Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Karate and Life: Justice

A lot of people - even people who don't study karate or the martial arts - have heard of Funakoshi's first two precepts regarding Respect and No First Strike. The other 18 Precepts are not nearly as well known - but there's a lot here that worth unpacking, and a lot that applies to our whole lives.

Funakoshi's third precept is this:

"Karate is an aid to justice."

I think he meant this as a reminder to his students. To study karate, or any martial art, is to develop power - specifically, to increase your power to physically harm other people. That power should only be put to use in the service of justice - that is, in the service and protection of others. Funakoshi, like all great teachers and masters, feared his teachings being used only to create bullies.

This is certainly true for karate - but it is true much more broadly of any kind of power we wield. All of us have the ability to impact others - to bring good or to cause harm, to build up or to tear down. Some have more than others, but this is only a matter of degree, not of kind. To possess power is an inherent part of being human.

Each of us can speak, and many of us can write, and our words will be heard and digested by others.

Each of us interacts with other people every day - some a few, some many. We can choose to make those interactions positive or negative, affirming or denying.

Each of us makes choices every day with our resources - our time, our money, our attention. Those choices impact us, but they also impact the people around us, for good or ill.

The lesson for us here is that, like Funakoshi's students, we should be mindful of the purposes we use our power for. We may not think of ourselves as "powerful", but each of us has an impact on the world.

Knowing that my choices, my actions, and my words have an impact, will I put those to work for justice or for my own selfish gain? Will I try to build a better world for everyone, or will I look to tear others down for my own gain or my own sense of worth? If I'm not pursuing justice intentionally, I may produce some accidentally - but I wouldn't count on it.

Comic book fans know this as the "Peter Parker Principle" - "With great power comes great responsibility." But part of the pull of comic books, especially those stories like Spider-Man which focus on an Everyman who suddenly acquires powers, is that we see ourselves in the characters. What's compelling about Marvel's new TV series, including Daredevil and Luke Cage, is not the main characters' amazing abilities - it is the struggles they face to use whatever abilities they have to make the world a better place. To pursue justice.

In one episode of Luke Cage, the main character is asked by a bystander who witnesses his power, "You're one of them, aren't you?" His answer? "If you mean one of those people who gives a damn, then yes." He's not interested in the nature of his power, only in how he uses it.

This is a warning that almost all martial arts students receive at one point or another: be careful how you use your power, because you can really hurt someone if you try. That's true of all of us - every day we hold the ability to really hurt others if we try. We can also help others with the power at our disposal. We can, if we choose, seek justice.

So remember today that you are powerful. And remember that your power is meant as an aid to justice.

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