Kenneth Joseph Mortimer

Poet and Writer


Kenneth Joseph MORTIMER was born in Chile of English parents in 1926 and was brought up in London. He claims some Lebanese blood as his father was born in Malta of a Maltese mother (the Maltese are Phoenicians from Carthage.) He did his military service in the Middle East, acquiring a passion for it, studied philosophy and theology in seminaries in England and Holland and then spent a year in France and Malta recovering from poliomyelitis. He came to Lebanon in 1954 and in 1957 married in Ras Baalbek. He has two sons and a daughter and grandchildren. He now lives in Zouk Mikayel (P.O.Box 516), Kesrouan. Tel.& fax 09.214647. He has taught English and for time judo and also done some broadcasting. He does the translation from French and occasionally Arabic and edits NDUSpirit (Notre Dame University, Louaizeh.) Judo 3-Dan 1985, karate 4-Dan Japanese Karate Assoc. 1999.

About the time of Vatican Council II, Mr.Mortimer wrote articles in the American Catholic World about the relations between Rome and the Eastern Churches, one of which was translated for Le Lien by order of the Greek Catholic patriarch. He wrote in Palma (N.D.University) about yoga, zen and the martial arts in relation to Christian spirituality. He contributed to the Rihani Conference, St.Joseph's, Cornet Shehwan, Sept. 1999. Very interested in nature and evolution since childhood. As a result of varied background, very different social groups he has lived in, and different interests, Mr Mortimer is an eclectic, welding Byzantine spirituality, art, evolution and nature, martial arts, etc. into one common view of life. He passed from the Latin to the Greek rite in 1957 and acquired Lebanese nationality in 1982. He notices that whereas Byzantine and Russian iconographers used the rhythmic line as a formal artistic element to show the incorporation of the saints as members of Christ's Mystical Body into the timeless life of the Blessed Trinity, the painter Joseph Matar achieves the same effect by brilliant brushwork. This comes at a time when western art has concentrated on technique as an end in itself without any meaning, as the artists have no spiritual message full of hope to give.


On reading a modern poem about Jibran Khalil Jibran and Lebanon:

Advanced in years, I am a man
once bred on verse whose lines all scan.
I rhyme in lines of iambic feet
that fall into a rhythm neat;
and so it is my heart still beats
to Macaulay and to Keats.
Chesterton and Thomas Gray
in my classroom hours held sway,
and on the shelves that filled my home
I found the Lays of Ancient Rome.
I heard the beat of trireme oars
whose white wings dipped near Cretan shores.
Fleet dryads ran through sunlit vales,
and danced entranced to panpipe scales,
while needs rose up bronzed and gleaming
from river water down them streaming.
So to this classic shore, I came
to hear the tunes of ancient fame.
But concrete blights Phoenicia's strand,
two sooty factory chimneys stand;
Gibran would find if now he spoke
he'd soon be coughing from the smoke.

K.J.M. NDU Spirit July 1988 copyright

1998, the New Campus, honouring the promoters of Notre Dame University, Louaizeh, Kesrouan

Look on the mountain by the shore,
shaken by the tractor's roar.
Gone the dragon from our coast,
gone the mythic hero's boast.
New monsters crawl with iron tread
and move the earth in giant spread.
Long arms of steel from wheeling tower
vie with Hercules in power;
That king of Tyre would stand amazed
to see the burdens that they raised.
They labour hard for NDU
and build for it a campus new.
A bishop's vision crowns the height
with spacious halls of gleaming white.
Two presidents have shared his zeal
till now this year has set its seal

Another building nearby tells
of monks at prayer in their cells;
with fire from heaven, they ignite
the torch of learning to burn bright,
where holy truth from heaven came
to make it gleam with a purer flame.
Now students strive with honest toil,
burning late the midnight oil.
But not alone for sordid gain,
for they must have a higher aim;
refinement of the heart and mind
with culture of a nobler kind,
as taught by ancient Rome and Greece
and Chinese scholars in the East.

