When I was a young man of around 16 years of age, my Uncle (who introduced me to Martial Arts) gave a gift of slightly yellowed, handwritten pages of philosophical snippets; something that I have cherished ever since. He told me that he was lending them to me to help me with my philosophical development, as well as the physical. I treated these pages as gingerly as possible, almost as thought it was a revered, onion-paper manuscript; they were irreplaceable, and I would have to return them someday!
I remember reading them and wondering what these little snippets meant, how they related to “Kung Fu”, and why my Uncle was giving them to me at that time. I mean, I was a teenager and had been training in Karate for quite a few years by the time he had given these pages to me, so I’d already been exposed to a myriad of Japanese ideas about the ‘Self’, combat, and the way of the warrior; so when he gave me these pages, I had already formulated my opinion on them… and, considering that I was a teenager, of course I was “right” and no other opinion would sway my own.
By the time that I had read these pages in their entirety, my thoughts did change – as did my opinions. And every time that I read them, or spend any time reviewing them, I find that I reveal another layer of understanding… As a teenager, this was extremely beneficial – My mind opened up, even just a little bit at a time, as I explored the sayings within my own worldview. I explored each saying in various detail, sometimes spending a week on some while maybe a couple of hours on others. This wasn’t really problematic as I have re-read them many times, and I’m sure that the amount of time on each has equalized over the years.
Before the age of the computer, I had to make sure that I wouldn’t lose these pages (as I thought my Uncle would want them back), so I transcribed the original papers… And then I realized that this was one of the ways that I was able to study them – I so did this at least eight times, always keeping the originals safe in a folder because I wanted to make sure that I could give them back to my Uncle when he asked for them. and reading the transcription whenever I felt the need, and in so doing I found great help at times through the difficult and trying times in my life. It’s interesting – these pages consoled me through some really difficult times…
The wisdom of the sages is truly timeless, as I (a young man in ‘modern times’) was still able to find wisdom and comfort, assistance and advice, and solace in the words of men who had predeceased me by centuries… if not millennia. I am going to say, if you’ve never studied philosophy or the like, that the concepts of historical and cultural relativism are rampant through these pages – which isn’t something that I had originally been able to apply. That being said, these points of wisdom stood on their own merits when I was younger, and have taken on a more comprehensive review as I was able to study the culture and time that they came from. Keep this in mind: The wisdom in these pages is dependent on the reader’s insights into their own world around them. As with most religious and ‘self-help’ texts, the understanding of the reader is the discerning and deciding factor as to whether or not these statements hold any water in modern times, and experience will influence how you read these. As I had read and re-read, transcribed and re-transcribed these words over the years (now decades) and furthered both my Martial Arts and academic studies, I have come to certain insights. This is why I will be offering some of my original thoughts, the history and background of the writing, as well as my reviewed interpretations of the statement.
The foremost revelation was how the term “Kung Fu” is thought of – generally people assume it is the Martial Art, but this isn’t true. An artist, potter, baker, cook, and landscaper can have good Kung Fu, which leads to the literal translation – that of being good at something. The predominantly theme in this case is that good Kung Fu comes from being a good person, and potentially developing in to a good person who helps others as much as, if not more than, yourself. This is from the Confucian concept of “Ren” (pronounced ‘run’, and means “Humanity/Human-ness”), which is throughout the text in the concept of “the superior man”.
I’m not going to say that my insights are gospel, but it is my hope that my insights can help others to formulate theirs, and hopefully take the wisdom of the ages and bring it into the modern age. All times have been modern, and every subsequent ‘modernity’ should strive to be the best of all of the past, and make the future a better place.
I would argue that, although technology and social styles have changed, our drives and desires haven’t differed by much – the human animal has not changed much throughout the ages.
Our views on how to treat others has changed a little though, but sometimes I wonder which generation or culture could be considered “better”, if not even just in piecemeal aspect over the whole concepts of interpersonal relationships.
That being said, the pages that I received from my Uncle and Martial Arts mentor spurred me on a quest of self-discovery that has spanned over 20 years. I am by no means an expert, nor am I a sage, but in the pages that follow will be my experiences and revelations, coupled with some academic comparisons and investigation that (I hope), will do both justice to the texts, and the nature of the teachings while helping the reader see the world in a brighter light.
This thread will discuss these snippets in the order they are on the page – thus the numbering – which is in no apparent or obvious philosophical order – the classic Asian philosophers (Confucius, Mencius, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, etc.) will interlace throughout the work.
For the most part, this will be an experiential work that I hope to share with you, to help you in your own training… or even your every day lives. My aim is to help open your mind to another (read “Non-Western”) way of thinking, even if you are or have already been exposed to some of the content. I’m hoping for a dialogue or the opening of conversation between East and West just a little further, the broadening of our horizons, and keeping the soil of our minds freshly tilled and capable of supporting all sorts of thought crops rather than allowing our minds to stagnate and kill off different crops before they’ve had a chance.
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