This week we are celebrating the dojo’s 7th anniversary and my birthday. If you read this entire article, you’ll find out how old I am.
Our question of the week is, “What is the wisest thing you’ve ever heard someone say?” My joke answer that I’ve been giving in class relates to birthdays. Years ago, at the end of one of Sifu Brown’s kung fu classes, a student raised his hand to ask a question.
“What’s the etiquette for wishing you happy birthday?” he asked.
We all laughed. Given the strict nature of etiquette in the dojo, it would be a little too personal to wish Sifu happy birthday directly, especially during class. I thought this question was a brilliant work-around, and it obviously stuck with me.
The question of the week and getting one year older has me pondering the nature of wisdom. I’ve always thought of wisdom as it relates to intelligence or knowledge. It’s not simply knowing things but having direct experience. This gives the wise person a better ability to predict what will happen in the future. I also think of wisdom as having a component of creativity.
The student’s way of wishing Sifu happy birthday belied a sly wisdom. He knew from being in the dojo and, likely having experienced some etiquette mistakes, that he would have to be careful. His creativity allowed him to come up with a novel solution to the problem.
Creativity in wisdom
I’ve often said that our practice of martial arts rewires our brains in this way: it causes us to see problems as opportunities. This creativity is something we practice in class all the time, using the principles of our art to improvise when a specific technique doesn’t fit exactly the way we know it. For example, when rolling in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we often find ourselves in a position that is very similar to a situation we’ve practiced in class, but one limb is in a different place. Instead of giving up, we can make an adjustment to the technique and make it work.
As I’m writing this article and looking out the window, I see a subtle example of wisdom. An older man is walking down the street with his baseball hat on backwards. He looks a bit silly in the same way that any of us would if we tried to dress in a manner popular with kids a few decades younger. Yet wisdom isn’t always obvious. In fact, it often masquerades as absurdity or foolishness.
I have a theory about this man’s hat that I believe will prove itself when he returns from the post office…and here he comes, as I suspected, with his hat turned back around to the front. It seems that this man was keeping the sun off the back of his neck using the bill of his hat. Now that he’s walking back with his face to the sun, he’s turned it around. I recognized the wisdom in this man’s creative way of keeping the sun off his neck because I’ve experienced the same situation and done the same thing.
You might find that, looking back on life, you’ll discover the wisdom that other people have shown that you earlier misunderstood as foolishness. This new perspective comes from experience. It is said that it takes wisdom to recognize wisdom (or at least I’m saying that). Even at my ripe old age I’m not sure I can claim any great wisdom, but at least enough to understand a man walking down the street with his hat on backwards.
Now, you’ll be expecting for me to reveal what birthday I’m celebrating. But you’ve obviously forgotten that this week was also April Fool’s. If you want to know how old I am, you’ll have to come to the dojo and count the burpees we do at the beginning of class.