January 10, 2008


Gichin Funakoshi.

The theme of this week's Goat Rope is strategy and what people who want to make the world less violent and more just can learn from the theory and history of conflict. If this is your first visit, please click on earlier entries.

El Cabrero admits to being a fan of Sun Tzu from way back. I first learned about his Art of War when I began became interested in martial arts as a child. At the time, there were no classes in my little town and we couldn't afford the tae kwon do school in a nearby city, which charged high payments and made you sign contracts. (I've always been grateful to Lady Poverty for saving me from going that route.)

So for a few years, I just read whatever I could find about it. In the process, I learned about different religions, philosophies and traditions. Eventually, we found a non-commercial dojo which taught shotokan, a strict traditional Japanese/Okinawan style. Practice sessions are a mixture of ritual and drill, part boot camp and part high church.

Shotokan was founded by Gichin Funakoshi, an Okinawan schoolteacher, scholar, and calligrapher (Shoto was his pen name, and kan means school). A sickly child, he studied from the leading masters of his day and was a pioneer in introducing the Okinawan art to Japan and ultimately the world. His writings and example have probably influenced my moral and spiritual development (such as it is) as much as the Bible and the church I sometimes attend. Probably more.

In one of his earlier manuals, he wrote the following:

Deep within the shadows of human culture lurk seeds of destruction, just as rain and thunder follow in the wake of fair weather. History is the story of the rise and fall of nations. Change is the order of heaven and earth; the sword and pen are as inseparable as the two wheels of a cart. Thus, a man must encompass both fields if he is to be considered a man of accomplishment. If he is overly complacent, trusting that fair weather will last forever, he will one day be caught off guard by terrible floods and storms. So it is essential for all of us to prepare each day for any unexpected emergency.

Funakoshi drilled his students in ethics and courtesy as much as physical techniques. The result combined strong inhibitions against the use of force with a fierce, linear, all-out fighting style.

His master text, Karate-Do Kyohan, contains a section of maxims for the trainee which includes quotes from Sun Tzu as well as Confucian and Buddhist sources. They are quoted without attribution since it was presumed that readers would know the source.

Here are two well known ones. They are pretty basic but if you only keep two from Sun Tzu, they'd be a good choice:

For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the highest skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.

In other words, the ultimate level of skill in understanding conflict or strife is to accomplish what you need to without it. Understood metaphorically, it also means one should use the least possible energy and do the least possible harm in responding to situations.

Funakoshi also quoted Sun Tzu on the importance of knowledge:

Know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril.

When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal.

If ignorant of both your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril.

In other words, understanding one's own capacities and limitations as well as those of one's opponent can help one anticipate developments and/or take advantage of openings in a given situation or avoid engagement altogether. Those two sayings taken together are pretty good advice for the most peace loving people, whether they are trying to effect some change or just deal with the ordinary collisions of life.

CITIES FIGHT BACK. Here's an interesting item from Business Week about how some cities are dealing with home foreclosures. It seems that many banks abandon homes after they force out the former owners for not being able to keep up with payments. The abandoned housing causes all kinds of problems. Some cities are taking banks to court to force them to keep up the property, demolish it or otherwise take some responsibility for the mess they created.

THE DIETARY DIVIDE reflects the economic one. The rich get organic and the poor get diabetes.

MASSEY IN COURT. Here's the latest on Massey Energy's most recent legal battle.

STATE OF THE STATE. Here's the text of Gov. Manchin's speech.



Hoyt said...

I loved reading "The Art of War," but I didn't discover it until college. It's also influenced my approach toward resolving conflict. I always strive to do "subdue without fighting." But I'm always prepared if the battle ensues. Always.

Great post.

El Cabrero said...

Thanks, Hoyt! I imagine that has a lot of applications in the legal profession. Do you remember the "art of fighting without fighting" from Enter the Dragon?

Hoyt said...

I don't remember that. Even worse, El Cabrero, I have absolutely no excuse for why "Dragon" isn't in my dvd collection.

Looks like a visit to the Target is in order.