Monthly Archives: September 2015

Step by step

canstock19216126The other day before we left the house, my son, who is 2 years old, wouldn’t leave until he put away his toys (maybe because his grandma was there).  My mom said, “Oh, he is kichoumen.”  Kichoumen (几帳面) means to be meticulous to the point that everything has to be in place.

Good martial artists of every tradition are by nature kichoumen.  There is no other way to get good if one doesn’t follow the steps.  There is a lot of fervor today of people advocating “formlessness” but that is a bit of nonsense.  By nature, human beings are habitual which means that our lives naturally conform to habituated patterns.  This is something so innate to us that it is almost subconscious.  Think about it, our routes to work or school are almost always the same, we sit in same place and even brush our teeth in the same way.  This adherence to form is our brain’s way of reducing its workload.  It is theorized that we have around 50,000 thoughts a day so you could see how fatigued our brain would become if we had to manage each one and create a new pattern of behavior for each task.  In any given situation, we are constantly laying familiar patterns of behavior over similar tasks and tweaking them to produce favorable outcomes.  Therefore, our brains are hardwired for creating patterns.

This is also the rationale for kata practice or practicing preconceived patterns of movement.  Obviously when we are engaged by an opponent it won’t be the same as the kata we practiced, but our minds are very good at picking out similarities and laying the familiar pattern of behavior (kata) over the situation.

Thus since our minds are hardwired for patterns, we learn the best in patterns.  Every martial art throughout time teaches its style based on some preconceived pattern of movement.  In Japanese it is called kata.  In order to make the pattern “stick” so we can use it, we must practice them repetitiously to the point of ad nauseam.

One of the main differences between beginners and experts is that the expert meticulously covers each step in the movement while the beginner leaves steps out or skips some altogether.  From an uninformed eye it looks as if the expert skips steps but in reality they just do them quicker while still giving each step its just deserts.

Therefore in order to get good, one just has to be kichoumen and follow each of the steps.

Neko No Myojutsu – The Marvelous Techniques of the Old Cat

nekoThe Swordsman and the Cat
Written by Issai Chozan (1659-1741)

There was once a swordsman called Shoken, who was very much annoyed by a furious rat in his house. The rat was bold enough to come out of its hiding place even in the daytime, doing all kinds of mischief. Shoken made his pet cat go after it, but she was not its equal, and being bitten by it, she ran away screaming. The swordsman now hired some of the neighboring cats noted for their skill and courage in catching rats. They were let loose against the rat. Crouching in a corner, it watched the cats approach it and furiously attacked them one after another. The cats were terrified and all beat a retreat.

The master became desperate and tried to kill the rat himself. Taking up his wooden sword he approached it, but every effort of the experienced swordsman proved ineffectual, for the rat dodged his sword so skillfully that it seemed as to be flying through the air like a bird or even lightning. Before Shoken could follow its movement, it had already made a successful leap at his head. He was perspiring heavily and finally decided to give up the chase. As a last resort, he sent for the neighboring Cat widely known for her mysterious virtue as the most able rat-catcher. The Cat did not look in any way especially different from other cats that had been invited to fight the rat. The swordsman did not think very much of her, but let her go into the room where the rat was located. The Cat went in quietly and slowly as if she were not cognizant of any unusual scene in the room. The rat, however, was extremely terrified at the sight of the approaching object and stayed motionless, almost stupefied, in the corner. The Cat almost nonchalantly went for the rat and came out carrying it by the neck.

In the evening, all the cats who had participated in the rat-catching had a grand session at Shoken’s house, and respectfully asked the great Cat to take the seat of honor. They made profound bows before her and said: “We are all noted for valor and cunning, but never realized that there was such an extraordinary rat in the world. None of us was able to do anything with it until you came; and how easily you carried the day! We all wish you to divulge your secrets for our benefit, but before that let us see how much we all know about the art of fighting rats.”

