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“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


Learn to "throw away"

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.


The true balance of budo

"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.


After victory, tighten your helmet

safe"When you think you're safe is precisely when you're most vulnerable."- Kambei Shimada, Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai

No win is ever permanent. With victory sometimes comes arrogance. That arrogance brings with it a sense of righteousness where we think that either the end of the battle is the end or that we are somehow invincible.

All warfare is based on some form of deception, misdirection or sleight of hand. Sometimes the win is just the calm before the storm or a rouse our opponents uses to gain the overall victory. In martial arts this type of technique is a sutemi-waza or sacrifice technique. We give up something small to get something even bigger.

There is a Japanese saying that Furuya Sensei was fond of, "Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo" which means After victory, tighten your helmet.  Never let your guard down even if you think you have won. That just might be what your opponent wants you to think.

The enemy of achievement is comfort

mifuneI read a sign the other day, "Comfort is the enemy of achievement." This is a quote by a businessman named Farrah Gray. In terms of budo it is spot on. On the road to greatness, the main question is, "What are we willing to sacrifice in order to get good?" Not can we, but will we forgo things like sleep, money, food, or any other thing that causes us to be a little bit uncomfortable in order to achieve our goals? Most normal people won't, but warriors are not normal people.

Warriors are people who stave off pleasure for purpose. People who "need" to sleep, eat or save the money will never push themselves to get good.  There will always be something. Over the annals of time, the greatest opponent there has ever been and who has beaten millions of warriors has been the soft, warm and comfortable bed. Don't let it beat you!

So the question is, "What will you sacrifice to get good?"


Serenity is the path.

stormThe author, Haruki Murakami said, "When you come out of the storm, you won't be the same person who walked in. That's what this storm's all about." As Furuya Sensei used to say, "The Way is in training." The goal of training is serenity. The path to serenity is training. Training itself is serenity.

What we are trying to achieve by training in the martial arts is not the ability to destroy others but rather the ability to control ourselves so that we don't have to. We seek to be the calm in the eye of the storm.

When confronted, it is easy to lash out and use our darker more negative self to win, but after a while one realizes that the true opponent lies within. It takes a more evolved and more sophisticated person to realize where the real battle lies.

Yoda once said, "That which you seek, inside you will find." Serenity is that thing we all seek. Training is serenity. Serenity is the path. The path is serenity. "The Way is in training." Keep on training because training is the Way.

Align yourself and leave no openings

rei "What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us" - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Many times in life, whether we like it or not, perception is reality and budo is no different. As a warrior, we must be forever diligent and thus must be en garde at all times. We can expect to be attacked anytime we let our guard down. Therefore we cannot leave any openings.

There is a famous Japanese saying, bushi wa kuwanedo taka yoji (武士は食わねど高楊枝) which means a "A samurai, even when he has not eaten, uses a toothpick like a lord."

Most think it means that a hungry samurai chooses pride before poverty. Another way to understand it is that if one lets on that they haven't eaten and are hungry then they will be weak and thus an easier target for attack. The perception of weakness can then lead to a person being attacked.

In training, we constantly trying to ensure that our intentions match our reality. If we want people to think that we are respectful then we must act respectfully. If we want people to think that we are humble, we should then act with humility. Conversely, if we want people to think we are jerks then we should act like a jerk.

Like it or not, people "judge" us by the things that we say and do. Our job as martial artist is to make our actions and our words line up with our intentions.




Go out and get it

go-get-itIf you want to try and save your 2016, there are 36 days left. What did we want to get done that we never got around to doing or failed to complete? Furuya Sensei used to say, "There is no time left." Don't waste your time putting things off for 2017 that you can start doing today. There is still time left. Start today...

