple months in high school in that constant state of high alert, after being randomly attacked on the grounds three times in a month. Each time it was complete strangers. Once they broke my glasses punching me in the face while sprinting past me in the hall. Another time my jaw was disclocated (a few hours before the musical opened). Ultimately I found that paranoid way of walking through the crowded, vibrant world was just too exhausting to maintain; it consumes you, seeing threats in every face.

      And yes, I know I say this from a position of privilege: as a straight white male living in decent parts of the country, I haven’t been forced to deal with that level of constant threat that many women do (from men), minorities might (from authorities or the majority), etc… which is part of why I try to watch out for them when I can.

      Everyone deserves to feel safe, but but nobody should assume that they are, and therein lies the rub.

  2. Posted July 7, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    The video above really does put it well…

  3. Posted July 7, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, the video is great. And I agree with you that it is too exhausting to be expecting trouble, but that we get to think that since we live in a civilized society and on the privileged side of it.

    That said, I do work hard on my combatives training (well, not as hard as I would like – it is a hobby, not my career, and sadly they pretty much want the same sorts of time from me: evenings and weekends). But I do maintain a different mindset, and I think partly it is theater training that makes it possible. While I am learning how to tear someone apart, I am playing the role of someone who might want to. And not infrequently (especially in, for example, an MBC workshop, or really any modern combatives class) I am astonished to realize that some of the other people in the class are taking it seriously. Like, they not only are learning how to quickly deploy a legal-sized knife…but they actually carry one.

    So, even combatives isn’t the right word – it isn’t about the art, it is about the mentality that can (but doesn’t have to) go with it. It is possible (as I do) to treat the combative arts as academic, to accept that the fantasy we all have of fighting, and killing or injuring, a bad guy is just that, while still practicing it. I think we get to choose how we approach the world, (as the video suggests). Surely you are right that some activities encourage one way or the other… but I don’t know that we have to let that encouragement be a mandate.

  4. Posted July 8, 2014 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    I can see where the dichotomy would crop up, but personally it doesn’t have to be so.

    I’ll get to that in a second, but first I’m gonna tackle the idea that situational awareness is too difficult to maintain from exhaustion or whatnot:

    It feels that way to those who only do so when introduced to or reminded of that particular mindset, not to those who truly live it.

    The easiest analogy is driving. When we learn to drive, we have a dozen different new things to keep in mind, and that’s just over what we can control ourselves. Then we have to look out for everything else we don’t have control (and only minimal influence) over, be it traffic, pedestrians, road layout, obstacles, and what have you.

    Then with time and experience, those things fade into the background. In some cases, they are touched upon, or complacency settles in until something shakes up the paradigm (“that jackass almost sideswiped me!”). But for the most part, we go about our day, operating multi-ton complex machines that kill thousands annually, often in a swarm of other such machines, without a great deal of worry or extraneous effort.

    And that’s just those who drive semiregularly. Professional drivers are often more well aware of the dangers involved, and can see the warnings ahead of time (erratic driving or traffic patterns, ect). A case of not quite complacency but rather “standing by,” in case specific actions need to be taken swiftly.

    Those of us who do live in Dar Al-Harb are aware of the potential, the probable, and the likely threats, file them accordingly and let thoughts of each be “on standby” until indicators crop up that may require further attention (shifting cooper’s colors from yellow to orange, so to speak). Not always on the professional driver level, but it’s more of a continuum than an on-off switch in any case.


    Maintaining situational awareness AND allowing oneself to be vulnerable in the company of people you’ve just met happens quite often, actually.

    Specifically, it happens in those trained to fight in groups. Teams, squads, partners, battle buddies, call it what you will. Trusting people you’ve only just met? Making yourself vulnerable in multiple ways? What did you think happens when a grunt gets transferred into a different unit? They have to trust who they’re with because that’s all they have to rely on. Vulnerabilities will be dug out and prodded to gauge reaction and identify weak points. Not to shun those who have them, but to ensure what ones exist don’t keep the job from getting done.

    They’re still vulnerable and open, they’re just selective about it. Fighting as a group allows them to have that vulnerability and trust amongst each other while maintaining awareness of the “outside world.”

  5. Posted July 9, 2014 at 12:25 am | Permalink

    Good points, Jay.

Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: