Giri–giri is an onomatopoeia that Japanese use to refer to something that is done last minute. This morning on the radio, I heard that there was an earthquake advisory in effect from now until October 4th. This advisory happens to come at the end of national preparedness month. This made me think about how a martial artist needs to be prepared for any person, condition or thing.
As martial artists, we are always supposed to be prepared. It is part of our training and the reason why we train so much. I am sure many of you have heard this one, “How long have you been training? You’ve been going so long, why do you still need to go?” We still need to constantly train because, like in emergency preparedness, we never know when the “Big one” will hit.
As martial artists, we are people who not only learn from our mistakes, but from others as well. I can remember this one time when I was a student and someone forgot their hakama at a demonstration and how mad Furuya Sensei got. From that point on, I always kept a back up uniform in the car just in case and I know that many others did too. I learned from that person’s mistake. There is a famous story about Tiger Woods during his time at Stanford. Supposedly, there was a really bad storm out and Tiger was seen heading toward the driving range. Someone stopped him and he said, “This is the only time I will ever get to hit balls in these type of conditions.” Tiger wanted to be prepared if he ever had to play in hostile weather conditions.
We train so that our minds and our bodies will be ready for anything that comes our way. Nothing would be worse than to succumb to someone or something because of a silly mistake or underestimation.
Martial artists must be prepared for anything, natural or man-made. We are always prepared and thus are never giri-giri. Please make sure that you are always prepared.
I recently saw this video made in Japan where three Olympic fencers took on 50 untrained or barely trained fencers on a Japanese variety show. The video was made for a TV so it wasn’t that serious but I was amazed at how poorly the Olympic fencers performed. Not only did they show a low level of skill, but they also showed that since it is a sport there was no group strategy.
At first as the 50 converged on them, the Olympians fled to the stairs. I thought, “Ahh, this is correct.” Furuya Sensei taught us that to fight one person is the same as hundred and to strive for high ground (which I am sure was gleaned from Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings strategy). Going to the stairs would have provided them a natural barrier for three of the four sides of attack and they would only have to face opponents from only one direction and, most crucially, only one at a time. This strategy would have allowed them to use their skill to win the battle.
As you can see from the video they abandoned the strategy of working together and using the stairs. Those three Olympic fencers would have been overwhelmed and killed in a matter of minutes if it were are real fight. They would have been picked apart as the odds stacked up against them because each Olympian could be surrounded by as many as 16 people at any given time who would be attacking from all sides. Also, did you see by how many times the untrained fighters just poked them in the arms and back as they ran by? This method is called “Death by a thousand cuts” in knife fighting where small non-lethal wounds add up to a tremendous amount of blood loss and eventually take their toll on the fighter as the battle rages on.
It is interesting, as things become more “modern” or sporty they can sometimes lose their martial sense. As martial artists, we can look at this video and take heart to make sure that we practice our arts as martial arts and not just something we do for exercise.
“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.” – W. B. Yates
Anyone can be physically strong, but being physically strong doesn’t necessarily mean that we are mentally strong.
To be mentally strong, one needs to have an inner courage. This courage isn’t blindly running foolhearted at something. Rather it is standing up to the darkness that inhabits our inner souls despite the pain or fear that it elicits.
Yates’ quote is so apropos to budo and because true budo is really just the journey that one undertakes to develop themselves.
It’s like the cave scene in Empire Strikes Back. Yoda says, “That place… is strong with the dark side of the Force. A domain of evil it is. In you must go.” Luke asks, “What’s in there?” Yoda replies, “Only what you take with you.”
When push comes to shove, what we do shows our true inner character. To be the people that we want to become, we need to have courage and be brave. Courage is the inner attitude or strength and bravery is what it looks like on the outside.
The only true strength is the strength to keep on going despite the odds and that is the definition of courage.
Every year my birthday falls on the autumn equinox. Autumn is the season associated with letting go which is sometimes sad to me. It is a little sad because there is so much hard change in the fall. In a blog post on the website alchemistrecovery.com someone wrote that autumn according to Chinese medicine is the “season of decline, release and ultimately death. It is the phase of the yearly cycle where we are encouraged, or forced to, let go of the things that are naturally coming to an end.”
Being able to accept or just let something be, no matter what it is, is a corner stone of budo. Not being attached to something is what the Monk Takuan talked about as the “non-abiding mind” in his book The Unfettered Mind. The non-abiding mind does not discriminate – It only observes. This ability to just observe is what one might call mindfulness.
There is a saying associated with autumn, “If it comes, let it, if it goes let it.” Yagyu Munenori said that the goal of training in swordsmanship was to overcome the six diseases parallels this ability to just observe things and let them go. The six diseases are: the desire for victory, the desire to rely on technical cunning, the desire to show off, the desire to psychologically overwhelm one’s opponent, the desire to remain passive in order to wait for an opening and the desire to be free of all these diseases.
