International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 85 30th May 2004


I. 'Philosophy and the Martial Arts' by Seamus Mulholland

II. Letters from Three New ISFP Members

III. Two Interesting Publications



Franciscan Friar Seamus Mulholland sees no conflict of any kind between his work as a Priest, and his dedicated interest in Karate and Samurai Sword. In his article, he explains how the martial arts can be a fit calling for a man of peace.

Every new mailout of ISFP membership cards brings a crop of interesting letters in response. Here are three of the most recent letters, from Maushumi Guha, Ian Neilson, and Maria Kalyva.

Last week, in my pigeon hole at Sheffield University, I found a copy of an independent philosophy newspaper, The Die which had made it across the Atlantic from Maryland USA. The Editor, Joseph M. Smith has been looking for philosophers to interview, and previously submitted a question to Ask a Philosopher:

     There seems to be a movement to remove philosophy out of
     the "ivory tower" and "give it back to the people" (Chris
     Phillips' Socrates Cafe and the book "Plato not Prozac" are
     just two recent examples). I'd like to know what actual
     philosophers think about this recent movement and get their
     perspective on how the study (or discussion) of philosophy
     might benefit the lives of regular folks.
The Die is distributed free, although subscribers are invited to make a donation to cover printing and distribution costs.

Another interesting publication is 'Ayaangwaamizin: The International Journal of Indigenous Philosophy' brought to my attention by Sandra Carrillo. A timely reminder that there a lot more philosophy out there than academic philosophers sometimes care to admit.

Geoffrey Klempner



     Fr. Seamus Mulholland OFM
     8th Dan Shotokan Karate, 6th Dan Batto-Jutsu

From Bruce Lee in the early 70s starting us all off on the Martial Arts craze, to the spectacular Kung Fu fight scenes of The Matrix films, to the beautiful dialogue, photography and mysticism of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and now to the Manga bloodfest of Taratino's 'Kill Bill Vol. I', the Martial Arts have been around in the West for a long time.  I have been practising and training in Martial Arts for over 30 years and in that time I have learned much, not simply about Martial Arts as self-defence techniques, but about the 'ground of its being' and the ethics and aesthetics that underlie it.

It is usual to make the assumption that since the Martial Arts emerged in the east, they must carry with them some of the mysticism that goes with all things oriental (at least to a Western mind), and that they are deeply rooted in Zen Buddhist philosophy — at least if the breathtaking spectacularity of the Shaolin Monks is anything to go by.  It is true that there is a different conception in the west of what underlies the Martial Arts in what we may broadly call a 'philosophical' way.  But does the Martial Arts have a 'philosophy' in its own right?  If we take philosophy in its literal translation from Greek 'love of wisdom' then the answer is a resounding yes, if we take the term philosophy as it is understood in the perennial philosophy of the West, then the answer is no.

Philosophy exists for many things: to understand the world, to comprehend things as they are in themselves, to detect errors in thought, to offer a solution to fundamental questions that beset humanity and so on.  However, if we take the original translation 'love of wisdom' and apply it to the Martial Arts, and place the emphasis on the word wisdom, then Martial Arts has a rich, deep, and profound philosophy inherent in it.

The Martial Arts at the surface level are about learning those physical techniques that ensure our personal safety through acquiring the ability to defend ourselves against attackers and also to achieve some very remarkable feats of physical prowess (many people generally associate this with breaking things — 'tameshiriwara' is the proper term for it. But in modern study of Martial Arts that is 'old hat', (as Mr, Miayagi says in 'The Karate Kid' movie, 'Bricks don't hit back'.)  Unfortunately, in the 30 odd years I have been studying the Martial Arts, I have never been be able to pause in mid-air, or stand on the branch of a tree — but isn't it wonderful cinema!!!.  But what I have discovered in Martial Arts training and teaching, is that there is an understanding of the fundamentals of the human condition.  This is why most practitioners of Martial Arts will say that they study a 'do' (doh), a 'Way', that it is not simply the physical techniques that they study and train hard in, but the Way of the Martial Arts.  

In this sense, the Martial Arts as a Way (and Paul, for example, referred to Christianity as the Way, the ancient Chinese speak of the 'dao' the Way) of being in the world, and perceiving and reflecting on the world is as valid a way as Western analytical philosophy.  Where western philosophy seeks to understand life by intellectual and analytical reflection and comprehension, the Martial Arts as a 'way' seeks to understand by living.  So it is that the Way of Martial Arts as a philosophical discipline is about understanding the truth and the reality of life as it is by living it.

