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Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday... Furuya Sensei posted this to his Daily Message on August 20, 2004:

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?

Just this one moment


Today's kakejiku or scroll hanging in the tokonoma is an ichigyo brushed with the single character toki  刻 which is commonly translated as time. An ichigyo is a single line of calligraphy that is supposed to elicit a response or provoke the viewer into a different mental state.

Warriors of old were always well read individuals who were not only well versed in the military arts but also in religion, literature, poetry, Japanese and Chinese classics and art.

Generally, most kakejiku are supposed to be profound and many times what is left out is sometimes more important than what is put in. This scroll is no different. Its meaning is not readily understandable by simply just reading the character.

The character toki 刻 left standing alone means "to chop or engrave." So an uneducated person could accidentally misinterpret that as its meaning. However when the character toki is added into the idiomatic expression jijikokkoku it means "from one moment to the next." From here we extrapolate that it is supposed to mean "moment," but that also is a little too juvenile. As we sit there and ponder the scroll's deeper meaning, what arises could be the Buddhist's perspective on impermanence and thus every moment that existed before or after this one moment is an illusion and that we can easy be deluded into thinking that those thoughts are real.

Since this scroll is more of the smaller size used in a chasitsu or tea house, we can theorize that its meaning is to make full use of this one moment for all other moments before may not have happened and all moments after may never come. All we have is this one moment - cherish it!

Step deeply into yourself

Museishi Like most, Mondays always seem so blah. I thought I'd re-post something Furuya Sensei wrote about training in hopes that it might help us get over the doldrums of Mondays.

Sensei's explanation: Museishi (無声詩)- The Unvoiced Poem - the message of our training is like a poem, the words are heard but the message lingers elsewhere silently. . . . To go deep into the art of Aikido is to go deep inside one's self.

At the heart of Aikido training exists our true selves.  This journey can be hard and arduous but it ultimately leads to joy and happiness.  The first step begins with us and looking at our lives with a lens that is trained inward.  We are our biggest problem and when we start to see that we can begin this journey inward.  Until that time the world will be against us and every person and every thing will be our enemy.  Give up the need to find the source of your problems outside yourself and begin to look inside of you.  This is the only way out.





The beauty of life

Otagaki Rengetsu Fluttering merrily and sleeping in the dew in a field of flowers, in whose dream is this butterfly? - Otagaki Rengetsu

Wonderful poem by one of Japan's most famous poets.

On a certain level, life is really but a dream.  Who knows what is real or what is fake?

The fleetingness of life is at the core of all warrior culture.  How do we live knowing that we will eventually die?

The short life of the butterfly and its fleeting beauty call to us to enjoy the brief beauty of our lives while we are still here.




Do what comes naturally

the high moon scrollAs the moon rises high in the sky, the shadows of the castle disappear. . . I came across this post by Furuya Sensei.  It succinctly encompasses the mind all students and teachers must have in order to improve.  To improve we must commit ourselves to our daily practice and keep going and with time we will naturally improve.  This is an example of atarimae hinshitsu (当たり前品質).  Atarimae hinshitsu refers to something that happens naturally or the obvious consequence.  For example, when you pick up a pen and just start writing and the pen works - that is atarimae.  Another example of atarimae more apropos to martial arts training is when the Japanese soccer fans cleaned up the their section after Japan's World Cup game in Brazil in 2014.  They did it without thought to be diligent and clean up "their" mess because it was the natural thing to do.

Here is Sensei's post:

We all have many questions about Life and about our practice. If we think about them very seriously, most important questions such as these cannot be answered so quickly or easily through our experiences in Life and in our Aikido.  However, these questions will be naturally answered as we progress.

Over the years, we find that in the long run of many years in Aikido it does not depend on how many techniques we master or what school or style we belong to but what really matters is staying on the True Path of Aikido faithfully and with commitment.

In this age of internet and high tech computers we have become accustomed to "instant" everything!  Some people may consider "instant ramen" a good meal - only because it can be made in three minutes. I once went to a hamburger stand many years ago and saw a sign - "if we can't get your food for you in 30 seconds, you get it free!"

I thought to myself, "I don't really want it free, can you take maybe four or five minutes, and do it right?"

When I see people today, everyone is rushing around doing this and that with no time for anything. Everyone tells me, "I'm so busy, I'm so busy!" Yes, it is important to work hard and build a good life for one's self.  At the same time, we have a profound paradox that in building a good life, we compromise our very same lives by being pulled back and forth with much too much on our plates and in our heads.

Answers may not be answered according to our own schedule - answers come when they come as part of the natural process of our training from day to day.  We often forget that our commitment to training, the natural day to day fact of our lives, is a natural process of increasing this and decreasing and this is all part of the answer to what we are truly searching for.

The castle does not think of being enveloped by dark shadows, nor does the moon think to brighten the castle walls at night.  It does so on its own, by itself, without purpose or attachment, all is accomplished as it should be in this world - naturally over time and only with commitment.

Please commit to practice Aikido hard without thought or desire.