The black cat came forward and said: “I was born in a family reputed for its skill in the art. Since my kitten days I have trained myself with a view to becoming a great rat-catcher. I am able to leap over a screen as high as seven feet; I know how to squeeze myself through a tiny hole which allows a rat only. I am proficient in performing all kinds of acrobatics. I am also clever at making the rats think that I am sound asleep, but I know how to strike them as soon as they come within my reach. Even those running over the beam cannot escape me. It is really a shame that I had to retreat before that old rat today.”

The old veteran Cat said: “What you have learned is the technique of the art. Your mind is ever conscious of planning how to combat the opponent. The reason why the ancient masters devised the techniques is to acquaint us with the proper method of accomplishing the work, and the method is naturally simple and effective, implying all the essential points of the art. Those who follow the master fail to grasp his principle and are to busily occupied with improving their technical cleverness and manipulatory skill. The end is achieved, and cleverness attains its highest efficiency , but what does it all amount to? Cleverness is an activity of the mind, no doubt, but it must be in accordance with the Way. When the latter is neglected and mere cleverness is aimed at, it diverges and is apt to be abused. This is to be remembered well in the art of fighting.”

The tiger cat now stepped forward and expressed his view thus: “To my mind, what is important in the art of fighting is the spirit (ki; ch’i in Chinese); I have long trained myself in its cultivation and development. I am now in possession of the strongest spirit, which fills up heaven and earth. When I face an opponent, my overawing spirit is already on him, and victory is on my side even prior to actual combat. I have no conscious scheme as to the use of technical skill, but it comes out spontaneously according to change of situation. If the rat should be running over a beam, I would just gaze at him intensely with all my spiritual strength, and he is sure to fall by himself from the height and be my prisoner. But that old mysterious rat moved along without leaving any shadow. The reason is beyond me.”

The grand old Cat’s reply was this: “You know how to make the most of your psychic powers, but the very fact of your being conscious of it works against you; your strong psyche stands opposed to the opponent’s, and you can never be sure of yours being stronger than his, for there is always a possibility of its being surpassed. You may feel as if your active vigorous psyche were filling the universe, but it is not the spirit itself, it is no more than its shadowy image. It may resemble Mencius’ Kozen no ki (hao-jan chi ch’i), but in reality it is not. Mencius’ ch’i (“spirit”), as we know, is bright and illuminating, and for this reason full of vigor, whereas yours gains vigor owing to conditions. Because of this difference in origin, there is difference in its operation. The one is a great river incessantly flowing, and the other is a temporary flood after a heavy rainfall, soon exhausted when it encounters a mightier onrush. A desperate rat often proves stronger than an attacking cat. It has been cornered, the fight is for life and death, and the desperate victim harbors no desire to escape unhurt. Its mental attitude defies every possible danger which may come upon it. Its whole being incarnates the fighting ch’i (“spirit” or “psyche”), and no cats can withstand its steel-like resistance.”

The gray cat now advanced quietly and said: “as you tell us, a psyche however strong is always accompanied by its shadow, and the enemy is sure to take advantage of this shadow, though it may be the faintest one. I have for a long time disciplined myself in this way: not to overawe the enemy, not to force a fight, but to assume a yielding and conciliatory attitude. When the enemy proves strong, I just look yielding and simply follow up his movements. I act like a curtain surrendering itself to the pressure of a stone thrown at it. Even a strong rat finds no means to fight me. But the one we had to deal with today has no parallel, it refused to submit to my psychical overpowering, and was not tempted by my manifestation of a yielding psyche. It was a most mysterious creature – the like of which I have never seen in my life.”

The grand old Cat answered: “What you call a yielding psyche is not in harmony with Nature; it is man-made, it is contrivance word out in your conscious mind. When you try by means of this to crush the opponent’s positive impassioned attaching psyche, he is quick enough to detect any sign of psychic wavering which may go on in your mind. The yielding psyche thus artificially evoked produces a certain degree of muddiness and obstruction in your mind, which is sure to interfere with acuteness of perceptions and agility of action, for then Nature feels impeded in pursuing its original and spontaneous course of movement. To make Nature display its mysterious way of achieving things is to do away with all your own thinking, contriving, and acting; let Nature have her own way, let her act as it fees in you, and there will be no shadows, no signs, no traces whereby you can be caught; you have then no foes who can successfully resist you.

