Today’s hottest NBA basketball team just revealed their secret to success – the basics. This season, the Golden State Warriors have a current record of 51-5 and are chasing Michael Jordan’s 1996 Chicago Bulls record of 72-10.
In a recent podcast, one of their players, Andrew Bogut revealed that in their training camp their coach Steve Kerr said, “We’re going back to the basics.” They spent a large portion of their training camp on rudimentary passing and shooting drills. The result is obvious as the Warriors have the league’s best record and are poised to repeat their championship run from last year.
In the video below, watch how the Warriors spread out their opponent’s defense with just their passing.
The fundamentals are something that Furuya Sensei often spoke about. He once said, “When you get lost or confused, you can always fall back on the basics.” This is something that has always stayed with me and something that I try and instill in my own students now. Strength and speed will fade with time, but technique is something that one can always be improve upon.
What are the basics? Footwork (ashi–sabaki), body movement (tai–sabaki), posture and the basic techniques of tenkan kokyu-ho, ikkyo, nikyo, sankyo, yonkyo and some few other basic control holds and throws. Master these and one will master Aikido.
Author Richard Powell believes that the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi comes down to these three simple realities: “Nothing lasts. Nothing is finished. Nothing is perfect.” They are based on the the three marks of existence in Buddhism which are suffering, impermanence and the non-self.
To me this understanding of wabi-sabi is adequate as an abstract concept but the thing about wabi-sabi is that it is the manifestation of the abstract which makes it wabi-sabi.
There is a famous story about Sen Rikyu who was the founder of the tea ceremony. Rikyu’s son hosted a tea gathering for his father at his home. He had his wait staff clean the entire estate to perfection and he himself looked after the details for the ceremony. Everything was perfect. When Sen Rikyu arrived he noticed how pristine the roji or walkway was to the chashitsu or tea house. Rikyu paused and said, “Something is missing.” At that moment his son realized his mistake and shook the tree so that some leaves fell and landed on the roji. Rikyu then smiled and said,”Perfect.” His son understood the abstractness of making things perfect, but it was the imperfectness of the leaves which made it wabi-sabi and thus imperfectly perfect.
I would complete Powell’s assertion this way:
Nothing is finished.
Nothing is perfect.
Now go do something.
The first three statements are abstract which could bring about a sense of disillusionment, but it is the last statement I think brings it all together. Yes, nothing is permanent, finished or perfect but that is precisely why it is still necessary to do something.
There is a moment in training when everything seems to just come together. This moment is different for every person. It could be when someone like the teacher or another student says something that brings something together kind of like an “ah-ha” moment. Or for other people it just happens during the technique when everything just seems right and the technique just flows or just works.
I can’t really explain this moment. It is the instant where the universe just lines up and everything is right. We call it a moment, but it is really more of a feeling. In Pulp Fiction, Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Jules referred to it as, “A moment of clarity.” The best way I can describe this moment is komorebi (木漏れ日) or the moment that the light shines through the trees.
Komorebi is something that we too have a difficulty explaining, but fortunately it happens serendipitous many times throughout the day if we are aware and present enough. If we are aware enough, then we can partake in something wonderful that will never happen exactly the same way again like the seemingly benign rays of sunshine breaking through the trees. To take in this fleeting phenomenon is to be aware of the fleetingness of life or ichigo ichie (one time, one meeting).
These komorebi type moments happen all the time and all around us, but we need to be present to be aware.
I hope that you are all well. I really do appreciate all of you who read my insignificant words here. Most of these posts are just a way to amuse myself.
Since the beginning of the year I have been sick with a cold three times (it’s the cost of having kids). Each time seems worse than the last. Being sick this last time made me really begin to appreciate what it is like to be “healthy.” I wondered, “What would life be like if this became my ‘normal’ and I never got well?” Having that moment really made me think and appreciate that, today I am healthy and able to enjoy my life but there are those who are not so lucky to be well.
I got an email from a dear friend in China who’s wife has gotten very ill. William (Bill) Gillespie was a student at our dojo all throughout the 90s. He is in the black belt class two ahead of me and one of the first people to beat me up on my second day – thanks Bill. His wife’s name is Angela and this is her second bout with a life threatening illness. It sounds cliche, but she is one of the nicest people and doesn’t deserve this, but this time it is true. Bill is currently in Beijing and the Chief Instructor of Beijing Aikikai. His wife (who is totally awesome and a super nice person despite Bill’s shortcomings) is in the hospital battling for her life and needs our support. They are Aikido people, we are Aikido people and therefore we stand together. If you can, please donate any amount that you can afford.
