David M. Valadez
The only mistake you can make in Budo is quitting. All else are markers of The Way and watersheds of your own spiritual maturity.
It is easy to believe in today’s ego-derived “feel good” culture that commitment has to be easy or make sense in order to be good for us, or that commitment, due to its inherent difficulties and our likely modern inability to remain steadfast in the face of those difficulties, is a human virtue long gone. I would suggest, however, that what Man has marked as a virtue is and always has been by default a rare thing. Thus, in our past, as in the present, the man or woman capable of true commitment is and always has been a rare thing. The choice then for the Warrior, whose entire being rests on the virtue of commitment or on nothing at all, is not really between quitting and not quitting, between keeping one’s commitment or breaking it. It is rather a choice between following the masses or standing apart. It is merely one of the ironies of history that Modern Man in seeking to follow his own ego above all else has condemned him/herself to be like everyone else.
In Budo, the body is both the weapon and the vessel to spiritual maturity.
Motivation is a need of the masses. Self-discipline is a virtue of the few.
Know this well! When you are truly not attached to something, you can be either with it or without it. If you can only be with it, you are still attached to it. And, if you have to be without it, you are still attached to it.
The Path is a technology, a series of practices designed to cultivate and maintain a mature spirit, and thus to cultivate and maintain a wellness of one's being. It is a matter of daily participation and continuous upkeep of the body-mind so that the practitioner is imbued with virtue, and so that this virtue can infiltrate every aspect of the practitioner's existence. You may think this is a grand idea, describing a grand event, but it is the opposite that is true. The Path is a made up of small things, ordinary things, common things. It is to move when moving. It is to rest when resting. It is not more than this.
"The hardest thing for most people, when it comes to building (practice), is sticking to it long enough for it to become ingrained."--Leo Babauta
Hmmmm... That seems to make the easiest thing for most people is to quit. Hmmmm... That makes a quitter someone who is prone to taking the easier route over the right route. Hmmmm... That's probably why in warrior cultures across land and time the worst thing you could be is a quitter, a person that couldn't be trusted when the easy way and the right way both show up to choose from.
There are five aspects to all creation, and so there are five aspects to all Aikido waza: Tao, Stillness, Movement, Outer, and Inner.
While there are those that look to get away from the practice of stress inoculation through the rationale of performance art, close quarter combat that is brought to the level of art and the cultivation of the Warrior’s heart-mind cannot do without it. However, it should be noted that the utilization of stressful training environments alone will not produce inoculation. Such environments must be made part of a larger overall practice in order for them to function as desired. This larger overall practice consists of three parts: 1) An education on the physical, mental, and spiritual workings of stress; 2) A training regiment, regularly practiced, where self-dissociation must occur in order to achieve the performance levels being sought after; and 3) A full-person participation in a culture where self-attachment and/or the succumbing to the negative effects of stress are not only looked down upon but so too is the man or woman for having acted as such.
"How hard did you train?" When I pose that question, there will be some who can understand it, and answer it knowing its meaning, its purpose, and its value. Then, there will be others, whereupon hearing the question, say to themselves, or aloud, "'How EFFICIENT did you train?' is a better question." The latter seems to make sense, and it also seems to trump the former, except for one thing: A person who has trained their hardest is not emotionally pressed to speak about efficiency when the topic of effort is what is on the table.
I would not call my perspective merely a matter of the “glass being half empty," or merely a matter of perspective. I am not being overly cynical. It is an observation built up over decades of teaching folks in the Warrior Arts, arts now practiced by people produced by a culture that has come to admire athletes as heroes and that today mistakenly believes the sport mindset to be the warrior mindset. The Warrior Arts today have their ranks filled by these masses, people that in other ages (and perhaps still in other cultures) would have been clearly seen as fragile - physically fragile, mentally fragile, emotionally fragile, and spiritual fragile. Under these conditions, in my opinion, it is better to hold the perspective that “hard training assumes efficient training” than it is to assume that “efficient training assumes hard training” or that "efficient training stands in contrast to efficient training." Today, in the Warrior Arts, especially in Aikido, sensei that will champion the position that one must train efficiently are a dime a dozen. Contrarily, sensei that look out at their deshi and say, "You are too fragile, and that cannot be!" are few and far between. Moreover, the latter sensei are painted as "deviant," "ignorant," "unhealthy," and "someone to avoid." For me, it is and should be a wake up call, a call to action, when our Warrior Arts stop problematizing human fragility. This is because when you think of what a warrior is and/or should be, he or she is someone that can do what needs to be done no matter what the circumstances. That is to say, when you think of what a warrior is and/or should be, he or she is, for lack of a better word, tough, or he or she is no warrior at all. This is why I hold that hard training assumes training efficiently, and why I am skeptical of folks that hold training efficiently above training hard or that hold training efficiently in contrast to training hard.
