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Why Everyone Needs Personal Discipline- The Most Serious Type of Warfare Goes On Within Oneself

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

In our martial system philosophy about the Warrior's Path, there is a phrase that reads: "the most serious type of warfare is that in which there is no bloodshed." There is no answer given or additional clarification in that essay to explain what is meant and how to apply it, but it often draws the attention of students wondering what it means. Daoist philosophy in particular and much of Eastern Philosophy takes this approach where the goal of the phrase is to make the student immediately want to know the answer and thus to trigger contemplation to figure it out. The phrase that "the most serious type of warfare is that in which there is no bloodshed" is such a phrase.


Fortunately most of us have not had to be in the type of warfare with bloodshed but thanks to historical accounts, stories, and of course movies and books we all have a pretty good idea that it is extremely serious. My first interpretation of that phrase at age 15 was that I had no idea what it was talking about and that it was some sort of "Confucious says" B.S. or something. In my mind as a teenager and in my early 20s the most serious type of warfare was obviously that with bloodshed and there was no comparison for some sort of symbolic warfare where people were able to resolve their differences without bloodshed.


It took me a while but eventually as you watch friends go down negative roads, as you watch unnecessary conflicts explode and destroy lives, as you watch people simply lose the will to take care of themselves, as you watch people want to stop bad habits but yet like a "dog to its own vomit" they go back again, as you watch parents who want to take care of their children neglect them and or abuse them, as you watch spouses that started with real love end up wanting to turn on each other, you start to realize there is some sort of unseen battlefield that precedes these ending outcomes. When you further compare these negative outcomes to their opposite positive outcomes you begin to recognize the deeper and more serious type of warfare is not in the realm that we easily see. Of course, as you go further with the heinous behavior of criminals who lose their humanity to the point where they can easily rape, murder, steal, lie, etc. then you begin to further recognize where the primary battlefield is.... IT IS INTERNAL, IT IS PERSONAL.


To put it another way, before you see a person arrive at the level of degeneracy where they can commit a rape or murder, there have already been thousands of unseen battles fought and dismally lost inside that person. Most people thankfully are able to stop the streak of lost internal battles before that point, but it is the state of the internal battle that precedes the results we see externally which everyone is usually overly concerned with. Daoism in particular emphasizes the need to get to the root and focus on the very simple, small beginnings of the much larger phenomenon that we observe in the world. All this points to the "most serious type of warfare"; which is the warfare that occurs within each of us. This is the war that if we can prevail or even just not lose it so dismally, we end up with far better lives. This is what Gong Fu as a martial art is really all about.


Gong Fu remember is the deliberate positive application of the inescapable fact that the power of our consistent work shapes us as people. Everyday is either a net withdrawal of the positive forces within yourself or it is a net deposit for those positive forces. To take a step back, when we are born into this world, unknowingly we are born in the middle of a "war" if you will between positive and negative forces that started long before we got here and which will continue long after we leave this phase of life. These positive and negative forces are constantly interacting within and around us. As these forces interact to various positive and negative outcomes in our lives or on the broader level throughout society and the earth we see this war playing out. Rather commonly, people think to support what they consider positive and resist what they consider negative. Yet when we see the warfare "with bloodshed" we are seeing the late stage effects of the more serious warfare occurring within all of us each day which are the early cause level of the later "visible" problems we all recoil at seeing in the world.


Some helpful quotes to add perspective:


1-From the Huai Nan Zi which is a classical Daoist text it reads approximately that "everyone in the world seeks to discuss how to resolve problems, yet almost no one knows let alone discusses how to prevent the problems arising in the first place and thus it is impossible to speak with them about the ultimate (end game solutions)".


2-"A serpent's egg may seem helpless before it hatches a deadly serpent". 5 Foundations Gong Fu Philosophy Quote


3-From Christian Scripture in Christ's Sermon on the Mount: "take no thought for the morrow for the morrow shall take thought for itself, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof".


4- "Do what you know you should and allow the results to take care of themselves." 5 Foundations Gong Fu Philosophy Quote

Back to the discussion, what is the so what in all this?? In reality we all know many things we should do. People often pretend that we don't know what to do in our lives. Often we deflect and distract from the simple positive things that we know we could engage in that would make a positive difference. We all face similar internal battles in our simple lives of wanting to quit negative habits and to better support positive aspects of our lives. Perhaps there is minor or severe substance abuse to overcome, perhaps unhealthy practices of diet, lack of exercise, perhaps one needs to learn and practice meditation, one needs to replace media time with meaningful study and reading, perhaps one needs to improve a relationship, or there is an apology needing to be made that you keep dragging your feet on, perhaps you need to get up earlier, perhaps you need to change work and life time balances, perhaps you need a new job, perhaps you need to make an investment..... the question of your life really gets very simple, if you win the battle within to do what you know you should, one step at a time, one battle at a time, not taking thought for the abstract tomorrow but with total focus on overcoming the evil of the day, then you start winning battles, then you can shape those efforts to win the larger war of life.


