The Kansha Controversy

If you do a word search on the titles, keywords and quotations in the articles I have written over the last few years you will see, month by month, who has been inspired by what I have written: who has republished it, or who has changed some words, reordered the ideas and posted it as their own. 

Rainbow over makiwara

My job is to elevate the practice of martial arts. Not to get credit for it. When I find an important point that is useful, I share it with friends and other martial artists.  If people pick it up and make use of it to improve their martial arts and deepen their lives then that is a good thing.

In the front of our dojo is a calligraphy that says Kansha – Gratitude.  This may seem like a platitude that everyone can agree with and forget. It turns out, it is not. It is controversial. It is a challenge.

The characteristic quality of human life is dissatisfaction. People want what they don’t have. Addicts are an extreme case, but the ordinary condition in this world is continual wanting. More. Better. Different. Continual “improvement” is not always what it seems.

Some things are good to pursue. Good training, good work, good family life. But there are a lot of appealing things out there that will hurt you while you chase them and hurt you when you get them.

It can be hard to know what to pursue. It makes people crazy. It makes people do wrong. And still, they can’t be satisfied. What’s the remedy? Be passive? Slack? Accept injustice, harm, indignity?

Some people feel sure that gratitude will make them weak.  

We are encouraged by pop culture – advertising, public figures, business, media, entertainment – to affirm our vitality with envy, desire, pleasure, and anger, and to seek validation in notoriety and status.  Which leads where? Where do we look to find the happy few who have grasped that golden ring? After the pleasurable sensations are gone, where is the evidence that all that leads to anything but more churn, more yearning, more discontent, more of the same, or worse?

In Kansha II I made the point that in the hands of a master no material is useless. Everything can be used. Even difficulty. Even what seems trivial. Even the unwanted or inconvenient or painful or unexpected. Even one’s work, by others.

We all make use of other people’s work, all the time. We usually do not acknowledge it. We don’t even notice it: The language we speak. The heat and light in our houses. Our houses. And our cars, clothes, katas and computers. Even our values. Who do we thank for all of that? Should we only assign blame?

If we are strong and do the right thing, the right kind of credit will come. If we are generous, treat others well, keep our cool under pressure and provocation, persevere in what is right despite difficulty and distraction, develop a calm clear mind and speak the truth, credit is automatic. No need to seek it from somewhere or someone. It is built in. 

It is our job to make the most of our lives. 

We are not “grateful” to be treated with disrespect. We are grateful for the chance to live with dignity. We are not “grateful” to be targets. We appreciate the opportunity to take care of ourselves and the people who depend on us. 

We are grateful for the good things and good friends we have. But also, we can appreciate difficult challenges, and use them to refine our lives. We are grateful to have opponents who will test our skills, who do not take it easy. We can be grateful even for powerful adversaries we can engage and defeat.  

We are grateful for the chance to provide something of value for our families and neighbors, and everyone else whose lives we touch.  

To make the world a little better when we leave it than it was when we entered won’t make us weak. That will make us strong.  We can all be grateful for that.


Post and photo copyright © 2020 Jeffrey M. Brooks and Mountain Karate Dojo, L.L.C.

Kansha II – second in the series

Gratitude – first in the series

The Good Fight – The Virtue and Values of the Martial Arts, by Jeff Brooks, now available in paperback and Kindle edition

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