One of the main reasons for training in Budo is to promote wellness in ourselves, to develop a spiritual maturity capable of staving off Modernity's proneness toward anxiety, depression, and meaninglessness. By meeting the needs of training we come to cultivate within ourselves virtues such as self-discipline. And, it is upon virtues such as self-discipline that we come to cultivate other virtues, virtues such as integrity, virtues that work as cure-alls for what can ail our emotional and spiritual selves. This is why integrity is so important for the warrior. It is not merely a matter of imagined honor for him or her. For the warrior, integrity is a symptom of wellness, and its absence is a sign of disease.
When I was in the Academy, we, over one hundred hired law enforcement cadets, underwent an informal psychological profile exam on the first day. We took this exam independently of each other, and upon completion, the Academy director used the exam to make a point. We were allowed during debrief to share our answers if we so desired – everyone did. The director’s point: There’s one trait we all had in common, my cadet class being no exception as shown by the exam; we were all disgusted by and opposed to bullying.
Senshin Center has a zero-tolerance policy against bullying. Zero-policy means “beyond discussion” and “no second chances.” I hope your dojo has the same policy in light of the fact that you are transmitting martial skills to the children that train under you. I hope you demand and expect honorable behavior, behavior filled with wisdom and compassion, from all of your deshi. I hope you as the teacher have the same disgust and opposition to bullying, and that you are warrior enough to be have a true zero-tolerance policy. I hope you are “sheep dog” enough to serve and protect, and not prone to the sheepish behavior that only works to enable the bully – as such behavior is far from zero-tolerance.
Keep your mind. Remain present. Never do anything because you've always done it. There is a New World in every breath.
In Budo, there is nothing without sincerity. Sincerity is the catalyst for all authentic self-transformation, including the acquisition of martial skill. What does this mean for us, members of a modern culture that each generation produces people more and more skillful at practicing self-alienation and self-deception? It means that a capacity for sincerity can no longer be assumed present in the deshi, and that training must itself include practices and techniques designed to cultivate sincerity. Today, it is very unlikely that just showing up to train is going to bring us the results we want. Most likely, our training and the dojo will be more influenced by our outside world than our outside world will be influenced by training and the dojo. If we are not mindful, and value what should be valued, it is in the very act of training itself that we will lose all that training has to offer. The true warrior keeps an ever watchful eye on the horizon, but he/she keeps an even more watchful eye on him/herself.
If suffering can be attributed to an un-reconciled ego, and if an un-reconciled ego presents itself first and foremost through a lack of awareness, then we can say that there is a relationship between a lack of awareness and suffering. It would seem then that the cultivation of awareness is a necessary part of relieving us from a life of suffering. Thus, we say, awareness must be brought to the eight directions and to the ten thousand things and to the seen and unseen. This is the awakening of Budo, and this is the reconciliation of our ego-attachment.
I would not say the tactical environment in MMA is about "one on one combat." It's about a one on one weaponless match. Many of the tactical elements in combat, whether on the street or on a battlefield, remain unknown and/or unknowable. On the other hand, these elements are often controlled to the point that they don't exist or become irrelevant in an MMA match context. Such exclusion changes the overall context, and that in turn determines the best tactics to be employed. That's why MMA looks like it does: It is perfectly suited the context of the match, and the context of the match is perfectly suited to the tactics being used. But, when you don't know the numbers involved, and no one says “go” or “stop,” when weapons are either present or their presence is unknown, and when the front is unknown or unknowable, etc., the last thing you want to do is fight in that type of context (i.e. combat) using the best match tactics developed to date. As a person would be looking at a fish out of water should a samurai art enter The Octagon, so is one going to see a fish out of water when the MMA match artist enters the context of close quarter battle.
Aikido is like one's diet. If you cheat here or there, if you do it half-ass, etc., if you don't train daily or if you don't make everyone of the classes you are signed up for regardless of circumstances, you get what you get. This usually means, while you get what you deserve, you won't get what you want.
"Ignore the opinions others have of you!"
