Monthly Archives: July 2016

People aren’t out to get you, they are just in it for themselves.


samurai arrow copy

One of the saddest things about humans is our proclivity to choose ourselves over others.  Everyone does it to some degree or another.  It is just one of those things that is left over from a past time of scarcity and fear.

Martial artists are people of character and thus act accordingly.  We are people who choose the difficult paths in life.  One of those unbeaten paths is that of selflessness and compassion.  We put ourselves forth for the benefit of mankind, not to destroy it.

Furuya Sensei once wrote:

To show the proper spirit in regi-saho (etiquette) is a very difficult part of Aikido practice. This is only because we think of ourselves too much and not enough about others. Thinking of others, we learn how to appreciate their effort, but only thinking of ourselves then we never have time to care for others. We become selfish people and this is not Aikido at all. In fact, it is contrary to all Aikido principles.

Practice regi-saho in the dojo and learning to practice it with the proper mental attitude and spirit – maybe this will be the most difficult of all to learn – more difficult than the hardest throw or pin. Once you master it, then practice it in your daily life.

The weird circuitous logic is that when we focus on others, we actually get the benefit.  Fighting, ambition and competition is sometimes thought of as being part of our DNA.  This is contrary to the way of nature.  In nature, nothing struggles to happen and nobody takes more than they need.  Selfishness is man made and something that we could all do without.

Each and every one of us is to some degree selfish, but it is the martial artist who is aware of it and does their best to suppress it.  We choose to do something else and to be better than all the rest.  Sensei always used to say, “Act as if your teacher is watching” so that we would learn to be selfless and act like the people we are trying to become.

Don’t give up!

Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru
“Even specks of dust over time become mountains.”

“Don’t give up!”  This is probably the best advice that anyone has ever given me.

So many times when we come up against our own mountains we become disheartened or disenchanted.  This disillusionment can cause us to lose sight of the bigger picture which is that every one of us starts out as a beginner and with time, patience and determination we get better.

“Don’t give up!” means seeing the entire road and not just its impediments.

There is a saying in budo, “Bushi to kogane wa kyukei shite mo kuchinu” which means that gold and warriors may rest but never decay.  As martial artists we fight battles everyday against apathy and contentment.

“Don’t give up!” is the battle cry of the specks of dust which over time pile up to become mountains.

“Don’t give up!” because the only way to get better at whatever we are doing is to keep going – no matter what.

I promise, you will get better as long as you keep going and never give up.


Can you read the air?

sweepJust because you can doesn’t mean you should.

The funny thing that happens on the way to mastery is that sometimes people lose their common sense.  Teachers are always getting after students because the students are losing their focus and thus step out of line.

Martial artists are supposed to be able to read the situation and act accordingly.  In Japanese, to be able to read the situation is called kuki wo yomeru (空気を読める) or “to be able to read the air.”

We have to remember that every martial art is context driven and set up in a common sense way of thinking.  This common sense way of thinking means that the techniques are setup into “if this then that” type scenarios.

The interesting thing about common sense is as Voltaire said, “Common sense is not so common” and we can see that from the gif clip above.

From the clip we can see a larger Judoka being interviewed and, obviously from the clip, they are showing this much smaller interviewer how Judo works.  Does the interviewer need to be slammed to the ground?  From the look of her reaction, she probably didn’t know what was coming and what she was getting into.

The context is then misread by the Judoka who does osotogari (outside leg sweep) and we can see this misread by the Judoka’s reaction as the interviewer writhes in pain on the ground and nobody tries to help her.

As we train, we must remember that what we are learning is supposed to be applied to a similar context.  Nothing will ever be perfect, but our neural pathways have the tendency to group things together.  That is why when we drive a different car we tend to get into accidents because we are still driving it like our car.  If we are then “well trained” then we will “read the air” correctly and thus act accordingly.  To be able to “read the air” takes a lot of training and only comes with a lot of experience.




This is how hard your partner is working…how about you?

sanbai shaolin copySan bai no do ryoku
To triple one’s effort.

“If my opponents train twice as hard then I will train three times as hard.” – Masahiko Kimura

It is easy to take the day off or put something off until tomorrow.  It is only human nature to choose pleasure over purpose.

A martial artist is not a typical person.  We are seekers.  Thus as seekers we are people who purposefully choose the path not well traveled.  On this path we encounter some of life’s greatest challenges.  It is in these challenges that our mettle is tested and our character is forged.

It is true that adversity builds character.  Building character is a layering process where each episode becomes the stepping stone to the next level.  When we are confronted with adversity we draw upon those past experiences to make ourselves stronger and to persevere in order to succeed.

One way to summon this strength is to san bai do ryoku or to “triple one’s effort.”