“I am not, however, going to say that all the discipline you have each so far gone through has been to no purpose. After all, the Way expresses itself through its vessels. Technical contrivances hold the Reason (ri, li) in them, the spiritual power is operative in the body, and when it is harmony with Nature, it acts in perfect accord with environmental changes. When the yielding psyche is thus upheld, it gives a stop to fighting on the physical plane of force and is able to stand even against rocks. But there is one most essential consideration which when neglected is sure to upset everything. This is: not to cherish even a speck of self-conscious thought. When this is present in your mind, all your acts become self-willed, human-designed tricks, and are not in conformity with the Way. It is then that people refuse to yield to your approach and come to set up a psyche of antagonism on their part. When you are in the state of mind known as “mindlessness’ (mushin), you act in unison with Nature without resorting at all to artificial contrivances. The Way, however, is above all limitations, and all this talk of mine is far from being exhaustive as far as the Way is concerned.

“Some time ago there was in my neighborhood a cat who passed all her time in sleeping, showing no sign of spiritual-animal power, and looking like a wooden image. People never saw her catch a single rat, but wherever she roamed about no rats ever dared to appear in her presence. I once visited her and asked for the reason. She gave no answer. I repeated my query four times, but she remained silent. It was not that she was unwilling to answer, but in truth she did not know how to answer. So we note that one who knows speaks not a word, while one who speaks knows not. That old cat was forgetful not only of herself but all things about her, she was the one who realized divine warriorship and killed not. I am not to be compared to her.”

Continued the Cat: “Well, I am a mere cat; rats are my food, and how can I know about human affairs? But if you permit me to say something further, you must remember that swordsmanship is an art of realizing at a critical moment the Reason of life and death, it is not meant just to defeat your opponent. A samurai ought to be always mindful of this fact and discipline himself in a spiritual culture as well as in the technique of swordsmanship. First of all, therefore, he is to have an insight into the Reason of life and death, when his mind is free from thoughts of selfishness. This being attained, he cherishes no doubts, no distracting thoughts; he is not calculating, nor does he deliberate; his Spirit is even and yielding and at peace with the surroundings; he is serene and empty-minded; and thus he is able to respond freely to changes taking place from moment to moment in his environment. On the other hand, when a thought or desire is stirred in his mind, it calls up a world of form; there is ‘I,’ there is ‘not-I,’ and contradictions ensue. As long as this opposition continues, the Way finds itself restricted and blocked; its free activities become impossible. Your Spirit is already pushed into the darkness of death, altogether losing its mysterious native brightness. How can you expect in this state of mind to rise and wager your fate against the opponent? Even when you come out victorious, it is no more than accidental, and decidedly against the spirit of swordsmanship.

“By ‘purposelessness’ is not meant mere absence of things where vacant nothingness prevails. The Spirit is by nature formless, and no ‘objects’ are to be harbored in it. When anything is harbored there, your psychic energy is drawn toward it; and when your psychic energy loses its balance, its native activity becomes cramped and no more flows with the stream.

Where the energy is tipped, there is too much of it in one direction, while in another there is a shortage. Where it is too much, it overflows and cannot be controlled; where there is a shortage, it is not sufficiently nourished and shrivels up. In both cases, it is unable to cope with ever-changing situations. But when there prevails a state of ‘purposelessness’ [which is also a state of ‘mindlessness’] the Spirit harbors nothing in it, nor is it tipped in any one direction; it transcends both subject and object; it responds empty-mindedly to environmental vicissitudes and leaves no tracks. We have in the Book of Changes (I Ching): ‘There is in it no thinking, no doing [ or no willing], absolute quietness, and no motion; but it feels, and when it acts, it flows through any objects and events of the world.’ When this is understood in connection with the art of swordsmanship, one is nearer to the Way.”

After listening intently to the wisdom of the Cat, Shoken proposed this question: “What is meant by ‘There is neither the subject nor the object’?”

