Celebrating Our 40th Anniversary Welcome to the Daily Message. Ito Sensei writes articles for your information and enjoyment. The late Reverend Kensho Furuya started this Daily Message in the late 1990s. Our dojo celebrates its 40th year in 2014 and our monthly publication, The Aiki Dojo, is now it its 30th year.
Warning: When using this website, the Daily Message, and The Aiki Dojo monthly publication, please use caution: Information and Knowledge are not the same thing. You can get information from your computer and the Internet, but you can only get knowledge when you use your mind and your body.
A long time ago when Sensei was alive a well meaning white belt volunteered to order some uniforms from Japan. He notified everyone and diligently took orders by scribbling everyone’s information into a spiral notebook. Many people ordered uniforms including me and Sensei. The student called the company in Japan and ordered each order personally. When the order arrived it was missing items and some of the uniforms were the wrong sizes. He also realized he was short money because he misjudged the exchange rate and had to go back and ask each person for more money and then he ended up ordering a second time to fulfill the incomplete orders. In the end he had to put some of his own money in because the order was wrong because it was his error. I even gave up my uniform so that he could give it to someone else and not pay twice for it. When it was all said and done Sensei ended up getting mad at him and I am sure he felt dejected. In the parking lot afterwards, I gave him a reassuring smile and said, “Welcome to the club.”
I didn’t intend on being condescending, but what I meant was that only a select few get in trouble and receive a direct scolding from Sensei. The club that I was referring to was the 7Ps club. What this well meaning student didn’t know is that anything and everything concerning the dojo and Sensei had to be executed at the highest level. This student wasn’t through when he researched his project nor did he ask anyone who had done it before. He also wasn’t organized and with Sensei you had to be extremely detail oriented in order to not mess up and he wasn’t as evident by his scribblings in a spiral notebook.
One of the main things I learned as student under Sensei was how to be a professional. I, like this student, got burned and then lectured and after a few hundred times I started to learn. What I learned was that execution was nothing without through planning and preparation. Before I would even bring something to Sensei it had to be organized and well thought out or he would pick you apart and/or get mad at you. Dealing with Sensei, I learned how important the military’s 7Ps were (Prior Proper Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance). In a martial arts sense, how can you go into battle if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing or where you are supposed to go?
Sensei had an unwaveringly sense of quality which led to us strive for quality in our training and eventually in our lives as well. Today, I scold my own students about their professionalism and how their planning and preparation are almost as and maybe even more important than their execution. I read a quote in Scientific American that sums up many of the lessons Sensei tried to teach me and what I am trying to teach my own students today: “You fail to the level of your preparation.”
Ichi-yo ochite tenka no aki wo shiru.
“With the fall of one leaf we know autumn has come.”
A couple of years ago we stumbled upon this small temple in the suburbs of Kyoto. The temple is called Komyo-in. It is off the beaten path, but well worth the visit. It is one of the sub temples of Tofukuji which is just down the street. You can just sit on the veranda for as long as you want and just take in the awesome rock garden that is bordered with Japanese maple trees. We went in the summer so the maple trees weren’t in bloom, but from the vast number of maple trees it must be incredible in the fall. I just loved sitting there and taking in the quiet while looking at such a serene place. Whenever I go back to Kyoto again, I will try and spend at least an hour just sitting there.
Here is a link with more pictures and some information about Komyo-in.
There is no competition in Aikido. Despite this maxim, it is still hard for people to accept. Competition itself is not bad, but what it brings out in us can be detrimental. It can be harmful because it has a detrimental affect on the ego.
Let’s think about the game of golf. Golf is fun. Golf is social and the experience can actually be heightened when others play it with you. There is technically no winning or losing in golf since it is a personal pursuit where the golfer is trying to improve upon a skill. There is also no such thing as a “perfect” game – nobody ever shoots a 0. Given that golf is a personal pursuit it can actually make someone a better person because they have to conform to a set of rules which penalizes them if they break them.
However somewhere along the line, golfing became more about winning by beating others than as a means of personal development or sportsmanship. This has brought about such unsavory things like cheating, performance enhancing drugs and bad behavior. In a 2002 survey of America’s top 400 top business executives who play golf, 82% admitted to cheating. In a 2011 poll, 54% of the PGA tour caddies said they had witness some form of cheating. Today with sponsorships and praise, we only care who won or who was the best and we rarely care who is the better person.
This could happen to Aikido also if there was some form of competition. What would dojos be like if there was a competition for prize money and sponsorships? How far would people go to “sell” the competition by speaking disrespectfully about their opponents? What would people be willing to do or more importantly forgo in order to win? The answer is that Aikido would then go the way of every other martial art where the emphasis is on who has the best abs.
Aikido is a do or way and like golf it is a singular journey where the only competition we have is with ourselves. If we are not training for ourselves, we are training for our egos or more importantly other things and other people. Our ego wants praise, accolades, fame and fortune – everything that exists outside of ourselves. This “win at any cost” perspective is one of the negative sides of competition and thus why there is no competition in Aikido. This is why O Sensei said, “Masakatsu, Agatsu” or that the real victory is the one over yourself.
