Monthly Archives: June 2016

Polish your soul first




















Yaki tachi wo saya ni osamete, masumasu masurao no kokoro wo togari keri
“Before you draw your tempered blade, keep it in its saya and polish your soul first.”

What a great Japanese proverb.  It doesn’t say anything about kicking butt, winning medals or smashing people.  This seemingly succinct statement sums up what training in the martial arts is really all about – developing one’s self.
Picture source:

Kogun Funtou – to fight alone



















Kogun funtou
To fight alone

In the end, nobody really exists but you.  In philosophy this idea that no other mind exists is called Solipsism.  I’m not trying to get all nihilistic here nor am I speaking about oneness in a narcissistic sense but what this idiom means is that when it comes down to it we are alone in our efforts.  No one is coming to save us or going to make us better – it is solely our job to get it done.

Training in the martial arts is a solitary pursuit.  We are influenced by our classmates and our teachers, but the improvements we acquire are ours alone and with that being said solely under our own power.  Rarely can anyone provoke us to get out of bed or off the couch and go to class.  Most times, we make an active choice to improve our lives by going out and pursuing that thing that we want.

There is an African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”  Kogun funtou is the first part of this saying in that to get what we want we must do it under our own power.  However, true change and lasting tranquility is only acquired when we share ourselves with other people.  In other words, it is only when another human being enters into our world is humanity truly created.  It is the same with art – it only becomes “art” when it is shared with the world.

In Aikido, this is where we come to understand the interdependent cycle of humanity.  We cannot improve if we don’t do it under our own power, but man cannot evolve unless we share ourselves with others.






“Don’t use your gifts poorly” – Sawaki Kodo

sawaki kodoSometimes, we find something that says it better than we do.  This case is one of them.  Sawaki Kodo or “Homeless Kodo” was a Soto Zen Buddhist monk who died in 1965.  He was a favorite of Furuya Sensei’s and many of his books can be found in Sensei’s library.

Sawaki Kodo’s words, “Don’t use your gifts poorly” really resonate with me.  I hope that his article somehow inspires you.

Good and Bad
By Sawaki Kodo

The human race is set apart by their intelligence and their manual dexterity. With these, they can build all sorts of machines. They also like to fight one another and they use language with skill. Put simply, humans have been given many talents. Unfortunately, it seems not many use these faculties well.

The saying goes, “Don’t use your gifts poorly.” I would even say that it is essential to do everything possible to use our talents to the best. A fraud makes bad use of his talents, so does a loan-shark, and so does the man with three sets of holiday homes and mistresses! Each one of us in our own way is an example of badly used talent. Starting with myself, when I look closely I see I am mediocre too. Those whose paths are without error are extremely rare.

Making the best of your abilities-this is to identify yourself with Buddha or God.

I would say that before anything else, you must know yourself to the core. Then make manifest the best in yourself and cut the passions which make us tend to use ourselves poorly. Like this, holding the sharpened sword of wisdom, we climb our own summit, to the peak of light that contains the entire universe. “Seizing the sword of wisdom” means taking human capacities to their highest potential.

One day, a long time ago, someone saw Sariputra urinating in a field. The man who saw him had such a powerful experience that he put his hands together and did sampai. The story says that at that instant he saw the true nature of Buddha.

It seems that just seeing Sariputra in the posture of urinating naturally inspired deep respect. Whether we are doing zazen or reading sutras, we should summon respect. The same goes for all our daily gestures, like eating or urinating, which we don’t generally pay much attention to. This way infinite benefits flow from each instant of our daily life-like dragons and elephants who stomp and play without ever needing to hear the Dharma.

When I look back on my life, I see I could have been anything. When I was young, I thought of doing many different things. Is it just chance that I became a monk and dedicated all my energies to that? I could have worked on the railroads. All day long I’d throw my pick to dig the earth; and when I’d leave at night, I’d drink lots of sake. I would have liked this life, since it would have been my life. I could have been a singer (I don’t know if I’d be any good), or a storyteller. I could have become anything, a good guy, or a crook. A life is like a vise, it can hold this or that, it has many uses. The same goes for illusions or satori.

Mount Fuji is considered a big mountain, but seen from the top of the Himalayas, it seems pretty small. They say the Pacific is huge, but it’s only a part of the globe. Seen from the universe, it looks like a footbath. (It’s not even unfathomable; we know how deep it is). It is difficult to imagine man as a miniscule little animal. Seen with a microscope, an amoeba looks like a diver swimming at the bottom of the sea. She can’t even see the edges of the slide she moves on, to her it’s as big as the Pacific Ocean. To say that something is big or small is to look with a defective vision. It’s up to us to look at our world differently.

