Posts from June 2007

Should esoteric knowledge in martial arts be given away?

By Yossi Sheriff

More then twenty years ago one of my teachers told me: “Sheriff, don’t reveal everything to your students”. Such a Japanese thing to say, the proper thing to say would probably be: “tailor your teaching to the student”. Maybe this is what he meant, maybe I misunderstood.

I’ve been thinking about it recently, mainly in the context of my knowledge in martial arts, knowledge that is starting to unfold in our martial arts encyclopedia, the AKBAN-wiki. I thought: “would that teacher be happy with our project?” that’s a big question, I’m not sure, probably not. I know that most of the instructors in AKBAN had doubts about opening up our vast databases. They probably thought about the old Sufi proverb adopted by countless esoteric doctrines: “Knowledge revealed is power lost”.

Probably this is what my teacher was thinking about, maybe he wanted to protect me from loosing power.

I can side with him and raise several other points: some people that have problems with giving, people that actually feel weakened by giving, should not disclose what weakens them. And more, if the receiving party, the student, is not ready for learning, then knowledge should be given only according to his level of being. As we say here: “thou shall not feed steaks to babies”.

If our knowledge, our dear “secret esoteric knowledge” can be found in two clicks in the World Wide Web, then it’s probably not so mysterious, we will not be snitches of the truth; the internet did it for us. (In a separate thread I must add that if a teacher thinks of the student as enemy then he is not suitable for teaching).

This is not the main point, “knowledge revealed is power lost” does not deal with protection of the weak, or preaches abstaining from teaching students that are not ready; It is an absolute, overriding insight, a proverb that belongs to a certain state of mind, the state of mind of those who know.

I did not assume my teacher’s advice. I know the surface of my experience and the volume of the proficiency that stems from it, but I never thought that the knowledge I have is complete, quite the opposite, even in good times I feel lacking in knowledge and correct actions.

In my place and, and I can safely say: all of the instructors of our martial arts school, AKBAN, in this place there is a lot to learn. Our diverse martial knowledge is just scaffolding, a skeleton, upon which new insights can be built. Thus one of the main cornerstones of the AKBAN method is dialogue.

There is immense value in giving away knowledge. Sometimes I don’t know what I will say at the next moment. Speaking, the action of the language, makes magic and creates, in response to the attention of the listener, a new knowledge.

I am addicted to this process, if I must name it I’ll call it “Open end“, just to differentiate it from “Guru-izm”, from a place where someone professes to know some absolute truth. With “Open end” nobody knows what will happen in the next moment, what we will know then. We only know our path. Our path has clear boundaries; it is lined with professionalism, humanity, usability and investigation. We know not were it does lead; instead we emphasize the excitement, the experience of discovery, the sharing of private thoughts with another.

I sat the other day with Navot – a Judo Shodan and an old Akbanaut – to a coffee. Navot is also a top notch patissier and since I like baking I quoted “knowledge revealed is power lost” and we sat there, thinking, how the best cooks and patissiers are willing to reveal knowledge. Pierre Herme teaches in several schools, has apprentices, writes books and of course sometimes appears on television.

Of course, some important parts of what Mr. Herme knows is not transferable, this part is the sum of all what Mr. Herme is plus his somatic knowledge. Maybe this I why he is willing to teach all he can, because he holds the essence, and not only this, he gets back all he gave consciously. These are the mathematics of knowledge.

Knowledge should be given. We will get more knowledge in return. Students will probably need a path, a qualified guide and years of experience to make it work. Bur knowledge should be given.

So the suitable proverb here should be one that I have walked with for many years: “Cast thy bread upon the waters, for thou shalt find it after many days.”

28/06/2007

Harmony with the surrounding

By Gabi Frishlander

In every visit to Sinai, I felt that this desert carries a different and sometimes enchanting flow of life. Good karma goes a long way there. Nir Unger and I were on our way to Muhammad’s family near Santa Katrina, when we met on the beach with an expert on finding water, a real dowser, there by invitation of the Egyptian government. He was invited to help locate water in the arid expanses of Sinai. He was also on his way to meet Muhammad, who is known and respected throughout Sinai. Andre, Nir and I were in a minibus loaded with groceries for the family when it started to drizzle. Water came down from the sky after a dry spell of years. Although not a torrent, the drizzle signified to me that this visit will be extraordinary.

There are states in which we perform well, with accuracy and correctness and there are states in which things are done in true harmony with others and the environment. Not unlike a Jazz jam session or sparring with and old friend, like a song that resonates off distant cliffs or a physical structure which blends with its surroundings and reflects its location.

