“When we suffer bad times we always think that the world is against us. Actually, we can look at it in another way. The bad times that we suffer are actually a blessing in disguise. Only the purest gold is tested in the hottest fire, lesser metals cannot take the heat.
Dogen Zenji said, ‘The greater the aspiration, the greater the enlightenment.’ Aspiration is always tested and polished by hardship.”
- Rev. Kensho Furuya
There is a saying in budo, or "Everything begins and ends with respect" (礼に始まり礼に終わる). Last night we hosted an outside teacher from another country. The thing which made me the happiest was how polite our students were. Everyone treated each other with respect and everyone had a good time.
For the most part, the martial arts are physical and up to a point, anyone can become skilled. Reigi-saho or etiquette is one of those things which cannot be taught but can be learned.
Being a jerk reflects poorly on your teacher, your parents, your art, your dojo and most importantly you. Be careful what you say or do because it means a lot.
February 22nd is Ninja Cat Day in Japan. The onomatopoeia of a cat's meow in Japanese is nyan nyan. The Japanese love their homophones and thus nyan nyan become ni ni and the first syllable in the word ninja (忍者).
The kanji for nin is 忍 which means patience or self-restraint which are huge concepts in budo. The other kanji 者 is ja or sha which means person.
One of the major differences between beginners and experts is impulse control. Impulse control is nothing more than being able to control one's self in any situation. Self-restraint is then the mark of a true master.
Happy Ninja Cat Day!
A good martial artist strives to create balance. Here is an interesting take on the taiji or yin-yang symbol. It is a Japanese kamon or family crest using the properties of yin-yang or in-you in Japanese. A martial artist with balance mentally and physically cannot be moved and thus cannot be defeated.
If we are easily swayed from one side to the other then we can be moved to a place of unbalance. At this place of unbalance, even the weakest of foes can defeat us.
Balance mentally is more important than balance physically. It is said, "Everything in life begins with a thought." Our minds are our greatest weapons - they can defend us or defeat us. How we think is more important than what we do or what we say. Both of those are an extension of our minds.
What will it take for you to be defeated? A terse word or a insensitive glance? We don't always have to be punched in the face to be defeated.
The goal of every great martial art is to create this balance which we call the immovable mind. An immovable mind is one of calmness and imperturbability where can nothing unbalance us.
“We emphasize modesty and humility in our practice, but some students do not appreciate the spiritual aspects of the art and look at others as objects or toy to be played with, no considerate of the feelings of others. Indeed, we live in a ‘me, me, me’ society and approve of selfish behavior. Losing the spirit of practice and the meaning of Aikido, the art itself becomes another common tool for one's self-promotion and constant quest for power, authority and recognition. We must see such arrogance and egotism as the acts of those who are spiritually destitute and have lost their way from the path of Aikido. What to do, it is really so sad.
Aikido practice, indeed, takes much courage, patience, commitment and wisdom.”
- Rev. Kensho Furuya
“It is not that we lack self-confidence or ability, it is just that we are afraid of failure. We shouldn't worry about this. There is no such thing as failure until we create it in our minds and bring it into our lives. It really does not exist, it is only an idea, value judgement or sensation which simply comes and goes in your head. It does not exist in reality or in Nature. Why many worry about failure so much is that they are very much attached to failure. Why? Because failure is an easy way to absolve one's self of responsibility and commitment which we hate or find burdensome. We shouldn’t waste our time and energy on such tiresome games, move on!
The only problem with failure is that, if we buy into it, it takes a little bit away from us, doesn't it? That little bit of ourselves which can never be taken back. . . so we should simply put the idea of failure or loss out of our minds!” - Rev. Kensho Furuya
Calligraphy by Saigo Takamori, signed by his pen name Nanshu.
Saigo Takamori is considered the "real" Last Samurai. He lived during the complex end of the Tokugawa Bakufu in the mid-1800's. He is not famous because he was the victor or because he made a great deal of money - actually he lost the war and committed seppuku as his last troops were being defeated. All his life, he was quite poor and is known for having only one set of underwear and kimono. It is said that when they were being washed, he was naked and simply didn't see any guests until they dried.
What he is famous for is his loyalty to what he believed in - regardless if it was the winning or losing side, despite fame or fortune and "for richer or poorer" as I have heard somewhere.
When I view his calligraphy, I see great inner strength as well as gentleness. It is easy to see in his strokes that he doesn't not follow any popular way but is true to himself and his beliefs. This type of brush stroke is extremely hard to imitate when such a brilliant personality shines through so strongly.
Our Aikido should be the same - true to the Path and strong but at the same time gentle.
I know some of you will ask me, "How can something be strong and gentle at the same time?"
Of course - isn't this what we are trying find out in our practice? Who can answer such a question?
Are you a 10? Typically when we hear this type of question, we think that the person is asking us if we are good looking. In Japanese culture, the number 10 or juu is a homophone for juubun (十分) which is intended to mean, "Replete." Thus, the number 10 is lucky because the number 10 means to be content. In the west, we pursue things in order to achieve or acquire happiness and thus happiness is a result of taking - I receive and thus I am happy. In Japan, contentment is often associated with living a life of purpose or meaning and happiness comes as a result of giving.
