Ground-fighting versus Stand-up fighting: Which is
by Kancho Nenad and Shihan Dan
Our philosophy is that striking techniques are useful in wider variety of self-defence situations than grappling, wrestling and throwing. Thus it is important to note that our tuide (grappling) component is used as an adjuct rather than as our primary fighting method especially if our assailant is larger and stronger. An old goju-ryu precept is: "grip a stronger person lightly and a weaker person strongly".
Our fighting method involves a series of strikes that start at long range (with weapons if available or kicks), work through the medium range (short kicks, knees, punches and a variety of open hand strikes) and finish in the close range (using elbow strikes, rips, tears, gouges, headbutts, etc), before any attempt is made to grab an opponent - be it for the purposes of controlling them or for a take down.
In certain circumstances an opponent can be controlled and restrained by tuide techniques alone until help arrives. The use of tuide techniques in this manner must out of practicality be reserved only for non-life threatening situations in which you are confident that you can ensure your own safety (unless your job as a security or law enforcement officer demands that you carry out your duty in spite of the risk).
For most self defence situations we teach that one should not remain entangled with any one attacker for longer than absolutely necessary - whether on the ground or while engaged in "stand-up" grappling. Instead, our objective is to control, throw and/or immobilise an opponent just long enough to be able to either run away or, if there is no alternative, to apply a 'finishing' technique.
In conclusion, it is worth quoting from Bruce Lee's Tao of Jeet Kune Do:
Pleasure and Pain
by Kancho Nenad
With winter well and truly upon us now the appeal of the evening log fire will very likely spoil the resolve of many a student to attend a training session. Anyone who finds themselves in this situation should bear in mind the paradox that the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake can often result in pain while conversely the pursuit of pain can often lead to pleasure.
While this does not mean that you should beat your head against the wall until it hurts, it is nonetheless a concept that elite athletes and adventurers of all kinds understand and are familiar with. No one would deny for example that feats such as the conquering of Everest inevitably involve a lot of pain and discomfort and yet they ultimately lead to a great feeling of satisfaction and achievement. Attending one training session is obviously no great achievement in itself but is merely a single step of a great journey of self-discovery and one well worth undertaking. It is a journey made for its own sake with no final destination. It has highs and lows and various milestones but with no part any more or less important than any other.
When when you have notched up your first thousand lessons you will be justified in pausing to reflect (but only for a moment!) on what you have achieved. I am sure it will have been worth it.
Body and Spirit in the Martial Arts
by Kancho Nenad
After years of fascination and much half-hearted dabbling in martial arts in the mid to late 'seventies (when everyone was 'kung-fu fighting'!) Shihan Dan and I finally 'bit the bullet' and signed up for our first karate class on 16 February 1981. This was to be a move that irrevocably changed the course of our lives. How things might have worked out otherwise I cannot say but I recently read a quote by the world-renowned ju-jitsu Master Jan de Jong that I can relate to. Referring to his martial art he stated that:
"...it has always fascinated me. Although it is a fighting art, the greater the knowledge one gains, the more relevance one can see it has to another art - the art of living."
In this regard the concept of "Sanchin" or "3 battles" has embodied within it the 3 objectives of martial arts: These have been referred to as mind, body and spirit. Unfortunately few understand the meaning of these in this context. In this case "mind" refers to the actual learning of martial arts techniques and the ability to focus the mind to achieve a given task. "Body" refers to the physical conditioning indispensible to a good martial artist. "Spirit" refers to the inner strength developed through the experience of years of often arduous and challenging training. In combination, these attributes if attained, should equip an individual to withstand the rigors of life with all of its ups and downs. They should also go some way to lift an individual's self-esteem and confidence to the point where he/she can look beyond themselves and be able to understand and empathise with others.
Regarding Gashuku, I am sometimes asked "Why hold it in such a remote location in the wilderness? Such a question is often followed up with a suggestion such as: "Why not instead hold it locally at, for example, the Herb Graham Recreation Centre in Mirrabooka? It would be cheaper and easier to get to, more people could come, everyone could still make phonecalls, get e-mail, read the papers, watch TV, etc." Australian adventurer Paddy Palin (1900-91) had this to say:
"I do not claim that the experience of wilderness is the key to a happy life, but from my own experience I know it can ameliorate some of the ills arising from the modern urban existence. The lights and shades of physical sensation are allowed a greater scope. Because in most wilderness trips there is an element of the unpredictable, we are at times confronted with cold, hunger, bewilderment and fatigue. Then we have to use with skill what simple equipment we can carry on our backs to achieve shelter, prepare food and have a nights rest. And we value these things in the price we paid for them; not in coin but in effort. In the bush the problems of life are no longer complex... The business of living is narrowed to something more elemental... With the hunger brought on by exertion, the simplest meal becomes memorable, as does companionship enjoyed around the campfire and the comfort of a warm sleeping bag. Perhaps this enables us to go back to our urban existence with a greater sense of perspective."
Have an adventurous Gashuku!
Fads in the Martial Arts
By Kancho Nenad
At beginning of a new millenium it is appropriate to reflect apon the many fads that have characterised martial arts over the period that it has been studied in the West. Western thinking being the way it is - that is, always seeking out faster, better methods - has resulted in popular opinion swinging from art to art depending on the current flavour of the month. Thus each 'new' art introduced to the western world immediately became the 'best and most effective'.
