Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Growing Edges

It has been a long time since I posted ... I am now a full time graduate student and prioritizing things has been a challenge.  Not my training, but other things ... like my blog.

Tonight's thoughts are inspired by a meme on Facebook ...

It was in a dojo in 1983 ... hot, humid, no a/c in the summers, freezing cold in the winters, hardwood floors, no fans, no stopping for drinks, bow out and you leave ... it was in a dojo I learned to take myself to the floor and examine who I had been, who I was, and who I wanted to be ... it was in a dojo I learned to accept and embrace correction ... it was in a dojo that the truest part of myself began the arduous task of emergence.
And I will do it again tomorrow night. It will be in a dojo ... I will face myself and grow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

And the answer is ...

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving in a few days, my mind is straying to whether I have been the kind of karate-ka that others are thankful for.

Have I shown integrity in my training?  Have I lived a life that is the same in and out of the dojo?  Have I encouraged a distressed fellow karate-ka?  Have I pushed through the difficulties I face in my own training and in doing so give someone else hope?  Have I modeled well for others training with me?

I just recently received my second degree black belt rank.  During that test, I ran head-on into some places in my training I have neglected.  Somehow I dug deep and made it through.  Now, I feel the weight of rank again – much the same as I did when I was first awarded shodan.  So I reflect again on what I am revealing to others in my training. 

I have much to be thankful for.  And I join in with my dojo brothers and sisters in thanking my Sensei and all who have trained before me for setting such amazing examples *and* for always believing in me.

The question remains.  Am I living a life as a martial artist that leads others to be thankful for me?  I train and study purposefully,  and trust the answer to this question is yes.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Do I really want the gold medal?

Last summer several of us watched Olympic athletes from all over the world compete in just 2 weeks to see who would go home with the gold medals. Many times, the difference between silver and gold,
or between bronze and 4th place was thousandths of a second or hundredths of a point. It really drives home the realization that only ONE person wins the gold.

Even though those of us who train in martial arts aren’t necessarily running a race or trying to stick a landing or touch the pool wall first, ask yourself this: what would your journey as a martial artist look like if you WERE training for the gold medal?

Let’s redefine what the gold medal might look like for us. Is it achieving the next belt rank? Showing up at Spirit Week every night it’s held? Is it losing enough weight to get into the next lowest size uniform? Is it making it through a class without jumping cadence and doing pushups?

Although in a track event the finish line looks the same for everyone racing, our finish line is unique to each of us. It changes over time, it changes as we grow, and it changes as we hone our craft. Hundreds have run and won their race, passing on their wisdom over the years. Although we are racing with others, our race is our own. One of the coolest things about being in martial arts today is meeting people at other dojos running with you. We also have tons of material telling the stories of
the ancients running their races.

Training with purpose and focus is one of the main ways to win our respective races. Olympic and pro athletes become serious masters of self-control. They maintain self-control in how they train, how they rest, what they eat, what they drink, and how they spend their time – in essence, EVERY part of their life comes under the microscope. Everything I do in reaching my finish line must have precision and purpose or I’ll end up off track. I must focus continuously so I can eventually use the tools in my toolbox without thinking. The cost of strict self-control is so very worth the prize at the finish line.

As we progress through the colored belt ranks, we hear that we must begin to train outside the dojo. What clutter is in your track lane that prevents that? What might trip you, distract you, or injure you as you are running this race? Clear it out!

Everyone needs support and encouragement. Who is in your bleacher stand cheering you on? Who can you turn to for coaching, constructive criticism, a kick in the pants when needed? Not just in the dojo but outside? Build your personal cheerleading and coaching staff.

Many self-help gurus correctly tell us to develop a mental vision of our goal. Who has gone before you that you can use as a visual image to pull you along when it gets tough? One of my weekly affirmations lists all of the black belts I’ve known over the years that possess traits that I want. Some of them I haven’t seen since 1986. Some of them are at our dojo. Some of them have passed on. But reminding myself of their abilities and their bushido journey keeps me going when I get weary. Create a mental picture of who you strive to become.