The number 10 then reminds us that true happiness is a result of finding inner contentment instead of outer attainment. Finding contentment is a result of having a living a life of meaning. To have meaning means that we "get to" share or give something with the world and with that we are grateful for the opportunity. When we have meaning, then contentment, and thus gratefulness then true happiness is not far behind. True happiness is then a function of giving from a place of contentment and not taking from a place of fear.
Are you a 10?
When you look in the mirror, do you see a ghost? Sounds like an absurd question, but although many of us don't see a ghost staring back at us in the mirror, many of us act like ghosts throughout the day. Think about it, a ghost is caught in purgatory forced to relive some moment from their past over and over again. They hang around the same place and do the same thing.
Many of us spend our days relentlessly pursing some thing with the mindset, "If I could only get that thing then..." It is only after we acquire that thing (hopefully) that we realize its futility as we are no closer to happiness than when we started. Furuya Sensei called these things, "gendai seikatsu shukan byo" or modern lifestyle diseases.
Sensei advocated a type of "throw away" learning when he wrote, "As many people might think, learning is not a process of accumulation. This means that it is not a matter of taking and taking for one's self. In True Learning, throw away first. Take and throw away, take and throw away. People understand taking, but not throwing away. If I were to explain it in simple terms, "throwing away" means to take a fresh start in everything you do."
A ghost is someone who cannot "let go" and thus becomes trapped.
A true warrior knows that life is not about pushing themselves to acquire more and more but to learn how to let go of those things which hold them back.
A few years ago, we had a person teaching for us. He was knowledgeable about his art but a woefully horrible teacher. When students would come to me to complain about him, I would tell them, "It is your job to work hard, overcome and get better despite the circumstances." Most would quit because they couldn't get over this person's presentation, but the real reason is that they didn't want to persevere and overcome the adversity. What these people couldn't understand is that often times, the best teacher is the one who is the most unreasonable. Sometimes the teacher's unreasonableness is intentional such as in the case of Furuya Sensei who was a staunch disciplinarian. In other cases, it is the teachers lack of ability which forces the student to surmount the situation. Either way they have to find a way to get better. The "unreasonableness" forces the student out of their comfort zone and towards mastery.
Today, we will be getting a new President. Regardless if we voted for him or not, we are stuck with him. He appears to be unreasonable. Thus we have to find a way around him whether we like it or not. We are martial artists, no matter the situation or odds, we must have the courage to step up, face the challenge and succeed.
Accept things as they are not as they should be. Work hard, persevere and succeed. Nobody is coming to save us, but us. The victor is not the person who sits idle and complains, but the person who keeps on going despite the situation.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zL7SobTAnuQ "Discover You. Find Your Passion, Life Purpose And Take Action" - unknown
What a great video. Everyone should find and follow their passions. The martial arts is nothing but watching and copying someone else to improve one's life. Watch this video nothing more needs to be said.
"The relationship between Wisdom, Love and Power. Wisdom without Love and Power would be cruel and weak. Power without Wisdom and Love would be dangerous and selfish, and Love without Power and Wisdom would be victimized and foolish. In our hearts we must learn how to find and join all three of these virtues."- Suzanne Lie
Wow! What a wonderful quote. This could be the definition of true budo. A true warrior is at the junction of all three of these. It takes great balance and depth of character to properly and responsibly wield the power that a warrior possess.
If you think studying the martial arts is about crushing others, you are sorely mistaken. It is much much more than that.
Don't be that guy. We have this one visitor who comes by at least once a year who is really disruptive. He is a nice guy and well liked so we tolerate him, but the worst part about it is that he doesn't even know that he is being disruptive. In reality his mere presence is disruptive, he doesn't have to say or do anything, he just has to show up and chaos ensues. The worst part is that he thinks that everyone is just literally falling over themselves to help him. I heard a an interesting Japanese sentence that immediately made me think of this visitor. あの人と出かけるときは必ず雨が降るので(Ano hito dekakerutoki wa kanarazu ame ga furunode) which means "every time you go out with him it rains." Decorum is the better part of mastery. The moment you become a student of the martial arts you are expect to act like one. This goes for black belts and teachers as well. What one does off the mat is often times more important than how one performs on the mat.
This person who visits our dojo forgets that he is required to follow the rules and etiquette of the dojo but instead he chooses to act like nuisance. In Japanese they say あたまかくしてしりかくさず (atama kakushite siri kakusazu) which means that someone who "hides their head but forgets to cover their butt."
When you visit other martial arts schools, please act accordingly. It reflects poorly on your teacher, your school and ultimately you.
On this day in 1999, Nidai Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba passed away. Aikido is now practiced by millions of people in over 130 countries. What an achievement! Most know that the spread of Aikido worldwide was primarily due to the efforts of 2nd Doshu. What most students of Aikido don't know is how hard it must have been for him. I can only imagine what it must have been like to not only follow O'Sensei but to thrive as well. Having to follow Furuya Sensei and my own struggles must pale in comparison to what 2nd Doshu had to endure.