Replied the Cat: “Because of the self there is the foe; when there is no self there is no foe. The foe means an opposition as the male is opposed to the female and fire to water. Whatever things have form exist necessarily in opposition. When there are no signs [of thought movement] stirred in your mind, no conflicts of opposition take place there; and when there are no conflicts, one trying to get the better of the other, this is known ‘neither foe nor self.’ When, further, the mind itself is forgotten together with signs [of thought movement], you enjoy a state of absolutely-doing-nothingness, you are in a state of perfectly quiet passivity, you are in harmony with the world, you are one with it. While the foe-form ceases to exist, you are not conscious of it. Your mind is cleansed of all thought movements, and you act only when there is prompting [from the Unconscious].

“When your mind is thus in a state of absolutely-doing-nothingness, the world is identified with yourself, which means that you make no choice between right and wrong, like and dislike, and are above all forms of abstractions. Such conditions as pleasure and pain, gain and loss, are creations of your own mind. The whole universe is indeed not to be sought after outside the Mind. An old poet sings: ‘When there is a particle of dust in your eyes, the triple world becomes a narrow path; have your mind completely free from objects – and how much this life expands!’ When even a tiny particle of sand gets into the eye, we cannot keep it open; the eye may be likened to the Mind which by nature is brightly illuminating and free from objects; but as soon as an object enters there its virtue is lost. It is said again that ‘when one is surrounded by an enemy – hundreds of thousands in strength – this form [known as my Self] may be crushed to pieces, but the Mind is mine with which no overwhelming army can have anything to do.’ Says Confucius: ‘Even a plain man of the street cannot be deprived of his will.’ When however this mind is confused, it turns to be its own enemy. This is all I can explain here, for the master’s task cannot go beyond transmitting technique and illustrating the reason for it. It is yourself who realizes the truth of it. The truth is self-attained, it is transmitted from mind to mind, it is a special transmission outside the scriptural teaching. There is no willful deviation from traditional teaching, for even the master is powerless in this respect. Nor is this confined to the study of Zen. From the mind-training initiated by the ancient sages down to various branches of art, self-realization is the keynote of them all, and it is transmitted from mind to mind – a special transmission outside the scriptural teaching. What is performed by scriptural teaching is to point out for you what you have within yourself. There is no transference of secrets from master to disciple. Teaching is not difficult, listening is not difficult either, but what is truly difficult is to become conscious of what you have in yourself and be able to use it as your own. This self-realization is known as ‘seeing into one’s own being,’ which is satori. Satori is an awakening from a dream. Awakening and self-realization and seeing into one’s own being – these are synonymous.”

Source: Suzuki, D.T., Zen and Japanese Culture. New York: Pantheon In, 1959. Print.

Give up your self

I stumbled upon this article last night while my daughter was up with a fussy spell at 3:00 AM.  I found it exceptionally good and one that I put in my “must re-read” list.  Before one can have a masakatsu agatsu or “victory over one’s self” moment, one must first know thy self.  Everything before that is just self gratification.  I hope that this article might shine some light on some thing or things that you are working on.

The Art of Giving Up
by Dyske Suematsu

One winter night, one of the few Japanese friends I had in my early 20s was playing a guitar at his company Christmas party. He was an architect and was about 10 years older than I was. Before he decided to study architecture, he was making a living as a guitarist in Japan. This was not the first time I heard him play, but I was still stunned by how good he was. After his performance, I told him that it was a shame that he was no longer pursuing his musical career. He then shared with me his recent realization that life is a process of giving up. At the time, I didn’t think much of what he said. I think I remembered it only because of its unusual reversal of the popularly held beliefs. Especially on this land of dreams, “giving up” is seen almost as sacrilegious. Everyone’s livelihood seems to precariously hinge on holding big, albeit distant dreams. For some people, the more dreams, the better. So, what did my friend mean when he said that life is a process of giving up?