Furuya Sensei used to talk about the famous Judoka named Masahiko Kimura.  He was the pinnacle of Judo in the 1930 and is said to be the greatest Judoka ever.  There is a saying in judo, “Before Kimura there was no Kimura and there will be none after.”  Kimura Sensei used this idea of san bai do ryoku to become the greatest Judoka ever.  His dedication and drive was impossible to beat and supposedly even in his retirement he still trained eight hours a day and did 1000 pushups.  Inspired by this, Sensei used to say things like, “If my opponents train for one hour, I should train three.” or “If they do 100 suburi, I will do 1000.”

The only secret to getting good at anything, albeit in business or in the martial arts, is to do it consistently and constantly.  How hard are you working?





Do what comes naturally

the high moon scrollAs the moon rises high in the sky, the shadows of the castle disappear. . .

I came across this post by Furuya Sensei.  It succinctly encompasses the mind all students and teachers must have in order to improve.  To improve we must commit ourselves to our daily practice and keep going and with time we will naturally improve.  This is an example of atarimae hinshitsu (当たり前品質).  Atarimae hinshitsu refers to something that happens naturally or the obvious consequence.  For example, when you pick up a pen and just start writing and the pen works – that is atarimae.  Another example of atarimae more apropos to martial arts training is when the Japanese soccer fans cleaned up the their section after Japan’s World Cup game in Brazil in 2014.  They did it without thought to be diligent and clean up “their” mess because it was the natural thing to do.

Here is Sensei’s post:

We all have many questions about Life and about our practice. If we think about them very seriously, most important questions such as these cannot be answered so quickly or easily through our experiences in Life and in our Aikido.  However, these questions will be naturally answered as we progress.

Over the years, we find that in the long run of many years in Aikido it does not depend on how many techniques we master or what school or style we belong to but what really matters is staying on the True Path of Aikido faithfully and with commitment.

In this age of internet and high tech computers we have become accustomed to “instant” everything!  Some people may consider “instant ramen” a good meal – only because it can be made in three minutes. I once went to a hamburger stand many years ago and saw a sign – “if we can’t get your food for you in 30 seconds, you get it free!”

I thought to myself, “I don’t really want it free, can you take maybe four or five minutes, and do it right?”

When I see people today, everyone is rushing around doing this and that with no time for anything. Everyone tells me, “I’m so busy, I’m so busy!” Yes, it is important to work hard and build a good life for one’s self.  At the same time, we have a profound paradox that in building a good life, we compromise our very same lives by being pulled back and forth with much too much on our plates and in our heads.

Answers may not be answered according to our own schedule – answers come when they come as part of the natural process of our training from day to day.  We often forget that our commitment to training, the natural day to day fact of our lives, is a natural process of increasing this and decreasing and this is all part of the answer to what we are truly searching for.

The castle does not think of being enveloped by dark shadows, nor does the moon think to brighten the castle walls at night.  It does so on its own, by itself, without purpose or attachment, all is accomplished as it should be in this world – naturally over time and only with commitment.

Please commit to practice Aikido hard without thought or desire.

A warrior always under promises and over produces.

Kick copy

A warrior always under promises and over produces.

Bushi no ichigon comes from the Japanese proverb Bushi no ichigon kintetsu no gotoshi which means “The single word from a warrior is as unbreakable as the bond formed when gold and iron are combined.”

Martial artists are supposed to be upright people of principle.  If we say we are going to do something then we do it.

This idea of bushi no ichigon is a work in progress for most of us.  When I was a student, I used to get into trouble all the time.  One of the main reasons why Furuya Sensei would have to scold me was because I “over promised and under produced.”  Whenever he would ask me to do something, I would always say yes because I wanted him to like me and think favorably of me.  What I didn’t understand was that Sensei was a “do-er.”  He liked to get things done and if he asked me to do something it meant that he wanted me to get it done no matter what.  It only took a few hundred scoldings to realize this and stop doing it.

This idea of over promising and under producing is something that I see a lot in new students as well.  With just a cursory understanding of Aikido and the commitment that it take to master it, they always over estimate themselves.  This is not a bad thing per se, but it can lead to misunderstandings, miscommunications and hurt feelings.

It takes a long time to understand one’s self and to gain the skill of maintaining healthy boundaries in order to practice bushi no ichigon.  When we understand ourselves better and maintain healthy boundaries, we can then fulfill the things that we say that we will do.

Calmness is mastery


“Calmness, not skill, is the sign of a mature samurai.
A samurai should neither be arrogant or egotistical.” – Tsukahara Bokuden

A day or so ago at the Nagoya Sumo Basho, both Hakuho and Harumafuji lost to maegashira or the lowest ranked wrestlers at the tournament.  When a maegashira beats a yokozuna it is called kimboshi.  Both Hakuho and Harumafuji are Sumo Grand Champions or yokozuna.  A yokozuna is supposed to be the pinnacle of sumo and a grand champion must always conduct themselves with the highest amount of decorum and poise as they are sumo.  At the highest level of sumo, a yokozuna is supposed to be in a state of calmness and composure or (安定した).  The ability to calm down is called ochitsuku (落ち着く).  Both states of calmness and the act of becoming calm are the marks of true mastery.

