“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.”
Furuya Sensei posted this to his Daily Message on August 20, 2004:
Calligraphy by Saigo Takamori, signed by his pen name Nanshu.
Saigo Takamori is considered the “real” Last Samurai. He lived during the complex end of the Tokugawa Bakufu in the mid-1800’s. He is not famous because he was the victor or because he made a great deal of money – actually he lost the war and committed seppuku as his last troops were being defeated. All his life, he was quite poor and is known for having only one set of underwear and kimono. It is said that when they were being washed, he was naked and simply didn’t see any guests until they dried.
What he is famous for is his loyalty to what he believed in – regardless if it was the winning or losing side, despite fame or fortune and “for richer or poorer” as I have heard somewhere.
When I view his calligraphy, I see great inner strength as well as gentleness. It is easy to see in his strokes that he doesn’t not follow any popular way but is true to himself and his beliefs. This type of brush stroke is extremely hard to imitate when such a brilliant personality shines through so strongly.
Our Aikido should be the same – true to the Path and strong but at the same time gentle.
I know some of you will ask me, “How can something be strong and gentle at the same time?”
Of course – isn’t this what we are trying find out in our practice? Who can answer such a question?
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.
A few years ago, we had a person teaching for us. He was knowledgeable about his art but a woefully horrible teacher. When students would come to me to complain about him, I would tell them, “It is your job to work hard, overcome and get better despite the circumstances.” Most would quit because they couldn’t get over this person’s presentation, but the real reason is that they didn’t want to persevere and overcome the adversity.
What these people couldn’t understand is that often times, the best teacher is the one who is the most unreasonable. Sometimes the teacher’s unreasonableness is intentional such as in the case of Furuya Sensei who was a staunch disciplinarian. In other cases, it is the teachers lack of ability which forces the student to surmount the situation. Either way they have to find a way to get better. The “unreasonableness” forces the student out of their comfort zone and towards mastery.
Today, we will be getting a new President. Regardless if we voted for him or not, we are stuck with him. He appears to be unreasonable. Thus we have to find a way around him whether we like it or not. We are martial artists, no matter the situation or odds, we must have the courage to step up, face the challenge and succeed.
Accept things as they are not as they should be. Work hard, persevere and succeed. Nobody is coming to save us, but us. The victor is not the person who sits idle and complains, but the person who keeps on going despite the situation.
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.”
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, hatsuyume – 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.
“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?
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 kokkifukureior 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.
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.