The sword as an art easily fits a Taoist paradigm, articulated through the kôan of a Chinese master, who said that before he ever studied Ch'an, he always thought that mountains were just mountains. Then when he began studying, he found that mountains were not mountains (a typical Taoist paradox). After long study, he stopped worrying about this and mountains went back to being mountains again. This easily describes the stages of reaching enlightenment through meditation, but it can also describe the stages of learning an art or skill, not just something like the sword, but even very humble skills.
For instance, learning to drive an automobile with a clutch, which cannot be done without some instruction, actually involves a very simple rule: (1) step on the clutch, (2) put the engine in gear, and (3) slowly step on the gas pedal and the release the clutch at the same time. This simple procedure always turns out to be very difficult to effect. It takes, not more instruction, but just constant practice. Eventually, it becomes easy, smooth, and natural, and the driver simply forgets about it, doing it automatically, which is good, since a driver needs to look where he is going. Learning the use of a sword has an added aspect that a completely ignorant person can still pick up a sword and, in general, know what to do with it. Such a person can even be dangerous, since in a fight he will be desperate and there is no telling what they might do. Someone who receives instruction, however, is endangered by their own concentration on the techniques they are learning. They may even be a worse swordsman than the ignorant person, until the techniques become natural and automatic. This is easily explained by the circumstance that ignorance is much more like "not-doing" than is the "doing," effort, and trying of the stage of instruction.
I first heard of this as a Bruce Lee quote from my taekwondo master, but I can't check the source. Instead of mountains, he was talking about punches.
"Just because you think you understand something, doesn’t mean you do. More likely, your perceptions have more to do with you than they do with the world outside of you."
This is a very good passage, and an interesting point. However, I think the second paragraph misses the deeper meaning of the phrase, "Mountains are not mountains," which is worth acknowledging.
In the most literal terms, we begin our journey assuming mountains are just a feature of the environment. Then, as we understand their importance in swordsmanship, we see that they are more than mountains, but also a representation of internal concepts. As we progress down the path, we realize that, in fact, that's all they ever were, and again are just mountains, no more, no less.
Everyone has an idea of motorcycling. As you begin to ride yourself, you realize that there is much more going on than you realized. As you master it, you realize that your entire previous conception of motorcycling was trite and never valid in the first place.
I think this perception is the more important point than the curve of how your skills progress. And the more important practical lesson is humility. Just because you think you understand something, doesn't mean you do. More likely, your perceptions have more to do with you than they do with the world outside of you.
One could even say, nothing else is possible, and any other perception is trite and was never valid in the first place.
I started reading "Hagakure," which was written by the samurai Yamamoto Tsunetomo from 1709 to 1716. I don't agree with everything in the book - some of the things Yamamoto-sama says sound crazy to my modern sensibilities, but there's some powerful quotes in here about bushido. Here's some I liked, with some thoughts of my own -
We all want to live. And in large part we make our logic according to what we like. But not having attained our aim and continuing to live is cowardice. This is a thin dangerous line. To die without gaming one's aim is a dog's death and fanaticism. But there is no shame in this. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai. If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he pains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.
The first book of philosophy on bushido I read was the Budoshoshinshu. It had a significant impact on my thinking. One of the largest tenets of bushido is keeping awareness of your death in mind when you live. I try to do this, because it gives you a sense of urgency and importance.
A lot of times the principle is misunderstood - the principle is actually make preparations as if you'll live forever, but live this day that you'd be proud if it was your last. Bushido is not about being reckless. It's about keeping awareness of the end with you, and in doing so, living much more.
It's almost paradoxical - the man who is aware of his death, who relinquishes his claim on life, he lives much more fully. The man who is ignorant of his death does not live as much. Death is not something to be afraid of - it's something to be aware of. Being aware of it makes you more alive, and more effective, and more purposeful.
"Kobe Bryant is so clutch." I constantly hear this statement from people, whether they're basketball fans or not. I have never bought any of this; in fact, I don't believe in being clutch. I'm going to lay out my logic why. Unfortunately, I didn't use any statistics, just pure reasoning. I think there's a variety of statistica proof on the Internet against the notion of clutch. Hopefully, though, mine will make intuitive sense.
My argument is as simple as this: people have a misconception about being clutch because they take into account the number of successes, not the percentage. What does this really mean? Here's one of my favorite quotes (I'll explain how it relates, don't worry):
I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed. – Michael Jordan
Doesn't this quote deal with failure? Well, yes. But, there's a certain part of the quote I want to focus on. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. Wait, isn't Michael Jordan regarded as a clutch player? 26 misses a lot, especially compared to the limited opportunities one has to make a game-winning shot.
What I'm trying to say is that basically people care about the number of successes. It doesn't matter if a player misses 4 game-winning shots; if they make the fifth, they will be regarded as clutch. There is a similar phenomenon with All-Stars and scoring. Fans think the best players are the ones with the most points. But, that's obviously not true. NBA statistic sites, like Wages of Wins, highly stress the importance of Field Goal Percentage. A player who scores 20 points or more is not that beneficial if their FG% is below 40%. They might as well pass up the opportunity and give it to a teammate who has a higher conversion rate.