Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

On Preserving Ancient Knowldege

Below is an excerpt from Ichijoji on translating and decrypting old martial arts documentation from the distant past. The whole article my be read here.

As the translator of a collection of old works on swordsmanship, the question of what can we actually learn from these kinds of works is close to my heart. Of course, they have an intrinsic value for those with historical bent, but what we can learn beyond that, whether they contain anything that we can utilise in our own lives and practice is one that, I suspect, is at the back of many readers' minds.

Some of the works in this, and related, genre have certainly stood the test of time and achieved a canonical status. Sun Tzu's The Art of War, in particular has been read widely - for perhaps two thousand years, in fact, and in the late twentieth century, Miyamoto Musashi's Gorin no Sho achieved a wide international readership. This is despite (or perhaps because of) the vagueness or lack of precise detail that allows a variety of interpretations. Though these kinds of works conjure up a feeling, an image of knowledge,  they do not always deliver on their promise, remaining tantalizingly vague and frequently obscure.

So to rephrase the question above, perhaps what we should be asking is whether they contain more than these vague and attractive generalisations, some core of 'deep' knowledge?

If the answer to this is 'yes', we should then ask if we can access that knowledge. With a work like Sun Tzu, the range of notes and interpretations, stretching back a very long way, tell us that not only have many seen it as a valuable work, but that it is one that invites, and perhaps requires, explanation.

The same questions may also be asked of other works. One of the enduring attractions of Musashi's Gorin no sho is the fact that he was a superlative swordsman. The practical value of his work may depend on our ability to interpret it, but Musashi's ability seems to stand as surety of the riches it contains, making it worth the effort to study what he wrote.

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