“It is always one’s own fault for not being kind or
charitable enough, never one’s partner’s fault.”
I have not been able to write for some time. I am glad to be able to once again. I want to write about kindness. I think it is the heart of martial arts, both in aim and in practice. I would like to deal with it on two fronts, first in the strictly martial terms which will be most acceptable to those inclined towards these disciplines. Then I wish to expand it to the larger sphere.
My earliest encounter with the power of kindness in military terms comes from my childhood love of the novel “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. In it a child bred and trained for military genius believes he is to save humanity from a future invasion from an alien species, only to find that he is leading the invasion against said species. His success and skill stems from his combination of an ability to love his enemy while retaining his own purpose. I cannot explain it so well but that is the idea. I recently had that idea recalled when I watched a video of Systema teacher Mikhail Ryabko talk of the necessity to be kind to one’s training partner in order to follow their movements. Those words affirmed to me that my sense about Systema being one of the highest arts, developed from a distance, was correct. I had the opportunity to train with them for a short time thereafter and am grateful for the experience. I hope to have a chance to do so for a longer time in the future.
In my own taijiquan practice I have noticed how even mild tension and irritation between practice partners can make tuishou practice uncomfortable and unproductive. While some of us would fall into the temptation to tell the other that he “was stiff” or “mechanical”, at those moments when I could see that I was always the problem, I was much more productive in resolving the disharmony. It is always one’s own fault for not being kind or charitable enough, never one’s partner’s fault. I think that is the right approach.
There are numerous examples in religion and philosophy wherein kindness can bring about victory. In Chinese history, in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, I believe it was Zhuge Liang (though I may be wrong, it may have been Liu Bei) who allowed his adversary to escape with his armies seven times in order to demonstrate his magnanimity. Ultimately his adversary was so moved by his actions that he saw that Zhuge Liang was a superior man worth serving and so lasting peace and friendship was established. How different our world would be if our own leaders and the populations which often choose them could learn such fearlessness as to be willing to suffer loss to themselves in the shorter term to secure true peace for their children in the longer term. As a side note, I am always deeply offended when the present generation which is in charge of our world speaks sentimentally about their children in the context of present environmental and fiscal policy directions.
In my own experience I was lucky enough to experience this truth. A young man about my age wandered into a group of my friends one night, drunk and confused. His confusion led to fear and anger, he smelled of violence. I gave him my full attention/intention and in turn attracted his away from my friends and focused it on me. When he uttered aggressive words I could see he was troubled and looking for recognition, his propensity to violence was directly proportional to the lack of recognition he was receiving (part of the problem was his dulled senses made him insensitive to recognition). I am still a very fearful and weak person but that night I was able to be quite fearless, knowing in my body that I had “defeated” him already (this is hard to explain), and walked through the angry and violent periphery of his mind to shake his hand and ask him why he was speaking such insulting words to me since I was being sincere in listening intently to him. He shortly thereafter began to cry and apologize for his words, speaking kind words of my friends and I and explaining that he was upset at the state of the world and his own wrongdoings in life. We had a sincere discussion and shook hands, parting as friends. I hope that I can learn this lesson better in the future and continue to apply it in my life. I recommend others try the same for the results can be truly amazing if one is willing to practice daily.
I have tried to apply this lesson in my working life lately. I am now working at a high-level university in a foreign country. My students had to undergo great hardship and isolation to compete in national-level examinations to be here. Many have serious social, emotional and psychological deficiencies as a result. One student was making very loud “horking” noises the entire class. He walks stooped over and shuffles his feet. He clearly has been emotionally damaged by intense social rejection. I believe he seeks attention through his behaviour, trying to regain the power and recognition he lacks through disruptive behaviour. I was irritated by his constant (and very loud) noises but knew that reprimanding him would do no good. I remembered the lesson of kindness and approached him and spoke to him quietly, asking if he was ill and needed the doctor. I asked him repeatedly if I could do anything to help him or if he needed to be excused to see the school nurse. Having met no resistance or ridicule but genuine concern, he stopped making the noise and the class went smoothly. It is not easy for me to be this way. I come from people with bad tempers and aggressive tendencies. Perhaps that is why I work so hard at Budo, for otherwise I could easily slip into the pathological.
This is in part a response to some of the questions regarding competition in the martial arts. I am firmly on the side of “no”. We should practice not to be able to be strong and victorious, but to be willing to be weak and to have to face daily defeat. That way we can cultivate the kindness that gives us true strength. Martial arts is a gift in that it teaches us that we are always wrong; it gives a way for our inner evil to manifest itself to those of us who are willing to see it for what it is so that we may yoke it. I do not think we should engage in practices where the “strength” that is lent by that evil at exorbitant interest rates should be rewarded. Thank you. I hope to read some thought-provoking responses to my contribution.