January 10, 2013

Under the Blade 2013

Shinnen Omedeto Gozaimasu!

What a year! Feel like I just popped the cork on '12 and '13 sneaks up and punches me right in the mouth.

I was swamped - classes, papers - my only free time spent with family or training. But I was able to continue the good work of Resolution Group International: Hosting Jack Hoban this past year (look for upcoming seminar news with him soon),

presenting again at the ILEETA (Illinois Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association) conference (and we look forward to it again this year), filming the latest RGI training video, “The Ethical Protector Vol. 2,”

and helping with Jack’s new book, “The Ethical Warrior.” We also had another fantastic retreat at our annual Gasshuku – our 14th year!

Chasing a master's degree is never boring - tedious at times, enlightening at others, but always a lesson. Over the summer I wrote a paper – worked my ass off for it. It was tough, both long (30 pages) and difficult as I argued a values theory within well-known paradigms of philosophy.

I made the case certain values were “non-negotiable” and indiscriminate violation of them (truth telling, prohibition on murder, and valuation for the young) jeopardize the collapse of any valid society. In other words, these particular values are not simply “good,” they are crucial, fundamental, and necessary. But my professor wasn’t buying. In fact, he wrote flippantly in the margin, “Why shouldn’t we let society collapse?” Sure, what the hell, that "Road Warrior" movie was cool, I guess. Such is the university experience - common sense uncommon.
And I'm paying for this.

The phrase, "common sense" is derived from the Latin "sensus communis," (and this from the Greek "koine aisthesis") the "common feelings of humanity." Cambridge defines it, "the basic level of practical knowledge and judgment that we all need to help us live in a reasonable and safe way." If this is true, there must be certain "non-negotiable" presuppositions within the "common feelings of humanity," otherwise how could it be considered "common" or "sensible?"

I don’t find it hard to conclude (provided one is not a university professor) values that protect, respect, and sustain life - both its existence and quality of existence – are not just worthy of valuation, but also necessary to value. In other words, they are moral. This coherence to human nature's Natural Law is the source of “common sense,” and forms our understanding of what we accept as “good,” as well as outlines the disorientation we detest as “evil.”

Explaining all that can be quite a chore and in many cases paradoxical because, like Budo, there is never just one thing that proves it - everything, in fact, proves it. A quote from our good friend GK Chesterton:
… A man is not really convinced of a philosophic theory when he finds that something proves it. He is only really convinced when he finds that everything proves it. And the more converging reasons he finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, "Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?" he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, "Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen." The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.
Such is the state between martial arts and ethics - there is not one thing that proves the relationship, everything proves it. So, in response to the question, "why do you train martial arts?" answers are as varied and sometimes incoherent as the multiplicity of training itself: "Why, there is that sword . . . and the culture of ancient lands . . . and discipline . . . and ninjas and stuff!"

I saw a lot written this past year on the topic of martial ethics - encouraging. I also read “pushback” – a denial that character ethics exists in Budo, except whatever one deems prescriptive. It is here the pedigree of Budo is misinterpreted to be a mere “killing art” of survival, which, in effect, unceremoniously diminishes and degrades it by severing the link between martial strategies and their original life-giving principles. The account departs from any sense of responsibility for shared duties to fellow persons and appeals, perhaps unwittingly, to “might makes right.” This inevitably leaves both practitioner and opponent dehumanized and existing in a brutal state of nature only a Thomas Hobbes could love.  

The above appeal is an old one and can be labeled in various ways: Moral pluralism, post-modernism - it’s all just forms of moral relativism, which in my view is basically like saying it’s okay not to do the right thing, because in our “nasty, brutish, and short” lives there is no “right” thing.

But if my assessment is correct, then there can indeed be such things as "right" things, in fact, those "right" things are often the necessary and worthy (existence and quality of existence)  things that inform us of "rightness." So long as one recognizes that the protection of life is both a necessary and worthy value (and society should not be allowed to collapse, professor) then truth telling, prohibition on murder, and valuation for the young are all examples of necessary, worthy, and therefore "right" values.

I'll be bold here: Martial arts are moral. And when we use them, we deal with the ethical - the moral in action. Martial arts are moral because they were not invented like an iPad - they were discovered. They were discovered at different times, in different places, by different people, in different ways around the world because of shared reasons - universal reasons that were and are essential and worthwhile to humans: The protection, defense, and sustainment of life. Ultimately, respect for the value of life. 

