Viewing entries tagged

The 20-second rule















Want to get better at something?  All you need is 20-seconds.

In order to get what we want, we need to create change.  Ostensibly we think that change requires willpower.  Willpower is necessary, but according to author Shawn Achor, "Willpower is a finite resource and can’t be relied on."  In his book The Happiness Advantage, he discusses the 20-second rule, "I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule, because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit. In truth, it often takes more than 20 seconds to make a difference-and sometimes it can take much less-but the strategy itself is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change."

What he is talking about is being deliberate in order to create a habit.  Understanding that change is a function of motivation, willpower and action, we can use the 20-second rule to create deliberate action in order to become better martial artists.

Momentum is the mother of change.  The 20-second rule is just a way of using this idea of "low activation" to kick start momentum.  In order to use it, just add a small deliberate step in the beginning to activate you.  Then once you've started it is easier to keep going and thus success is easier to achieve.

I use the 20-second rule all the time.  When I get off work, the last thing I want to do is go to Yoga class.  So I trick myself by saying, "I will just drive by and if there is a parking spot, I will stop."  When I get there, regardless if there is a spot or not, I think, "Well I am here" and end up just going in.

The Practice of the Way

I found this article written by John Stevens that I thought was particularly good.  Recently, his translation of The Art of Peace by Morihei Ueshiba was featured on the TV show the Walking Dead.  I thought it might be appropriate to post this so that students can get an idea of who Stevens Sensei is and how his translation influenced almost every Aikido student in the west. The Practice of the Way by John Stevens

Every human being is potentially enlightened; each one of us is a miniature shrine of the divine. But in order to manifest the treasures within, we need a suitable path to follow, proper vehicles for training, and good teachers to point us in the right direction.

The kind of path we finally select as our own Way is not important, but whatever we choose, it must be practiced.

“Practice of the Way” in Japanese is known as shugyo, “hard training that fosters enlightenment.” The purpose of shugyo is “to tighten up the slack, toughen the body, and polish the spirit.” One aspect of shugyo is keiko, an elegant term that signifies “using ancient wisdom to illuminate the present.” Every Way has a pantheon of illustrious predecessors—trailblazers who established their particular path after passing through dangerous, uncharted territory—who have left us an important legacy. It is that legacy which we encounter daily in keiko.

In the practice of calligraphy, for example, a beginning student (after first spending at least three years mastering the basic strokes) is set to work making exact copies of the masterpieces of Chinese and Japanese brushwork. Following ten, or better still, twenty years of reproducing all manner of scripts and styles, the practitioner has absorbed five thousand years of tradition and is now ready to be turned loose to develop a fresh, individual approach.

In keiko, the supreme virtue is patience. Once a young man petitioned a great swordsman to admit him as a disciple. “I’ll act as your live-in servant and train ceaselessly. How long will it take me to learn everything?”

“At least ten years,” the master replied.

“That’s too long,” the young man protested. “Suppose I work twice as hard as everyone else. Then how long will it take?” “Thirty years,” the master shot back. “What do you mean?” the anguished young man exclaimed. “I’ll do anything to master swordsmanship as quickly as possible!”

“In that case,” the master said sharply, “you will need fifty years. A person in such a hurry will be a poor student.” The young man was eventually allowed to serve as an attendant on condition that he neither ask about nor touch a sword. After three years, the master began sneaking up on the young man at all hours of the day and night to whack him with his wooden sword. This continued until the young man began to anticipate the attacks. Only then did formal instruction commence.

A second key element in keiko is kokoro, “heart, mind, spiritual essence.” All technique flows from the practitioner’s kokoro, and no amount of technical skill can compensate for inadequacies caused by an immature, disturbed, or stagnant mind.

Once I complained to a calligraphy teacher that my many obligations prevented me from practicing more. She replied, “Don’t worry. If you are improving your mind, you are improving your calligraphy.” Similarly, practitioners who demand to be taught an art’s secret techniques are told, “If your kokoro is true, your techniques will be correct.”

Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, often spoke of the four virtues of keiko: bravery, wisdom, love, and empathy.

Bravery is at the top of the list, for we need to be strong and determined enough to make a firm commitment to practice. We need valor to help us contend with all the obstacles that block our path.

Wisdom is acquired through deep meditation and wide-ranging study; wisdom enables us to make intelligent decisions and to maintain things in proper perspective.