Of course the fanciful esotericism that is imposed upon it by the West is out of place.  There is only one Martial Art that is closely associated with a pure philosophical way of being in the world, and that is Kyudo — the Art of the Japanese Bow (Archery), but the more traditionally understood Martial Arts, karate, judo etc., would not speak of themselves as philosophical martial arts.  They would emphasise the 'martial' aspect of the art but even within the 'martial' aspect, we can still learn something of how to move through the world (as Tsun Zhu's Art of War , of  the Five Rings of Miyomoto Musahis, the greatest swordsman ever, can attest).

The philosophy of Martial Arts bases itself on shin, gin, tai — mind, body, spirit (in much the same way that the Hebrew psychology of Man in the Genesis myth conceives of Man as mind, body, and spirit).  In the West we have tended to emphasise body and soul and thus, intentionally or otherwise, we have created a dualism rather than an integrated vision of the human condition.  Most Martial Arts instructors will emphasise the body aspect through their dedicated training, and the mind, through mental preparation to undertake the harsh, demanding, exhausting and very, very physical, training to achieve the required levels in Martial Arts excellence.  Few would emphasise the 'spiritual'.

Yet, the Martial Arts possesses, as a holistic approach to life (shin, gin, tai) a profound spirituality and 'philosophy' and it possesses these not because it has reflected on them in an analytical way, but because it has lived them out existentially.  Thus, Ginchin Funokoshi, the founder of modern karate, could develop the '20 Precepts of Karate' and his first precept was 'Karate always begins and ends with respect'.  This respect is a respect for the totality of reality as it exists in itself.  Funokoshi does not give a definition of reality, he does have to, he intuits that the truth of reality is that it is — it does not need an analytical process of intellectual labour to define it.  Another of his precepts 'There is no first initiative in karate' (katate ni senti nashi) aims to guarantee that the Way of Karate  is kept free from any taint of aggression — for to initiate an attack is an aggressive act and an aggressive act is contrary not just to the spirit of Karate, but also to life itself.

Thus, one of the primary philosophical tenets of the Martial Arts would be a paradox to the western analytical mind: the preservation of life rather than the taking of it through developing amazing physical skills that on the surface level seem violent and aggressive.  But does it not stand true that the rigorous training in Martial Arts equips you with the skills necessary to inflict serious harm on another person?  The answer is yes, but the true Martial Artist would answer, why would I wish to do that if I am training for excellence and perfection not just of Martial Arts skills but in life skills?  Hence, the Martial Artist would not see the paradox because they would not understand it.  The Martial Artist has only one thing to perfect and that is him/herself, and in that sense then he/she has only one opponent, the self, the ego, the preoccupation with a way of being in the world that is centred on me, myself and I and has no altruism in it.

In one of the other Martial Arts I have been studying for the same length of time, Batto-Jutsu (Samurai Sword), there is a strict code of behaviour and respect that underpins everything the swordsman does.  The sword takes on a reality of its own to the extent that the sword (katana) is more important that the one who wields it.  The aim of such a Martial Art is the 'perfect draw and cut' and that is seen as one single action — it is not expostulated as an Aristotelian cause and effect.  The cause of the sword to be drawn is not the hand of the swordsman who draws it — there is no cause because the sword exists as a reality itself and does not need anything else less than itself (the human hand) to allow to be what it — a katana.

Thus, things are allowed to be what they are in themselves without it being necessary to analyse why they are that thing in the world as an existent.  There is also a profound philosophy of life.  Since karate (I practice and teach Shotokan Karate) is built on respect then the greatest respect that can be given is to whatever exists as a thing in itself in the world as that thing.  In other words, respect for life predominates all Martial Arts practice and training.  So, when my students say to me 'What is the best self defence technique', I always tell them it is running away.  It is running away because the way not to be attacked is not to be there, the best way not to hurt anyone else is to walk away.  That way no one gets hurt, since the object of the Martial Arts is self perfection there is no perfection in aggression or violence.  And therein lies the ethics of Martial Arts since it seeks to preserve the truth and reality of things as they in the world without destroying them.