But mandarin and stoic stern
for themselves alone did learn;
to keep their learning pure and fine
they cast not pearls before the swine.
But for himself, no man should live,
each scholar has a store to give.
He has to learn to take the cross
and not fear mere earthly loss,
that all may see in him reflected
God's love for man and be affected.
So let example loudly speak
to those who higher wisdom seek.
Thus when we watch that hilltop scene
with all its busy workers keen,
To NDU we give ovation,
remembering its true vocation.

K.J.M. NDU Spirit July 1998 copyright

The Ascending Way, Palma, NDU, 1 - 1994
K.J.Mortimer, 3rd Dan Judo, 2nd Dan Karate JKA

"Judo is the most efficient way of using one's physical and mental strength. With training, one should discipline one's body and spirit by the practice of the techniques of attack and defence to master the essence of this Way. And it is the ultimate aim of Judo by employing these means to build for oneself a perfect personality and so serve the world."

This was the famous Last Testament of Dr. Jigoro Kano, the Japanese intellectual and educationalist who founded the now-familiar art of Judo, the Gentle Way. This consisted of an adaptation of traditional techniques of unarmed combat to friendly play, leaving the more lethal forms and the blows and kicks to more advanced students of proven moral character. Timid pupils become strong and those with brutal personalities learn self-control, kindness and generosity.

Unfortunately all over the world, the moral aims of Dr. Kano have become empty words. Judo and the other martial arts are no longer an education, but spectator sports for professionals.¹ Serious examinations for grades are often things of the past, so crowds of youngsters are attracted by a too easy distribution of grades and by the hope of becoming champions; but they turn away as soon as they discover that they have neither the spare time nor the exceptional qualities necessary for outstanding achievement. Classes have become a wearisome repetition of the two or three techniques most likely to give rapid results in face-to-face, one-against-one competition at the next local, regional, national or international championships.

The purpose of such great masters as Jigoro Kano, Koizumi and Funakoshi (Karate-do) was to set their students on a Way of physical and philosophical formation that they could follow into extreme old age.
But one has only to watch the championships with their lowering standards, at least at ordinary levels, to realise that the ideals have gone and only the medal-grabbing remains. Forty years ago in London, Koizumi, the first apostle of Judo outside Japan, committed suicide because his honour could no longer bear an association with what Judo had become.

How does this concern us as believers in God? All goodness in Nature reflects the goodness of God, its creator and model. "And God created man to his own image; to the image of God he created him." Genesis I, 27. So all perfection of oneself is an approach to God, in order to be better fit to receive him as uncreated grace and to share in his divine life, the direct vision he has of himself. Nature perfects itself by evolution, but we must perfect ourselves by the conscious effort of asceticism. When we prepare ourselves and pray to be instruments pf God's will, he will in due course reveal how we are to serve him and "serve the world."

In a modern context, asceticism seems outrageously medieval. Yet never have people driven themselves to such extremes of endeavour whether in super-élite army units, in sport or in adventure, not for money or fame but for the sheer satisfaction of self-conquest and achievement. This suggests that the present decline of Christian asceticism is due to its largely negative nature; it has been largely a matter of suppressing the physical side of one's personality rather than of using it. This is no doubt due to Platonist and Pythagorean influence,² for Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas both insist that body and soul form one, while divine revelation insists on the resurrection and glorification of the body with Christ.

Obviously, as human intellect and will do not lend themselves to experimental science, western psychologists have largely ignored them.³ So it is to the Ways of India and the Far East that we must turn for a body of wisdom about developing the whole human person; these Ways all insist on body-soul unity to achieve liberation from everything that impedes the full flowering of the personality.

Yoga is a school of self-mastery involving an active introspection very different from the morbid and paralysing introspection in post-fourteenth century Latin Catholic and Protestant spirituality. Postures and breathing exercises teach the adept to relax both body and mind, and to concentrate better on prayer and study by improving the blood supply to the brain.