Start eating healthy.Go to bed early. Wake up early. Be more grateful. Quit your job. Find a new job. Start exercising. Start Aikido ;) Stop smoking. Ask that person out. Stop going out with that person. Enroll in college. Tell people what you really mean. Go to class more often. Etc, etc

In life, there are no free lunches, shortcuts or ways to cheat. If we want something, we have to go out and get it. If you want to get good at Aikido, all you have to do is come to class. It is that simple!  There are still 31 days of training left this year. Want it? Come get it!

No matter what, choose to do it

ken"I took an arrow in the knee" was an old Norse saying to indicate that someone had gotten married. The arrow implies that one of the biggest decisions in one's life isn't necessarily made by choice. Just after Furuya Sensei passed away, I was working with one of my older clients and was telling him about Sensei's death. I said, "Now, I have to take over the dojo." He stopped me and said, "No, you choose to take over the dojo." At the time I did not think I had a "choice" but today I understand that it is what I chose to do. We can be in control or we will be controlled.

Today, in an arguably more civilized society, we are free and thus have freedom of choice. What is choice?  Choice is the ability to decide to empower ourselves with what it is we want. This empowerment begins by saying, "I choose to..."

Regardless of the situation or circumstance we can always "choose" how we internally address what is going on - we give it context. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is called re-framing.  In Buddhism, it is called equanimity.  In budo, it is called the non-abiding mind.

Today, we don't have to do anything but we do get to choose to do whatever we want.  The choice is ours.

We make each other better

For samurai-jackFor 20 years during the Sengoku period, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin fought a series of hard fought battles. It was during this time that each cultivated a deep respect for one another. When Takeda Shingen died suddenly on the battlefield, Uesugi Kenshin supposedly wept and said, "I have lost my greatest rival, there will never be a greater hero."  Our adversaries can be our greatest teachers. As a training partner, it is our duty to bring out the best in our partners. We owe it to them to give them a good hard practice. That doesn't mean be a jerk. It means to push them to become better. If we are too easy they become too complacent and soft. If we are too hard they become bitter and contemptuous. Pushing them to their heights in a positive and productive way enables them to reach their true potential. It is a great honor to be a part of that process.  Be a positive force for change so that as C.S. Lewis stated, "All of hell rejoices that I am out of the fight" because I help make others better.

Embrace the struggle

struggleWe sometimes erroneously think that the Way is the end product - a place of bliss, peace or happiness. However, the place where the Way truly resides is in the places where we struggle. On good days, it is easy to follow the righteous path and anyone can do it. The days and situations that are the most difficult are when we need, utilize and come to understand the true meaning of following the Way. Therefore the Way is in the struggle. That one moment between when we don't want to but do so anyways is the real moment of the Way. Everything else leads up to that point and all others are a result of that decision. "Embrace the struggle and let it make you stronger. It won't last forever." - Tony Gaskins

Art by Sam Didier

What matters to you

ukemiSozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student, "What is the most valuable thing in the world?" The master replied: "The head of a dead cat." "Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?" inquired the student. Sozan replied: "Because no one can name its price." The things that matter to us, only matter to us. In the beginning, middle and end, we are under our own power and thus choose what is valuable to us. Others might not agree. That is fine because what matters to us only matters to us. Be only concerned about what it is that you do and don't worry about what others think or what they are doing.

So which way does your toilet paper go?

toilet paper copy 失敗を繰り返すことで、成功に至る。 Shippai wo kurikaesu koto de, seikou ni itaru. "Repeated failures lead to success."

Somehow a good student of the martial arts always knows the right thing to do at the right time.

The other day a new student was cleaning the bathroom and asked me a question.  He said, "Sensei which direction do you want the roll of toilet paper to go?"  I replied, "I am sure there isn't a right way or wrong way, just put it in."

toilet paper patentAccording to the patent application for toilet paper, the inventor intended the toilet paper to be "over" the top and not be dispensed from "under" the bottom.  I am sure now all my assistants will groan when I scold them for losing focus and putting in the toilet paper in backwards thanks to this diligent student.

