Category Archives: philosophy

Occam’s Razor for shooters….

The Ockraz Logo
The Ockraz Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

William of Ockham was an influential medieval philosopher who is recalled chiefly for the maxim attributed to him known as Ockham’s razor. Also spelled “Occam’s Razor”. The words attributed to him are, entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem…or “entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity”.

I bring this up because I have just read a quote from the Dokkodo, the “The Solitary Path”, which is a short piece written by Miyamoto Musashi shortly before his death:

Do not collect weapons or practice with weapons beyond what can be of use to you.

I see a link between the philosophies of these two men and an application to weapon training. I will attempt to explain.

These philosophical issues come to mind because I was recently involved in a friendly conversation debating that “Less Filling. Tastes Great” topic of using the slide release vs “power stroking” the slide on a handgun during an emergency reload.

I have a post here regarding this very issue BTW.

Debate points that always seem to come up when discussing emergency reloads are:

“I use the power stroke because I may be using a weapon I am unfamiliar with and running the slide is fairly universal for all pistols while slide releases may vary.”

and

“I use the power stroke because the actions are similar to the manual of arms for clearing malfunctions.”

Being a fairly recent convert to the slide release method, Occam’s and Musashi’s quotes kind of cut me both ways.

I argue that the “It’s universal for all pistols” point either means you own too many pistols or you are saying you are going to be doing a combat pick up of a pistol…or a disarm.

Per Occam/Musashi…if you have so many different pistols that you may/may not be carrying at any one time, you are violating their precepts. I’m not against collecting guns, I’m not against having different pistols/rifles for different applications, but if you worry that you may not be able to “auto pilot” your weapon because you may be carrying something different on any given day, that’s a problem IMO. Pick one and make it a part of your hand.

The combat pick-up/disarm argument doesn’t hold much water for me either. I’m probably not going to disarm an attacker of his weapon and magazines and have to do an emergency reload with them. And the combat pick-up is such a statistically rare issue that I don’t see it as a valid point. Either way, if they worry you then do the power stroke method if that ever happens.

The second point…”I use the power stroke because the actions are similar to the manual of arms for clearing malfunctions.” Is a more valid argument when applying Occam (Musashi doesn’t really apply here). Having one way of operating the pistol regardless of reason (malfunction or running dry) is a stronger point IMO and I have much to agree with.

However I would counter that Occam said “…must not be multiplied beyond necessity” he didn’t say “never multiply”. The slide stop method has some things going for it; speed, efficiency, the weapon/hands stay more oriented to the threat, etc. The necessity of multiplying your manual of arms to gain those advantages may be debatable, but I would debate it.

Either way you choose I find Occam and Musashi’s points as interesting ways to analyze our choices when it comes to weaponcraft. What do you think?

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47 Ronin

Forty-seven Ronin Graves (2008)
Forty-seven Ronin Graves (2008) (Photo credit: jpellgen)

A Facebook friend of mine mentioned that this month marks the 311th Anniversary of the “Ako Incident”….otherwise known as the night the 47 Ronin carried out their attack on the mansion of Kira Yoshinaka. One noted Japanese scholar has described this tale as being the country’s “national legend.”

What is interesting however…as it always is when separating out historic facts from legend…is that according to the “Bushido Code” of the day the actions of the 47 Ronin were not unanimously viewed as being heroic.

To encapsulate the event. In 1701 two daimyo, Asano and Kamei, were ordered to arrange a fitting reception for the envoys of the Emperor in Edo, during their bi-annual service to the Shogun. They were to receive instruction in proper etiquette from a powerful court official named Kira. According to the legend, Kira expected a bribe/fee from the diamyo of which Kamei paid and Asano did not. Kira then treated Kamei civilly but continually insulted Asano. Eventually Asano had enough and drew a blade within Edo castle and wounded Kira. This was a grave offense and Asano was ordered to commit seppuku and all of his goods and lands were ordered to be confiscated after his death, his family was to be ruined, and his retainers were to be made ronin (leaderless). 

