22 June 2006


Still Life by Zeno

Mothball Onionskin shot an arrow from her bow towards a deer. The arrow had to get to the deer, but before that it had to get halfway to the deer. And before that it had to get a quarter of the way to the deer. And before that it had to get an eighth of the way to the deer. And so on. The deer saw the arrow on Mothball’s bow. The deer began to run to a nearby creek. Before the deer could get to the creek, it had to get halfway to the creek. And so on. Forever.

Still thinking about this one, after reading it early this morning and a long day intervening - struck me as a powerful metaphor for many states of being, but prompted me to start a file of quotes useful for martial arts training. I can't really explain, but thank you!
I've never done martial arts, so the connection is interesting. I always thought Zeno's paradox wasn't about trying to prove anything. It was more about questioning our assumptions about reality, so the fact that my take on it had you thinking about it all day is a nice compliment. Thanks!
Yes - exactly about not trying to prove anything, and questioning reality.

The karate and jujutsu connection I made has to do with the spirit/mind training that is the heart of the matter and is expressed concretely through the body and action: it's difficult for me to articulate, at this early stage of training (or maybe it stays difficult, being so experiential), but I'll give it a small go:

Say I'm learning how to do a new kata with 21 movements. The form teaches both the body and the spirit concrete skills for concrete actions (blocks, strikes, particular defenses from and re-directions of aggression, etc), like learning how to shoot a deer with an arrow so the family can have food. Very straightforward learning, in appearance.

What happens, though, is this: the first move is a simple block I learned as a brand new student.

As I learn more, I learn that within that block I thought I knew, there are in fact also many, many movements: circles within circles within circles, each effecting specific result both literal and symbolic. I begin really studying the principles of spirals. Meeting each moment of motion and beginning to grasp its full possibility.

I learn that the word 'block' does not in fact exist in Japanese, the word for the movement means 'receive,' so I study that principle in terms physical, intellectual, and spiritual.

Meanwhile, I gradually - oh so gradually - build enough muscle and ligament strength to be able to hold the form correctly in my body.

I could spend a year, three years, studying that one first motion of the kata and never exhaust the microcosms of meaning, application, and possibility in it.

And meanwhile, I go ahead and learn the whole kata, the whole process of hunting a deer with an arrow, because I also have to be able to hold in mind and body that this is what I'm doing: it's not just an exercise in spiritual and physical minutiae, though without an inhabitation and understanding of the milliseconds, the minutes can't exist.

It is absolute cause and effect that is simultaneously unpredictable. Occam's razor meets chaos theory in a practice of zen meditation involving buckets of sweat.

And it all goes very, very fast and very, very slowly. And the more I know, the less I know.

This is the stuff of martial arts training.

See, I can't explain!

Your poem does a better job of conveying the metaphoric/emotional reality of it - which is why I saved it; there's something in it that comforts and inspires patience, peace, and mindfulness in the process.

Well, hopefully that inarticulate mess was at least mildly interesting - thank you for the poem!
Just went and refreshed myself on Zeno's paradoxes -


Infinity exists! Infinity doesn't exist! Everything/nothing is quantifiable.

I love this example:

"The flying arrow is at rest. At any given moment it is in a space equal to its own length, and therefore is at rest at that moment. So, it's at rest at all moments. The sum of an infinite number of these positions of rest is not a motion."

Wonder-ful stuff.

Reminds me of Kepler's quote:

'Give me a fruitful error anytime. You can keep your sterile truth for yourself.'

And on that note, I'll shut up now!
Oops, fingers moving faster than brain. Vilfred Pareto said that OF Kepler's work.
Thanks for the short treatise on martial arts. There is so much paradox in existance. I suspect our minds are not fully capable of understanding what is really going on in the world.

Second that about fruitful error. You don't learn anything without making mistakes.
My Calculus class in high school was exactly like this.
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