The Art of River Rowing

Humberto Heyden Sensei expresses his views on a delicate subject, comparing sport and art (or "Do")

Many times I have heard that sports karate and Karate-do are not the same thing, whereas others express exactly the opposite. I would like to give my personal opinion on the subject.

Let us imagine two people that like to navigate on boats along the course of a river. Both have the same type of boat, the same general equipment and follow the same route for hundreds of kilometers, arriving at the same destination. They have done this for many years. Both love their activity, and based on this love, they have started to teach it to others, sharing this activity they so enjoy. But one of them has organized a tournament for a group of people. This tournament includes the same starting point and the same goal that the original journey. After this event, his activity has become very successful and now tournaments are organized every year and in different seasons. He has now become a very famous instructor and the amount of followers he now has is enormous. They all want to compete and be the one that arrives first to the goal.

The river is dangerous, these new generations of rowers have had to learn a series of techniques to prevail over the rest. These abilities require many years of intense training and hard work to master. It is said that this is actually a confrontation with yourself and that to master these techniques really only represents the mastery of man over himself. But the truth is still that the highest goal is to beat the other participants, to become the champion. The social acceptance that this brings is obvious, many see you win, you are known too. If this weren't the case, why do it then? What would the goal be then? And even so, there are many that think it is worthwhile anyway.


One is practical and utilitarian and it becomes an external way (road) that needs titles, certificates, trophies, medals, etc. The other is a way (road) that is non-utilitarian, affective, integrative, it is an internal way that points to the human sensibility and his capacity to find the most profound truths in that which is most simple.


But the original people were two. What about the other one?

The other person that liked to navigate along the river in a boat, still does so and because he loves this activity, he wants to share it with others. He has become an instructor. He teaches, exactly as the other instructor, all the secrets in the art of rowing down the river. He has taught how to enjoy the journey, to feel it, to love it, and all the technical secrets on how to do this with the least possible risks. But he does not teach to compete, not even indirectly. He only teaches how to row down the river along the hundreds of kilometers that the journey lasts. Just as his colleague, he knows all the secrets of the river and the art of navigating the river in a boat. But his objective is not the goal, his goal is not the goal. His goal is the journey itself and within this process his students have discovered a world inside themselves and in this world they have discovered those that surround them. They have learnt from themselves and from their friends, they have learnt about the flora (plants) and the fauna (animals), they have learnt to live a little more.

Now both of them are old and they continue to teach their many followers. They still use similar equipment, they use the same boats, the same oars and the same river. Many people, in the general public, think that they teach and practice the same thing. This opinion is based on the fact they use similar equipment and navigate the same river. But the truth is different, so different that there really doesn't exist any relationship between the two activities, they obey very different internal realities. One is practical and utilitarian and it becomes an external way that needs titles, certificates, trophies, medals, etc. The other is a way that is non-utilitarian, affective, unifying, it's an internal way that points at human sensibility and its ability to find the most profound truths in that which is most simple. They are diametrically opposed. The former developing materialism, fanfare, celebration, vanity and superficiality. The other is directed towards sensibility, towards internal retreat, towards harmony and integration with nature and, in some individuals, towards extasis, mysticism, God.

If somebody has the experience, how can they teach competition?


Humberto Heyden
1st of July, 1997.

 

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