Shortly before sunset, after tea and a rest from the drive, Muhammad asked Andre the dowser to come down with him to his wadi behind the family’s home. He suspected there was water there and wished to know what Andre thought of it. Andre can describe where the underground water stream starts and ends, he can determine the kind of rock that will be dug up and the salinity of the water below, as well as the depth of the water basin. We went down to the wadi, Muhammad, Andre, Nir, Salah (an old friend of M) and myself with a camera to record the search for water.

After returning to Tel Aviv I was editing the footage while in the background Caetano Veloso was singing “Maria Bonita”. The song somehow felt right for the piece and I simply pasted it into the clip. The result was beautiful. First, I saw how Andre was actually dancing his explanations to Muhammad while sensing the water below in eerie synch to the music. Next I noticed that all persons present (including the cameraman with his pans and zooms) were “dancing” in a kind of non-verbal communication and without audible music, but in a harmony that cannot be ignored.

3 things were common to everyone present there: Firstly, all were types of warriors – Andre having an extensive background in Aikido, Nir in Ninjutsu, Muai Thai and various Chinese internal martial arts, myself and the two Bedouins whose very lives in the desert represented the warrior’s way. Secondly, I think it was a common love of humanity and nature. Thirdly, we were all there to give some kind of service, Andre, Nir and myself to Muhammad and Salah, and vice versa.

Trying to narrow it further, I could say that all were persons connected to themselves. People who feel at peace in their inner homes, whether from living a spiritually clean life in the desert as our two old Bedouin friends, or by learning Maharaji’s meditations (as I did) or through whichever spoke of the wheel they traveled to get to the center.

If we use the wheel as an analogy to life, then outside, furthest away from the center, life is fast and turbulent but closer you get to the center, things slow down. At the very center the movement stops altogether and, in fact, a new reality presents itself, one that is different from the one we are used to experiencing in our daily lives.

The wheel has many spokes leading from outward within. The paths are many but in the center all differences are removed. That is the moment we experienced in this video clip.

24/06/2007

Ithaca

By Konstantinos Kavafis (1863-1933)


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon — do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that
Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)

Â

Translated by Daniel Mendelsohn

Professionalism

Foreword: The list I have compiled is not a definitive explanation of the term, but rather a summation of personal insight.

Characteristics of professionalism

Understanding

There can be no professionalism without an understanding of the field one is in. Among other things, understanding means comprehensive knowledge of the information in the field at hand. There is a need to distinguish between the important issues and the less important ones, as well as having the knowledge of action in order to achieve superior results within the limits of human capabilities.

Noticing the small details

(or insisting on fine tuning)

Even if everyone engaged in a certain field has access to the main boulevard of knowledge and understanding in that field, the difference between a professional and a non-professional, will manifest itself in the ability to insist on small details and nuances. Understanding of these details is the result of noticing an array of details, and the “small details” at that.

Even if the majority of those engaged in the field find it easy to understand or to acknowledge the clear details or basic understandings, only a minority has the urge to act and reach the maximal level of understanding, this is probably due to the high price of doing so (see next paragraph). It must be stressed, that a someone with an understanding will be able to distinguish the important details from the non-important ones only after reviewing all the details at hand, “small details” included, and considered every one of them. Insisting on understanding and executing the small details allows emphasizing important ones, and it is this, which creates the difference between achieving an 80%result and one, which is 90-100%.

It can be said relating to this point that professionalism cannot be taken lightly.

Persistence

There can be no professionalism without persistence. Professionalism cannot be random, passing or limited to a single act, but rather must be consistent and as such, measured over time.

A value that stands for itself

Yet another characteristic of professionalism is seeing it as a value that stands for itself. The urge to act professionally comes from grasping professionalism as an independent value and not as a means for attaining another goal.

The price of professionalism

Investing resources

Much time and many resources are required in order to become professional. Since persistence is necessary, investing resources must be done regularly. What this means, is that in order to be professional, you pay a price by investing many resources that otherwise could have been geared to other things. An example of one main resource is time. Professionalism requires much time that could have been used in a different way, such as spending time with family or friends, doing other hobbies, or just resting.

Reactions from the surroundings

Even if the immediate circle of professionals knows how to appreciate it, many times the broader circle of those who are in the field will have trouble accepting a professional, whether because of envy due to the inability to reach that same level of professionalism (the professionalism of the professional emphasizes a lack of professionalism in others), or because of other reasons.

Due to this, the professional can find himself lonely, since he works according to his professional truth and his professional standards, which may be different from those of people around him. Thus, he may reach different results, conclusions and understandings than those of most people, whether in the same field or not. This difference may lead to a negative attitude of surrounding people towards the professional, and in extreme cases even ignoring or out casting the professional. There seems to be a general human inclination towards conformism, a difficulty accepting ideas and understandings different from popular belief.

