Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Archive for the tag “martial arts”

Euclid and the Sword

I have written, often, about one of my personal heroes from history, Euclid of Alexandria, who wrote a textbook called Elements which would serve as the foundation for all Western mathematics for 2000 years. You may recall that, outside of his name and a list of his writings, we know almost nothing about Euclid. We know nothing of his birth, or his schooling, or his politics. We don’t know if he traveled extensively or if he was relatively sedentary. We don’t know if he was tall, short, fat, skinny, handsome, or ugly. However, one thing we do know is that Euclid’s work, though purely mathematical, bore a tremendous influence on a wide variety of fields of knowledge.

Euclid’s Elements set out to prove the whole of mathematics deductively from very simple definitions, axioms, and postulates. Deductive logic provided a sound and absolute basis by which mathematics operated for every man, whether rich or poor, high-born or peasant, male or female, famous or obscure. During the 16th and 17th Centuries, this strong foundation became lauded and sought after by philosophers, who began attempting to provide all philosophy with the rigor one found in the Elements. The appeal was obvious: if one could deductively prove his philosophical system, in the manner that Euclid had proved his geometry, then one would be left with incontrovertible conclusions to questions which had previously been highly disputed. Such extremely notable philosophers as Thomas Hobbes and Baruch Spinoza, amongst countless others, attempted to replicate the Definitions-Postulates-Proofs format Euclid had employed in order to settle questions of morality and ethics and governance.

Martial philosophy was no less affected, in that period. The sword and swordplay, especially, underwent a dramatic evolution during that same time. Just as Hobbes and Spinoza attempted to replicate Euclid for ethics, fencing masters similarly moved toward a more rigorous and geometric approach towards understanding combat. And, in my opinion, they were far more  successful in that endeavor than the philosophers had been.

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The Story of My Rationalism

My parents– like all parents– love to tell stories, bragging about me to their friends. One of their favorites comes from my early childhood. When I was just four or five years old, my Sunday School teacher came to my parents flummoxed, after a particular day of church. She pulled them aside and apologized, telling them that I had asked a lot of questions that she could not answer. In fact, she had never even thought about many of my questions before then. If Adam, Eve, Cain, and Abel were the first people, who did Cain think was going to kill him after he had been caught in his crime? Who lived in the land of Nod and how did they get there? If there were no people before Adam and Eve, didn’t that mean Cain married his own sister? I was young, but I loved to think and to learn, and the combination of these three things often brought me to places that my teachers had never even considered.

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