Application Letter to St. John’s

March, 2007

1. Within the last year I made the decision to go back to school. I was beginning to examine my options, and all the while my father was repeatedly imploring me to look into your program. I would nod and say ok, but it was not until he sat me down and showed me the curriculum on your website that he had my attention.

I recognized instantly the significance of the teaching method at St. John’s. To me, the benefit of studying primary source material in contrast to textbooks was obvious. As I read through your curriculum I was impressed by the Great Books of which it consisted. They were all invaluable classics of the western tradition. I laughed aloud, noting that I had read several of the books, and many were actually on the “to read” list, neatly pinned above my bed. Only rarely had I heard of anyone reading these books in school, let alone using them in their daily assignments. As far as I knew these were books that might be read in graduate school or in one’s spare time, if interest provoked. I was excited with my decision to return to school, but not nearly as excited as I was after discovering your school.

I recognize in your methods the emphasis on ability to clearly communicate ideas through reading, writing and discussion. As Richard Weaver points out in Ideas Have Consequences, “with few exceptions, students who display the greatest mastery over words, as evidence in vocabulary tests and exercises in writing, make the best scholastic records regardless of the department of study they enter.” Put more laconically, “command of language prognosticates aptitude.” It is my opinion that this ability has taken a back seat to simple memorization, and to see you address it as a primary skill generates within me a great appreciation for your methods.

The focus on discussion appeals to me tremendously. What are the Great Books without the Great Conversation? How does one truly learn without dialogue? There is no more certain a method to explore, discover, and retain ideas than conversing and writing; no better system than that of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. As Francis Bacon said so succinctly, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, writing an exact man.” Your school appears to be the embodiment of what I have always imagined higher learning to be.

In addition to all the things I admire about your methods and curriculum, I am interested in St. John’s because I feel I would be an asset to its purposes. As I understand it, your goal is to produce thinkers, that is, people involved in their own education. I believe I have the potential to embody that goal. Great talent without great teaching is but a diamond in the rough. I strongly believe I have the talents that, when matched with the right teaching, will reflect beautifully on both.

I do feel that I neglected my “formal” education, and if I had it to do over, I would not have been so careless. But those days have come and gone, and my chance to maximize my high school experience was squandered. It is unfortunate that decisions of our youth create consequences so contrary to who we become in our adulthood, and yet those decisions are our history. I do believe it was ultimately all for the best. As a youth I was lucky to know what I wanted from day to day let alone what I intended to commit to for the rest of my life. With time come maturity, clarity, and fortitude, and I am ready to resume formal education with the sense of purpose I have gained over time. Had I continued formal education immediately after high school I would have had hardly the respect for it that I have now.

I was not a good student in high school. I was rebellious, obdurate, and disinterested. I suppose I could say that as a weakness, my education failed to keep me involved or interested, but I feel that that reflects more on me than my teachers.

The strength of my education rests on reading and writing. In school I enjoyed my creative writing class more than any other. I have a knack for memorization, and was good with English and debate. My weakness is math. It is not that I do math poorly or do not understand it, but only that my interests are more in the verbal aspects of academics. I recognize the importance of math and am dedicated to its study, but it is my weakness because it holds the least amount of interest for me.

I feel my ability to communicate is my greatest strength. I pride myself on the ability to get anyone to understand anything, through virtually any medium. It has been my experience that all people can learn concepts perceived to be outside of their abilities if it is simply presented to them in their own language. My gift is being able to speak that language. The decision to enroll in school came from the realization of my gifts in communication and teaching. I believe your school would be an invaluable benefit to my talents in both areas.

2. (A) I clearly understand that your curriculum is reading based, and I wish to instill the same clarity in you that for me reading regularly has been a lifelong commitment. Much as a person never reaches a point where they can pronounce themselves “nourished” and then begin to neglect eating, such is my outlook on the education gained through reading. It is my opinion that a person never reaches a point at which they are “educated” any more than a person reaches the point at which they are “nourished.” It is a continual and habitual part of healthy existence, not an objective to be completed and forgotten.

Even though I was not a good student in high school, I did not neglect my reading. And although I was not always reading what was assigned in the classroom, I was reading with greater skill, with greater books, with greater enthusiasm, than a significant portion of my classmates. They were reading because it was required of them. I was reading because there were things I badly wanted to know. Although my high school reading habits were inchoate compared to what they are today, they were nonetheless significant.

I read the things a typical rebellious, non-interested high school kid would read: the works of Nietzsche, dystopian classics as Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, and any book sure to get a person red-flagged at a public library. It was not until a year after high school that my reading took a turn for the better, not in volume or consistency, but in terms of positive outlook. In school, I was reading works that validated my sense of frustration with my situation, works that expressed my ennui with school. The change came shortly after high school when I began to read out of a desire to live the solution rather than embrace the problem.

It was within my first year out of high school that I became seriously involved in the martial arts, and with the new lifestyle came a new genre of reading. There was a new awakening to thinking and literature. I was learning the code of the warrior: to live with purpose. One of the canons of being a warrior is the commitment to growth, and it was expected that as a warrior, you were to be constantly growing in body and in mind. The group with whom I trained had an extensive reading list, and I consumed it in record time.