As it turns out, like all things in the world of martial arts, there is a right way to do something even with something as benign as toilet paper.  The techniques in class are the same.  One can do anything they want, but in order to get good one needs to follow the way that the technique was intended to be performed.

Closely paying attention in class is a really important factor in getting good.  This high level of awareness enables the student to not only learn the "right" way to do something, but it also gives them the ability to be aware of what is "technically" right and what "works" in the moment (which are sometimes two different things).

How does one know what the right way is?  It is whatever way the teacher is teaching it in that moment.  Thus, teachers must then be aware enough of themselves to be professional in how they teach the class as well as what they teach too.

So which way does your toilet paper go?







Do you have "it"

Randori copyStudents are a fickle bunch.  We never know who has "it" and who doesn't.  Some that have strength don't have spirit.  Some with spirit don't have strength.  The pivotal factor is the person who has the desire and humility to become better.  Furuya Sensei posted this to his Daily Message on November 18, 2002 which succinctly sums up this idea of what I am talking about. One difference I see nowadays in the martial arts is that some students come into Aikido to confirm who they are. The other thing I see is that some students come into Aikido to confirm who they want to become.

From the standpoint of the teacher, such as myself, the latter is more desirable to teach. Today is all about the ego of "who" we are. Who can say this? We should realize that we are changing every moment, even as we speak. Traditional training is all about transformation and becoming - the essence and the bottom line of nature and life itself.

Although it is not a popular thing to say, I would like to say that you must learn the "form" of Aikido first. In other words, the proper etiquette and attitude of the dojo and the proper focus for training. I really don't teach outside of this and, in almost all cases, it is the only way to open the door for instruction.

I notice that students practice much like the drive cars. Some people drive in the direction they "think" is right and where they "think" they are going. Some people look and check where they are going and know exactly how to get there.

In Aikido, "how to get there" is clearly stated in every moment of our practice, yet there are some who rarely follow such clear advice.

When we have to say to ourselves, "shall I go this way or that way?" we are already heading in the wrong direction whichever way we turn. When the Path takes us beyond our intellect, we can only rely on the strong and unwavering faith that we have in the years we have invested in our training which is our true selves.

Ultimately, who would we rely on the most? A man of strong faith or a man of strong physical strength?

People aren't out to get you, they are just in it for themselves.

choke samurai arrow copy

One of the saddest things about humans is our proclivity to choose ourselves over others.  Everyone does it to some degree or another.  It is just one of those things that is left over from a past time of scarcity and fear.

Martial artists are people of character and thus act accordingly.  We are people who choose the difficult paths in life.  One of those unbeaten paths is that of selflessness and compassion.  We put ourselves forth for the benefit of mankind, not to destroy it.

Furuya Sensei once wrote:

To show the proper spirit in regi-saho (etiquette) is a very difficult part of Aikido practice. This is only because we think of ourselves too much and not enough about others. Thinking of others, we learn how to appreciate their effort, but only thinking of ourselves then we never have time to care for others. We become selfish people and this is not Aikido at all. In fact, it is contrary to all Aikido principles.

Practice regi-saho in the dojo and learning to practice it with the proper mental attitude and spirit - maybe this will be the most difficult of all to learn - more difficult than the hardest throw or pin. Once you master it, then practice it in your daily life.

The weird circuitous logic is that when we focus on others, we actually get the benefit.  Fighting, ambition and competition is sometimes thought of as being part of our DNA.  This is contrary to the way of nature.  In nature, nothing struggles to happen and nobody takes more than they need.  Selfishness is man made and something that we could all do without.

Each and every one of us is to some degree selfish, but it is the martial artist who is aware of it and does their best to suppress it.  We choose to do something else and to be better than all the rest.  Sensei always used to say, "Act as if your teacher is watching" so that we would learn to be selfless and act like the people we are trying to become.

Today is National Simplicity Day.

OsenseiToday is National Simplicity Day. From the outside looking in all martial arts look very simple.  However, when we delve into them, we realize that they are actually quite complex.