Of Asano’s over three hundred men, forty-seven refused to allow their lord to go unavenged, even though revenge had been prohibited in the case. They banded together, swearing a secret oath to avenge their master by killing Kira, even though they knew they would be severely punished for doing so. Two years latter, the 47 Ronin attacked Kira’s mansion in the early morning hours during a heavy snow killing Kira and most of his retainers. When they had finished, the 47 turned themselves in to the authorities. Eventually all were ordered to commit seppuku.

While many people think that this was a classic example of “Bushido”, the Samurai of the day and even modern scholars of Japanese history are not so sure. One scholar succinctly puts the historic quandary like this:

The even greater ambiguity lies in the motivation and action of the ronin. They justified the attack as a vendetta (katakiuchi) on behalf of their lord, but in no way did the case fit either the legal or the customary definition of katakiuchi. Kira, after all, was not their master’s murderer: on the contrary, Asano had tried to murder Kira. Nor was there any justification for avenging the death of one’s lord, only that of a family member: the ronin even had to call on a Confucian scholar to come up with a textual basis for their action. Legalities aside, what was the underlying spirit of their act? Was it indeed personal loyalty to their lord, as the mainstream of the Chûshingura tradition would have it? Or was it a protest against the bakufu’s lenient treatment of Kira for his involvement in the incident? Or was it a simple matter of personal honor to carry out their master’s unfinished task? Or, as one school of interpretation would have it, were they impoverished samurai desperate for a new job and trying to prove their credentials?

The operating principle of revenge was based on an ancient Confucian dictum about not living under the same heaven as the killer of one’s father (or in this case, lord). In this case Kira was not the killer of Asano. Furthermore, some Samurai were conflicted on the entire planning and execution process employed. Plotting and careful planning for success was (oddly enough) not “The Way” of the Samurai when it came to situations like this. The Samurai Dazai Shundai (1680 – 1747) summed up this viewpoint in an essay:

“The guest asked: “In that case, what should the warriors of Ako have done?” Shundai said: “Nothing could have been better for them than to die at Ako Castle…. They should have come out of the castle and engaged in battle with the government emissaries (who were coming to seize the Asano goods and lands). Then, retreating into the castle, they should have set fire to it, and everyone should have killed himself. When their corpses had burned up with the castle, it could have been said that the Ako men had done all they could…. “If for some reason it was not possible for them to die at Ako Castle, they should have gone to Edo at once and, with all the troops available, attacked Kira. If they won the engagement, they thereupon should have killed themselves; if they lost, the same. The unifying element should have been death. Through it they would have discharged their responsibility. “Yet Oishi and his men were unable to do either. Instead, they waited leisurely and, employing idle conspiracies and secrecy, tried to kill Kira. What they had in mind was to achieve their aim, establish their reputation, and thereby seek fame and fortune. How unurbane of them! In the circumstances, it was lucky for the Ako warriors that Kira hadn’t died before their attack.”

Yamamoto Tsunetomo, the Samurai who’s statements are claimed to be reproduced in the Hagakure is reported to have said the following about the situation:

A certain person was brought to shame because he did not take revenge. The way of revenge lies in simply forcing one’s way into a place and being cut down. There is no shame in this. By thinking that you must complete the job you will run out of time. By considering things like how many men the enemy has, time piles up; in the end you will give up. No matter if the enemy has thousands of men, there is fulfillment in simply standing them off and being determined to cut them all down, starting from one end. You will finish the greater part of it.

Concerning the night assault of Lord Asano’s ronin, the fact that they did not commit seppuku at the Sengakuji was an error, for there was a long delay between the time their lord was struck down and the time when they struck down the enemy. If Lord Kira had died of illness within that period, it would have been extremely regrettable. Because the men of the Kamigata area have a very clever sort of wisdom, they do well at praiseworthy acts but cannot do things indiscriminately, as was done in the Nagasaki fight.

The second element in debate was the fact that the 47 Ronin turned themselves in after the incident instead of immediately committing seppuku, which would have been truer to the Bushido ideals of the day. Some critics believe that the Ronin were gambling that perhaps through gaining fame, notoriety and public support that they would be able to escape death. Some critics even going so far as to accuse them of trying to leverage their fame into employment with another daimyo.

