The single best piece of life wisdom I ever got came from a conversation that I over heard while eating breakfast at the counter at a local diner.
The server was talking with another customer about life and the customer asked her why she chose to work as a waitress. She replied, “I am no one special. The only thing I truly have to give others is my kindness…”
In that moment, my mind was totally blown and I just sat there with my mouth agape. The person I was with gave out an audible sigh of disgust.
I turned to him and said, “No, you don’t understand, she just told us the meaning of life.” He didn’t agree.
The thing is, there is nothing more than this. Money isn’t real. Things aren’t real. Everything we possess is not real. Thus, the only thing we do have with which to give another person is our “kindness.”
That is the fundamental assertion behind Aikido and why we do the techniques the way we do them. Any buffoon can wield a sword or hurt others, but only a true master has the inner strength to give someone kindness.
Thus, there is no sword which can oppose kindness.
The only thing we truly possess in this world which we can give to others is our kindness.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
Ishi no ue ni mo sannen
“Perseverance will win in the end.”
Ishi no ue ni mo sannen is a Japanese proverb that most ascribe to mean “don’t give up.” The actual translation is, “Even the coldest rock will get warm if sat on for three years.”
The people who are often times the loudest or biggest aren’t always the one’s who are the strongest. True strength comes from inside. When fear or self-doubt over take us, it takes someone of true inner strength and character to not run or give up.
There is an old Samurai kuj-ji or mudra that Furuya Sensei put on his Art of Aikido video series that reads Rin Byo To Sha Kai Jin Retsu Zai Zen (臨兵闘者皆陣列在前) which translates as “The bravest warrior excels at the front of the battlefield.”
Brave or courageous people never quit in the face of adversity – They step up. If we persevere, eventually we will win.
Whatever you do, don’t give up!
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.
“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.
“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.
There 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.