Now, I not only understand it, but also believe it myself. Another way of saying the same thing is that life is a process of letting go of your own ego, or letting go of your attachments. Contrary to what one might assume from the connotations of the expression “giving up”, this is done in order to enjoy life more. For instance, you cannot enjoy alcohol if you are attached (or addicted) to it. Enjoyment of anything requires a certain distance. When the idea of self (ego) is attached to the object of enjoyment, you lose the ability to see it for what it is. I believe this is partly responsible for the phenomenon called “writer’s block”, in which the identity “writer” is attached to one’s ego so much that the fear of losing that identity becomes greater than the enthusiasm for writing. It is by giving up the idea of becoming a “writer” that one is able to be a writer and enjoy being one. This is difficult to do especially in a country where one’s existence is defined by one’s profession. The fear of not living up to the reputation of the greatest American writer is probably what killed the writer in Truman Capote, for instance.

“Giving up,” in this sense, isn’t the same as quitting. My friend was still playing guitar; he just wasn’t pursuing it professionally. Most alcoholics cannot enjoy alcohol in moderation; they have to quit entirely. In the same way, when you are attached to something, your choices are either to quit altogether or to depend on it for life. Either way, it is not enjoyable. It is also common to see aspiring artists, musicians, and actors entirely drop their activities once they come to a conclusion that they are not going to make it. At that point, it becomes clear that the driving force behind their creative pursuits was not their enthusiasm or passion, but their attachment to the idea of becoming someone. Or, it is also possible that whatever enthusiasm they had was overwhelmed by their fear of failure. Ironically, I believe that, if you can give up the idea of “making it,” you would have a better chance of actually making it. If you were not under pressure from your own expectations, you would enjoy your activities more, and therefore produce better work.

The big question is: Why do we develop attachments at all? As Aldous Huxley said, most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted. We develop attachments and we don’t even know it. Only when we are threatened by the lack or the loss of them, do we realize how much we are attached to them. If we lose our sight, for instance, some of us would probably consider suicide, but if we think objectively about many blind people enjoying their lives, it seems silly to even be depressed about being blind. Also, why don’t animals have the same problem? A dog could lose its leg, and go on living just as happily as before. Such a dog would obviously struggle and suffer the inconvenience, but its spirit would not be affected by it. Some animals like elephants apparently exhibit the signs of depression from the loss of friends and relatives, but many animals leave their own kids behind almost as soon as they are born, and never see them again. They seem to have no attachments, and live strictly in the present moment.

This leads me to believe that there is an evolutionary reason for our tendencies to develop attachments. The more evolved the species are, the more tendencies for attachments they seem to exhibit. I suppose it is quite obvious in one sense. The more attached to one’s own life, the stronger one’s desire to survive. Natural selection, in this way, perhaps favored those humans with stronger egos. Strong egos clash and create conflicts, but these clashes of ideas and egos force better ideas to float to the top. The ideas themselves go through the process of natural selection. Without egos and attachments, this system would not work, and we as a species would be less equipped to survive.

Zen Buddhism is a process of detachment. It is so concerned with attachment that, one is discouraged from being attached to the very idea of detachment, and I can see why; because attachment actually has positive, useful functions. In this sense, Zen is not a process of detachment, but simply an understanding of what attachment is.

As I grow older and face various physical deteriorations, I’m forced to be in peace with the idea of giving up certain things in life. I could possibly refuse to accept the idea of giving up, and try running 10 miles every morning or spend hours in gym, but if my motivation for keeping up my physical strength is to be in denial, then what I’m really giving up is to have the courage to face reality. Again, this attachment to physical strength will eventually extinguish any enjoyment I might get out of exercising.

Having a child is a double-edged sword where it could expedite this process of detachment, or encourage greater attachment to one’s own ego. If you are to see your own child as an extension of your own ego, you are inclined to mold him into something you want. If you succeed at it, your child strengthens your attachment to your own ego. On the other hand, if you see your child as another person with his own ego, he provides plenty of opportunities to make your own ego objectively observable. In other words, your child becomes a useful tool for you to detach yourself from your own ego.

When you say, “I sacrifice myself for my kid,” what you really mean by it is that you are willing to make compromises between what your ego wants and what your kid’s ego wants. In an ideal world, you want your own ego to coincide with that of your kid (because he is merely an extension of your own ego.) If you had no such expectation, there would be no “sacrifice”, because the difference would be exactly what you would want in order to allow you to achieve the detachment from your own ego.

