Kake Fukedomo Dozezu tenpen no tsuki which means “Though the wind may blow, the moon in in the sky is unmoved” is an old Zen saying which swordsman were fond of,
Some may think that as warriors we strive for a place of physical perfection where our skills in fighting are supreme, but this is too shortsighted. An experienced and true warrior seeks the pinnacle of fighting which is non-fighting. Sounds kind of weird being that the martial arts is all about fighting and destruction. At this place of non-fighting, one realizes that the only true opponent worth contending with is ourselves.
Most warriors never get to this understanding. It rarely happens because most have to defeat every opponent in the world in order to realize that the true and only opponent is themselves.
Today, we strive to be like the warriors of old without having the risk of the warriors of old. We have their hard fought realization at our finger tips which usually took many years of fighting to achieve.
Like the warrior of old, the true ultimate goal was to not only develop their bodies, but to also develop their minds to place which is referred to as immovable in swordsmanship.
To have a mind which is immovable is to be like the moon which is unmoved by the wind. It takes several years of training to reach this place of equanimity. Please be patient and don’t let the wind steer you off course.
Most people hate surprises.
It is so true. Does any really like to be surprised? A warrior hates to be surprised. Being surprised means that we were totally unaware of the situation. In Japanese, being aware is referred to as kuuki wo yomeru or “To be able to read the air.”
To be able to read the air means to be able to see what is hidden in plain sight. A person’s intentions, a hidden trap or just a plain old surprise party.
To train in Aikido is to inculcate one’s self with an almost sixth sense. It is not a superpower per se because it comes about as a result of being self-aware during train. In order to master Aikido, one has to be self-aware enough to see one’s own shortcomings because those weaknesses inevitably create a suki (隙) or an opening for attack.
A warrior is supposed to be completely self-aware to the point that their self-awareness extends to their surroundings and to other people as well. Their awareness becomes almost a superpower because they can see what others don’t. It really is almost like “reading the air” which is why they loathe surprises because nothing is worse than being caught off guard.
Stand ready, work hard and become aware of yourself.
Are you a butterfly?
Some samurai adorn their armor and weapons with the butterfly or chou (蝶) motif. This might seem peculiar since a butterfly is a delicate insect which doesn’t incite fear or display any prowess.
Furuya Sensei once commented on this and equated it to the study of budo. He said, “There is a tremendous, desperate struggle to emerge from the cocoon to become a beautiful butterfly. Learning must be a struggle – this does not mean that you have to suffer and die. This means that you must follow your quest or dream through your own power. ”
The reason a samurai chooses a butterfly is because the butterfly has to grow strong to overcome. This struggle is what brings out the butterfly’s true beauty. In the samurai’s case, the battle at hand will be a struggle which they must overcome in order to enjoy their victory.
The adornment of the butterfly is also because in reality the battle is not waged on the battlefield, but inside of us. So the butterfly is to remind us that the struggle is valuable and to be determined to do our best. Struggling and suffering only exist to make us stronger, but only if we choose to see it that way.
Today, when confronted remind yourself to be the butterfly and say, “I too will grow from this.”
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?”