In my last weekly post, I mentioned rereading one of my favorite martial arts books and said that I would post more on that later. This post is about that book: Eye of the Hurricane by Dr. Terrence Webster-Doyle. Though it is a book written for children, I very much appreciate its purpose not only as a book that delves into the philosophical and mental aspects of martial arts but also as a book that can be a tool for positive enculturation of young children. I consider the work to be a pure stroke of genius.
It also gives me pleasure to write a post like this because my last few posts have very much focused on what might be called small detail physical aspects of Taekwondo. I have been focusing heavily on those aspects lately because I need much improvement in those small detail physical aspects. However, it is my hope that I have not given the impression that I am only interested in the physical aspects of martial arts; on the contrary, were it not for the romantic philosophical elements of traditional martial arts, I never would have began my education in Taekwondo. It is therefore very pleasant to be able to reread a book that masterfully encapsulates and frames the things I love most about martial arts.
About the Book
The author, Dr. Terrance Webster-Doyle, has studied and taught Karate for over 30 years, has a doctorate in psychology, is a college instructor, and has done much work towards constructive counseling for young people. The book is a collection of martial arts stories that portray mental and philosophical aspects of the martial arts. Some of the stories are retellings of traditional martial arts stories from antiquity, and others are originals of Webster-Doyle. Even though all the stories in this book revolve around Karate, Webster-Doyle points out that the core teachings of the stories are universal to all martial arts, and I believe that any martial artist who values the philosophical side of martial arts will quickly see this is the case upon reading the book. Its brilliance is that these stories are very accessible to the youth and are framed in a way that is beneficial to the young student on many levels.
Teaching the Philosophy
It is my belief and experience that the philosophies involved in martial arts contain all the most romantic and moving elements of the martial arts: the kinds of things that really tug at the heart strings of us martial artists. Things like self-cultivation, virtue of character, and transcendence of the seemingly mundane physical world into something much more brilliant and fulfilling.
Webster-Doyle opens the book with a quote from Gichin Funakoshi, the father of Karate-do, that very much introduces the reader to this area of study:
As a mirror’s polished surface reflects whatever stands before it and a quiet valley carries even small sounds, so must the student of Karate render the mind empty of selfishness in order to respond appropriately to anything that might be encountered. This is the meaning of Kara – or ’empty’ – in Karate. –Gichin Funakoshi
Just like the stories in the book, this quotation is a beautiful encapsulation of a concept that not only applies to the physical arena of martial arts but also applies to all other aspects of life. The above quote could easily be understood as advice towards a self-defense situation: a clear and focused mind is one that can best respond to any danger encountered in a combative situation. However, doesn’t this clearness of mind apply to other things as well? One who lets go of selfishness and is open to the world will be best able to appropriately respond to anything whether it be a self-defense situation, a friend in need of moral support, or an intellectual quandary that requires fresh insight; the lesson is letting go of self and having an unclouded vision that allow one to see more deeply into the truth of any situation.
The stories contained in this book all poetically convey lessons like this in the form of short stories that capture not only the significance of the lesson focused on but also the spirit of diligent students seeking higher truth through their training. This is one of the ways that the stories also contribute to positive enculturation of young readers.
A critique of this book that I simply can’t stand here is that “the stories are unrealistic because the children in them are too well behaved” or “there’s no such thing as such focused and diligent students.” I can’t stand hearing people say such ridiculous things because such comments miss the point of the stories entirely. It is not the intention of these stories to portray a reflection of how some things are, but rather the stories are meant to be a example of how things out to be and thereby provide a guide point for child readers. If through reading this book and other books like it, the child gains an understanding and expectation that people should diligently pursue their endeavors and that people should be respectful and focused, then they will approach their own lives by being diligent, respectful, and focused. This is positive enculturation.
Enculturation is the process through which culture is transmitted from one generation to another or from one person to another: generally speaking this happens between a parent and a child, but increasing there are many outside influences on young children beyond the parents. Culture is the invisible and unwritten understanding that exists in a society of how individuals ought to act and what’s important in life. A people’s culture constructs a narrative that allows its members to quickly approach certain emotional and intellectual situations by answering questions like what constitutes respect? is there good and evil? what is good? When one greets friends at the door, one knows how to act and proceed based upon a cultural understanding; one does not need to inquire or deeply delve into every possible aspect of how one might proceed given the arrival of friends at the door, and even if the friendship is complicated and therefore demanding some consideration as to how to act, certain options are already ruled out due to culture. For example, bowing would simply never come up in many Western settings regardless of whatever interpersonal stuff is going on, but bowing and how one bows would very much be important to consider in an Eastern situation. Culture is deeply embedded into almost everything we do, and it can be very hard to consciously separate cultural motivation from the things we do because it is so very much at the base understanding of how we act.
The process through which a child is infused with a certain culture is very much like how a child gains language. When a child is young, he or she can learn any number of languages and learns them simply by listening to and observing others. The extent to which other around a child use language is the extent to which a child gains language. A child brought up in an environment in which only English is experienced will only learn english, and that child will only learn the amount vocabulary level to which he or she is exposed. In an environment where a lot of Korean is used and only some English is used, a child will gain high fluency in Korean but only a little in English. A child who is equally exposed to a full use of English, Chinese, and Dutch will attain high fluency in all three languages. Whatever language usage the child is exposed to is the language usage that the child will inherit. Similarly, the ways other behave around a child and the values that others convey around a child very much influence how that child will behave and what values the child will have.
The process of enculturation in today’s modern world is now quite complicated. It’s no longer just about the parents; today’s children are constantly bombarded by a myriad of messages and cultural narratives that occur in television programming, advertisements, movies, pop music, politically correct teachers, stratified schooling, and so on. What sort of messages about life and character are children receiving from these sources? Hopefully good ones, because these are what most children are primarily exposed to and therefore these are the sources that will primarily indoctrinate children into a cultural understanding of how to proceed through life and how to view and understand the world.
Now we as people are not machines. We are not merely products of our environment, nor do we necessarily keep whatever programing we receive as children. However, the importance of what is conveyed to an individual during childhood is very significant as it often has a tremendous influence over how that individual will approach many other things throughout that individual’s life.
So here is a book that so wonderfully provides a positive input source for a child’s enculturation. Unlike much of pop music and television, this book does not have guys who are gangsters and girls who are hoes; this book does not have maniacal murders indicative of deep seeded human darkness; this book does not speak of a feeble state of human nature. Rather, this book paints an empowering picture of a world in which one can achieve anything through application of diligent pursuit and focused effort and a world in which the highest reality is truth, love, and transcendence. What a wonderful thing to be able to pass on to a child.
Any teacher can readily see the value in this sort of book for students as its message and teachings are so very positive and uplifting on so many levels. Whether you are a teacher, a martial artist, or simply a martial arts enthusiast, this will be a very pleasurable read for you even though it is written for children. I value this book very much for what it accomplishes and stands for, and I therefore whole heartedly share it with you.