Kogun Funtou - to fight alone


















Kogun funtou 孤軍奮闘 To fight alone

In the end, nobody really exists but you.  In philosophy this idea that no other mind exists is called Solipsism.  I'm not trying to get all nihilistic here nor am I speaking about oneness in a narcissistic sense but what this idiom means is that when it comes down to it we are alone in our efforts.  No one is coming to save us or going to make us better - it is solely our job to get it done.

Training in the martial arts is a solitary pursuit.  We are influenced by our classmates and our teachers, but the improvements we acquire are ours alone and with that being said solely under our own power.  Rarely can anyone provoke us to get out of bed or off the couch and go to class.  Most times, we make an active choice to improve our lives by going out and pursuing that thing that we want.

There is an African saying, "If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together."  Kogun funtou is the first part of this saying in that to get what we want we must do it under our own power.  However, true change and lasting tranquility is only acquired when we share ourselves with other people.  In other words, it is only when another human being enters into our world is humanity truly created.  It is the same with art - it only becomes "art" when it is shared with the world.

In Aikido, this is where we come to understand the interdependent cycle of humanity.  We cannot improve if we don't do it under our own power, but man cannot evolve unless we share ourselves with others.






Furin Kazan
















Furin Kazan Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain "Be swift like the wind, silent as the forest, devastating as fire and immovable as a mountain."

This saying was a favorite of Takeda Shingen, the famous Japanese general, who allegedly flew these characters on his nobori or battle banners.

This particular saying comes from Sun Tzu's Art of War and has become a favorite for martial artists.

Words to live by!




What is the lesson?

Onkochishin Onkochishin - to learn from the past.  What does it mean to learn from the past?  We read books or attend lectures about famous people and their histories, but sometimes that doesn't sink in deep enough to create any meaningful change.  Onkochishin is to learn from not only from the history of others, but from our own history too.  It is said that experience is the best teacher and I agree, but one needs to be "smart" enough to learn from not only the victories but the blunders too.  For the most part, there is no such thing as good or bad or right or wrong - the only thing that matter is if one learns something from one's experiences.  Learning by direct experience is the way to become successful.  Furuya Sensei once said, "Success is built on many failures" and the Dalai Lama supposedly said, "When you lose, don't lose the lesson" so one can see that the path to victory is in learning from the past.

Heijoshin Kore Do

Heijoshin Kore Do What is the ultimate goal of training in Aikido?  Calmness.  The ability to be calm is born out of Aikido's harmonizing nature.   Without harmony we cannot be calm.  Without calmness we cannot act appropriately.  When we are confronted, our training teaches us to be calm, centered and collected so that we may act mindfully in an appropriate manner.  If we are not in harmony then we run the risk of reacting or acting mindlessly.  How does this sense of calmness arise?  This scroll reads, "Heijoshin Kore Do" or the original mind is the way gives us a clue.  Many interpret this to mean that the original mind means calmness.  This is true but it doesn't leave us with much to go by when it comes to attaining this sense of calm.  I believe that the original mind that we are striving for is the mind that we had at the moment when we were born that was free from the bindings that society conditioned into us as we grew up.  When we are born there was no anger, jealousy, fear or hatred.  The only thing that existed was the love from our parents or caregivers.  From there we grew to know fear and that fear manifests in things like anger, hatred, jealousy and scarcity.  With that realization, we try to get back to the heijoshin or "original" mind and shed those negative traits.

We return back to the heijoshin only by training.  Training is the vehicle by which we develop ourselves so that we may meet any of life's obstacles with sense of harmony that is calm and centered.  That is why Furuya Sensei used to say, "The Way is in training."

Adversity builds character

七転八起 "Fall down seven, get up eight" There is a Japanese proverb that goes, "Nanakorobi yaoki" (七転び八起き) or fall down seven times, get up eight.  Metaphorically, as Aikidoist we are the most adaptable to adversity because we are constantly getting up after being thrown down.

It is easy to see that failure is the worst thing that has ever happened to us.  It is supremely difficult to see failure as the greatest thing that has ever happened to us.

William Shakespeare had a great quote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  Winning, losing, succeeding or failing are all the same to Aikidoist.  We understand that regardless of the outcome, everything gives us the opportunity to learn or as they say in Zen, "Let everything become your teacher."

This piece of calligraphy reminds us that to be successful in any endeavor all that is required is that we get up after being thrown down.  The Dalai Lama put it best, "When you lose, don't lose the lesson."


Do not rely too heavily on any one thing

油断大敵 unpreparedness is one's greatest enemy and one that is too secure is not safe either Last night I left my phone in a friends car.  I can't remember the last time I was without my phone.  I still don't have it 12 hours later and it is the weirdest feeling.  My wife described it like what it must feel like to be missing an arm which totally captures what it feels like.  Losing my phone revealed to me how much I rely on it.  I use for my alarm, to keep in contact with people, it stores all my information and occupies me when I am bored.  The Japanese have a saying, yudantaiteki (油断大敵) or "unpreparedness is one's greatest enemy and one that is too secure is not safe either."

As a modern person, I understand the need/importance of having a smart phone and how it is the way of the world.  It almost seems as if one cannot function without one.  As a martial artist, I can also see how we should not become too reliant on any one thing.

