A funny thing happens on the way to learning something, we realize that given the proper attitude that we can learn something from everyone. The key statement is “given the proper attitude.” Having the proper attitude begins with letting go of the ego of “I know.” When we can realize that we don’t know everything then we can begin the journey to learn a lot of things. Learning requires we first be open to anything and everything and second be willing to learn from anything and everything. When asked, “Who is your teacher?” the enlightened monk answers, “Everything.”
The Buddha said, “Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” Because everything is the same or interrelated then we can then learn from any source. Last night’s Tai Chi seminar, although not Aikido, can help us become better Aikidoist, but that requires that we look upon it with open and willing eyes. If you can do that then everyone and everything can become your teacher and there won’t be anything you can’t do or learn. With that power, the world will then become your oyster.
Day 8 update: Whew what a day. Taking guests around shopping and running back and forth from the dojo to the hotel presented enough let someone off the hook moments to last for days. But, I mandated for myself 4 and 4 and that was the hard part. Letting myself off the hook was easy to do once, but 3 more times was a real struggle. I am starting to see that it is so hard to be easy on myself, but I think that this challenge is shaping up this way.
Day 9: Let 2 people off the hook and let yourself off 7 times.
How to become a master. The recipe is a simple one:
3 parts sweat
8 parts tears
A little bit of blood
A whole lot of effort
Yesterday I was fortunate to see a master at work. Karita Sensei came and someone brought a sword by for him to appraise (kantei). Not knowing anything, we budgeted about 15 minutes for this appointment. Surprisingly, Karita Sensei spent the better part of an hour discussing this sword with its owner. He got down to the smallest detail and explained every one of his findings and with saint-like patience. It was mind blowing how much detail he could suss out. He explained where the sword was likely made and by whom and then he went further and described all the shortcomings of the blade. He then went on to discuss the fittings and their likely origins. But the mind blowing thing is when he discussed the paperwork that came with the sword and the likelihood that it was not legitimate. He was able to discern so much information that a beginner would likely have missed because it was so minute but to him it stood out like a sore thumb. I don’t think his appraisal was what the owner was looking for but it was free and very detail oriented so how could he be mad.
Watching Karita Sensei work was truly a treat. We forget how much preparation goes into becoming an expert at something. Afterwards as we discussed it, Karita Sensei told me, “I treat it and study it like fine art.” He is passionate about what he does and it is apparent in his skill. This reminds me of a quote. The famous violinist Sarasate was once called a genius by a famous critic to which he responded, “For 37 years I’ve practiced 14 hours a day, and now they call me a genius.” Karita Sensei’s mastery like that of Sarasate is a result of a lifetime of study that was built upon a lot of effort.
Day 7 update: I think I have found the meaning to this exercise. It began with letting others off the hook but now it seems the more important or meaningful person to let off the hook is myself. Don’t get me wrong the easy ones are still there like when my assistant got lost, but the more meaningful one came at dinner when I got upset about something but then remembered to let myself off the hook. This helped me shift back to balance and enjoy the rest of the evening.
Day 8: Let 4 other people off the hook and yourself 4 times.
Last night a student who has been studying Aikido for just over a year tore a hole in the knee of his gi pants or zubon. When I noticed it, I said, “Congratulations.” I said congratulations because that hole represents something that money can’t buy – hard work. Only a thoroughly worn-in faded uniform get holes in knees, broken draw strings or a tears in the sleeves or lapels. There is a saying that black belts are merely white belts that are stained black with blood, sweat and tears and your uniform is no different. The knees of your uniform don’t get ripped because you are taking it easy. They get ripped because you wear them down with effort and they become drab from all the blood, sweat and tears.
A hole is something you cannot fake or would not fake because to most it is presence is benign and usually overlooked, but to people who do train hard, it’s like joining an exclusive club. This exclusive club’s enjoys the membership of every great master of every great martial art throughout history because they too have all put the work in. This exclusive club however is open for anyone to join. The only requirements to join are hard work, perseverance, and self-discipline.
A hole then is more than just a hole – it is the gateway to a whole other world. Please keep up the good work!
Day 6 update: Sorry about not updating you on day 5. I completely forgot. Day 6 has been a bit of a struggle as finding 3-4 opportunities is easy, but I find it a bit of stretch for the last one. I actually realized it in bed and I began to get mad, but then a thought came to mind to let myself off the hook. Wow! What a great idea.
Day 7: Let 5 other people or things off the hook and let yourself off the hook at least twice.
Author Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his book Outliers that in order to get good at anything you have to dedicate on average about 10,000 hours of practice. Miyamoto Musashi, however, advocated 10,000 days. From my point of view it takes about a million repetitions or so to completely master any movement. Those who study sword talk about doing bouts of 1,000 suburi and they are probably at right around a million if you calculate it out over a 10 year period by today’s practice standard. In olden times a million would take about 3 years.
You actually don’t have to do it a million times, but it takes about that many repetitions for all our baggage to fall away. We bring so many preconceived notions, ideas and “knowledge” to the activity that it makes it hard to master. Only when we “let it go” can we find what we are looking for. En route to a million our baggage becomes to heavy to carry and in order to achieve a million we have to let it go. Then, somewhere around a million we notice that we have and that the movement has become more pure or fluid. So sometimes it’s not that you got better, but that all the obstacles to mastery have fallen away.