How do we know? Does anyone believe that the discovery of fire and learning to create and control it was inconsequential to human existence? On the contrary, humankind as we know it would simply not exist, would not have survived, if not for the ability to control fire. Controlling fire was not just "good” to know, it was crucial to know, necessary to know – worthy to know. The control of fire was discovered at different times, in different places, by different people, in different ways around the world because of shared reasons - universal reasons that were and are essential to humans: The protection, defense, and sustainment of life.

Being able to conjure and control fire was considered sacred. Why? Because humans like to stay warm, eat cooked food, and have our journey lit? In other words, improve the quality of our lives? Sure, but these specifics ultimately allowed the control of fire to protect, defend, and sustain humanity’s existence itself. This is what made it sacred and makes firemaking sacred still today – no fire, no life.

Martial arts were also considered sacred. Because they improved the quality of life? Ultimately, humankind as we know it could simply not exist, could not have survived, if not for the ability to control martial arts. There is no moment in history that does not involve the usage of martial arts, they permeate it, imbued with the instinct of self and others preservation from the Scottish highlands to the American plains Indians - as is the history of fire. Strategy, tactics, and techniques are as varied as the environments and DNA of the people that developed them. As are the thousands of variations to create fire under the conditions it needs to be created.

Only through the rose-colored lens of modernity can society by its bounty and ample security mock and take for granted these once sacred arts, reducing them to a quaint little trick, most applicable to camping, and a savage athletic hobby of “cage fighting.” It is our own self-satisfaction that issues the license to climb atop a soapbox and degrade martial arts as amoral - neither ethical or unethical - but simply the cold, hard, inert tool to make easy the utility to kill.

But just what is so exemplary about killing? The default position of the feudal world was death – people died young, sick, and infirm; they were plagued by plagues, starved, hunted, and massacred between tribes and clans. The brutality of the ancient world is legendary. But the martial art changed the balance of the default position – its knowledge and training could protect and sustain life for those who would otherwise have surely died. Is there any question as to why the warrior class would ascend to the preeminent cultural position in every valid society? It is because the warrior was not renowned for their death-dealing, but their life-giving. Death was commonplace, life was special.    

Arguing martial arts are divorced from the moral and ethical is to misinterpret the motive of their origins and the principles of their study. This degradation calls into question their sacredness, their very dignity, the "why" they exist, for it is the same as calling into question the "why it matters" for them to exist in the first place - the sacredness, dignity - morality - of the protection of the value of life itself. Is the protection of the value of life somehow "amoral," as in, "lying outside the sphere to which moral judgments apply?" As in, "without moral principles?" Is truth telling, prohibition on murder, and valuation for the young amoral? Of course not - their indiscriminate violation would lead healthy, valid societies to collapse - they must be moral – necessary and worthy. 

Without the control of fire and martial arts, there could never have been any society to collapse. Martial arts must be moral. Their actions speak to the ethical. And habituation to these aspects either orient one toward the “good” and the “right,” or disorient away from them.

Can martial arts be misused? Assuredly. Can the control of fire be misused? Absolutely. Does this mean they are amoral and lie outside the sphere of morality? Not at all. Their unnecessary and unworthy use is prideful renunciation of their gift as a life-protecting source, confirmation of the decadence of our age, and a reproach to the gratitude and humility we take for granted for receiving and using their knowledge. In fact, it is this misuse – this disorientation - that continually re-orients, reminding us of their calibrating morality, their original "right-ness."

The step to amorality is also one step toward immorality. Take heed: If the emotional zeitgeist ever characterizes martial arts as amoral – their existence unmoored to any ethical concern like the majority of MMA is perceived - it will become all too easy to generalize them all as useless, fear-inducing means of destructive violence that can only ever threaten the safety of others. (Anyone believe in today’s America we could establish a martial arts program in schools? Think again. They would just be used to bully other kids, right? First problem: All martial arts are perceived to be the same.) And anyone connected to them will be demonized, shunned, and shamed for training them, teaching them, “owning” them, as well as their “extreme” beliefs in “rights” to do so. We ourselves by our own assent to depict and participate with a so-called “killing art” will have revoked and falsified the actual moral reasons for necessity and worth. Even if we believe in the moral reasons, if we don’t train for them, speak for them, rely upon them, we will have left it to the misinformed uninitiated to shape the argument for abolition. 

When we speak of martial arts, we always speak of martial use. We never speak of martial "un-use" because what's the point? If the only thing that counts is when they are utilized - not just to protect and defend self and others, but also train - then their use is the only aspect that matters. The existence of collections of techniques, while perhaps historically or hoplologically interesting, raises no ethical concern; it is only ever the "why" and "how" of their actual use that engages. Techniques are sets of instructions, procedures that can only inform, telling us what to do to fly our supercool quadrotor camera drone, but not how to do it, i.e. don't fly it outside the windows of pretty girls getting dressed. So, any argument that tries to establish the "amoral-ness" of martial arts is attempting to triangulate a location that has no use because it does not exist. Our destination is one we are actually trying to arrive at, so it is a waste of energy to draw a detailed map to Neverland.

