War and Peace

“The civil is the inner principal and the martial arts is the outer principle. Outer technique without inner principle is simply the brute courage of physical strength. However, when one is no longer in his prime, bullying an opponent will not work. Those who possess inner principle without outer technique, who think only of the arts of quietism and know nothing of the practice of combat, are lost as soon as they commit the slightest error. Whether for practical pursuits or simply the way of being a human being, how dare we neglect the two worlds – civil and martial?’

“The Meaning of Civil and Martial in T’ai-chi” translated by Douglas Wile, from his wonderful book T’ai-chi Touchstones: Yang Family Secret Traditions, revised edition, Chapter VI, page 87. (These observations apply, without modification, to karate.)

In decadent times it’s not hard to be insulated from the demands of risk and reward. Evading challenge is considered a good racket. Eliminating risk – in personal relationships, financial investments, bureaucratic decision making – becomes a way of life, when there is enough wealth to cover it up, and enough cultural complicity to conceal or overlook the evasion.

But this condition will not last. It never does. It has been tried many times.

It was taken for granted in years gone by that a cultivated person would cultivate their inner and outer life. A cultivated person felt a duty to the people around him. An ambition not just to rise, not just to be prominent, but to have a good effect.

To make good decisions took wisdom. To act on them took skill. Wisdom and skill work together to make things work. To achieve wisdom and master skills takes a life of honest striving.

People, left uncultivated, suffer and cause harm. The example is all around us: In the endless turbulent sound of traffic, the ads on your phone, the voices of the folks on the screens in the office repeating what they heard.

Martial artists can observe and remedy this decay. We can unite inner and outer cultivation in our own lives. It is not a matter of speculation for us. We train it. We know from experience we can neither rely on brutality, or deny its existence. We cannot hide in representation or in  language; but we need to use them well.

You can give peace a chance all day long, but when you need to fight for your life, or your friends or family, you will need to be a warrior.

You can intimidate normal people all you want, like a biker gang at a rest stop on the interstate. But when your kid gets sick or needs to learn you’ll need a fallback position. You will want to know what to do.

Martial artists learn the truth of this. You do not need to be Chinese, or ancient, or do an internal martial art or be a grand master. You need to be a grown up.

People have asked why we write about brutal techniques. People have asked why we spend time on systems and symbols and arcane philosophy from long ago. It’s for the same reason that there are all those octaves on the piano. The same reason spring and autumn are part of a package. The same reason dimorphism has always been so popular.

The seamless unity of bun and bu – the civil and the martial – and the wisdom and skill to transition between them or to use them as one, nourishes life and is the mechanism of the cultivation of the heart and mind.

This unity is the sound of all of us working together every day, in the dojo and beyond, to do what urgently needs to be done.

This is what karate is for. That is what empty hands are for. This is the aim and form of our training.


Featured image “Bun Bu” by Zen master and Goju Ryu karate master Sakiyama Sogen Roshi, given to me. “Bun” is “the civil” and “Bu” is “the martial.”

Closing image “Bun Bu Ryo Do” by Sensei Ryuhei Taneya, former Sensei of Japanese national kendo champions. (“Ryo Do” means “both ways” – this says Bun Bu Ryo Do – the way of the civil and the martial.

Post © 2019 by Jeffrey Brooks, Author of “The Good Fight”

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