How Proverbs Produce Wisdom

The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel: for attaining wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight. Proverbs 1:1-2

The goal of Proverbs is to teach wisdom for life. The context to learn this wisdom is in a relationship with God (“fear of the Lord,” 1:7). Someone who doesn’t walk with God can still receive benefit from studying the book, but the full nutritive value will be missing. Walking with God and growing in wisdom involves trusting him with all our heart and submitting our will to his. “Lean not on your own understanding” (3:5) means that if our perspective on an issue conflicts with God’s, we forego our own.

Proverbs does not give instruction on every type of wise behavior for every conceivable situation. Rather, it emphasizes the importance of learning important principles that apply in a wide variety of situations. Although there are many specific examples of how to act and respond wisely, the greater aim is to teach the principles of wisdom so the student has a base from which to draw insight for new situations.

Individual proverbs refer to a wide range of situations, providing us with solid examples about how to behave. But, their real value is in their “performative force,” that is, their challenge for us to assess and understand the dynamics of a particular situation. This understanding becomes the mix of wisdom and insight that forms our world outlook, ethics and ability to discern the dynamics of new situations so we can respond appropriately there. (David Kelsey, Eccentric Existence: A Theological Anthropology, 1:223).

All of us teach our children to not go into the road. Standing outside our house, we will point at the street and say, “No!” with great firmness. If our youngsters challenge us by running into or near the street, we deliver a sharp smack to the behind. Hopefully our command, “Do not go in the road,” followed by punishment if they do, will function as proverbial wisdom to our children to steer clear of the street.

Then we take our children to grandma’s house. As we are unloading items to take inside there are a few unsupervised moments when our children can follow us into the house, or they can explore the environment away from the watchful eyes of mom and dad. There is a street in front of grandma’s house. What will the children do? Did the spanking they received at home for refusing to listen and obey in regard to the road give them any insight and knowledge beyond our front yard? Will they apply the lessons learned at home to the street in front of grandma’s? If so, our words are functioning with performative force. The lessons learned are carried beyond the initial experience and are being applied in wider situations.

We can’t expect our command to not go in the road will last forever. Eventually, our children will have to cross a street. So, we teach them to “Stop, look and listen.” If some fear of the pavement and speeding cars still resides within them, they will be careful. The initial lessons learned years ago of avoiding danger by not going in the road will still guide and guard their actions, keeping them safe.

The ultimate lesson we hope our children will learn is that they stop, look, and listen not only at a highway, but in the presence of any potentially dangerous situation in life. A boy at school that is too debonair, a powdery substance that promises escape, a financial investment that cannot lose – these are all potentially dangerous highways. The speeding cars on this road are people, substances and empty promises that can crush us.

The lesson learned early on about “Don’t go in the street!” and was later expanded to “Stop, look, and listen,” applies to more than just the street in front of our house. It applies to all the roads of life. That is the nature of a proverb. Each proverb contains a gem of wisdom that can be applied to a specific situation and context. But their real value and performative force lies in their power to ingrain themselves into our psyche and influence our thinking and ethical choices on all the highways we encounter.

The Application of Academic Research

INTRODUCTION

This article will seek to highlight the numerous academic aspects of the martial arts and sciences and how they might be of serious interest and value as objects of research by various specialists. It will demonstrate their worth to researchers from other disciplines, providing them with a wealth of potential material to examine, experiment with and catalogue. Indeed, they are an extremely rich resource that has, for the most part, been completely neglected, with only a few brave and/or curious even bothering to explore the possibility.

It will highlight the efforts of the IMAS in striving hard to encourage and promote education, training, research and qualifications in the martial arts and sciences and, by so doing, gradually causing them to become more accepted as an academic subject of very real merit and worth.

ACADEMIC FACETS READILY FOUND WITHIN THE MARTIAL ARTS AND SCIENCES

Researchers in the following disciplines would find much of worth in the martial arts and sciences:

1. Anthropology

Anthropology is the scientific study of the Human Being, at all times and in all types of societies, cultures, civilisations and situations. The origin of anthropology is to be found in both the Natural Sciences and the Humanities. It asks questions such as: What defines a human being? Why do we tend to behave the way we do? And why do we develop particular belief systems?

