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Germs vs. Terrain: Virulogical Theory and the Martial Arts

No, this isn't an article about taking mega-doses of Vitamin C or washing your hands with sanitizer. If you want that kind of article go see Dr. Oz.

This article is about a thought I had while researching the histories of two contemporaries of 19th-century France, Louis Pasteur and Antoine Bechamp, both scientists looking to unlock the secrets of disease but with radically differing theories.

Pasteur and Bechamp

Pasteur, he of “pasteurization” fame (the heating of milk to “kill germs”) believed that it was germs that caused disease. Bechamp advocated a conflicting theory known as the “ cellular theory”.

In a nutshell, Pasteur believed that germs got into the body and caused the body to become ill. They were the CAUSE of disease. Bechamp thought that germs were omnipresent and only represented symptoms of diseased tissue.

Pasteur believed in killing the germs as a reactive defense; Bechamp believed in improving one's diet, nutrition and exercise levels in order to preserve “tissue” and thus eliminate the foothold that germs could achieve – a proactive approach.

Modern-day proponents of Pasteur's theory are the Western medical and pharmaceutical establishments and their emphasis on reactive, prescriptive medicine; Bechamp's camp emphasizes whole-body fitness more on the order of Traditional Chinese Medicine - “treat the patient, not the infection”.

The irony is that Pasteur on his deathbed renounced his own theory and acknowledged Bechamp's as being the correct one (said occurrence being hotly contested), but the damage had already been done – the medical and patent-medicine world had already realized what a cash-cow “germs” could be.

Martial Arts and Viruses

How does all this relate to martial arts? I see it relating on several levels, not the least of which is our psychological outlook on WHY we took up the study of the arts in the first place.

In my own case, it was twofold: I had just transferred to a new school for Junior High level (7th and 8th grades) and was the odd-man-out, not only in terms of my newness there but also because of my skin color. I was being accosted and jumped on a regular basis from day one and wanted to learn to defend myself – to fight off the germs that were attacking my body, so to speak. It was a Pasteur thing.

But I had also just lost a sister and father within a month of each other and, unhappy with the Catholic priest's explanations of WHY (“God wanted them more than you did!”) I went looking for a new paradigm of belief, a new way of living – a Bechamp thing.

Guess which one proved longer-lasting, had a bigger effect on the rest of my life and turned out to be “healthier” in the long run? You got it – Bechamp. By becoming a student of my Sifu I was exposed to an entirely new and different way of living; it wasn't just about punching and kicking, it was a lifestyle make-over. Of course, a lot of friends who subscribed to the Pasteur theory told me I was crazy, that I shouldn't waste my time on that New Age crap but instead should train in Ninjutsu or Jeet Kune Do or something else equally manly and direct.

But much like the vegan who suffers the slings and arrows of his meat-munching friends, I took a perverse pride in my contrarian stance. I had already used Sifu's philosophy to successfully deal with the loss of my father and sister; I wasn't about to give it up now, just because my friends wanted to compare number and size of bruises. So I stuck with it, and I learned something – that the martial arts aren't always about fighting others, but rather defending yourself.

No Entrance-Way for Germs

Now this might seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but to me it was a revelation. It opened up doors that I never even suspected of existing before. It said it was OK to be on the defense instead of always going on offense. It showed me how to carry myself in a different way, a way that allowed no entrance-way for germs.

“Le microbe n’est rien, le terrain est tout.” (The microbe is nothing, the terrain is everything)

~ Supposedly the last words of Louis Pasteur

I had a new terrain – I no longer had to concern myself with germs. Instead I could spend my time in avoidance, verbal de-escalation and preparing to take the test for entrance to the OTHER school across town, the one that I really wanted to go to anyway. I learned to walk tall, to not take any crap from anyone and, if necessary, go down swinging. But as time went on the incidents became fewer and farther between until, just before I left at the end of the 7th grade, 9 months total, I no longer had to fear walking the halls or being outside by myself.

The germs had nowhere to attack.

Life Goes On

Now of course, on occasion as life went on I would “become ill” - I'd have to duke it out with some creep, despite all my preventative measures. Part of that was living in New York City in the midst of millions of crazies; part of it was my employment as a bouncer. But having the holistic life-model to fall back on I like to think I did pretty well in avoiding all but the most virulent of germs. I went into parts of the city at night that cops didn't even like to be in during the day; I strolled through gang territories like it wasn't a thing. Nothing happened.

I mentioned that I started off looking to kick ass on the Pasteur Plan. Now that I'm an “elder statesman” who rarely ventures beyond his keyboard I find it incredibly easy to subscribe whole-heartedly to the Bechamp Diet, but even on those rare occasions when I do go out in public I can still part the crowds like Moses in a kiddie pool. I chalk it up to looking at improving the entire organism instead of just treating the disease.

So what's the take-away here? I'm not sure … maybe we could look more at peace than war. Maybe we should investigate non-lethal alternatives as much as we do lethal ones, get more into environmental awareness and people-reading instead of assisted-opening knives and rear-naked chokes. The life-cycle of Scholarus warriorus is only around 74 years or so – that's an awfully long time to spend fighting. Maybe we should just add some Yin to our Yang and seek to improve ourselves and our defense, not just focus on our offense against others.

Maybe we should just concentrate for a while on being the stewards of our terrain, not the attack dogs roaming it.


Martial Arts | Martial Arts Philosophy


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