söndag 6 januari 2013

Isiah 59:3

If you have travelled through the virtual universe of functional fitness you probably have stumbled over more than a few photos of bloody hands. If not, just google kettlebell+hands or crossfit+hands. If there  existed a common symbol for this kind of training - whatever you call it - it would probably be a chalky, bloody hand. What's up with that? What are all these bloody hands saying?

"Will all great Neptune's ocean wash this blood 
Clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather 
The multitudinous seas incarnadine"

The bloody hand is quite a complex symbol. It's most common meaning is probably that of guilt, as in the quote from Macbeth above or as in Isiah 59:3. But to interpret all the bloody hands of the "iron fitness game" as symbols of guilt doesn't seem correct (unless perhaps if you are prone to really farfetched psycho-analytical interpretations, which I'm not). I think it has more in common with the other main way of interpreting it: as stigmata.

The stigmata is first and foremost a symbol of sacrifice. It is the symbol of God's sacrifice of his own son for the sake of humanity. It is therefore a symbol of what Ariel Glucklich call shared pain. It is pain suffered on behalf of others. To compare kettlebellers and crossfitters with Jesus is of course not only sacrilegious but also absurd - as anyone who has ever visited a crossfit box can bare witness to. The bloody hands we are talking about are hardly signs of sacrifice for a common good or a greater God. This kind of sacrificial symbolism is not uncommon in sports though. Players sacrificing themselves for the team or athletes going through years of painful training for the sake of their nations are common histories in sports mythology. These kinds of stories hardly exists in the fitness world though, since it is an entirely narcissistic world. Fitness, be it a sport or a hobby or a "way of life" is an entirely selfish endeavour. So, the bloody hands are not signs of a sacrifice for a greater good. They are shared though.

Our hands - as opposed to Macbeth's - are tainted by our own blood, not the blood of another. The blood comes from our own body and it is the result of injury caused by ourselves, not by others. The blood is not private though. It is not a symbol of shame but a symbol widely shared and displayed in social media and elsewhere. With our bloody hands we show to the world that we have inflicted pain upon ourselves and that we have endured it. One could make a comparison with the ascetic that uses bodily pain to discipline the soul but then again we rarely find anyone mentioning "the soul" within this discourse. The christian ascetic consciously broke down his or her body in order to school the soul. The body was regarded a filthy vessel containing the immortal soul. With the words of St. Bernard de Clairvaux: "The flesh (...) is no better than filthy rags". Some might argue that "breaking down the body" is exactly what the crossfit crowd and it's surrounding universe is doing but it is hardly the intent of it's members. Quite the opposite. The idea is building the body. Our bloody hands are the absolute negative of the ascetic's. They are a result of our concern for our bodies, not for our souls. 

"I'm so strong I don't have to sacrifice myself for humanity!"

So why do we display our bloody hands for everyone to see? If you belong (or belonged) to the RKC I think you have the answer right in front of you. It is a Rite of Passage. The rite of passage is a phenomenon as old as human history. It means passing from one status to another one through some kind of ritual. Historically this have usually meant passing from childhood to adulthood but there are also numerous examples of initiation rites into religious, military, academic and other societies. A common, albeit not mandatory, part of these rites are pain. To endure pain is to show dedication. It is a pledge of allegiance not only to the community you are about to be a part of but also to your self. "To have pain is to have certainty". 

Our bloody hands, willingly displayed, are then a part of a rite of passage. They are proof that we have shared the pain of the other members of the group we are aspiring to become a part of. It is proof that we are worthy but also a sign to others outside the community that we are on the inside. It is an ancient ritual in a watered down version. It is watered down since the passage isn't a given part of life and the gateway into society as is the case with circumcision or the Sun Dance practiced by native american indians. Neither is a ritual where one is welcomed into a community which one has been chosen by or have fought for. It is not being introduced to a community. Rather it is introducing ourselves. It entails no true sacrifice. It is an act of individualism more than of collectivism and being that, it becomes nothing more than a superficial use of a powerful symbol.