Socrates = Super-Fighter? Practical Impact of Philosophy in Martial Arts

Hello everyone and thank you very much,
despite not being there, to give me the chance to introduce you to ‘Philosophy in
Oriental Martial Arts and its Practical Relevance for Fight Application’. It sounds
like a huge gap between philosophy on the one side and fight application on
the other side and, yes indeed, I am talking about real fight performance, for
instance in the streets. There are obvious influences like physical skills
such as power, endurance, strength, or technique and also another one well-known:
psychology for example mental toughness. And these and many more determin the
outcome of a real fight. I would claim that also philosophy can be one
determining factor of the outcome of a real fight scenario. So does this mean we
just need to read to become Superman? No, not, really but it depends on how we see
reading. Musashi said the following, (Miyamato Musashi was a very famous
japanese swordsman) he said: ‘Do not just read, memorize or imitate, but so that you
realize the principle from within your own heart.’ So the point is that reading
doesn’t mean that we understand something completely in a way to be
capable to apply something. And knowledge is not the same as belief, but we can
imagine that our most honest and deepest believes, and views, and the values we
carry within us, that these factors can influence how we assess situations, that
they can influence our mindsets and our behaviour and actability. And I want to
give a few examples where we can see this. Have a look on the first pictures,
on the left and right side, the man in comparable situations with different
facial expressions and body language probably having a different mindset and
maybe also different behaviour in the situation and a different likelihood of coping. So imagine on the one side the
perception of pain as something exclusively negative, something that
scares us, something we need to avoid; and on the other side the perception of pain as something which is negative, of course, but something that comes and goes,
something that we cannot avoid and, if it comes, we need to overcome it.
Probably you can imagine that these differences in view and perception will
affect our mindset. If we land in the situation and already before it will
probably change our behaviour when we approach a potential painful situation.
The same goes for perception of life in society. If we made good experiences with
other people, supportive people, helpful people, we may also become more trustful
and interacting more easily with people. On the other side if we made bad
experiences, we may view other people rather as competitors or even as a
threat and we may, regarding our behavior, we may tend to rely more on ourselves or,
in extreme cases, even to isolate ourselves in order to protect. So in the
Western world we know quite well that the mind does affect the body and the
Oriental approach is that philosophy even prior affects the mind, which then
affects the body. We see Daoistic and Zen-Buddhistic aspects in daily martial
arts practice in Asia as well as here. And we see the same aspects and even
many many more in historic literature coming from Asia. The people back then
who have been in scenarios to the death, they considered these philosophical
aspects to be crucially affecting the outcome of
a fight and hence they should be trained and considered in martial arts practice.
So if such people being in the serious situations considered them so crucial,
then it’s worth to ask what have been the key ideas they considered to be
so essential. Therefore I took three representative books: One from Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese swordsman, another one from Takuan Soho who was a
Zen-Buddhist, and the third one from Chozanshi, who was a samurai from a more peaceful era compared to Musashi and he was known as an intellectual, so he is
kind of a mix of the pure swordsman and the pure monk. What I did with the
three books was, after reading them, following the principles of qualitative
content analysis. And this qualitative content analysis works in the following
way that each paragraph, throughout all three books, each paragraph is
paraphrased, it gets kind of a title representing the topic, the content of
this paragraph. From all these titles representing content, we can derive
different categories. And the number of mentions – how often a particular topic
was mentioned in a paragraph – this number of mentions defines the key ideas
because the more often something was addressed the more important it seems.
The results and the structure of the results, you can see here. I will describe
a little bit later what these categories mean but I show them to you now and
explain how they are related to each other We have three different levels.
On the first level, most important one, is the category ‘non-attachment of
the mind’ and Takuan called it ‘immoveable wisdom’.
This is the core of all the other categories and all other categories
will result from non-attachment of the mind.
On the second level, there’s formlessness in body and mind.
