Often translated as "Fortune Favors the Bold", "Fortunes Favors the Brave", or "Fortune Favors the Strong", the use of the phrase 'Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat' was first documented in the second century BC. It was used by playwrights and emperors as a recognition of the supernatural favor they believed would be showered upon them if they were to undertake bold, brave, and often risky actions.
The Roman dictator and consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla was said to believe in the influence of the goddess Fortune in his life. He was a consummate risk-taker, achieving martial distinction by taking risks on the battlefield such as wearing disguises and living among the enemy. He was also the first of the great Republican Romans to march upon Rome — a great taboo, but one which cemented his power and influence. Sulla so believed in his favor with Fortuna that he took the agnomen Felix which means "lucky" ...
Julius Caesar also transformed his fortunes when he marched on Rome, declaring alea iacta est (the die is cast) as he crossed the Rubicon river. The utterance was a commitment of his fate to Fortune. While Caesar was a professional soldier, many of his victories were achieved by taking bold risks which exposed him and his troops to significant danger, but resulted in memorable victories.
From Johann Wolfgang VonGoethe:
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back-- Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now"
So popular is the phrase Fortis Fortuna Adiuvat that its been used down through the ages as a family motto, as well as a motto of esprit de corps among military units both foreign and domestic. There seems to be an appreciation for the relationship between risk taking, survival, and success relative to bravery that has compelled family clans and elite forces alike to adopt this ancient phrase as a motto. Of course, since its doubtful these family clans and military units believe in the Goddess Fortuna, its safe to assume the first word of the phrase now refers to the universal definition of Fortune which is 'luck', thus making the meaning of the phrase, "Luck Favors the Brave/Bold/Strong".
I was reading some past journal posts I made while living at Tenshinkan dojo in Chicago in the early 90's and came across one that I wrote right after getting schooled by Toyoda Sensei on the topic of politics and risk. I call these little nuggets of wisdom 'diamonds' since I find myself mining my journals for them. I've noticed that the words I used 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 1 year ago, or even last week, are pregnant with the possibility of a different interpretation if I allow myself (and my ego) the opportunity to see the little gifts my subconscious mind may have planted within the words.
What I wrote in my journal on August 21, 1992 was this: "Sensei was talking to me about the politics of dojos and how you cant avoid politics in life. Its everywhere and in everything and you don't have to like it but you have to understand it if you want to be successful. You don't have to get involved with the politics of a situation but if you understand it and the positions of everybody involved and what they're trying to do then you can 'hover like Casper' (his words) around the situation and, if opportunity presents itself, you can take advantage (my words, read further to see what he really said). At the very least you will have choices whether to get involved or not but only if you understand what's going on and stay detached. If you don't understand what's going on, or worse, get emotional because you 'don't like politics', then you will only have one option, defense, and everybody will know your position. This is called 'weakness'!" (His words)
So what does this have to do with Fortune Favoring the Bold you ask? Everything! The 'diamond' that I mined from that journal entry had everything to do with taking risks, stepping outside of one's comfort zone and being bold...being brave...being strong. What I thought was simply a discussion about politics had much more to do with doing what others are unwilling to do. It also had everything to do with 'luck favoring the bold'. He said it pretty clearly, although it would take over 20 years for me to understand it. Again, he said, "...if you understand the positions of everybody and what they're trying to do then you can hover around the situation and, if opportunity presents itself, you can take advantage." (Actually, what he said was "draw your sword and cut swift and clean" which was a much bolder way of saying 'take advantage of opportunity')
Of course, Toyoda Sensei was one of the boldest individuals I've had the good fortune to come in contact with and there are enough examples of his bold actions out there on the internet that I didn't feel the need to repeat them here. His life, his Aikido, and his instruction are some of the best examples of his risk taking and bold actions. Some of his decisions, as told by him, weren't always the best or the right ones in retrospect, but they were nothing if not bold. I touched on this quality of boldness in the latest AikiCast podcast so you can listen to it here if you'd like.
I once read that all of our fears are ultimately related to the fear of death. Whether it be the death of this thing which we call ourselves (our ego) or fear of our actual extinction, all of our fears come primarily from our reactions to the memories of fears and not necessarily from things based in reality. Its with this knowledge that I, personally, have found it much easier to make decisions that once seemed like death itself.