Therefore, it is quite easy to see from the above that the martial arts and sciences have a great deal to offer this subject specialism, particularly in what is called “cultural anthropology” which is a sub-division that tends to concentrate upon “ethnology” or the study of certain systematic comparisons between different cultures. For example: A well known author wrote and published a definitive work upon the European knight. This book was very well received and, a couple of years later, the same person decided to write another work, this time upon the Japanese Samurai, so drawing comparisons between the two while also highlighting certain differences in the attitudes and behaviour of each. (We can see from this example one of the many “crossovers” that frequently occur between academic disciplines. This author was writing these works as an historian, although they could just have well have been presented (with a slight modification in context) as an anthropological text)

The comparison between the different warrior castes and their indigenous martial arts would be a perfectly acceptable study for any cultural anthropologist to embark upon and would no doubt, yield a wealth of interesting data for the researcher(s).

1. Philosophy

Philosophy deals with the life’s really BIG questions such as who are we? And why are we here? The meaning of truth and even life itself, Etc. There are many different schools of philosophy, as well as diverse areas of study (Epistemology, Logic, etc.) But, the areas that would be of special relevance in the martial arts would be both Aesthetics (which concerns itself with art) and Ethics (which concerns itself with morals, duty, scruples and generally “doing the right thing for the right reasons)

The martial arts would be most relevant to the oriental schools of philosophy that have their origin in religions such as Buddhism and Daoism, but certain European schools would also find much of interest, in particular Stoicism which concerns itself with the control of the emotions, and the Existentialism of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre among others, that subscribes to the theory that the human being must take full responsibility for the human condition rather than simply blaming it upon “Fate” or “God”.

2. Psychology

Psychology is the study of the functions of the human mind. It concerns itself with perception, cognition, personality and behaviour, etc. Again, it has many schools (Behaviourism, Cognitivism and Humanism, etc) and specialist areas (such as educational, industrial, etc) However, the martial arts would be of most use to psychologists researching the following aspects:

o Anger Management
o Conflict Resolution
o Stress Control
o Sports enhancement
o Education
o Performance coaching
o Etc.

There is a lot of interest in the way that martial artists utilise certain mental disciplines or “mindset” if you will. The ability to control their mental and physical abilities to the extent where ordinary flesh and bone can be used to break hard objects for example.

The psychology of warfare and the mindset of traditional warrior castes might even be able to shed some light upon the causes and treatment of certain mental health issues suffered by modern soldiers, chiefly, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which causes such a lot of misery to so many. So, once again, martial arts have a lot to offer from a psychological standpoint.

3. Sociology

Sociology is the study of human society and behaviour. It encompasses such things as the way society and culture influence the individual and also how individuals manage to find their place in the greater scheme of things and concentrates upon building up a body of knowledge regarding the effect that such things as religious and political beliefs exert upon the attitudes and behaviour of communities and society at large.

Up until quite recently, members of local communities maintained quite strong, close relationships with each other. They went to the same school, relaxed in the same bars or cafes, and worshipped in the same church or temple. These days, most of that has changed. Parents will actually up-stakes and move to another area in order to try and get their child in to the school of their choosing, because of the improved transport system, people tend to travel further afield if they want to go for a night out and not that many people are as devout with their religious observances as they were in times gone by. And, even if they are, it is now possible to worship in many different temples and churches, with it being possible to change your denomination, or even your entire religion, almost every week!

Because of this changing social structure, people are now far more independent rather than co-dependent. In the UK in particular, our churches and public houses are shutting down at an alarming rate, so this process is continuing and might even be speeding up somewhat.

In this climate, local martial arts clubs tend to endure as bastions of strength in the community. The vast majority are run by local people for local people, and make a very real and concrete contribution to their communities: Martial arts instructors continue to play an important part in keeping their local communities healthier and safer, and can also exert a tremendous influence upon the children and young people that come to them for lessons. They take part in important events in their local area such as putting on displays at garden parties and fetes, and engaging in fund-raising activities for charity, etc. In this manner, martial arts clubs actually help act as the “cement” of their local communities, attracting literally all kinds of people to come together in a spirit of trust and respect. Therefore, as instructors, we must be mindful of this fact: Our field of influence extends way beyond the mat, into the family unit and throughout the community at large.

Sociologists with an interest in the historical aspects of their science would find much of interest in the martial arts, as wars have always played a pivotal role in shaping the society we live in. The selection, training and fighting arts of the warrior, together with their strict code of ethical conduct, have had a heavy influence not only in the way that wars were fought, but also in how nations eventually evolved and came into being.

