Monthly Archives: June 2014

Use it so you don’t lose it

To become adept at anything takes practice.  Once we decide on what it is that we want then the two limiting factors are how much effort we are willing to put into obtaining that thing and what we are willing to sacrifice to obtain that thing.

How do you put in more effort?  The obvious answer would go to class more, but the less obvious and probably more pivotal answer is how much time you put into acquiring that skill outside of class.  The formula is simple: more effort outside of class + class time = success.

For instance if you wanted to get good with the sword or bokken then you should put  more time into doing suburi (cutting practice).  One of the things Sensei would constantly advocate to us was, “Handle your weapons everyday.”  Holding them, doing suburi or even carrying them around allows us to keep or gain a certain level of familiarity with that weapon.  Becoming adept with the sword means knowing not only what it can do but also what it feels like, how its balanced and what it is capable of doing.

Once you put the time into become adept at something you will be able to do things that seem utterly impossible.  But you can only do that when you put the work in.

Below I have linked a video of a young man swinging a baseball bat and he has become so adept at using it that he can do some amazing things.  I am sure this took a lot of practice. Enjoy!


Get clarity in order to get it right

Clarification is probably the one pivotal factor in solving any problem.  Seems logical and probably easy right?  It seemingly is, but in reality getting clarification is one of the hardest things for people to do.  Most of us have experienced the waiter who takes the order by memory.  They don’t want to ask questions or inquire about details because they are afraid to mess up the order.  This technique is quite impressive when it works!  Some of the time it doesn’t and when it doesn’t it is quite terrible.  The food comes out wrong because the person was more concerned about showing off than getting the order exactly the way the customer wanted it.  Personally, I don’t care so much about their memorization prowess as much as my food coming out correctly-it’s just a small pet peeve.

How does one get clarity?  Clarity comes from asking the right questions.  In the beginning until we get your bearings we will have to ask several questions that may or may not factor into solving the problem at hand.  But, as we become more experienced the amount of questions will decrease.  Sometimes as we think of questions to ask the problem gets solved and there is no need to ask any questions because we clarified it in our own mind.

In solving problems there are no bad or dumb questions as long as they are asked in the spirit of solving the problem.  I once had a client who was a well known chemist and during WWII he was practically kidnapped and brought to a super secret facility to help with a super secret problem.  The hard part for him was that he never considered himself a chemist and was only doing it to subsidize his love of singing.  So, he was brought to this room with several well known scientists and military people and asked to solve this super secret problem (he never actually told me the problem).    He told me that he was so nervous and frazzled that all he could only ask questions while he tried to calm down.  After several questions the problem began to solve itself and unravel right before everyone’s eyes.  Within an hour he was lauded as the savior of the day, but he never told them the answer- all he did was ask questions.  He told me that for that point forward he always first asked questions to gain clarity before trying to solve any problem.

Have the humility to ask for clarity in order to solve any problem.  It is super easy to do in theory but super hard to do it in reality.  It is hard because of our egos and our desire to thought of as good and thus we lack the humility to be right.  So rather than be good be right.  In order to get it right, gain clarity by asking questions.

Please remember to wake up before you come to the dojo




There is an old Japanese proverb, “Nete ite koronda tameshi nashi,” which translates as while you are sleeping don’t fall down while trying to do something.  This statement applies best to the dojo on the weekends.  So many times we stay out late or don’t get a good night’s rest and find ourselves a little out of “it” when we come to practice on the weekends.  This is one of those things Sensei used to admonish us for a lot when I was a student.  It still applies today.

Anytime you are in the dojo you must be hyper aware.  The noren or curtain that hangs over the entrance bears the sickle or kama, the symbol for peace and the Japanese word for peace is wa and the Japanese character ぬ or nu.  It is a pun that together means kamawanu or beware.  In the olden days, students were judged by their conduct at every moment while they were in the dojo.  Therefore they had to be en garde at all times or in other words awake.