This and more: Due to the resources invested by the professional, there will at times be close circles that are not professional – family, for example – that will feel neglected or offended. It must be remembered that most people are not professionals, and so, investing a lot of time and receiving professional results are strange to them, and they are unwilling to pay the price. This does not mean that all of these people are inappreciative of professionalism, though they are not always willing to pay the price required for associating with a professional.

Summary

Understanding, insisting on detail and persistence are characteristics of professionalism as well as the conditions for it. The price of professionalism is investing resources, and, at times, a negative reaction from the surroundings, which may, in extreme cases lead to loneliness.

15/06/2007

Wabi Sabi

By Yossi Sheriff

What is beautiful and what is not? Many years ago, in Greece, a man wrote that beauty derives from something that is perfect. From then on it was made clear that a thing of beauty is that of elegance, symmetry, sometimes something new, sometimes a thing that does not decay, eternal.

Many words have been written since Plato equated beauty with perfection, words that tried to define what fits ideal beauty and what does not. Thus flows a great river of western thought, a current which still propels us today, putting us in the new car, inside clean-cut sky scrapers, admiring tight skin and symmetrical facial features of a young model.

The western ideal of beauty is filled with contradictions and interpretations all leading mainly in the same direction. A certain picture is beautiful in the eyes of the beholder since the clowns’ tear appears so real. The ancient Japanese temple is beautiful to another Platonist beholder due to its symmetrical appearance.

This perspective of what is beautiful and perfect penetrates all venues of life, slipping even into our place, the Dojo, the training area, a never ending confusion begins. Our occupation, walking down the paths of ancient warriors, may become a show, and then it no longer is a practice of fighting, but a performance of western style esthetics, maybe even a nice performance, suitable for the National Geographic Channel.

Even in Japan different opinions exist regarding beauty, but a different way of thought exists as well, a way in which simplicity is not equal to asceticism but to that which is natural.
The origin of this esthetic thought lies in Zen Buddhism, and from there it penetrated several other disciplines, even the tea drinking ceremony. Morata Juko, a Zen Manara priest, stopped the then popular use of fine (and imported) chinaware in the tea ceremony. A century later, Sen-no-Rikio (1522-1591), a master in the tea ceremony for the infamous Hidioshi, created a new kind of tea house resembling a peasant’s house: rough mud walls and plain wooden beams. Parallel with the perfect Chinese decoration, San-no-Riko presented, with the same degree of esthetic importance, crude pottery made by local craftsmen.

In this competition over “who will decorate the room with imported paintings” and “who will buy walls coated in golden leaves” – these two masters looked at things in a fresh perspective and created something old. They created a new form of esthetics: Wabi-Sabi.

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term, which since then has received many meanings: old, natural, imperfect, worn down, blunt, rough, etc. This new-old concept of Wabi-Sabi, of “beauty”, had its affect on many things.

Pottery made in this manner are not always symmetrical, they don’t have to shine. They have a natural quality about them that improves with time. Thus, the aging of matter adds to the beauty, something that becomes more beautiful with time.

I have an old T-shirt, which has already been to several “24” training and to tens of morning practices at the beach, full of holes, faded. To me it’s Wabi-Sabi. And the mythical AKBAN teapot, burned, black, full of smoke from many campfires, its handle fixed with wire, dented – it too is Wabi-Sabi. Every year that passes, every tea leaf that has been in it only adds to its beauty.

Not every old and ruined object is Wabi-Sabi, a purposeful interference is needed, awareness to the beauty of what is going to end (awareness, intent, ability to execute, without these there is no Do).

I especially like the story of Rikio’s entrance exam for Jo-o: When Jo-o asked Rikio to clean and prepare the yard, covered with fallen leaves, Rikio raked the yard perfectly, and then, just before the teacher arrived, grabbed the branch of the tree above the yard and shook it so that some leaves fell to the ground. That too is Wabi-Sabi.

Sometimes I look at the faces of some of the veterans in the Irgun, and see the beginning of creases made by the hardships and by the sun, see the smile lines around the eyes, and I think: this too is Wabi-Sabi, Wabi-Sabi people.

On the wall in the old Dojo in Kiriat Shaul some nails were sticking out of the walls, under which long lines of rust were seen against the white walls, right behind the Bamboo planted by my teacher. The beauty of wearing out, aging, imperfection.

I contribute as well, when sometimes, rarely, a technique comes out too perfect, I spread a few leaves, change my breathing a little, maybe slightly trip at the end of a throw. Just in order not to fall into the trap of the new, the polished and the perfect.

Around all of us, everything is not perfect, intentionally not finished, intimate, natural, and very beautiful in my eyes: the techniques, old sword’s scabbard, my T-shirt filled with holes, the people.

Slowly slowly – our organization turns Wabi-Sabi.

07/06/2007