It's true, this is the conventional wisdom today. But questions remain: Is paying no heed to the thoughts or opinions of others part of Budo? Is it consistent with the Confucian social theory that Budo is based upon? Is such a perspective part of traditional East Asian culture, the birthplace of Aikido? Can we meet Osensei's agenda of reconciling the world by separating ourselves from the thoughts, beliefs, and opinions that others may have of us? Or, at a more personal level, are we ourselves truly better served by paying no heed to the thoughts and opinions of our teachers, our parents, or others that are wiser and more experienced than ourselves? Aren't there some people and some opinions we should value? What will we use if we totally ignore the perspectives of others to determine whether or not we are deluding ourselves or whether or not we are on the right track? And, how do we distinguish in ourselves the difference between staying true to ourselves and generating a self-alienation based upon deeply buried intimacy issues when we by default devalue the opinions others have of us? I leave it to the reader to answer these questions for him/herself.
For me, and for those that look to train under me, Budo involves a code of self-governance wherein all forms of fear are problematized and reconciled. Ignoring the opinions and thoughts of others, especially those more skilled and/or more experienced than ourselves, is a type of avoidance, and avoidance is a type of fear. Hence, according to this code, I'd rather be a person that can heed the opinions of others and nevertheless stay true to myself and/or use their opinions and insights to further hone myself than to be a person that postulates or acts according to a causal relationship thought to exist between achieving my own accomplishments and the ignoring of thoughts and opinions held by others.
Uke should have only three elements to his/her involvement in the Nage/Uke dynamic as it is manifested in Kihon Waza. Add more, and ukemi becomes dishonest, plagued by an over-abundance of irrelevant tasks, and the practice the the art becomes impure and degenerates. These elements are:
- Provide the prescribed energy.
- Maintain this prescribed energy through the Kihon Waza.
- Don't die or get so injured that you cannot repeat the first two elements.
The warrior is either in the midst of combat, or he/she is preparing for it.
Simplicity is so valuable to the warrior that he/she will treat it like a type of capital, giving it a kind of value that can and should be exchanged for things such as social prestige, money, and even time. The non-warrior holds no such value for simplicity. Thus, the warrior looks upon the non-warrior in his/her overly complicated ways of being and takes in this sight not with the gaze of the “found” looking upon the “lost.” Rather, this seeing takes place with the gaze of one species looking upon another species.
When the martial aspects of Aikido have pulled you away from the mystical and religious aspects of the art, and/or when the spiritual aspects of the art have pulled you away from the combat and battle aspects of the art, you have not fully understood either. You are still working within current paradigms, current cultural fictions, self-attachment, and fear. You have transcended nothing.
In combat, you cannot depend upon leniency or exception for your survival. All you have is self-responsibility. It should be no different then when you are in the dojo. Everything is about self-responsibility - depend not on leniency or exception.
Aikido may be a way to reconcile the world, but I am skeptical that Aikido federations are a way of making the art thusly potent.
Nothing is as motivating as seeing a person that is supposed to be a cultivated warrior but is in reality so distant from this expected ideal. Nothing else so burns and drives the spirit and the body to purify itself of its own remaining hypocrisy, inconsistency, and charade, lest one too risk being such a debacle.
There are deshi that are always efforting to see how they can do more work, how to train more, etc. There are deshi that are always efforting to see how they can do less work, how to train less, etc. Deep down, you know which deshi you are, and deep down you know which deshi you are supposed to be.
I am a believer in the importance of blending, following the path of least resistance, postural development, energy transference, connection, leading, centeredness, spiritual maturity, character development, and all of the other integral aspects of Aikido. In this regard, I find myself akin to almost every other Aikidoka in the world today. I also agree with the understanding that these things are best initially cultivated under highly controlled training environments, environments wherein stress and crisis are reduced to a minimum, and wherein the manifestation of these aspects have the most probable chance of being embodied. However, I also hold that the quality of each of these aspects is not determined by that aspect’s presence alone. Rather, I hold, that the quality of each aspect is in fact determined by its tolerance to stress and crisis. The more stress and crisis faced, the more intense or harsh an environment can be, without causing the disappearance of any or all of these integral aspects of the art, the more one’s practice can be deemed authentic. Subsequently, the use of harshness, intensity, and stress, cannot and should not be taken completely out of our training. Furthermore, expressions of the art that can only be upheld under idealized training conditions must be deemed inauthentic.
The two biggest acts of cowardice in Aikido occur when a sensei refuses to fully take on the spiritual mentoring of his/her deshi, and when a deshi fails to fully submit to that mentorship should it be present.
Indeed, Budo is a matter of living and learning. The only true mistake then is living in a way that does not recognize what we have learned.
