Plain and simple

seven-copyThe best things are almost always plain and simple. When something is good but in a plain and simple way it is referred to as jimi (地味) in Japanese. Martial artists naturally tend to shy away from things that are too ostentatious. This is because humility is a quality that all martial artists strive for. Something that has jimi is something taht is subdued with almost a plain sense to it.

When we look at the techniques, some may have a flashy quality but those aren't usually the most effective. The most effective are the ones that are usually the most simplest.

People are that way too. Look around at the people in our lives. I am sure that most of us will see that the people whom we regard the highest are the people who are just "working class" people who have a kind of simple and subdued nature to them. We all have that one friend who is either pompous or overly dramatizes things - those are usually the people who are the most complicated.

As we look at the great martial arts masters of old, we see just normal people like you and me. The difference is not in how flashy they are but that they simply put in the work to get good which led us to think of them as great.

Today, the martial arts is, on a certain level, completely different. People tend to laud those with the loudest voices or showiest techniques. This is not budo. In Budo, jimi is simply putting in the work.  We put in the work to get good - it's that plain and simple.

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.





Always be prepared

be-preparedMartial artists aren't giri-giri type people. Giri-giri is an onomatopoeia that Japanese use to refer to something that is done last minute. This morning on the radio, I heard that there was an earthquake advisory in effect from now until October 4th. This advisory happens to come at the end of national preparedness month. This made me think about how a martial artist needs to be prepared for any person, condition or thing.

As martial artists, we are always supposed to be prepared. It is part of our training and the reason why we train so much. I am sure many of you have heard this one, "How long have you been training? You've been going so long, why do you still need to go?" We still need to constantly train because, like in emergency preparedness, we never know when the "Big one" will hit.

As martial artists, we are people who not only learn from our mistakes, but from others as well. I can remember this one time when I was a student and someone forgot their hakama at a demonstration and how mad Furuya Sensei got. From that point on, I always kept a back up uniform in the car just in case and I know that many others did too. I learned from that person's mistake. There is a famous story about Tiger Woods during his time at Stanford. Supposedly, there was a really bad storm out and Tiger was seen heading toward the driving range. Someone stopped him and he said, "This is the only time I will ever get to hit balls in these type of conditions." Tiger wanted to be prepared if he ever had to play in hostile weather conditions.

We train so that our minds and our bodies will be ready for anything that comes our way. Nothing would be worse than to succumb to someone or something because of a silly mistake or underestimation.

Martial artists must be prepared for anything, natural or man-made. We are always prepared and thus are never giri-giri. Please make sure that you are always prepared.


Fighting one man is the same is fighting ten thousand - Miyamoto Musashi

https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=PgKg0Hc7YIA I recently saw this video made in Japan where three Olympic fencers took on 50 untrained or barely trained fencers on a Japanese variety show. The video was made for a TV so it wasn't that serious but I was amazed at how poorly the Olympic fencers performed.  Not only did they show a low level of skill, but they also showed that since it is a sport there was no group strategy.

At first as the 50 converged on them, the Olympians fled to the stairs.  I thought, "Ahh, this is correct."  Furuya Sensei taught us that to fight one person is the same as hundred and to strive for high ground (which I am sure was gleaned from Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings strategy).  Going to the stairs would have provided them a natural barrier for three of the four sides of attack and they would only have to face opponents from only one direction and, most crucially, only one at a time.  This strategy would have allowed them to use their skill to win the battle.

As you can see from the video they abandoned the strategy of working together and using the stairs.  Those three Olympic fencers would have been overwhelmed and killed in a matter of minutes if it were are real fight.  They would have been picked apart as the odds stacked up against them because each Olympian could be surrounded by as many as 16 people at any given time who would be attacking from all sides.  Also, did you see by how many times the untrained fighters just poked them in the arms and back as they ran by?  This method is called "Death by a thousand cuts" in knife fighting where small non-lethal wounds add up to a tremendous amount of blood loss and eventually take their toll on the fighter as the battle rages on.

It is interesting, as things become more "modern" or sporty they can sometimes lose their martial sense. As martial artists, we can look at this video and take heart to make sure that we practice our arts as martial arts and not just something we do for exercise.


The strength to keep on going

godzilla-copy"It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield." - W. B. Yates Anyone can be physically strong, but being physically strong doesn't necessarily mean that we are mentally strong.

To be mentally strong, one needs to have an inner courage. This courage isn't blindly running foolhearted at something.  Rather it is standing up to the darkness that inhabits our inner souls despite the pain or fear that it elicits.

