Monthly Archives: October 2015

There is good in bad

yin yangLife is a mixture of dark and light.  The natural tendency is to categorize dark as bad and light as good, but that is matter of perspective.  In Buddhism, they talk about “seeing things as they are.”  To see things as they are is to see that all things are simultaneously good and bad and that they are only bad or good as Shakespeare would say, “if we think it so.”  For me, I try and look at things as lessons.  I truly believe that in life, lessons can yield good even if they are born out of bad.  It is matter of perspective.  The graphic above deftly explains the taiji or yin-yang symbol.  There is dark and light and in that dark exists some light and in the light exists some dark and together those four things are joined together by the circle of life.  When we find ourselves up against a wall and things seem like they are not working out, it is helpful and even therapeutic to try and look for the light.  I know that it is hard and seems like “new-age” mumbo jumbo, but based on the taiji, one can see that in order for darkness to exist it needs light and thus light needs dark to exist as well.

Aikido is the way that it is because we choose to see light in even the darkest of situations.

 

We only miss things when they are gone.

health

“Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth, a trusted friend is the best relative, a liberated mind is the greatest bliss.” Recently being sick, I stumbled upon this quote by the Buddha and it really resonated with me.  Sitting at home alone suffering through yet another illness brought home by my kids makes me wonder what would my life be like if this pain was an everyday thing?

We tend to treat our health and our bodies like we do a tube of toothpaste.  When its full we use it carelessly, but when it is almost out we become more cognizant and use it sparingly.  Only when we are at the risk of losing something do we try to conserve it.  Our health is truly our greatest gift.  It is part of our training to stay in shape, eat well and take care of our bodies.

 

Do martial artists ever become “over the hill?”

Youth is coveted in today’s world of sports and athletics where speed and strength are king.  The modern athlete stereotype is a young 20-25 year old male who is six feet tall and has six-pack abs.  This it seems is the quintessential athlete.  Once any person gets to be 30 years old or older, they are considered “over the hill” and they are no longer competitive.  A commonly heard phrase when talking about an aged athlete is that, “The game has passed them by.”  In the the martial arts, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Modern athletics covets speed and strength whereas in the martial arts, we covet technique and experience.  In theory, our techniques evolve as our understanding of the techniques evolve.  The art doesn’t “leave us behind” as martial artists because we are constantly refining ourselves.  With this refinement we take into consideration our age and physicality.  We understand that we “can’t do it like we are young anymore” and thus strive to evolve with life’s changes.

I once heard that a true martial artist doesn’t begin to peak until they are in their sixties.  This might seem crazy since modern athletes talk about peaking in ability at around 25 years old.  This is true when we think about speed and strength and where we see them begin to decline in one’s thirties.   However, speed and strength are but a small aspect of the art.  Besides speed and strength, there is timing, spacing and any number of technical aspects of the art not to mention strategy, tactics and the mental aspect of the art.

To be fast and strong is necessary in order to develop a base of skill, but the skill isn’t static and many layers.  The gift comes as we see our strength and speed decline and that causes us to look deeper into our art. This is where we start to hear people say that what they do, whether it is Aikido or basketball, is a way of life.

Aikido like all martial arts is a do (道) or a way of life.  To think that one can only be successful when they are young is to negate life as a journey.

Below I have posted a couple of video from Baki the Grappler, a popular Japanese manga turned anime.  In these videos, master Shibukawa Goki shows that strength and speed pale in comparison to technique and experience.

 

 

It Will Pass: A Zen story

A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!” “It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.  A week later, the student came back to his teacher.“ My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!’ “It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

“Nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  – William Shakespeare, Hamlet.

The path of Aikido has no destination – the training itself is a journey.  Along this journey, there are ups and there are downs, but what the training is teaching us to do is how to take the ukemi of life.  We get thrown down, we get back up.  We throw others down, they get back up.  It is not possible for us to be only the uke or only the nage.  The cycle continuously repeats, but as martial artists meet each encounter with equanimity.

If we do good, we accept it.  If we do poorly, we accept it.  It is all par for the course in that we are learning how to meet the turbulence of life with a sense of calmness and poise not being pulled this way or that way.

With this, we can see how training affects life.  Training is training and whatever the outcome it too will pass.  We will never get any where on the the journey of life if we get too pumped by the highs or get too bogged down with the lows.  Life is too short.

Life in a sumo stable

Fewer and fewer people today are participating in sumo.  So much so that none of the Yokozuna or Grand Champions today are from Japan.  This trend is becoming so worrisome that the Japanese have even come up with an expression for it.  It’s called the “3k.”  The 3ks are kitanai kiken and kitsui  or dirty, dangerous and demanding.  I think this goes not only for Japan but also for any “developed” nation in these modern technologically advanced times.  Today, everything is so instant that people have become adverse to things that make them uncomfortable and thus things supremely traditional like sumo begin to suffer.

As a martial artist, we don’t have the luxury to forego the 3ks.  Training is supposed to be a bit dirty (we are all sweaty), a bit dangerous (it is a martial art) and quite demanding (how else are we going to get good?).  Being uncomfortable just means that we are growing and being exposed to things that we are not accustomed to.

I have posted a video that follows the life of an apprentice sumo wrestler so that we can see what it is like to train in one of the most demanding traditional Japanese arts.  As always, sometimes we need to peek into another person’s life to gain perspective on our own.