Here is a story that Sensei used to tell about 2nd Doshu when he was an uchi-deshi at hombu dojo in 1969 just after O'Sensei passed away. 2nd Doshu was under a tremendous amount of pressure. Every where he turned someone wanted something or was threatening to breakaway. People all over the world were gossiping about him or criticizing his every move. The most common belittling thing people would say was, "He is nothing like O'Sensei." One day after Sensei overheard some Aikidoist complaining about 2nd Doshu, he became so frustrated that he confronted 2nd Doshu and said, "Why don't you defend yourself." 2nd Doshu calmly looked up at him and said, "Aikido people don't do bad things or say bad things about other people." The look on 2nd Doshu's face must have been so reassuringly calm because at that moment Sensei was awe struck and thought to himself, "What a great man."
Hearing that story always reminded me of this quote by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, "One becomes vulnerable when one stops to think about winning, losing, taking advantage, impressing or disregarding the opponent. When the mind stops, even for a single instant, the body freezes, and free, fluid movement is lost."
He truly was a great man.
How was your New Year's Day? In Japan on January first, there are many traditional things that start with the word Hatsu (初). There is hatsu keiko - the first practice of the year, hatsu yume - first dream, hatsu ne - the first warbling heard signing, hatsu hinode - the first sunrise and of course the hatsu mode - the New Year shrine visit.
Albert Camus said, "Life is the sum of all your choices." With that being said, these New Year "hatsu" are supposed to set the tone for the coming year and bring with them prosperity and good luck.
To reach life's greatest heights requires that we put forth the greatest amount of attention and diligence to every thing that we do. That is why the Japanese have the rituals so that the things that they do have the right tone so that they might inspire themselves to greater heights.
The dojo is supposed to be a respite devoid of the outside world and its distractions - a tranquility. Furuya Sensei used to say, "Before you enter the dojo, cut off your head and leave the outside world at the door." We can see this idea of hatsu in everything that we do in the dojo from packing our bags to bowing to our partners.
Training calls us to prepare or put in the proper amount of respect, diligence or effort into everything that centers around the dojo and training. Mastery is then the ability to extend that hatsu or positive tone to every aspect of our lives.
Today in Los Angeles it is raining and rain has the precarious ability to drive Angelenos crazy. It seems as just the thought of rain can cause people to lose their minds. Kind of indicative of 2016 and thus it has been one heck of a year.
With the rain and all that has happened in 2016, it reminds me of Ame ni mo makezu, a poem written by Kenji Miyazaki. Ame ni mo makezu translates as "Be Not Defeated By the Rain." Here is the poem translated by David Sulz below:
Be not defeated by the rain, Nor let the wind prove your better. Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.
Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy. Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you. Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.
A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove's shade.
A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.
If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health. If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden. If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear. If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues: Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.
In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy. In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.
Stand aloof of the unknowing masses: Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a "Great Man".
This is my goal, the person I strive to become.
"Wake up!" was something Furuya Sensei used to say to us all the time to rebuke us when we would get lazy or weren't paying attention. I used to think he was trying to get us to pay attention, but now I understand that his admonishment was for us to push ourselves to a higher level.
To be awake is to be conscious or aware of not only ourselves but our world as well. As martial artists, there is a tendency to be too shortsighted about ourselves as we believe that since we are developing ourselves that no one else matters.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. There comes a certain time in every person's training when they realize that training in the martial arts isn't about them. We call this "to be awakened."
To be awakened means that one realizes that they don't exist in a vacuum. True power lies not in destroying others but in building them up. Resisting them, roughing them up or just being a jerk shows how juvenile one's level is. Helping others, making them better and building them up is the true illustration of mastery. Are you awake?
Mr. Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid said, "No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do." This thinking is not that far off from tradition Japanese values. There is a famous Japanese proverb "kodomo wa oya no kagami" (子供は親の鏡) or that "children are a reflection of their parents." As student's of Aikido, we are mago-deshi to O'Sensei. Mago means grand like in grandson and deshi means student. We are mago-deshi because we can trace our lineage back to O'Sensei. However because we are all mago-deshi we must act like direct student's of O'Sensei.
As Aikidoist and martial artists, it is believed that how we conduct ourselves is a reflection on our dojo, our teacher, our art, on Hombu dojo and O'Sensei. All Japanese martial arts follow this same line of thinking.
Warriors are supposed to be experts in kokkifukurei or self-restraint in all matters of etiquette and decorum. A famous proverb is “Yaiba ni tsuyoki mono wa rei ni suguru” which means that the greatest warriors surpass all others in etiquette and decorum.
Beyond what one's physical body can do, one's character is paramount or as Voltaire said, "With great power, come great responsibility." Furuya Sensei said it best, "Always act as if your teacher is watching." Be careful how you act, it is a reflection of more than just you.