Saturday, 7 September 2013

Open-mindedness is very dangerous

Most people I know think they’re open-minded. Of course, they’re not. Being open-minded is extremely dangerous, and few are really that courageous.

Some avoid karatedō because they fear that they might get a nose broken or a rib cracked. These are legitimate concerns. I’ve had six ribs fractured and one of my toes sticks out at an odd angle after being broken. While a good dōjō is strives to keep its members from getting hurt, any karate that is completely safe is no longer a combative enterprise, and therefore ceases to be karate at all. Aerobic kickboxing can be a safe and enjoyable way to improve one’s fitness, with no more risk than skipping rope. But it’s not a martial art, by any means, and it’s certainly not karatedō. The danger inherent in fighting and trusting one’s partner to stop a potential crippling strike an inch away from your face is integral to the way of karate. But such physical risks pale in comparison to the much more serious danger of open-mindedness.

Karate requires a pliancy and patience unlike and more severe than most pursuits available in the West. Karatedō is steeped in the traditions and ways of Japan. It draws on Shintō, Zen, Taoism, Confucianism, and esoteric Buddhism, as well as ancient values and mores from the feudal Japanese battlefield. The cultural axioms of the West do not apply. Anyone wishing to study karatedō seriously has to be open to differences that can be both perplexing and challenging.

Yet while that openness is difficult, it’s not very dangerous in itself. The real danger of karatedō actually stems from something it and the West have in common: teaching. Sometimes teaching is lauded as a means to achieve your dreams: work hard, get educated, and you can become a doctor. But this is teaching understood as giving you knowledge or tools. That can be a very good thing. The real power and danger of teaching, however, is that it can do so much more. It can change who you are, fundamentally; it can change you into someone who sees and thinks and feels in completely new ways. Such sweeping transformation is never predictable. You may think you know who you are now, but you cannot know, with any certainty, the person you will become after experiencing a very good teacher. But you won’t be the same.

And this is the aim of karatedō. Not to change anyone according to very specific blueprint, so that s/he is molded in predetermined ways into some predetermined pattern. But because the aim of karatedō is to make one humbler, quieter, calmer, stronger, and gentler, in deep and underlying ways, one cannot remain the same. So the genuine danger is that you are expected to lose who you are right now. You are expected to lose yourself. That is not a loss that many are willing to undertake. Yet that is the loss that being genuinely open-minded always makes possible: to be taught to be different.

This is the demand of karatedō, which is much more a way of teaching than it is a way of fighting or self-defense or getting fit. You need to be open-minded enough to be taught to lose yourself. And, thereby, gain a way and a world much, much bigger than yourself or any individual.

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