The single best piece of life wisdom I ever got came from a conversation that I over heard while eating breakfast at the counter at a local diner.
The server was talking with another customer about life and the customer asked her why she chose to work as a waitress. She replied, “I am no one special. The only thing I truly have to give others is my kindness…”
In that moment, my mind was totally blown and I just sat there with my mouth agape. The person I was with gave out an audible sigh of disgust.
I turned to him and said, “No, you don’t understand, she just told us the meaning of life.” He didn’t agree.
The thing is, there is nothing more than this. Money isn’t real. Things aren’t real. Everything we possess is not real. Thus, the only thing we do have with which to give another person is our “kindness.”
That is the fundamental assertion behind Aikido and why we do the techniques the way we do them. Any buffoon can wield a sword or hurt others, but only a true master has the inner strength to give someone kindness.
Thus, there is no sword which can oppose kindness.
The only thing we truly possess in this world which we can give to others is our kindness.
“Everything in Aikido can be called what we say in Japanese, ‘atari-mae.’ We can even say, ‘atari-mae no Aikido,’ which means, ‘common-sense, reasonable, very natural Aikido.’ This is what I aspire to myself in my own Aikido – something simple and very natural. . . . . .
Most people do not really need something new and different, they simply need to take their own technique to the next level, and then to the next level after that.”
– Rev. Kensho Furuya
What makes a piece of calligraphy good or bad? It is hard to say. I am a novice, but when I look at calligraphy I judge it by how it moves me inside.
This an interesting piece of calligraphy. I liked the calligraphy before I knew its meaning. The characters brushed are 光明 (komyo) or “Ray of light.” Of course it is metaphoric. It can mean a myriad of things. Its meaning depends on how we look at it. A ray of light could symbolize “hope” or it could mean “to look on the brighter side” of things. Or it could mean anything else depending on one’s perspective at the time.
What is interesting is when I happen to read the caption about the artist who brushed it. Her name is Shoko Kanazawa and she has down syndrome. Apparently, at the age of five she began to study shodo and showed great talent.
It is quite captivating and the strokes look like someone who has a high level of mastery. What interested me as a shodo student was the hane stroke at the end of the first character 光. To do a hane correctly one slowly releases the pressure on the brush as the stroke very gradually becomes thin. But in this case it shows how gently she released the pressure while still maintaining the proper spacing to create that line. Additionally her two main vertical kado or corner lines in the character 明 display her “balance” as one has a lot of ki power and the other shows a tremendous amount of gentleness. Truly wonderful calligraphy!
It just goes to show, no matter what our circumstance may be, anything is possible.
What this scroll alludes to is a teaching in swordsmanship in which a true warrior is one that has attained an equanimous mind.
The rock in this sense is the mind, but don’t think of it as a stationary rock. The mind should be in a free flowing state like a rock rolling down a hill. Along the way, the rolling rock may touch or run into things, but it just calmly and effortlessly moves around the impediment. It could, theoretically, keep on rolling forever.
One of the goals in Aikido training is to develop an unaffectable mind which is always calm and free flowing. In swordsmanship, this is referred to as having an immovable mind or an non-abiding mind.
When a person engages us, if we react to their advances then we are mindless. If we have equanimity then we can be mindful and thus choose the appropriate course of action.
This kind of mindfulness is necessary in Aikido based on O’Sensei’s philosophy of non-violence. Furuya Sensei explained it:
Aikido has the effectiveness to throw the opponent but, we have decided that in order for it to be real Aikido, it must express a goodness, respect and nobility for life that does not allow us to use excessive violence or a “by any means necessary” attitude.
Being very aware of what we do, we become aware of the consequences and seek to achieve a higher level of existence in this world and within our lives to become good human begins, we are then practicing Aikido as a “do.”
The power thus comes from being a stone warrior who’s mindfully aware and who always acts with appropriate action. This what we strive for and this is one of the true secrets of Aikido training.
The devil in this sense is the devil which exists inside all of us.