Yates' quote is so apropos to budo and because true budo is really just the journey that one undertakes to develop themselves.

It's like the cave scene in Empire Strikes Back.  Yoda says, “That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go."  Luke asks, "What’s in there?" Yoda replies, "Only what you take with you.”

When push comes to shove, what we do shows our true inner character. To be the people that we want to become, we need to have courage and be brave. Courage is the inner attitude or strength and bravery is what it looks like on the outside.

The only true strength is the strength to keep on going despite the odds and that is the definition of courage.


Let it go

let-itEvery year my birthday falls on the autumn equinox. Autumn is the season associated with letting go which is sometimes sad to me. It is a little sad because there is so much hard change in the fall. In a blog post on the website alchemistrecovery.com  someone wrote that autumn according to Chinese medicine is the "season of decline, release and ultimately death. It is the phase of the yearly cycle where we are encouraged, or forced to, let go of the things that are naturally coming to an end." Being able to accept or just let something be, no matter what it is, is a corner stone of budo. Not being attached to something is what the Monk Takuan talked about as the "non-abiding mind" in his book The Unfettered Mind. The non-abiding mind does not discriminate - It only observes. This ability to just observe is what one might call mindfulness.

There is a saying associated with autumn, "If it comes, let it, if it goes let it." Yagyu Munenori said that the goal of training in swordsmanship was to overcome the six diseases parallels this ability to just observe things and let them go. The six diseases are: the desire for victory, the desire to rely on technical cunning, the desire to show off, the desire to psychologically overwhelm one's opponent, the desire to remain passive in order to wait for an opening and the desire to be free of all these diseases.

These diseases can be thought of as the stages of one's development in one's training.

If we let it come when it comes and if we let it go when it goes then we can be free of the diseases that Yagyu Munenori was warning us about.

Happiness is a matter of perspective

sitting-copyThis is a great little article by Furuya Sensei about happiness being a matter of perspective. Have a great Friday! Isn't It Funny?

When we consider what we have, we are always happy. But somehow, when we begin to think what we don't have, we are never satisfied. Isn't it better not to go there in the first place?

In Zen, there is a well-known saying: "Houken wa te ni ari."

"The Treasure Sword is in your hand." Everyone searches of their "treasure sword" (wisdom) yet, it is something which we already possess in our own hearts.

In the early days of the dojo, we were so poor and many times there was no money at all to even pay the bills. As it often happens, one weekend there was not a penny at all, so I just stayed in the dojo and did not go out or do anything at all. The next day, when I started to do my laundry, I found a ten-dollar bill in my back pocket. I thought I had no money to go out and buy myself some groceries to eat, not knowing the money was there right in my pocket. I could do nothing at all. I was not stopped by the lack of a little money but my lack of "understanding."

More often than not, we have everything we need to be happy but not realizing we already possess this "treasure sword," we are unhappy and complain about this and that.

ronin-walk-alone"It's your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you,but no one can walk it for you."- Rumi

Where we go we go by ourselves. People can join us on our trip but ultimately we must do it by ourselves. We have to push the button, knock on the door or slay our dragon. We are responsible for ourselves and what we do.

Budo is nothing more than doing that thing that we have to do when it has to be done. No one can do it for us.

All that we can hope is that people show up along the way to keep us company and support us on our journey.

Thank you for all the birthday wishes!

I am thankful for all the people who assist me on my journey and I am humbled by their support.

I wish you all the best today and I hope you have an even better tomorrow.


I can do it!

i-can-do-itThis is a very interesting picture.  To me the "Which Step Have You Reached Today" isn't so much about where have you reached today but rather where are you as a martial artist on any given day.  As martial artists we are never at the "I won't do it" or "I can't do it" stages.  It is not in our nature to be defeated before we even start.  As martial artists we are typically at the "How do you do that?" stage as our baseline.  From there at any given moment during our training we vacillate somewhere between trying, doing and succeeding.  Martial artists are doers and we tend to set a goal, figure out a way to succeed and set about doing it.  That is the nature of training. At what stage are you at today?

Spend your days well

archery光陰矢のごとしKouin yanogotoshi "Time flies like an arrow."

Before his passing, Furuya Sensei would often say, "There is no time left." By the time I understood his admonishment, he was gone.  So much time has passed since those times.

Upon realizing his words, the questions arise, "what will we do with our lives?" and "How will we live them?"