Today nobody is that strict anymore so the atmosphere is more relaxed and students can have fun at the dojo.  That is fine and I guess the way of the world today.  But, wouldn’t it be nice to have your feet firmly rooted in the present while keeping an eye on the past?  Please approach your training with both eyes wide open so that you can be aware of everything you are doing.

wake up

The Awakening

Thank God it’s Friday!  Ever had one of those weeks?

Sometimes I read things like this to help me regain my perspective…

The Awakening
(Author unknown)

A time comes in your life when you finally get…when, in the midst of all your fears and insanity, you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out…ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying and blaming and struggling to hold on. Then, like a child quieting down after a tantrum, you blink back your tears and begin to look at the world through new eyes.

This is your awakening.

You realize it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change, or for happiness, safety and security to magically appear over the next horizon.

You realize that in the real world there aren’t always fairy tale endings, and that any guarantee of “happily ever after” must begin with you…and in the process a sense of serenity is born of acceptance.

You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate or approve of who or what you are…and that’s OK. They are entitled to their own views and opinions.

You learn the importance of loving and championing yourself…and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.

Your stop complaining and blaming other people for the things they did to you – or didn’t do for you – and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected.

You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and everything isn’t always about you.

So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself…and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.

You stop judging and pointing fingers and you begin to accept people as they are and to overlook their shortcomings and human frailties…and in the process a sense of peace and contentment is born of forgiveness.

You learn to open up to new worlds and different points of view. You begin reassessing and redefining who you are and what you really stand for.

You learn the difference between wanting and needing and you begin to discard the doctrines and values you’ve outgrown, or should never have bought into to begin with.

You learn that there is power and glory in creating and contributing and you stop maneuvering through life merely as a “consumer” looking for you next fix.

You learn that principles such as honesty and integrity are not the outdated ideals of a bygone era, but the mortar that holds together the foundation upon which you must build a life.

You learn that you don’t know everything, it’s not you job to save the world and that you can’t teach a pig to sing. You learn the only cross to bear is the one you choose to carry and that martyrs get burned at the stake.

Then you learn about love. You learn to look at relationships as they really are and not as you would have them be. You learn that alone does not mean lonely.

You stop trying to control people, situations and outcomes. You learn to distinguish between guilt and responsibility and the importance of setting boundaries and learning to say NO.

You also stop working so hard at putting your feelings aside, smoothing things over and ignoring your needs.

You learn that your body really is your temple. You begin to care for it and treat it with respect. You begin to eat a balanced diet, drinking more water, and take more time to exercise.

You learn that being tired fuels doubt, fear, and uncertainty and so you take more time to rest. And, just food fuels the body, laughter fuels our soul. So you take more time to laugh and to play.

You learn that, for the most part, you get in life what you deserve, and that much of life truly is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

You learn that anything worth achieving is worth working for and that wishing for something to happen is different than working toward making it happen.

More importantly, you learn that in order to achieve success you need direction, discipline and perseverance. You learn that no one can do it all alone, and that it’s OK to risk asking for help.

You learn the only thing you must truly fear is fear itself. You learn to step right into and through your fears because you know that whatever happens you can handle it and to give in to fear is to give away the right to live life on your own terms.

You learn to fight for your life and not to squander it living under a cloud of impending doom.

You learn that life isn’t always fair, you don’t always get what you think you deserve and that sometimes bad things happen to unsuspecting, good people…and you lean not to always take it personally.

You learn that nobody’s punishing you and everything isn’t always somebody’s fault. It’s just life happening. You learn to admit when you are wrong and to build bridges instead of walls.

You lean that negative feelings such as anger, envy and resentment must be understood and redirected or they will suffocate the life out of you and poison the universe that surrounds you.

You learn to be thankful and to take comfort in many of the simple things we take for granted, things that millions of people upon the earth can only dream about: a full refrigerator, clean running water, a soft warm bed, a long hot shower.

