Have Martial Arts Got Anything To Do With Bioethics?
A Critical Review of: Legacies of the Sword: The Kashima - Shinryu and Samurai Martial Culture,
by Karl F. Friday with Seki Humitake, Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1997, paperback, xv + 227 pp.

- Frank J. Leavitt, Ph.D.
Centre for Asian and International Bioethics
Faculty of Health Sciences, Ben Gurion University of the Negev,
Beer Sheva, ISRAEL (Home Tel/FAX: +972-2-9963048)
(Email: yeruham@bgumail.bgu.ac.il)

Eubios Journal of Asian and International Bioethics 8 (1998), 87-88.


When I was a high school student in Cleveland, USA, more years ago than I want to count, I used to go to a gymnasium in a tough part of town, to learn to box under the guidance of a professional instructor. Among the philosophy which I absorbed at the time was the idea that a violent sport like boxing could actually contribute to ethics and peace. There was a movement to establish boxing clubs in neighborhoods with teenage crime problems to get the kids to expend their violent energies in the ring rather than on the streets. Moreover, ideas of sportsmanship and fairplay together with the self confidence one got from boxing were supposed to make it unnecessary to prove ones macho in street violence. More recently, at the bioethics conference organized in January, 1998, by Ahmednagar University in India I heard similar ideas in a lecture by Dr. Ravindra R. Kawade, a former Olympic wrestler and now District Sports Officer, Ahmednagar, who argued that the sportsmanship and camaraderie in international sport can be a bridge to peace. And then in February, 1998, I had the honour of meeting Jim Hauer, Headmaster of an Aikido dojo in New Mexico, who conducted an Aikido seminar in Beer Sheva. He told us about an experience he had in Santa Fe, when he was walking down a street and a man suddenly started punching him, following him as he walked. Hauer thought at first to respond with an Aikido technique - and I'm sure he could easily have broken one of the mans bones - but then he thought some more and realized that the punches were really rather weak and ineffectual compared to those which were regularly given during training in his dojo. So he ignored the punches and kept on walking until the man got tired of punching and went away.

These thoughts were in my mind - as well as some critical ones which Ill mention later - as I read Fridays Legacies of the Sword. The book is not a treatise on ethics - indeed the word bioethics does not appear - but it is a history of a school of martial arts. But from the very first page, where he says: The samurai were no longer to be mere fighting men, they were to serve as examples of moral virtue and symbols of the nation as a whole, the book is full of discussions of implications of the Japanese martial arts for bioethics, from ethics in the sense of moral virtue to bioethics in the broad sense of insights into spirituality and the meaning of life.

A theme which runs throughout the book is Fridays attempt to solve a paradox which also intrigued other writers on the subject, like Draeger, Suzuki, King and Cleary: the seeming contradiction inherent in the ability of the Samurai - ostensibly adherents to Buddhist and Shinto doctrines condemning warfare and killing - to celebrate these activities by raising them to the level of a high art form, (p. 163) Friday rejects the solution given by other Western scholars in terms of an unattaching Zen mind, Fridays solution, if I understood him, is based on the philosophy of the Dragons Scroll, a Kashima - Shinryu document written sometime between the mid-seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries: Confrontation and strife... are a part of the order of nature, an order from which man is not exempt (p. 147 n.). Thus, since the nature of our world gives us no other choice, we must seek peace while always ready for combat. As Yamage Soko, the seventeenth century samurai philosopher, wrote: within his heart [the samurai] keeps to the ways of peace, but without he keeps his weapons ready for use. (p. 2)

This attitude is more appropriate for bioethics in the real world than is the Western idea of absolute and perpetual peace, which has caused more harm than good, as in the idea that World War One was to be the war to end all wars, and in the disastrous Versailles peace agreement of 1919. Another example is the Oslo agreement for peace in the Middle East: for if you look at the epidemiology you'll see a tragic rise in violent death for Israelis and Palestinians alike concomitant with the implementation of the agreement. A truer bioethic would include facing reality in which our existence is imperfect, and combat is always a possibility, while at the same time seeking to maximize love and decency in the midst of this imperfect situation. Indeed even between people on opposite sides of violent conflict, there can be love and decency including mutual assistance at times of natural disaster, first aid to the injured (both to civilian accident victims and to the injured in combat, including first aid even to wounded terrorists immediately after the attack), medical services without discrimination for all in need and cooperation in public and environmental health even in time of conflict.

The idea of seeking peace while being ready for war reminds one of Biblical holy people, like Shmuel, David and Devora who sought peace but could fight like samurai when necessary. And I couldn't help thinking of these Biblical warrior prophets as I read Fridays account of martial art as a means to unifying body, mind and spirit (p. 152), especially in pattern practice, kata, as meditation-in-motion leading to: realization and understanding of the fundamental principles of the universe. (p. 158) But this matter requires a deeper analysis than can be undertaken in a brief review.