And this formlessness leads to being unpredictable, adaptable, spontaneous, and developing a sense for beneficial actions, which can be seen on the third
level. Some of these mentions, relating to unpredictability, adaptability,
spontaneity, and sense for beneficial actions, are partially related directly
to non attachment of the mind and some were derived from formlessness. But there
is one other category on the third level, which comes only from non-attachment of
the mind – there is no connection to formlessness – and this is ethical
obstacles, for example the problem to do harm to another person. So let’s start
with the most important: Non-attachment and immovable wisdom. Non-attachment and
impermanence of basically everything are very crucial things in the Buddhist
Noble Eightfold Path. And the connection between these two is simple: If you are
aware of impermanence, you will less likely attach to something, for example
if you get a cup as a gift, in the moment when you get this gift, if you are aware
of the impermanence of the cup and you knew – let’s assume – you knew the future
that this cup will fall down five seconds later and will break, probably
you will not attach to it in the moment of receiving it in an emotional way as
much as if you were not aware of this impermanence. If I show you this picture
and ask you what you see, probably most of you – at least in the first moment –
will answer you see a red leaf. And this is a good example for
attachment. Takuan uses it to describe what attachment and non-attachment means:
‘Standing in front of a tree and spotting a red leaf, if your mind attaches to the
one single red leaf, you will not see all the others.’ So the problem is: Seeing the
red leaf is normal and unavoidable because it’s the most extraordinary
thing in the picture. But after the realisation, there is no further reason
to stick to it, to have your focus only on this red leaf and missing everything
that goes around. And this is a problem, seemingly, in martial arts. Chozanshi
has a very challenging request not even to attach to self-interest: ‘All self-interests
discarded, nothing can throw you off balance and you will move with
no hesitation and no restrain.’ So only if you lose all that attachment, you will
become immoveable, meaning nothing can throw you off balance and this effects
your acting, and your actability, and your actions, showed by ‘then you move
with no hesitation and no restrain’. Non-attachment effects reactions but also
actions. Imagine you would not attach to experiences and expectations, which are
built on experiences. Every magician uses this for his tricks to abuse our thinking
in patterns, to abuse our expectations in order to distract us from what is really
going on. The same way is how tricks in sports work and obviously
feint attacks in martial arts. About actions, imagine not to attach to
movement patterns. If you don’t follow particular patterns, particular sequences,
that makes you formlessness; you do not follow a particular form. But
formlessness is a very abstract term, so I need to explain it a little bit more.
And when talking about formlessness and showing you a picture of water,
probably many of you will think of one guy with one quote, it’s Bruce Lee saying:
‘Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. Now, you put water into a cup,
it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put it
into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water,
my friend.’ So Bruce Lee talks about visual and
physical adaptations, a physical kind of formlessness. But the thing is that
formlessness goes also for functionality and this is very important. So let’s try to
get rid of any attempt to imitate something, to reproduce something that is
learned, or to represent something like a style. Do not attach to ideas how fights
look like or how concepts have to work, attachment to styles like judo, karate,
fighting styles, and also not to tools or specific solutions because this way you
will create a pool of solutions and, when being in a situation, you will try to
select from this limited pool the most appropriate solution, and since
situations are so diverse in fighting, it is very likely that you will not find
the completely appropriate solution and, even if so, all this selection is
processing. This takes time and it hinders immediate actions. So instead of
all this attachment, let’s be only aware on the situation itself and – very
important – on our own position, our own attitude towards it. Then we can sense
simply what is required to do and by not choosing from a pool but doing what is
required we will achieve formlessness in body and mind. This formlessness has some consequences,
which are quite beneficial. The authors say we will become unpredictable,
adaptable, spontaneous, and appropriate in actions. Musashi says: ‘You should not have
a favorite weapon. To become over familiar with one weapon is as much a
fault as not knowing it sufficiently well.’ Obviously if you have a favorite
weapon, you will most likely tend to use it preferably, even if the situation is
not the most appropriate for it. And this tendency to use your favorite makes you
predictable. Chozanshi says: ‘As one relies on what the mind creates, immediate
actions will not be possible anymore. Our mind creates thoughts all the time and
if we rely on these constructions, processing again is going on and it
takes time, no immediate actions, no spontaneous actions. It does not come
instinctively then. ‘When in a fight to the death, one wants to employ all one’s
weapons to the utmost.’ Musashi was well known to be a person who uses