The trend started when Ju-Jitsu was replaced by a 'new improved' version, Judo, in the 50's. Judo was quickly discarded in the 60's in favour of Karate by those who wanted to become 'invincible'. In the 70's, as we know, everyone was 'Kung-fu fighting' and Karate suddenly became old-fashioned and 'ineffective'. By the 80's the novelty of Kung-fu had worn off. Popular opinion swung to the high kicks of Tae Kwon Do, the mystique and weapons of the Ninja (turtles), or the 'practicality' of the eclectic or freestyle martial arts. In the 90's we have witnessed many fads - firstly Kickboxing and later Muay Thai Kickboxing (another example of a 'new and improved version'). Most recently Shootwrestling (the combination of kickboxing and wrestling) has come into vogue.
This is touted as the be all and end all of martial arts. There have also been the offshoots and spinoffs - boxercise, kickbox aerobics etc. Now we are being offered self-defence - Israeli army style (the name of which escapes me), Taebo - a combination of Tae Kwon Do and aerobics, and other mix and match combinations. What will be the next fad? Who knows - but at the risk of called old fashioned the Academy has never, and will never, pander to the latest craze. Fads may come and go but, to use an old expression, there is really nothing new under the sun.
Ultimately it is important to realise that all of the above examples of martial arts/activities are perfectly valid. As the well known British Karate Sensei Vince Morris explains: "these are merely facets of a multi-sided diamond". A serious student of the martial arts should have the open mind and patience to examine that diamond from all angles. In the Academy we provide that opportunity and to this end the College is dedicated to the task of reversing the increasing dilution and sportification of the martial arts.
Freestyle Martial Arts
By Shihan Dan
It is very common for modern martial artists to reject traditional techniques and methods of training in favour of, "simplified" and "practical" approaches. You will encounter any number of eclectic or "free style" martial artists who will advise you ad nauseum to reject basic punches, blocks and stances since "no one does it like that in the street." Invariably such practitioners will follow their arguments up with a demonstration citing problems with various traditional techniques, e.g. "Zenkutsu dachi exposes your front knee to attack", "Why don't punches snap back like kicks?" (they do, depending on the circumstance!) and "Blocking doesn't work in real fights - ducking, bobbing and weaving does". This process of questioning traditional fighting methods was popularized by the late Bruce Lee who often criticized the "classical mess" of traditional kung-fu and karate. It is no surprise that Bruce Lee is used by "free style" martial artists to justify their approach. After all, few doubt that he achieved an impressive level of ability and pound for pound effectiveness. Another such martial artist was Joe Lewis, founder and many times world champion of modern kickboxing, who declared that "karate techniques from the waist up are a fraud".
While it is always healthy for the martial arts to develop by critical examination of the ways of the past, it is quite unhealthy to rashly excise large chunks of past methods. For a start this is more likely to result in the dilution of martial arts through information loss rather than result in any real development. Many of the techniques evolved and were tested in battle conditions while others were the product of entire lifetimes of research and development. Remember also that traditional martial arts have never stopped developing through subtle modifications and changes. This is true regardless of whether a particular school professes to have the "authentic" and "original" version of any technique: every instructor modifies a style slightly whether he or she intends to or not. It is also part of Eastern martial culture only to credit knowledge that has been passed down from long-dead masters (whose legendary status increases exponentially with the passage of time) and this factor has served to disguise the extent to which traditional martial arts have developed, especially over the last 40 years. In these circumstances it is both presumptuous and risky to start making sudden, major changes to classical arts, especially when those changes are based more on ideology (e.g., "eliminate the classical mess") rather than hard data gained over an extensive period of informed and scientific research, together with an appreciation that a particular approach may rely on an entirely different principle from that which one assumes to be in issue.
However the central problem with the "free style" approach is that it looks to the destination only and not to the journey along the martial way. It copies the training methods and fighting strategies of certain martial artists as they are at their pinnacle, without examining the way these individuals achieved their level of expertise. Bruce Lee, for example, studied Wing Chun kung-fu among many other classical martial arts before he created his eclectic system, Jeet Kune Do. Much of Lee's focus and crispness in movement can be attributed to his study of traditional martial arts. Whether a reader will agree with that observation or not, it is a fact that all his training in the traditional arts helped make him what he was; every bit of knowledge left its mark on his style. It would be a mistake to think that Lee's training system just before his death holds the key to his effectiveness. That would be akin to a raw beginner copying the training routine of a world class body builder. Training must be relevant to the experience of the participant for it to be effective.
It would be fair to say that as an instructor I have tried various ways of teaching students the arts taught in the Academy. Invariably I have found that any attempt to shortcut the learning process leads to disaster. All of the senior grades will attest to the fact that a failure to concentrate on basics leaves the standard of all the remaining techniques much poorer; focus is lacking and the students fail to develop the necessary balance and body awareness. Most importantly, through learning traditional forms my experience has been that students become more adaptable in assimilating new ways of movement, particularly with the Academy’s wide knowledge base. In this way traditional forms do not "limit" or "restrict" students, as is often claimed, but rather give students the means to overcome limitations. Conversely, those who exclude techniques from their repertoire are in fact limiting themselves.