Once we separate sport from combat, we can again see the centrality of the martial question in our Aikido practice. Once we allow for that centrality, the practice of the art cannot be wholly contained in the technical concerns of the Aikido engineer, the Aikido historian, or in the Aikido museum curator – those personalities that tend to make a fetish of Aikido technique. In fact, the practice of the art cannot be wholly contained in the concern for technique. Once we allow for the centrality of the martial question, your practice is also going to center around you being strong of body, strong of mind, and strong of spirit. Your technical concern is going to at some point raise the issues of performance envelope and practical viability. At some point then, your practice isn’t going to just ask, “Can you’re Aikido handle it?” It’s going to ask, “Can you handle it?”
Once, when partnered with a Nage that I was at least six inches taller than and at least 70 pounds heavier than, she threw me through the air and I landed about ten feet from her. That taught me that I was right to doubt myself and to keep my faith in Aikido - that training was not a matter of Aikido working but of me working.
The warrior does not fight against what he hates. The warrior fights to protect what he loves. This is why in the highest martial traditions, the cultivation of and capacity for love is always upheld, while base reactionary emotions are always looked down upon.
For the warrior, the only true enemy is fear, and though this enemy is singular in nature this enemy is everywhere. The warrior is thus in a state of constant vigilance, ready to slay this beast whenever it aggresses upon him.
What a sad existence to have never met a person worthy enough to displace our own ego attachment, prostrate ourselves before them, and say, "Master." What a sadder existence to have met such a person but then found ourselves without the capacity to do these things.
The single largest factor that has contributed to contemporary Aikido's incompleteness as a viable martial practice and/or as a Way of self-transformation is that engineers, artists, and archeologists numerically dominate its ranks – classes of people the warrior used or entertained but never sought to become.
Aikido training sessions all over the world resemble more a science class, or an art class, or a history class, than any warrior tradition from the past or present. Today, at these training sessions, you are more likely to hear, “Your vector to the attacking angle is supposed to be complimentary,” or “Relax, and feel the infinite nature of the circle being expressed,” or “This is how Osensei taught my teacher to do the technique,” than you are, “Get your f-ing face off the mat, dig deeper, and get your ass up NOW and do it again because someone else is already training harder to put you back down once and for all!” Thus, training sessions all over the world do not require strong bodies, or the self-discipline that goes with maintaining a 24/7 operational fitness that’s built upon proper diet and conditioning. Training sessions today do not generate fear and instigate survival reactions via the presence of martial intensity, so nor do they cultivate the spiritual centeredness necessary to move beyond the lack of virtue contained in our habitual and reactive states of being. Training sessions do not utilize repeated and prolonged exposure to danger as a means of fettering the mind, so nor do they cultivate authentic forms of awareness and centeredness capable of surviving beyond ideal conditions. In the past, when the Hell Dojo opened its doors up to the engineers, artists, and archeologists of that day, they were all thought of as guests, and its clear from the photo documentation of that time that there was two schools in that dojo – an inner, more real school, and an outer less authentic school. The former school was made up of warriors and they looked and thought and acted like warriors of any age and culture. The latter school, well, its members looked like and thought like and acted like the dominant practitioners of today. The guests have taken over the house, and today, the warrior is not only a stranger to the art, but he/she is an unwanted stranger.
There are many practices that are a lot like Budo. And, it is true, these other practices can hold within them a lightness that is not present in the heaviness of Budo. Is that a good thing? I don’t think so. This lightness is present in other practices because the practitioner brings no resistance to the practice, and there is no resistance practiced by the practitioner because there is no fear generated by the practice. There is no fear generated in said practice because the degree of self-transformation is superficial and/or relatively non-existent. As such, the ego feels unthreatened; knowing the status quo of one’s spiritual immaturity can remain intact. Hence, the ego does not react, and the practice remains “light.” Thus, it is true; one can seek a practice not as “heavy” as Budo, but only by seeking no depth in their self-transformation and/or only by not generating a fear that must be spiritually reconciled. However, is this a true solution for what ails us? Is this a true way of experiencing a true lightness? In Budo, on the contrary, the solution is just to cut to the source: Seek not to resist. Once we stop resisting, be it in the face of deep self-transformation and/or of great fear, we feel the lightness of all lightness, and by comparison we come to see that the “lightness” that comes from avoiding fear and/or by not seeking depth in our self-transformation is actually just another weight – the burden of all burdens normally called “cowardice.”
That's training! Look for first, then discover. And, to "look for first," you have to be dissatisfied. Most folks aren't dissatisfied. Most folks are distracted. That is to say, they hide their dissatisfaction from themselves. That's why they discover nothing.
If our training does not reach the very bottom of our being, we call it surface-level training. All surface-level training is an exercise in resistance.
