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Interview with Stephen Kaufman


by Sonshi.com

In the continuing effort to bring you the world's best thinkers and perspectives on The Art of War, we proudly present to you Stephen F. Kaufman. With a lifetime work spanning over 50 years, he has achieved the highest title and rank possible in the martial arts world: Hanshi, 10th Dan.

Perhaps more importantly, Hanshi Kaufman's role as a teacher -- in such organizations as the US Air Force, New York City law enforcement agencies, Board of Education, Department for the Aging, private schools, and his own dojo -- has helped numerous individuals realize their full potential. He is also author of The Art of War: The Definitive Interpretation, The Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation, Shogun Scrolls, Living Tao, and the upcoming Sword in the Boardroom.

Surprisingly, even with these achievements, Hanshi Kaufman is not satisfied. As mentioned below in our interview, he continues to practice, and desires to improve every day. As you will immediately notice when reading his books, his level of self-actualization is high and thinking extremely sharp. Likewise, we were left spellbound after the interview; we hope you will be as well.

For more information, please visit his website at Hanshi.com. Below is our interview with Stephen F. Kaufman.

Sonshi.com: You hold the title Hanshi, 10th Dan. For our readers' edification, would you mind sharing with us what it means, and how long it took you to reach that level?

Kaufman: The rank and title of Hanshi, 10th Dan is the highest level of martial arts recognition. It is an elected rank given by high-ranking peer organizations and denotes an individual considered a master teacher. There is tremendous responsibility attached to the position if one is so inclined though it has become the "title" of choice in the last few years-it is not something one decides to be when one grows up.

To be qualified for the title of Hanshi one must be over 50 years of age, have at least 35 years experience in the martial arts and most importantly, must have done something of non-political value for the budo arts in general. All 3 are required. (I qualify by having authored Musashi's Book of Five Rings and Sun Tzu's Art of War, etc.). It is not enough to be a dojo owner and turn out 12 year old blackbelts by the score or to be a celebrity figurehead. 10th Dan means that I am head of my own school which is recognized and respected as an evolutionary aspect of the bushido arts.

Sonshi.com: You are the author of two interpretative books, The Book of Five Rings and The Art of War. We are fascinated by them because they are from a true warrior's point of view -- a refreshing break from the academic world. When you ponder the passages of Musashi and Sun Tzu, what approach do you use? Please tell us the process.

Kaufman: This is a very introspective question and I salute you. I think about the incredible amount of time, effort, and energy, that is required to gain insight into the lessons being taught by the masters. In my forthcoming book, Sword in the Boardroom, soon to be published, I synthesize the messages of Sun Tzu and Musashi with my own annotations. It is a simple book that fundamentally illustrates the necessity of negotiation for the benefit of all concerned from a global perspective and not just the needs of some fool who thinks to increase personal wealth through greed and aggrandizement.

What I essentially do with each tenet that I consider in the teaching of Sun Tzu and Musashi is to put it through the wringer of my own personal life experiences and see where I have been able to understand it and use it properly or where through misunderstanding I have acted inappropriately. I then explain it to myself over and again until it becomes part of my psyche and I don't have to think about it any longer but am able to actuate my life through it. This is called practice, which in itself is a never ending activity. It takes forever to get it right because of the finite limitations we are living with regardless of our intended spiritual enlightenment which is just a simple matter of staying awake to conditions and keeping one's finger out of one's-nose.

Sonshi.com: Name us a few concepts from Sun Tzu you personally think are most applicable for warriors -- whether they are businesspeople, martial artists, or military personnel -- in the modern world.

Kaufman: Essentially, I spell it all out on page 10 of my version of War. "It is always best to let the enemy kill himself." The entire book is valid for most people as well as warriors when a person understands what it actually is. Deception is a central point in the entire teaching along with the truth that it is not always necessary to physically kill or destroy an enemy. Also, how to use people to your own advantage which is very difficult to understand for most plebian mentalities who absolutely have no concept of the warrior mind but are nasty towards others thinking that that is the true way, or they attempt to practice meaningless ninja technique because that's what they learn in the movies.

Sonshi.com: In 1958, you founded your own dojo, Dojo no Hebi, School of the Snake. You are considered by many to be the Founding Father of American Karate. From your extensive experience, what are the necessary traits to become a consummate martialist?