If there is truly no time left then life itself as we know is fleeting - It is passing us by as we speak.  Understating this reality in Buddhism is called mujo or impermanence.

To understand budo is to understand death. Death, not in its morbidness, but in its impermanence and this inevitability teaches us how to live our lives. The glass can be either half full or half empty.

To see the fleetingness of life as something bad then we are looking at the glass as half empty. To see the glass as half full, we are realizing how in which to live our lives with what little precious time we have left.

Time does fly like an arrow, but we get to choose how and what we aim it at. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? Time truly does fly by. Spend your days well for tomorrow may never come.

Knowing is more than half the battle

sophrosyne-copy The journey toward being the best is a road traveled inward.  To think that mastery is defined by what one's physical body can do is too short sighted.

True mastery is not what one can do to others.  Rather, true mastery is to what degree one can control one's self.

The Greek word sophrosyne is exact definition of true mastery.  To get sophrosyne one needs to defeat the opponent within.  This is what O Sensei was referring to when he talked about Masakatsu agatsu or "The true victory is the victory over one's self."  If you want mastery, journey inwards.

Seek what they sought

masters-seek"I have not special talent.  I am only passionately curious."- Albert Einstein

What is true mastery?  Is mastery being able to execute the techniques perfectly?  Is mastery being able to know everything?  I wish that it were.  Mastery is not a static thing that can be measured by achievement.  In Aikido or any other martial art, mastery is a mindset.  Just as Einstein's quote eludes to, mastery is having the openness and willingness to just be curious.  As we become more experienced or perhaps older and more wiser, life becomes less about what we don't know and more about what we can learn.  Wanting to know or to achieve "mastery" as means to stave off self-doubt is replaced with the confidence of curiosity.  Wikipedia defines curiosity as, "a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning...."  Curiosity is not based in fear and it has a calmness about it and calmness is one of the main goals of Aikido training.   To master anything all we need to have is the calmness to be curious.  This calmness to be curious enables us to achieve mastery over ourselves so that we may live a life of harmony and eventually happiness.  If someone as smart as Einstein changed the world by just being curious, what could we achieve by following his example?  Please just be curious.

The victory is yours.

Osensei throw copyThere is a Buddhist saying which some attribute to the Buddha that I am fond of, "It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.  Then the victory is yours." This saying is very much budo inspiring.  Today, so much time is spent talking about what is "real" or true in the martial arts with practitioners on both sides claiming that their way is the best or only way.

Both arguments are hollow.  The only true way is the way that one truly follows.  All else is just talk and babble which distracts us from the real reality of actually following it.  I am talking about actually living it as best we can.

The Way or do (道) as it is referred to in Japanese traditional arts may be interpreted as a path, but more over its is the direction by which one lives their life.

Following the Way is a doing thing which requires action not a talking thing which can easily be taken over by one's ego.  The Spanish proverb, "Who knows most speaks least." is apropos to budo.

Shall we talk about it?  Shall we even fight with each other about it?  Both of those things distract us from the true battle which exists within.

Furuya Sensei used to say, "The Way is in training."  Training is a doing thing.  It takes so much focus and concentration that any little distraction like spending time discussing or arguing about it only leads us away from the Way.  Sensei didn't say the Way is in talking he said, "The Way is in training."  Training is a doing thing.

Don't get caught up in finger pointing or chest beating, none of which matters.  Who is truly following the Way will be evident by their actions and not by what they say.

The one true way is the one that we follow in thought, speech and in action.  Everything else is just a distraction.

Some days are sunny, some days are cloudy

samurai rain copyIn every warrior's training, a little rain must fall.  I would love to tell students that throughout their training career they will only experience fun, excitement, joy and happiness.  The truth of the matter is that at some point every person is confronted with some adversity and will have some difficulty at some time or another. Some people are very smart intellectually and will struggle physically.  Some people are very gifted physically but will struggle mentally or emotionally.  Some people get hurt while some people hurt others.  Regardless everyone struggles with something.

The obstacles that we encounter are the training.  Our struggles are our truths and thus the Way is in the struggle.

If everyone struggles, then what should they do when that happens?  Here are some general suggestions for people when we find that we are struggling.

Be patient.  Learn to push yourself.  Find other ways to train yourself.  Learn to forgive. Seek out help.  Believe.  Trust.  And most of all don't give up.

I could elaborate on each of these but I am choosing not to.  Think of them as koans for your personal growth.  If you can come up with your own definitions or elaborations for the suggestions above you will have solved your own problems and you will come to understand that the struggle is the Way.

