The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, April 23, 2007

Philosophy Practiced is the Goal of Learning


How We Live Our Lives Is Our Philosophy
Philosophy Practiced

"Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning."
Thoreau

A useful teaching method used at the School of Cultivation and Practice is to organize our activities according to Yan Gao Fei's theoretical hierarchy:

philosophy-> principles->applications-> form

From the philosophy of one's art, comes the principles. The applications in turn are derived from the principles, and subsequently manifest themselves in the form.

I think it might be helpful to say a few things about philosophy.

"How we live our lives is our philosophy."
Rick Matz

We can intellectually be drawn to the ideas of a given philosophy. If we feel strongly in the truthfulness or utility of a philosophy we will order our lives to be in alignment with that philosophy, and actually become a living example of it. It doesn't commonly work that way though.

"Words mean exactly what I want them to mean, neither more nor less."
Lewis Carroll

I know countless people who consider themselves Christians, for example, but don't in any way, outside of attending church rituals (and sometimes not even that!) adhere to the teachings of Christ. In fairness, the same could be said of so many who consider themselves Taoists, Buddhists, pagans, pacifists, liberals, conservatives, or whatever. We tend to want to adopt a philosophy of life, and then bend it to what "we want." If that's what you're going to do, that's just hijacking the name of someone else's philosophy. If you're not living it, you're not doing it.

It's been said elsewhere, with regards to the classics of a given martial art, that people tend to bend the classics to what they are doing; rather than change what they are doing to reflect the classics. I'm saying the same thing in a larger sense.

I submit that it doesn't matter whose books you can quote from memory, or what society collects yours dues; your philosophy is exhibited by how you live your life. Quoting someone doesn't necessarily reflect you our own knowledge that is held deep within you.

How one lives is worth examining. How else can we derive principles, create applications, etc? In doing this each of us creates our own art after our own image. It becomes uniquely ours, and is a Natural Boxing in the truest sense.

Having said that, if you really understand your own philosophy of life, you can draw on the works of others freely. The work of those who have come before us is a storehouse of tools and knowledge that we can draw upon. We create our lives, but there is no need to recreate the wheel.

Is one's philosophy a fixed and unchanging thing? No. You live and grow. You learn. Life is a process, and so is one's philosophy. The way I conducted my life 20 years ago is so much different that the way I do today. One's art grows and changes. Look at films of the founder of Aikido when he was a young man, and when he was older. You're not just witnessing an increase in his skill, you are seeing his deepening understanding of his philosophy of life.

"We should think for ourselves. Tell us more."
The Life of Brian

A tricky thing about one's philosophy is that it can't be forced. For a philosophy to be authentic, it must well up unhindered from one's inner being. To force one's philosophy into a given shape is just riveting on some armor. This would be a philosophy hijacking the individual; forcing one to behave and think in certain ways.

"One should clean out a room in one's home and place only a tea table and a chair in the room with some boiled water and fragrant tea. Afterwards, sit solitarily and allow one's spirit to become tranquil, light, and natural."
Li Ri Hua, a Ming Dynasty scholar

So what to do? Just as the air that we breathe, and the food that we eat provides us with input that our body puts to use; our reading, or discussions, and our daily activities are our inputs into our individual systems of philosophy. What we do with all these inputs is to ... relax; and like a cup of tea, steep to attain the flavor of our lives. The outcome will be reflected in the way we live our lives.

We do not learn kung fu, we practice it.

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