If you want to leave the ranks of mediocrity, you must train when and how few others will. This is a law of mastery and there is no breaking it or getting around it.
So you want to separate yourself from the turmoil and suffering of this age of entitlement and this culture that prioritizes the seeking of immediate small-self gratification? And you want to train in this art, the most sophisticated form of martial expression, and you want to achieve a spiritual maturity that cultures across space and time have called the highest state of being for Man, and you want to do this in your spare time, a few hours here or there per week?
We know that not everything that is good for us is fun, entertaining, or delicious. We know that the highest human virtues are cultivated in the greatest challenges. We know our spirits need to mature for our own wellness to be maintained, and that that maturity takes time and sincere investment. We know our more base character traits are prone to the whims of our fear, our pride, our ignorance, and to our tendency to cave into our own boredom. We know self-discipline is born only in trial. We know quitting is us at our weakest, our most frail, us at our greatest level of failure.
Well, at least I know this. And, this is why I never ask my kids, “Do you like Aikido?”
We seek a pure and indistinguishable practice, something akin to that moment just before we become conscious of our breath when sitting at the shoreline and watching the sunrise, or just before we become conscious of our listening when we sit by the edge of a running stream. We seek a practice free from both aspiration and hesitation.
I believe if we talk still about "how much" we've committed to our practice, our practice and our life are still separate entities, still two different things, and so as such we are still not firmly planted upon the Way and but remain dabblers and hobbyists.
Yes, Aikido is a spiritual path. I am almost always in complete agreement with the statements made by the art’s greatest spiritual masters on the nature of our humanity, our struggle, and our ultimate freedom. However, I know that great parts of me hide or rest on the other side of my deepest and most silent fears, in my attachment to my own flesh, in the avoidance of my own pain, and in the deepest recesses of my own yet abandoned will to power. For this reason, while I may say what they say, I do not move like they move. I do not train or practice like they do. Because we do not move, train, and practice the same, in essence then, we are not really saying the same thing either.
The Way and a true sense of closeness is found in sincerity. And, sincerity cannot exist where wholeheartedness is absent or where contradiction is present.
It is true, knowledge is power. So too, it is true, is self-awareness. And, the same can be said for acceptance, and non-attachment, and a grounded spirit. All these things are power. But this power is an internal power. True, as such, in certain cultural settings, these forms of internal power can be exchanged for cultural capital, which in turn can be exchanged for social capital. Social capital can then give the illusion of external or true power, but it is not such. Rather, what one is seeing is people willing to adopt a certain role, sometimes thought of as a lower role, for the sake of participating in the given exchange of wanted social capital. This is not true submission or subservience, and so it is far from a total forfeiture of power. This is merely the market system playing itself out. In truth, only power is power. For this reason, the warrior can never venture too far away from those practices that actually make him lethal or difficult to be physically disposed.
There is nothing in Aikido in and of itself that will produce virtue in us. The practice is all about investment, application of self, sincerity, etc., or it is nothing at all and can quite easily be turned into a sport or a form of exercise or even into the very mechanism of non-virtuous being and behavior. It is like this with all spiritual paths.
Aikido is for all and for the few. This does not mean that one can train at whatever level they are comfortable at and still learn and truly benefit from the art. This means, rather, Aikido is open only to the disciplined, and that we all have within us the potential to live a disciplined life.
Most people are totally ignorant of violence and how it functions, but popular culture, which is how this ignorance is spread, makes everyone believe they are an expert in violence simply because they watch movies and read books on the matter. They have no problem sharing their opinion and even holding it up to and against the true experts - folks with real-life repeated experiences in violence. It's a shame.
In the dojo, fine technique trumps all other concerns. In combat, however, a strong body can never be underestimated. By this truth, you can almost perfectly divide the technicians from the warriors.
There is an exhaustion associated with ignorance that only the wise can identify and reconcile.
Where there is resistance and a lack of confidence, hesitancy will surely grow.
Undoubtedly, Aiki and Kokyu, like all the other aspects that work to refine and make viable the art’s tactical architectures, are important. So then the geometric location of a given hand, foot, or hip angle, etc., is equally important. However, the center of the Founder’s art was not these things. The center of the Founder’s art was God. Thus, if you are a follower of the Founder, if you work to judge and guide your art by his, the question is not whether or not Aiki or Kokyu is sufficient in your waza, nor is it a matter of taking this step, or having that grip, or using this hand or that hand, etc. The question is, “Is God present in your technique, and are you a bridge between the Divine and the mundane?”