Something important to bear in mind is that inspiration and learning can come from some very unlikely sources. Every Sunday, I try to choose someone that has taught me something, guided me or inspired me throughout my life. I hate to admit it, but it’s been a challenge. I’ve mainly tried to keep this contained to martial artists, including the likes of Michele “The Mouse” Krasnoo, Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, Ronda Roussey and even Miyamoto Musashi. All of these folks have had an impact on my life and have inspired what paths I’ve chosen.
But I’ve also made a point of including people who have inspired or guided me in other ways, like my father. Ultimately, we can find inspiration in negative places as well. I only say this because the subject of this week’s “inspiration” post is someone who has had about as much negative (if not more) influence on the general public as positive. I am referring to a reasonably well-known action star named Steven Seagal.
It may be considered an unpopular opinion by some, but Seagal played an integral role in my interest of the martial arts. After all, he’s a master of Aikido, studied/taught in Japan and starred in a number of action movies that came out during those impressionable years when I was young enough to be impressed but old enough to think, “Hmm, this martial arts stuff is pretty cool!” He moved to Japan and studied Aikido there, and claims to have also been the “first non-Asian to open a dojo in Japan.” Whether this is true or not is anyone’s guess, but he’s had a colourful life prior to returning to the United States where he began acting in movies.
He has starred in almost five dozen movies, although a good number of those beyond the mid-90’s went straight to video. I first saw him when I was ten years old in a movie called Above The Law. In it, he plays a police officer and martial artists who uncovers a government conspiracy and helps put an end to it. Sounds pretty heroic, right? In fact, the majority of his movies have involved the protagonist being some sort of military/police/operative who ultimately saves the day. But that’s the whole point, right? We usually WANT to see the hero win. As a kid, I was awe-struck by Seagal’s ability to use grappling and striking as a means of defeating even the most difficult of enemies. And all of his films up until the late 90’s were pretty bad-ass. I can still watch some of them with deep enjoyment, although much more criticism on his martial arts technique.
Then it gets a bit convoluted. Seagal identifies as a Buddhist and martial artist. This holds some special meaning to me, being a Buddhist and martial artist myself. But it stands to reason that someone who practices a religion devoted to the elimination of suffering in the world should be doing just that, shouldn’t they? Seagal has been the subject of a lot of controversy recent decades, including allegations of sexual assault, violence against the people he works with and has ongoing feuds with the majority of his Hollywood counterparts, notably Jean-Claude Van Damme, as a prime example. Not a very Zen-like approach to life, especially a blessed one such as his.
In recent decades, Seagal has become something of a walking joke when one considers his strange political views, ongoing opinions about how other martial artists aren’t “true martial artists” and his apparent lack of self-care where his body is concerned. The man has ballooned up to the point that he almost looks like a cartoon character! My wife and I recently watched him on Netflix in a film called Maximum Conviction, where he starred alongside Steve Austin. Once again, he was portrayed as some sort of specialist who simply couldn’t be defeated. The movie basically starts out by having him beat up a prison inmate who happens to be over twice his mass!
I’m not saying that a genuine martial artist would be unable to defeat a larger opponent, but given the fact that he was 60 years of age in that movie, couple with how he’s let himself go physically, one needs to face reality at some point. It’s no surprise this was yet another straight-to-DVD movie. Even WITH Diabetes, I consider it a point of health, personal care and importance to try and maintain my physical fitness to the best of my ability; a task I feel that I’m still on top of, despite my gut slowly trying to overtake my efforts. But I digress…
My point is, Seagal helps to provide guidance in a very specific way: he’s shown me how NOT to be. His behaviours definitely don’t fall in line with someone who is a true student of the Buddhist or Martial Way. His concepts and abilities with the martial arts have been questioned for decades, both for their authenticity and truth behind his claims. None of this is how a true martial artists or Buddhist would be intended to behave. When I need to know how NOT to comport myself, I need only think of Steven Seagal. ☯