I have a confession to make to you all. I am a thief. I can’t help it, but I just have to steal. And if you give me a chance, I will probably steal something from you too.
Now, some of you may know me personally and think, “No, you’re not a thief. I know you, and you have never stolen my things.” So now it seems I must be a liar as well! Allow me to explain my methods of robbery so that we can agree that I’m telling the truth.
I don’t steal things, objects, or your personal possessions. I admit that. But I will steal your ideas and metaphors, and other thoughts that I think might be useful in my quest for understanding. So now you can relax, and stop worrying about hiding your family heirlooms when I come over. Let’s explore the best way to become a good thief.
We should begin with elaborating what it means to ‘steal’ things in this way. When we think of stealing in the normal sense, we mean to take something from someone without asking. And in this way, it is regarded negatively. We don’t like thieves because they obtain their goods dishonestly. So to be a good thief is to steal honestly, which is to say we take the item we want or need without harming the owner. To be a good thief is to steal with a good heart, with the intention of using the object taken to shine the light of understanding to others. It is with this spirit we continue.
To further elaborate on the ethics of this type of thievery, I should point out to you the number one rule of the good thief: Identify and give credit to the one you stole from. If you’re using this stolen idea, concept, or thought you must identify the original owner. Now, sometimes our brains betray us and we cannot remember where exactly we stole from, especially if you’re a prolific thief like myself. In this case, simply mention that it was stolen goods and continue.
First, you must know what it is you want to steal. Any good thief needs to identify things worth taking. For me this is often information or concepts that help me understand the things I don’t fully grasp. For jujitsu it’s things like teaching tools and methods or ideas that help me understand a technique better. It can also be a drill that I’ve learned, or a variation of a technique. This is why it is important to constantly seek. Go to events, Convention, and study other styles of martial arts. “Get out the house!” See, I stole that too.
Next, you are now set to the task of truly understanding the thing you have stolen. It’s not very helpful to have a room full of stolen things that you never touch. You must use these things. It cannot truly be your own until you’ve mastered the thing. To be a good thief is to truly take ownership of what you’ve taken. To honor it by using it. Or else you are wasting your time. What good is that awesome drill you learned from Professor So-and-So if you never actually use it? If you are a student, ask your Sensei to do that drill often enough to gain benefit. If you are Sensei, use that drill frequently enough – actually drill it – so that it becomes useful for training. Or else it’s just another sailboat in the harbor, only good for cocktail parties1.
Finally, you have to give the stolen item away freely. This is not negotiable. If you’ve gotten benefit and greater understanding from what you’ve stolen, you must share it. Remember the rules above, the intention is to help others. To serve. This is what is meant by robbing the rich to feed the poor.
Now, go and become a great thief.
And remember: “The boughs that bear most hang lowest2”
- Stole that from Alan Watts. I steal from him a lot.
- See, I can’t help it.