One of the hardest things to realize is that our life is our own. Other people, things or events can influence our lives but they don’t control them. Those things merely inform our decisions.
Our greatest gift is that we have the power to choose. At any given time we can choose our perspective and our actions. Exercising choice means taking control.
Life’s journey is supposed to be arduous. Nothing good comes easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be torturous either. The easiest way to make an arduous path more sufferable is to change the way we see it. We cannot know with any amount of certainty where the path of our lives will take us nor do we know how this will factor into our future. Therefore, because of this uncertainty, we can choose to see it any way we want. Choosing to see something in a more positive light enables us to create alignment with it and with who we are and where our lives are going.
In Aikido, one of the main tenets is to create alignment with not only our opponent’s energy but also with their perspective. It is easier to give them compassion when we can see what they see and where they are coming from.
To conquer the devil, is to align, redirect and use our devil’s power to our advantage and reach our greatest heights.
Have a great Monday!
Some may think that as warriors we strive for a place of physical perfection where our skills in fighting are supreme, but this is too shortsighted. An experienced and true warrior seeks the pinnacle of fighting which is non-fighting. Sounds kind of weird being that the martial arts is all about fighting and destruction. At this place of non-fighting, one realizes that the only true opponent worth contending with is ourselves.
Most warriors never get to this understanding. It rarely happens because most have to defeat every opponent in the world in order to realize that the true and only opponent is themselves.
Today, we strive to be like the warriors of old without having the risk of the warriors of old. We have their hard fought realization at our finger tips which usually took many years of fighting to achieve.
Like the warrior of old, the true ultimate goal was to not only develop their bodies, but to also develop their minds to place which is referred to as immovable in swordsmanship.
To have a mind which is immovable is to be like the moon which is unmoved by the wind. It takes several years of training to reach this place of equanimity. Please be patient and don’t let the wind steer you off course.
French poet, Jean de La Fontaine once wrote, “Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it.” In Japanese, that seemingly cruel twist of fate often times brings us to the place where we least expect to find ourselves is referred to as aienkien (合縁奇縁).
The more we grip on to what we think is the control of life, the more it tosses us around as it tries to wrench our steadfast grip. A true warrior realizes that nothing is under their control. With that awareness they can meet their destiny with kyoshintankai (虚心坦懐) or “a calm and open mind.”
In Aikido, the nage, or the one who throws, is trying to learn how to flow with their partner’s energy and allow the natural flow of the movement to take over. Likewise, the uke, or one being thrown, is trying to learn how stay connected to the flow of their partner and allow the technique to unfold as it will.
In life, it is no different. When we realize there is no true “control” we can see the joy in aienkien. Thus we can meet the serendipity of life on the battlefield with the calmness of kyoshintankai.
This is the path your life is taking, accept it and honor it.
I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go. We never really know who has the character to put in the time to get good. There are no magic pills or panaceas. There is only one formula for mastery – put the time into the practice.
Arau yori nareyo
“Practice makes perfect.”
In Japanese culture, a person is lauded more for their perseverance than if they actually achieve their goal. In Japanese, the word for perseverance is gaman (我慢). Gaman is more of a cultural idea than merely just a word.
To gaman means to not only persevere, but to have the utmost patience and self-control en route to accomplishing one’s goal no matter how long or arduous. The person who gamans knows that winning or succeeding is not an over night thing but a journey filled with ups and downs.
Having the ability to have unwavering patience while maintaining total self-control in the face of adversity is to have a will of iron or tesshin seki cho (鉄心石腸). People of lesser patience and even less self-control do not have the staying power to see their goals achieved.
A true martial artist is a person who keeps going despite the odds but that requires having an iron will. A will that sees things through until the end no matter what.
In most stories that we hear about, the goal being achieved is but a minor point. The bulk of the story is centered around the hero overcoming the insurmountable odds.
In every person’s life, sometimes daily, we are confronted with the opportunity to step up and show our true metal. That true metal is our will of iron.
Furuya Sensei’s last scroll he put it up explains tesshin seki cho perfectly. It said, “Stay strong, be humble and always keep going!”