What’s the alternative? Revisiting an old martial arts maxim provides a clue.
There is a meme I see from time to time on Facebook that always makes me cringe. It goes something like this: “Beware of the person who is not smiling when you’re winning.” It’s as if to say that this person is your enemy, a snake in the grass, a false friend. It’s such a bleak outlook. I get sad thinking about the people who feel like this sums up their life and their relationships.
It’s a particularly problematic viewpoint in the dojo because it suggests that if you’re the winner, then everybody else must be losing. Why would anybody smile for you if your whole life, all your relationships, are about win and lose?
As an organization, we look at it differently. We have revised Master Kano’s essential guiding attitude, the principle of mutual benefit. Students here are a part of this revision and revival. We are watching as “mutual benefit” rises, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the “me-versus-you” mindset that’s driven the martial arts since the1980s.
I think that what the author of that meme was trying to say was, “You don’t have to pay attention to the naysayers,” which is true. But the trouble is that that’s not what it actually says. When I read that meme, I hear, “Beware of those who are out to get you”.
The intention is lost because we’re back to win-lose, us and them, you and your opponent who wants to bring you down.
What’s missing is the solution. Our answer is mutual benefit. I can succeed, you can succeed, and we can do well. When that happens, no one’s stabbing you in the back. And even if they’re trying, even then they’re still not your “opponent” – they’re just inconsequential. It doesn’t matter. They’re not some snake in the grass creeping up on you, trying to take what you’ve got.
So perhaps this is a radical concept, but it’s a worthy goal, a worthy aspiration – to reconsider how we position ourselves in relation to others. Rather than propping them up against us, we can find an alternative where we can succeed not at the expense of others, but with the help of others.
That optimism, that possibility – Mr. Kano’s ideal, what was essentially the forerunner of all the modern martial arts practices in this country – is what this school is founded upon. It binds us together in practice and in principle.
For more about our larger project of cooperative Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts training, visit the Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Brooklyn BJJ) website here.
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