Verse 68 of the Tao Te Ching struck me (so to speak 🙂 ) this morning:
In ancient days, the good soldier was not violent.
The good fighter indulged no rage.
Skilled conquerors engaged no enemy.
The best leaders exercised humility.
This is called the virtue of not contending.
This is called employing the powers of others.
This is called complying with nature’s ancient perfection.
(I recently bought this version–translation by Sam Hamill, illustrated by Kazuaki Tanahashi, published by Shambhala.)
I like this a lot, and it really resonates with me. There’s definitely a resonance with some of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, of course. And, as well, the Tao brought to life: Aikido.
I think I first read it years ago. All of my life, I’ve been in contact and/or combat sports. Frankly–I love to fight! It’s generally a joyous experience for me. How can that be? I’m generally known as “a peacemaker” by many friends and family. What is with this seeming contradiction?
The answer, of course, is this verse of the Tao (not withstanding a lot of Christian tradition, too, mind you…).
I’ve never been in a bar brawl, for instance, or really any kind of civilian simple fighting. If I love to fight, why? Because, a) even if I get angry, I don’t hate, and because if you don’t hate, then b) you feel responsible and the need to refrain from fighting because there is a good chance you could really hurt someone. You just don’t know–professional fighters are medically cleared, and still could die from the sport. Let alone some random person who may have a heart attack with a quick punch to the solar plexus, or an embolism ready to pop when you slam your forearm to the side of the head.
I don’t want to be responsible for that. So, instead, I practice with friends, and we have fun and learn stuff (and it’s been a while for that, and I miss it). But fortunately I have my fencing, which is a great use of this verse.
Fencing is incredibly vigorous, yet is one of the safest sports. You totally get that combat rush, but it for me it’s almost contradictorily in a spirit of cooperation, because even though on the surface I appear to be competing, in my mind we are partners trying to improve each other. Especially with the students at the college right now, it’s very much in the spirit of training; I just amp up or dial down my intensity depending on the skill of the student. And then we try to diagnose what happened and how to improve. So much fun.
Now, there’s so much more to this verse of the Tao than this, but this is a good starting point.
To end on a more real life note, one of the sayings I’ve read or heard at some point that really stuck with me: “A soldier doesn’t fight because he hates what’s in front of him, but rather because he loves what’s behind him.” I’ll have to look that up and see where that first came from. I really like it and I think it descends nicely from the spirit of this verse of the Tao.