This book belongs partially to the genre of books on spirituality in Japanese martial arts. Eugen Herrigels Zen in the Art of Archery (which was the prototype for Pirsig's best-selling Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) is perhaps the best-known classic in the genre. But there is a difference. While it has the authenticity and love of the subject which comes from personal experience (Friday is a pupil of Seki Humitake, the 19th Headmaster of the Kashima-Shinryu, who wrote a fascinating autobiographical forward to the book, and Friday is also himself a headmaster at a dojo in Atlanta, Georgia), Friday is a professor of history and his book is a piece of professional historical scholarship. Friday criticizes most English-language books and articles on the topic [which] have relied almost exclusively on other English-language martial art books and articles... (p. 8) Friday is an accomplished Japanologist. The book is full of critical analyses of primary sources and attempts at dating undated manuscripts in order to establish the genealogy and the development over five centuries of the philosophy of the martial tradition of the Kashima Grand Shrine. There are also line drawings of techniques (by Sakaguchi Ikuo), reproductions of some rare photographs and translations by Friday of some beautiful poetry, some of which illustrates the pursuit of peace in the midst of combat, such as: The way of the sword. Kill not, be killed not, hesitate not. Go forth! Return not; The way is focused. (p. 148)

But I do have some critical remarks to make, especially with respect to the very idea that martial arts can be a means to ethics and peace. I began this review with nostalgia about boxing clubs in the United States, which were supposed to help reduce teenage violence. But I have to admit that over the years I have met not a few boxers who loved violence and bloodshed, and many have used their arts for crime. I have trouble, moreover, trying to remember any really gentle people with a background in boxing. And aren't there similar problems with Japanese martial arts ? There are many books with stories of gentle samurai who pursued the ideal of victory without the sword. But these stories also refer to arrogant, tough samurai who went around intentionally picking fights. The philosophy of the Kashima-Shinryu is beautiful, as expressed in its hundreds of years old statement of inner principle: Know that the Kashima-Shinryu delights naught in the useless joy of felling an enemy, of destroying evil. Rather, it fosters...a heart that would always kill one only to save a thousand... In the beginning, prepare the body; at the midpoint, cultivate heartfelt human relationships; at the ultimate, find insight into the original principles of the Universe. This is the secret, the inner truth of the Kashima-Shinryu. (p. 183)

These principles could almost be a declaration of bioethics. But aren't they really only for a select few ? I think I have begun to taste a little of this philosophy at Dr. Yossie Hatzors Aikido dojo in Beer Sheva, where I have begun to learn. But how many people are willing to make the effort ? Indeed most people interested in martial arts seem to go for the more violent ones like Karate and kick-boxing, rather than the difficult discipline needed in the more spiritual arts. So although the Kashima-Shinryu and cognate martial arts can help bring some bioethics and some peace and some deep insight to some few people, it is not a global solution. (As perhaps it was not intended to be.) Indeed I myself cannot hope to aspire to the high ethics of Kashima-Shinryu because I think I would kill a terrorist if there were no other way to save just one victim. But perhaps this is because of the Israeli context in which I live. This is just one difference between Japanese martial ethics and the ethics of the Middle East to which I belong. In many books about the Samurai we read that one is to avoid confrontation, to seek a peaceful solution to conflict and to fight only when absolutely necessary. Yet in the Middle East we have acquired a habit of reacting to an insult immediately and violently. This habit, however, might be a corruption of Israel's authentic Biblical culture which may have been closer to the Japanese than is suspected. In the Bible, II Shmuel 2, Asah-El chases after Avner threatening to kill him. Although Avner is a better warrior than Asah-El, and could have killed him easily, Avner's first response is the non-violent one. He tries to run away, with none of the false shame which this would imply in the Middle East today. He even begs Asah-El to leave him alone. But Asah-El swift as a deer in the field does not give up and is faster than Avner. Only when Avner sees that he cannot escape and has no choice does he turn and kill Asah-El. But even so, in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 49 b) Avner is criticized for saving himself by killing Asah-El rather than just wounding him.

Friday and Seki's book will not be a best seller like the more popular works in the genre because many readers will not have the patience for the scholarly professionalism and detail. So I won't recommend it to neighbors who are amateur military history fans. The book is for specialists in Japanese history as well as the many academies and students practicing martial arts on university campuses around the world. And as we have seen the subject definitely does have implications for bioethics. I would recommend the book to bioethicists open-minded enough to look into unusual aspects of our field. Personally, I was captivated and I read it word-for-word.. It will be an important sourcebook also for my own research into concepts common to Israeli prophesy and East Asian spirituality.


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