A super interesting video interview with Tamura Shihan who was O Sensei’s favorite sword ukes. Tamura Sensei was a huge propagator of Aikido in Europe and especially France. Perhaps O Sensei liked his sword ukemi because Tamura Shihan’s father was a Kendo teacher. Tamura Shihan passed away in 2010 at the age of 77. I found this interview incredible enlightening. Anyone interested in studying Aikido should watch this video, but it also might be incredibly helpful to students who already practice Aikido. He succinctly sums up not only training but motivation as well.
“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” – Matsuo Basho
Everyone seeks their own path. Each of us is simultaneously a guide and companion on life’s journey. To think we are above or ahead of others is a delusion. We are all on the same path. This quote by Basho illustrates how we must think. If we live for others or try to be someone else, we will fail. Beginners, experts, students or teachers alike seek the same thing – to know themselves. Enlightened people all over the world and from different cultures all advocate the same thing – know thyself. “Who am I?” is the question that every person throughout time has sought to answer.
Victory comes not in defeating others, but as O Sensei asserted in defeating ourselves. True victory comes when one knows at their core who they are. From this place of knowing one’s self, our altitude in life will be limitless.
Nakayama Sensei and Furuya Sensei were good friends. Nakayama Sensei has visited the dojo and taught class many times. In this video, he gives a good explanation of the hows and whys of Aikido style forward rolling or zenpo kaiten ukemi.
Recently, I was watching a martial arts movie called Brotherhood of Blades and there was an interesting line where the hidden villain says to one of the other bad guys, “Those who rely on luck are gamblers.” That was an interesting line in that I felt was relevant to martial artists.
Luck implies that there is some part of engaging our opponents which is completely random and out of our hands. While this might be true, this randomness is something a martial artist cannot afford to rely upon.
A warriors entire training, regardless of level, is spent shoring up holes and closing up openings. A good martial artist is at least five to ten steps ahead of their opponent while a master is said to be 10 to 20 depending on the martial art. A confrontation is like a chess game where one is constantly thinking about where their openings are and where their opponents will attack. For instance, the Norwegian chess player Magnus Carlsen is said to always be 15 to 20 moves ahead of his opponents. Beginners spends all their time closing their openings while a master is said to be in the business of create openings.
In gambling, there is no such thing as winning all the time which is probably true for martial arts as well. However, in the martial arts if one loses, they usually lose their life or the life of someone close to them. Therefore, one can see that any amount of error is unacceptable.
Since as martial artist we are not gamblers then we must be pragmatists in our outlooks. This practical way of thinking assumes that our challengers are working hard to defeat us and thus we must work harder. There is no substitute for hard work, planning and preparation. A saying that I like from Scientific American many years ago that I like is apropos, “You fail to the level of your preparation.” Generally speaking, when one puts in the effort they are successful. If there is luck, then it is that sliver of an opening between two people who are both thoroughly prepared but most of us will rarely encounter that.
The philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Since we cannot afford to gamble then it is best that we get started…
“Imagine fish swimming in a shallow pond, just below the lily pads, thinking that their “universe” is only two-dimensional. Our three-dimensional world may be beyond their ken. But there is a way in which they can detect the presence of the third dimension. If it rains, they can clearly see the shadows of ripples traveling along the surface of the pond. Similarly, we cannot see the fifth dimension, but ripples in the fifth dimension appear to us as light.” – Michio Kaku
Another way to experience this fifth dimension is with love. Things like light, gravity or love just to name a few are nature’s laws. O Sensei understood this and that is why he created Aikido. We are all swimming around in our ponds. Light shines through but it is intangible just as love is but just as with light one mat not be able to understand its origins but we can still feel its affects.
In life as in Aikido, one must have timing. A good Aikidoist will have average timing, but a great Aikidoist will have phenomenal timing. But, what is timing?
Timing is something that is difficult to explain. Google defines it as, “The choice, judgment, or control of when something should be done.” That definition is something that one can understand but still not know. Timing can be thought of as just the right point when something extraordinary can happen. A good metaphor might be the moment when darkness turns into light or when light changes into darkness. When the day changes over, there is this place and within that place exists a subtle moment when it is neither dark nor light. If one is aware then one can catch a glimpse of its immense beauty. To the uninformed, the day just became night or the night just became day.
Every person has some sense of timing – it is innate. How do I know that? Does your heart beat? Then you have timing.
It doesn’t matter if one is studying acting, Aikido or driving – timing is important. To develop that sense of timing requires training. Lots and lots of training. In training, one develops their body first and then their mind second and with these developments comes a sense of awareness. This awareness enables one to almost see the timing, but it is a feeling thing more than a seeing thing. Seeing it is too late. Just as in when the day turns over, you feel it before you see it and then it is gone. In sports it is called being in the zone. This “zone” type awareness enables the athlete to almost control the moment because their awareness creates this sense of vastness. Athletes report things like the ball being 10x larger or the goal being infinitely bigger enabling them to score with ease.
When one’s awareness is developed then one is able to seize the moment and that is why people often say, “I caught the timing.”