What Mortal Kombat Taught Me About Knowledge

Philosophy from a video game.

Finish him,” was the famous phrase heard on Mortal Kombat 3 when it came time to obliterate your opponent. You might remember the drunken wobble Raiden does just before Sub-Zero uppercuts him into oblivion. Good times.

As a kid, another part of the game always stood out: the opening credits. The phrase flashing across the screen read, “There is no knowledge that is not power.”

Who knew a game about martial artists fighting to the death could quote Emerson? Was it propaganda to get us kids to read more? I don’t recall Scorpion showing us his reading list or Shao Kahn having a mini-lecture about leadership and management.

I didn’t even play the game that much, but I have thought about the quote often.

In our past, humankind had limited access to education and knowledge. You had to be rich or lucky to go to school or have a tutor.

Epictetus took issue with the notion that knowledge was for the privileged few. He also believed that just as knowledge is power, education is a way to freedom.

A student quotes him as saying, “We should not trust the masses who say only the free can be educated, but rather the lovers of wisdom who say that only the educated are free.”  

For centuries, if you wanted to learn something new, you had to visit the local library. It may have been a few counties or countries away, and the books may not be written in your language. And finding a qualified teacher at a reasonable price wasn’t always an option either.

But with smartphones and the Internet, access to knowledge is unlimited. With the Internet and the proliferation of information immediately at our fingertips, we have endless opportunities to learn.

You can find tutorials on YouTube if you want to know how to drive a stick shift or rebuild the engine in your car. There are multiple how-to articles about the subject if you need to know how to write a thesis paper. Need a few new moves to impress your training partners? Instagram is loaded with them.

The trick to learning is to ever be the student. Challenge your thoughts and opinions, and seek new information.

You may be familiar with Ygritte’s affectionate phrase, “You know nothing, Jon Snow” from Game of Thrones. To the philosophy student, it sounds like she spent a little time at the feet of Socrates, who went around Athens informing people they essentially knew nothing. He was eventually condemned to death by poison by the elites and aristocrats who thought he was a bad influence on the youth.

Several hundred years after Socrates drank the hemlock, Epictetus took up his mantle. He is quoted as saying, “If you wish to improve, be content to appear clueless or stupid in extraneous matters…”

Whether in a martial arts studio, a library, or a friendly discussion, it is often best if we sit back, remain quiet, and take in the lessons. You never know what nugget of life-changing information you may find, even in something as simple as a video game.

Knowledge is power. Education is freedom. Seek it thoroughly. Use it wisely. Ever be the student.

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