Not losing; natural stance

Shinpen Suikogaden 1

 Do not think of winning; 

think, rather, of not losing

-Twelfth principle of karate

Nakasone explains this in different ways. Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu said, “Knowing only how to win and not how to lose is self-defeating”, which is a practical way. Only to consider winning “breeds excessive optimism and causes impatience”. Given the worst that can happen, will I deal with that? Follow the saying, When angered he can make even a ferocious beast crouch in fear, but when he smiles even little children run to him. We avoid arrogance, and cultivate humility, because pride comes before a fall, hubris before nemesis.

Or, the thought of winning and how wonderful that would be skews my thoughts now, and prevents me from being in the present; and makes a set-back more disconcerting than it would otherwise be.

A trick from gymnastics is to picture in my mind completing the task- a dive with triple somersault, say- correctly. Thinking of winning in that sense fits me for winning.

Or, “not losing” can simply mean “be prepared”.

 Ready stance is for beginners.

Shinpen Suikogaden 2Later, one stands in natural stance.

Learning, we learn particular stances, which can seem unrelated to fighting- why balance on the outer edges of your feet, feet parallel four feet apart, knees bent and above the feet? We learn the stances from earlier masters who have found what works, and then adapt the stances naturally as we spar. There is a continual motion between conscious competence and unconscious competence, working on understanding then profiting unconsciously from our understanding, and in combat the mind is tranquil as we respond automatically. In a golf swing, the novice’s brain is all active, and the master’s fires only in the necessary place.

Similarly, practice kata exactly, and move freely in combat.

Be constantly mindful, diligent, 

and resourceful,

in your pursuit of the way

Miyamoto Musashi, aged thirty, after winning sixty duels, considered that he had a natural talent but was not a superior martial artist. From that time I practised fervently morning and night, seeking to grasp the principles of the Way more deeply, and around the age of fifty I came to a natural realization of the Way of Martial Arts.

Indeed. As I progress in enlightenment, I realise how far I have to go.

This is the last of the drafts I have had sitting around for eight months, and since starting it I have stopped practising karate. I feel that Genwa Nakasone’s commentary does not reach the bottom of the Principles, and that meditating on single words of them- “mindful”. “Diligent.” Mmm- might be of benefit. I went back to the book after months, to try to glean more from it; and it tells me the gleaning is all the effort of life.

9 thoughts on “Not losing; natural stance

  1. I read this out at 6.30 am. ‘does this mean anything to you?’ ‘It’s a martial arts thing,’ he replied, going back to his cup of tea. I slightly envy people who have practised martial arts. Not so much for the fighting skill but for the disciplined and thoughtful way of thinking. It’s so many years since he now did it, yet the thinking comes back to him immediately and influences his everyday life, even the way he walks down the street. It’s very powerful.


      • I remember earlier you were ambivalent (at best) about it.

        We do cycle. Not when it is cold though. Spring and autumn are the best times, not too hot, not too cold. It’s a fabulous way to exercise though and so nice to zap through beautiful places by bike.

        I am totally unfit 😦 He, on the other hand, runs up and down ten lifts of scaffolding all day.

        Physical activity is a good way to alleviate mental stress. It’s just getting round to doing it.


    • I love you for it.

      Knowing the human inhibitions I have against hurting people, I wanted to be able to snap into a way, when it was necessary, that I could hit a man’s head harder than I could hit a punch bag, with the aim of disabling him.


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