Yoga was certainly long established in India when Prince Siddharma Gotama, 563?-483? B.C., later known as the Buddha or Enlightened, left the luxury of his father's palace to discover how men could free themselves from the world of suffering. After finding that the extreme austerities of the Hindu fakirs were no answer to his problem, he concluded that the cause of suffering was desire, attachment to the world and to ourselves. Therefore to be free and to end the cycle of reincarnation we must reject desire. But how can we lose desire without having at least the desire to lose desire?

While many Buddhists reasoned themselves into knots over this problem, a more practical and direct solution came when around the year 500 A.D. Indian Buddhism met the Way of the Tao in China and the blending of the two produced the Way of Zen. The semi-legendary Indian missionary Bodhidharma strengthened his adepts with military physical exercises so that they might better stand the strain of his vigorous methods of meditation. This training also enabled the monks to defend themselves when on the road, and an association was established between Zen Buddhism and techniques of combat that continued into the Japanese martial arts.

Taoism, which reacted against Confucianism while retaining its humanitarian aims, taught harmony with Nature, with one's own nature and with Nature as a whole. The Taoists denied that good deeds and habits could make a man virtuous. To be pure, a river must be pure at its source. As Saint Paul said: "and if I should distribute all my goods to the poor and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." I Cor. XIII, 3. Even kind actions may come from an excessive egotism that they only reinforce. One wit said of a woman, "She is very kind to her friends; you can tell her friends by their hunted look." On the other hand some people without any obvious activity attract friends by an innate goodness which is sincere and spontaneous.

Let us see some examples of how desire can be its own enemy. Pain or indigestion apart, what prevents an insomniac from going to sleep? Nothing but his own anxiety and his own efforts to go to sleep. He must do something to forget that he wants to sleep. Franz Werfel in his book "Song of Bernadette (of Lourdes)" described the well-intentioned but neurotic efforts of a nun, Bernadette's novice-mistress, to become holy, and her perplexity before the spontaneous holiness of her pupil. She failed in her efforts because holiness means forgetting oneself, the opposite of what she was doing. For five centuries, Latin and Protestant spirituality largely forgot this. On the other hand, liturgical spirituality, contemplation of the divine mysteries through participation, safeguards mental equilibrium.

It is clear now that according to the Way of Zen liberation means being spontaneous, uninhibited and natural. Unfortunately for the heirs of Adam's sin, being natural is the most difficult thing in the world. Let a Judo instructor tell his class to face each other in pairs, hold each other by lapel and sleeve, and then walk about in a relaxed, upright and natural way. The more he says Be natural! the more his pupils push each other about like wooden dummies. He has to exhaust them by violent exercise before they lose their stiffness.

Taoism took philosophical form about the fifth century before Christ. Some of its early masters had personalities strong enough to upbraid maniacally sadistic feudal rulers to their faces and walk out alive. But on the whole Taoism suited elderly gentlemen in dignified retirement from duties to family and State, surrounded by all the beauty that Nature and craftsmanship could offer. Zen on the other hand provided hard and prolonged training and discipline by which "no-mind" might ultimately be achieved.

Needless to say, one's nature has to be formed, refined and elevated before it can be allowed to act spontaneously. A notable and easily accessible example of this formation is that of Zen painting, which reached its apogee in China with the Sung dynasty, about the year one thousand. It should be remembered that in China the arts were the subject of highly sophisticated criticism and appreciation, with an abundant literature. For decades the aspiring artist would study bamboo or animals, whittling
them down to their barest essence, with quick strokes of supple brushes and monochrome ink on wet silk; then, in the agonisingly short moments of inspiration and communion with Nature in its subtlest mood, he would catch the wind breathing life into the fingered leaves and knotted stems of reeds nodding over a rippled lake, and the flash of sinuous fish darting through floating weeds, with every scale and with every fold of their mouth and gills.