There are five routes called the Gokaido in Japan that connect the capital of Japan, formerly Edo, with the outlying provinces. The five routes are: Tokaido, Nakasendo, Koshu Kaido, Oshu Kaido and Nikko Kaido. Today most of the routes have been replaced by modern day freeways or highways, but there are still some parts that have been preserved. The Tokaido and Nakasendo have the most notable areas that have been preserved.
The Nakasendo is one of National Geographic’s 50 tours of a lifetime. The Nakasendo connected Tokyo (Edo) with Kyoto. It was the trail through the mountains that supposedly was preferred because you didn’t have to cross any rivers. Originally there were 69 towns that travelers could stay at or get a soak in an onsen or traditional bath. Today only patches have been preserved and some towns have legal mandates which prohibit change.
I have always wanted to go to these preserved places and maybe I will get around to making the journey. I found this video of Nakasendo that was really nice.
One the hardest concepts for students to grasp as they start their training in a traditional dojo is to maintain a sense of self-restraint. The dojo is not a place for personal feelings, desires or problems. The more I study Aikido, the more I realize that what I am really studying is the art of self-restraint.
This idea of self-restraint is at the core of Japanese culture where conformity, humility and restraint are paramount. Tatemae and honnen are two concepts that embody this idea of restraint. Tatemae 建 前 is the face you show outwardly and honne 本音 is your true face that you hide inside. Tatemae and honne enable an overcrowded nation to function as a single unit, but it is what also allows students to grow and foster in an environment designed for not only their well being, but their growth too.
This idea of self-restraint begins with students and teachers leaving the outside world outside. People’s problems or feelings are their own and thus should not be brought into the dojo. Sensei used to say, “Cut off your head and leave it at the door.” This enables the practice to be without prejudice, worry, anger, or anything else that causes a distraction. This lack of distraction environment makes the conditions conducive for learning. From this environment springs the beginnings of not only strong Aikidoists, but better human beings.
So when people come to the dojo they should be ready to learn and help others grow and they can only do this by not bringing the outside inside or as Sensei said, “Leave your head at the door.” Oh and this is also one of the main concept or highest teachings in budo too – don’t let the outside affect the inside.
The first duty in any student’s Aikido career is to master the form as best as they can. There are two main reasons why you have to master the form first. The first reason why you have to master the form first is because there are hundreds of minutia that your mind cannot keep track of in order to make the techniques work. The second reason is that once you have mastered the form, the movement can enter the subconcious which is beginnings of the development of intuition or sixth sense.
A long time ago my mom told me a story about a lady she met who had been studying Aikido for a long time. She told my mom this story about being in a car accident and how Aikido training saved her life. She said that she was sitting in front passenger seat during a head on collision. As the car struck another car she felt her body shift to the right and as she looked over her shoulder her friend who was sitting in the back was sailing by as she was ejected through the front windshield. She doesn’t know why she shifted but felt that the ushiro waza (techniques from an attack from behind) in her Aikido training helped her to sense that something was coming from behind and to shift away from it without thinking.
In ushiro waza, I was taught to never look back in order to see which side the attacker was attacking or what attack was to come. If I waited too long, I got jammed and if I went too early I broke the connection and therefore I had to use my intuition to find the right timing for the right attack. However, I could only use my intuition if my form was correct.
From this story you can see how the “form” of the movement might have saved this lady’s life and that is why I urge all of my students to concentrate on mastering the form of the movement first. After that you can develop speed, power and intuition.
Nothing is really important unless it is important to you.
I recently read this article (link below) about a house in France where the owners of the house have left one of the rooms untouched since WWI. Apparently, the original owners were so grief stricken that their son was killed in WWI that they left his room exactly the way he left it before he went off to battle. When the parents sold the house they put a stipulation that the room go untouched for 500 years. Oddly enough, despite the fact that the stipulation isn’t legal, the room has been kept untouched and the house has changed hands a few times. The current owner hopes his children keep up the tradition but stated, ” I don’t give a damn. What happens after me, generally speaking, I don’t care…. But I think it would be a shame to get rid of all this.”
A couple of years ago, someone broke something that belonged to the dojo. I saw this thing in the trash and asked everyone what happened to which most replied, “I don’t know.” Later that day a new student told me that one of the senior students sat on it and broke it. The broken item wasn’t what upset me, but how the senior students reacted. Nobody even cared enough to take responsibility and many of them attempted to cover it up. The item was worth no more than a few hundred dollars, but the significance was that it was one of Sensei’s personal belongings. The item can be replaced, but its sentimental value can never be replaced now that it is gone.
Things are only important to us if we think they are important. An antique baseball card can fetch 2.1 million dollars or a 13th century Kamakura era sword can be purchased for $400,000, but its only real value or importance is to the person buying it. I certainly wouldn’t buy a sword for $400,000, but I did buy an autographed copy of Kodo for $50.00. So I guess it is relative.
The point is that in order to find something important we must care. In Japanese culture they believe that everything has an inherent value and thus should be treated with respect. The thinking is that to find value and respect for other people or other things is to find value and respect for yourself. Please take care of your dojo and treat it with the utmost care and respect. It really is important.