Excellence of the Human Body
There are three great miracles in regard to the human body. Intricacy, complexity and automatic coordination in the body under the guiding power of the brain is the first miracle. That human body automatically tends towards health is the second miracle. It is this miracle that has provided a vast field of exploration of the means and methods by which the natural and automatic processes of healing can be aided and accelerated. That the human body can be educated and its actual and latent capacities can be developed to amazing degrees of excellence is the third miracle.
In the first part, we have briefly attempted to portray the first miracle by emphasising the mystery of the human body. In the second and third parts, we dwelt upon, once again very briefly, the secrets of the miracles of health and healing. We shall now concentrate in this fourth part on the issues related to the education of the human body and how that education can bring out the hidden and astonishing potentialities of the human body.
Physical education must be viewed as a part of an integral programme of the education of the totality of the human personality. The human being is complex; apart from the body, the human being has also a vital aspect and a mental aspect; there are capacities of rational thought, ethical action and aesthetic imagination and creativity. There are also profounder and subtler presences and capacities of the Spirit. In ancient system of Indian education, a special emphasis was laid on
the development of the powers and values of all the aspects of personality, physical, vital, intellectual, ethical, aesthetic and spiritual. But this integrality of education was not spread over all sections of society in equal proportions and with equal emphasis. Nonetheless, the concept of integral education played a great role in lifting the civilisation and culture of India to extraordinary heights. In the West, the records that we have of the system of education in ancient Greece permits us to believe that the concept of integrality was not only recognised, but was also practised in a great measure and by very large sections of the society. It is true that while the recognition of the Spirit is quite discernible in the ancient Greek thought, particularly in Socrates and Plato, yet a special and greater emphasis was laid on the powers of Reason and on the means and methods by which Reason can integrate the ethical, aesthetic, pragmatic and physical aspects of human personality. The impetus that was given in this great system of education to the development of the powers of the human body was so great that the gymnasium, chariot-racing and other sports and athletics had the same importance on the physical side as on the mental side the Arts and Poetry and the drama. It was Greece that made an institution of the Olympiad and through that institution the Greeks demonstrated some of the greatest peaks of excellence of the human body. In other ancient civilisations also, some kind of integral education was recognised and advocated. For the purposes of our book, we have restricted ourselves to brief expositions of Physical education in ancient India and in ancient Greece. For our object in this book is not to trace history but to underline a few aspects of the nature of the human body and its potentialities so as to generate and awaken interest and develop a few important insights in the subject through a presentation of selected writings or passages which, without being pedantic or scholarly, could serve as stimulating and instructive material.
In our times, with the re-establishment of the Olympiads as an inter national institution the ancient spirit of excellence in physical culture has been powerfully revived. This revival has been greatly aided by the contemporary science and technology, and we thus see a widespread participation in all parts of the world in the activities that aim at the refinement and excellence of the human body. Methods and organisation of physical education seem to have reached a kind of climax, and the spirit of excellence is happily invading upon increasing masses of
people, particularly of the youth and children.
The Greek word for Excellence was: "Arete". It meant excellence, one could say all-round excellence, not only a maximum, but a harmony of perfection. When you pronounce this word, carefully, it casts a spell, it sounds like a mantra. It was really a magic word for the Greeks, who may have been, among all the many people on earth, past and present, one of the very few who had a quasi-religious feeling for what excellence represents. In our contemporary world, excellence, this elevating concept, does not seem so compelling any more. Other words, several levels below, appear to have crowded the minds and hearts of the majority, words like competition and success, which do not carry with them the flavour of pure seeking.
Today's world of sports and games is mostly an expression of the urge to competition and Success. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, when he put such energy into the revival of the ancient tradition of the Olympic Games, had a noble goal of establishing more securely peace between nations by making them to compete through sports and games rather than through wars. He probably would be horrified by the blatant commercialism and the display of money-power in modern Olympic Games. The concept of professional sportsman would also have shocked him, who thought that excellence in sports came primarily from a passion. For him a sportsman was above all an amateur, a word derived from the Latin word amor which means love.
Amateurism in sports has become a casualty of the formidable costs of training and participation in most high level competitions: top athletes are usually sponsored, either by private organisations or companies, or by governments. The modern means of mass-communication have added their powerful artificial weight as a large number of sports and games have a great entertainment value for a large public: top sportsmen become stars in a star system which further creates distortions in sport values. All these factors combine to create an atmosphere around sports and games which is quite remote from the dedicated pursuit of excellence that one would expect from a great athlete.