Therefore, martial arts can prove to be a rich source of both historic and contemporary information to sociologists.

4. Theology/Religious Studies

The martial arts of every country have always been very heavily influenced by certain religious beliefs and philosophies. Even today, it is possible to see the residue of these influences very clearly in not only the various histories of our arts, but also the rituals and traditions that are still so much a part of them. If we look into the historical origins and of many combative systems, we will find monks, priests and philosophers nurturing them and helping them to develop, if not actually inventing them altogether.

Indeed, if it were not for the warrior monks of many cultures and societies, then the martial arts we all know, love and learn today might not have survived at all. This is especially true when we look at such arts as Gatka from India, Shaolin Kung Fu from china, certain styles of Bersilat from Malaysia and Kyudo from Japan. Each of these martial arts is inseparably and indelibly linked to a religious belief and philosophy, with each still retaining certain undeniable aspects of these within their training regime and philosophies. Still other martial arts, such as Thai-Boxing and Sumo wrestling, clearly still bear the marks of theology upon some of their practices, requiring special blessings, prayers, rites and rituals as an integral part of their competitions.

5. Historic

As already stated above: War and religion are two of the sharpest tool’s employed in the shaping of human culture and society. In this manner, it could be argued that the martial arts and sciences have helped to both build and destroy entire empires and nations. Fighting and the use of weapons are so ancient that they actually even predate our own species: The great apes have been shown to demonstrate crude strategy and tactics, as well as modifying sticks into forms of primitive spear. The most primitive of weapons would include the stick, stone and bone, and any combination thereof the martial arts we practice now as a healthy pass time were then, quite literally the tools of the trade. It was upon the battlefield that a great deal of martial arts and sciences have their roots and continued development, from ancient times up until the present, with people like Fairbairn and Styers researching, experimenting and modifying the traditional techniques found in the Japanese and Chinese systems so that they could be of more efficient use in 20th century conflicts, the Israeli armed forces developing Krav Maga, and the United States Marine Corps with their military martial arts programmes of today which aid young marines to prepare for and fight battles, physically and mentally. These constant modifications are a necessary part of evolution where only the strongest survive.

Historians already find much of interest in the martial arts. Hence, you have serious researchers who delve into the weapons and armour of bygone eras. In addition, you have very respected institutions such as the Imperial War Museum that actually employ martial artists and Masters at Arms to demonstrate their abilities, so allowing the general public a rare opportunity to witness historical combat “up close and personal”. Martial arts, then, are actually pieces of “Living History” that allow both historians and the general public a unique insight into the past.

In addition to the above, there are several other disciplines that would find much of interest and worth in the study of martial arts. The very practice of martial arts techniques themselves contains a wealth of scientific application. Anatomy, Physiology, Bio-Mechanics, Kinetics, etc, are all a very real part of any training session. Health and fitness, Sports Science, Teaching methods and coaching all also have their place. It is about time that the martial arts and sciences were acknowledged and accepted as being the rich repository of knowledge they truly are.

CONCLUSION

All of the above is already happening (albeit in an extremely sporadic way.) Research papers have been submitted by academics of several disciplines throughout the past few decades. Even so, there is not enough of this valuable research for martial arts per se to be taken seriously as a subject worthy of stringent academic examination in its own right, with only certain specialised aspects being investigated by researchers from several other specialisms. And, it has to be said, the majority of faculty within the Institute (myself included) have, of course, all undergone their academic training and gained qualifications in various academic disciplines other than that of the martial arts and sciences, simply because the opportunity did not exist for us to research the arts we all loved to practice and teach. In a way, this has helped to make our faculty both strong and varied. But, the time has now come for the martial arts to “come of age” as an academic subject in its own right. Indeed, this is one of the main reasons as to why this institute has come into being, and remains one of its primary goals.

Earlier this year, the Institute of Martial Arts and Sciences held its first ever conference. It was a small affair but, never the less several very interesting research papers were submitted and presented. It is hoped that this research will soon be published so others might gain access to them and perhaps even be inspired to conduct research of their own. In addition, members of faculty constantly work hard at establishing strong links with several other learned institutes and universities the world over, and continually publishing books, articles and letters in both specialist journals and the martial arts press. So it has already started. The face of martial arts have changed irrevocably for the better, thanks to a scant handful of determined academics, researchers and educators who also happened to be very highly ranked martial arts practitioners. It is those few who have made it possible at last for the martial arts to be studied not only on the mat in a martial arts club, in the sporting arena or even on the battlefield, but also in classrooms and lecture halls. Martial artists can now also sit academic exams as well as undergo grading examination tests. And they can gain useful academic, professionally accredited qualifications as well as belts or sashes, and these qualifications mean just as much outside of the martial arts club as they do within it. Martial arts and those who practice them are now beginning to gain the status and recognition they so richly deserve.