What really makes them happy, these little humans in their miniscule little world? They like to have a good time and get presents. They consider a birth a happy event (though it could be a disaster if the baby is deformed or becomes a good for nothing), and that a marriage is cause for congratulations (though they don’t know if the groom won’t end up to be an incurable drunk). Joy and suffering are relative ideas, indefinite and deceiving. Nothing allows anyone to say with any certainty that this event is happy and that one unhappy. The good carries in it the bad, and vice-versa. So:

Truth is without foundation,
the root of illusion is empty.

In abandoning having and not having,
the non-empty becomes empty.

The whole universe is contained in those two verses.

The good and the bad have never existed. So Shinran’s remark stands true:

Don’t be proud of virtue,
Don’t be afraid of the bad.

All humans, without exception, are neither good nor bad.

How badly do you want it?

7 samurai





Mitori-geiko (見取り稽古) is a style of learning used in Japanese traditional arts.

Mitori-geiko literally translates as mitori or “to sketch” and geiko or “to practice” but the nuanced  meaning is to learn something by watching and copying.

Today, most martial arts are experiential in nature in that one needs to do them to learn them.  However, this hands-on type of learning wasn’t the case for centuries.

In the past most students learned mitori-geiko style in which their teachers didn’t actually let them do the art for a long period of time.  Most had to clean and care for the teacher for a long  time and just watch the teacher perform the art.  After a long period of time, which I think was to vet the student’s dedication, earnestness, honesty and loyalty, the teacher started to actually “teach” the student and allow them to do the art.

Today especially in the west, we don’t have that luxury for a myriad of reasons to do that.  Students want to do the art and not just watch.  However, sometimes a special opportunity arises for a student to take their training, for a short period of time, back down this traditional route.

Usually this happens when a student gets injured or can’t physically practice.  When a student gets injured, they usually don’t come to class.  However, if a student is dedicated enough then they will show up and watch.  Most think this is somehow beneath them so most don’t do this.  If a student does show up and mitori-geiko then they get the opportunity to, as they say in martial arts, develop their eye.  To develop one’s eye means to learn how to see things from this art’s perspective.  From this vantage point a wealth of information opens that might have been hidden while one was in the act of doing it.

In this world, our perspective is determined by how we “see” the world.  We can either choose to see something as a benefit or a detriment.  Looking at an injury as just another “way” to train enables us to use it for our own benefit.

Mitori-geiko is a wonderful opportunity to use an adversity in a positive way as we develop our eye and possibly see something that we have never seen before while at the same time demonstrating our true dedication.


Comfort is the enemy of achievement

sensei teaching bokken










Furuya Sensei teaching a beginners bokken class in the old dojo.

Day 2 of our Weapons seminar.

Please pay attention and work hard, but most of all don’t be so hard on yourself.  Showing up is  half the battle.  If we show up, we are already 50% better than the person who didn’t.  So even if we learned only one thing we are miles of ahead of the average person who is still sleeping in their bed.  Remember, comfort is the enemy of achievement.

Tonight we are having a party at the dojo.  Everyone is welcome to attend.  If you are reading this, I would love for you to come.  Let it go and come by.
6:00 PM
1211 N. Main Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012


Be vulnerable

o sensei sword
















Starting tonight our dojo will host a weapons seminar that caters to beginners.   Weapons are something that most Aikidoists find daunting, boring and at times mysterious.  Weapons skill can sometimes feel like it just came out of the ethos and that one needs to be a genius in order to master them.

This anxiety about weapons, or anything foreign for that matter, can either be a cause for anxiety or excitement.  How one perceives the situation dictates how they will experience it.

Werifesteria – To wander longingly through the forest in search of mystery.

I saw this word on the internet that made me think about learning and how we approach it.

By all accounts, werifesteria is actually a made up word.  A close Japanese equivalent for werifesteria might be yugen (幽玄) which I loosely translate as the mystery of something which makes it beautiful.

When we are in a forest rummaging around, there comes this point where we realize the beauty in that moment but somehow we can’t quite put our finger on what it is that makes it beautiful – That is yugen.  To be in the state of yugen requires that we be vulnerable.

When I talk about vulnerability, I don’t mean vulnerability from the standard definition of being easily hurt or attacked.  I mean that to experience yugen one must be in a state of openness which allows for the yugen to occur.

When we are open and willing, the world seems to open up and the experience of yugen just emerges.

Furuya Sensei used to say, “The only qualification a student needs is the right attitude.”  The “right” attitude means allowing ourselves to be open and willing to learn or in other words to be vulnerable.