everything, with full commitment, no hesitation, and using everything possible
to gain advantage. It is important to me to highlight what formlessness means or what it does not mean. Formlessness does not mean to have no technique or that
technique can be implemented in a poor way or floppy way because ‘without
technique, also a strong mind cannot put its functionality into proper effect.’ So
you cannot just throw a certain punch however you want. There are certain goals
why you do a movement and there are certain biomechanical
optimisations how to do it. You should train this, you should
automise it; but formlessness goes on a greater scale, in terms of pattern. You
should not stick to pattern, sequences, and so on. In this regard, you should
become formless, flexible, and not choosing from particular pool of
solutions. The last category addresses ethics. Chozanshi speaks about the non-
ethical, stereotypically spoken, non-ethical bad guy who has no moral
standards when saying: ‘He values humans lower than insects and does so without
effort. He is not restricted by anything, he does not freeze, does not wait, does
not retreat; he has no doubts, cannot be moved and faces an opponent without a
single thought.’ He goes further and says that, in terms of
mindset, the non-ethical bad guy is even superior over the common martial artist
who has trained for years or decades. And isn’t that sad? But in the same time, it
shows us how much this issue of ethics was considered to be crucial. About the ethics, there are three major
sub-issues, we could say. The first one is the personal judgment of what is wrong
and right. Aand this is – as I said – very personal. It’s not objective at all, and
the other one has a different judgment. So we need to be aware: If we are not
willing to do what we personally consider to be wrong, we allow the other
one to do exactly the same or even worse to maybe innocent ones. The second one
is responsibility. Typically the ethical person has a problem with
feeling responsible for the bad things, the bad outcomes of a
fight. So we hesitate because we feel
responsible if we punch someone and the nose is bleeding or the face is deformed,
whatsoever. But we can change this view: As long as we are centered in
ourselves, we did not provoke, we did nothing to contribute to this escalation,
but the other one, the offender brought this situation to us with all its
aggression and violence, the other one is responsible for this situation to
develop and to escalate. So we can also accept that the other one should take
responsibility for the outcome of the fight. We just do what is required. And
then the third one is the hesitation to take lead. And it is very crucial to take
lead without hesitation in order to get control over the fight and this is
essential to be successful. Taking the lead is easier if we do not feel
responsible for the outcomes. And not feeling so guilty, responsible, and guilty
for the bad things is easier if we do not stuck so much to our judgment of
wrong and right. Giving you an example from Takuan
because he expressed this judgment by the request to become like a mirror.
‘Setting up his whole mind like a mirror, the man who employs the martial arts
will have no intention of discriminating right from wrong.’ If our mind becomes a
mirror, we shall completely neutrally reflect
without judgment. The other one escalated the situation, the other one brings the
violence to us and we just reflect, by doing what is necessary, by doing what we
were basically asked by the other to do. Musashi says: ‘If he [the opponent] has
fallen into evasive or retreating attitudes, we must crush him straight
away, with no concern for his presence. It is essential to crush him all at once.’
Musashi is the best example for a person valuing a lot no hesitation, full
commitment, taking lead, and using everything to gain advantage over your
opponent, without mercy, without hesitation I want to conclude this and wrap up the
presentation by focusing on only one aspect of possible attachments, the
attachment to fighting styles. There are so many fighting styles and – instead of
attaching to these – we should become an unattached fighter, not an attached judoka,
boxer, whatsoever. But then I thought ‘no, even this is too much attachment.’ It is
the attachment to fighting. My co-author, during one of our conversations, said these few but powerful words: ‘He fights, I don’t.’ And what he meant was
not that he stands there and is getting punished without defending himself. He
means this mirror thing, to be centered within ourselves and
not approaching or entering a situation with the intention of fighting. The other
one brings the fight, but I don’t, I just accept what he brings to me, I reflect it,
and I do what is required to do. So instead, how about becoming our immovable
selves. And this goes across life situations. Only if we are fully aware of
our personal views and attitudes in all different situations, only then this
allows us to act spontaneously, in line with our attitudes, and instinctively. And
if the situation is more extreme, it allows us to act accordingly,
appropriately. So thank you very much again for
your attention, for listening to this tape, and I’m really sorry that I
couldn’t be there. I would have loved to see some of the faces I have seen four
years ago when I participated last time on this conference. Thank you very much
and I would be glad to maybe receive one or two mails, questions,
interests. Thank you very much.

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