Articles by Members

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Know Yourself, Know Others by Tom Swiss

     I have always been fascinated by numbers. I've always looked for relationships among them to find meaning; I've tried to find patterns that can help me to understand, to some limited degree, this huge and complex universe.

     And to me, some of the most interesting numbers to look at are those relating to time. When I was a boy, I figured out, to the hour, precisely how much older than my brother I was. (Three years, four months, nine days, and thirteen hours.) I figured out the day when I was exactly as old as my father was when I was born. (January 18th, 1995.) It might seem silly, but somehow being aware of time like this helps me sort things out.

     Looking back on my Seido karate training as I began to prepare for this promotion, I realized that I started training sixteen years ago - and I was a few months shy of sixteen at the time. I've now been training in karate for a little bit more than half my life.

     Of course, that's no great accomplishment; there are people who have been training longer than I've been alive. But as I try to put my training into perspective as part of my life, I find that I can't draw it out from everything else. Somewhere along the way, being a karateka became more a part of my experience than not being one.

     It's not just that I've been training longer than I haven't. It's also a matter of when I started. I began my training just as I was on the threshold of growing from a boy to a man. I've been a karateka for my whole adult life; it's hard to know how much of how I've changed over that time is from karate, and how much is simply growing up.

     But as I've begun to move more into a teaching role, I can see the effects of Seido training on those I teach. I see the way that training helps them to grow, regardless of age, and I know it's put me through the same changes.

     We all know the physical benefits of karate training; and in our increasingly sedentary society, this training has much to offer in helping people stay healthy. And we know the mental benefits: greater self-confidence, improved concentration, and strong self-discipline, all badly needed in a fast-moving, confusing world.

     But beyond these somewhat obvious things, there is what we can call a spiritual side to the development of a karateka. What is it? And how can we see it and help it grow in ourselves and others?

     Consider the maxim ``Know yourself.'' This was the inscription on the temple of the Oracle of Delphi. It was the advice of Socrates to his students. And it's the heart of the Zen mindfulness that we strive to develop in karate-do - it is the heart of bushido.

     There are several different levels of this self-knowledge. As we grow in our study of Seido, our training shows us strengths we never knew we had - a most enjoyable kind of self-knowledge, even if bought with a lot of sweat, and a little tears and blood. It's nice to find out that we can do more push-ups then we thought we could, or to find unexpected reserves of spirit and determination that carry us through hard training.

     But training also brings us face-to-face with our human limitations, frailties, and weaknesses. We think we are brave; then we meet our fear in a difficult kumite match. We think we are kind and loving; then we get hurt and see our dark anger, ready to lash out. We think we are modest; then we get tangled up in our egos when we can't immediately master some new technique or kata, and find that our skills aren't as developed as we like to think. We think we are patient and helpful; then we see how short our
patience really is when we get frustrated with a student we're helping. We think we're physically strong; then an injury shows us how fragile we really are.

     Self-knowledge is not always a pleasant thing. It's easier, at least in the short term, to live in the illusions our ego provides, and in the distractions of the outside world. Easier to not question or examine our lives too closely, lest we discover unpleasant truths. But in the long run, those truths will come out. When we discover them in training, we have the opportunity to deal with them in a constructive way, rather than have them come out on their own at the worst possible moment. We have to take the unexpected strengths we find and use them to fully and honestly face the weaknesses.

     On a deeper level, as our training progresses we gain knowledge not only of our strengths and weaknesses, but of our true natures. Through the ``moving Zen'' of karate we come to understand how our mind works, how attachment to thoughts and desires carries us out of the present moment, and how to find and act from our undisturbed still center.

     Over the years of my training, I've learned a lot about myself, in all three of these ways. But it's not a task that's ever complete. For not only is true understanding of the self a long and difficult process; in the very process of coming to know ourselves, we change - a sort of ``uncertainty principle'' of the spirit.

     The self-knowledge we gain in our training does not benefit only ourselves. Sun Tsu's famous maxim, ``Know your enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles, you will never be defeated,'' builds on the notion of knowing the self. But this thought does not apply only to battles and competition, to situations where there is an enemy or opponent to defeat. It also applies to situations where two people have to work together for mutual success: a friendship, a romantic relationship, a collaboration at work - or in teaching karate-do.

     If our training helps us to know ourselves, how can we know these other people with whom we're involved?

     Our training is not an individual activity. As we work together, with our seniors, peers, and juniors, one thing becomes clear: fundamentally, we're all the same.

     We share the experiences of our peers. We come to understand what our seniors and instructors have been talking about. And we see newer students going through exactly the same experiences and revelations we remember.

     There are differences, certainly, and these should never be downplayed - diversity makes us strong. But while the forms may be different, we all have the same wants and needs, suffer the same pains, have the same hopes and fears. At the core, our minds work the same way, and our human experience is the same.

     Knowing this sameness lets us understand one another. We see that everyone has strengths they are unaware of; and weaknesses they are trying hard to hide, even from themselves. We see that other peoples minds work the same as ours, often distracting us from the present moment; and when we find our true unmoving center, we find it is shared by all people. In
knowing ourselves, we come to understand others - indeed, we find that, in the Zen sense, there is no ``self'' and ``other''.

     This is not just a practical matter for teaching karate. Seeing this sameness is the basis for compassion. Compassion leads to right action. And so by giving us insight into our true selves, our karate training ultimately shows us the path we should follow in our lives.

     As over the past few years I've begun to move into a teaching role in the dojo, what has served me best is not my limited knowledge of how to do karate correctly. It's the memory of all the mistakes I've made in learning that helps me to understand the confusion of a new student. It's knowing what it's like to get hit during kumite and feel frustrated and angry that lets me guide another person though that situation. I see the sameness.

     The insight into myself that I have gained in the dojo, and in growing up with the guidance of my training, has helped me understand the minds and spirits of those I now teach. I hope that I will be able to help others to train well and find the same sort of insight, to understand themselves and to understand others for the benefit of all. 

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