“Named must your fear be before banish it you can.”
— Yoda, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back
Yesterday, I noticed I’ve had this quote by Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo, hanging in an open Safari tab on my phone for the past year or so:
Face your fear, empty yourself, trust your own voice, let go of control, have faith in outcomes, connect with a larger purpose, derive meaning from the struggle.
I like it probably because it is so ambiguous that it seems all-encompassing and applicable to every aspect of life. As with many Japanese quotes, particularly in English translation, who knows what each part of Kano sensei’s writing really means?
It is curious how closely it resembles some of the western philosophy. The first part, about facing fears, for example, is similar to the stoic ideas of fear setting that Seneca wrote about:
Set aside a certain number of days, during which you shall content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with coarse and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: “Is this the condition that I feared?”
Seneca was a contemporary of Jesus, but his work was largely unaffected by Christianity. Kano’s martial arts teachings are, essentially, modern, and they are also outside of Christian influence for obvious reasons. So absence of Christian influence is one commonality, but otherwise, the historical and cultural settings where these ideas came from could not be more different. Extrapolating my own experience as a foreigner practicing a Japanese martial art, Japanese culture and its Buddhism-based philosophy is initially attractive to westerners precisely because it is foreign and novel. But as one looks deeper, the same cultural gap makes it unapproachable at a more advanced level. So every now and then stumbling upon western counterparts to the foundational ideas of the East is useful and somehow comforting.