Anytime someone decides to begin training in martial arts the decision itself is of an ethical nature because it is an embodiment, a physical articulation of "why" one wishes to train, akin to answering "why it matters" to train in the first place. Upon this, there are three questions (at least three) inherent to training that anyone who trains answers:

What am I going to learn?
How am I going to learn it?
Who am I going to learn it from?

These questions are ethical questions. They never go away and only gain in importance. In fact, once one becomes an instructor they do not just inhabit our teaching lives, they haunt them, evolving into the far greater:

What am I going to teach?
How am I going to teach it?
Who am I going to teach it to?

These questions are the interrogatives of martial principles. They are inherent, inextricable, and can never be ignored. We answer regardless of our awareness or ignorance of them because, in fact, it is participation, the “doing” of martial arts, that is our "vote" for “what, how, and who." Because of this, no one can do martial arts without answering to the ethical.

Further, these questions call for direction not just for informative martial techniques, but the manner of thinking and action in using them. Manners relate to the qualities of the person. And qualities relate to character. Therefore, no one trains martial arts without subjecting themselves to the possibilities of moral character calibration. In a recent article, David Brooks takes notice:
Smart people who’ve thought about (manners) usually understand that the habits we put in practice end up shaping the people we are within. “Manners are of more importance than laws,” Edmund Burke wrote. “Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation, like that of the air we breathe in.

Remember, there is not one thing that proves the martial and ethical relationship, everything proves it. And our theme for the year will hopefully clarify.

In 2012, our training was about losing our desire to clobber the opponent and force them to submit. Our theme - 念ずれば石をも通づ (nenzureba ishi o mo tsuzu - if one prays, focuses the will, focuses the intention, one can pass through a stone) – was useful to “pass through” our own “wanting” and give way to the opponent, using their own intention against them.

We have three rules in our dojo. The first is “be honest.” The second, “be tactical.” Being honest means one is willing to accept and deliver the personal risk (of failure, of pride, of selfishness) necessary for us to learn higher truths. Being tactical, means being physical only as much as one needs to maintain their honesty; in other words, if you don’t split, you gonna get hit. 

But it is the third rule that will constitute our direction for 2013: Be free. Freedom in training is not exactly free, it must be done within the limitations of the first two rules, otherwise it is irrelevant. A person could decide (and some do) to make up a martial art and begin “training” regularly, but would they ever arrive at proficiency without guidance? Very few, if any. This is like being on a boat with no point of departure and no port of arrival - actions become directionless. In other words, without principles that embody the necessary (existence) and the worthy (quality of existence) we can have no navigating direction, no bearing.   

“Shingitai-ichi” will be our theme for 2013 with the emphasis on the “ichi” (一致) or “agreement” of the Shingitai, the principles of Taijutsu. Agreement itself presupposes there are reasons for such an agreement. And the reasons here are clear: Threats of the variable. Since the variable is in constant flux, there is no way to affix an answer that does not require application. One can only place principles together once one "intuits" how they should form together. This agreement of principles must occur under the conditions for agreement using the uncommon “common sense” of Taijutsu to envelope the opponent into the Kukan, the space of calibration, to shape its necessary outcome and provide it worthwhile meaning.

If humans from the dawn of our existence were somehow physiologically invulnerable to harm, including malnourishment, martial arts would never have existed and fire would only be counted among the other phenomenon of nature. There would be no reason to develop methods based upon instinctive fear of human conflict and our natural inclinations for survival (protection of life) because these inclinations would simply not exist. And therefore, fear of human conflict would not exist either.

But due to their impact, one could expect that if by some cataclysm martial arts were completely forgotten or lost, the potential would still exist for human descendants to rediscover those lost secrets - they may never invent another iPad, but rest assured, stick fighting would become quite popular. And if far in the future, life ever became inessential and inconsequential, one could expect no one would need martial arts any longer, for their life-preserving abilities would no longer be required.

Taijutsu is the gift that protects the “common feelings of humanity” because it was developed from the "common feelings of humanity." The world today is a more abundant, safe, and prosperous place because of the life-protecting contributions of the martial art and its warriors in every age. Let us not use the fruits of their struggle against them. Or each other.

Budo is the martial way (of life)!

Have an inspired 2013!