Monthly Archives: August 2016

The beauty of life

Otagaki Rengetsu

Otagaki Rengetsu

Fluttering merrily and
sleeping in the dew
in a field of flowers,
in whose dream
is this butterfly?
– Otagaki Rengetsu

Wonderful poem by one of Japan’s most famous poets.

On a certain level, life is really but a dream.  Who knows what is real or what is fake?

The fleetingness of life is at the core of all warrior culture.  How do we live knowing that we will eventually die?

The short life of the butterfly and its fleeting beauty call to us to enjoy the brief beauty of our lives while we are still here.




Don’t let your guard down even after the battle has been won.

kendo men tyingかってからかぶとのおをしめよ.
Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo.
“After victory, tighten your helmet.”

This weekend three students took and passed their various dan rank tests.  I am truly proud of how they performed and the preparations that it took to get them there.

As the teacher, testing gives me an opportunity to look at who the students are under pressure, but only time will tell who they really are as human beings.  Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yo is an old Japanese proverb that Furuya Sensei was fond of which translates to “After victory, tighten your helmet.”

It is so easy to rest on one’s laurels especially after a victory.  In the martial arts, the greatest enemy is complacency.

There are two types of people born out of testing.  Those who think they have arrived and those who realize how little they know.  Both of these are the curse of achievement.

It is a curse because shortly thereafter both realize that where they find themselves is really just a flat spot just before the path becomes a bit steeper.

Passing the test pales in comparison to what we do after that and thus the caution to “tighten one’s helmet” is apropos.

Within the Aikido system of ranking, the first rank is shodan and is written with the kanji 初 which means “beginner.”  Thus, this character alludes to the fact that attaining shodan is just the beginning of one’s journey in Aikido.  First and second degree are “merit” ranks, third and fourth are technical ranks and 5th and above are teaching ranks.  There is so much to learn at each stage no matter where we find ourselves.  Each of us is student and we would benefit tremendously if we can remember that.

The battle never ends so wherever we may find ourselves, we must vigilant and thus tighten our chin straps to be ready.

Please keep up the great work and prepare yourselves for the next journey.

What do you do when you think nobody’s looking.

trashWhen we look at a long time practitioner of budo we see nothing.

We see nothing because there is nothing to be seen.  A person of budo follows the way of budo for themselves.

True budo is nothing more than seeing a piece of paper on the floor, picking it up and disposing of it properly.  Nobody will ever see us do it and therefore nobody will ever know that we did – only we will know.  At budo’s highest level, we perform the task without thought.  There, the path of budo is the path of “no-minded” integrity.  Furuya Sensei called it, “The place where the self disappears.”

It is “no-minded” because we want to reach a level where we barely even know we are doing it.

Nobody will ever know what it is we do or for that matter what it is that we can do because it is hidden.  Only we will know and we alone have to live with it.

To follow the path of budo means that who we are is the same person regardless of who is watching or what the circumstance might be.  Therefore if we see a piece of paper on the ground, we must dispose of it properly and almost without thought.  If one has to think about it, it is not yet budo.

To think is to discriminate between right and wrong or how it helps us pay homage to our  egos.  That moment of discrimination is the gap between non-budo and budo.

Please do whatever it is you do just to do it without thought of recognition or reward – this is true budo.

If the bird doesn’t sing…

Daimyo largeWhat type of martial artist are you?

There is a famous Japanese children’s poem that children are taught to remember which can illustrate what type of martial artist we are:

鳴かぬなら、殺してしまえほととぎす: If a bird doesn’t sing, kill it.

鳴かぬなら、鳴かして見せようほととぎす: If a bird doesn’t sing, make it.

鳴かぬなら、鳴くまで待とうほととぎす: If a bird doesn’t sing, wait for it.

This is a famous Zen parable about a fictional account of a Zen master asking the three most powerful warlords of the Sengoku or Warring states period (Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu) what they would do if a hototogisu or cuckoo didn’t sing.  It was a parable which illustrates the character of each of these three different types of leaders.

Oda Nobunaga was known for his fierceness and cruelty and thus would answer, “Kill it.”

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the most cunning and would therefore coyly say, “Make it.”

Tokugawa Ieyasu was the most diplomatic and patient so he would most likely say, “Wait for it.”

There is a saying in Japanese, “Oda Nobunaga makes the pie and Toyotomi Hideyoshi bakes it, but Tokugawa Ieyasu is the one who gets to eat it.”

The evolution of every martial artist is much like the philosophies of these famous Japanese Daimyos.  Whichever Daimyo style we identify the most with depends on where we are in our development.

The beginner usually wants to “kill it”, the intermediate person wants to “force it” but an expert is willing to “wait for it.”

Which of these most resonates with you?


The five traits to becoming a better martial artist are the same to becoming a great chef


It is said, “All roads lead to the same place.”  This implies that to become a master at something is the same to master all things.

In order to master a way, it is sometimes helpful to see something from a different vantage point.  Therefore it can be helpful to peek in on someone who is considered a master and see what makes them tick.  Hopefully seeing how they work somehow helps us in our endeavors.

In the movie Jiro Dreams of Sushi,  the food critic Masahiro Yamamoto explains the five traits that master sushi chef Jiro Sukiyabashi has which makes him a great chef.  

The five traits that all shokunin or master craftsman have are:

“First, they take their work very seriously and consistently strive to perform at the highest level.

Second, they aspire to continually improve their skills. To be better today than yesterday. To be better tomorrow than today.

Third, cleanliness. If the restaurant doesn’t feel clean, the food isn’t going to taste good.

