Pictures and stories alone fail to connect us fully with the past. It is only through direct contact with the places and objects linked to our history that we can begin to generate a complete image of the people and events of long ago. I can recall the times in my life visiting the sites of our national heritage including various monuments and historical sites in Washington D.C., Boston, and Philadelphia which made the American Revolution come to life for me. I’ve had similar experiences visiting Gettysburg, Fort Sumpter, Antietam and Manassas where I felt immersed in the defining moments of the American Civil War. As a Boy Scout I visited decommissioned US Navy vessels and caught a glimpse of the sacrifices and accomplishments of my grandfathers’ generation during World War II. There is no substitute for the experience of these sites and no picture or story can replicate the impact that these experiences have had on me.
For all who train in the traditional martial arts, visiting the site of its origin at some point is a must. While this may be a big financial or logistical challenge, remember that you have a lifetime to figure out how to make it happen. There is simply no substitute for it. However, given that you may need a couple of years to save and plan for a trans-pacific trek to Okinawa (or further depending on your particular traditional style), you should seek out and visit other places and people that are connected with your traditional martial arts heritage or that you wish to establish a stronger connection with. A series of small pilgrimages is not only fun and interesting, but it may serve to enrich your experience in the martial arts and deepen your appreciation for its development over the centuries.
On a recent business trip I visited Seattle, Washington. My flight schedule afforded me some free time in the afternoon so I looked up and visited the grave site of Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee’s writings and film work have always inspired me as a martial artist. His ability to freely transition principle into practice in both thought and action has always amazed me. Although I will never have the ability to meet and train with him in person, I feel a stronger sense of connection having had physical contact with the memorial built in his honor.
Whenever possible, I encourage you to take journeys, large and small, to the places that have particular meaning to you. Doing so not only broadens your appreciation of the people and events from the past but it may deepen your connection to them in ways books and pictures cannot. A significant portion of training in the traditional martial arts is seeking ways to transcend the mere physical applications of technique and embrace the principles and fundamentals that support you in your quest for self-discovery and truth. Self-discovery is the result not of reading and asking, but one of doing. The pilgrimage is one way to put your quest for understanding into action, creating opportunities for learning beyond what an instructor or book can teach.
The inscription on the tombstone reads: “BRUCE LEE, NOV. 27, 1940 – JULY 20, 1973, FOUNDER OF JEET KUNE DO” At the base of the tombstone is a book sculpture with the words inscribed: “YOUR INSPIRATION CONTINUES TO GUIDE US TOWARD OUR PERSONAL LIBERATION” These words were selected by Bruce Lee’s widow, Linda Lee. Note the many flowers that are freshly laid by both gravestones – almost 35 years since Bruce Lee’s unexpected death in 1973.
– Sensei Don Seiler