Over two thousand years ago in the Greek city of Athens a man named Plato put forth his Theory of Forms. Within he argued against the common acceptance that the world we see was the true world, instead suggesting a higher truth, one existent outside the realm of the physical. If you’re not familiar with Plato’s Theory of Forms, click here but to summarize, Plato insisted the physical world was not in fact the truest manifestation of reality. Instead he believed it a mere reflection of a more-perfect ‘World of Forms’ and further suggested that man, with his ability to reason and employ logic, could access this world of forms through thought.
Regardless of your opinions on the validity of Plato’s theory, I think it a valuable exercise to consider the various other observable realities and life-lessons which make such a theory possible (and conversely are made possible by such a theory). While the list of possibilities could go on ad-infinitum, I wish to direct focus instead to a principle on which we can all agree:
>>>A foundation is best when built on solid ground……
If you were tasked with the building of a house, would you begin building your foundation with sand or stone? Stone of course, but have you considered why? Because stone is more solid right? Well stone is more solid than sand, but wood is also quite solid. Why not build it with planks of wood? Many things are solid yet building with them would prove disastrous, so the reason can’t be so simple as this. In order to find the answer which is most true it is necessary to ask what every person-who-creates must ask of their creation; Firstly “What purpose am I seeking to fulfill?” and secondly “How can I best fulfill it?”
In this case, what purpose would we be fulfilling through the building of our foundation and why is stone the best option for fulfilling it? Fortunately for us the definition of foundation provides us with a clue:
Foundation: an underlying base(n.) or support(n.)
From this we can deduce the purpose of our foundation. To do so we must take into account a critical distinction. The definition of foundation as written above likely conjures up thoughts of…..what? A thing right? An object. Perhaps it is brick, or cinder-block, or concrete but nonetheless if I ask you to picture in your mind a foundation you most likely imagine some sort of….object. Yet an object(noun/thing) can not be a purpose(verb/action), so we’ve still not entirely answered the question.
In order to find the purpose, we must abandon the object and instead consider only what it does. In this case (and nearly all others) this is as simple as viewing the words of the definition not as things, but as actions. That in mind, we can reread our definition as such:
Foundation: that which bases(v.) or supports(v.)
There you go, we finally have it; the purpose of our foundation and therefore the reason we build our foundation with stone. Houses are heavy and fragile, they will crack and break if they move. What better to support such a thing than a foundation of stone? Wood will rot and bow, metal will rust and corrode, and sand shifts out from underneath. Stone is strong, not too brittle, resistant to time and can be shaped if needed. It occurs naturally, does not easily move or warp with climate changes. and temples of stone stand today (albeit somewhat decayed), even after millennia. Therefore stone is the best possible option.
Or as Plato would perhaps put it, “It is the truest physical manifestation of the FORM of [a] foundation” (in this context).
All of this may seem trivial and petty; a waste of time and energy endlessly chasing words and semantics. However this practice of seeing the world as purpose is one quite beneficial in the mastering of any skill-set. To see a beam under a bridge and recognize it for more than the steel it is made of or what it is, but also for the how and why of it, for the purpose it serves is an exercise in understanding and coming to know the world. It forces you to ask questions you might otherwise never consider and thus, reveal ways of thinking you may never have known without.
Whether you take the philosophy of Plato’s FORMS to heart or not one thing is certain; There is always room for improvement.
On Martial Arts Regarding the Preceding:
In any practice there is nothing so important as the basics. A master simplicity will always have an advantage over the layman of the complex as the layman lacks foundation. Considering the purpose discussed previously, it is easy then to reason that if the basics of an art are truly the foundation then they cannot be as simple as they may appear; they may in fact be the most complex and in need of the most consideration. While a jab+cross combination may appear simple, it can be broken down, picked apart, and perfected endlessly.
To understand something is to recognize your ignorance of it. This is why we must ask questions of everything we do.
Many of us could likely agree there is such a thing as a ‘perfect punch.” To be considered such it would need to meet certain criteria. It would need to land. It would need to be effective. It would need to be relaxed and effortless and it would need to be harmless to the puncher. Other prerequisites may exist yet show me one punch which could be considered truly ‘perfect’ by even these few definitions. Such a strike has never been thrown and yet….we know the ‘perfect punch’ exists somewhere. The question is where?
As Plato stated it exists in our minds. We know it exists because we can imagine it. We can feel it. While executing it in the physical world may prove impossible, we can continue to strive towards that unattainable perfection through practice and coincidentally…..through forms.
The practice of forms (gung-fu, boxing, dance) [can be] an exercise again in Platonism if one only take the time to ask, ask, ask and ever insist upon making the form being practiced a little closer to the FORM from which it stems.
If you made it through this thank you for reading, let me know what you think down below and I hope it wasn’t too painful for you!