Paradise Lost or Just Misplaced?

Today has been idyllic. After a cloudy but lovely day yesterday 
where we did a really nice four hour walk through quiet forest 
carpeted by acre upon acre of lush Bilberry bushes, we awoke to yet 
more cloud. So after a leisurely, very healthy, breakfast, we read 
for half an hour then rode the gondola up onto the tops opposite our 
hotel. Drifting whisps of cloud shrouded us but gaps in the cloud 
below us showed Technicolor glimpses of the valley floor on three 
sides. We visited the tiniest of chapels up there with pews for 12 
people and a mini steeple too. 

So cute even to an unbeliever like 
me, I do not wish to deny others their faith, no lock on the door 
and fresh flowers on the altar. The Austrians like to make sure 
every mountain has its own cross, like this one on Rosskopf, and 
some of them are quite substantial and each has a small weatherproof 
metal box with a book inside. No it is not the worlds smallest 
library but a kind of guest book where visitors to this particular 
top sign in, ?Hello, Garry from Sheffield, England was here? etc.


It is a quaint custom that I came across many years ago when I  
climbed, all the way from the bottom, my first Austrian mountain and  
was encouraged to sign in by two very friendly natives. Quaint is not  
meant in a patronising sense but rather to signify something small,  
nice, something not really done anymore or not very often. As we  
wander round our rural idyll, and trust me it is exactly that, we 
come across quaint again and again. We paused at another small chapel  
today, incredibly old, near the main road and made of timber, inside  
were the most beautiful religious paintings in lovely guilt frames,  
numerous ornaments and the ceiling was lined in a quilted material.  
There was no lock on the door and it was flammable, nearby was the  
first of ten statues along a quiet walk, the first contained a glass  
sheet, very breakable. That each was still intact says something 
about the community these artefacts continue to exist in.

The sun broke through at lunchtime and we headed for the village 
open air pool, it is possibly one of the finest pools I have ever 
been in. The main pool was huge with a great flume, a second pool 
was 25m x say 15m and both were lined with stainless steel, the 
surrounding paths were flawless, the children?s play area large and 
well maintained, the changing facilities spotless, clothes left in 
unlocked lockers too, the gardens immaculate and the surrounding 
fence about 3' high. We went in at least 5 times, it was a scorching 
afternoon, and often the pool, this fantastic pool filled with fresh 
mountain water was ours and ours alone.

A few weeks ago a mate of mine, Rob Marshall, a fellow third Dan at  
Abbeydale Ju Jitsu Club, posted a picture on Facebook of a telephone  
box in some village in North Yorkshire where a bookshelf has been  
installed and acts as a kind of self help library for the community,  
Rob asked the question how long would that last in Sheffield, 
(insert your town or city here). We all know the answer. It kind of 
gets me moving towards the soapbox ready to go on about moral 
decline, lack of respect and the general breakdown of values that 
kept us together as a society and closer together as communities.

Most people who read this blog will run or be members of martial 
arts clubs, they will no doubt value that membership not just
because it allows them to practise their art but because it makes 
them part of a community, they belong. Belonging is a two way street, 
you must give and take to belong and subscribe, indeed internalise, 
the values and morals of the group, you will assume an identity as a 
part of that group and as an ambassador for that group. The longer 
you are a member the stronger the allegiance will grow and begin to 
influence other aspects of your life. Membership is not possible 
without acceptance and we all crave acceptance by our peers and 
desire it most from those we respect, membership is allowed upon 
acceptance of the rules and etiquette of the club and operate 
largely on a system of mutual respect. Our clubs are quaint 
throwbacks to a far more civil world, so is rural Austria and it is 
there for all to see who care to see.

The high and the mighty are so disconnected from real life that they  
seek quick win solutions that fit with their quick turnaround  
electoral needs. The Cameron/Clegg/Milliband beast is not the 
solution to societies ills but part of the problem. Rest assured I 
have no intention of becoming party political in this blog, I 
dislike them all equally, intensely even, but they need to be 
mentioned. The rot does not stop with the political class but begins 
with it, they jiggle and juggle but ultimately change little whilst 
in the meantime Rome smoulders. In society there are many 
institutions that do great work bringing people together, I have 
recently had the privilege of working with Scouts, Guides, Cubs, 
Brownies, Boys Brigades, Beavers and little Rainbows and it is 
heartening to see the commitment of young people, leaders, 
volunteers, families and communities that keep these organisations 
going, you will all have your own examples.

These groups like martial arts clubs thrive, not just because of 
what the offer in terms of content and activity, but in terms of 
what they offer in terms of an antidote to the rot that flourishes 
in wider society. One evening after a seminar, Rory Miller and I sat 
over a beer and red wine respectively and turned over a few subjects. 
We touched on this and I introduced the Marxist perspective of 
alienation but could not remember Weber?s more sophisticate analysis, 
Rory reminded me it was Anomie, both describe a feeling of isolation, 
a sense of detachment from society and a loss of identity in 
relation to wider society.

Sociological study after sociological study has shown the importance  
of belonging to a community, to society to our emotional and  
intellectual welfare. Our undemocratically elected political masters  
ignore this at their peril. Our membership of clubs and societies is  
in decline as leisure is privatised more and more but we still yearn  
to belong, we still join clubs we still seek out other humans for  
company. It is a tribal thing, we yearn for the comfort of the tribe  
we have lost and seek to create new ones. It is time for martial arts  
clubs to see that they have more than a duty to continue their own  
tradition and art, they serve a social purpose too. Many are pillars  
of their communities and others should follow their lead. Martial 
arts clubs are more than a hobby or a pastime, they are socially 
enabling institutions that deliver training in transferable skills 
as well as specific ones. They provide for social networking to take 
place and for friendship communities to grow. There is an argument I 
believe that we should be recognised as catalysts for community 
cohesion and advancement with a disciplined focus particularly 
for some of our most troubled communities. I really would like your 
thoughts on this folks, is there a need for a wider analysis of what 
we actually provide and achieve? Please let me know.

Garry Smith has now stepped off of the soapbox and returned to  
glorious early evening, sunlit rural Austria, Auf Wiedersehen.

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