Last night when Hakuho and Harumafuji lost, they both showed a lack of composure.  When Hakuho’s bout started to change in favor of his opponent Ikioi, Hakuho showed a lack of ability to ochitsuki when he uncharacteristically lost his cool and tried to force the win and thus lost his balance.  Harumafuji also lost in grand fashion as Yoshikaze threw him down and as the cameras followed him to the dressing rooms he showed he wasn’t anteishita as he was seen getting angry and snapping at one of his subordinates.

Anyone can be defeated by anyone, but only a true master can defeat themselves.  When one reaches this level, they get a certain air about them – they seem to have a sense of calm and the ability to stay calm.  A person who only values skill or the physicality of a art will always have a sense of discord about them.  Whether a person with mastery wins or loses, they are still calm.  People with a low level of mastery are always turbulent vacillating between highs and lows.

As Tsukahara Bokuden said, “Calmness, not skill, is the sign of a mature samurai. A samurai should neither be arrogant or egotistical.”  Thus, we train not just for physical mastery but mastery over every aspect of ourselves.

“With our thoughts, we make the world.” – Unknown

karate chop

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world.” – Unknown

I am often asked, “What is the best way to learn?”  Truth be told, there is no substitute for going to class.

One should do their best to be present and focused as to what is being taught when one is in class.  The two basic ways to be a better learner is to listen carefully and watch diligently.

Listening carefully seems obvious but how many of us actually drift off.  I know I do and it can be a constant struggle to keep my ears from tuning out.  Listening carefully enables us to “hear” what is being taught.

Watching diligently shouldn’t be that hard but like listening, we also sometimes zone out and miss what the teacher is teaching.  Our eyes glaze over and we actually don’t see what is being taught.  Watching diligent enables us to “see” what is being taught.

Listening and watching are a given as to what is necessary to learn, but just because we understand their importance doesn’t mean we can do it.

One of the best ways to listen carefully and watch diligently is to use active positive self-talk.  When the teacher demonstrates the technique, follow along in your mind and say the steps to yourself using the same cuing or directions that the teacher is emphasizing.  The words or cuing we use should be short one to two words per step.  For instance, the teacher says, “Slide in, turn, step back.” As you watch the demonstration, you mutter the words silently to yourself.  With this type of self-talk, we are  imprinting the technique into our minds with the proper steps.

This active talk actually enables us to engage our minds, clarify the right behavior and decrease the amount of negative chatter in our minds (notice I used the word positive before).  “We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts, we make the world” is an often miss-attributed to the Buddha but it’s still appropriator here.  Using active positive self-talk enables us to learn Aikido properly and thus make our own world. 

So when you talk to yourself, what do you say?  Be mindful to be active but also to be kind and compassionate to yourself as well.




Fight one more round!

kendo men copy

“Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the centre of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to come on guard, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired you wish your opponent would crack you one on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round – remembering that the man who always fights one more round is never whipped.” – James “Gentleman Jim” Corbett

Don’t ever give up.  A warrior’s greatest asset is their ability to preserve and over come the odds.  Gentleman Jim’s assertion could be the warrior’s inner dialogue which drives them to the finish.  Perseverance, drive and commitment are those things which cannot be taught and are only learned along the way.

Mark Twain once wrote, “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.”  When things are rough and seemingly not going our way it really does comes down to the size of the fight in our hearts and warriors never give up!

Nobody said it was going to be easy…


Nanakorobi yaoki
Fall down seven times and stand up eight

Furuya Sensei used to say, “To step off the path even a step takes a million miles to get back.”  The hardest part about the Way is living it.  Living the Way means living our lives with conviction by a set of rules, boundaries or codes of conduct that we will do our best not to break.  Being resolved to live a certain way is easy to say but extremely hard to do.  It is easy to say, “I don’t do” this thing or that thing but quite another to put it into practice.  The samurai referred to this practice of conviction as bushi no ichi-gon or “a warrior says one thing.”  This warriors code dictates that we are resolved to make our actions, words and thoughts be in alignment with each other.  The honest truth is that I probably spend more time failing and stepping off the path than I do staying on the path, but that is human nature.

The proverb “Fall seven times and stand up eight” is usually depicted with a Daruma doll that has kind of a wobbly shape called okiagari in Japanese.  Oki means to get up and agari means to rise.  None of us are perfect, but what we can be perfect at is getting back up once we have fall down- Aikido can be thought of as the physical manifestation of this practice.

There is only one defeat and that is giving up.  At any given moment, we get the chance to do it better.  We can choose to step back on the path and choose to do better.  For me, my personal mantra is “I seek only to improve” and that helps me get back up and dust myself off and begin again.  That is all any of us have and that is all any of us need – the courage to try again.  One of the few things that separates humans from animals is the opportunity to change.  The lion doesn’t have a choice to stalk, kill and eat his prey- it is in his nature.  It is in our nature to change, adapt and overcome.  It is in our nature to be better.  The Way is hard, but nobody said it was easy.