On The Shoulders of Giants

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

-John Adams, 1780

As a parent, I’ve come to a greater appreciation for the sentiment in John Adams’ letter to his wife.  We do what we must to provide a good life for our children, and we try to give them more than we had, just as our parents did for us, our grandparents did for them, and so on back through the ages. With a little historical perspective we see that humans have been highly successful. Historical perspective also helps us not lose sight of the traits that led to that success.

Since the 18th century, life has gotten better. The global life expectancy has more than doubled – from around 30 years to nearly 70. Literacy rates exploded from under 20% to almost 100%! A little closer to home, consider the early pioneers of this country. Our trials and tribulations pale in comparison to the hardships they faced as a matter of course. Imagine what the Donner Party would think of Interstate 80 today; 30,000+ vehicles cross over the Sierra-Nevadas without incident almost every single day. Through scientific understanding, technological advancement, democratic institutions, and free-market economics we have transformed our world into a much more hospitable one.

Surely we have achieved what John Adams aspired to. Current generations now have the luxury to study “Painting, Poetry, and Musick.” We also have immediate access 24/7 to safe drinking water, flush toilets, medicine, and just about every food imaginable. Indeed, most of us are so far removed from any real struggle, that it’s easy to take what we have for granted.

The conveniences of our modern life allow us to become soft and weak. This is why training in a martial art like Brazilian Jiujitsu is so important. BJJ is the perfect activity for helping develop and nurture strength and resilience of mind, body, and spirit. On the mat we learn to push our limits, to remain calm under pressure, and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. We learn to accept defeat as an opportunity for growth, and to be gracious in victory. BJJ conditions us to be hard and strong.

“We [the Moderns] are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants [the Ancients], and thus we are able to see more and farther than the latter. And this is not at all because of the acuteness of our sight or the stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of the giants.”

attributed to Bernard of Chartres by John of Salisbury

As we enjoy the benefits of the world past generations helped create, it’s important that we do not lose sight of their accomplishments, and the hardships endured to get to where we are. We must be diligent in passing onto our children an appreciation of what it means to live in this era, to have gratitude for all that they have, and to value the traits that enabled our ancestors to get us here. That past should stand as testament to the strength and resilience that lies within each of us. Indeed, our children have the right to study the arts, but not at the expense of mathematics, science, or philosophy. They must also study history, politics, and war, in order to continue the tradition of passing on a better world to the next generation.

See you on the mat.

Steel Sharpens Steel

The age-old maxim “steel sharpens steel,” or “iron sharpens iron” embodies the simple premise that we grow stronger when we surround ourselves with others who are strong. More modern sages tell us to associate with like-minded people, at least in regards to goals, and people who have already succeeded in achieving those goals.

“…avoid the negative influences of other people and surround yourself with successful people who will encourage you to pursue your dreams.” -Zig Ziglar, Born to Win: Find Your Success Code

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins puts it succinctly, “Who you spend time with is who you become.”

In the martial arts this is paramount. As a BJJ practitioner one pursues not only strength, conditioning, mental acuity, and emotional toughness, but more effective methods of combat. While one could conceivably build the first four traits on their own, having a partner and/or coach will greatly facilitate their growth. Developing effective combat techniques, however, simply cannot be accomplished without great training partners.

It is important for each of us to remember that while we’re putting in our time on the mat, working our butts off to achieve our own personal victories, that we’re also there for our training partners. We need one another in order to get where we’re headed. The more like-minded, goal-oriented people we can surround ourselves with, the better.

“Proximity is power… Who you spend time with is who you become.” – Tony Robbins

See you on the mats.

Honor

The group of warriors, locked in the throes of battle, are focused on the task at hand, oblivious to the world around them. Each individual is fighting his or her own battles, pushing the limits of their strength, their endurance, and their spirit. Simultaneously they are playing the ultimate game of chess, as they try to outwit their opponent, and develop their own strategic game on the mat. The solitude of the room is broken only by the occasional “tap, tap, tap,” and the eventual ring of the timer. At the end of class, they circle up, and with a bow, recite their motto, “Força e Honra,” Strength and Honor before shaking hands with, and thanking, their training partners.

Honor is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “a showing of usually merited respectrecognition.” We honor our instructor, our school, and our teammates through our appreciation. We respect Professor Cassio for his accomplishments as a competitor, his guidance as an instructor, and his example as a family man. We support our school and our teammates as part of that honor, showing up to train, contributing our own “blood, sweat, and tears” to the process of helping make each individual better. We honor our teammates, for we share the common understanding of the trials and tribulations we all experience on the mat.

Merriam-Webster also defines honor as, “a keen sense of ethical conduct: integrity.” There have been various attempts to codify ethical conduct, none more apropos than those coming from the warrior communities of the U.S. Marine Corps and Jiu Jitsu’s own Bushido heritage.

As per the U.S. Marine Corps website,

“Honor <sic> is the bedrock of our character. It is the quality that empowers Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior: to never lie, cheat, or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; to respect human dignity; and to have respect and concern for each other. It represents the maturity, dedication, trust, and dependability that commit Marines to act responsibly, be accountable for their actions, fulfill their obligations, and hold others accountable for their actions.”

The Bushido of the Samurai was a code of conduct which evolved over the centuries. Earlier versions include The Hagakura, and The Book of Five Rings. These codes were eventually  paraphrased, so to speak, as The Eight Virtues of Bushido by Nitobe Inazō in his book Bushido: The Soul of Japan.

  • Righteousness ( gi)
  • Heroic Courage ( )
  • Benevolence, Compassion ( jin)
  • Respect ( rei)
  • Integrity ( makoto)
  • Honour (名誉 meiyo)
  • Duty and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)
  • Self-Control (自制 jisei)

As martial artists we train for the love of the art, to make ourselves stronger, for fun, and for the camaraderie. We pay homage to these ideals after every workout, with the intent of making them a part of our lives. They espouse something greater than ourselves; something to live up to. Just as warriors, both past and present, we too live by a code. Força e Honra.

See you on the mat!