Tag Archives: Japanese

Be mindful of your behavior

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.

 

 

Happy Ninja Cat Day

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!

Are you a 10?

Are you a 10? Typically when we hear this type of question, we think that the person is asking us if we are good looking. In Japanese culture, the number 10 or juu is a homophone for juubun (十分) which is intended to mean, “Replete.” Thus, the number 10 is lucky because the number 10 means to be content.

In the west, we pursue things in order to achieve or acquire happiness and thus happiness is a result of taking – I receive and thus I am happy. In Japan, contentment is often associated with living a life of purpose or meaning and happiness comes as a result of giving.

The number 10 then reminds us that true happiness is a result of finding inner contentment instead of outer attainment. Finding contentment is a result of having a living a life of meaning. To have meaning means that we “get to” share or give something with the world and with that we are grateful for the opportunity. When we have meaning, then contentment, and thus gratefulness then true happiness is not far behind.  True happiness is then a function of giving from a place of contentment and not taking from a place of fear.

Are you a 10?

 

Set the Right Intention

How was your New Year’s Day?

In Japan on January first, there are many traditional things that start with the word Hatsu (初). There is hatsu keiko – the  first practice of the year, hatsu yume – first dream, hatsu ne – the first warbling heard signing, hatsu hinode – the first sunrise and of course the hatsu mode –  the New Year shrine visit.

Albert Camus said, “Life is the sum of all your choices.” With that being said, these New Year “hatsu” are supposed to set the tone for the coming year and bring with them prosperity and good luck.

To reach life’s greatest heights requires that we put forth the greatest amount of attention and diligence to every thing that we do. That is why the Japanese have the rituals so that the things that they do have the right tone so that they might inspire themselves to greater heights.

The dojo is supposed to be a respite devoid of the outside world and its distractions – a tranquility. Furuya Sensei used to say, “Before you enter the dojo, cut off your head and leave the outside world at the door.” We can see this idea of hatsu in everything that we do in the dojo from packing our bags to bowing to our partners.

Training calls us to prepare or put in the proper amount of respect, diligence or effort into everything that centers around the dojo and training. Mastery is then the ability to extend that hatsu or positive tone to every aspect of our lives.

 

 

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.

 

 

“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.

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.

 

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.