Becoming a thief

In budo practice, one must learn to become a thief.

Not a beginner, but experienced student. The beginner is still purely absorbing methods and learning various goals. Through experience, the beginner (hopefully) develops the ability to judge those various methods and results. Learning to be a thief means that student also develops the ability to regulate his own critical judgment and non-judgmental acceptance. That is, the student can discern whether something that others claim to be valuable may not, in fact, be so; the individual person judges whether the proclaimed or acknowledged value of something is truly as high or low (or ignored) as is they are told.

The thief must be deliberate. He observes his target and its owner. He considers how much time and effort it will take to steal the thing. He considers whether he will use the thing in the same way as the owner, and accordingly, whether it will have the same value to him as it does to the owner. If possible, he observes other similar targets – are they of higher quality? and will he have the opportunity to steal from a higher quality target? If not, he needs to be clever and extrapolate what a higher quality target is like, compared to the one he is able to actually steal.

The above is largely about judgment. There is a second component:

There is a potential distraction. The owner may be telling you how to take the thing from him i.e., the teacher may be teaching. But it’s possible that that method that they are putting forth is not the most suitable way to get it into your body and mind. You yourself have to figure that out  – probably first and foremost. That ability is your ability to steal other things from other teachers. It’s like the straw with which you suck in the good nectar. When the teachers teach you, “Their instructions are based on their own paths, their own lifetimes of building understandings”. To understand their teachings, you unavoidably have to do some translation. What they mean. Where they’re coming from. Like learning language, if you are forever translating in order to understand what someone says, you are stuck at a stage of not making that language your own. There needs to be a flipping back and forth between translating and saying to yourself, “This is the gist of the message”, with less and less translating and more and more “This”.

When a student goes back to his home dojo, he experiments on how to achieve the same results as the original owner. He uses that which the owner gave him, as well as what which he himself has accumulated thus far. Again, back to the crucial component of judgment: some people do not exercise that judgment and are instead simply greedy and ignorant. They try to steal that which doesn’t suit them at that point in time. Because it doesn’t suit them, they cannot achieve the same results as the original owner. If they are properly clever, they will put that original target away in the back of their mind to steal later. In the meantime, they will steal other “nuggets” to throw into their pile. As that pile grows bigger, each theft becomes easier and easier.

Stealing is essential. You almost have to want to steal something. Otherwise you need to do the whole process by yourself, of finding some need that must be fulfilled, figuring out what skill you need to fulfill it, and then figuring out how to get that skill. (This may be the way of stark survival. Even then, you’d have to just hope to be lucky enough that another potential opponent has not figured out some skill before you have.) Keeping an open mind toward others means you will learn of needs before encountering them yourself, and you will encounter skills that will not only fulfill needs but open your eyes to other areas of study and other ways of looking at things.


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