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.
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.
“The relationship between Wisdom, Love and Power. Wisdom without Love and Power would be cruel and weak. Power without Wisdom and Love would be dangerous and selfish, and Love without Power and Wisdom would be victimized and foolish. In our hearts we must learn how to find and join all three of these virtues.”
– Suzanne Lie
Wow! What a wonderful quote. This could be the definition of true budo. A true warrior is at the junction of all three of these. It takes great balance and depth of character to properly and responsibly wield the power that a warrior possess.
If you think studying the martial arts is about crushing others, you are sorely mistaken. It is much much more than that.
On this day in 1999, Nidai Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba passed away.
Aikido is now practiced by millions of people in over 130 countries. What an achievement! Most know that the spread of Aikido worldwide was primarily due to the efforts of 2nd Doshu. What most students of Aikido don’t know is how hard it must have been for him. I can only imagine what it must have been like to not only follow O’Sensei but to thrive as well. Having to follow Furuya Sensei and my own struggles must pale in comparison to what 2nd Doshu had to endure.
Here is a story that Sensei used to tell about 2nd Doshu when he was an uchi-deshi at hombu dojo in 1969 just after O’Sensei passed away. 2nd Doshu was under a tremendous amount of pressure. Every where he turned someone wanted something or was threatening to breakaway. People all over the world were gossiping about him or criticizing his every move. The most common belittling thing people would say was, “He is nothing like O’Sensei.” One day after Sensei overheard some Aikidoist complaining about 2nd Doshu, he became so frustrated that he confronted 2nd Doshu and said, “Why don’t you defend yourself.” 2nd Doshu calmly looked up at him and said, “Aikido people don’t do bad things or say bad things about other people.” The look on 2nd Doshu’s face must have been so reassuringly calm because at that moment Sensei was awe struck and thought to himself, “What a great man.”
Hearing that story always reminded me of this quote by Kisshomaru Ueshiba, “One becomes vulnerable when one stops to think about winning, losing, taking advantage, impressing or disregarding the opponent. When the mind stops, even for a single instant, the body freezes, and free, fluid movement is lost.”
“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.
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.
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.
“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 yo” which 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.