The sign pictured above is in the men’s dressing room. The most poignant statement reads, “One hour of practice is one hour closer to your enlightenment.” Sensei most likely put it up because as he puts it, “There’s no time left.” If we are to get to a million with any endeavor we need to start now because as Sensei also put it, “There is no time left to waste!”
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” is an often fictional quoted attributed to Ghandi. Ghandi’s original quote is, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Even if it is paraphrased or misquoted it still has some value to how we live our lives as not only martial artist, but human beings.
As martial artist we live our lives by ichigon. Ichigon directly translates as “say one thing” but is loosely meant to mean do what you say and say what you do or in other words integrity. If we want the class or the dojo to progress or for the students to get better, the first person we need to look at is ourselves (students and teachers alike). Are we living the Way? Are we the change we seek in others first? Saying is one thing but doing is quite another. You want things to get better? Change yourself first.
For teachers, please remember there is no such thing as bad students, only bad teachers. Therefore, be the change you want to see in others.
Day 4 update: The challenge still doesn’t seem to be that difficult. It just takes a bit of awareness. This day wasn’t difficult and I found myself gifted with several opportunities to let someone off the hook. We had intensive and only 11 people came and that posed several opportunities, but the one that sticks with me can as a result of us spending time organizing Sensei’s collection of swords. That was a hard to let off the hook moment I have to admit, but isn’t that why we are doing this challenge in the first place?
Day 5: Let someone or something off the hook 5 times.
“To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.” ~ Nietzsche
In Viktor Frankl’s book Man’s Search For Meaning, he chronicles the suffering and his experiences in the WWII internment camp at Auschwitz. In a nutshell, Frankl concluded that in order to survive you had to put some meaning to the suffering and ultimately to your life after release. Those that ceased to have meaning or purpose for survival or their life after camp ended up succumbing to the Nazi’s inhumane treatment. He said, “Life never ceases to have meaning, even in suffering and death.”
In order to push yourself find meaning in why it is your doing what you are doing. “I don’t know” is the surest way to come up short. To gain perspective is to uncover your passion. When you have passion you can keep going long past motivation or excitement.
Day 3 update:
Well today went just as the previous days. The hardest part was remember to let someone off the hook. The first two were benign mundane everyday let off the hooks, but the last one was more meaningful. We were tired and didn’t feel like braving the crowds and sorting out dinner so we ordered food from a delivery service. The food came late and was cold when we opened it up. I started to get mad but ended up remembering to let someone off the hook. I calmly sent them an email and they promptly gave us a refund. My protein shake was excellent.
Day 4: You guessed it. Let 4 things or people off the hook.
The Zen master Nan-in had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen who was a local university professor. But instead of listening, the visitor kept talking about his own
ideas. As he spoke, Nan-in served him tea. He poured tea into his visitor’s
cup until it was full, then he kept on pouring until it overflowed.
The visitor noticed this and was finally unable to restrain himself. “Don’t you see it’s full?” he said. “No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Many students worldwide are just like this university professor. Sometimes when students come to the dojo they are already filled up with ideas and theories. This disables them from learning and just like the professor more will not go in. Learning the techniques is hard enough, but we make it harder when we come in with our own baggage. “When yo come to the dojo, cut off your head and leave it outside,” is something Sensei used to say often to us.
In order to learn anything we need to have the openness and willingness to learn and this cannot be done when your cup is full. Please empty your cup before you come to practice so that you can make room for so much more.
Day 2 “Let someone off the hook” update:
Day 2 went as expected. Finding 2 things or people to let off the hook wasn’t that hard. Driving always yields a lot of opportunities. The second one came in the form of letting an old acquaintance off the hook for misrepresenting himself. This one took effort and I hope it lasts.
Day 3: 1+2 = 3. Now let 3 people off the hook.
The Japanese are fond of gift giving. The exchange of gifts is called zoutou. Whenever a Japanese person goes somewhere or travels to any place they always bring back a small token from the place they visited called an omiyage. If they travel within Japan, they usually bring back a food item that the area is known for called meibutsu. Most areas of Japan have some food item that they are known for and this makes for a good omiyage. Many times it is a dessert or snack and is called a miyagegashi or souvenir sweet. When they travel abroad they usually bring back some small souvenir like a key chain, t-shirt or some other non-perishable food (they usually don’t bring back food that is not pre-packaged because it is against the rules and Japanese people always follow the rules).
The exchanging of gifts is a social lubricant. It shows that although you were away enjoying your vacation you were still thinking of the other people. To most Japanese, especially the ones over 30, omiyage is a must and not a choice. In Japan if you came back to the office without omiyage you would be considered rude and not a team player. So as not to offend anyone everyone plays the game and participates in omiyage.
In America, this is not something that we participate in. I remember one of my relatives brought back things from her vacation and one of her co-workers said, “What is this a bribe?” Omiyage is not a bribe but a gentle social gesture that reminds people that we care about them.
What would the world be like if we all showed even a little that we cared? I am sure it would be a nicer place.
“Let someone off the hook” challenge update
Day 1: I was able to fulfill day 1’s requirement to let one person off the hook. It was quite easy and actually I was able to do it about four times. Since I was in the car for 3.5 hrs yesterday there was ample opportunity to let someone off the hook.
Today’s (Day 2) challenge: Let 2 people off the hook.