Traditional Eastern techniques and training methods perform vital functions - even if they do not appear realistic or practical at first glance. It is a mistake to compare them to Western arts such as boxing which rely on completely different principles (boxers for example hold their hands close to their faces so that their gloves can protect them, whereas your bare knuckles are likely to do you some serious damage if they are forced into your face). In later articles I will explore some of the common criticisms that arise including those raised at the commencement of this article. For the moment it is sufficient to say that the traditional training methods of the Academy are effective tools which -
Lastly, remember that in this world of infinite angles, movements and possibilities, traditional forms give you some framework within which to interpret and respond to a situation. One day, when all forms have ceased to perform their function, you may be able to abandon them.
Why the Left Fist?
The Academy’s logo has often been the subject of discussion around the morning campfire at gashuku. Few students, however know the reason for the fist in the centre of the yin and yang, other than to comment that it symbolizes martial arts. In fact the fist or 'quan' is traditionally used as a descriptor of martial arts in Asia: by karate and 'hard' kung-fu schools, and even 'soft' arts such as Tai-Chi Chuan which are identified as martial systems by that reference.
However the fist as a symbol means far more than 'fighting with knuckles'. After all it is even identified with schools which do not use it as a primary weapon. For example, the arts taught in the Academy utilize every part of the body for defence and offence, and it would be a mistake to consider the fist a predominant feature. Rather, the fist is used in much the same way as the hand - to symbolize humanity or human endeavour.
Most importantly, it is the left fist that it is depicted on the Academy’s logo. This is significant in that the left side of the body is connected with the right side of the brain - i.e., with the creative and subconscious - rather than with the left hemisphere which is associated with the conscious mind and logical reasoning.
This is not to suggest that logical reasoning is unimportant, but simply that it has little to do with the mechanics of combat. After all, you would no sooner logically evaluate options while a fist is screaming towards your face than you would think about putting one leg in front of another while walking along an even path. In a fight, actions must be spontaneous and unconscious to be effective. In other words, the action must originate from the right side of the brain, and not the left. There simply isn't enough time for a reasoned thought process.
It is because of this that there is a strong emphasis on stimulus - response training in the Academy’s Wu-Wei Dao system. Students are drilled to perform a movement (be it a block, strike, kick throw or body evasion) only once there has been some stimulus to warrant it.
Thus in one step sparring (ippon kumite) the defender must wait until the attack has been initiated before responding with a defence. Similarly the attacker must wait for a stimulus (in this case the instructor's count) prior to attacking. The result is that both sides have only a fraction of a second to act and must let their subconscious mind take control.
Importantly, to learn to use the right hemisphere of the brain, you must use it to learn. Almost every student will be familiar with the frustration of trying to learn a complex new movement. It is, I can assure you, a process that will continue throughout your study of the Wu-Wei Dao system, whether you are learning sinawali or a sequence of movements from Kururunfa kata. At those times remember that not much is achieved by trying to put the action into some logical framework. It is far better to simply do the movement, rather than analyze it. The analysis comes later, perhaps around the gashuku campfire.
I know this advice is difficult to follow, particularly when most adult students have invested a great deal of time learning by processes of reasoning. However if you try to learn a technique using the left side of your brain the technique will never be 'grooved' into your subconscious. Also it is less important that you respond exactly as the instructor asks than it is to simply respond. After all, responding to an attack with a less than ideal defence is better than taking it on the chin.
Remember that the right side of the brain is the creative side. The techniques in Wu-Wei Dao system must be performed in much the same way as a concert pianist plays the piano, i.e., without any thought as to the mechanics of the movement but with a great deal of attention to the 'emotional content'.
Accordingly the left fist on the badge is symbolic of the fact that Wu-Wei Dao is a martial art and that it teaches students to respond intuitively and creatively in an attack situation.
Etiquette and martial arts
An old saying is that "Karate begins and ends with manners". This is because manners and etiquette temper what is essentially a violent activity.
Not only are courtesy and humility vital in the long-term quest for character perfection, but by imposing strict rules of behaviour students are able to practise at a high level of intensity without provoking aggression or causing an injury. Etiquette also serves to protect the image of those practising the art; dispelling any misconceptions the onlooker might have about martial arts being aggressive and attracting unsavoury characters.
One must always bear in mind that the mental disciplines of courage, fortitude, integrity, courtesy and self-control are as important in the Academy as the technical teaching. British Karate Sensei Vince Morris makes the following comment: "...it is a fact that the majority of students learn to understand and even to demand the discipline, for it is based on respect; indeed in the main it is self-discipline. It soon becomes obvious to the student that sincerity and honesty of effort are two of the main criteria be which he or she is judged; and that mutual respect engenders courtesy and self-discipline".
In the Academy bowing is not expected outside of training but in the dojo where a strict etiquette is observed it is required at all times. It is important to understand firstly that bowing has no religious significance and that secondly in the Academy everyone is equally important, regardless of grade, age, title or stature. As such, one bows to all fellow students regardless of whether they are junior or senior to you. The instructors are addressed either as "Sempai" (senior) or "Sensei" (qualified instructor) and the Chief Instructor of the College is addressed as "Kancho". Very Senior teachers have the title "Shihan". The term "Shihan" or Master refers to a "master of the art" not a master of any other individual.
