Learning Through Triangulation


Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Spiritual | Posted on 18-09-2009

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It’s only been two years since I have taken up a martial art.  I’ve seen plenty of blogs written by 15th degree black belts, and although I can directly see how useful they are, some of the concepts they write about are so abstract to someone at my level that I often struggle to understand their thoughts.  I started blogging for an entirely different reason—a spiritual reason—but as I have progressed on my path, I have come to realize that the three aspects of my journey—physical, mental, and spiritual—are so intertwined that concepts from one easily apply to the other two.

The particular martial art I practice is Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, a system comprising of nine different schools, the details of which are so easily found on the Internet that I see no point discussing them here any further.

After two years of training, I have finally realized that I am not being taught a martial art; I am being taught a martial science.  All the techniques and basics I am being taught are effective because they are based on physics.  My sensei, through his own “art,” is transmitting to me the science of Budo Taijutsu.  What I personally develop from the science that I learn will become my own individual art, the “tenth” school of Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu.

The problem is, how do I discern between my instructor’s art and the science he is trying to transmit to me?

Although it took me quite some time to realize it, the answer had been in front of me for quite some time.

As an aspiring mountaineer—even in my distant past as a sailor—I have learned to determine my (roughly) exact position on a map (or chart) by triangulation, taking bearing from at least two points as dissimilar as possible, preferably three.

By taking bearings from at least 2 (preferably 3) dissimilar points, we can approximate our position.
By taking bearings from at least 2 (preferably 3) dissimilar points, we can approximate our position.

A year into my martial arts training, my real job required that I travel to and remain at my customer’s site for two weeks.  Instead of taking a two week break in my training, I searched for and found a Bujinkan dojo in Minneapolis, the city I was going to be at.  (Being an international organization, Bujinkan members can train in any Bujinkan dojo worldwide.)

Training in a different dojo during those two weeks provided me the opportunity to “intersect” my instructor’s “art” with the “art” of another instructor.  Just like in navigation, such an intersection of bearings or “perspectives” allowed me to pinpoint the science of the technique.  This is done by focusing on the similarities of the perspectives instead of the differences.

Venn diagrams use "spaces" to represent "sets" or "perspectives."  The intersection of the spaces is the where the core of the concept lies.
Venn diagrams use “spaces” to represent “sets” or “perspectives.” The intersection of the spaces is the where the core of the concept lies.

By intersecting the differing perspectives, I was able to understand the science not only better, but faster as well.  Direct feedback from my instructor confirms that the multiple perspectives I have studied have indeed accelerated improvement in my technique.

However, in order for a concept to be true, it must be universal, by which I mean that should hold true regardless of application, conditions, or environment.  (I refer to this as “universality,” but I tend to make up words…)

What if we were to apply this concept of learning through triangulation to religion?  If instead of looking at the differences between religions, we instead found the similarities, we might find that they do not differ that much at all.

But religion is too easy.  Let’s take a harder look at ourselves and the opinions we hold to be true.  If we were to intersect our perspectives and opinions with those of others—especially with those with whom we seem to disagree the most—what would we learn?

  • Leann

    You were a sailor?

  • admin

    Really? A whole week’s worth of work went into that post, and your first thought was that? Sigh…

    Yes, I was a sailor from 1986 to 1989. I was a cadet in the US Coast Guard Academy for two years (do the math…) and then was in the reserve until I enlisted in the US Air Force. As a sailor, I had the opportunity to sail from Connecticut to Australia on the USCGC Eagle.


  • Leann

    Actually I had many other thoughts about what you wrote, but could not organize them.

  • Dernis

    “Religion is easy” I don’t think I have ever heard that sentence before… Religion is not easy, particularly in relation to the topic at hand, Intersections. While I don’t disagree with your overall point, I think it is important to realize that Venn diagrams are used to highlight differences as well. They are also low dimensional (not really 2 dimensional, but where n=the dimensionality at which Venn diagrams are useful, n is closer to 2 than it is infinity). People however are not. And an issue as profound as religion (or the decision not to have religion) is certainly not low dimensional. So let’s say that these issues can be modeled by a hierarchy of Venn diagrams with each diagram being levels of concepts that can possibly intersect. So essentially we have several “universal” sets that we work from. Your tool does not allow me to post my own Venn diagrams so I will try to explain.
    What exactly would the intersection be between concepts such as “Man exists to know, love, and serve God”, “There is no god, there is only Man”, and “Don’t bother me now, the NCIS season finale is about to come on”?
    There is no intersection. Now, I will argue that in Muslim, Christian, and Jewish religions, we all believe in the first premise I mention. And we wind up disagreeing on how to actually do that. But what of those that have no religion? Those that have either not given it thought, or have given it thought and have decided that there is no god, or that there is no god that they will submit to. The differences within the religious “universal” set are equally unimportant to them. To me it is like arguing which is better, Denver or Minneapolis. In my , universal set, there is only New York and not New York. There is no difference between Denver or Minneapolis. They are both “Not New York.”
    To the non-religious, the discussion of topics such as how to serve Jesus, if Jesus was divine, what did Muhammad really mean or who the holy land belongs to, all fall into the “Not New York” category. No meaningful debate within the religious set can be achieved until the differences in the higher level concepts can be reconciled. Likewise, how can a Christian and a Jew discuss the best way to follow Muhammad’s teaching. (see also “Not New York”).
    There is value in understanding not only where the intersections are, but also where the intersections are the empty set. While sometimes we really are just using different perceptions, not all perception is a version of the truth. Sometimes we are looking at the same thing and only one of us has it right. Sometimes we are working from two completely different universal sets. And sometimes, there is no path from here to there.

    P.S. You were a Sailor? I thought you were in the Coast Guard. I didn’t realize that counted..:)

  • admin


    Yes. In order to triangulate, the bearings must refer to the same point. But there must be a point, and if there is a point (of study,) there is no empty set. If someone does not have a perspective, then it cannot be used to triangulate.

    I agree that Venn diagrams can be used to discern differences too; it’s all in the area we choose to focus on. In the case of triangulation, we focus on the intersection.

    I’m still interested in continuing this conversation. We’ll talk, hopefully before you’re off to Turkmenistan. :)

  • Leann

    Hmmm okay I’ll give it another shot…

    I believe intersecting our perspectives and opinions with those of others will lead to more understanding of each other which will lead to more compassion in the world. Admittedly, sometimes this is difficult, especially when humans are being hateful or committing heinous acts against others, but under more humane circumstances, I can seek to understand what their convictions are, why they feel or believe this way (motive) and how they were conditioned (raised).

    We all come from different perspectives. It is interesting to understand their differences even if I don’t want to seed myself in someone else’s beliefs. It’s soothing to the soul when contemplating another person’s situation and I can be okay with him/her/them and then continue on with my own beliefs and ways. Hopefully they can do the same by contemplating my perspective. It always sounds cliche, but I’m a firm believer in “Live and let Live”. “Live” being the operative word here. In other words don’t harm, hurt, kill, etc.

    In more practical and less severe and also less philosophical applications, as you have described, sometimes we can reap the benefits from the synthesized matter that remains after a triangulation, like your experience with the different martial arts instructor. We can savor the cream that reaches the top after it goes through a process of mixing and settling. In other words, expose yourself to other methods and take the good with you and leave behind what you don’t need. Thank goodness, we learn from others or we might as well be alone on a deserted island!

  • admin

    It is important to note that the act of triangulating will not only help discern the similarities, but also the differences. The key is choosing where to focus on.

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