J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Be as Mount Fuji, with a Silent, Attentive, Mirror Mind

Be as Mount Fuji, with a Silent, Attentive,  Mirror Mind
This picture bears the words
"When facing up to your opponent before a fight, be attentive (lit distribute your "ki" mind/attention) with a silent mind, and be as Mount Fuji (make the shape of Mount Fuji your own form)."

This picture stands in the entrance hall to the gym where my son learns karate. The caption translated above, expresses the essence of Japanese martial arts and thought. First of all there is the emphasis on the importance of facing off. The fight is won and lost - or better still avoided - in this period before it commences which is typically far longer than the fight itself which it is often over in seconds. I would like to draw attention to several aspects of this pre-fight period.

The pre-fight "tachi ai" period involves both intimidation and analysis. There is no better result than the ability to stand with such bearing as to encourage your opponent to admit defeat, or loose confidence to the extent that the fight is a foregone conclusion. Further that this period of mutual analysis and intimidation involve standing facing the opponent. The significance of this will be considered below.

Mental activity within the pre-fight 'tachi-ai' period should be conducted in silence. I believe that this injunction is specifically directed towards the cessation of all self-narrative, hearing oneself speak, asking oneself questions and replying to them (自問自答), dialectical thought and all other types of linguistic thought.

The next injunction is to be attentive or literally to spread out ones "ki" (attention, mental energy, focus, consciousness) The use of ones "ki" in this way is the core of martial arts and Japanese thought. There are numerous expressions involving "ki" including to be careful (ki wo tsukeru, "attach ki"), be keen on (enter ones ki, ki ni iru), loose consciousness  (ki wo ushinau, loose ki).

I suggest that the use of ki is the direct counterpart to Western narratival-self and that it is used for similar things, specifically for helping us to gain a theory of mind, and in this particular instance, read our opponents mind. Westerners use reason to ascertain how other people are thinking. By thinking we put ideas up in the courtroom of the mind for inspection by another, Reason, a super addressee, a generalised other, and in so doing understand how others feel about our predictions.

The Japanese on the other gage how others will behave more directly, by using their ki. There have been books written about ki and I have read one one of them. Since the use of ki is clearly a non linguistic activity, the use of further words to describe it may be in vain. I and others who wish to understand the use of ki, need above all do it. But, counter productively perhaps, I would like to add one more exposition and suggest that using ones "ki" is using ones mirror neurons. Mirror neurons allow us to model seeing, ourselves, are activated when we look at a mirror, and are activated when we look at other people, telling us, by activation of the same neurological states in us as in the object of our vision, what we would be thinking and intending to do if we appeared as the person we are facing. 

Finally, there is the injunction to make of our own form the form of Mount Fuji. This echoes the advice of a Buddhist priest to a sumo wrestler, and numerous other philosophies of martial arts (such as Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five) rings which encourage the practitioner to become as some natural object, animal, element, or in this case the biggest mountain in Japan.

Going for the bulls-eye and concentrating first upon the apparent mismatch in size between our warrior and the tallest mountain in Japan, I think that this draws attention to East Asian Spiritualism in the literal sense: (唯心論) the assertion that there is only mind or spirit. Similar assertions appear in the psychologism of Ernst Mach (1902), or the immaterialism of Bishop Berkeley. At base all things can only be experienced, are only present to humans or other sentient beings, song long as they partake in that sentience, become a part of that consciousness. Thus, the apparent mismatch between the size of mount Fuji and the warrior is only apparent. When warrior realises his true nature as consciousness, then he will be aware that Mount Fuji, the largest thing that he can imagine, is only a part of himself. This realisation, and the falling away of bodily identifications that accompanies it, can give the warrior tremendous courage and strength.

Finally, but less importantly than the realisation I attempt to express in the previous paragraph, the visual identification with the mountain has the dual effect of positive self-speech. Identifications with natural phenomena allows the warrior to tap into and identify with all the meaning and affect associated with the symbol. And at the same time, through his bearing thus effected, strengthen, calmed, drawn to full height, convey the same, wordlessly to the opponent who is also using their ki, or mirror neurons, to see what is on
their opponents mind.

I can not read the artists name. It looks like  Shinya Suzuhiromatsu 鈴廣松臣也 but I am not sure, and would like to be corrected. The picture is dedicated to Hajime Matsumura the head of the Yamaguchi Kendo association and 'other comrades in arms', who are the main users of the same gym, or doujou 山口隣保館別館・和光剣心塾道場).

Mach, E. (1902) The Analysis of Sensations, "Not the things, the bodies, but colours, sounds, pressures, times (what we usually call sensations) are the true elements of the world."    p. 23, as quoted in Lenin as Philosopher: A Critical Examination of the Philosophical Basis of Leninism (1948) by Anton Pannekoek, p. 454

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.