From a political/historic aspect it is interesting to read that this story really “got legs” and became the “National Legend” during the Meiji Period of Japanese history. The Meiji Restoration was a  period when Japan was undergoing “modernization” while still trying to hold onto some form of historic cultural identity. As Henry Smith said at Columbia University states:

For the first half of the Meiji period, Chûshingura survived with no major change in the two great Edo-period lineages of kabuki stage productions and kôdan story-telling. To be sure, the new regime seems to have appreciated the political uses of the 47 Ronin as early as 1868, when the Meiji emperor, on arriving in his new capital of Tokyo, sent an emissary to Sengakuji to place offerings before the graves of the Akô ronin, together with a proclamation addressed to Ôishi and praising him for upholding the principle of the master-follower bond. Yet this did not lead to any particular official manipulation of the legend to foster imperial loyalty: Chûshingura remained in the possession of the people.

The modern transformation of Chûshingura into what amounted to a piece of propaganda on behalf of martial values and selfless sacrifice to the state came, revealingly, only after the way had been paved by the first modern historical studies of the Akô incident.[17] This process began in 1889 with the appearance of The True Story of the Akô Gishi (Akô gishi jitsuwa), an account by Shigeno Yasutsugu (1827-1910), a pioneer of the modern critical method in history. Shigeno insisted on the need to separate out the many counterfeits among the surviving documents of the incident, in an effort to tell the “true story.” The form of the book (which was related orally to a newspaper reporter) was an act-by-act analysis of Kanadehon Chûshingura, indicating what was “true” and what not. This marks the beginning of a new element in the Chûshingura phenomenon, the perception that the historical event constituted a different kind of story to be told, with different tools and methods. The way to a greater historicity may have been paved by the kôdan tradition and its stronger sense of the actual event―particularly in the use of the historical names of the participants―but the line between history and fiction remained one that was never openly contested.

It is in this historic perspective that you can see the foreshadowing of events that led to the Imperial Japanese militarism of WWII. The 47 Ronin, Bushido: The soul of Japan, and the Hagakure were all used as propaganda to reinforce the Samurai heritage of Japanese soldiers.

Now..this is not to imply that you cannot find “Things Worth Believing In” in these works. I will end by quoting myself from another post on the Hagakure:

The Hagakure was written approximately one hundred years after the start of the Tokugawa era, a time of relative peace when Japan was closed to any foreign influence. With no battles left to fight, the samurai class was being transformed into an administrative arm of the government, training and practicing the martial arts but seldom engaging in combat outside of duels and brawls. After his master died, Tsunetomo was forbidden to perform a ritual suicide by an edict of the Tokugawa Shogunate and it is thought that the Hagakure may have been written as a response to the change in tradition and was an effort to define the role of the samurai in this more peaceful society. Several sections refer to the “old days”, and imply a dangerous weakening of the samurai class since that time.

His work represents one approach to the problem of maintaining military preparedness and a proper military mindset in a time when neither has much practical application. The Hagakure remained a fairly obscure work until 1930′s Japan where it played a role in the resurgent militarism of WWII imperial Japan. Illustrating the danger in trying to resurrect modes of thought from times that were vastly different from our own. The student studying these codes needs to remember that the “trick” lays in finding the similarities and consistency in human thought that may have remained over the ages and see how these ancient codes may or may not apply to our times.

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a bad decision now?

Thinking RFID
Thinking RFID (Photo credit: @boetter)

I have heard the “a bad decision now is better than a good decision later” meme spouted in places as varied as military NCO schools, police academies and SWAT sources as advice to individuals. I think people who say stuff like that need to be clear that this applies in special circumstances… primarily “life and death” moments. I know a few people who would probably still be alive if they had slowed down and thought about what they were going to do before they did it.

Honor

Bust of Antoninus Pius (reign 138–161 CE), ca....
Bust of Antoninus Pius (reign 138–161 CE), ca. 150. Français : Buste d’Antonin le Pieux (règne 138-161 ap. J.-C.), v. 150. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do not consider anything for your interest which makes you break your word, quit your modesty, or inclines you to any practice which will not bear the light or look the world in the face.

- Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

drink and forget

“As you climb toward the throne of Command, on the very first step of success, you will come to a strange fountain where people try to slake the thirst of ambition. One of that fountain’s strange, contrary effects is that it makes us forget the past. I saw people drink from it and forget their former friends and acquaintances: witnesses to their former lowliness. They forgot even their brothers and sisters, and one drinker was such an arrogant barbarian that he did not recognize the father who engendered him, deleting from his memory all obligations, all favors received, wanting to be a creditor, not a debtor. Those who drank wanted to borrow, not to return. They forgot even themselves, and now that they were on the high seas, could barely remember that they had been spawned in puddles. They forgot all that could remind them of their dust and dung, all that would make them lower their feathers. They drank up ingratitude and affected gravity and remoteness, and wafted up strangely to their thrones, unable to recognize others, or recognize themselves. That is the way that honors change customs.”

-Balthazar Gracian

martial art or art form?

This old post seemed appropriate in light of the conversation my previous post is involved in.

I find Kyudo an interesting art and an interesting subject for discussion of the term “martial art”. While Kyudo has its roots in combat archery and does use a weapon, it is obviously a spiritual and meditative pursuit rather than a combative skill. While Kyudo is called a “martial art”, I doubt that any Kyudo practitioner has delusions of being “combat effective” or believe that they are training in an art that will provide them with “street survival” skills. However I do believe that there are practitioners of various stylistic, meditative and “traditional” arts that DO believe such things. These are the people who believe that working on their “Chi” rather than their punching skills or physical conditioning will help them survive a confrontation. They are the people who think that a fight will somehow adhere to the protocols they follow at the dojo. These are the people who equate “martial art” with “combatives”.  A Kyudo practitioner is not the same as a historic Japanese combat archer. A sport fencing master is not automatically someone who could survive a real sword fight and a master in a “martial art” who has never faced a resisting opponent should not be presumed to be more likely to prevail against someone who has.

give thanks

 

Don't let the sun go down on your grievances
Don’t let the sun go down on your grievances (Photo credit: kevin dooley)

“When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light, for your life, for your strength. Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.” -Tecumseh

have faith

“As one looks back through the ages, all the great men are men of faith: the Newtons, Faradays, Darwins, Marconis, men with faith which they confirmed by experiment. Luther and Garibaldi, Washington and Lincoln, men of action as well as thought, were primarily men of faith. But infinitely above all, Jesus himself is the supreme example of a man of faith. Even on his cross he was absolutely confident, though as far as any human eye could see then, his faith, judged by results, was ‘unreasonable.’ The same is absolutely true of social life. The men who are really great and loved in social life are those who have faith in the meaning of life. Faith is the main factor in achieving the loftiest goal in any department of life.”

-Sir Wilfred T. Grenfell

stand for something

Français : Courage
Français : Courage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every so often I get into philosophical debates over “moral relativism”, the philosophized notion that right and wrong are not absolute values, but are personalized according to the individual and his or her circumstances or cultural orientation. My belief is that as a philosophy for living, relativism is simply an easy excuse to avoid taking a stand on anything at best and a rationalization for evil at worst. I just found this quote that sums up the idea that relativism is simply a thought game that leaves one with nothing to lay a hold of to help one to live a life of value.

“But the new rebel is a Skeptic and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. And the fact that he doubts everything really gets in his way when he wants to denounce anything. For all denunciation implies a moral doctrine of some kind; and the modern revolutionist doubts not only the institution he denounces, but the doctrine by which he denounces it. Thus he writes one book complaining that imperial oppression insults the purity of women, and then he writes another book (about the sex problem) in which he insults it himself. He curses the Sultan because Christian girls lose their virginity, and then curses Mrs. Grundy because they keep it. As a politician, he will cry out that war is a waste of life, and then, as a philosopher, that all life is waste of time. A Russian pessimist will denounce a policeman for killing a peasant, and then prove by the highest philosophical principles that the peasant ought to have killed himself. A man denounces marriage as a lie, and then denounces aristocratic profligates for treating it as a lie. He calls a flag a bauble, and then blames the oppressors of Poland or Ireland because they take away that bauble. The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic  is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.”

Orthodoxy – G. K. Chesterton.