Western analytics (indeed as a lecturer in philosophy I am one of them) would seek a definition of reality, and what constitutes reality in the mind of a Martial Artist who is seriously into their Martial Arts (as I am) since what constitutes reality in the mind of one may not necessarily constitute reality in the mind of another.  But karate, for example, as a word itself contains something of the Martial Arts understanding of reality.  Karate is made up of two words 'kara' = empty, te = hand (e.g. karaoke = kara-empty oke = orchestra!).  Here the 'empty' does not just signify that the karate-ka (student of karate) does not possess a weapon, but also that what he does possess is nothing, an emptiness.  In other words, there is nothing that exists beyond the person existing at that moment.

Herein lies the creativity of the Martial Arts.  Techniques when called by an instructor are only words, they have meaning only as techniques, it is only when the karate-ka brings them into being through their training that they have any reality.  So then many Martial Arts would be Occamist Nominalists!! (and as a Franciscan priest, I would have no problem with that!) since the name of the technique is only that a name, a signifier.  So it is only when the mind conceives the idea of the technique, the body brings it into action through its physical expression, and the spirit empowers it with vigour, power, that one gets a true sense of the real metaphysics that are in Martial Arts.

But it not simply a physical event — it is also spiritual event, if we understand spiritual with a metaphysical bent as pertaining to the 'spirit' of all things that defines their being in the world and accept Duns Scotus' concept of the object of metaphysics as the study of being-qua-being.  Assuming this, one can then suggest that apart from the mental architecture that Martial Arts training helps build, there is an intelligible architecture because things are perceived in the world as they are as that thing through the Martial Artists perception of themselves in the world.  Thus, the other triadic emphases of Martial Arts, Discipline, Etiquette, Respect, balance the metaphysical one of Mind, Body, Spirit, and the empirical triads of Training, Practice, Dedication, balance the ethical ones of Peace, Justice, Integrity.

So is there a 'philosophy' in Martial Arts? Speaking as a teacher of philosophy, a priest, a Scotist, and an experienced Martial Artist I say an empathic and resounding yes.  It is as valid a way of being in the world as a religious way, and it is as valid a perception of the world as a western philosophical way.  It does not possess the Ten Categories of Aristotle, nor does it possess a theory of the Forms of Plato, or an emanation of all things for the One as does Plotinian Neoplatonism, and it does not possess the insights of Positivism, or Cartesianism, but it does possess its own value system, and its own perceptions of the reality of existent things.

It does not need to classify those existent things into categories, or to seek to understand their metaphysical make up, but it does recognise that whatever way they exist in the world, they exist, even if it is only as shadows, or illusions. It is this struggle to understand being that confronts us all and I believe Scotus is right, that the proper object of metaphysics is being and while Scotus says it is being-qua-being and from that develops his wonderful theory of the Univocity of Being, I would say that if it is being-qua-being that is the proper object of metaphysics, then that study must be indiscriminate, and utilise whatever is in the world, or the mind, or the processes of philosophical investigation to help us contemplate, understand, reflect and express what that being is.

Quite aside from the philosophical questions that Martial Arts might throw into relief, there is another aspect of Martial Arts which many western practitioners fail to see and that is its aesthetic.  Martial Arts is simply beautiful to look at when it is done properly.  It is as graceful, as skilled, as deft and as fluid and flowing as ice-dance, ballroom dancing, gymnastics.  I believe this is so because the form of the Martial Arts depends on an understanding not just of accidental in physical movement but how those movements as shapes appear to the onlooker and to the one engaged in the movements themselves.  To see the gracefulness of the ancient art of Aikido, or the strong symmetry of a skilled samurai swordsman, or the powerful, strong yet perfectly balanced movement of a karate-ka is to understand that while these movements have what some may consider to be a dubious purpose (hurting people), in themselves they are works of art.

I am a Franciscan and a priest, a teacher of philosophy and a Martial Artist and the key phrase there is 'I am', I am not someone who 'does' these things; Martial Arts are not a 'hobby' — they are, and continue to be, integral to my life as a human person, as a priest, as a Franciscan, as a teacher, as a philosopher.  So is there a 'philosophy' in Martial Arts? — yes, a very sophisticated, challenging, beautiful one.