Not being too reliant falls in line with this idea in Buddhism and its influence on the swordsmanship teaching of non-attachment.  When the mind becomes preoccupied they refer to it as being "moved."  The goal of training is to train ones mind to be "immovable."

In the Unfettered Mind, Takuan Soho explains this succinctly: To speak in terms of your own martial art, when you first notice the sword that is moving to strike you, if you think of meeting that sword just as it is, your mind will stop at the sword in just that position, your own movements will be undone, and you will be cut down by your opponent. This is what stopping means.

Although you see the sword that moves to strike you, if your mind is not detained by it and you meet the rhythm of the advancing sword; if you do not think of striking your opponent and no thoughts or judgments remain; if the instant you see the swinging sword your mind is not the least bit detained and you move straight in and wrench the sword away from him; the sword that was going to cut you down will become your own, and, contrarily, will be the sword that cuts down your opponent.

As a martial artist, one should not become too reliant on any one thing or one person.  To do so could lead to us be moved or for our minds to abide and in doing so we will be defeated. It is good that modern technology has made our lives much easier and convenient, but like all good tools we need to master them and not become slaves to them.  Remember, the enemy of all good martial artist is a comfortable chair.  Comfort can sometimes lead to complacency and for a martial artist complacency leads to defeat.

Losing my phone is a good lesson.  Maybe I should take time out of my day every day to "lose" my phone so that I don't become too attached to it.

Wonderful calligraphy and poem

Tori naite yama sara ni shizuka nari Tori naite yama sara ni shizuka nari.

With the cry of a bird - the serenity of the mountains deepens.

A phrase by Chinese poet Wang An-shi (1021-1086).

Art has a way of expressing what the heart cannot.  These lines of poetry really speak to me.  As I read them I could feel its meaning without explanation.  That is what good art does.  It took me back to my childhood spent camping in the boy scouts and my fond memories.

Realize this!

SanchuRekijitsuNashiRealize this!  There is no such thing as perfection. No thing is perfect.  No one is perfect.  No situation is perfect.  We can begin to see things as they are once we let go of our ideals.  Human beings are inherently flawed, things breakdown and s!@#$ happens.

There is actually only one true perfection and that is love.  Love allows you to see people for who they are.  Love allows you to see things as they are.  Love allows you to accept the situation as it is.

O Sensei said that Aikido is love.  I think what O Sensei was really talking about is that as we give ourselves to others when we take ukemi and that is love because we are sacrificing ourselves for another person's benefit.  However, what is the truest expression of love is that the nage knows that the uke is sacrificing himself and that the nage not only appreciates it but also sacrifices himself by letting go of his desire to hurt the uke thus love comes full circle.

The enso or circle calligraphy above symbolizes emptiness and it is supposed to represent the calligrapher's level of enlightenment.  The funny thing about an enso is that the more "enlightened" a person is supposed to be, the more imperfect the circle seems.  Perfection is not realized but moreover it is the realization that perfection does not exist is the truest expression of love and thus perfection.

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.


"To know what is sufficient."

"Ware tada taru wo shiru" This is one of my favorite scrolls in Sensei's collection.  The scroll is a painting of a stone tsukubai or water basin that appears in the garden at Ryoan-ji temple in Japan.  The carving looks like a coin and the kanji that surround the square in the middle doesn't mean anything, but when you add the square to the kanji they become 吾, 唯, 足, 知 or ware tada taru oshiru.  Ware tada taru (wo) shiru literally translates as "I only know contentment."  Sensei translated the meaning as, "To know what is sufficient."  This idea of sufficiency is the root of our training.

O Sensei talked about this idea of contentment as "Masakatsu, agatsu" or the true victory is the victory over yourself.  When we can be content with not only who we are but what we can do as well as what we have, we can be content.  That victory that O Sensei is speaking of is the coming to terms with ourselves or in other words contentment.  We only need what we have and only need to be who we already are, but this is easier said than done and that is why O Sensei said the true victory is the victory over yourself.

--------------------------------------------------------- Day 10 update: Well that was something.  Letting others off the hook was easy, but letting myself off the hook was soooooo hard.  I would be lying if I said I made it because in reality there were times when I just couldn't let myself off the hook.  I think that this  whole challenge was about the realization that letting yourself off the hook  is necessary to live a healthy life.  Beating ourselves up for one reason or another isn't the way and that letting ourselves off the hook for sins is the right path even if it is the hardest.  Please do  your best to let others off the hook when they make a mistake because it will be easier to let yourself off the hook when you do too.

Welcome to the new Daily Message

It is my intention to bring back the Daily Message as a means to inform, educate and inspire you as Sensei's Daily Message did for me when I was a student. In this reboot of the Daily Message, I think that it is only fitting that we revisit the last scroll that Sensei put up shortly before his death.  Although he still teaches me (and I hope you) everyday, it can be thought of as his last direct teaching.

It reads, "Be strong, be humble and always keep going."



Its strength is in its simplicity and it not only pertains to training, but to life as well.