To make the best of an unsavory situation - it's shoganai.

Senbu copySomethings can't be helped and no matter what we say, think or do, we have to accept the reality of the situation. Whenever the situation could not be changed and we had to just accept it, my mom would say with a shrug, "It's shogani."  Shoganai roughly translates to "It can't be helped."

Years ago, I asked Furuya Sensei about his family’s experience during World War II and the internment camps.  I asked him, “It must have been terrible, did they ever talk about it?”  With a shrug he said, “It was shoganai” and then he said, "It was war and things happen in war."  Sensei didn’t say another word about it.  At the time I took his silence as a sign that he didn't want to talk about it.  Later as I got older, I realized that it wasn't that he didn't want to talk about it but that there wasn't anything more to say about it because it was shoganai.

I think one of the greatest things and some of the pivotal things that helped the Japanese and Japanese Americans recover from WWII were these things like shoganai.  How can we move forward if we are always stuck in the past?

Things happen and some things cannot be fixed.  When they cannot be fixed, they must be accepted and that's shoganai.  From shoganai we accept it and we move on.

In budo, the highest level is when we can attain the non-abiding mind.  The non-abiding mind is one that is fluid and does not dwell.  It is in this fluidity that we find the ability to accept something as it comes and move through it - that is shoganai.  There is a great quote that Hagrid says in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”

What comes will come and it is going to come and that is shoganai.


All that you can do is your best

arrows heaven人事を尽くして天命を待つ、運を天に任せる.Jinji wo tsukushite tenmei wo matsu, un wo ten ni makaseru. Do your best and leave the rest to heaven.

Wednesdays can be tough.  Hang in there and just do the best that you can in this moment.

Enjoy your day!



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.




Don't let your guard down even after the battle has been won.

kendo men tyingかってからかぶとのおをしめよ.Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo. "After victory, tighten your helmet."

This weekend three students took and passed their various dan rank tests.  I am truly proud of how they performed and the preparations that it took to get them there.

As the teacher, testing gives me an opportunity to look at who the students are under pressure, but only time will tell who they really are as human beings.  Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo is an old Japanese proverb that Furuya Sensei was fond of which translates to "After victory, tighten your helmet."

It is so easy to rest on one's laurels especially after a victory.  In the martial arts, the greatest enemy is complacency.

There are two types of people born out of testing.  Those who think they have arrived and those who realize how little they know.  Both of these are the curse of achievement.

It is a curse because shortly thereafter both realize that where they find themselves is really just a flat spot just before the path becomes a bit steeper.

Passing the test pales in comparison to what we do after that and thus the caution to "tighten one's helmet" is apropos.

Within the Aikido system of ranking, the first rank is shodan and is written with the kanji 初 which means "beginner."  Thus, this character alludes to the fact that attaining shodan is just the beginning of one's journey in Aikido.  First and second degree are "merit" ranks, third and fourth are technical ranks and 5th and above are teaching ranks.  There is so much to learn at each stage no matter where we find ourselves.  Each of us is student and we would benefit tremendously if we can remember that.

The battle never ends so wherever we may find ourselves, we must vigilant and thus tighten our chin straps to be ready.

Please keep up the great work and prepare yourselves for the next journey.

What do you do when you think nobody's looking.

trashWhen we look at a long time practitioner of budo we see nothing. We see nothing because there is nothing to be seen.  A person of budo follows the way of budo for themselves.

True budo is nothing more than seeing a piece of paper on the floor, picking it up and disposing of it properly.  Nobody will ever see us do it and therefore nobody will ever know that we did - only we will know.  At budo's highest level, we perform the task without thought.  There, the path of budo is the path of "no-minded" integrity.  Furuya Sensei called it, "The place where the self disappears."

It is "no-minded" because we want to reach a level where we barely even know we are doing it.

Nobody will ever know what it is we do or for that matter what it is that we can do because it is hidden.  Only we will know and we alone have to live with it.

To follow the path of budo means that who we are is the same person regardless of who is watching or what the circumstance might be.  Therefore if we see a piece of paper on the ground, we must dispose of it properly and almost without thought.  If one has to think about it, it is not yet budo.

To think is to discriminate between right and wrong or how it helps us pay homage to our  egos.  That moment of discrimination is the gap between non-budo and budo.

Please do whatever it is you do just to do it without thought of recognition or reward - this is true budo.