Where Is God: Are the Gaps Shrinking?

For the faithful, without doubt, the Christian God has operated in the earthly realm. God generated the famous burning bush of Moses, parted the Red Sea, created the virgin birth of Christ, turned water into wine, converted fishes and loaves to feed thousands, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.

That presence continues today. Today, for the faithful, God touches our earthly realm as his listens to our prayers, sends his Spirit to guide and purify us, inspires the bishops at ecumenical councils, and enables modern day saints to perform miracles.

But where is this God?

Before the ascendancy of modern science, the Christian God could be present “out there” in nature. Humanity’s understanding of science was sufficiently limited that we could picture our God as residing in the skies above, wielding the forces of nature for his purposes. Ample gaps existed in our science to allow the earthly attributes of God, and his presence in our earthly realm, to slip in without contradiction of science.

But the God of earthly prowess is running out of room to hide. Physics over the last century has drilled down to the infinitesimally small, and the sister science of astronomy has peered out to the extraordinary distant. The “out there” is shrinking.

So where is God? One might have thought we would run into him, if he was “out there” in the physical realm.

One Approach, Denial of God – This contradiction, this incongruity, between the professed earthly presence and intervention of God, and the increasing scope and reach of science, leads many to a denial of God. If one takes our hard sciences, and adds in sociology, psychology and anthropology, one can readily create a convincing logic that God isn’t a reality but rather a figment of collective human need and imagination.

Many prominent authors have written books to that effect.

Believers, the faithful, would reject that rejection, and despite any contradictions maintain a conviction in God. I accept that as reasonable, that at the person-on-the-street level, faith can operate as such. In the myriad of inconsistencies in life, we cannot expect everyone to resolve them all with absolute philosophical and theological rigor. It is permissible to just believe.

But for truth, for that which would supersede all else, we cannot overlook such contradictions. If God is to remain a possibility within truth we must resolve the increasing tension between our personified and intervening God, and the lack of any physical indication of his presence or the mechanism of his intervention.

Why work so conscientiously to maintain what some would consider a mirage. Very simply, within our history, within our culture, and within our conceptual realm, God stands as too central of an idea to simply abandon it without due diligence.

Of God and Concepts – The origins of most religions occurred before the scientific age. That timing stands as a key insight into our dilemma. God could reveal himself only within the conceptual framework of pre-scientific mankind. This limitation extended to other spiritual concepts. Souls, heavens, salvation, grace, all became cast within the terminology and idioms of the times.

Our quandary of the shrinking gaps for God may rest not so much in the essence of God, but in our images of that essence. God is ineffable (let us assume he exists, and if he exists most theology posits God as ineffable, at least within current human intellectual capabilities). As such, we can grasp God only by images and analogies, and difficulties with God could readily be in those images and analogies, not in the nature of God himself.

To explore that hypothesis, let’s think about how God would design the method and content of revelation to match what mankind could most readily understand. How would he market himself, in a good sense, i.e. without attempting to deceive while maximizing his message?

Now without being presumptuous, I would posit God would want to achieve the following in a revelation:

– Show knowledge or abilities beyond mankind’s
– Maintain credibility
– Demonstrate his munificence, divinity and perfection
– Fit within the culture of the time
– Impart new understandings

In prior times, converting water-to-wine (or just a story of converting water to wine) worked within those parameters. Nature in those times contained numerous mysteries; the forces of nature brought both good fortune and calamity with a certain degree of arbitrariness. Water-to-wine fit into the general unexplainable phenomena encompassing life in general.

Today, water-to-wine might work, but I could readily conceive this event becoming swallowed within modern culture. The miracle could be demoted to just another Wikipedia article, with categories of description, scientific explanations, historic context, socio-political impacts, press coverage and book deals, all highly referenced. Our modern culture tends to chew up such physically bounded “miraculous” events.

