I finished Robert Ringer's "Winning Through Intimidation" and started reading Yukio Mishima's "The Samurai Ethic of Modern Japan." It's an introduction to and analysis of Hagakure. Hagakure's a 17th Century work on bushido and Japanese samurai ethics and living - I've got some excerpts of it here - "Excerpts from Hagakure, Chapter 1."
Reading Mishima, I realize something about the difference between Japanese and American superheroes and fictional characters.
At the most desperate moments, American fictional heroes tend to win by discarding their training and going with instinct and feelings. You see the hero who was beaten down and whose plans failed, who now "lets go" and thus wins.
At the most desperate moments, Japanese fictional characters win by unleashing and realizing the effects of their training.
A hallmark of Japanese fiction is the hero going through a long training period, but then not quite mastering his skill. Then, at his most desperate moment, the training kicks in to the full extent, and he wins.
American fiction goes a little differently. The hero might or might not train, but regardless, he is eventually almost defeated. At that point he frequently abandons his training or normal way of doing things, and thus wins.
I find the Japanese way to be much more reflective of reality, healthier, and better. The idea that under duress you should "go with your heart" is false and nonsense. When you're doing something with life or death stakes - emergency first responders, soldiers, police, medics, surgeons - you need to give yourself over to your training when the emotions are running hot.
The American "let yourself go" message does not work in reality. It encourages people to turn off their mind and disregard common sense in the most intense moments when you should not be running on emotion - love, hatred, danger, intense gain, intense loss. That is when you need to trust your training and ethics, because you aren't thinking clearly at all. But American fiction has heroes disregarding all of their training and past ethics at that point, and then coming out on top. The Japanese way is different - the heroes finally realize the extent of their training and give themselves over fully to it.
I love classical American ethics - invention, hard work, entrepreneurship, the frontier mentality, being good neighbors, individuality, self-reliance, and speaking softly and carrying a large stick. But this "let go everything you learned and trust your feelings in the moment" seems disastrous to me. I'm with the Japanese way on this one.
I see your point of view but I see it a bit differently. The open minded american can adapt much better to a crisis by thinking past his or her basic training (a view very much used by the military by the way). On the other hand, alot of Japanese are very closed minded and have a very hard time adapting when their training fails (and it does alot more than you think). Training just does not account for all variables and although it gives you a good base for decisions you need to be open minded and see past your training to solve some hard problems.
To be fair, the Star Wars story isn't traditionally American. It's more oriental, the Jedi are basically Taoists, talking about chi (“the force”), destiny (“the way/path”), etc. And in Star Wars they channel their training. Bad example of American hero.
Let me put it another way:
If the rule says do 100 math problems every day, you are learning Math, not a rigid set of rules.
If the rule says meditate 4 hours every day, your mind is becoming sharper. You are not becoming dogmatic about how much time you should meditate.
If the rule says practice modesty at all times, you are learning to listen to other people, be kind, etc. The lesson is not that modesty is the destination. Modesty is the way. It is a path through which you may learn.
If your master tells you you should only block a punch with your left arm, it's not because that is the best way to fight but because your left arm is weak and slow and it needs special attention.
I had many peers in Kung Fu who were just doing simple hill-climbing to find the best way to fight. They would just find local maxima based on their current skill. But they would not get that sometimes they needed to lose matches in order to learn. Using a new technique may cost you at first. There was no model of transcendence through training.
> In contrast, American literature seems to constantly illuminate the flaws of accepting (completely) the rules.
I think this goes right at the heart of the issue. The rules are a discipline to train yourself with, not blind doctrine to regurgitate. The value of discipline just asserts that we need to shape ourselves to become better, not "let go" and "be ourselves".
My interpretation is that Japanese training is more about transcending limits than opposing limits. Carefully (and often painfully) molded potential trumps raw potential in the end.
Americans in general don't really like structure. They'll say things like "poetry is all about intuition and feeling". When I try to talk about how the poem has structure and that it was carefully crafted and you can pull apart the meaning analytically, they protest. But the best poets edit their work the most. It is hardly an undisciplined outpouring. Intuition merely serves as a guide to the feeling the reader will get when he reads it, not as the entire method.
I agree that in times of extreme emotional imbalance, relying on (quality) training is the best, if not only, way to go.
As you mentioned earlier, many professionals rely on frequent and standardized training to garner successful results in extreme/dangerous/emotional environments. Aboard the vessel I work on, we hold fire, man overboard, abandon ship and security drills weekly. In the maritime industry, it has been proven time and again that frequent, standardized, and quality training diminishes the detrimental effects of emotions, primarily fear and panic, when faced with extreme survival conditions at sea. Many people have died at sea and been found by search and rescue teams holding on to the lifesaving equipment that could have saved them- had they known how to use it. Imagine the feeling of holding on to a life raft but not knowing how to deploy it, while succumbing to hypothermia or drowning. Certainly an example of poor, or nonexistent training.