He could outline white hares crouching in the snow so that one's fingertips feel the ridges of bone vibrating with fear under their soft fur. But the miracle is that representation is not through solid masses of colour but by emptiness, by the spaces which the brush has not touched. Christianity has so far never satisfied the Nature-mystic,4 while western Romanticism weakens the will with empty sentimentality. But whatever the medium of expression, Zen Buddhism puts man in contact with Nature and forms characters of steel. Our only problem in appreciating the finest eastern art is that for the Taoist or Zen artist the essence of art lies in purity of purpose, unalloyed by the desire of lucre or of fame.

So the greatest Chinese artists, poets and musicians, practising art for art's sake in their mountain hermitages, are at the same time the most obscure. The most sublime painters have left the fewest surviving works and are known mostly through copies of their masterpieces or by the eulogies of past scholars and literati.

As a way of self-liberation, Zen has often lacked the moral altruism of other eastern philosophies, Buddhist or non-Buddhist. This is particularly true in Japan, where there are still Zen monasteries with scholars of international repute. Neither the warrior monks of the medieval monasteries, nor the modern Tokyo businessman using Zen to combat mental strain, have been overmuch concerned with the welfare of others. The constant principle is that purity and "emptiness of mind", living in the present moment, remove all fears and inhibitions that are obstacles to perfect technique and living. The basis of all Japanese martial arts is to have no concentration of mind and no imbalance of the body, so as to be in a state of total potentiality, ready to pass into act against attack from any side;5 also to be fluid and nonresistant, so that the adversary's force is dissipated into emptiness and he can easily be thrown or brought under control in the direction of his own movement. But as we have indicated earlier, the martial arts can be raised to a high moral purpose. In addition to the three masters alluded to earlier, Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, calls for special mention. He was a true Nature-mystic who saw the martial arts as a Way of Love and perfected techniques to reduce aggressors to reason without inflicting on them injury.

There are many approaches to God, through his revelation to us, through the study of his works (Romans I, 20, and Summa Theologica, quaestio I, Articulus I) and through the arts by which genius lets a higher light shine into the world. But intellectual knowledge is not enough. We need strength of character to fight God's fight. Young people must be able to resist the temptations of drugs and drink and violence, and of the sexual perversions now offered them in the place of married love and fulfilment. Forty years ago it was noted that just as Japanese Catholic samurai had once excelled all other samurai in knightly courage and devotion, so their descendants excelled all other Catholics in their zeal for the life of the Trappists, the severest and austerest order of monks in the Catholic Church. It is hard for us in the West to know how far these Japanese Christian monks have cultivated their national traditions and could impart a training like that given by the Zen monks of old. But with so many young people in the world seeking self-fulfilment, one wonders if they might not restore the martial arts to their former purity of purpose, and give them a yet higher purpose, to guide those who know that without God life is nothing.

1- Aikido and the Japan Karate Association and its dependent organisations still strive to maintain the true martial art spirit. Aikido does not have competition. The JKA accepts championships for those suited but does not give them undue importance. Addendum 1999.

2- Arnold Lunn, The good Gorilla, Hollis and Carter, London P.192 .

3- J.B.Watson, leader of the Behaviourists, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, quoted by David Stafford-Clark, Psychiatry Today, Penguin Books, London, "So far in his objective study of man no behaviourist has observed anything that he can call consciousness, sensation, perception, imagery or will..." (David Stafford-Clark, a religious believer, is completely critical of this view.)

4- Perhaps the nearest approach to Christian Nature-mysticism is to be found in the Byzantine tradition with the idea of all creation reconciled in the Incarnation. The icon-painters felt that they were representing an all-pervading life, as shown by their exclusive use of animal and plant colours, without mineral pigments.

5- In Thomist Aristotelian language, the less the act, the greater the potentiality.

He Passed away, 9.11.20