Let it go…

Do you want to get good at Aikido?  This infographic on happiness succinctly demonstrates that giving up certain thought patterns can lead to a path of happiness.  Just replace the word “happy” with “Aikido” and the road map to success appears.  Sensei often talked about how “letting go” instead of “acquiring” was the true path to enlightenment.  We often think that acquiring and succeeding are one in the same, but nothing could be farther from the truth.  The true victory is in letting go of limiting thoughts and beliefs that cause us to suffer.  Happiness like Aikido is not a destination but rather a path of life and this path is paved with letting go of the thoughts and beliefs that limits us.

funny-happy-give-up-thing

Do you FOCUS?

Soldiers out in the field are under a constant of barrage stress.  In order to complete the task at hand the military teaches them to “compartmentalize” problems into tasks in order gain success.  By compartmentalizing, big things are made smaller by chunking them down into palatable bite size pieces.

Some characterize this compartmentalization as F.O.C.U.S.  Follow one course until success then one moves on to the next task.

In Aikido, the techniques have a lot of moving parts and it is easy to become overwhelmed.  Each technique is broken down in to steps and each technique, no matter the teacher, has the same hallmark steps – ikkyo is ikkyo but just has some different nuances.  In order to make the techniques “work” students should do every step and give each step the necessary focus.

How much emphasis and time is required of each step changes as a result of one becoming more experienced and/or skillful.  It may appear that an expert skips steps, but noting could be farther from the truth.  An expert still gives each step its due, but sometimes just more quickly.

An often miss quoted Benjamin Franklin quote is, ” Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves” is apropos to getting good at Aikido. To get good at Aikido, or anything else for that matter, one just needs to F.O.C.U.S on each step.

sumo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Should training be hard?  Yes, but…

The word hard is defined as something, “solid, firm, and resistant to pressure; not easily broken, bent, or pierced” which implies that whatever it is is seemingly insurmountable.  The word “hard” then brings with it a connotation that something is impossible or at least highly improbable.   Aikido training teaches us that, although something is difficult, nothing is impossible.  After a shift in one’s perspective, training can move from being hard to being “challenging.”

The word challenging is defined as, “testing one’s abilities; demanding” and brings with it a sense that the situation is daring us to show our best selves.  The training can then be a proving ground where we learn perseverance, determination, courage or any other seemingly hidden positive trait.

Both the words hard and challenging are adjectives and by definition adjectives modify or describe nouns or pronouns in order to qualify them.  Therefore, they merely exist to bring about perspective to something.

Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”  If we perceive something as being hard and insurmountable then it will be hard and we won’t overcome it.  If we see something as a challenge to inspire our best, it will bring forth our greatness regardless of the outcome.

When I was a student, many of us would arrive well before class started to get in some extra practice and prepare ourselves for class.  Sometimes we did this to tire ourselves out and make the class more challenging in order to as Ken Furuya Sensei would say, “to get the experience of what it would be like to do Aikido completely exhausted.”

We made the training “harder” in order to challenge ourselves.  We create the conditions for our own experiences and thus training is only as hard as a function of how we approach it.  Don’t get me wrong, Aikido training isn’t easy per se, but it is only as hard as we make it.  So yes, Aikido training is hard, but that depends entirely on us and how we approach our training.  Sensei used to say, “Cry in the dojo, laugh on the battlefield.”  We can only do that if we challenge ourselves to be the best by training hard when we are in the dojo.

Japanese swordsman cuts 100mph fastball in half

Japanese Iaido teacher Isao Machii is one of the most well known Iaido teachers in the world.  He holds numerous cutting records and is even in the Guinness Book of World Records.  His cutting precision and timing is most likely at the top of the spectrum.  In this video he cuts a 100mph fastball in half while standing 30 feet away.  Incredible!  One of his greatest feats was cutting a BB in half as it was shot directly at him.  Isao Machii is famous and many of his feats can be witnessed on Youtube.

Isao Machii’s feats with a sword are incredible, but are they unattainable?  The only difference between Isao Machii and anyone else is that he started something and kept going.  I wish I could say for sure that he was gifted with incredible timing, eye sight or something else, but I don’t know any of that for sure.  What I do know is that he has perfected a skill to the highest level and to do that one needs to put the work in.  There is no such thing as a phenom.

It doesn’t matter if we want to be a mechanic, a lawyer, Aikidoist or a swordsman, it first requires that we start and then it requires that we keep going.  Isao Machii seems to stand alone and in a certain sense he does because all others have either never started or have long since quit.  Cutting 100mph fastballs is at the juncture where determination meets perseverance.

 

Find balance

“Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That’s its balance.” – Osho

The “thing” that we are striving most to obtain by training is balance.  This balance not only physically, but mentally and emotionally too.  We strive to bring balance to every part of our lives, inner and outer.  In order to find balance, we sometimes must know the depths of things, but it takes courage to face some things in their depth regardless if they are good or bad.

On the mat, we are confronted physically but there is a huge mental/emotional component as well.  The more one trains, the more comfortable they get with themselves and it is with this repetitiveness that we gain an understanding of ourselves.  The entirety of the technique then becomes a metaphor for how to deal with life.  We are confronted, we maintain balance, and we address the situation appropriately.  It then does not matter if they situation is physical, mental or emotional; it all gets addressed the same – with balance.