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