These handicaps created by modern society around sportsmen and athletes are hurdles on their way. It does not prevent them necessarily to reach true excellence. Many of those who have reached the summit in their specialities have displayed high human qualities such as courage, endurance, fearlessness, stoic composure in defeat, even
heroism in fighting back the effects of accidents to the point of being able to return to competition. There have been remarkable examples of fair play, of sheer determination in the face of adversity. No one can ever become a top athlete without discipline, not only in training, but also in one's personal life: the demands on the body are such that indulgence is hardly allowed. Self-control is a necessity and con tributes to the development of character. Even emotions must be con trolled. An emotionally upset athlete is not likely to be able to summon the deepest resources in his body that he may require to reach the goal. All these are manifestations of high spirit and belong to the realm of excellence.
Excellence is always an offspring of will. Without this element of will, which issues essentially from spirit, excellence cannot be reached, whatever might be the natural gifts of a person. When an athlete feels, as they often do, that he or she has reached the limits of their endurance, what is it that pushes them beyond, if not sheer will and determination?
Besides will and determination, training is another crucial factor in the effort to reach excellence: it means often harsh discipline, tedious repetitions to master the minutest details of a starting position, of the last thrust of an arm, of the right posture, to the point where the body goes instinctively through the right sequence, as if not needing to be directed. Usually, training is directed by a coach: most success stories in athletic careers involve a deep relationship with a coach. The coach is often the person who perceives the potentiality in his trainee, who is able to be as hard a taskmaster as necessary and yet provide psycho logical comfort. The good coach has to be the arcane teacher: master of techniques, yet uniquely concentrated on one or few individuals whom he must understand deeply so as to adapt very precisely the rigour of techniques to the ever changing ways of his pupils.
Excellence does not belong only to top performers. To be the best does not necessarily mean to be able to reach the summit. Best means first in a category, excellent means one who works at the maximum point of his or her limits so as to transcend them. The best may not be excellent, and the excellent may not be rated, in a competition, as the first or the best. For excellence is not a concept relative to competition; it is a concept relative to an inner dimension. Excellence is produced when one acts beyond one's range of limitations, and this springs from
the manifestation of the inner spirit which always burns upwards and pushes the individual towards what may be called perfect perfection.
Excellence can be a secret recognition within oneself: whatever the external results, inwardly one may know the real achievement. So many sport amateurs in the world stand no chances to reach the top or even secondary summits. Yet they go on practising and they too are exhilarated when they feel they have given their very best or when suddenly they break through a higher level of their sport or game. At any level, excellence requires a gathering of oneself and an all-out effort which carry their reward in themselves, even in the absence of public recognition. The results of such endeavours, when taken up by many and particularly the youths, translate into a vast training of entire populations towards more courage, hardiness, energetic action and initiative, as well as skill, steadiness of will or rapid decision and action. One could also say that the greater the recognition of excellence of athletes, the greater is the inspiration provided-to increasing numbers to enter the field.
The public image of many top performers is often misleading. To satisfy the superficial yet avid curiosity of the modern crowds, those details of their lives which are either sensational or at the level of gossip are being tossed around and much repeated to the point of casting a thick shadow on the real man behind. Yet it is not rare that, when one comes across deeper and more complete exposition of their lives and workings, largely different pictures begin to emerge. To take a few examples, on the face of it, not many people may see Arnold Schwarzenegger, the famous body-builder-cum-actor, as a seeker of something deeper than mundane success through his physical discipline. And yet, as may be seen in the few excerpts that we are presenting of his autobiography, there obviously is a quest, a striving towards mastery on the body, which, in its austerity, may resemble at times a Zen discipline! Muhammad All — alias Cassius Clay — is mostly known, besides his remarkable boxing career, for a highly egotist character. But again, despite this, reading an account of his life shows what courage, what determination he possesses. Even a lot of moral courage when he took the risk of defying the American authorities about the Vietnam war: he stood to lose everything. We felt that it was interesting to show through excerpts of his autobiography the real man of excellence behind the star.
The few stories that we. are presenting in this part show, in one way or another, in one physical discipline or another, the kind of qualities that lead to excellence. Their common characteristic is to describe excellence in relation to bodily expression, whether in athletics, in body building, in boxing, or in games like cricket, or in more artistic manifestations like dance. Of course, ours is a very limited selection, but we do hope that it will convey what we find so deeply moving, namely the true flavour of excellence.