Brene Brown said, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”  When we partake in this seminar, we will all be changing.  If we allow ourselves, who we are at the beginning will not be who we are at the end.  Therefore, based on Brene Brown’s definition, we need to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.

If you are able to be vulnerable then what you don’t know (aka the mystery) will somehow become beautiful or for lack of a better word – awesome.

I almost can’t explain it.  When you find yourself getting nervous or anxious, just give yourself a smile, take a deep breath and say to yourself, “be vulnerable.”  If you can do all three of those things then your experience will change and I guarantee that you will have a much better experience.

I wish you all a wonderfully vulnerable seminar!



Can you enryo?

sensei poseTbt:

I found a nice snippet written by Furuya Sensei on enryo or modest restraint.

I think today we admire people who go out and get anything they want or can.  To me, some appear too forward, too aggressive and a little pushy.  But I suppose as long as they themselves are happy it doesn’t matter much.  This goes for teachers as well as students.  In Japanese, at least the older times, we spoke of “enryo” (遠慮).  Enryo means to hesitate or show modesty or restraint.  

The other day, I spoke of the immediacy of one’s answer, “hai,” to establish this mental-spiritual connection with the other person.  We also see this connection with the other person having enryo by showing hesitation and modesty in their actions.  When someone offers something, we used to politely refuse several times before accepting to show our modesty and level of self-restraint. To simply grab what is offered without this little pause of polite ceremony was considered crass and rude by Japanese standard.  Some Japanese today say that this gesture is too complicated and takes too much time.  For me, it is still a beautiful sentiment.  It means that you really care for the other person and hesitate only to make sure of the other person’s feelings.

Training is very complicated.  Sometimes we must answer quickly but sometimes we hesitate to show who we are and that we are not being too forward or pushy.  When we see the other person hesitate in this way with the feeling that they are not trying to offend us, it can really be touching and we respect this person much more.  Anyone can grab at what they want, but few can put others before themselves. Aikido training can not only make us strong, but I think it is also to make us very beautiful people too. 

Written February 3, 2002.

“Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.” – King Henry from Shakespeare’s Henry V

samurai jack copyRin Byo To Sha Kai Jin Retsu Zai Zen
“The bravest warriors surpasses all others at the front of the battlefield.”

Rin Byo To Sha Kai Jin Retsu Zai Zen is a kuji or nine syllable incantation or prayer that is recited just before battle and is supposed to protect the reciter from harm.

Every day we all fight battles – some big and some small.  We must all stand and face our day with courage and commitment.  The samurai of old were no different.  Standing up for what they believe meant finding the courage to do what has to be done despite the circumstances or odds.

At the heart of change is courage.  If we want something different then we must venture out.  To venture out requires courage and that is why only the bravest at the front surpass all others.

Quietly reciting these words, “Rin Byo To Sha Kai Jin Retsu Zai Zen” just might give us the courage to face our daunting challenges and leap forward into the abyss of change.





Lighten your load

kata guruma 2


Every single one of us has a story to tell, but it is in the way that we tell this story which dictates the course of our life.  We can either let our story beat us up and weigh us down or lift us up and empower us.

Sometimes people come to class dragging their day behind them.  We can see their “story” written all over their faces and in their body language.  Furuya Sensei used to say, “You can learn everything you need to learn about a person by ‘how’ they do Aikido.”

The fact of the matter is that each and everyone of us is suffering on some level.  If we can understand this then we are more likely to be gentler, kinder and more compassionate.

Life is about choices.  We can choose to be whoever we want and life our lives in a way that makes us happy, but that choice begins with “how” we choose to carry our load around.  Another factoid is that we are here and managing to survive despite what has or hasn’t happened to us.  We are all so much stronger than we realize and we demonstrate that each and every day as we face the world.

Can you see the path clearly?  If not then maybe you should change the way you tell your story and thus lighten your load.



Either you win or you learn

sumo throw copy









“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.” – John C. Maxwell

If you are a Cleveland or Golden State fan, last night’s game 7 was a real nail bitter.  Today, depending on which side you are on, you are either happy or sad.

In the martial arts, we don’t get the luxury of being either way.  The way we see it is just as John C. Maxwell asserts, “Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

In Buddhism, this mindset is called equanimity.  In swordsmanship it’s called a non-abiding mind.  Either way, we cannot allow ourselves to be swayed one way or another.  When you win, great!  When you lose, great!  Regardless of the outcome, the situation allows us the opportunity for growth.

Victories only live on in books and martial artists understand the fleetingness of winning and, for that matter, losing.  We understand that the journey of life is a process of growth and self development where at any time or with any outcome we have the opportunity to learn something.  If we think for one moment that who we are is defined by that moment, we run the risk of losing our way.