Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Martial arts training is my main form of exercise. I find it a fun way to get a good workout, and there is a good club on campus. Our style, Cuong Nhu, studies a lot of different things, which makes it a more comprehensive workout and, hopefully, more useful in life.

Last weekend I went to the Training Camp. All of the masters of the style, most of the black belts, and a lot of the students gather for three days of classes and practice. I had a lot of fun, learned a lot, and got a lot of good exercise. Most people in Cuong Nhu agree that Training Camp is one of the best things about the style. People fly from the other end of the country, and even other countries, to participate.

There was also a lot of partying at the camp. I did not participate in this, choosing instead to rest or sleep.

At lunch one day, we were chatting about warrior cultures throughout history. The subject of Vikings and the afterlife came up. I said, "The Viking view of heaven was not like most cultures. They believed that warriors would go to a place called Valhalla, where they would fight each other all during the day. Then, each night after the battle was over, all of the fallen warriors would be returned to life, and have a massive drunken party."

Then I paused, and said, "Kind of like Training Camp." The table roared with laughter.

The idea had just popped into my head, and I meant it as a passing joke. But the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. The appeal of Valhalla is strong. A life of measuring your skills against worthy opponents, and constantly improving those skills, is a good life. Many things in our society can be seen as an attempt to capture the spirit of Valhalla. Online video games are the obvious example, but you can make the case that all sports are a kind of endless, ritualized combat.

But these are mere substitutes compared to actual, real-life combat, even a safe controlled combat. Training Camp is a weekend sojourn to Valhalla. The swords may be bamboo, and the knives may be sidewalk chalk, but we are still fighting. And when the fight is over, we pick ourselves up, laugh at our mistakes, congratulate the winners, and then go off to celebrate another glorious day.

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