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By Lemar Morgan  |  29 August 2019   

I've been soaking up the wonderfully rich Bulgarian culture whilst I've been living and working here for the past 8 years, and I love Bulgaria, but rather despairingly, there is an overwhelming common denominator that dwells beneath the surface of every day life here.

Nothing–without exception–appears to be practiced properly, and no matter what the task might be, the results are effectively always well below our expectations. However, this shouldn't be confused with underachievement because it's not. I'm simply referring to an endemic cultural attitude of "that's good enough" when in reality, it isn't.

Most notably, the Bulgarians aren't happy about it either. The truth is that there is an underlying acceptance, and in some respects, it's almost an unconditional behavioral response to any service or task provided. Annoyingly, the capability to be exceptional is unequivocally there, but for now, it remains a fairly frustrating situation.

Surely martial arts can't exist under these conditions, or can they? Bulgaria is undoubtedly a beautiful country but like most places, it's not without its contradictions.

You'll find some of the most uniquely flavorsome food in the world here, which has traditionally been grown by local people. Bulgaria has breathtaking natural beauty and a very diverse landscape throughout the country.

You Really Have To Live There To Truly Understand What's Going On

It's an ecological masterpiece that can't be found anywhere else. Bulgaria really has it all, with snow-covered mountain ranges, natural spa waters, lush meadowland, and dense forestry that is teeming with wildlife. So what's the issue?

Well, unfortunately, all the great things are somewhat obscured and, to a large extent, damaged by the impact of the debilitating cultural complexities that have been fossilized into Bulgarian society over time.

There is definitely a vivid understanding of the Bulgarian identity amongst the population, but you'll also find what seems to be a deep-seated misalignment with the principles of what most communities might describe as fair play, and so I truly hope that Da Dao can deliver a little overdue redemption.

Da Dao Has The Potential To Preserve Its History In A Modern Setting

Essentially, Da Dao more or less means "path to" which is quite apt really if you consider the subtitle of this paragraph. Translating anything from Bulgarian into English is particularly tricky especially if it is connected with fairly ancient Bulgarian philosophies, which have changed considerably with every interpretation. 

However, we don't have to be exacting in our appraisal to see the principle of Da Dao. Although the historical evidence of Da Dao is somewhat absent, there is no reason to believe that it's been falsified.

On the contrary, the links to the 9th century Khan of Bulgaria and the fighting techniques of the time all stack up. 

Principally, Da Dao has combined a combat system with an ethical code. Nothing new there, but the question is can a Da Dao practitioner really commit to an ethical code if they are unaware of their cultural inhibitions that unconditionally overrule a martial artist’s behavior? From time-to-time, most martial artists are faced with the pressure of how they want to behave as opposed to how they should behave.

However, in the time I've been in Bulgaria, I've witnessed that being Bulgarian means that your thought process has a rather singular narrative that imposes its will over every aspect of your life. 

Not willing to or not seeing the value in giving one hundred percent means that you are always going to fall short of any ethic, no matter how philosophical you try to be about it.

The influence of a turbulent history has to bear the majority of responsibility for the Bulgarian outlook and current cultural attitudes. Bulgaria has suffered countless occupations by marauding and cruel invaders from two continents, which has invariably left its mark on society. 

Clearly, the Bulgarian people have endured a lot, and quite recently too. Right up until 1990, the communist party ruled Bulgaria, and so it's fairly easy to see the difficulty the people of Bulgaria have had in transitioning. 

I first visited Bulgaria in March, 2000, and the changes that I have observed have been radical on an epic scale. Bulgaria's transformation in the relatively short period of 30 years has to be applauded, and now it's about the right time for some social changes too. 

Over two million Bulgarians live and work outside of Bulgaria, and it is easy to see why, with the huge disparity in wages against the cost of living, the choices for anyone living in Bulgaria are limited. 

Nevertheless, social and economic cohesion with Bulgaria's EU neighbors should invariably ignite the adoption of a more meaningful pursuit of quality in all things. The early signs are good with the increased interest in healthy living styles and the growth in awareness of social responsibility for our environment. 

Martial arts, and in this case 'Da Dao,' have a critical and fairly unique role to play in the development of social behavior. It's entirely possible to be true to the traditional values in a modern setting, and Da Dao has the power or as the organization calls it "orenda" to deliver just that.

The Da Dao Organization Website Is A Little Ironic

If there was ever a demonstration of what I'm talking about simply visit the Da Dao website. Although, you should remember that English is the second language in this instance, and so some forgiveness is appropriate here. 

Da Dao Website | Fighting Arts Health Lab

Essentially, the website is a work in progress and under the heading of ethics, the page simply says coming soon! However, the Bulgarian version has an oath and 20 ethical approaches. You'll have to rely on my basic Bulgarian for translation, but there is a code of conduct, which promotes respect for others, discipline, and a recognizable training etiquette, all thoroughly good stuff. 

The spiritually of Da Dao isn't as prominent as I thought it might be, which was a little disappointing given that it's meant to be from the 19th century, but there are some references to meditation and yoga. 

The actual style is a bit convoluted, and the description doesn't really help. It's portrayed as a mishmash of Japanese fighting styles, which takes away a little of the uniqueness that Da Dao could have, but that might be a translation thing. The Da Dao concept comes across as a little reminiscent of a secret society or a private club, which sort of fits with how I feel about the inwardly thinking nature of the Bulgarian culture.

Nevertheless, it's only my opinion, and I say all of these things respectfully and honestly. Da Dao appears to be a genuine and serious attempt to harness the warrior spirit of an ancient fighting system, but invariably, the interference of cultural influence remains heavily entrenched in the modern interpretation of the philosophies, and essentially, at the moment, it seems to be failing to show the fundamental principles of a defined martial art, but there is a lot to be hopeful for. 

For all intents and purposes, and to maintain a sense of fairness, I also accept that I could be way off the mark as a чужденец (foreigner) living in Bulgaria.

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About the author

Lemar was born in Hampstead, North London, and he is currently living and working in New Zealand. He loves life, harmony in all things, writing, and kickboxing. He is passionate about reading, learning, and living healthily. As an English language teacher and kickboxing instructor, he hopes to share news and views by telling the real stories.

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