Monthly Archives: December 2016

Don’t let the rain get to you

 

Today in Los Angeles it is raining and rain has the precarious ability to drive Angelenos crazy. It seems as just the thought of rain can cause people to lose their minds. Kind of indicative of 2016 and thus it has been one heck of a year.

With the rain and all that has happened in 2016, it reminds me of Ame ni mo makezu, a poem written by Kenji Miyazaki. Ame ni mo makezu translates as “Be Not Defeated By the Rain.”  Here is the poem translated by David Sulz below:

Be not defeated by the rain, Nor let the wind prove your better.
Succumb not to the snows of winter. Nor be bested by the heat of summer.

Be strong in body. Unfettered by desire. Not enticed to anger. Cultivate a quiet joy.
Count yourself last in everything. Put others before you.
Watch well and listen closely. Hold the learned lessons dear.

A thatch-roof house, in a meadow, nestled in a pine grove’s shade.

A handful of rice, some miso, and a few vegetables to suffice for the day.

If, to the East, a child lies sick: Go forth and nurse him to health.
If, to the West, an old lady stands exhausted: Go forth, and relieve her of burden.
If, to the South, a man lies dying: Go forth with words of courage to dispel his fear.
If, to the North, an argument or fight ensues:
Go forth and beg them stop such a waste of effort and of spirit.

In times of drought, shed tears of sympathy.
In summers cold, walk in concern and empathy.

Stand aloof of the unknowing masses:
Better dismissed as useless than flattered as a “Great Man”.

This is my goal, the person I strive to become.

 

 

Awaken the True Warrior Within You

“He is awake.
The victory is his.
He has conquered the world.”
– Buddha

“Wake up!” was something Furuya Sensei used to say to us all the time to rebuke us when we would get lazy or weren’t paying attention. I used to think he was trying to get us to pay attention, but now I understand that his admonishment was for us to push ourselves to a higher level.

To be awake is to be conscious or aware of not only ourselves but our world as well. As martial artists, there is a tendency to be too shortsighted about ourselves as we believe that since we are developing ourselves that no one else matters.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. There comes a certain time in every person’s training when they realize that training in the martial arts isn’t about them. We call this “to be awakened.”

To be awakened means that one realizes that they don’t exist in a vacuum. True power lies not in destroying others but in building them up. Resisting them, roughing them up or just being a jerk shows how juvenile one’s level is. Helping others, making them better and building them up is the true illustration of mastery. Are you awake?

Mind Your Manners

Mr. Miyagi from the movie The Karate Kid said, “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher. Teacher say, student do.” This thinking is not that far off from tradition Japanese values. There is a famous Japanese proverb “kodomo wa oya no kagami” (子供は親の鏡) or that “children are a reflection of their parents.”

As student’s of Aikido, we are mago-deshi to O’Sensei. Mago means grand like in grandson and deshi means student. We are mago-deshi because we can trace our lineage back to O’Sensei. However because we are all mago-deshi we must act like direct student’s of O’Sensei.

As Aikidoist and martial artists, it is believed that how we conduct ourselves is a reflection on our dojo, our teacher, our art, on Hombu dojo and O’Sensei. All Japanese martial arts follow this same line of thinking.

Warriors are supposed to be experts in kokkifukurei or self-restraint in all matters of etiquette and decorum.  A famous proverb is Yaiba ni tsuyoki mono wa rei ni suguru” which means that the greatest warriors surpass all others in etiquette and decorum.

Beyond what one’s physical body can do, one’s character is paramount or as Voltaire said, “With great power, come great responsibility.” Furuya Sensei said it best, “Always act as if your teacher is watching.” Be careful how you act, it is a reflection of more than just you.

 

 

“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.” – James Allen

“If you think you’re enlightened; go home.” – Ram Dass

Ram Dass’ quote reminds us that the people closest to us, who know us the best, have the ability to put us off balance no matter how exalted we become.

The holidays can be a huge source of stress. As martial artists, we know that the ability to be calm in the midst of conflict is our greatest asset.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.”

“To find inner peace, be still the mind and let go. Live in the now. Breathe.” – Ryokan

To control one’s self is the source of true strength. To be able to use our minds properly is true mastery. The ability to be calm is not only the goal in budo training but the display of true power. Our training dictates that we not only be strong and powerful but also kind, compassionate, patient and forgiving.  After all, it’s the holidays regardless if we are warriors or not.

 

Be strong, work hard and persevere.

Welcome to the first day of winter!

Here is a classic Japanese art motif of heavenly bamboo (nanten), snow and sparrow.

Furuya Sensei said, “A truly good human being is hardly noticed by anyone because they are good. This, I believe, is true goodness.” Thus, the Nanten is the symbol of our dojo and is supposed to represent something that is so plain and simple that its beauty goes unnoticed. Nanten is a powerful plant and is supposed to have the power to turn evil into good as well.

