If you don’t have a copy of “Bubishi” as translated by Patrick McCarthy, I highly recommend that you get a copy of this book. There is much in this book that can be applied to any martial art. This is a fascinating read. Among my favorite sections in this book are maxims by a Sun Zi. In particular, I am drawn to this, on page 161 of my copy:

1. Know both yourself and your adversary and you will not know defeat.
2. Knowing only yourself and not your adversary reduces your chances by 50%.
3. Knowing neither yourself nor your adversary means certain defeat.
4. Be serious but flexible, employing elusiveness so as not to become a victim of habit.
5. To win without fighting is the highest achievement of a warrior.
Never forget this wisdom and live your life according to the principles of the warrior.

In particular, pay attention to (3) referring to not knowing yourself. Let’s explore this.

Let’s say that you are a martial arts instructor and you believe that you are quite good when, in reality, your skills aren’t “all that.” In this instance, do you really know yourself? Are you being real? If you deny that you have room for improvement or that you believe that you don’t need improvement, are you turning a blind eye to yourself? Are you receptive to constructive criticism?

While the aforementioned maxims are presented in numerical order, if you go in reverse order from (3) to (1), you can see that “knowing yourself” increases your odds. 

In the context of the “Bubishi,”  “knowing yourself” encompasses the physical parts of the martial arts. Can you accurately assess your technique, your strength, and your stamina? Can you be truthful to yourself and say “well, my footwork needs work” or “I need to work on my tapi tapi” or with respect to any part of your martial art arsenal?

Physically speaking, I think that I’m realistic about myself and know myself well. I have not been able to train as much since October when I had my right eye surgery. After that surgery, I essentially stopped training in order to let the eye heal.  In December, I was cleared by my doctor to resume physical activity. I tested the waters with light interval workouts and then took a break over the holidays. I resumed it in the New Year. Unfortunately, I had a setback on January 2nd when a combination of unseen inflammation and a tube shunt “working too well” drained too much fluid out of my right eye, resulting in a buckled retina. All I could see out of that eye was colors. I could not discern objects. Fortunately, I slowly recovered over the next few weeks but still have some symptoms in that eye.

I then had glaucoma surgery on January 27th on the left eye.  To date, on the advice of the doctor, I’m still refraining from strenuous exercise, mostly due to the right eye. I still have a fair bit of redness in the right eye, which I’m told, may take several months to resolve. I go back to the doctor at the end of July and I will find out more what I can do training wise.

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Master Ken of “Enter The Dojo” knows himself really well. Ahem.

As a result, I am not in the greatest physical condition. My stamina sucks. My strength isn’t where it needs to be. And since I cancelled all private lessons from October through the beginning of April, my stick work is still rusty but improving.  While I’m currently barred from strenuous activity, I am walking quite a bit, doing a fair bit of anyos (forms) slowly, solo stick work, balance exercises and private lessons. Just no running, lifting or body weight exercises for the time being. Lastly, I’m really watching my diet and eating “clean” as much as possible.

So in this sense, I think that I know myself well physically. Could I find ways to know myself better? Heck yes. That’s a never ending journey for many of us. Some of us endlessly work on kata or sparring striving to improve themselves physically. Some, unfortunately, have either poor or non existent insight into themselves or delude themselves into thinking they are something that they are not. “I don’t need to train that much anymore.”

Knowing yourself physically is only one thing though. Do you really know yourself? Are you aware of triggers that anger you? What are some of your weaknesses? I think that knowing yourself psychologically or personality wise is much harder than the physical part. Are you open to constructive criticism without becoming defensive? Or do you have all the answers?

Knowing yourself may mean going through some of the issues that Marc MacYoung raises in his latest book “In the Name of Self Defense.” A more full review of this book will be forth coming in the future. Bottom line, he posits that you need to worry more about your own emotions than the typical street level mugger. With some qualifications, I believe that he is correct. And this means that you really need to know yourself on an emotional level as well.

Let me relate what happened here in Oshawa several years ago. I was driving to the local LCBO (for those in the US, Liquor Control Board of Ontario..a place to get wine and liquor) to get some wine. On the way there, a semi pulled out out of a parking lot and cut in front of me without looking both ways. To be frank, I got pissed at the idiot driver and slammed my hand on the car horn and kept it there for several long seconds. He then drove his merry way, or so I thought. After I parked my car and walked toward the LCBO, the fella drove up next to me, rolled down his window. The driver was a muscular young man covered with tattoos and with a personality that fairly screamed MMA/UFC. He sneered at me “you honked at me?” I thought to myself “Hmmmm, this is interesting. I have one pissed off dude in front of me.” He probably thought that I was just some harmless doofus with hearing aids. Nonetheless, I decided to lie in the interest of de-escalating the situation and said “No, it wasn’t me” while shrugging my shoulders. He said “all right” and drove off.  

Looking back at it, my emotions obviously got the better of me and I reacted angrily at his reckless disregard of driving safety. Had I not done so, would he have spotted me and driven up next to me while I was walking to the LCBO? Probably not. Still, it was not worth the potential confrontation. This encounter is a reminder that MacYoung is right in that we have more to worry about our emotions than some mugger or thug. Knowing yourself means knowing what the triggers can potentially get you into trouble and knowing how to deal with those triggers.

Bottom line, knowing yourself both physically and psychologically gives you a better chance of getting through life more or less unscathed. The Bubishi says, on page 161:

The more you train, the more you know yourself.

And that is why it’s important to train consistently in the martial arts; so that you can be real and know yourself better.


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