If my observations are correct, detachment allows us to enjoy life in its uncontaminated form, but attachment allows us to achieve better chances of survival as a species. It appears that the forces of evolution are acting against our desire to enjoy life. Ironic, it might seem, but life is all about the interaction of two opposing forces.


Never give up

Zhongnan Mountain Retreat
by Wang Wei (701-761)

In middle age I am rather fond of the Dao,
Recently I set up my home at the foot of the Zhongnan mountain.
In the mood, I would go to the mountain alone,
Splendid things, only I know.
Walk to where the water ends;
Sit and watch when clouds rise.
I meet by chance an old man of the forest;
We chat and laugh without a time to return.


Translation from Jingqing Yang’s book The Chan Interpretations of Wang Wei’s Poetry: A Critical Review.

The implications in Yang’s book is that, “having reached the end of the water, other people may lose interest and return, or feel disappointed, but Wang Wei did not. The water ended so he sat down and watched the clouds. His mental peacefulness was not disturbed because the water had ended. He did not care about anything other than following his destiny and accommodating himself to the circumstances.”

cloudI came upon this poem after discovering this piece of calligraphy brushed by Shodo Harada Roshi.  Supposedly, it was titled “Walk to the place where the water ends,” but I cannot find any information to corroborate this.  Regardless, the title intrigued me.  When I searched farther I came upon Wang Wei’s poem.  His poem struck me and brought me a sense of ease as I thought of watching the clouds.  This poem reminded me of the clouds I saw one day as I looked out my mother’s hospital window.

Life is tenuous.  We should do our best to savor every moment and follow our hearts and dream.

Adversity builds character…

strongThere is a saying, “In order to get fine wine, the grape has to get squashed.”  Adversity is one of the best catalysts for change.  It is in man’s nature to resent or resist, but it is through this willfulness that great things can occur.

Most times, we underestimate our capacity and capability, but adversity shows us just where we are and what we can do.  It is only when we are pushed up against a wall with no choice that our true character shines through.  At that moment, our eyes become opened to our true strength.

Sometimes in life we just have to be shown it in order to realize it.  We are all capable of doing and being so much more.

What superpower would you choose?

karatekid12d2013I listened to an interesting episode of This American Life which posed the question, “If you could choose one superpower, what would it be?”

Surprisingly, the power of flight and invisibility come up more times than any other superpower.  Most times, people would use invisibility for more nefarious purposes and the power of flight tended to be something people would use to impress others or have a good time.

Therefore, whatever power people chose tended to say something about their character.   What would you choose if you could?  Would you choose something to better mankind or something that furthered your own purposes?  I actually used to play this game a lot with my friends and co-workers.  My personal choice would be to be able to speak any language in order to communicate with any person or animal.  I thought it would be cool to go anywhere in the world and be able to talk with someone.

One’s choice in a martial art is kind of the same thing.  Why was that particular art chosen?  Was it chosen for nefarious purposes, to show off, to hurt others, to impress people or to be cool?  Whatever art form you choose, please choose it for the right reasons because it says a lot about you as a person.

If you want to listen to the program you can hear it here:

Japan Fair 2015

IMG-JF11The Japanese Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Orange County Japanese American Association, and the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center present Japan Fair2015, a weekend event of Japanese food, music and arts, in Little Tokyo on Sept 26 and 27.
Japan Fair 2015 will be held at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center Plaza, and will feature flowers and film events.
Renowned artist Yasuhiko Fujisawa will travel from Japan to create three large-scale murals consisting entirely of multicolored flower petals.
Children and parents attending the fair will be able to participate and assist this master of “infiorata,” a unique technique originating in Italy, as he makes these Japanese-inspired works of art.
Japan Fair 2015 also will host Japan Film Festival 2015, where the hit anime “Yokai Watch” is scheduled to make its Los Angeles Premiere.
Children attending the screening will get the chance to dance together with “Yokai Watch” costumed-character Jibanyan. Manga fans will also enjoy the International Premiere of the live-action drama series “Attack on Titan: Hangeki no Noroshi.”
The fair’s main stage will feature taiko, koto, shamisen performances, kendo demonstrations, and a children’s choir among other entertainers.
Japan Fair 2015 will take place Saturday, Sept. 26, from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday, Sept. 27, from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Tickets are only $3 for advanced purchase, and $5 on the day of the event.
For more information and tickets, visit