Then, you begin to take responsibility for yourself by yourself and you make yourself a promise to never betray yourself and to never, ever settle for less than you heart’s desire.

You make it a point to keep smiling, to keep trusting, and to stay open to every wonderful possibility.

You hang a wind chime outside your window so you can listen to the wind.

Finally, with courage in you heart, you take a stand, you take a deep breath, and you begin to design the life you want to live as best as you can.

There you go enjoy the weekend!

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could, some blunders and absurdities have crept in. Forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Everyday is a gift

When we are young, we dream about the future and worry about what we don’t have and what will be.  When we get older we reminisce about the past and lament about what we don’t have and what was.  Both of these stages in life have one thing in common- both are not living in moment.  I know, easy to say, but hard to do.

Here is a video that might help illustrate that for us…

Learn from your mistakes

Be Rebuked,
Stand Corrected,
and Learn

This is a scroll that tea master Soshitsu Sen writes about in Tea Life, Tea Mind.  It is one of those things that has stuck with me ever since I read that book.

When tragedy strikes we often hear people say, “Don’t let it define you.”  I try not to think about it that way.  The way I look at it is that the bad things that happen to us are the things that define us.  Whenever something bad happens, I always try and see the lesson.  The hard part for people to comprehend or accept is that everything that happens to you plays a part in your future for your benefit.  You just don’t know how or when it will benefit you right now.  That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt or isn’t embarrassing right now.  It means that this is the way it is supposed to go and this is the fodder for growth.  After the pain subsides, “What did I learn?” is the only question that needs to be asked.  Just as medicine is sometimes bitter, the bad things that happen in life are necessary for you to see yourself truthfully and grow.  From there…

Be Rebuked,
Stand Corrected,
and Learn

Nothing is permanent

Happy Father’s Day!

The older I get and presumably wiser, the more I realize what I don’t know.  Life then becomes more about what I can learn rather than what I don’t know.  When we are young we are afraid of what we don’t know and we doubt ourselves and our abilities.  When we get older, hopefully, fear gives way to curiosity as we realize that we don’t, can’t or don’t need to know everything.  Curiosity is what enables us to learn things that in the past we might have though impossible.  You might have heard the old self-defeating adage, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”  Fortunately we aren’t beasts.  We are humans and humans have the uncanny ability for change.  Supposedly, every six years every cell in our bodies is replaced and when you couple that with the fact that our brains are constantly adapting to the changes in life which is called neuroplasticity – human beings can change.  One of the hardest lessons in life is that nothing is permanent.  But what that impermance really leads to is an open door to something different.  Change is seldom good or bad or right or wrong – those are judgements.  Change is about learning more about yourself but that can only happen if we can humbly realize what we don’t know, accept change and don’t attempt to control it.

It’s up to you

Jibun ga ki ga tsuku made wakatte kurenai which means a student will not understand it until he understands it for himself.  From the Daily Message October 9, 2003.

Getting good at either Aikido or Iaido is primarily within your own power.  You may think it is due to the strength or prowess of the teacher but you are sorely mistaken.  There is an old Chinese proverb which best illustrates that, “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Telling you involves hearing and a sometimes seeing, but those are only effective if you are an auditory and visual learner.  But, this is limited by life experiences in order to relate and language skills.  On a side note, currently the US military is experimenting with smell signals because it’s supposed to be quickest in terms of cognitive recognition.

Showing you also involves hearing and seeing which are supposed to be the most effective senses in learning since the learner can see exactly what is needed to be done.  However in a physical sense, if the learner has poor kinesthetic awareness or proprioception then re-creation is limited.

Hands on learning or kinesthetic learning involves using almost all of your senses with the exception of taste (unless someone sweats into your mouth…it has happened to me).  Its called learn by doing.

Only within this century in the West has success at the hands of the teacher come into popularity.  Learning by doing has for centuries been the preferred way to learn.  So its up to you to make you good and of course successful in any endeavor.

Have a great Friday!