The Spirit of the Method

The old and familiar maxim: “Knowledge is Power” shapes the way we look at education, marketing, politics, religion and many other areas of human activity. The idea that knowledge begets power is based on the limited view that humanity is meant to dominate his environment, rather than have dominion over it.

Domination is established through strength and power. It is the product of forced compliance and it is unsustainable because of its disconnection from the larger creative context of which it is a part. Dominion, on the other hand, manifests through agility and suppleness. It inspires a willing submission and compels agreement because of its synchronicity with the unifying pattern of truth.

Whereas domination divides, dominion divides but also connects. Domination coerces control by introducing an arbitrary and inflexible restraint on true creative expression, while dominion extends control in lockstep with the wheels within wheels of creation. A horse, for example, can be held artificially in a desirable frame or he can be brought progressively into a state of fitness and understanding which allows him to hold that frame willingly and even proudly, if that can be said.

Likewise, a child can be educated in one of two ways. The first, and most prevalent is based on the notion that knowledge is power. To that aim, facts and figures are pasted on from the outside, typically with complete disregard to the inner wisdom of the child. The second, yet more desirable sees knowledge as the means of unlocking the true creative expression already resident in the child. Knowledge in the former is an end and in the latter is a means to an end.

Knowledge is not power, but the agility and suppleness that attend a well-organized system of knowledge do allow for a safe and contained increase in the expression of power. Loosely arranged or poorly organized knowledge is dangerous in that it does not provide a safe container for power. Power inevitably leaks through holes in understanding.

I have found this distinction to be an important one in every field of human activity I’ve explored. While there are many examples that could be given in support of it, I am privileged to share an example that comes from the field of classical equitation. General Decarpentry, a distinguished scholar of artistic equitation who served in the venerable Cadre Noir from 1904 to 1913 and again from 1925 to 1931 as the school’s second-in-command, provided a useful explanation of how dominion can be established in the field of equitation in his book Academic Equitation, A training system based on the methods of D’Aure, Baucher and L’Hotte:

The methods employed in Academic Equitation are in no way different from the ones used ever since the beginning of training, and they are in fact the only means man disposes of to train any kind of animal.

They consist of progressively developing applications of the principle of submission, by substituting for the means primitively employed to obtain it, other more convenient means that give scope for wider and more subtle applications.

The conventional language which has been thus gradually established between rider and mount becomes enriched with new signs. The understanding of the horse develops. The combined use of the signs, the isolated meaning of which has been established separately, allows the rider to enlarge the scope of his teaching, which always proceeds from the known to the unknown.

This is the spirit of the method. It uses conventional language to apply to the body of the horse the gymnastic progression of a series of movements intended to develop his agility rather than his strength, and his suppleness rather than his power.

6 thoughts on “The Spirit of the Method

  1. Coco

    What a beautiful description of the process of training. Domination of any kind never considers the creative potential of the dominated. It’s like attempting to teach dance and the partner is unconscious. If it seems a student needs to be dragged perhaps the teaching method needs adjusting. I appreciate your insight, thanks.


  2. You have presented sound parameters for extending a field of dominion of which true education is a part. Thank you for your attention to the necessary qualities of agility and suppleness and containment as primary before the elements of power and strength can be engendered. Again your words point to wide fields of application. One field does relate to fitness. I can see more how fostering the qualities of agility and suppleness can be very health enhancing which would set the stage for the development of strength and power.


  3. Colin

    I notice that this is a gradual learning process between the teacher and the student, whether the student be a horse or another person. If you know this, then it is much easier to realize that patience is needed and that you should keep your cool when the inevitable roadblock pops up.


  4. Vincent

    The ‘power’ to manipulate and coerce is always temporary and seeded with its own certainty of dissipation. It is stolen influence, and that which is stolen is always trying to find its way back to its natural Owner.

    If we wish to be genuinely powerful, the first thing is to relinquish the attempt to be powerful. Power has tended to lead to corruption, and one can see that the first need is for those who are incorruptible in this sense, who seek nothing for themselves. Then there can be steady, reliable channels for creative power, and the meek can and do inherit the earth!


  5. Ricardo B.

    Very interesting exposé on influence and the very distinct differences between the two approaches taken. I’d have to say the only worthwhile effort is in compelling agreement, for when the heart is engaged, and yes even in the animal kingdom, then there is willing submission. But this submission is not to an arbitrary sense of control if it is genuine and pure – it is to basic fabric of life that connects all things, or as you say, in synchronicity to the pattern of truth. The feel of this energy is different I’ve noticed; it compels, never forces, agreement. It takes real humility to hear its call, and cannot coexist with false pride and inflated self-importance. It is the truth of things, which is bigger than any person and has no meaning in isolation.
    What an eye opener! Makes me eager to shore up any areas where the energy of domination exists in my life. Can’t help but to think this occurs simply wherever you find yourself out of step with natural dominion and then enter into frustration. In this frenzied impotence, you then lash out and try to regain control in such hurtful ways that only serve to further divide you from the glory of life. If life is good, it must only be so in truth.


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