When one’s practice is sound and balanced, a natural kind of love forms between one’s teacher and one’s fellow trainees. One also falls in love with his or her Way and becomes completely devoted to it. (Such affection can even extend to one’s training uniform. I was so fond of my keikogi that I mended and patched it until the cloth disintegrated: I sorely grieved the passing of what other people would think of as a rag.)

At the highest levels of training, a profound empathy is felt for all creatures, along with the fervent hope that everyone else, too, will be able to perfect their own Way. One of the meanings of Aikido is”Arm in arm let’s travel the Path together.” Like a bodhisattva, we want all others to reach the goal with us.

Sometimes a more concentrated effort is needed in our practice. Morihei wrote, “Iron is full of impurities that weaken it: through forging, it becomes steel and it is transformed into a razor sharp blade. Human beings develop in the same fashion.”

Such forging, tanren in Japanese, can take a variety of forms. For one of my kendo teachers, it consisted of 1,000 strokes (3,000 on Sunday) of a heavy sword every morning for nearly half a century. For one of my calligraphy teachers, it was copying the Heart Sutra 10,000 times. For me, it was 1,000 straight days of outdoor training at a mountain temple.

Morihei concluded, “In your training, do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Way of Harmony.”

Perhaps the most important element of Practice of the Way is transmission. Civilization is sustained by the person-to-person, heart-to- heart transmission of the cultural treasures of humankind. I have had many fine teachers over the years but they all had one thing in common: through long years of shugyo they had become one with their Way. They taught by example—”what you are is far more important than what you say”—and they manifested the teaching in their entire being.

A real master truly delights in the Way. Even after sixty years of training, my Aikido teacher Rinjiro Shirata loved being in the dojo, and his favorite saying was, “Make the techniques anew each day!” Shirata Sensei was a peerless martial artist—when he was seventy- five years old he pinned Japan’s top pro wrestler—but the image that most lingers in my mind now that he is gone is his wonderful smile. It was the smile of enlightenment.



Must read: Zen and the Art of Archery

Kyudo Master Awa Kenzo Miyamoto Musashi said, "To know one way is to know all ways."  What he was referring to is that what it takes to follow a Way and get good at it is the same for all arts.  I was reading Eugen Herrigel's Zen and the Art of Archery from Sensei's library.  Zen and the Art of Archery is an account of Herrigel's training in Kyudo in 1924 under Awa Kenzo and depicts what it was like to be a student of a traditional Japanese art or Way before WWII.  There is a marked difference in training and learning before and after WWII (I have a whole theory that I may write about another day).  If you look into Awa Kenzo's life, it is eerily like O Sensei's and you can see many parallels in their teachings and approaches to their arts.  I think Herrigel deftly illustrates how serious and strict teachers from an era gone by used to be.  It is funny because when I read it, I could see so much of it in Sensei.

Zen and the Art of Archery is a must read for anyone who follows any art seriously.


If you want to get a PDF copy of the book:

One of my favorite books...

BookTeaLifeTea Life, Tea Mind by Urasenke Tea master Soshitsu Sen XV is one of my all time favorite books.  I would have to say that I read this book at least once a year.  It's a quick read but filled with a wealth of knowledge.  The basic principles of tea ceremony (Chado) are wa kei sei jaku or harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.  Japanese society is so heavily influenced by these four principles that you can see them everywhere you look in Japan and in Japanese culture today. Wa kei sei jaku brushed by the former head priest of Daitokuji

The four basic tenets of chado encompass everything you need to know about following the Way and what it means to be a martial artist at the highest level.  Harmony is something you strive to create not only in yourself and  everything around you but in everything that you do.  Harmony is the highest goal of all the martial arts.  Respect is something that we extend to not only other people and other things but to ourselves as well.  Having an inner state of respect enables you become a person of character.  Respect is one of the few characteristics that separates us from beasts.  Purity is not a state you attain but something you work toward.  In Tea Life, Tea Mind he says that when we clean we are not only ridding our surroundings of dirt and clutter but also cleansing ourselves as well.  Tranquility is a state that we all strive for in life.  Tranquility comes as a result of the first three principles, but to experience true tranquility this only becomes a reality when another enters into that experience.  At that point, we can know if we have attained it or if we have just been merely deceiving ourselves.

This is a great book to not only survey tea ceremony but to learn more about the Way.

This book is out of print and you will have to pick it up second hand on ebay or amazon in the used section, but I wouldn't pay more than $15.00 for it.