In the martial arts community, it is very easy to toss about phrases, axioms, or mottos that pertain to our training. Some of these phrases are zen koans, some of them are more modern attempts to condense a concept or principle into a single thought or statement. As a writer, I enjoy and encourage these efforts to use language as a means to understand something as profound as a philosophical state of mind, or a martial strategy of movement or thought. For me, the ability to explain a concept is one step closer to understanding that concept.
In my short career as a martial arts practitioner (which I consider to be different from a martial artist, but that’s another subject), there are two phrases that have always stuck with me.
We stand on the shoulders of giants
Sooner or later, you stand on your own two feet
The first phrase has always resonated with me. It serves as a reminder that everything I study and learn, I do so thanks to the tireless efforts of those that have come before me. It reinforces the point that I owe a great deal to the senior students with whom I’ve trained, my instructors, and my sensei. The line goes further than that, however. I am where I am because of Sensei Maruyama, who founded Kokikai Aikido. And because of his own teachers, whom I have never met. I could probably follow this line of reasoning, this ladder of respect, for as far back as I want.
The second phrase might initially appear as somewhat contradictary to the first. But this is not the case. While I firmlly believe that we stand on the shoulders of giants, I also believe that, sooner or later, we stand on our own two feet. The goal of my martial arts training has always been to get me to the point where I am both unafraid of who I am, and unafraid of changing who I am so I become a better person. To have the courage to think for myself instead of letting others do it for me, and to face the consequences of my actions whether they are good or bad. This phrase serves to remind me that it is my duty and responsibility to be a thinking, rational person; not to agree simply because I fear disapproval, and not to disagree simply out of stubbornness.
If I can remember that I owe a debt to those who came before while knowing that it is my responsibility to help shape the future, then I think I am on a path that is worth walking.