The fourth attribute is impatience. They are not prone to collaboration. They’re stubborn and insist on having things their own way.

What ties these attributes together is passion. That’s what makes a great chef.”

It doesn’t matter if you are serving sushi or practicing the martial arts.  Every serious practitioner has these same five traits.  These like every aspect of good manners or character cannot be taught, but can be learned.  First, we have to want to be better.  Next, we have to strive to be better.  Then lastly, we must execute.

For a martial artist, the five rules could be:

1) Be serious about what it is that you do.
2) Strive hard to improve yourself.
3) Be meticulous.
4) Be restless and always do your best.
5) Be passionate about whatever it is you do.

If we can embody these five traits into whatever it is we do, then we too can be a shokunin or master craftsman.


Nobody’s perfect

relax copy

saru mo ki kara ochiru
“Even monkeys fall out of trees.”

We often think that we “should” be this way or that way.  The word “should” is about control.  When we engage in “shoulds”, we give away our ability to control our own lives by choosing  what it is we want and we allow our choice to be governed by something or someone else.

Sometimes, the best thing that can happen to us is for someone to see us when we are most vulnerable.  Then, the cat is out the bag so to speak, and we can drop that false front that we all carry around.  When the jig is up we can relax because our so called worst fear has been realized and then we can take back the control of our lives.

Sometimes the best thing for us is the worst thing that can ever happened to us.

My favorite quote from the book, Tea Life, Tea Mind is:

Be rebuked
Stand corrected
and learn

Do you want to be great?  Then make some mistakes.  Relax, nobody’s perfect.  Even monkeys sometimes fall from trees.



Deepak Chopra once said, “Gratitude opens the door to the power, the wisdom and the creativity of the universe.”

It is said that a happy life is rooted in gratefulness.  Gratefulness is probably on par with forgiveness as the two hardest concepts to not only understand but to practice as well.  They are both something which cannot be taught but one still can learn.  Here is an excellent TED talk about gratefulness by Catholic Benedict monk David Steindl-Rast.  I hope that it helps you keep the Mondays at bay and that it helps inspire you to your greatest height.

Please enjoy!

Flashback Friday: Pay attention

attentionFlashback Friday: Please enjoy this article Furuya Sensei posted to his Yahoo group on September 23, 2004.

In Aikido, one of the greatest skills to develop is to be able to think clearly and assess the situation without bias – this is essential to act correctly and do the right thing to protect one’s self and others.  This is one reason why, in traditional martial arts, they continually talk about mushin or “no mind” which really means “unbiased mind” or “clear mind.”  Today, we don’t realize how important it is to think clearly.

When you ask a question, please think.  When I answer you, I think long and hard before I answer so that I can give people the best answer.  I look at everything from the standpoint of training.  I am not concerned with my popularity or the politics or what I can do to buy your favor.

As much as I consider my answer to you, you must consider the question you ask and what the answer means.   This is the simple basic, process of learning and education.

Just to ask me questions to satisfy a passing curiosity or to gossip does no one any good at all.

Some people ask me questions and I immediately realize that they have not been paying attention.

Endless discussion about this and that and how much of this really pertains to your practice?  How much of the questions you ask really will help you with your understanding of what you do during training?

Looking at how one handles their sword, we can immediately determine their skill before they even draw it.  When a student bows into the mat before practice, one can quickly tell where their mind is.  By the questions some people ask, one can immediately tell where this is going.

Please remember that this group as well as my Daily Message is an extension of my dojo and I am here to teach you Aikido.  Please pay attention, as you would in class. . . . Oops!  I shouldn’t say that – Please pay good attention more than you usually do.  Pay attention like you are facing a lion (I am just a pussycat, really) who will leap and attack you if you make the wrong move!

Hahah!  Have a good day today!


Always assume you are being watched

vigilantA good martial artist always hides themselves.

All warfare is based upon strategies of deception, misdirection and the element of surprise.  Our opponents can only defeat us if they are more prepared than us or are somehow aware of our intentions or tactics.

In the old days there was a lot of fighting going on.  Simultaneously, there was competition for students and people came to schools in order to defeat them to make a name for themselves.  When someone went to the school in either of these contexts, it was called dojo yaburi or to “break” the dojo.  If they defeated the teacher then they could take over the school or use that win to find a job.  The modern definition of the word yaburi means to escape, but in an older context it was defined as yaburitoru or “to break or rip in half.”  A common occurrence after one won was to break the former teacher’s kaban or sign in half.

Because someone might want to attack, a good warrior smartly never demonstrated their techniques in public and never drew attention to themselves.  A good rival studies their opponent’s every move in order to gain an understanding of how to defeat them.  A good martial artist, therefore, always keeps themselves hidden.

Yesterday I posted a video of 27 different people being robbed on a street corner in Rio de Janeiro.  Most were minding their own business when they were robbed by these hoodlums who were just hanging out waiting for unsuspecting and distracted people to walk by.  When an easy mark walked by, they would snatch something like a necklace or a phone and run away.  The people who were are aware almost never got bothered.

Today, nobody comes to a dojo to “break” it, but this doesn’t mean we can let our guard down.  No matter where we are, we can be attacked.  A good martial artist knows this and hides themselves because they never know who might be watching or who wants to attack them.  When we practice we are supposed to be aware of our surroundings so that we don’t fall or hurt someone.  Likewise we are supposed to exercise this awareness as we go about our normal day.  A good martial artist is never surprised because they are always aware and thus always one step ahead.