April 29, 2008


Karate master, calligrapher and poet Gichin Funakoshi, courtesy of wikipedia.

The theme at Goat Rope this week is writing for social change. You'll also find links and comments about current events. If this is your first visit, please click on yesterday's post.

For me, writing and fighting (mostly metaphorically) have always been entwined. The idea that I should try to learn to write came to me at the same time in early adolescence that I aspired to learn traditional Okinawan/Japanese martial arts.

In that tradition, the two are connected. There is an old saying among samurai that goes something like "Ken Zen ichi," which means that the sword (or fist) and Zen are one. As a idiom, it also implies that mind and body and sword and pen are one. A basic idea of traditional martial arts is that one should develop one's full potential in all areas. (It took awhile, but I eventually found that Aristotle said pretty much the same thing in ancient Greece.)

Gichin Funakoshi (1868-1957), widely regarded as the founder of modern karate, put it this way in one of his early works:

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 the 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.

It was also from that tradition that I acquired my one abiding political idea: to wit, it is dishonorable and disgusting when people with power try to kick around people who can't kick back. And since much of our political and economic world seems to run on precisely that, I tend to find myself going against the current.

I don't know if this is exactly what Funakoshi had in mind with the sword/pen thing, but to a martial artist good fighting (in the sense of the merging of techniques, tactics, and timing) can be as aesthetically pleasing as good writing, music etc. And in the context of social change, good writing--broadly conceived--can a powerful force in the fight to make things less bad or a little better.

For that matter, a good campaign or fight, metaphorically speaking, can be aesthetically pleasing and even elegant if it blends timing and technique and strategy.

They don't call them arts for nothing.

BUSHONOMICS. For many Americans, the recession of 2001 never ended.

JOBS AND HEALTH CARE. A new study suggests that rising unemployment will strain public health care programs like Medicaid.

BIOBIGOTRY. Here's an article about the human tendency to project moral categories onto animals.

WHO'D HAVE THUNK IT? Scientists are using bats to promote reforestation.


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