Partway through my martial arts class last night the head instructor, Master Allen, showed us some alternative moves in a kata that we had been practicing—it’s called Kanku Dai in Japanese, Kong San Goon in Korean. He said, “There is no one Way. There always is more than one Way. Anyone who believes there is one Way is limiting himself.”
Music to my ears, now. But it would have been heresy to my ears, then, during the nine years I was studying traditional Shotokan karate. In Shotokan karate there is one way to perform a kata: the sensei’s way, the instructor’s way. And even a high-ranking instructor, such as a fourth-degree black belt, is not going to perform a kata in a way different than Sensei Nishiyama, the ninth-degree leader of Shotokan karate, says it should be performed.
I used to believe that this was the right way to practice the martial arts: try to follow the One Way, the Master’s Way. Along with most of my Shotokan comrades, I used to belittle those poor deluded practitioners of “mix and match” martial arts systems that melded techniques and approaches from many different styles into a unique blend.
And now I find that I’ve become one of the people I used to belittle. Not surprisingly, my perspective is much different now. Yes, I understand why someone would want to study under a rigid “it’s my way or the highway” philosophy—which pretty accurately describes traditional karate—but I don’t think this is the best way to learn the martial arts. Or anything, for that matter.
My spiritual practice has evolved along similar lines. Thirty-four years ago I was initiated into a meditation path that goes by various names: Science of the Soul, Sant Mat, Path of the Masters, Surat Shabd Yoga. I’ve written several books that have been distributed by the organization behind this path—Radha Soami Satsang Beas. Over the past three + decades I’ve had many wonderful experiences, met lots of wonderful people, learned much wonderful stuff.
Yet…just as with the martial arts, the longer I follow a spiritual path the more I realize there isn’t just one Way. There may indeed be the One at the end of the Way (self-promotion interlude: in July 2004 my new book “Return to the One” will be released). But there are many Ways to the One, I’m increasingly sure of that.
So I find myself adapting my meditative practice in ways that I would have considered heretical just a few years ago. Here too, I’ve become the heretic that I used to warn myself about, one of those who thinks for himself and doesn’t follow the party (or Master’s) line simply because the word has come down from on high, “This is how it should be done.” Yes, I start with this. However, if that turns out to be more efficacious than this, I make the change. Such is the way of science. And also of nature. Flexibility. Adaptability. Openness. Evolution.
Systems are necessary. Without them, chaos rules. But without some chaos, rigidity rules. Dee Hock, the founder and CEO Emeritus of VISA International, wrote a great book called “Birth of the Chaordic Age.” It describes both the chaordic way he got VISA going, and how chaordic principles can be applied both in organizational management and personal growth. “Chaordic,” says Hock, is defined as:
“1. the behavior of any self-governing organism, organization or system which harmoniously blends characteristics of order and chaos. 2. patterned in a way dominated by neither chaos or order. 3. characteristic of the fundamental organizing principles of evolution and nature.”
Go Chaordic. It’s much better than going all Orderly, or all Chaotic. Each of us needs both in our lives. Order and Chaos. If you’ve got too much of one, embrace the other. It seems to be working for me (though my wife wouldn’t entirely agree, especially when it comes to the state of my t-shirt drawer.)