So, lace up your shoes (put on your uniform), get to the track (go to class or your backyard), and run (train). Tweak your path as you go but never ever take your eyes off that finish line.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Bushido Virtue #7 Chugi - Loyalty

In America today, loyalty can be seen in many forms.  The most blatant example might be avid sports fans.  Even when a beloved team is having a terrible season, a loyal fan will still cheer them on, hope for the best; and even attend games where a loss is expected.

When the going in life gets rough, however, do we stay the course?  Do we remain focused on our path and our goals and refuse to allow what’s around us drag us off course? 

The last of the traditional Bushido tenets, loyalty, or chugi in Japanese, seems to be the epitomal manifestation of the previous six tenets in a samurai’s life. 

Judging from the origins of the word according to Encyclop√¶dia Britannica Eleventh Edition, its meaning is rooted in “allegiance to the sovereign or established government of one’s country”.  Over time, loyalty has come to embody allegiance to just about anything. defines loyalty as “faithfulness to commitments or obligations” and gives fealty, devotion, constancy, and fidelity as synonyms.  Inherent in all of these descriptions is that loyalty comes from a choice.
So, first and foremost, to what are we loyal?  Our dojo, sensei, fellow karate-ka?  Our family, friends, country?  Our faith?  Bushido itself?  Ourselves?

Secondly, how deeply are we loyal?  On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your loyalty to your martial arts training?  To the study of Bushido?  To striving for excellence not only during class but every second of every day?

If you ask a black belt, your spouse, a co-worker what their honest appraisal of your loyalty is, would you truly honestly be willing to hear what they say?  Even better, what would you do with what they say?

Ultimately, the choice is up to you.  Loyalty springs from understanding and choosing to follow the previous virtues of Bushido.  The path lies before you, clear and well-traveled for centuries.  Many travel it now and you will not be alone when the going gets tough.  Will you stay the course? 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Bushido Virtue #6 Meiyo - Honor

Politicians and celebrities using the media to downplay the shame of their misdeeds.  Fathers killing their children for choosing a different point of view.  Our culture’s understanding of honor – meiyo in Japanese – is seriously distorted and sullied.  It seems today that if we can get away with something or “sincerely apologize” if we get caught, then it’s ok to do whatever we want.  Our reputation, our family name, our honor doesn’t matter much anymore.  On the other hand, much arrogance and selfishness has been perpetrated in the name of one’s “honor”.  So what is it really?

This is the 6th virtue of Bushido.  Wikipedia states that honor is “a perceived quality of worthiness and respectability that affects both the social standing and the self-evaluation of an individual or corporate body such as a family, school, regiment or nation”.  The key word is perceived.  From multiple definitions of the word comes the idea that my honor is only as good as what other people see it to be.  But is this what honor means for us in the martial arts?

In “Bushido: The Soul of Japan”, Nitboe explains “A good name—one's reputation, the immortal part of one's self, what remains being bestial—assumed as a matter of course, any infringement upon its integrity was felt as shame, and the sense of shame was one of the earliest to be cherished in juvenile education.”  Here lies the difference.  My honor does not depend on what others think.  It *does* take into consideration what others have taught me.  It *does* heed what my mentors, my fellow karate-ka, and my sensei says.  But ultimately, my own personal honor is judged from within.  And without the previous 5 tenets of Bushido, my judgment will be skewed. 

This is why I am glad I feel ashamed if I do not drop for pushups if I miss cadence during class.

But, what about when I am insulted?  What about when I am accused of something I did not do? Nitobe reminds us that we must temper and balance these outward perceptions of our honor with magnanimity and patience.  Rather than fly into a rage at a perceived insult, we must rely on the previous 5 tenets of Bushido and respond from them. 

This is where it gets tough.  From the beginning, following the tenets of Bushido transforms us from inside out.  Honor is where what is inside us shows itself to the outside world.  What will others see?  Will they become hungry for what we have?  Will they see a life lived so differently than everyone else around them that they ask?  

As said previously, gi points the way for us, yu kicks us in the pants to move, jin keeps us mindful of others on the same journey, rei is how we act toward everyone on the same path (including ourselves) – and makoto keeps us on the path.  Meiyo either repels or draws others to join us on our journey.  Would others want to join you?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bushido Virtue #5 - Makoto - Honor

Honesty – makoto in Japanese is the 5th virtue of Bushido.  Defining honesty is kind of like throwing jello on a wall and expecting it to stick.  So much of what the word means depends on the context and culture in which the word is used, unfortunately.

