Enlightened Selfishness and Ninjutsu

By Keith Copeland | Photos by Tobi Hollander

(Keith Copeland is the owner and head instructor at Quest Martial Arts in Ann Arbor. The photos on these pages were taken at Quest.)

 What is one thing we all have in common?
What are three things that trouble each of us?
What are the nine ways to resolve these quandaries? 

In my practice of ninjutsu over the past couple of decades, I have had the opportunity to explore these questions and find some answers.

Ninjutsu is the 900-year-old martial art of the ninja. It is a full art that encompasses body positioning, striking, joint locks and throws, and ground defense. But the truly valuable aspects of the art are the parts that cannot be seen. This includes psychology, energy work, and mind and spirit training.

Ninjutsu is the 900-year-old martial art of the ninja.

I have discovered these aspects through my personal exploration as a student of ninjutsu and as the owner and head instructor at Quest Martial Arts in Ann Arbor, where we teach the ninja martial arts as a “life skills laboratory.”

The One Thing We All Have in Common

 Ninja students improve their posture

Ninja students improve their posture

What we all have in common is that we are all human. Having said that, there are infinite varieties and variations of what it means to be human. Height, weight, complexion, hair color, skin color, mental status, whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, a vegetarian or meat eater — the list goes on.

The commonness of being human means that we all have an ego. And it is designed to protect us and keep us safe. The ego operates on its own software. Its purpose is survival, so it looks at each situation as a potential threat to be dealt with (fear). It also looks at each situation as a potential opportunity for getting more of what it needs to be safe now and for increased potential to be safe in the future (selfishness).

The truly valuable aspects of ninjutsu are the parts that cannot be seen. This includes psychology, energy work, and mind and spirit training.



The Three Things That Trouble Us

Whoever or whatever we are, we have three basic things that concern us:

  1. Can we feed ourselves?
  2. Do we have a place that can shelter us?
  3. Do we have other people around us for safety and comfort? 

So, the three things that trouble each of us are food, shelter, and community. Virtually everything the ego does is focused around these three things — fundamental survival considerations. We need food, a place to be safe, and people around us to create relationships and to increase the feeling of safety. There is “safety in numbers.”

Even the best of us functions with these drivers, so our decisions tend to be from a “me,” “my,” and “mine” orientation. What would be best for “me”?

There are many of us who operate from a too humble perspective. “I don’t deserve that.” “No you go first.” “Let me make sure you have yours before I get mine.” While it may be the polite and courteous thing to do, it also may be an attempt to be submissive, unobtrusive, or invisible so as to avoid danger — again, coming from a “me” and selfish perspective.

The Solution is Enlightened Selfishness
One of the many principles we learn through the practice of ninjutsu is Enlightened Selfishness. Enlightened Selfishness is the practice of having all you want while, and this is the critical point, making the world a better place. This principle addresses the issue of the ego trying to protect itself from danger and accumulating more to protect from future threats.

It also addresses an issue of the Spirit, or true self.

None of us exist in isolation or a vacuum. In many ways we exist only in relation to the world around us. In Human Behavior and Organization Development theory, there is a model called the “Action Research Model.” Quite simply, it has four steps:

  1. Plan
  2. Do
  3. Check
  4.  Act

Basically, you have an assumption and you plan to take an action. You take that action. You check the results of that action to see if they are in line with your original plan and if they are taking you in the correct direction. Then you take actions based on what you discovered. The cycle repeats.

This model is a good model to apply to your spiritual development. If you are trying to become the most perfect version of yourself possible, then you need to see other people in the world around you as a reflection of yourself.

Indeed, there is a concept called “projection.” This theory states that the things that you are attracted to in others, as well as the things that irritate or frustrate you about others, are the exact things that you like, or are uncomfortable with, or dislike, about yourself.

Enlightened Selfishness actually requires you to have more. More resources. More money. More social connections. More knowledge. More authority. You see, the more you have, the more you can share with others.

The commonness of being human means that we all have an ego. And it is designed to protect us and keep us safe.

The more resources you have, the more good you can do in the world. The more money you have, the more people you can employ or invest in. The more social connections you have, the more you can connect other people with the things they need.

Enlightened Selfishness completely supports the ego. It protects you because it enables you to have more people around you who are connected to you and feel an affiliation with you. And the more people you can help in your community, the more those people will feel safe, secure, and less apt to be violent.

From a spiritual point of view, you are cultivating compassion and service to others. You are also learning that differences between people are just opportunities for personal growth and leveraging each other's strengths.

Nine Ways to Resolve the Quandary

  1. Help yourself
  2. Help others
  3. Resolve conflict
  4. Celebrate differences
  5. See yourself and others
  6. Look for opportunities for leveraging yours and others’ strengths
  7. Build community
  8. Embrace your uniqueness
  9.  Embrace the fact that you are not unique

Enlightened Selfishness could possibly be the key to resolving your issues and your community’s issues. It could also resolve the problems facing our nation and help the world wake up to the possibilities of truly supporting one another. Instead of seeing conflict, we could embrace cooperation and collaboration.


Keith Copeland is the owner of Quest Martial Arts, which is located at 2111 Packard Street, Ann Arbor 48104.  He also runs an organization development and personal development practice in which he guides individuals and businesses to find their greatest efficiency and effectiveness, thereby creating value through their right livelihood. To learn more, call (734) 332-1800, email questcenter@sbcglobal.net, or visit www.quest-martialarts.com.


Posted on May 1, 2014 .