We read books on empowerment, personal growth, and success. We read leading motivators like Tony Robbins and Robert Allen. We read books on metaphysical theories about creating your own reality, and the link between mind and matter, thought and action. Over the course of the first year I read enough of these books to fill a library, only to come to the ironic conclusion, if you want to succeed, stop reading books on success and read in the area in which you wish to succeed. Hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Nevertheless, I stood transformed. Reading volumes of self-help and motivational material helped shape my life.

I began to read in a more intellectual and philosophic genre. Beginning to take an interest in what I consider to be the social, economic, political, and spiritual equivalent of the unified theory of physics, I hoped to someday make contributions to this study myself. I read heavily the works of Ken Wilber, Dr. David Hawkins, and Earnest Holmes, among many others.

Last year my father introduced me to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. I took immediate interest and have since been devouring their suggested reading. At their recommendation I have read the works of great thinkers as Ludwig Von Mises and F.A. Hayek, Richard Weaver, and Russell Kirk. I particularly enjoyed the essays available on the ISI website. As I made my way through Kirk’s anthology, The Conservative Mind, I was spurred to further research, familiarizing myself with the likes of Hobbes, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Rousseau, and Burke. The more I read the more I wanted to read. I found myself back-tracking to ancient Greece. I wanted to find the beginning and read chronologically the works of the great thinkers of the Western tradition, from Thales to Socrates, from Augustine to Aquinas, from Bacon to Burke. Imagine my surprise and pleasure to discover these to be the very texts of your curriculum!

I do keep my literary interests broad, and though preferring the Western canon, I do not limit myself to it. I have also read thoroughly the works of Lao Tzu and Sun Tzu, and I have memorized better than a dozen psalms from the Tao Teh Ching. I have studied thoroughly and memorized passages from the Bhagavad-Gita as well as read multiple commentaries written by the likes of Paramahansa Yogananda, Da Free John, and Swami B. V. Tripurari.

My true literary loves are the integral thinkers who seek the uniting factors and patterns of social, psychological, scientific, political, economic and religious philosophy. My love for western philosophy is that there were great thinkers in all areas of thought. These men are my inspiration, and I intend to someday become their peer.

In order to achieve this, I read every day as much as time will allow. Reading is a priority. Following very much the thinking of Hume when he resolved to “regard every object as contemptible except the improvement of my talents in literature,” I structure my life around study. This is very difficult to do outside of an academic environment. Most of my friends and coworkers are not interested in a life of the mind. Only with my father do I spend hours discussing the ideas of the day, engaging in the Great Conversation. I can only imagine the increase in productive stimulation one must derive from academic immersion and being constantly in the company of other thinkers and writers.

I have read much as I have the intention of being a writer, and I do a significant amount of writing in my spare time. As I worked on personal writing projects, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my amateur level of knowledge and skill. Raising the level of my work became the motivating factor of my studies.

I am somewhat of an anomaly in that I am a well read, non-college (non-high school for that matter) graduate, but that is no longer good enough. I am looking to take my abilities to the next level. I am fully prepared and anxious to recrudesce to scholastic discipline.

I can read on my own, and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life; however, I recognize that I need more. I acknowledge that in order to raise my level of understanding I must be in a community of teachers, thinkers, and writers. I do enjoy commenting (in a semi-facetious manner) that I have not met a pre-grad student who knows more than I, and when I have the chance to test myself, I usually stand correct. Upon the discovery of your school, I lost a bit of faith in my claim. I must admit that I am somewhat intimidated by the degree of intellect that must be present on your campuses. I rather fancy myself to be intelligent and well read, but I have not been subject to scrutiny from and conference with other thinkers, and that I must have if I am to be who I intend to be.

2. (B) The book with the greatest impact on my life is Power vs. Force by Dr. David Hawkins. I have read it cover to cover more than ten times, underlined and memorized passages, and flagged multiple pages. I took it with me virtually everywhere for a year until it no longer resembled the book I originally purchased. It was and is the most influential book on my thinking to date.

Dr. Hawkins proposes a scale of awareness, rating in order those levels most deluded in self-focus to those most open to understanding and inspiration. He goes through each human condition and emotion, giving it a value in relation to the others and in relation to an Absolute Truth. He explains contextual and relative truth in relation to Absolute Truth in a truly inspired way.

This understanding has manifested itself in my patience and communication with others and my understanding of the big picture. This helps me transcend my own and others’ subjective pettiness in light of what is True. It has helped me focus my communication skills in a manner that takes into account a person’s level of awareness as opposed to their intelligence. Two people who are equally intelligent yet different in their subjective emotional awareness will not hold congruent worldviews. A person functioning from the level of grief, though equally intelligent, will not view reality the same as a person looking through the eyes of reason. This book taught me to separate a person’s intellect from their awareness and address their awareness as the initial means of improving their quality of life. Once a person’s awareness is raised to a positive level, they will be able to utilize the tools of higher faculty: reason, intelligence, and love. In high school my intelligence was high but my awareness quite low. It is only now that I have the proper life awareness that I am able to benefit from my intelligence.