While there are many reasons for losing the battle to overcome the "evil" of the day, it is useful to just realize that this is that most serious type of warfare. In the end, there is a simple reality to face: that there is some sort of self destructive negative force within all of us that is constantly, unrelentingly trying to move forward and take ground. It threatens your character, your health, your happiness, your relationships, and everything you value if it is unchecked and unchallenged. The other part of reality to face is that the positive forces around us are able to be dominant if we simply engage in positive practices on a consistent basis. Even knowing this fact that most of us do, it still is difficult to remain motivated throughout the many simple, small, and winnable everyday battles of life.


Today, I got up on a day off and got ready to go out for a winter run. My youngest son asked me why? It made me pause, reflect and try to figure it out for myself for a minute. It made me think ultimately of the quote and perspective I am sharing with this article. I don't have any external reason for getting up to run today. I don't have some sort of a fight coming up, I don't have a physical fitness test coming up, nobody really cares whether I run or not.... except me. Ultimately, I care about being as fit as I can be and running is one of the aspects I consider important for being functionally fit. When you need to run, there is no substitute in that moment. When my son asked me why, I honestly almost buckled and said "forget this" inside myself. I don't really like running, I maintain my old army level of running despite being done with my contract. I do this by running about once per week, usually cutting back to a couple times per month in the winter. It was winter, it was 20 degrees outside. I started thinking to myself, "I don't need to do this anymore" and then every excuse in the book came up as I tried to talk myself out of going out into the cold weather. Ultimately that is just the negative, weak part within throwing up last ditch efforts to stop me from doing something I feel I should do.


Like everyone else, I have certainly lost that battle before, today I was glad that I won it. I ran my 4 miles in the cold just because it is important to be able to do hard things for the sake of self discipline. For me, that was what winning the small, humble, and personal battle within meant for me today. This discipline from our personal practices in life then carries over to give us the ability to shut down the negative forces in other aspects of our lives. Of course, focusing on this more serious type of internal warfare is not about neglecting larger situations in the world where you can make a positive impact upon. Some days there are material, non-symbolic differences you can make. Maybe you do stop an actual physical attack, maybe you stop someone from psychologically abusing your or someone else, maybe you correct a corrupt system at work, maybe you take the time to be there for someone else who is genuinely in a crisis, etc. We have to be ready to make a difference in the material and visible war of daily life as well. However, to be successful at winning any external battle you would need to first be you at your best. That means that everyday the first order of business is to overcome the illusive negative force within all of us that often has us do things we know we should not. On days when there are no external battles needing to be fought then the internal battle is always there if you are to seize the day and make it a good one. In the end, a good life is simply the result of having many good days. You can't live your whole life at once, you can't change all the past days, you can't succeed on all the future days by thinking about them today, don't overwhelm yourself, simply make sure today becomes a good day, overcome the challenges inherent in the day and repeat this and next thing you know you realize that you are living a good life. This is the way.


Of course this article could go on and on, but we all need to move on overcoming the challenges of this day. So to bring this to a conclusion.... IT MATTERS when you do the things you know you should do. In the end that is all that you can actually do or fail to do. Even when you do what you know you should, sometimes you are still wrong, but because you have acted your sense of judgement about what you should do increases and you grow. In the end, when we are growing we are happy, when we grow, we actually have something to contribute to those we love, when there are an abundance of people growing, who are overcoming the simple personal challenges of life then it becomes feasible to address the larger problems in society and the world that seem impossible otherwise to do anything about. Positive change occurs this way. Below I will put an image the Totality Symbol to illustrate this perspective. It is the long predecessor of the Yin Yang Symbol that many are familiar with in Daoism. There are 5 rings in the symbol. The center is yourself, then the second is family, third is mankind, fourth is the earth, fifth is the universe.



We have the strongest influence closest to the center and our efforts then ripple outwards. We steel ourselves to prevail in the center ring, in the most serious type of internal warfare in the "invisible" realm of the self that later leads to the "visible" victories in the external realm of the world.


One might wonder what this has to do with martial arts and fighting? In the simplest terms, when the moment of action comes where you may need to overcome fear to fight for your life or your loved ones, what will make the difference? You can't in that moment become someone other than who you have practiced being. This is why martial artists focus on living with self-discipline each day, then when tests come, you have your best shot of doing well. When tested, everyone wants to win and prevail, the real question is who wants to prepare to win. Everyday focus on winning the "more serious type of warfare" where there is no bloodshed and you will watch your success everywhere else come naturally of itself so.


"When the time for war has come, the time for preparation is past". Tom Garriga

"The will to win is far less important that the will to prepare to win". Tom Garriga

Thanks for your support. Looking forward to your comments and requests.

Kyle Whiteley

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