Why study philosophy?

Why study philosophy?

In Shorinji Kempo, we study not only the physical aspects of martial arts, but the philosophy as well.  Why?  What is the point?  Surely if you want to learn to defend yourself it is sufficient to learn how to block punches, counter attack, and deal with being grabbed?

Well… no.

Part of self defence is knowing the physical side, yes – but you also need to know when it is appropriate to use the techniques, and even how to avoid needing to use them in the first place.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

Example: I’m in a bar, and a rowdy person is really annoying me.  Do I:

  1. Throw the first punch – clearly they’re going to attack me soon so I should get in there first;
  2. Do nothing and ignore them – they’ll probably go away soon;
  3. Move away – better to avoid the situation if I can;
  4. Keep alert in case they attack, but try not to provoke them.


Defence is primary, offence is secondary. Happomoku. Either 3 or 4 would work, depending on the circumstances. Substitute “annoying me” for “threatening me” and 1 perhaps becomes an option.

Another example: my neighbours are always playing loud music late at night. Do I:

  1. Report them to the police;
  2. Go round there and threaten them;
  3. Ignore it and hope they stop soon?

Answer: probably 1. It’s for the benefit of all mankind…

Of course, it’s not all about situations like this. The study of philosophy in and of itself can be beneficial. It widens the mind and helps us see other people’s points of view. It improves reasoning and critical thinking skills, allowing us to ask better questions when confronted with a situation.

Philosophy will also teach you how to learn better, which will benefit you in all parts of your life.

People often think that philosophy is all about dead Greeks sitting around debating the meaning of life, but some philosophy can be very practical and modern. For example, the Growth Mindset has been around for a long time in one form or another, but was modernised and popularised by Carol Dweck, a professor at Stanford University.

It says, essentially, that if you believe you can’t change – you’re either “good at something” or “bad at something” then you won’t even try to improve. Like a self-fulfilling prophesy you’ll constrain yourself to your expectations.

On the other hand if you believe that you can improve, you’ll put more effort in, seek help when needed, and ultimately prove yourself right – you will get better.

This is a great attitude to have when learning something new (like, for example, a martial art…). Every beginner who walks through the door has the potential to be great, to be a teacher one day. You just have to keep trying.

Published by Nicola Higgins

Nicola Higgins is a 30-something* martial artist, Girlguiding Brownie and Ranger Leader, and actuary. She somehow also finds time to read, fuss her cat, and occasionally spends time with her husband. * please note that "ten or more" is still something.

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