Saturday, October 4, 2008

Lao-Zi Chapter 2


The above few sentences of this chapter can be summarised into: If the concept of beauty exists, one for ugliness must exist; if the concept of goodness exist, one for evilness must exist. Beauty and ugliness; difficulty and easiness; long and short; high and low; melody and chord; front and back all coexist at the same time.

How can one extend this concept of yin and yang in kendo? For example, when you think a strategy is the winning one, there would be a another strategy that counters it. If you move away from the chudan-no-kamae and intend to attack or defend, you are bound to expose some weakness(es). Or put simply, if you make a move, there is a move that can defeat you.

"Therefore, the wise acts without action, and teaches without spoken words."

The wise people win by making little physical actions, thereby not exposing their weaknesses. The opponent will become impatient and expose his own mistakes.

The things one learns from the wise people are done without spoken words. This is coherent with that said in Chapter 1: if Tao can be explained, it is not Tao. One learns from the wise by observation and self-motivation.

The phrase "無為“, meaning "without action", is in fact one of the most important concept in Taosim. "No action" is the best action one can take in many circumstances. 


He evokes everything  without claiming the credit for it.
Because he does not claim the credit, he deserves even more respect.

This concept is mentioned several times in this book. The best teacher is one that makes the student feel that he learns everything by himself, despite that the teacher quietly overlooks the whole process making sure that the student progress in the right direction. (Note: In the time of civil war, Taoism was one of the philosophies used to govern a country.  It says that the best governor is one who makes his people think that he had done nothing, but the people anyhow live in stable and comfortable lives, despite that he had actually done many things quietly.)

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lao-Zi Chapter 1

Laozi wrote at the very start: If Tao can be explained by words, then it is not Tao. 


When I read this sentence the first time after  16 years, I was struck by its simplicity and how I have repeatedly telling myself the same thing for many things that I experienced in recent years. Kendo being one of them.

One must learn by experience. Simply listening to explanations is not the way to understand the true essence of a concept, of a culture, of a lifestyle, of a relationship, of a philosophy, and of kendo.

So maybe all of you should stop reading here, because true kendo cannot be written in words? Well, Laozi wrote on:


So, although you cannot understand the essence of kendo by reading or listening to explanations, you can, however, see the trace and the manifestation of kendo. Then, one should practise with a natural mind, without the anxiety of always searching for something. Because one day, without any intention, the essence comes to you.

In my kendo blog, I personally think the most valuable things are perhaps not the explanations of techniques, because there are books and other internet resources that explain them. The most valuable are perhaps the accounts of my personal experiences, thoughts and my efforts. I hope I'm taking you into my head, and in effect bring you onto this journey with me, which is better then reading textbook-like explanations. Though of course I try to provide both. I find it useful anyways for me to write them down.


There was a story told by the Chinese philosopher Laozi (462 BC - after 302 BC) that I read when I was little and has always remembered. He said: Softness can conquer hardness. And to explain that, he took the example of the grass and a tree. The tree is hard and gives the impression of being strong, whereas the grass is soft and appears as weak. However, if there is a strong storm, the tree can be destroyed while the grass will stay alive because it is soft and flexible.

This way of viewing the world has always been my favourite. I don't mean this particular concept, but how one gets inspired by the nature or the surrounding events, and after some logical thinking arrives at a seemingly contradictory statement, that, in fact, contains a lot of wisdom. 

I first read this story when I was about 11 years old, from a modern comic book version for easy understanding. Now after 16 something years, today I picked up the original text from his book "Tao Te Ching", and was again impressed by the wisdom and the beauty of his writings. Partly because I have grown up and experienced much of this world, different societies and people, every sentence resonates and evokes much thoughts inside my head.

So I decided to write them down, from the perspective of a kendo practitioner, or kendoka.

Why specifically from kendo?

1. Because (ken-)"Do" is the same word as "Tao", and they have the same meaning, being the way, or the principle.

2. Many ideas from Taoism are used in martial arts. For example, Tai Chi is based heavily, if not entirely, on this philosophy.

3. My kendo teacher and mentor Hiroshi Ozawa Senei, 7th Dan Kyoshi, once told me that, like me, his favourite philosophy is Taoism and prefers it over Confucianism. 

4. No one as far as I know has done this.

There are 81 chapters in "Tao Te Ching", written more than 2000 years ago by Laozi. It is the first literature in Taoism. While "Taoism" can be refered to as a religion, it started originally only as a particular way of viewing the world. Like Aristotle to the Greeks. Then about 500 years later, some guy created a religion and took Laozi as one of its immortal figures. 

In my writings, there won't be any religious elements. I'm not religious, though perhaps a little spiritual sometimes, and I do not believe blindly following the text written by some one thousands of years ago will do myself and the world any good. Instead, I will write my thoughts inspired from reading each chapter. Because the ancient Chinese language is very difficult to translate into other languages, or sometimes even to modern Chinese. I will write the specific parts that inspire me in its original Chinese form, and then interpret their meaning useful for kendo. 

I believe that, from these writings, you will understand where all those kendo idioms and sayings that you have read or have been told by your Sensei come from. And by reading them, you get a more comprehensive understanding of what "ideal" kendo is, and the philosophy behind it. Most importantly, as stressed in Taoism, one's understanding cannot be imposed but must come naturally from within. So, once you finish reading, please forget all of them.