The Oriental culture is clearly difference with regard to the Western one throughout history. Its philosophy of interest to people who have grown up and lived in the West. I experienced this philosophy of life from within, practicing martial arts for more than 10 years.
Philosophy of Oriental life
There are great differences of culture between the West and the East. Starting with its religions, its costums and ending with its moral codes, The Orient provokes a huge cultural shock for those of us who have always lived within Western culture.
I felt this the first time I entered the dojo, the karate training zone. When you cross the threshold and enter the dojo, you enter in an oasis, totally different from what is outside.
The oriental oasis: the dojo
In the dojo reigns silence, tinged with the sound of the movements and rhythmic breaths of the karatekas. Although there are more than 30 people in the place, only a few voices are heard and they are almost inaudible. Outside the dojo, any place where there are more than 5 people becomes a very annoying set of voices and sounds.
In the dojo one breathes respect, discipline and seriousness. There is a clear protocol of greetings making a slight bow with the body. No jokes, misplaced comments or bad words. There is a common and clear objective: to train. Outside the dojo, I have never experienced such a feeling of disciplin without oppression, or delightful seriusness.
In the dojo, each mistake is a constructive lesson. Everyone helps and tries to improve together. There is no competitiveness to prove who is the best, no mockery or slights of any kind. Outside the dojo, being the best is the priority, even if you have to cut a few heads to achieve it.
In the dojo there is a Master (or Sensei), someone who helps you develop yourself, pushes you to break your limits and guides you in your progress. The Master is respected and knows his place. He is not vain or narcissistic. He is a reference of behavior consistent with the activity that takes place in the dojo. Outside the dojo, leadership is an abstract question rarely reflected in reality.
In short, in the dojo there is a different philosophy of life.
The martial mantra
Within that very different environment, the training is not only to practice a few fighting techniques, but it is something fundamentally different. It is holistic, you develop physically and mentally. And, although most karatekas are not aware of it, there is also an existential development.
This existential development is condensed in a kind of mantra that is repeated at the end each training. After each workout, we kneel on the floor, sitting on our legs and keep a moment of silence. Suddenly, the sensei recites the mantra, phrase by phrase, and the students repeat it.
Here are the 9 sentences that make up the mantra and give an idea of the philosophy of oriental life:
- Be correct in your ways with humility.
- Train well within your physical limits.
- Study and practice seriously.
- Stay calm, control yourself, be quick and flexible.
- Watch your health.
- Live a full and simple life.
- Do not overestimate yourself.
- Let your body and mind float free as if they were one.
- Training has no reward.
Eastern thought and its existential meaning
These 9 sentences convey inner peace directly. But its message is much deeper. Let’s see its existential meaning and the affinity it has with Trickle-Down Wisdom.
Be correct in your ways with humility.
Acting correctly and being humble (also called sila) are parts of the Noble Eightfold Path of Buddhism. Undertaking this path completely transcends suffering (or Dukkha).
Train well within your physical limits.
This points directly to self-knowledge. Know your body and train accordingly. This way, optimal training is achieved.
Study and practice seriously.
As with vertical knowledge, transcendence or coherence, development in a martial art is not an easy path. Seriousness and constant practice are essential for any kind of advancement and development.
Stay calm, control yourself, be quick and flexible.
Calmness and control are the ultimate consequence of enlightenment. Flexibility provides the necessary plasticity to avoid being enslaved by obsolete mental schemes and customs.
Watch your health.
Vital hygiene. Without health, there can be no physical or mental development. It is the base of Maslow’s pyramid. Whoever does not take care of their health, is not taking care of their mind either. And therefore, is not on the right path.
Live a full and simple life.
Reference to sobriety, and the absence of attachments.
Do not overestimate yourself.
Again, humility is called as part of development. Analyzing yourself with a realistic vision, away from prejudices or clichés, will make you see yourself as you are. And then you will see Reality.
Let your body and mind float free as if they were one.
Samadhi. This phrase aims to move away from duality. We are not mind or body, they are not separate things. We are one.
Training has no reward.
This is the phrase that most impacts the culture of the West. How is it that training does NOT have a reward? So, why do you train? With this last sentence, the importance of being in the moment is highlighted. You do not train to get something, to be something. That is an attachment. You train for training.
As you have seen, the philosophy of Eastern life is very different from the Western one. Our western culture is introduced to us since we are children, marking a large part of our behaviors and thoughts. Studying and knowing other ways of seeing the world helps greatly to open the mind and ascend in the pyramid of coherence.