Kaufman: "A" founding father, not necessarily "the" founding father. Becoming a consummate martialist is almost an involuntary act. I believe it has to do with the inability to rid oneself of desire to ascend within the art. Or perhaps it is the desire of the art itself to have certain practitioners evolve the form. There is no such thing as yin / yang-which is not to suggest that yin / yang does not exist. I would request more space than this interview would permit in order to fully elucidate on my heart as to what is involved with mastering a martial art, or any discipline, for that matter.

I began training in the 50's prior to being stationed on Okinawa during my tenure with the USAF. My additional title is Shodai Soke Hebi-ryu Karate Budo which translate to 1st generation Founding Father and Head of Family. I have been practicing for 50 years and was elected Hanshi in 1991. I still train on a daily basis: karate and iaido. You have to practice in one form or another whether you want to or not until you come to terms with the idea that you and the art are one. At that point you stop practicing and simply are an extension of all practice. Mostly, you have to reject the idea of being an "artist." The concept of "art" can lead to a misunderstanding of the warrior's purpose and preclude a subjective relationship to form and function. I prefer "martialist" and without emotion, go about my business.

Sonshi.com: Do you often see incorrect applications of such works as The Art of War and The Book of Five Rings? If so, what suggestions would you give to readers who might approach those works in the wrong way?

Kaufman: Constantly. And for this I blame the alleged teachers of the martial arts who have no grounding in reality other than perhaps a bar fight or two. They fail to understand that the ultimate aspect of martial arts is not "fighting" nor is it passivism. I also blame the lack of ethics teaching in the halls of higher education though now I am aware that academia is trying to overcome that by further incorrect applications of the lessons being taught by Sun Tzu and Musashi because it is approached from an intellectual perspective which each original book clearly states is not the intention. Then, there are lawyers who think that by clever manipulation of a jury they can satisfy the need for justice and governments that go out of their way to deceive their own constituency. Children… "Stop thinking you are important and know you are important and when that revealization (sic) becomes apparent you will then understand your responsibility to yourself, your students and the art you practice itself-in reverse order or no order at all."

Sonshi.com: We only ask this question to someone as seasoned as yourself (and as the author of The Living Tao, written just before your sixtieth birthday). What do you think the Tao is, and how can a person be more aligned with it on a daily basis?

Kaufman: Seasoned! I like seasoned… The Tao is a handbook, if you will, for the proper manner in which one must, not should, conduct oneself in everyday matters. The reason for its difficulty is common miscomprehension because most people think it is or may be common sense. It isn't. It is simpler than that. Intelligence is not an excuse for intelligence. The understanding of the Tao would certainly assuage the fundamental misunderstanding of the ancient texts as illustrated in the above question. It teaches the basics of morality and integrity as an aspect of universal harmony. The teachings within are best applied when considering one's intentions and motives for any action.

Sonshi.com: We understand you now spend your time teaching, writing and traveling. What do you enjoy the most, and what is in store for Stephen F. Kaufman in the near future?

Kaufman: I enjoy teaching and helping others come to terms with their own self. I find that by teaching and taking a student to the highest level by permitting that student to be the most they can be, or at least to be on the "path," I am able to ascend to higher levels of learning for my own personal satisfaction. This is based on my desire. Desire is generally considered a no-no by so-called karmaphiles who fail to realize that desire is essential as a prerequisite to overcome desire, the negation of which cannot work in a finite parameter.

I keep my email doors open: hanshi@hanshi.com, and welcome any questions as long as they are grounded in functionality. I refuse to get into pissing contests. I am also available for consultation via strategy, motivation, and personal development seminars. I am interested in creating and hosting a mobile eMartialists Philosophical Institute that would focus on the higher morality and integrity of military philosophies presented throughout civilization via the internet. Also, an interactive periodic eZine that quotes from major books and extrapolates the issue I am studying at that moment. If anyone is interested in either of these projects they can email me and when I have enough names I will start doing it. The future holds many interesting things in store for me. My time has finally come and I am being approached by institutions and organizations to propound on the teachings of the masters while being considered one myself.

[End of interview]

Below are the books described in the interview. Perhaps more preferable, readers can order autographed and personalized versions directly from Hanshi Kaufman. Books are $20 each or both for $35. Send your check or money order to: PO Box 135 Lenox Hill, New York City, NY 10021
Postage is included in the price and there is no tax. Volume discounts are available.

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