Wednesday, July 12, 2006

We are what we speak

My mentor and first karate teacher, who I've known and admired for a dozen years, always says that when we open our mouths we tell people who we are, wittingly or unwittingly. He says that even when we tell others who we think they are, we reveal our own personality in the process.
As it is with speech, so it is with karate, writing, painting and any other means of self-expression.
That includes chess.
I've been playing chess for 35 years. More accurately, I should say that I have known the rules of the game for three and a half decades, although my abilities have improved but modestly over that span due to lack of diligent study and constant practice.
I tend to get wrapped up in details while overlooking the big picture, which includes threats arising from areas just outside my narrow focus.
I'm quick to attack but slow to analyze the dangers of impetuosity.
I don't assess risks effectively, often coming out on the short end of the stick when pieces are exchanged.
My moves take into consideration only the immediate future, rather than the long term.
When I lose badly, especially through carelessness, it can cast a pall over the rest of my day. When I defeat a tough opponent, the elation that follows infuses my day.
Yes, we truly manifest ourselves in everything -- everything -- we do.


isabel said...

yep. indeed. oh so true.

Matt Kohai said...

I relish playing chess every now and then, particulalry against opponents that I know will utterly clobber me. I stopped worrying about losing at chess a long time ago, because I started to realiize that :

a) interacting with my opponent can be as much fun as playing the game, and

b) in losing we can often learn something new, and I take pleasure in learning experiences.

So I'm going to Ken's house later today, to play some shogi, and possibly some chess. The only time I've played him chess so far, he killed me, though he did comment I played better than he'd expected. He demonstrated a more powerful way to develop my pieces at the opening, allowing not just the knights but the bishops to be in position to control the board's center.

In shogi, I haven't won a game against him yet, even though I'm the one who taught him how to play. He confessed in our last game I seriously had him on the ropes, nearly decimated, but I failed to pay attention to my defense, and by simply dropping a pawn followed by a gold general in the right place at the right time, he checkmated me all too swiftly.

But I still look forward to playing him just the same... Look at what I've learned so far!

Oxeye said...

hi Michael, I agree with your comments. But I have a question for you. You seemed to come down rather hard on a nice man who made a rather benign comment about birds flocking to unimportant things. It seemed like maybe he made the comment out of the embarrassment of being called out in public over a small breech of etiquette. What was your real problem with him?

Oxeye said...

never mind answering my question michael, it's none of my business. it just seemed kind of out of character for you and I was curious. like I said, it is none of my business. sorry

Michael said...

Hi Matt,

Shogi is fascinating, but I'll have to leave it for another time. A Japanese proverb says that the hunter who chases two rabbits goes hungry. I want to see how far I can go with chess.

Hi Oxeye,

It's a fair question.
Opinions posted on public forums such as blogs should be posted with the expectation that they'll be scrutinized and questioned.
If memory serves, the self-described Zen teacher in question was taken to task for assigning himself the title roshi in his signature. He then took great pains to explain why he did so, and then seemed to criticize in a very patronizing manner those people who he said obsess over such things.
To me, that smacked of hypocrisy and I stated that opinion and I stand by it. He actually visited my blog shortly after and left a comment (a nice one, or at least a neutral one) on one of my posts -- I forget which one.
Anyway, my bullshit detector tends to sound when something arouses my suspicion. I'm far from infallible and I've been wrong my fair share of times. We are, after all, what we speak (or write).
If proved wrong, then I'll admit as much to the man in question, with my apologies.

Matt Kohai said...

Games update: We played I think six games of shogi. Ken made a big screwup in one of them and conceded before I made the kill. Other than that, it was all him. And he spent some time teaching me chess, and we talked about relationships - more specifically, about mine and my wife's.

Beth's a lucky woman, indeed, to be dating him. And I count myself lucky to be his friend. He's got it together where it really, truly counts.

Oxeye said...

michael, the self-described Zen teacher in question is the Co-Founder of Clear Mind Zen of Las Cruces, a disabled Vietnam Veteran (he was shot in the head), a former psychotherapist, and current abbot of Daihoji in new mexico. you described his pretty simple explanation as one of great pains that set off your bull-shit detector.? I don't know what to say to that but I think your B.S. detector finally mis-fired. I really like what this guy has to say on his blog. just like I like most of what you have to say on yours. you both seem like great guys. :)

Michael said...

Fair enough, Oxeye. I knew nothing of the man's background until you revealed pieces of it and knew him only from the comments he posted on Nishijima-sensei's blog. That was my introduction to him. I stand by my original comment.
In any event, we're talking about an issue that transpired some weeks ago. It's time for me to move on.

Lone Wolf said...

I played a game of chess the other day(Though it was cut short, which I was glad because my ass was getting kicked lol). I hadn't played for ages, but it was alot of fun.

Something I noticed was the tension which could easily become anxeity if I let it. It's just like the Code of the Samurai says, something like do not think about winning or losing, just act with "no mind". But I could see that playing chess or similar games could be a practice to cope with stress in everyday life.

My martial arts teacher use to tell me, "if you lose and you understand why or learned something from it, then you really won". I'm not sure we learn as much when we win.

If mindfull, one can learn alot about oneself through such acitivites as speaking and chess. It might not be so pretty either. I learn that I can be a very anxious parinoid person.

Matt Kohai said...

Lone Wolf: that's a very wise statement. We really do learn more from our defeats than we do from our victories, despite their being less enjoyable. And games like chess are a good emans by which to prepare us for the bigger, more complex games of dealing with life in general.

Michael said...

Hi Lone Wolf,

What you wrote reminds me of a variation on the old Zen parable of the four horses.
This variation, which was adapted to the martial arts, states that there are four kinds of horses: the one that runs swiftly after seeing just the shadow of the whip; the one that runs fast after feeling the touch of the whip on his skin; the one that runs when the whip cuts into his flesh; and the one that runs only after repeated lashings.
The first horse is like the martial artist whose natural ability is so well-developed that he need see a technique demonstrated just once or twice to "get it." The second and third horses are akin to martial artists of decreasing levels of natural ability and understanding. The fourth horse is the martial artist for whom every inch of progress is gained only through hard effort. For this martial artist, progress is difficult and setbacks are many.
Most people would like to be the first horse. In fact, the fourth horse may be the best of all.
The rationale is that many (but not all) people for whom progress comes easily are prone to growing bored and discouraged because they're not sufficiently challenged. Similarly, many of those who must fight tooth and nail to progress also grow discouraged and give up the martial arts. But for those who stick it out, their art becomes part of their very marrow by virtue of their struggles.
You put it another way when you said that our setbacks often are more important than our victories.

Hi Matt,

Chess is a metaphor for life. So is karate. So is blogging. So is tiddly-winks. So is speaking. When we do these things, we tell people who we are.

Michael said...

P.S. I think the original parable is a general Buddhist parable, not specifically a Zen one.