When something is simple but complex, in Japanese it is called kanso ( 簡素).  For something to be kanso it must be almost outwardly simple yet be internally complex.

Most martial arts are this way.  They are always designed to be economical yet they are layered in such a way that it makes them complex.

Human beings are the same way.  When we judge people by their outward appearance, actions or speech, we run the risk of seeing them to simplistically.  We are all much deeper than we appear.

Today, as we celebrate National Simplicity day, please don't forget to look a bit deeper beyond the surface.  Henry David Thoreau said, “In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”





Challenges help us change



























"Those that seek the easy way do not seek the true Way." - Dogen

The fact of the matter is that training in the martial arts presents challenges.  There is no such thing as a prodigy.  No one wakes up or is born just "knowing."  Each of us has to put in the time, energy and work - no one is immune.

When we are presented with a situation that is difficult or challenging we have two ways of looking at it.  The first, and healthiest way, is too see it as an opportunity.  The second, and less healthy way, is to see it as some type of burden or as a oppressive catastrophe.

Challenges help us change.  Nobody ever improves themselves by playing it safe.

So, it is not that change needs to come by way of challenge.  It is just how we are wired as human beings.  When things are good, we tend to not look inward.  There is an old sports saying that is pertinent, "Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn."

Warriors are people who deal in change and their currency is challenge.  To improve anything, one needs to first look upon a challenge as an opportunity for growth and ultimately necessary for change.  Warriors of old understood that adversity is the necessary building block of character.

Change requires challenge and challenge causes change.

The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. - Joseph Campbell

cave 1

"There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person. True nobility is being superior to your former self."  ~Hindu proverb

It is said that all paths lead to the same top of the mountain.  This Hindu proverb has the same connotation as O Sensei's, Masakatsu, Agatsu or "The true victory is the victory over one's self."  The only real opponent that exists is you.  This can be a hard concept for some to realize.  For many it takes a long time to fully realize let alone actualize.  We are sometimes our own worst enemies.  When we can realize this, the real battle begins and that opponent knows all of our moves and tricks.

How do we begin this battle?  This hard fought battle begins with first accepting that the only opponent that exists is you.  Secondly we now have to undertake the journey within.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell referenced this journey when he said,  "The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek."  This was the basis for the scene in Empire Strike's Back where Luke enters the cave on Dagobah.  Next, the battle begins as we struggle with the truths of who we are and who we have become.  It is a struggle because some of those things may be painful or uncomfortable.  Finally, we come to a place where we have to let go.  We let go because the resistance we put forth will become too heavy of a burden.   At this final stage we should feel a bit lighter as the burdens we have carried for so long are lifted.  When the battle is through the things that burdened us or blurred the path will no longer be relevant and thus we can now move freely.  This unencumbered movement is the goal of every great martial art and that is why O Sensei said, Masakatsu, Agatsu  or that "The true victory is the victory over one's self."

Photo credit:Joey Mason Art

Polish your soul first




















Yaki tachi wo saya ni osamete, masumasu masurao no kokoro wo togari keri "Before you draw your tempered blade, keep it in its saya and polish your soul first."

What a great Japanese proverb.  It doesn't say anything about kicking butt, winning medals or smashing people.  This seemingly succinct statement sums up what training in the martial arts is really all about - developing one's self.
Picture source:

Comfort is the enemy of achievement

sensei teaching bokken  









Furuya Sensei teaching a beginners bokken class in the old dojo.

Day 2 of our Weapons seminar.

Please pay attention and work hard, but most of all don't be so hard on yourself.  Showing up is  half the battle.  If we show up, we are already 50% better than the person who didn't.  So even if we learned only one thing we are miles of ahead of the average person who is still sleeping in their bed.  Remember, comfort is the enemy of achievement.

Tonight we are having a party at the dojo.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  If you are reading this, I would love for you to come.  Let it go and come by. 6:00 PM 1211 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012