See the value in life

Life-and-time-are-worlds-two-teachersWhen we were young our concept of time was much different than it is now that we are older.  Life seemed to go by so slow then and it really tested our patience.  Today, life goes by so fast that there seems like no time left to get things done.  When we were young we squandered our time pursuing frivolous things.  Now that we are older we see the value in things.

When we realize we are not young anymore and that life is steadfastly going by, it teaches us to live our lives differently.  Time, people and things become more valuable.  There is an old proverb, “An inch of gold can’t buy an inch of time.”  Once something is squandered it might not come back.

These days, I often wonder about the parable of the rice stalk that states, “When the young rice stalk sprouts, it stands up very straight; but as the rice stalk matures, it begins to bow its head towards the ground.”  Why does the mature rice stalk bow its head?  Obviously, it bows because of humility.  But what creates this sense of humility?  I wonder if humility comes as a function of the realization of one’s humanity.  With this new found humanity sometimes comes the realization of the shortness of life and this in some ways is sad.  This sense of sadness in Japanese is called kawaisou, but its not like a sadness in a depressive sense.  Kawaisou is an inner reflection that brings a sense of sorrow upon the realization of something.  In this case, it is that life is short and thus it causes one to hang their head.

When we realize that life is short we do our best to not waste time.  In not wasting time, we come to see the value in life.

According to Scientists, This is The Most Relaxing Tune Ever Recorded

I find it interesting that a scientific study concluded that this song is the “most relaxing tune ever recorded” because it’s not really my cup of tea.  From the article cited below, “The song comprises of a sustaining rhythm that starts at 60 beats per minute and gradually slows to around 50. Thus, while listening to the song, your heartbeat automatically comes to match that beat. She even adds that it is necessary for the song to be eight minutes long because it takes about five minutes for entertainment to occur. The gaps between the notes have been chosen to create a feeling of euphoria and comfort.”

Why does this matter to Aikido training?  Aikido is a very different martial art.  It centers around being “balanced” and this balanced state begins with the mind.  Our society teaches us to “get ahead” and this rat race mentality causes us to not only be out of balance but awards competitive and aggressive behaviors.   Competition and aggression are forms of confrontation and thus confrontation is not the Way of Aikido.

In order for us to change and use the Way of Aikido we need a spend time living that way and training is how we do that.  In order to do that we must leave the competitive confrontational world outside.  Sensei used to say, “Cut off your head and leave it at the door.”  Sometimes that is easier said than done.  People who have a hard time leaving it at the door might benefit from listening to this song (it’s only 8 minutes long) before they come into the dojo so that they are calm and ready to train.



How do you choose to live your life?


Someone on some uninformed TV show once talked about how the samurai “loved death.”  This is funny to me because nothing could be farther from the truth.  The samurai engaged in bloody battles just as any other nation throughout history has but some how the Japanese got this reputation for death and dying.  It must have to do with the practice of seppuku or ritual suicide that exists within the Japanese culture, but who knows for sure.

However, as far as “loving death” is concerned nothing could be farther from the truth.  Somehow through their association with Confucianism and Buddhism, the samurai class adopted a way of thinking which enabled them to face the possibility of death in battle.

In the book Kendo by Minoru Kiyota, he states that when confronted with the possibility of death, people usually take one of two paths.  The first in Japanese is called seichu musho or “seeing death in the possibility of life.”  The second is shichu usho or “seeing life in the presence of death.”

Either path causes one to act accordingly.  Seichu musho might cause us anxiety and lead us to recoil from living where we spend time thinking about the end.  Shichu usho might enable us to live life to its fullest as we spend our time in the moment celebrating life in the face of death.

How one lives there life is a choice.  Which way do you choose?