Tag Archives: Japanese

Be A Stone Warrior

Last week we put an interesting scroll in the tokonoma which reads 力以石武 which means “the power of the stone warrior.

What this scroll alludes to is a teaching in swordsmanship in which a true warrior is one that has attained an equanimous mind.

The rock in this sense is the mind, but don’t think of it as a stationary rock. The mind should be in a free flowing state like a rock rolling down a hill. Along the way, the rolling rock may touch or run into things, but it just calmly and effortlessly moves around the impediment. It could, theoretically, keep on rolling forever.

One of the goals in Aikido training is to develop an unaffectable mind which is always calm and free flowing. In swordsmanship, this is referred to as having an immovable mind or an non-abiding mind.

When a person engages us, if we react to their advances then we are mindless. If we have  equanimity then we can be mindful and thus choose the appropriate course of action.

This kind of mindfulness is necessary in Aikido based on O’Sensei’s philosophy of non-violence. Furuya Sensei explained it:

Aikido has the effectiveness to throw the opponent but, we have decided that in order for it to be real Aikido, it must express a goodness, respect and nobility for life that does not allow us to use excessive violence or a “by any means necessary” attitude.

Being very aware of what we do, we become aware of the consequences and seek to achieve a higher level of existence in this world and within our lives to become good human begins, we are then practicing Aikido as a “do.”

The power thus comes from being a stone warrior who’s mindfully aware and who always acts with appropriate action. This what we strive for and this is one of the true secrets of Aikido training.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go out and slay that Monday!

Gouma (降魔) in Japanese means “To conquer the devil.” Mondays really do feel like that sometimes, don’t they?

 

The devil in this sense is the devil which exists inside all of us.

One of the hardest things to realize is that our life is our own. Other people, things or events can influence our lives but they don’t control them. Those things merely inform our decisions.

Our greatest gift is that we have the power to choose. At any given time we can choose our perspective and our actions. Exercising choice means taking control.

Life’s journey is supposed to be arduous. Nothing good comes easy, but that doesn’t mean it has to be torturous either. The easiest way to make an arduous path more sufferable is to change the way we see it. We cannot know with any amount of certainty where the path of our lives will take us nor do we know how this will factor into our future. Therefore, because of this uncertainty, we can choose to see it any way we want. Choosing to see something in a more positive light enables us to create alignment with it and with who we are and where our lives are going.

In Aikido, one of the main tenets is to create alignment with not only our opponent’s energy but also with their perspective. It is easier to give them compassion when we can see what they see and where they are coming from.

To conquer the devil, is to align, redirect and use our devil’s power to our advantage and reach our greatest heights.

Have a great Monday!

 

 

Be like the moon…

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.

 

This is Life

French poet, Jean de La Fontaine once wrote, “Our destiny is frequently met in the very paths we take to avoid it.” In Japanese, that seemingly cruel twist of fate often times brings us to the place where we least expect to find ourselves is referred to as aienkien (合縁奇縁).

The more we grip on to what we think is the control of life, the more it tosses us around as it tries to wrench our steadfast grip. A true warrior realizes that nothing is under their control. With that awareness they can meet their destiny with kyoshintankai (虚心坦懐) or “a calm and open mind.”

In Aikido, the nage, or the one who throws, is trying to learn how to flow with their partner’s energy and allow the natural flow of the movement to take over. Likewise, the uke, or one being thrown, is trying to learn how stay connected to the flow of their partner and allow the technique to unfold as it will.

In life, it is no different. When we realize there is no true “control” we can see the joy in aienkien. Thus we can meet the serendipity of life on the battlefield with the calmness of kyoshintankai.

This is the path your life is taking, accept it and honor it.

 

Never give up!

In Japanese culture, a person is lauded more for their perseverance than if they actually achieve their goal. In Japanese, the word for perseverance is gaman (我慢). Gaman is more of a cultural idea than merely just a word.

To gaman means to not only persevere, but to have the utmost patience and self-control en route to accomplishing one’s goal no matter how long or arduous. The person who gamans knows that winning or succeeding is not an over night thing but a journey filled with ups and downs.

Having the ability to have unwavering patience while maintaining total self-control in the face of adversity is to have a will of iron or tesshin seki cho (鉄心石腸). People of lesser patience and even less self-control do not have the staying power to see their goals achieved.

A true martial artist is a person who keeps going despite the odds but that requires having an iron will. A will that sees things through until the end no matter what.

In most stories that we hear about, the goal being achieved is but a minor point. The bulk of the story is centered around the hero overcoming the insurmountable odds.

In every person’s life, sometimes daily, we are confronted with the opportunity to step up and show our true metal. That true metal is our will of iron.

Furuya Sensei’s last scroll he put it up explains tesshin seki cho perfectly. It said, “Stay strong, be humble and always keep going!”

What does the air say?

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.

 

 

 

Success is a choice

It always seems really hard to get motivated the day after a holiday. On a day like today I always feel so un-motivated. I am sure if you’re like me, you just don’t want to do anything. Today, I have a lot of writing to do, patients to see, and classes to teach, but I don’t want to do any of them. I just want to relax and do nothing.

Jerry West said, “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.” What West’s assertion points to is that those days when we feel “great” are few and far between and thus we won’t get to the place we want to go if we wait. Furuya Sensei said that those days, when we feel great or do want to, don’t actually count. It’s the days when we have to almost force ourselves to finish or show up, those are the one’s that actually count the most.Those times are places where we find the most rewards whether it is a breakthrough in class, a promotion at work or one more pound lost.

Success is a choice. We can choose our higher selves or lower selves. That is why the days when we don’t want to matter the most. How do we expect to find our greatness when we choose to give in to weakness? Choose to be great.

I know its hard but that is why the road to success is paved with failures not successes. 七転び八起き (Nanakorobi yaoki) or “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

 

 

Are you a butterfly?

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.”

What we do here on Earth echos in heaven.

Tendo Chirei

The kanji in this kakejiku or scroll reads 天道地霊 which most typically translate as “Tendo Chirei.” Tendo Chirei typically translates to mean, “God in heaven, spirits on the ground.

When I looked up the kanjis, another translation came to mind. Another translation of 天道 is amaji or “Path in the heavens.”

So if we use this translation, the scroll means “The path in the heaven, the spirit on the ground” which we can then be interpreted to mean what we do here on Earth is a kin to walking the path in heaven.

O’Sensei’s once wrote, “One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the Art of Peace. Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train.”

The Indian philosophy of ahimsa comes to mind. Ahimsa  dictates that one should strive to do no harm in action, speech or thought.

To train in Aikido is to polish the soul. The genius of O’Sensei is that he was able to put the ahimsa philosophy of non-violence into the techniques.

Every day when we train we are carving out those paths in heaven.

What we do here on Earth echos in heaven. Please train with this in mind.

A wise person…

知者は惑わず、勇者は恐れず
A wise man does not lose his way, a brave man does not succumb to fear.

I read this quote by Kate Forsyth which I think succinctly sums up what a warrior strives for.

“Kind Heart
Fierce Mind
Brave Spirit”

A warrior only needs three things. This assertion is supported by the Japanese proverb above. If we are wise then we will have a kind heart. If we are resolute then we will have a fierce mind. If we are brave then we won’t succumb to fear.

Have courage, don’t give into fear, be determined and never give up. To live the life of a warrior is nothing more than this.