These diseases can be thought of as the stages of one’s development in one’s training.
If we let it come when it comes and if we let it go when it goes then we can be free of the diseases that Yagyu Munenori was warning us about.
This is a great little article by Furuya Sensei about happiness being a matter of perspective. Have a great Friday!
Isn’t It Funny?
When we consider what we have, we are always happy. But somehow, when we begin to think what we don’t have, we are never satisfied. Isn’t it better not to go there in the first place?
In Zen, there is a well-known saying: “Houken wa te ni ari.”
“The Treasure Sword is in your hand.” Everyone searches of their “treasure sword” (wisdom) yet, it is something which we already possess in our own hearts.
In the early days of the dojo, we were so poor and many times there was no money at all to even pay the bills. As it often happens, one weekend there was not a penny at all, so I just stayed in the dojo and did not go out or do anything at all. The next day, when I started to do my laundry, I found a ten-dollar bill in my back pocket. I thought I had no money to go out and buy myself some groceries to eat, not knowing the money was there right in my pocket. I could do nothing at all. I was not stopped by the lack of a little money but my lack of “understanding.”
More often than not, we have everything we need to be happy but not realizing we already possess this “treasure sword,” we are unhappy and complain about this and that.
“It’s your road, and yours alone. Others may walk it with you,but no one can walk it for you.”
Where we go we go by ourselves. People can join us on our trip but ultimately we must do it by ourselves. We have to push the button, knock on the door or slay our dragon. We are responsible for ourselves and what we do.
Budo is nothing more than doing that thing that we have to do when it has to be done. No one can do it for us.
All that we can hope is that people show up along the way to keep us company and support us on our journey.
Thank you for all the birthday wishes!
I am thankful for all the people who assist me on my journey and I am humbled by their support.
I wish you all the best today and I hope you have an even better tomorrow.
This is a very interesting picture. To me the “Which Step Have You Reached Today” isn’t so much about where have you reached today but rather where are you as a martial artist on any given day. As martial artists we are never at the “I won’t do it” or “I can’t do it” stages. It is not in our nature to be defeated before we even start. As martial artists we are typically at the “How do you do that?” stage as our baseline. From there at any given moment during our training we vacillate somewhere between trying, doing and succeeding. Martial artists are doers and we tend to set a goal, figure out a way to succeed and set about doing it. That is the nature of training.
“Time flies like an arrow.”
Before his passing, Furuya Sensei would often say, “There is no time left.” By the time I understood his admonishment, he was gone. So much time has passed since those times.
Upon realizing his words, the questions arise, “what will we do with our lives?” and “How will we live them?”
If there is truly no time left then life itself as we know is fleeting – It is passing us by as we speak. Understating this reality in Buddhism is called mujo or impermanence.
To understand budo is to understand death. Death, not in its morbidness, but in its impermanence and this inevitability teaches us how to live our lives. The glass can be either half full or half empty.
To see the fleetingness of life as something bad then we are looking at the glass as half empty. To see the glass as half full, we are realizing how in which to live our lives with what little precious time we have left.
Time does fly like an arrow, but we get to choose how and what we aim it at. What do you want to do? Who do you want to be? Time truly does fly by. Spend your days well for tomorrow may never come.
The journey toward being the best is a road traveled inward. To think that mastery is defined by what one’s physical body can do is too short sighted.
True mastery is not what one can do to others. Rather, true mastery is to what degree one can control one’s self.
The Greek word sophrosyne is exact definition of true mastery. To get sophrosyne one needs to defeat the opponent within. This is what O Sensei was referring to when he talked about Masakatsu agatsu or “The true victory is the victory over one’s self.” If you want mastery, journey inwards.
“I have not special talent. I am only passionately curious.”
– Albert Einstein
What is true mastery? Is mastery being able to execute the techniques perfectly? Is mastery being able to know everything? I wish that it were. Mastery is not a static thing that can be measured by achievement. In Aikido or any other martial art, mastery is a mindset. Just as Einstein’s quote eludes to, mastery is having the openness and willingness to just be curious. As we become more experienced or perhaps older and more wiser, life becomes less about what we don’t know and more about what we can learn. Wanting to know or to achieve “mastery” as means to stave off self-doubt is replaced with the confidence of curiosity. Wikipedia defines curiosity as, “a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning….” Curiosity is not based in fear and it has a calmness about it and calmness is one of the main goals of Aikido training. To master anything all we need to have is the calmness to be curious. This calmness to be curious enables us to achieve mastery over ourselves so that we may live a life of harmony and eventually happiness. If someone as smart as Einstein changed the world by just being curious, what could we achieve by following his example? Please just be curious.