The Snow represents the harshness of winter and the need to work hard and persevere because not only its temperature but its weight can cause things to break.

The Japanese sparrow or suzume sings, “chu, chu, chu.” Chu (忠) usually means to be loyal and therefore the sparrow’s song warns us to be loyal, but another variation of chu translates as hard work or mame.

This scroll calls to us to be strong in the face of whatever adversity we are facing in our lives. We learn the most about ourselves during adversity.  A great quote by Albert Camus is, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”

When we look at this painting, it is easy to just notice the upfront perception of being a nicely painted scroll. As we look deeper into the symbols it reminds us that in order to be successful ,despite the circumstances, we need to be strong, work hard and persevere.

Where we go, we go alone.

Where we go, we go alone.

You can lead a horse to water…

We’ve all heard that one. True budo is a singular adventure because the Way is really a journey within. Nobody can do it for us and we can’t do it for anyone other than ourselves. Gambatte! Gambatte means to do nothing more than our best. To be the best one only has to their best.

Our work has to be done by us. Teachers guide us and friends are there to support us, but any work that gets done, only gets done by us.

Take heart, have courage and be strong because although the battle is long and hard, it is worth it. The only way to get better is to never ever quit. You will get beaten and you will be discourage but never give up hope. It is not the strong who prevail but the one with heart who strives and never gives up. Gambatte!

And the battle within rages on…

What do you get to do?

jackToday, we are at a most unprecedented time in history. Never before have we been given the freedom that so many of us enjoy today to do whatever we want and be whoever we want. Because we have this freedom it is our responsibility not to waste it. When Japanese people see something being wasted they say, “Mottainai.” Mottainai is almost a sacrilegious feeling that something is being wasted.

Here is something I read that inspires me to be more productive:

If you have food in your fridge, clothes on your back, a roof over your head and a place to sleep you are richer than 75% of the world.

If you have money in the bank, your wallet, and some spare change you are among the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you woke up this morning with more health than illness you are more blessed than the million people who will not survive this week.

If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the agony of imprisonment or torture, or the horrible pangs of starvation you are luckier than 500 million people alive and suffering.

If you can read this message you are more fortunate than 3 billion people in the world who cannot read it at all.

We often lose sight of things that we already have. We are lucky. We get to spend our time the way we want to. We choose budo thus we must throw ourselves into our practice because there are many who would like to but don’t have the opportunity, resources or capabilities to do so.

Don’t waste! Don’t let this day go away lightly, spend it wisely.

 

The joy of mondays

Bring it on!

Mondays are always so hard. The weekend comes and goes and all we are left with is the foreboding joy of Mondays.

Martial artist are not average people. We relish in a challenge. Nothing more needs to be said. Stand up, push your chest out and be heard. There is no tomorrow.  There is only the next great battle. Regardless of winning or losing, just show up.

“What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”
– Hagrid, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Anger is an energy

angerIn Japan, it is thought that people have an innate power to not only overcome and persevere but to also excel. When children get to be a certain age, they have something called iji or willfulness which causes them to act out or misbehave. It is the teacher’s job to push the students to change their iji into konjou or fighting spirit.

This transformation process requires a large amount of strict discipline which sometimes causes the student to dislike the teacher so much that they use this anger or hatred to drive them to excel.

The problem with using negativity as motivation is that we become vessels that are only fueled by hate, anger or fear. That negativity isn’t healthy and leads one to lead their lives with a kind of “scorched Earth” way of living. Results or not, it is toxic and unhealthy and will eventually take its toll. A fake quote by the Buddha that is still apropos is, “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”

There is a great song lyric from punk rock legend, John Lydon is “Anger is an energy.” Anger is an energy but it’s not clean energy. As Yoda remarked, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” We should be careful not to let things like hate, anger or fear motivate us regardless of the reason or results. 

After victory, tighten your helmet

safe“When you think you’re safe is precisely when you’re most vulnerable.”
– Kambei Shimada, Akira Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai

No win is ever permanent. With victory sometimes comes arrogance. That arrogance brings with it a sense of righteousness where we think that either the end of the battle is the end or that we are somehow invincible.

All warfare is based on some form of deception, misdirection or sleight of hand. Sometimes the win is just the calm before the storm or a rouse our opponents uses to gain the overall victory. In martial arts this type of technique is a sutemi-waza or sacrifice technique. We give up something small to get something even bigger.

There is a Japanese saying that Furuya Sensei was fond of, “Katte kara kabuto no o wo shime yowhich means After victory, tighten your helmet.  Never let your guard down even if you think you have won. That just might be what your opponent wants you to think.