(c) Seamus Mulholland 2004




From Maushumi Guha

I am very happy to hear from you about my membership. I think this is wonderful work that you are doing — trying to bring together philosophers from all over the world. I certainly want to be an active part of this project.

A Philosophy society with international membership should be exactly that - open to ideas from all parts of the world. There are many important things that students, teachers and practitioners of Philosophy think about. These may be either local or global issues. As an international forum, we should have room not only for issues of global concern but also of local concern. People all over the world need to understand each other. Philosophers have often led the way for such understanding and dialogue. May be an international forum like this one can give philosophers and those even remotely interested in the subject, a chance to interact in a free and fair manner, a chance to listen to each other. Our world is too fractured. May be some of the fractures can be bandaged in this way.

At the same time, I strongly believe that Philosophy is a rigorous discipline. Contributors should, therefore, have a minimum academic standard and commitment to Philosophy. An international Philosophy forum should not appear as an easy going chat room. Its content will speak about its seriousness and character.

I think Philosophy is the most happening and sometimes volatile area of study. I am yet to understand the dynamics and geography of the subject. I would really like to hear from senior and more experienced members like you about the various geographical and methodological divisions within Philosophy divisions like Analytic/Continental, Indian/Western, Oriental/Western, Modern/Postmodern. I am particularly interested in the idea of a Universal Philosophy. Can we think of a time, not very far, when we will outgrow the boundaries I have mentioned above and do or think Philosophy from a truly global perspective?


Maushumi Guha adds:

"I do not mean by 'academic standard', the holding of academic qualifications in any particular subject. To me, academic standard only means having a deep interest in particular issues and the seriousness to think them through. And I have not come across anyone in the Pathways circle who lacks that interest or the seriousness. I am happy and proud to be part of this excellent philosophical channel.

"I also love the fact that so many non-philosophers (professionally) are interested in philosophical questions that the Ask a Philosopher site is always overflowing and there are people like Singh and Mayenin who enjoy and talk philosophy. 'Outsiders' to professional Philosophy should be more than welcome because Philosophy, in the real sense of the term, is not meant for philosophers alone. And professional philosophers should feel happy when so-called outsiders come into and discuss philosophy. Also, rigour and seriousness are not the exclusive property of philosophy and philosophers. I have many people around me in other academic disciplines or even outside academia, whose rigour and seriousness we would admire and even envy."


From Ian Neilson

Dear Dr. Klempner,

Thank you very much for your confirmation letter of my membership to the Society. As you indicate in your confirmation letter you like to hear a little about any new members. I feel, at least I hope, that I have something relevant to offer.

The Tim Le Bon article included with the confirmation letter was a real eye opener to what the ISFP stands for. Citing 'Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance' is a happy coincidence. My own wanderings led me to this same book after encountering Toshihiko Izutsu's 'Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism' and then the entire works of D.T. Suzuki. There appears to be something life enhancing contained within works of Buddhism that is lacking in much of contemporary Western academic study. My own respect also faltered with regard to my departmental philosophers, so much so in fact that I chose to leave university to pursue my studies without what I considered at the time to be unnecessary intellectual constraints. Academic suicide perhaps but vital in my own particular case.

Fundamental to these changes in study was a simple question that had led me to philosophy originally: 'Who am I?' This question is, in my opinion, the single most significant one any person of enquiring mind can begin contemplation of. For me it is the beginnings of a spiritual process toward one's identifying with God (God is used always as an approximative noun) or Self. Quite something for a confirmed atheist!

As things stand at the moment my philosophy (the Field of Psychophilosophy — a unified theory of science and religion in personal transformation) and its desired aim (the development of omnipathic-consciousness,read Buddha-nature et al) are found through a process (subjective-objectivity, the subject paradoxically being the object of study in psychophilosophy) culminating in the elimination of negative habitual patterns and a drawing closer to Centre/God, the nature of man being spiritual in nature. It is a practical philosophy demanding of its students the complete desire to answer the existential question mark that all those of enquiring mind ask themselves: 'Who am I?'

I look forward to having many discussions with other members of the ISFP and hope that I can contribute at least a little in making philosophy a more popular pursuit.

Yours sincerely,

Ian Neilson


From Maria Kalyva

Dear Dr. Klempner,

Please accept my gratitude for giving me the opportunity to join the ISFP. I also thank you for sending me the membership card.

In your welcome letter you asked for some information about myself.

