Rabbi Shlomo, Krav Maga, and the Little Dragon

Rabbi Shlomo, Krav Maga, and the Little Dragon

You do not often hear Rabbi Shlomo's name mentioned in connection with Krav Maga; he was a spiritual fighter but not a Krav practitioner.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach was an unusual rabbi. He was known as 'the singing rabbi'. In the 1960's when young people were abandoning religious tradition Reb Shlomo, as he was known, went out to the people, and sang to them. While the motto of the day was 'Sex, drugs and rock n' roll', Reb Shlomo showed them how spiritual music based on Biblical verses would take them 'higher and higher' and bring them a real spirituality, unlike the empty one based on drugs and false values.

While traditional religion was being rejected by the hippie generation as old, inflexible and irrelevant, Reb Shlomo showed them otherwise. He broke with convention by leaving the protected walls of the yeshiva and the synagogue and he went out to bars, clubs and rock festivals.

With his guitar and his one man show he captivated the masses. Shunned by some religious leaders he realized that only by breaking away a little bit could he reach a new generation.

Sounds familiar?

A young Chinese immigrant was doing something similar, his name was Lee Jun Fan but you may know him as Bruce Lee. Lee was also criticized for breaking with tradition, teaching outside of the traditional framework and not seeking the approval of his elders. He felt traditional Wing Chun Kung Fu was lacking and he added elements from other martial arts, including the Filipino arts. The leading Chinese Kung Fu masters turned against him. Lee started a martial arts revolution that is still continuing today.

I am sure Reb Shlomo and Bruce Lee would have a great deal to talk about. Perhaps today, in the after life, the "Singing Rabbi" and the "Little Dragon" are having that long overdue conversation.

Reb Shlomo, with his haunting melodies, showed us that "the song remains the same", (to quote Led Zeppelin) while the Little Dragon showed us that you do not dilute the traditional arts by making them relevant to today's world.

Those who were privileged to see Reb Shlomo in person, as I was, know that he truly lived each and every moment fully. He was 'there'; he was always one hundred percent in the moment. When he sang, he was the song, when he spoke with you, you were his world.

Now hear Reb Shlomo in his own words,

"I had a great rabbi, my teacher, who said to me, 'If you ever want to be anything in the world, it has to be clear to you that whatever you knew yesterday is meaningless today.' I'm sure it's clear to you that God is not a yenta, a chatterbox who says the same things all day long. God can't stand the same thing twice. The sun is always the same; the moon is different every day. Each day a new light comes down from heaven, every day God wants different things from us.

When the Strelisker Rebbe (a great Hassidic rabbi) passed away, his children came before the Rhiziner Rebbe (also, a great Hassidic rabbi). He asked them, 'What was the most important thing to your father?' They said to him, 'To him, what to do right now was most important.' Most people have the general idea: life is all planned out for them forever. But when it comes to the moment they have no idea what do to.

We have to be in tune with the moment. You can be the greatest scholar in the world and not know what to do now. Sometimes a person asks you a question, but what he asks isn't what he really wants. What he needs right now you'll never know. He doesn't know himself. It is too deep to know what you're supposed to do at this moment, to be in touch with the moment. And I don't mean that you have a paperback book titled What To Do Right Now.

You know what it is: people say, 'I have my principles.' But do you know what the greatest principle in the world is? Not to have principles. There's no justice in the world because of al the principles. A poor, starving man comes to the office, and I tell him, 'Sorry, we can't help you. It's the weekend and we're closed until Monday.' "

Those are the words of the wise rabbi.

Does this sound familiar? Anyone who has read Bruce Lee will find the same message as applied to martial arts. Just read "The Tao of Jeet Kune Do". Lee spoke of transcending rigid rules, of 'using no way as the way', of flowing with the moment. He said "absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, cultivate what is truly your own." He criticized traditional martial arts as just going from one cage to another. You can switch cages but you are still locked in.

The same principles guide Krav Maga; yesterday's knowledge is only a starting point for today's research, we must be in tune with today's reality, we must understand today's violence and today's threats. We must live the moment fully, only this approach will save us. Trying to follow predetermined patterns in real life situations can get you killed. So many martial artists are still teaching what they learned thirty years ago, but remember the rabbi's wise words; it has to be clear to you that whatever you knew yesterday is meaningless today.' This must be our motto in training. Everyday we must examine what we do. Everyday is a new day and demands a new approach.

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, Reb Shlomo, may never have done Krav Maga, but he certainly understood the concepts that make it such a formidable self defense style.

Lets not be afraid of challenging what we know. Lets take his message and let it elevate us 'higher and higher.'

..and their song is still sung.