Victory without Confrontation - Tatakawa Zushite-katsu
by Ben Ryder
“I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who overcomes his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.”
Aristotle (384-322 BCE)
“It wasn’t like this in the old days.” How many times do we hear this sentiment expressed as a statement defining the demise of modern society? Whether or not it is true is another matter – perhaps it is easier to hold dear times when we didn’t have as many responsibilities and we were individually much more care-free, or perhaps the very fabric of our society, or more specifically our western culture, has changed to a degree where the ethical values that we do hold dear are increasingly challenged by the pressures people are put under.
The quality of education a child gets is dictated by exams they sit at the age of eleven or twelve. Kids don’t go outside because it’s too dangerous, and so sit inside killing other people on-line or downloading porn. Teenagers are too obese, have poor social skills and get pregnant too young. If you don’t have a degree you won’t get a job, but everyone has a degree. Happiness is found through success; success is defined by your house, car, and the size of your TV…but prices are rising and incomes falling. Everyone wants to earn more and everyone wants to pay less. You can’t stand next to your national flag without being labelled racist. The immigrants are coming to your country to use a system they haven’t paid into, and the same system is bombing the hell out of their country. You don’t need to be good at something to be famous and rich. You won’t get anywhere unless you fit in, but everyone should try to be ‘an individual’. It’s broken, but it’s someone else job to fix it.
The above is a basic summary of the content of the three newspapers laid in front of me. Irrespective of whether the world is a better or worse place than fifty years ago, the range and extent of the pressures faced by people reacting to the bombardment of the above messages must be having an effect on people’s stress levels as they try to meet up to the high expectations set by images in the media and society. This must be the reason why a sense of community is eroding, we see actions that are compulsive, indulgent, lazy, jealousy-fuelled or self-centred because it’s not fair, because my rights are more important than my responsibilities, and the consequences of my actions are not my problem.
Why is this relevant? Well in one sense because these are some of the things that the people want to escape or counteract (or occasionally, paradoxically enhance) when they walk into the dojo for the first time, and these pressures affect all of our behaviours, and importantly our attitude towards others. Budo can be a form of social therapy for individuals and groups. Secondly, the consequential feelings of jealousy, unfairness, disrespect and entitlement can result in demonstrations of animosity, the unbridled result of which can lead to physical violence (‘Habutual Acts of Physical Violence Theory’. McCarthy, 1998) and that definitely is relevant to the pragmatic traditional martial artist.
The relevance is holistic: people what an environment that will help them alleviate stresses, and pragmatic: identifying the source of animosity can help to profile the type of confrontation, and thus the appropriate strategy for dealing with it. The key concept for either is to know more about you, and then as a result about others.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
One of the most popular dojo kun recited at the end of karate class is ‘jinkaku kanseini tsurumuru koto’, commonly translated as ‘to seek the perfection of character’ but which, in my opinion at least, is far too subjective in its explanation due to its unapparent complexity…character can be defined by too many other qualities and what is deemed perfection or how is it measured? I prefer to think of this phrase as simply ‘strive to improve oneself’. Whilst I acknowledge that this is simpler translation is still open to a complex interpretation I believe that it allows greater access to the journey inwards by allowing concentrating on the physical aspects of training, which are the most apparent and measureable at the early stages of training, and compliments the kaizen principle of continuing and never-ending improvement (Tony Robbins), rather than suggesting the perfection of character as a destination.
At the earliest stages of this journey it may simply be getting into a habit of turning up to training at the right time, well presented in a clean do-gi , working diligently and encouraged by some enforced discipline, and performing a simple act of respect, empathy and gratitude but what a transformation this could be from an evening in front of the TV or welded to Facebook on the iPhone. By continued routine punctuality becomes reliability and the acceptance of responsibility, good personal presentation matures into an awareness of first impressions and the important of preparedness, diligent work with discipline grows into hard work and then a relentless effort to improve in excess of the expectations of others, and the elements of reishiki develops from what could be seen as a token gesture to acts of thanks through service, empathy by offering help to junior students and respect for those by fostering the same disposition and passion in others.
The transformation from the simple acts to the more generous acts are reflected in the complexity and compound magnitude of the physical training. The ability to recognise a problem then the ability to establish the source of the problem and then have the courage and concentration to act upon it is transferable to every aspect of life. Most importantly the source of change and improvement is found from looking inward at oneself, rather than projecting responsibility on to others, and any hardship encountered will provide context for the struggles others are experiencing in the dojo, and of course outside of the dojo too.
The quotation from The Art of War, above, shows the importance of knowing oneself and the ‘enemy’, or in fact others. The lessons learned from inward study about the influences on our emotions and resulting behaviour helps to put into context some of the behaviour we may encounter from others, and these lessons transfer with great relevance from confrontation to common relationships of all kinds. The process is never complete as the circumstances we find ourselves are forever evolving, bringing relevance to the term kaizen – a term developed from a concept popularised by Tony Robbins of ‘continuous and never-ending improvement’ – a cyclical learning about ourselves and others in the environment we live in.
This is not something unique to budo, but it is by no means accessible from any activity. Last year we watched the Olympic games and saw people rise to the pinnacle of their chosen discipline through complete dedication, and the admiration that was felt for the athletes by the public was partly because of the achievement but mainly due to the way in which they have prepared and the manner in which they conducted themselves in victory and defeat. The public respect they received was against the backdrop of the conduct of professional football players, who (as a group) over the previous year had been paid millions even if they could not play, accused and convicted of sexual offences, racism, homophobia, tax evasion, drug taking and street violence, and behaved as if their talent excused such behaviour, despite having been lauded as role models in order to obtain sponsorship contracts.
A direct parallel can be drawn between the Olympic athletes and professional footballers, as can be between classical martial arts and the mainstream (popularised) mixed martial arts that is starting to dominate the martial arts market, which glorifies some of the traits which are problem in society. If the children of today are exposed to an ethos or victory and achievement through domination of others where the motive is material and the method is destructive then the cycle of actions based on ego (as illustrated earlier in this paper) can only continue. Compare this to an activity of tempered aggression, where achievement is measured by personal development and the approach to other is constructive, and the relevance of budo in modern society is evident.
“Master Hanashiro and Oshiro both taught that inner-discovery through karate enhanced the value of life, and of the world in which one dwelt. They maintained that by transcending ego-related distractions, one could easily get beyond the immediate results of physical training and discover the world within. Pursuing karate under their guidance I ultimately came to find immeasurable happiness and inner-peace.” (Interview with Kinjo Hiroshi, McCarthy, unknown date). Inits holistic sense tatakawa zushite-katsu - victory without confrontation - is achieved through the environment and method promoting empathy, respect and gratitude, which in all but the most extreme circumstances should prevent animosity building and negate the probability of confrontation.
Budo produces well rounded individuals empowered through their awareness of self and others, putting “virtue before vice, values before vanity and principles before personalities” (Koryu Uchinadi Dojo Kun).