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“We emphasize modesty and humility in our practice, but some students do not appreciate the spiritual aspects of the art and look at others as objects or toy to be played with, no considerate of the feelings of others.

Indeed, we live in a ‘me, me, me’ society and approve of selfish behavior. Losing the spirit of practice and the meaning of Aikido, the art itself becomes another common tool for one’s self-promotion and constant quest for power, authority and recognition. We must see such arrogance and egotism as the acts of those who are spiritually destitute and have lost their way from the path of Aikido. What to do, it is really so sad.

Aikido practice, indeed, takes much courage, patience, commitment and wisdom.”

– Rev. Kensho Furuya

 

Learn to “throw away”

When you look in the mirror, do you see a ghost? Sounds like an absurd question, but although many of us don’t see a ghost staring back at us in the mirror, many of us act like ghosts throughout the day.

Think about it, a ghost is caught in purgatory forced to relive some moment from their past over and over again. They hang around the same place and do the same thing.

Many of us spend our days relentlessly pursing some thing with the mindset, “If I could only get that thing then…” It is only after we acquire that thing (hopefully) that we realize its futility as we are no closer to happiness than when we started. Furuya Sensei called these things, “gendai seikatsu shukan byo” or modern lifestyle diseases.

Sensei advocated a type of “throw away” learning when he wrote, “As many people might think, learning is not a process of accumulation. This means that it is not a matter of taking and taking for one’s self. In True Learning, throw away first. Take and throw away, take and throw away. People understand taking, but not throwing away. If I were to explain it in simple terms, “throwing away” means to take a fresh start in everything you do.”

A ghost is someone who cannot “let go” and thus becomes trapped.

A true warrior knows that life is not about pushing themselves to acquire more and more but to learn how to let go of those things which hold them back.

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

Take control

jackThere is a great saying from the movie Sanjuro, “The best swords are the ones that are kept in their scabbards.” At the heart of all martial arts training comes the understanding that our minds are our greatest weapons and simultaneously our worst enemies. In the Japanese traditional arts, the highest level one can attain is the ability to show restraint. A master is supposed to be someone who has kokkifukurei or the ability to demonstrate their skills in decorum and etiquette but more importantly their ability to exercise self restraint at all times. Restraint can only come after years and years of training. Restraint is the ability to do the right thing at the right time which one might call seido in Japanese or precision in English. Learn to control yourself and your emotions so that other people cannot control you.

 

I can do it!

i-can-do-itThis 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.

At what stage are you at today?

Spend your days well

archery光陰矢のごとし
Kouin yanogotoshi
“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.

Nobody’s perfect

relax copy

猿も木から落ちる
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.

 

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!

 

“The more you know, the less you have to carry.” – Mors Kochanski

warrior copyMors Kochanski, the famous Bushcraft survival expert once said, “The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.”

When we are confronted, there is sometimes a lot going on so our minds can easily become  distracted.  With this confusion sometimes comes defeat.

The place that all warriors are striving towards is equanimity.  For lack of a better definition, equanimity is a fluid type of focus where our minds are sharp and aware but never stuck on one thing.  Training provides us with the opportunity to develop our physical skills which gives us a lot of options.  These options can sometimes bog us down and we sometimes fall prey to “option overload” and we freeze.  Over time we learn how to hone our minds and so the body might know many things, but the body only knows one – calmness.

Calmness is the harmony of one’s thoughts which is called equanimity in Buddhism and the “non abiding” mind in swordsmanship.

Calmness comes from having faith in one’s training and trust in one’s teachers.  With this acceptance comes a sense of confidence in one’s self and thus one can be calm.

How does one attain this “calmness”?  This can only be achieved with constant and consistent training.

Our bodies are our greatest asset, but our minds are our greatest weapon.  One cannot exist without the other.  Both require training.

Mors Kochanski’s quote, “The more you know, the less you have to carry. The less you know, the more you have to carry.” can be thought of as the reason why we need to constantly and consistently go to class.