This understanding has given me insight into what I feel to be incredibly effective teaching methods as well as insight into the human condition. It has given me the necessary outlook, when combined with my intellect, to be an achiever. Without such an outlook I would be nothing more than a cynic.

3. The most significant event in my lifetime would be, without a doubt, my involvement with the martial arts. It was in my training that I learned discipline. It was more than simple physical discipline; it was discipline of the mind. I learned the skills to create the outcomes in life I wanted rather than let life choose for me. I learned to teach as well as to learn, and I learned how to learn well. I gained the skills to teach myself, to call upon my resources, and to perfect my habits until my outcome is achieved. I would then set my mark higher and continue onward.

The thing I loved most about the group with whom I trained was that we all held each other accountable for the outcomes we created through our action or inaction. What we said and what we did was to be congruent, or we let the group and ourselves down. Yet there was no reprimand, simply an understanding that we were to uphold each other and ourselves to a standard of excellence. We understood that compassion in light of failure encourages rehabilitation.

One of the greatest benefits of martial arts is that it brings to balance people’s polar opposite deficiencies. Those who are shy, meek, or lacking confidence are brought to center by practicing the discipline of assertion. Those who are aggressive by nature are brought to center by practicing the discipline of restraint. In my experience I have seen people truly come alive once balanced with the fire or ice they lack. Finding myself in the latter category, I was taught to listen, to be patient, to work all the way through things, and to do things that suited my goals even when I did not want to do them.

The first aim of martial arts is to create a lifestyle free of fear, not only a fear of violence, but a fear of challenge, conflict, failure, or success. The second is to get a person to decide what they intend to accomplish with the aid of fearlessness. Fearlessness is not an end but a means to an end. What will you do now that you are fearless?

This was the question that changed my life. I set my sights on teaching, and as soon as I had the chance, I took it. I taught martial arts for several years, and the better I got at teaching, the better I wanted to be at teaching. I began wishing there were more areas to which my teaching applied. Thus, my rekindled interest in returning to school. I wish to be a greater aid to greater problems to a greater amount of people than martial arts allows. I made the decision to act as soon as it was apparent to me which direction I must go.

4. I feel that I have had no problems portraying to you my enthusiasm for your school or convincing you that the material and learning style is, in my opinion, a perfect match with my desires and needs. There is an issue that I feel must be addressed, and I would like to be the one who addresses it first. Does my enthusiasm and personal interest equate to the discipline and ability it takes to succeed in your scholastic program? What acts of discipline and perseverance have I to offer?

I have attained a teaching level (Third Step) in the martial arts style Wu Ji Chyuan Fa, which takes approximately five years of daily practice to attain and is the equivalent of a high rank black belt.

I owned and operated my own martial arts studio (The E.N.D. System Training Center, 940 S. Rio Grande St.) for a year, taking on more than thirty students. Classes were held Monday through Friday, six o’clock to eight o’clock p.m. I did this in addition to the full time work I did as the security supervisor for a local hospital.

I co-authored a book which my business partner and I self-published under our gym LLC entitled The E.N.D. System: The Anatomy of Combat (172 pages). I was responsible for fifty percent of the writing, the format, and the production. We also filmed, edited, and produced an instructional video that accompanied the book and demonstrated the concepts. We sold a little less than two hundred copies.
I have written in entirety a nonfiction piece entitled The Creation Formula (approx 200 pages) and am currently soliciting publishers. It is an examination of attributes common to effectiveness in any area. Its ideas are drawn heavily from our martial arts code of Warriorship.

I have competed as a kick boxer, a mixed martial artist, and a grappler. In a national submission-grappling tournament (Grapplers Quest 2005, Las Vegas, Nevada) I made it to the finals before elimination. These events require strict attention to diet and weight as well as rigorous conditioning for weeks or months prior to competition. To compete at such a level in such sports is the pinnacle of discipline and perseverance. Several of my bouts were televised and are available on video for purchase from the promoter.

While none of these accomplishments can directly replace the value of formal education or compensate for my lack of an impressive academic record, I hope that they offer a view of my ability to act with the fire of motivation and the ice of discipline. I trust they demonstrate my ability to persevere in order to achieve an outcome in a real world scenario. It is unfortunate that I did not learn such motivation and discipline in high school, but I stand convicted that I learned them nonetheless, and I am ready to use them for the purpose of continuing my education.

Regarding the specifics, I do believe my math, foreign language, science, music, and English skills are up to par with the necessities of your program, and I feel that my high school transcripts will be an unjust indication of what I retained or improved upon since then. I am not a graduate, but I do hold a GED. I am self-conscious about my record and have made a diligent effort to distinguish my current outlook from my outlook a decade ago.

I hope in the most sincere manner I have made my intentions clear and left you with an adequate impression of the sharp mind, intensity, and discipline that I am confident I possess. I further hope that this information will be sufficient to persuade you of my value to your school and your school’s value to me. Given the chance, I will flourish in your program. If more is required of me, let me know and I will oblige in any way I can. I very much appreciate your consideration.

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One thought on “Application Letter to St. John’s

  1. Pingback: Autobiography | Matthew J. Summers

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