Philosophy & Martial Arts – The ramblings of a senile mind

Written by Sue. Posted in Black Belt Research Project 2013

Philosophy & Martial Arts

Susan Pogmore

FOURTH REPORT

The remaining subtopics are:

1)      What, if any, is the relationship between philosophy and Marital Arts in today’s society?

2)       Karate is often said to be ‘Moving Zen’. Why?

I am not really in a position to tackle either of these yet, so this report is an update, although to be honest, I think it would be fair to describe it as ramblings of a senile mind. See what you think.

There was once a time when karate was nothing more to me than an after school activity for the kids. A physical pursuit, with social interaction, that I thought would help my girls to be better rounded individuals – discipline, concentration, co-ordination, and learning the art of self defence.

Why did I start karate? Well if you ask my husband, he’ll tell you I was talked into it by the sensei, but I think I’d already become hooked before I even stepped onto the mats. I had been watching the girls’ lessons for 6 months and I was quite literally absorbing it from the sidelines.

For some people karate is no more than a means to physical fitness, or a competitive sport and for some the goal is to be a formidable opponent on the street. Karate at face value if you will, no personal journey of enlightenment attached.

 

Max Planck, the originator of the Quantum Theory and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1918 said             “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change”

 

 

Tadashi Nakamura wrote in his book The Human Face of Karate in 1988

“I have been pained by extremist beliefs that maintain that modern-day karate in Japan is made up of only brute force and strength, and by the trend that holds this to be an overriding principle. Present-day karate has been made into too much of a competitive sport, too much like a game and is overly commercialised.”

 

“Karate is not something with which to win a competition, nor is it something just to make a strong exponent stronger still, on a much larger scale it teaches the way of humanity. It is something that enables people to learn karate to further develop their character; thus each person is able to make a marvellous contribution to society.

Technique rather than force, spirit rather than technique. Sincerity is the way if heaven. Making this a sincere belief is the way of mankind.”

 

So the question that springs to mind is who is right?

I think the answer is BOTH, because every single person on this planet is unique and so are our experiences and therefore our viewpoints. And that is the basic element that makes philosophy so fascinating and so complicated.

To illustrate my point I found this eBook called Project Gutenberg’s The Problems of Philosophy, by Bertrand Russell.

“Is there any knowledge in the world which is so certain that no reasonable man could doubt it? This question, which at first sight might not seem difficult, is really one of the most difficult that can be asked. When we have realised the obstacles in the way of a straightforward and confident answer, we shall be well launched on the study of philosophy – for philosophy is merely the attempt to answer such ultimate questions, not carelessly and dogmatically, as we do in ordinary life and even in sciences, but critically, after exploring all that makes such questions puzzling, and after realising all the vagueness and confusion that underlie our ordinary ideas.

In daily life, we assume as certain many things which, on closer scrutiny, are found to be so full of apparent contradictions that only a great amount of thought enables us to know what it is that we really may believe. In search for certainty, it is natural to begin with our present experiences, and in some sense; no doubt, knowledge is to be derived from them. But any statement as to what it is that our immediate experiences make us know is very likely to be wrong. It seems to me that I am now sitting in a chair, at a table of a certain shape, on which I see sheets of paper with writing or print. By turning my head I see out of the window buildings and clouds and the sun. I believe that the sun is about ninety-three million miles from the earth; that it is a hot globe of many times bigger that the earth; that, owing to the earth’s rotation, it rises every morning, and will continue to do so for an indefinite time in the future. I believe that, if any other normal person comes into my room, he will see the same chairs and tables and books and papers as I see, and that the table which I see is the same as the table which I feel pressing against my arm. All this seems to be so evident as to be hardly worth stating, except in answer to a man who doubts whether I know anything. Yet all this may be reasonable doubted, and all of it requires much careful discussion before we can be sure that we have state it in a form that is wholly true.