Well, I am Greek, I 've got a bachelor degree in Law, I work in the HR Department of a construction company in Athens, but right now I am in a 2-years leave and I 'm staying in Canada with my husband for six more months (missing, that way, all the fuss about the Olympic Games!).

After the first months of our life in Edmonton, Canada (where I experienced the grief of homesickness), I started to enjoy the gift of Spare Time!
Since I don't work and I don't have any further obligations — at least nothing more than the basic stuff that a housekeeper usually does — I discovered that finally I could do things for myself. And that is: Writing; Painting; Reading.

I always accused myself of being to much "artistic". Prima facie there's nothing wrong with that, but in long terms it favors the sensitive and abstract part of mine, mocking everything that has to do with pure reality. I like to express my inner self through art but also I need to live in a world without illusions. So, I found a balance by reading philosophy. To see myself from a distance helped me out in many occasions; actually it started from my mother's death when I was 19 years old.

Sometimes bad things open us ways for a better and more self-conscious life... We can't let them get away because of grief or anger.

In Canada there are many public libraries. So I took advantage of it and started to read books that interested me. I focused on biographies and poetry but after a while I proceeded to philosophy and psychology. I found real treasures... But I certainly don't argue that I can easily read everything or that I am attracted to everything. Au contraire.

My knowledge on philosophy matters is still quiet poor. Actually, to be totally honest, I don't even seek knowledge per se. I am not aware of philosophical movements and categorizations of the sort and to get to know them in detail would not be my first priority.

My interest is mainly focused on finding ways to make this world more human. Not an original thought, I believe.

There's no need to mention here my fascination to Fromm's work. Nicholas Maxwell also had a point in his book "From Knowledge to Wisdom" searching for a rational inquiry in order to promote human welfare. Finally Said and, in a different way, Becker convinced me that I was "working" at the right field.

But I 'm still at the beginning. Unfortunately I don't have much time left to dive into this ocean of higher and nobler thought of all the Thinkers. In a few months I 'll go back to work and to my usually busy life. But even then, I will find consolation to know that I am one of your members who will have the ability to be in contact with other members' thoughts.

Finally, I congratulate you for the idea to open up these heavy doors of philosophy and give the (non-academic) people an opportunity to approach their own thinking, which in combination with the development of knowledge and the exchange of opinions would lead in nothing less than a healthy society.

Kindest Regards,

Maria Kalyva



Dear Dr. Klempner: Thank you for today's newsletter. I thought the attached might be of interest, if you're not already aware of them.
Your efforts are much enjoyed and appreciated. Regards,
Sandra Carrillo


Ayaangwaamizin: The International Journal of Indigenous Philosophy


Publisher: Lakehead University

Ayaangwaamizin is a refereed academic journal devoted to the  examination of Indigenous thought. Its existence is a recognition of the  growing number of Indigenous scholars who are engaged in critically  examining the ideas and concepts in their own cultural traditions as  well as in others.

The purpose of Ayaangwaamizin is to provide a forum for dialogue on  Indigenous thought.

Published semi-annually.  Rates are for one volume (two issues).

Subscription rates: $33 Canadian funds for individuals $53 Canadian funds for institutions Add $13 Canadian funds for overseas subscriptions

ISSN 1206-8683

Dennis McPherson, Editor    


Lee Hester, Editor  



Dear Mr. Klempner:

In an e-mail sent about a month ago, I promised to send you a copy of my philosophy oriented newspaper, The Die. Well, to prove that I come through on my promises, here it is. I hope you enjoy it.

Thanks and take care,

Joseph M. Smith


From The Die: New Readings in Culture, Literature, and Philosophy Vol. 3, No. 1 Spring 2004, published by Red Roach Press.

Red Roach Press is an independent publishing organization devoted to disseminating the work of everyday authors who know that the unexamined life is not worth living.

Mission: The Die is an independent newspaper published with the goal of making you think about things you may not have considered and think twice about the things you take for granted.

Subscriptions: Subscriptions to The Die are FREE. To get yours, drop us a line and tell us a little about yourself. Donations of cash and or stamps are appreciated and encouraged.

Contact The Die: Letters from readers are welcomed and encouraged and will be considered for publication unless otherwise noted.

     Red Roach Press
     PO Box 764
     College Park, MD 20740


Web site: http:---

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