On this day in 1862 which came to be known as Cinco de Mayo, a small Mexican army defeated a larger and more powerful invading French army. A motley crew 2,000 Mexican fighters hunkered down in the small town of Puebla de Los Angeles and fended off a force of 6,000 French soldiers. The battle lasted only one day but resulted in the French army losing five times more troops than the Mexican army. Realizing they were succumbing to a superior force, the French troops retreated.
The Battle of Puebla became the symbol of opposition and its memory became the symbol of Mexican warrior spirit. The seemingly impossible victory at the Battle of Puebla displayed what the Japanese call “Yamato-damashii.” Yamato-damashii (大和魂) is used to when people talk about one’s “fighting spirit” but its more than that. Yamato-damashii refers to one’s soul which causes them to exhibit extraordinary spirit and character in the face of overwhelming odds.
The people who stayed and fought against a force that was bigger, better equipped and seemingly more knowledgeable took great courage. It showed the extraordinary soul and spirit of the Mexican people – it showed their yamato-damashii.
Enjoy your Cinco de Mayo!
Happy May Fourth or should I say, “May the 4th Be With You.”
“For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you; here, between you, me, the tree, the rock, everywhere, yes. Even between the land and the ship. ” – Yoda
What Yoda is talking about is the same thing O’Sensei once wrote, “The divine is not something high above us. It is in heaven, it is in earth, it is inside us.”
Essentially, what they are both talking about is ki (氣) which is the fundamental construct of the universe. Ki imbues everything and is within everyone of us. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama said, “In a world marred by violence and rising nationalism, he says we must try to find commonality.”
Ki is that commonality. We are all made up of the same fundamental substance – ki. We are all the same and thus must treat each other with respect. This is the fundamental principle of Aikido. Enjoy your May the Fourth.
There is a saying in budo, or “Everything begins and ends with respect” (礼に始まり礼に終わる).
Last night we hosted an outside teacher from another country. The thing which made me the happiest was how polite our students were. Everyone treated each other with respect and everyone had a good time.
For the most part, the martial arts are physical and up to a point, anyone can become skilled. Reigi-saho or etiquette is one of those things which cannot be taught but can be learned.
Being a jerk reflects poorly on your teacher, your parents, your art, your dojo and most importantly you. Be careful what you say or do because it means a lot.
February 22nd is Ninja Cat Day in Japan. The onomatopoeia of a cat’s meow in Japanese is nyan nyan. The Japanese love their homophones and thus nyan nyan become ni ni and the first syllable in the word ninja (忍者).
The kanji for nin is 忍 which means patience or self-restraint which are huge concepts in budo. The other kanji 者 is ja or sha which means person.
One of the major differences between beginners and experts is impulse control. Impulse control is nothing more than being able to control one’s self in any situation. Self-restraint is then the mark of a true master.
Happy Ninja Cat Day!
A good martial artist strives to create balance. Here is an interesting take on the taiji or yin-yang symbol. It is a Japanese kamon or family crest using the properties of yin-yang or in-you in Japanese.
A martial artist with balance mentally and physically cannot be moved and thus cannot be defeated.
If we are easily swayed from one side to the other then we can be moved to a place of unbalance. At this place of unbalance, even the weakest of foes can defeat us.
Balance mentally is more important than balance physically. It is said, “Everything in life begins with a thought.” Our minds are our greatest weapons – they can defend us or defeat us. How we think is more important than what we do or what we say. Both of those are an extension of our minds.
What will it take for you to be defeated? A terse word or a insensitive glance? We don’t always have to be punched in the face to be defeated.
The goal of every great martial art is to create this balance which we call the immovable mind. An immovable mind is one of calmness and imperturbability where can nothing unbalance us.
“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
“It is not that we lack self-confidence or ability, it is just that we are afraid of failure. We shouldn’t worry about this. There is no such thing as failure until we create it in our minds and bring it into our lives. It really does not exist, it is only an idea, value judgement or sensation which simply comes and goes in your head. It does not exist in reality or in Nature.
Why many worry about failure so much is that they are very much attached to failure. Why? Because failure is an easy way to absolve one’s self of responsibility and commitment which we hate or find burdensome. We shouldn’t waste our time and energy on such tiresome games, move on!
The only problem with failure is that, if we buy into it, it takes a little bit away from us, doesn’t it? That little bit of ourselves which can never be taken back. . . so we should simply put the idea of failure or loss out of our minds!”
– Rev. Kensho Furuya
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?
Are you a 10? Typically when we hear this type of question, we think that the person is asking us if we are good looking. In Japanese culture, the number 10 or juu is a homophone for juubun (十分) which is intended to mean, “Replete.” Thus, the number 10 is lucky because the number 10 means to be content.
In the west, we pursue things in order to achieve or acquire happiness and thus happiness is a result of taking – I receive and thus I am happy. In Japan, contentment is often associated with living a life of purpose or meaning and happiness comes as a result of giving.
The number 10 then reminds us that true happiness is a result of finding inner contentment instead of outer attainment. Finding contentment is a result of having a living a life of meaning. To have meaning means that we “get to” share or give something with the world and with that we are grateful for the opportunity. When we have meaning, then contentment, and thus gratefulness then true happiness is not far behind. True happiness is then a function of giving from a place of contentment and not taking from a place of fear.
Are you a 10?