It is customary however for the lower graded individual to initiate the bow in deference to her or his senior's greater knowledge. One also bows on entering and leaving the training area. These customs are all followed to help produce the correct training atmosphere of respect, courtesy and friendliness coupled with the necessary humility.
Furthermore it is expected that students bow to the instructors and at least make a general bow to other students when entering or leaving the dojo. Should the instructors be training or in conversation, a bow in their direction will suffice. When we bow in the Academy we do so out of courtesy to our training partner. In doing so we are implying "I trust and respect you and I thank you for letting me practise with you." In fact the bow is the ultimate show of trust as by bending forwards one is figuratively offering one's neck to be cut off. The bow of course is a form of decorum or etiquette but as the great Karate master Funakoshi said: "The end of all etiquette is to cultivate your mind so that even when the you are quietly seated, not even the roughest ruffian can dare make onset on your person".
Wu-Wei & the
concept of the“Superior Man”*
This hypothetical wise old master is the epitome of what the ancient Chinese would have referred to as a 'superior man'* or Chun-tsu (to use the mandarin pronounciation). The term Chun-tsu literally refers to an aristocrat in early China but became a metaphor for a person who had achieved a higher degree of self-realisation and self-development, indeed a superior understanding of human affairs and certainly a higher level of awareness, than the 'common' man. To be a 'superior man' one had to have more than just intelligence and education - one had to acquire wisdom.
The concept of a 'superior man' is well known to students of Chinese philosophy as a beau-ideal of Confucianism and would be familiar to casual readers of the Chinese classic the I-Ching or 'Book of Changes' to which it is a central concept. The 'superior man' as an ideal to strive for is entirely compatible with the philosophical concept of Wu-Wei (see the Philosophy page). Wu-Wei briefly is a philosophy that advocates following the line of least resistance in life just as one would swim with the current rather than against it. The superior man would use Wu-Wei in daily life to achieve a desirable result with the minimum of effort and without conflict or, if conflict is unavoidable, with as little conflict as possible.
Wu-Wei as a philosophy is in turn perfectly compatible with Budo - 'The Martial Way' since the character for Bu is made up of 2 elements, 'the sword' and 'never to be used'. This leads to sayings such as: "the fastest swords are never drawn". The words of an 18th century sword master crystallise this point:
"The perfect swordsman avoids quarrelling or fighting...It is abhorrent that one should be thinking all the time of fighting and coming out victorious...What is the use of being a fine swordsman if one loses one's human dignity? The best thing is to be a victor without fighting."
All human societies contain conflicts that tend to at some point manifest themselves in fighting. Martial arts is essentially the study of conflict, starting at the 'grass roots' level with basic attack and defence scenarios, and ultimately delving into the very core of human nature.
In a true martial art, character development should go hand in hand with technical development. This occurs not by chance but because the mind and body are inseparable. With progress in a martial art a person's confidence grows and fear of others recedes allowing them to bring their aggressive urges under control and guide them into constructive activity. In seeking technical perfection one also develops a strong spirit, self-discipline, and the ability for self-correction.
The freedom that comes from confidence in one's abilities, and the resultant lack of self-conciousness, in turn provides the perfect opportunity for the cultivation of wisdom. For this reason both the theory and the techniques of many fighting systems have developed in harmony with moral philosophies of their masters. The famous Karate master Gichin Funakoshi said:
"Try to see yourself as you truly are and try to adopt what is meritorious in the work of others...Each of us has good qualities and bad; the wise man seeks to emulate the good he perceives in others and avoid the bad."
Throughout history martial arts masters have shown themselves to be thinkers and committed moral beings as well as fighters. This is the case across all cultures with a warrior tradition: from mediaeval knights, to graduates of modern military colleges who are expected to be 'officers and gentlemen'**.
The Hagakure - a book of practical and moral advice for Japanese Samurai sums up the lifelong pursuit of striving to perfect one's character as follows:
"I do not know how to excel others, I only know how to excel myself. Today I am better than I was yesterday, tomorrow I will be better than I am today."
The term 'superior person' would more in line with our modern way of thinking - however this is a direct translation and the ancient Chinese were not very politically correct!
*The term 'gentlemen' is used in this context as the author is unaware of any non-gender specific alternative.
Colds and Flus- Should you
It is often difficult to ascertain whether a cold is a harmless upper respiratory infection, or a more serious viral infection with a propensity to cause complications. Thus a commonly asked question is whether it is safe or advisable to train while affected by a viral infection. Below are a few 'rules of thumb' that may be of assistance next time you are faced with the decision of whether to stay home in front of the TV or go to Wu-Wei/the gym/aerobics, for a run, etc.
The most common viral infections relevant to this article take the form of either colds and flus or gastro-intestinal ailments. With regard to the former a cold can be described as having the symptoms of a runny nose and/or nasal congestion, watery eyes and a general feeling of being at less than 100%. Sometimes secondary infections can cause other symptoms such as sore throats or coughs. A flu or more correctly influenza, on the other hand, is more serious and in addition to the above symptoms is accompanied by symptoms such as fevers, muscle aches and chest pains.