Assuming that the training is from a quality source, and accepted as such, then reacting to an emotional event with blatant disregard for said training is similar to not having had training at all. There is room for improvisation in many situations, so saying that training and creativity are critical to one another makes a lot of sense.
A simplified realistic scenario to consider: No two fires are the same, but scientifically, you know that certain combinations of flammable materials will burn with known characteristics, and must be extinguished with a recognized extinguishing agent. How exactly you apply the extinguishing agent can change, but knowing when/where/why/how to use it allows for creativity to be successful. Without the training, you could use the wrong type of extinguishing agent and actually spread the fire. Creativity is useless in that scenario. For example, using water on an oil fire, is just not going to work and will probably splash oil around and set more things on fire. However, using training + creativity, you can use water to cool down the surrounding areas and allow access to the fire's location in order to distribute the proper extinguishing agent and put out the fire. Without using creativity, you may not have been able to access the fire, and your training would have been useless.
I'm sure that situations exist when training is not superior, and other options are better such as if the quality of training is poor, or new information renders the old methods outdated.
As well, one need not apply complete disregard for the 'old' method. Even if its all you have, I still believe that much can be learned from it- even if you learn how NOT to do something. Regardless, doing so rationally with a clear mind is superior to emotional instability. A random emotional response will likely result in similarly poor outcomes as poor training would, and is the exact same as having no training.
Perhaps this adage is relevant here: "You have to learn the rules before you can break them". Without fully understanding why something is being done a certain way, how can you improve on it? Surely not with wild emotional guesswork.
Interesting post Sebastian, thanks for sharing.
Although a compelling discussion I cant help but challenge the premise.
Training is only as good as its source. So simply stated, the 'best' approach (or 'what will work in reality') will naturally depend on the value of the source.
To take it further though, I think its really interesting to look at why the differences exist. Avoiding the obvious discussion around the age of both cultures (possibly validating Japan's notion that their 'source' might be more refined than any American counterpart)
Japanese Heroes: Although not fully versed on Japanese heroes, the difference you describe seems to identify the extreme loyalty that Japanese have to their history. To embrace training (to a successful end) would imply absolute belief that the source of their training is superior or even perfect (hence complete acceptance and embodiment brings about the hero's 'triumph moment')
In contrast, American literature seems to constantly illuminate the flaws of accepting (completely) the rules. Going with 'instinct over training' implies acceptance by the character that their 'training' might not hold all the answers'. Certainly it would be fair to look to American history for this as well. With revolt against English religious and political rule - Valuing independent thought can definitely be identified as a national historic trend.
Regardless of the source, my personal bias's, tend to side me with the Americans here. As a firm believer of independant thought, I cling to the notion that no matter how good the source of an idea/practice... it can be advanced, developed and might even be fundamentally inferior to an unknown alternative.
So Ill side with training coupled with independent thought, creativity and innovative adaption over full adoption to someone elses rule/methods.
Good post, although I think you've taken a step too far by saying "The American 'let yourself go' message does not work in reality".
Remember that 'common sense' is usually inaccurate. It's just the collective noun for all peoples guesses about the way the world works, so it's always either a misunderstanding, an approximation to the truth, or something that was true at some time in the past. Disregarding 'common sense' is a great way to innovate.
The best recipe for success is training + creativity. One without the other will always leave you behind. There are plenty of examples of people rejecting their training and other social pressures with huge positive results.
Highly recommend taking a look at the TED talk on creativity in education by Ken Robinson, 'Six Thinking Hats' by Edward de Bono, and 'The Black Swan' by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
The URL shortener was partly out of habit, and partly so there wasn't a looooong link in the middle of the paragraph. But I can see how some people might be afraid of clicking on these types of links, so I'll take that into consideration from now on.
I posted "Excerpts From Hagakure, Chapter 1" a while back. The book is dense with interesting ideas. Here's some more excerpts -
When an official place is extremely busy and someone comes in thoughtlessly with some business or other, often there are people who will treat him coldly and become angry. This is not good at all. At such times, the etiquette of a samurai is to calm himself and deal with the person in a good manner. To treat a person harshly is the way of middle class lackeys.
Treat people calmly and with good manners, even when they're a little careless. "To treat a person harshly is the way of middle class lackeys" - that made me laugh.
There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to pet wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.
You get wet either way in a rainstorm, but by accepting it you stay of clear mind. What a great metaphor. Accept that you'll get wet in a rainstorm - because you will either way - and go purposefully instead of rushing.
Happy new year!
I am hoping you would share your resources for your reading on Japanese history. Book titles and/or urls would be very helpful.
I got that a week ago, and I kind of sat there staring at the email. Japanese history is some of the most confusing to start to learn, because different elements of Japanese history and culture all play on and influence each other. I could run you through the military history of Japan from The Battle of Okehazama to Sekigahara to the Boshin War, from there into Dai Nippon Tekoku Era, from there into defeat and the Occupation under McArthur, and then we could do a little post-war history.