Tuesday, September 06, 2005

walking the middle way

today we see an increase in "street" martial arts. teachers advertise their styles by describing the "effectiveness" of their style versus the "ineffective" methods of old. when the conversation comes up I am always fascinated by the way the "street" martial practitioner will try to keep me from getting hurt feelings; "karate is good, but it doesn't address..." "I'm sure that would work if you were able to see your opponent coming at you..." even "against someone who didn't know what they were doing, that would be great." I chuckle softly and usually will change the subject. you see, above any description of the effectiveness of the ancient martial arts in combat, I see the benefits of study in the Way.

tao, do, and Way
lao tzu was a chinese philosopher who wrote the tao te ching. a pamphlet next to books like the bible and the koran, the tao te ching only contained five thousand characters. however this book, the tao te ching, has truths and ideals which can be applied in the martial arts. "tao" means path or way and denotes a lifestyle that requires commitment. Way is used also in karate: karate-do means "way of the empty hand." The use of do instead of jutsu implies that it is not simply a system of techniques or movements, but an attitude and a model for existence.

the tao of karate

although the principles of non-violence outlined in the tao te ching appear to be opposed to the philosophy of karate, they may be much closer than modern day "street fighter" mentality. Tsutomu Oshima said "The ideal in Karate is to one day say, 'I ask my mind and find no shame.'"This follows closely with what Lao Tzu wrote in verse twenty eight of the tao te ching "Act with honor, but retain humility. By acting according to the way of the Tao, set others an example."

martial parallels to the tao te ching

Morihei Ueshiba said "There is evil and disorder in the world because people have forgotten that all things emanate from one source. Return to that source and leave behind all self-centered thoughts, petty desires, and anger. Those who are possessed by nothing possess everything." This closely mirrors what is presented in the Tao Te Ching "Some thousands of years ago, our species alone issued a declaration of independence from our Mother. Now it is time to reunite with her. Thereafter, we will never any more suffer the 10,000 miseries that only we human beings have acquired."
The Tao Te Ching further states " There is nothing more yielding than water, yet when acting on the solid and strong, its gentleness and fluidity have no equal in any thing. The weak can overcome the strong, and the supple overcome the hard." This became an important part of martial philosophy, especially with the famous Bruce Lee who said "Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind."

final thoughts: Karate-do, Tao Te Ching

Does the amplification of your life mean so little to you that you would limit yourself to simply studying movements instead of attitudes? what is more important- the ability to break a board, or the ability to live in harmony with a spouse or child? does our fixation with "winning" mean we lose out on a happy home and a happy nation?I submit that the martial way must be more than a series of punches and kicks, but a path we tread toward unity and peace.
In the end, if we cannot reach our goals, at least we will have walked the middle way- not a victim and not a victimizer, but a peacemaker and a person of integrity.


Blogger E. Able said...

James, this is beautiful. Thank you for the light you bring.

9:00 AM  

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