Gastro-intestinal ailments or 'stomach bugs' are often as bad as flus but fortunately usually don't last as long. Symptoms can include those mentioned above in combination with stomach aches, diarrhoea and/or vomiting.
With regard to the common cold it is worth bearing in mind that world records have been set by athletes with colds. Specifically, in the case of mild colds light to moderate exercise may actually shorten the illness by a combination of elevating body temperature (above optimal for the virus to proliferate) and improving immune function.
By the same token undertaking high intensity training while affected by a cold will weaken immune function and may thus prolong or worsen an illness - especially if the affected person is not getting enough sleep and/or inadequate nutrition. There is also an increased susceptibility to secondary infections. Going one step further and training while very sick with a viral infection can lead to the risk of serious illness, collapse and even death.
So, to train or not to train? The Australian Sports Medicine Foundation offers the following guidelines: Avoid training if you have any of the following symptoms:
Training with the above symptoms will not only impair performance and prolong the illness but can cause serious complications such as poor temperature regulation, dehydration, abnormal heart rhythm, pericarditis (inflammation of the heart) and, as a result of the last one, even sudden death.
On the other hand, if you simply have a bit of a runny nose, a slight cough and feel a bit tired, you may be quite well enough to train. Don't confuse lethargy with genuine illness! An anecdote by Arnold Schwartzenegger from his body-building days illustrates this point. Arnold made a point of going to the gym even if he was feeling a bit tired or unwell with a view to seeing how he felt when he got there. Some days he would start warming up, not feel up to it, and then decide to go home and rest instead. More often however, he found that rather than ending up doing a light workout, he was able to train harder than ever and thus frequently achieved personal bests in workouts that he had been tempted to miss. Thus in summary, if you are very sick, stay home. If you are in doubt come along and see how you feel. If symptoms increase after the initial 10 minutes, stop, go home and rest. Regular training can usually be safely resumed a few days after the resolution of symptoms.
In closing please note that this article was written for the lay-person by a Bachelor of Sports Science graduate (Kancho Nenad) and is not applicable to every individual and situation. If you are ever in doubt see your doctor for specific advice.
Myths: #1- Nosebones into the brain
From time to time over the years I have been asked by more than one concerned student, parent or associate whether it is a good idea to teach a strike that could potentially kill by driving the nose-bones into the brain. The argument is that a minor altercation requiring the use of self-defence could result in a manslaughter case.
Now, I had been taught that an upward strike into the upper tooth ridge at this point was a very effective self-defence strike - ideal for use by women or smaller people. A light tap here will cause even the largest man to release his hold; struck harder it will result in a knockout. To be honest though, my instructors never mentioned anything about driving the nosebones into the brain. Commonsense told me it was not possible but for some time I felt uneasy lest there be some truth in the theory.
Having now studied anatomy at University and and looked into this the answer is simple - what we call the nose is actually a supporting framework of cartilage covered with skin and anchored to the skull between the eye sockets. A broken nose therefore is the result of the cartilage being torn off the bone. The possibility of anything being driven into the brain is remote. A tremendously powerful strike may of course fracture the skull but then again strikes to the head from just about any angle could do so just as 'easily'.
Make no mistake, fracture or no fracture, a hard enough strike to this point, or for that matter anywhere on the head, can be extremely dangerous and could even cause death.
A reasonable person will however only strike another in self-defence and then if the attacker is injured - well - they shouldn't have attacked you in the first place. This is why it is said that 'there is no first strike in karate' and why the philosophy of Wu-Wei is to achieve a result without conflict or, if conflict is unavoidable, with as little conflict as possible.
As a final reassurance be aware that a person is very hard to kill with unarmed blows. Mike Tyson can hit 10 times harder than the average person and to my knowledge he hasn't killed anyone yet despite hitting many a person in the head. One is much more likely not to hit hard enough in self-defence.
'Not Doing' Justice
The title of this paper may seem antithetical to the purposes of natural law. However, this paper intends show how the principle of wu wei, translated literally as 'not doing', is, in fact, a valid path through which Justice may be approached. To do this the paper will focus on the seminal text of Taoism, Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, which will be compared to Brian Mooney's interpretation of Plato's theory of Natural Law. The comparison will be done in two stages. The first step analyses the similarity between the aims of Plato's and Lao Tzu's theories. The similarity is twofold: firstly, both wish to reject the idea that Justice is the mere application of rules; secondly, they wish to show that is actually an internal condition of order that determines how we interact with others. Before the second stage of the comparison, there is an analysis on the appropriate interpretation of the principle of wu wei; here it will be shown that, for the purposes of this paper at least, the richest interpretation is that of 'no unnecessary action.' The second stage explores, firstly, how the principle of wu wei leads to internal Harmony; then, secondly, how Harmony and wu wei together promotes Justice in the relationships between people. This section, and the paper, is concluded by showing that Plato's theory of the well-ordered soul corresponds to Lao Tzu's concept of Harmony, and also that the effect they have on relationships is largely the same.