The quality of being honest; uprightness, fairness, truthfulness, sincerity, frankness.  This is what you see when you look up the word in a dictionary.  Looking up the word honest, though, you find a deeper attempt at definition: honorable in principles, intentions, and actions, upright and fair; gained or obtained fairly; genuine or unadulterated.

Nitobe relates that a samurai could not even comprehend living a life that entertained anything but honesty.  He writes in ‘Bushido: The Soul of Japan’, “The bushi held that his high social position demanded a loftier standard of veracity than that of the tradesman and peasant. Bushi no ichi-gon --the word of a samurai […] was sufficient guaranty of the truthfulness of an assertion. His word carried such weight with it that promises were generally made and fulfilled without a written pledge, which would have been deemed quite beneath his dignity.”

Can you imagine our world today if everyone could trust each other’s word to this degree?

Sadly, our Western culture accepts and even encourages dishonesty at certain times.  Little white lies, living in denial of reality, lying to protect yourself or others; these are all ok today.  Very few people bat an eye when adults tell stories of lying to a police officer to get away with speeding.  In fact, if a ticket isn’t given, the audience celebrates the person’s ability to twist the truth.

In opposition, the samurai strove to accept the reality of truth – truth of the world around them and truth of how they were seen by the world around them.  Likewise, accepting the reality of truth within was a battle samurai fought.  Being able to look at yourself in the mirror and truthfully accept who you are inside must happen before you can begin to accept the reality of the world.

Gi points the way for us, yu kicks us in the pants to move, jin keeps us mindful of others on the same journey, rei is how we act toward everyone on the same path (including ourselves) – and makoto keeps us on the path.

It is so easy for us to lie to ourselves and this is the first and bloodiest battle we fight.  Did we *really* cheat on cadence?  Did I *really* bow correctly?  Did I *really* do all of my pushups?  Does it matter if I screw up on cadence and have to drop and do pushups?  Especially as a black belt – how embarrassing!  BUT!  The damage done *inside* if we don’t honestly admit to ourselves that we cheated on cadence is a million times worse than what it looks like for a black belt to do pushups for cheating cadence.

We can justify and rationalize all we want and today we most likely will not get caught when we “cheat the system”.  This is one of those places within martial arts that “the rubber has to meet the road.”  Are you striving to live the virtues of Bushido?  Honesty is not up for negotiation.  Can you truthfully say that when you give your word that it means the same to you as it did to the samurai?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Achieving Serenity, Tranquility, and Confidence

"For the true master, martial arts are essentially avenues through which one can achieve spiritual serenity, mental tranquility, and the deepest self-confidence." 

-- excerpt of Chapter 1 from "Zen in the Martial Arts" by Joe Hyams

After reading this chapter, my thoughts ...

Am I true?  I am definitely not a master, but am I true?  Not right now.  Please grant me the courage and strength to do so.  To be true.

Am I willing to travel the avenues necessary to achieve what I want?  Without a dojo where I live?  Without a teacher 3 times a week?  Well, at least in the traditional sense.  Am I willing to let it all go and redefine my "dojo"?  I have plenty of places to practice.  I have so many memories of dojos past that I can create my own "dojo" wherever I am.  I must if I want to stay on the avenue.  I must let go of the restrictions in my own mind, the grief of not having a dojo right down the street, the wishing for what isn't.  I must embrace where I am and build a "dojo" for myself.

Is there a difference between spiritual serenity and mental tranquility?  Sometimes I think they are the same, sometimes I think they are different.  Ultimately, both led to peace.  I have always had to work out until all of the pent-up energy is spent before I can sense and rest in my inner peace.  So is all this saying the same thing?

My deepest self confidence has always come after my natural tension-filled, Type A, ready-to-spring self has been tamed by intense training.  And I have a tremendously difficult time pushing myself to that level of intensity on my own - without my sensei calling the shots.  So maybe part of being a true master is when I can do this for myself.

In other words, I've only begun the battle, and I think it's going to be a long time before I win it.