Current prophet – If a revelation were to occur in current times, God would likely not use images, messages and approaches relevant for a prior time. The criteria for his revelation, as listed in the bullets above, would remain the same, but that criteria would dictate different approaches.

So how would a current prophet implement the criteria above with a current approach? Let me lay out how such a prophet might operate.

The prophet would appear first in a deep African village, to a small group of people, but including one person who posts a video on the internet. The prophet would proclaim “all gods are in God.” He would show a tattoo and a talisman, and provide a dental impression, suitably encased for sanitary and preservation purposes, then disappear.

Few would notice. The prophet the next day would appear at a vastly different location, at a great telescope in South America, to another small group of people, again including one who posts a video on the internet. The prophet would write down detailed co-ordinates for locating a planet, and proclaim “you will find life.” He would show his tattoo, his talisman, and leave a dental impression.

The prophet on the third day would again appear at a new and different location, at CERN, in a room with no other occupants at the time. He would gain access to the computer systems, enter an algorithm and write “with this you find an essence for time.” He would leave a dental impression.

The next day, the scientists of CERN discover the entered algorithm, and trigger a local press story. No one, however, can find a trace of how this person arrived or left the building or location.

The prophet on the fourth day arrives in a Southeast Asian village. He asks the local doctor to take a sample of blood, shows his tattoo and talisman, and leaves the now familiar dental sample. The doctor records a short video, and posts it. The prophet proclaims that the blood contains “a cure and revelations.” The prophet’s story begins to break across the news media in sporadic reports. His dental impressions begin to be collected.

On the fifth day, the prophet appears at the Antarctic South Pole station. A video is taken, with shots of the tattoo and talisman, and the dental impression provided. He proclaims, “maintain diligence, as five years will be required.” The prophet takes a small container of radioactive material used for experiments, steps outside into the cold, breaks open the radioactive container and douses himself. He then walks off.

The prophet is never seen again. No evidence of his means of transportation is ever found. No evidence of his body or the radioactivity is found in the Antarctic snow. The dental impressions all match, and the DNA on the impressions is found to be human.

Five year later, the planet at the telescope coordinates is found to contain plant-like life, the algorithm at CERN uncovers tachyon-like particles that revolutionize the concepts of time, and the blood sample contains cures to diseases, and proteins that when decoded provide divine sayings.

Discussion – What is this story? It is not an attempt to supplant God. Rather, the story indicates that the apparent closing of the gaps where God can exist is a closing of the God of the concepts available in the historic time of that revelation. The story points to possibilities for divine presence and revelation tuned to present culture.

We think science has closed the gaps. But the story shows many gaps exist. Mankind does not know if or where other life exists, physics has incomplete understanding of time, and medical science can not address major illness.

Some are skeptical of the resurrection of Christ. That skepticism could be considered culturally supported since the movie Sherlock Holmes showed how a mere human villain pulled off his own apparent resurrection. But in this story, teleportation replaces resurrection, with dental records as authentication, and though not iron clad we would not readily dismiss the power and reality of a prophet employing such a means of travel.

Teleportation vs. miracles shows how cultural appropriateness enables the credibility of revelation. Two millennium ago, communication and travel occurred so slow that the teleportation of the story here would hardly have been noticed. Today, that is of course much changed. The teleportation here is documented through internet technology and authenticated by scientific means not available in prior times. It receives credibility since science itself is exploring teleportation. Finally, the teleportation is sufficiently astounding to make explanation of it as a trick, or within know physics, difficult.

In today’s media-hyped environment, a prophet with a long duration could get exposed, destroyed, disputed, elevated, exploited, politicized or otherwise unable to stay on point. This story has a prophet of five days, with the revelation, not the prophet, extending over time.

And miracles are replaced by information. Our scientific age is skeptical of physically bounded miracles. Our belief in science is so strong that many would pick the now constancy of science over an isolated localized miracle of a prophet, if the two conflicted. Thus, while a physical miracle creates a contradiction with science, a prophet offering information does not. Information and science are conciliatory, and the information revealed here extends science.

Is the teleportation a similar physical miracle that would be discounted? Possibly, but I would argue it is sufficiently broad, and sufficiently beyond standard magician material, to set itself apart.

Where is God? – If he exists he is somewhere, I know not where. So I have asked a question which I can not answer. But I have offered that the continuing advances of science, and the expanding reach of modern culture, do not of necessity squeeze the “where” of God into a smaller and smaller gap.