To make our difficulties plain, let us concentrate our  attention on the table. To the eye it is oblong, brown and shiny, to the touch it is smooth and cool and hard; when I tap it, it gives out a wooden sound. Anyone else who sees and feels and hears the table will agree with this description, so that it might seem as if no difficulty would arise; but as soon as we try to be more precise our troubles begin. Although I believe that the table is ‘really’ of the same colour all over, the parts that reflect the light look much brighter than the other parts, and some parts look white because of reflected light. I know that, if I move, the parts that reflect the light will be different, so that the apparent distribution of colours on the table will change. It follows that if several people are looking at the table at the same moment, no two of them will see exactly the same distribution of colours, because no two can see it from exactly the same point of view, and any change in the point of view makes some change in the way the light is reflected. For most practical purposes these differences are unimportant, but to the painter they are all-important: the painter has to unlearn the habit of thinking that things seem to have the colour which common sense says they ‘really’ have, and to learn the habit of seeing things as they appear. Here we have already the beginning of one of the distinctions that cause most trouble in philosophy – the distinction between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’, between what things seem to be and what they are. The painter wants to know what things seem to be, the practical man and the philosopher want to know what they are; but the philosopher’s wish to know this is stronger than the practical man’s, and is more troubled by the knowledge as to the difficulties of answering the question.

To return to the table. It is evident from what we have found, that there is no colour which pre-eminently appears to be the colour of the table, or even of any on particular part of the table – it appears to be of different colours from different points of view, and there is no reason for regarding some of these as more really its colour than others. And we know that even from a given point of view the colour will seem different by artificial light, or to a colour-blind man, or to a man wearing blue glasses, while in the dark there will be no colour at all, though to touch and hearing the table will be unchanged. This colour is not something inherent in the table, but something depending upon the table and the spectator and the way the light falls on the table. When in ordinary life, we speak of the colour of the table, we only mean the sort of colour which it will seem to have to a normal spectator from an ordinary point of view under usual conditions of light. But the other colours which appear under other conditions have just as much right to be considered real; and therefore, to avoid favouritism, we are compelled to deny that, in itself, the table has any one particular colour. 

The same thing applies to the texture. With the naked eye one can see the grain, but otherwise the table looks smooth and even. If we looked at it through a microscope, we should see roughness’s and hills and valleys, and in all sorts of differences that are imperceptible to the naked eye. Which of these is the ‘real’ table? We are naturally tempted to say that what we see through the microscope if more real, but that in turn would be changed by an ever more powerful microscope. If, then we cannot trust what we see with the naked eye, why should we trust what we see through the microscope?  Thus, again, the confidence of our senses with which we began deserts us.

 

The shape of the table is no better. We are all in the habit of judging as to the ‘real’ shapes of things, and we do this so unreflecting that we come to think we actually see the real shapes. But, in fact, as 

we all have to learn if we try to draw, a given thing looks different in shape from every different point of view. If our table is ‘really’ rectangular, it will look, from almost all view points, as if it had two acute angles and two obtuse angles. If opposite side are parallel, they will look as if they converged to a point away from the spectator; if they are of equal length, they will look as if the nearer side were longer. All of these things are not commonly noticed in looking at a table, because experience has taught us to construct the ‘real’ shape from the apparent shape, and the ‘real’ shape is what interests us as practical men. But the ‘real’ shape is not what we see; it is something inferred from what we see. And what we see is constantly changing in shape as we move around the room; so that here again 

the senses seem not to give us the truth about the table itself, but only about the appearance of the table.”

I will spare you the rest of the text; I think this brief snippet is a very good indication of just how complicated the nature of philosophy can get. I had to read through it several times to fully absorb the complexities and was left feeling quite drained.

My own interpretation of philosophy goes something like this:

Philosophy is vague in its attempt to be precise; it’s incredibly personal and ever changing.

It’s about interpretation and viewpoint and as everyone is totally unique, and no two viewpoints will ever be exactly the same, philosophy is infinite in its absoluteness.

It can be immense fun and it can also give you a BIG HEADACHE.

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