There is a saying in budo, or “Everything begins and ends with respect” (礼に始まり礼に終わる).
Last night we hosted an outside teacher from another country. The thing which made me the happiest was how polite our students were. Everyone treated each other with respect and everyone had a good time.
For the most part, the martial arts are physical and up to a point, anyone can become skilled. Reigi-saho or etiquette is one of those things which cannot be taught but can be learned.
Being a jerk reflects poorly on your teacher, your parents, your art, your dojo and most importantly you. Be careful what you say or do because it means a lot.
February 22nd is Ninja Cat Day in Japan. The onomatopoeia of a cat’s meow in Japanese is nyan nyan. The Japanese love their homophones and thus nyan nyan become ni ni and the first syllable in the word ninja (忍者).
The kanji for nin is 忍 which means patience or self-restraint which are huge concepts in budo. The other kanji 者 is ja or sha which means person.
One of the major differences between beginners and experts is impulse control. Impulse control is nothing more than being able to control one’s self in any situation. Self-restraint is then the mark of a true master.
Happy Ninja Cat Day!
A good martial artist strives to create balance. Here is an interesting take on the taiji or yin-yang symbol. It is a Japanese kamon or family crest using the properties of yin-yang or in-you in Japanese.
A martial artist with balance mentally and physically cannot be moved and thus cannot be defeated.
If we are easily swayed from one side to the other then we can be moved to a place of unbalance. At this place of unbalance, even the weakest of foes can defeat us.
Balance mentally is more important than balance physically. It is said, “Everything in life begins with a thought.” Our minds are our greatest weapons – they can defend us or defeat us. How we think is more important than what we do or what we say. Both of those are an extension of our minds.
What will it take for you to be defeated? A terse word or a insensitive glance? We don’t always have to be punched in the face to be defeated.
The goal of every great martial art is to create this balance which we call the immovable mind. An immovable mind is one of calmness and imperturbability where can nothing unbalance us.
“He is awake.
The victory is his.
He has conquered the world.”
“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?
“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.
In 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.
I read a sign the other day, “Comfort is the enemy of achievement.” This is a quote by a businessman named Farrah Gray. In terms of budo it is spot on.
On the road to greatness, the main question is, “What are we willing to sacrifice in order to get good?” Not can we, but will we forgo things like sleep, money, food, or any other thing that causes us to be a little bit uncomfortable in order to achieve our goals? Most normal people won’t, but warriors are not normal people.
Warriors are people who stave off pleasure for purpose. People who “need” to sleep, eat or save the money will never push themselves to get good. There will always be something. Over the annals of time, the greatest opponent there has ever been and who has beaten millions of warriors has been the soft, warm and comfortable bed. Don’t let it beat you!
So the question is, “What will you sacrifice to get good?”
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Many times in life, whether we like it or not, perception is reality and budo is no different. As a warrior, we must be forever diligent and thus must be en garde at all times. We can expect to be attacked anytime we let our guard down. Therefore we cannot leave any openings.
There is a famous Japanese saying, bushi wa kuwanedo taka yoji (武士は食わねど高楊枝) which means a “A samurai, even when he has not eaten, uses a toothpick like a lord.”
Most think it means that a hungry samurai chooses pride before poverty. Another way to understand it is that if one lets on that they haven’t eaten and are hungry then they will be weak and thus an easier target for attack. The perception of weakness can then lead to a person being attacked.
In training, we constantly trying to ensure that our intentions match our reality. If we want people to think that we are respectful then we must act respectfully. If we want people to think that we are humble, we should then act with humility. Conversely, if we want people to think we are jerks then we should act like a jerk.
Like it or not, people “judge” us by the things that we say and do. Our job as martial artist is to make our actions and our words line up with our intentions.
“I took an arrow in the knee” was an old Norse saying to indicate that someone had gotten married. The arrow implies that one of the biggest decisions in one’s life isn’t necessarily made by choice.
Just after Furuya Sensei passed away, I was working with one of my older clients and was telling him about Sensei’s death. I said, “Now, I have to take over the dojo.” He stopped me and said, “No, you choose to take over the dojo.” At the time I did not think I had a “choice” but today I understand that it is what I chose to do. We can be in control or we will be controlled.
Today, in an arguably more civilized society, we are free and thus have freedom of choice. What is choice? Choice is the ability to decide to empower ourselves with what it is we want. This empowerment begins by saying, “I choose to…”
Regardless of the situation or circumstance we can always “choose” how we internally address what is going on – we give it context. In Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, it is called re-framing. In Buddhism, it is called equanimity. In budo, it is called the non-abiding mind.
Today, we don’t have to do anything but we do get to choose to do whatever we want. The choice is ours.
Today’s kakejiku or scroll hanging in the tokonoma is an ichigyo brushed with the single character toki 刻 which is commonly translated as time. An ichigyo is a single line of calligraphy that is supposed to elicit a response or provoke the viewer into a different mental state.
Warriors of old were always well read individuals who were not only well versed in the military arts but also in religion, literature, poetry, Japanese and Chinese classics and art.
Generally, most kakejiku are supposed to be profound and many times what is left out is sometimes more important than what is put in. This scroll is no different. Its meaning is not readily understandable by simply just reading the character.
The character toki 刻 left standing alone means “to chop or engrave.” So an uneducated person could accidentally misinterpret that as its meaning. However when the character toki is added into the idiomatic expression jijikokkoku it means “from one moment to the next.” From here we extrapolate that it is supposed to mean “moment,” but that also is a little too juvenile. As we sit there and ponder the scroll’s deeper meaning, what arises could be the Buddhist’s perspective on impermanence and thus every moment that existed before or after this one moment is an illusion and that we can easy be deluded into thinking that those thoughts are real.
Since this scroll is more of the smaller size used in a chasitsu or tea house, we can theorize that its meaning is to make full use of this one moment for all other moments before may not have happened and all moments after may never come. All we have is this one moment – cherish it!