The Thinking of Justice
The first step in showing that the philosophy of Lao Tzu is one that is useful to thinking on natural law, is to show how he rejects positivism and while doing so, outline what he thought Justice was. In this regard the similarities with Plato are quite striking. Thus in this section it is shown that, not only do they share a similar understanding of Justice, or Harmony in the case of Lao Tzu, but also similar arguments for the rejection of rigorous adherence to the rules of social behaviour. And despite the many thousands of miles of land and culture between them, the purpose of their thought seems the same: a critique of the inadequacies of their societies, where the idea that Justice was to be found in the application of the laws and customs of man had invaded the minds of the citizens. As has been said, the principle of wu wei is a guide for the harmonious life, and through being in harmony with oneself, and with Nature, our relations with others will also be harmonious. Thus the Tao, the principle by which the ebb and flow of life is governed, is that which governs - or should govern - the interaction of humans. In this way it is similar to Mooney's analysis of Plato, that is: Justice is an internal quality of being that we bring to our relationships.
We see the rule based view of Justice, that is, a positivist view, exemplified in Plato's Republic by the character Polemarchus. Justice to him is the obligations that social custom places on citizens, it is the regulations that have been put in place to control the people's relationships with each other, it is making people conform to what is considered appropriate behaviour. Confucius, Lao Tzu's main opponent, held the same view, advocating a rigorously structured system of social rules; thus his doctrine was based on the development of Justice as between entities. Lao Tzu believed that social rules such as these are highly artificial and an anathema to nature; one suspects that this belief is due to his thought that such rules are forced upon the individual and are not derived from his 'original nature', the Tao. This is best shown in Chapter five where Lao Tzu says:
"Much speech inevitably leads to silence."
On the first reading these words do not seem to say much about Lao Tzu rejection of positivism. However, Welch interprets this phrase to mean: "Forget morality; follow your inner nature," where 'morality' is the customs of the Confucianists. Plato similarly rejects the idea that social harmony is achieved by superimposing rules of relationship upon a community, this is seen in his rejection of the view espoused by Polemarchus. For Plato this is not Justice; as the effect it has on people is determined by the relationship between them and is derived not from those involved, but imposed by custom. Plato thought that Justice flowed from the "well-ordered soul," one's internal power, to impart its quality upon all; thus, like Lao Tzu, Justice is to be considered as part of the individual and not something imposed.
Doing 'Not Doing' Justice
Before we move on to the discussion of how it is that Taoism, and in particular the principle wu wei, positively contributes to the thought on natural law, is to crystallise this elusive concept of 'not doing' into something that can be more readily understood and applied. Essentially, here we are trying to find an interpretation of wu wei that does the concept itself justice, for to leave it undefined or with an inadequate translation would be to lessen its significance. There is a problem with simply leaving wu wei as it is translated literally, this is primarily due to the prejudices of the reader when analysing the concept. The phrase 'not doing' has, in modern western culture, even as it did in ancient China, many negative connotations that obstruct its true value. Most people, at first glance, find a philosophy that suggests 'do nothing' or 'inaction' not only absurd, but antithetical to the discussion of ethics as it connotes laziness, inertia and apathy. This, of course, misunderstands the thrust of wu wei entirely. The next problem is in finding a more appropriate translation, given the difficulty in translating Chinese characters to English. Many paradoxical phrases have been substituted in place of 'not doing' - for example; 'acting by not acting' - and while these are no less valuable, and, in reality, tell us more than the literal translation, their worth is often lost in the confusion of the paradox.
Welch saw much the same problem. He made it clear that wu wei did not mean the avoidance of all action; instead, his interpretation was that all hostile or aggressive action should be avoided. The problem with this interpretation is that it seems limited to the social sphere, as well as the fact that it still leaves many important concepts essentially unvoiced. All this interpretation - that is, 'no aggressive action' - tells us is that in our relationships with others, and with ourselves, we are to avoid hostility. One important flaw with this is that it seems absolute, ie: "no aggressive action is ever permitted", wu wei does however allow for aggressive action in certain circumstances, and though Welch admits this, it is not evident from his interpretation. Another flaw is that it seems to allow for positive, purposeless action so long as it is not aggressive. Again this does not fully capture the essence of wu wei, for such action, even where it is peaceful, may be acting against nature. To get around this Welch argues that non-aggressive action can itself be aggressive, but here this interpretation looses its meaning in the obvious contradiction: How can non-aggressive action be aggressive? It is, by definition, impossible.
An alternative, and, the author feels, the richest, interpretation of wu wei, is that of 'no unnecessary action.' The first advantage is obvious, and that is, that it is not paradoxical. The second advantage is that it allows for people to follow the 'easy way', or the path of inaction from which action springs, while still carrying the imperative that one must act when it is necessary, but, at the same time, we must not do more than is necessary. It can also extend not merely to the social sphere, but all facets of life - which is what Lao Tzu intended - and it becomes a guide for living in harmony. For example, in applying it to the field of martial arts, it teaches one to move with efficiency, to avoid useless expenditure of energy; and, in the more pedestrian areas, it instructs us to avoid gluttony, lest we feel ill. It is for these reasons, amongst many others, that the phrase: 'no unnecessary action' is how wu wei should be understood in this paper.
