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A Lesson from Kenjutsu - Be Honest with Yourself

A Lesson from Kenjutsu - Be Honest with Yourself

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” - Sun Tzu. The art of Kenjutsu was originally a battlefield oriented martial art. Newer schools of Kenjutsu have changed their goal from staying alive while killing the enemy, to self improvement. Thus slaying one's weaknesses within themselves. Personally I believe that both the old and new philosophies have much to offer. The particular style of Kenjutsu we teach is from a ko-ryu or ancient battlefield art. Even though ko-ryu schools are not primarily focused on self-improvement, there are still many lessons to be learned that can be applied to our everyday lives.

One of the most important aspects of Kenjutsu is the concept of being able to honestly evaluate yourself and your potential opponent. In Kenjutsu allowing your ego into the self-evaluation of your skills can prove to be fatal. A good swordsman needs to be brutally honest in their appraisal of their own strengths and weaknesses. This also means that they must be honest in their appraisal of an opponent's strengths and weaknesses as well. If a swordsman over estimates their own abilities and/or underestimate an opponent's the consquences can be dire. In bushido, one of the virtues is courage. Courage does not mean to be reckless. Courage has to be tempered with wisdom. Samurai trained for years to be battle ready. To lose that investment recklessly could lead to defeat for an army.

Learning to defeat your own ego and truly see yourself for who you are can be very painful. We make up our own self-image, and when that is challenged we often do not like what we see underneath. In sparring, one learns very quickly that everyone loses no matter how good they believe they are. Knowing that everyone loses, and especially going through those losses helps one keep their focus grounded in reality. This is one of the many reasons sparring practice is essential in all martial arts practice. Over-estimating one's abilities directly results in defeat. When the stakes are life and death, as in Kenjutsu, it can be fatal.

This concept does not end with martial arts. It also has to with our every day lives. We all come up against battles in our lives that we do not know how to fight. When we are facing legal battles, unless you are well-versed in that type of environment, it is best to find someone that is instead of walking into a battle with any enemy you know nothing about. Do not enter a battle that you do not know how to win. If the battle is unavoidable, do your research. Learn about your adversary. Find others that have the knowledge you need. Be honest with yourself and your own limitations. It is a major advantage to understand your own limitations so that you can find a way around them. If you know your own weaknesses you can focus your defenses around them and adapt. Another battlefield strategy is to know your own weaknesses and use that to counter your enemy when they try to exploit your weak spots.

Recognize when you should not engage in a conflict. If your boss comes into your office yelling at you and blaming you for something. Do not let your emotions get the better of your judgement and act rashly. In the professional world, your boss could let you go at anytime which is a major problem when supporting your family. Instead stay calm and avoid the conflict by doing your best to become the solution to the problem instead. Of course, if your boss does this regularly, you may have to plan out a conflict through your HR department or even look for other employment. Either way you can leverage the conflict to your advantage by not engaging in a fruitless battle.

Too often our egos get in our own way and put blinders on the reality of things. A huge benefit of learning martial arts is that it can give you the opportunity to "slay your own ego" so that you can honestly see everything for what it is instead of what we think it should be. In terms of warfare, it can be the difference between life and death. In terms of business it can be the difference between success and bankruptcy. If one can learn to regularly be honest with themselves, it can open the doors to success. A good warrior sees their own weakness and/or lack of knowledge. This will show the warrior what to study, where to improve, what to train, and how to prepare. Don't allow your emotions blind you to reality. When facing an adversary, be smart, not reckless. Know when to engage in battle and when to evade. Remember, if you are not fighting from a superior position, then you have made a tactical error somewhere and need to re-evaluate!

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