In life we're faced with decisions daily. Most of them quite trivial like what to have for breakfast, what to wear, and what time to go to bed. However, there are times in our lives when we're faced with a 'safe' option, a 'moderately risky' option, and an option that we might never have considered due to how bold it seems based on our own particular appetite for risk. The next time you're facing these options I challenge you to give the latter option some consideration while asking yourself, "what's the worst thing that could happen?" When you come up with the answers to that question then ask, "Will any of those things lead to my death?" While the death of one's ego can feel like you're actually dying, there are millions and millions of examples proving that you wont and remember, fortune favors the bold!
The vibration through the thin branch of the birch tree would be imperceptible to most living things as this creature makes a vital transition from one stage of life to another, only to move to yet another vital stage. The end of one stage becomes the beginning of the next, only to become the end and beginning of another, and another, and on it goes from egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly. For eons this cycle has continued unabated and, unless we really screw things up from here, will likely continued for eons more.
Cycles occur everywhere and in everything. Even when the cycle is almost imperceptible, like what occurs inside the cocoon as earthbound creature inherits the ability to move heavenward, the end is always in the process of becoming the beginning of something else and vice versa. This is the very definition of a cycle and, although the specific processes will vary whether we’re talking about the life cycle of a living thing, a product, an enterprise, a residential neighborhood or a human being, one thing we can always be sure of is that the beginning will eventually come to an end and the end will be intimately connected to some other beginning. Or, as my mother always says when things aren’t going so well, “this too shall pass”.
I might be dating myself a bit with this reference but I’ll take my chances. The 1989 song Closing Time by the band Semisonic speaks to this Universal process it quite appropriately with the line, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end”. Of course, it should be noted that the song is talking about the bar closing and the band members hoping “you have found a friend” to take you home, but they had the foresight to throw in a couple of Zen-ish lines that speak to the cycles of life. Every new beginning certainly does come from some other beginning’s end.
Being a martial arts instructor as well as a business owner I find this concept to be one of the most helpful whenever I catch myself getting mired in the minutiae of a particular task, challenge or problem that, at first glance, appears to have no simple solution or clear path. Remembering that all things are, in that moment, at some point in a greater cycle allows me to step back and take in the whole picture. In fact, it has become part of my daily process to take some time, usually during a morning or evening meditation, and simply try to be grateful for whatever or wherever in a “cycle” I may find myself, knowing full well that wherever I am in the cycle, wherever my business is in the cycle, wherever a particular Aikido student is in the cycle, is all part of a greater whole that deserves recognition. That recognition lends itself to having a more complete perspective on the myriad issues we all face daily.
All of life is process, a cycle of becoming. The only constant in the Universe is change. This is the one thing that we can all truly count on. Nothing ever stays the same and every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Nothing stays the same for a day, an hour or even a second. Each moment is a continuous spiral leading us from one beginning’s end to yet another ending in the process of becoming a beginning. Night spirals into day spirals into night spirals into yet another day. We are born and eventually we die. Birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth…the cycle of life. We could say that “life is change” or we could say it another way that “change is life”. Change is life and the ability to change is the essential element of growth, as one of my Aikido mentors is famous for saying. He was also famous for the follow up to that saying, “…the acceptance of this truth, that nothing stays the same, is the source of the power of true creativity”.
If I were to issue a challenge to anyone reading this it would be in the form of a statement: If you want to have a greater understanding of life, love, business, or anything else of interest to you, study the movement of the Universe. Study the principles and forces that govern it, the flow and function of nature’s energy and the movement of the galaxies. In this study you will find a greater connection, and thus understanding, between all things. The cycles that govern the movement of “no form” into the realm of form, the ebb and flow of the earths large water bodies, the movement of the earth around the sun, the changing of the seasons, the spiral helix in the structure of amino acids and, of course, the movement of egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis to butterfly, are the same cycles that exist in our own lives as we move from birth to and through whatever stage we may be in at this very moment. One thing is for sure, whether we like it or not, this stage too shall pass.
Steve Jobs gave the 2005 commencement address at Stanford University and the last few (now prophetic and sadly ironic) paragraphs stuck in my memory for their face slapping honesty. He spoke of the cycles of life and death by saying, “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away… Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish!” (Emphasis mine)
So for now its closing time, but remember that every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…