The Way of Justice
As was shown above, Justice is done a result of the individual bringing internal harmony to a relationship; not, as the positivists would have it, from rules imposed. And, for Lao Tzu, it is the principle of wu wei that allows us to achieve Harmony. For Lao Tzu this state of tranquillity allows the Taoist to succeed, not by force or coercion, or by resorting to strict rules or custom, but by a state of being. Lao Tzu held that there were immutable laws of nature and it is through understanding these laws of nature that harmony is achieved. Thus Harmony is, essentially, achieved in two ways, though they are so intricately woven that it is really artificial to separate them: the first is the attitude the Taoist has towards his self (Fewness of Desires); the second is the attitude the Taoist has in his relations with others (Diffusing the Circles). This section concludes with an analysis of the similarities of Lao Tzu with Plato (Well-Ordered Harmony)
Fewness of Desires
For the first, Harmony is achieved not through the attainment of specific goals, but through a continual process of letting go, letting go of desires and the pursuit of their fulfilment. It was mentioned earlier that Lao Tzu thought rules were an anathema to nature. This was no exaggeration. He believed society marred man's nature, it taught him to desire "money, power, wealth and importance." These not only turn us from our nature, but also foster the cycle of aggression in society by promoting competition:
"There is no crime greater than having too many desires";
Thus the desire to 'keep up with the Jones',' ambition, and even public prestige - for "favour and disgrace" cause conflict between the citizens who do and do not have - are seen as unnecessary. Unnecessary as they are not required by man to live and, also, they only cause unrest between citizens; for Lao Tzu these things are, by definition, excesses beyond what is natural.
Where these 'social desires' automatically lead to aggression, the more humble desires of the flesh, for the most part, do not. Desires of the 'gut' are seen as natural, however, Lao Tzu warns that overindulgence, meaning both amount and expense, is not only harmful to the person, but also incites aggression in others. This is seen in Chapter 12:
"The five colours make man's eyes blind";
Thus the principle of wu wei teaches us what common sense should, and that is everything in moderation. And should we simplify our life by having 'fewness of desires', rejecting those things that we are taught by society to value, it is said that we would hold The Uncarved Block. The Uncarved Block being a state of tranquillity in which the Taoist has removed himself from society's cycle of aggression so that his mind is uncluttered and unhindered; and from this state of Harmony, from this nothingness, from knowing himself, action springs.
Diffusing the Circles
The Taoist, then, brings the principle of wu wei and this tranquillity to his relationships with others. This state of being Lao Tzu compares to a river, or water in general, a common metaphor throughout the Tao Te Ching; in Chapter 78 it is written:
"In the world there is nothing more submissive and weak than water. Yet for attacking that which is hard and strong nothing can surpass it."
Thus the Taoist succeeds through being submissive, or rather, it is having humility and compassion as a part of our nature, which allows the Taoist to passively effect others in order to obtain his ends without the use of means; "the Taoist causes others to [do] what he wants." Essentially water never does more than is necessary to achieve its end, the sea; it takes the lowest path, yet it inevitably conquers the rock.
The Taoist does this by absorbing the hostility of others. He does not see the actions of others as being good or bad, but sees them as neutral; and as the Taoist "approves of the good man and also of the bad man: thus bad becomes good." It is important to mention here that Lao Tzu seems to draw a distinction between what is good in the societal sense and what is good qua eternal good, the same applies for truth. In the phrase above - and where he says: the Taoist "never tries to do good" - Lao Tzu means good in the societal sense. For while the Taoist tries to do, and reward, good in the eternal sense, in that he tries to promote Justice, he avoids doing good in terms of the way society values it. This is due to the fact that doing good to one person is bound to affect others adversely in some way, and thus it would promote hostility as between citizens. Derivative of that is, the Taoist promotes Justice by seeing all he is told as the truth, not because the statement itself is true, but because its truth is in the intention behind the statement. Again this plays on the distinction between the truth found in the Tao and truth as found in relations between humans; the former being immutable, the latter being relative. The Taoist then in seeing the truth in the lie, and the good in the bad, diffuses the aggression that is flowing toward him; and by doing so, through his compassion and humility, does Justice towards the other. For to criticise the lie, or to see the bad as bad, is to return the aggression that has been shown him, which not only contributes to the cycle of aggression that flows through society, but such action defeats itself by causing the hostility of the situation to escalate. Thus the Taoist, following the principle of wu wei, perceives the uniqueness of the situation, often before it arises, and does no more than is necessary to defeat the aggression, including, should the situation demand it, violence, though only ever as a regrettable necessity. And the Taoist never does more than necessary, for in doing so, it seems, he would show himself to be superior and thereby cause hostility. In this way the Taoist is like the river mentioned above, his soft of humility and compassion, overcoming the hard of aggression. Thus, in Welch's words, the Taoist's "aim is not merely to avoid starting new circles [of aggression], but to interrupt those that have already been started. Through his peculiar behaviour he hopes to save the world."
In Mooney's analysis of Plato, we find something remarkably similar, especially with regard to having 'fewness of desires' leading to Harmony, or, in Plato's terms, a well-ordered soul. Where Lao Tzu condemns desires of social ambition as clearly excessive; Plato to, is highly critical of the view that Justice is power, such desire is pleonexic. Pleonexia is a desire of unbridled selfishness, it is (a) the desire to have more than others, and (b) the desire to have more than the right amount. In this way it corresponds to Lao Tzu criticisms of society. Where ambition, the desire to have more than others, contributes to society's cycle of aggression because of the value put on success. And where excessive consumption of the 'desires of the gut', having more than the right amount, is harmful for the same reasons. Thus it seems that Plato would say pleonexic desires are unnecessary, and the selfish pursuit of them harm not only others but also the individual. Harmful to the individual, not in the least, for it prevents effective action. As Lao Tzu thought effective action sprung from Harmony, and aggressive action from ambition, so to thinks Plato. We see this towards the end of Book Four of Plato's Republic:
"…its real concern is not with external actions, but with man's inward self…. The just man will … attain self-mastery and order, and live on good terms with himself. When he has bound these elements [the tripartite soul] into a disciplined and harmonious whole, and so fully become one instead of many, he will be ready for action of any kind…."
And so to does Plato believe that internal discord adversely affects social relationships. If we cannot bring Harmony to our relationships then we cannot diffuse the aggression, rather we would add our own selfishness to the situation, sending the situation on a downward spiral of aggression. So Lao Tzu holds, as was shown above, and so Plato holds. We see this in Book One of the Republic where Socrates shows that unjust men are incapable of common action, because it is the function of injustice to breed hatred. Thus internal discord renders the individual incapable of effective action both as an individual and as part of a community. Thus for both Plato and Lao Tzu, Justice is an internal state of Harmony that is brought to relationships, and within the relationship it imparts its quality. Justice Justs, and Harmony breaks the cycle of aggression.
In the section 'Thinking of Justice' we saw that both Plato and Lao Tzu were critical of the idea that Justice could be achieved by forcing citizens to adhere to social rules or laws. Rather they saw Justice as being something that starts from the inside and works its way out by affecting the way interact with others. Justice, for them, is a state of Harmony. From there we saw the deficiencies in the more common interpretations of wu wei, whether that is because it causes the reader to misconstrue the concept, or whether the meaning is lost in a paradox. This paper then proposed that the interpretation should be that of 'no unnecessary action,' as it takes into account that it is from tranquillity which effective action springs; it is also an informative guide through which we can achieve Harmony for the self and in our relationships with others. In the final section it was shown firstly that by following wu wei and having 'fewness of desires' we may achieve internal Harmony, desires being understood both as those of the 'gut' and those equated with social ambition. By having a mind uncluttered and unhindered by the chaos of many desires the Taoist is able to achieve a state of tranquillity which enables him to diffuse the aggressiveness of others. Thus, secondly, it was shown that, through compassion and humility, the soft will overcome the hard, the aggressive. The Taoist does Justice by not reacting to the aggression of another, but by understanding the intention behind the hostility makes the action not hostile. Justice is done by creating tranquillity within that particular relationship. Finally we see that Plato to rejects desires that are unnecessary, calling them pleonexic, as they cause strife within the soul. In both we see similar theories of 'strength' through humility, and both reject unbridled self-interest. Justice is done by the fostering of tranquillity between people, tranquillity is achieved by bringing a well-ordered soul to the relationship, and a well-ordered soul is gained by following the path of wu wei. Taoism thus is an effective theory of Natural Law, as it tries to achieve Justice between people, through a state of internal Justice, similar to that of Plato.
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching; Trans. Lau; 1963; Penguin Group; England
Are there any
shortcuts to martial arts mastery?
No. Despite the adverts you may have read about "Black belt in half the time - money back guarantee!" there are no shortcuts. Real results take effort, dedication and commitment. As the old saying goes: "the sweet smell of success usually has more of a smell of sweat about it!" Certainly no one would expect to become an expert guitarist without lots of practise and it is the same if not more so with martial arts skills.
On the flip side however there are many 'blind alleys' a student can take that can delay and hinder progress. One way this can happen is when a practitioner spends a lot of time and effort developing skills that do not correspond with the goal he/she desires to attain (for example the practise of drills designed for martial arts competition may not be the best way of developing self defence skills). Another impediment to progress is the practise of unsound exercises and drills that can often lead to imbalances in the body and ultimately injury.
The Academy’s Wu-Wei Dao fighting system is an art designed for health, self-defence and self-development that uses time-tested methods fully compatible with modern sports science principles. Therefore the only other ingredient necessary for optimal development is 'sweat'!
such a thing as a 'pure', 'original' martial art?
The world renowned Karate Master Hirokazu Kanazawa was recently asked this question about his style of Karate (Shotokan). His answer applies equally well to all martial arts:
"No. Pure shotokan does not exist. The JKA practices a type of Shotokan - but it is the shotokan of the JKA. Oshima Sensei practices a shotokan but again it is his shotokan. Each master has a different view, a different brain, a different comprehension of things. This is normal."
Thus, in reality, there are as many styles of martial arts as there are individuals. As such it is not the goal of the Academy to produce clones of the instructors but to provide individual students with the tools and methods to develop as martial artists in their own right.
Conflict is a normal part of life with multiple layers of expression. As the Academy’s fighting system of Wu-Wei Dao deals directly with conflict in its most basic form an individual is able to develop the confidence, calmness, awareness and respect for others needed to be able to explore all other forms of conflict resolution. In this regard Wu-Wei Dao as a philosophy advocates taking the 'path of least resistance' and/or 'taking no unnecessary action' in resolving a problem.
Ideally a wise person avoids conflict but if conflict is unavoidable an ancient maxim that epitomises the Wu-Wei Dao aproach to fighting: