Reflections, 2016

David M. Valadez




January, 2016


It is so telling how current practitioners tend to gravitate toward photographs of past masters smiling or laughing, looking for any departure away from the terror that they were known for and had generated on the mat. It is a pitiful attempt to remove the tool of fear from training, to be able to say or think, "See, Budo does not need to be scary. I can stay fragile and delicate and still be considered a martial artist!"

1/1/16


Look to position your fingers, metacarpals, and wrists correctly, and your arm movement will follow suit.

1/1/16


You should give up interest in rank and credentials altogether and let skill or the lack of skill speak for itself.

1/1/16


The body/mind is the great mystery. There is no place greater or more wonderful, and you will not find one secret in all of the Universe that is not already there.

1/1/16


It is popularly well-known that the use of trial as a technology of the self generates a chain reaction of transformation and improvement in multiple and different aspects of the individual. For example, the trial of lifting heavy objects can both lead to the cultivation of a strong body and of an anti-fragile, less breakable, emotional self. Today, many fitness programs assist their clients by this very means, and even we do it in our Aiki I children's program, where many emotional, psychological, and/or behavioral issues, are easily reconciled in a new child member, children who have been kicked out of multiple schools for such issues even, simply by helping them gain the strong body nature they need to have. Yes, Budo uses this technology in this mundane way but it also uses it in a different way and ultimately for different reasons. Budo belongs to an even older tradition, which is actually the source for the above-mentioned utilization of trial. In this more ancient tradition, trial is firmly a part of the daily and overall praxis of the anchorite. However, the religious recluse utilizes trial for one simple reason, here echoing Thomas Merton: Because God does not wrestle with the weak.

1/6/16


Your true practice rests outside of motivation and the need for finding motivation. Motivation speaks of alternatives existing, and of an "I" to choose between them. The need for motivation means you're still not convinced, still not committed, still not operating at the level of being. We do not need motivation to breathe, and that is how our practice should be.

1/7/16


Budo is like living amongst a pack of wolves, the dojo is a land of wolves. And, the worst thing you can do amongst wolves in the land of wolves, worse than anything else, the thing you must avoid the most, is to be a sheep.

1/8/16


Odds are, your best deshi are not just going to walk by your dojo. Such people came to your dojo more likely for the wrong reasons: proximity to where they live or work, the convenience of scheduled classes, the feeling that none of the other dojo in town meet their needs, etc. More likely, your best student is going to be the one that lives nowhere near the dojo, the one that sought you out as a teacher, the one that travels miles and overcomes obstacles everyday just to show up on time. Of my own three main teachers, the closest was an hour to two hours from my house, traffic depending, and the others were respectively four hours and twelve hours away. I always considered their schools close and myself lucky for being so near.

1/9/16


For Budo, like all spiritual traditions, to function as a process for self-transformation and the cultivation of virtue, the deshi has to invest the totality of their being in the training. You cannot just go through the motions, and you must ever be cautious of simply remaining at an exterior and/or superficial level.


That said, no deshi ever comes to a dojo with a fully conscious and overt resistance, a will to remain superficial, a closing off of self. No deshi ever openly and with full awareness seeks to gain a hollow exercise in place of what is truly Budo. Yet, this happens all the time, most of the time. It happens by very subtle means, just under the level of the conscious self, at the level of habit.


There are four forms of such resistance or four ways by which is generated a degeneration of the Sensei/Deshi dynamic. In short, they are: The deshi has a heart/mind plagued by competition; The deshi has a heart/mind plagued by surety; The deshi has a heart/mind plagued by introversion; the deshi has a heart/mind plagued by a performance orientation.


Elaborating, the heart/mind of competition sees one's teacher as an adversary; the heart/mind of surety sees one's teacher as either an equal or even as an inferior; the heart/mind of introversion holds back and never extends toward the teacher; and the heart/mind of performance finds satisfaction in only mimicking the teacher.

In my experience, these are the primary means by which the natural order at work in the transmission of wisdom and being is violated and made impotent within the Sensei/Deshi dynamic. In its place, one finds only self-attachment, a deshi that is at odds with the Way, making the only conclusion to such relationships nothing more than a total waste of time.

1/9/16


God is not where we are. God is found only in our absence. God is the great potential, the source prior to all manifestation, including the manifestation of us. We must un-manifest ourselves, lose ourselves, returning to what we were before we became ourselves. There, we will find God.

1/14/16


The point is to serve. The point of serving is to suffer. The point of suffering is to do so in silence.

1/14/16


Be neither this nor that.

1/16/16


Your daily practice should include a set of simple exercises or austerities that you can do almost anywhere, repeatedly throughout the day, all the way until bed time. An easy one to do is shomen suburi using a heavy suburito or a steel sword. While this exercise conditions your body for kokyu-ryoku, which is a must, done in this way, this exercise can also condition your spirit, which is also a must.

1/16/16


Where there is convenience there is no Budo.

1/22/16


Convenience leads to quitting. Continue to bathe in the river of convenience and the current of quitting will flush you away.

1/23/16


The best way to prepare for Budo training is to start Budo training. This is so because there is no other practice like Budo and because procrastination and hesitation are not part of the Warrior's Path.

1/23/16


The senpai who does not follow your teacher's teaching is not your senpai.

1/23/16


Today, no one can afford to live a life entirely free of asceticism. To do so is to risk insanity.

1/23/16


The integrity of dedication and devotion charges us and generates an energy with which all obstacles and enemies fade away into nothingness.

1/25/16


You often hear that zazen, what is poorly translated as "meditation," is "the center of Zen practice." This is true, but not in the way that most people believe, especially non-Zen practitioners, people that never actually trained inside of a Japanese system of Zen practice. When the non-initiate hears this statement, he or she believes that all a Zen initiate does is zazen, or that the monk or nun spends most of his/her time doing zazen. Nothing could be further from the truth. The majority of Zen practice in terms of number of hours or dedicated time out of a given day (not counting the special practices of sesshin and rohatsu) is spent working. Labor is very important in Zen practice. Along with working, the initiate's day is oriented by a temple etiquette and a master/disciple relationship that is never to leave their body/mind. Thus, when it is said that zazen is at the center of Zen practice, this "center" is not a durational one. Rather, this center refers to a kind of technological primacy, one where the expectation is that all of the other self-cultivation gained by all of the other practices should and needs to show up on the zafu, in zazen.

The same can be said for Aikido. The center of Aikido is kihon waza, but if this is the actual majority of our total practice, we will be missing the point by a huge margin. More important, because they are more viable technologies of the self, and for example, is the following of dojo etiquette, the ever increasingly penetrating nature of the sensei/deshi dynamic, and the maintenance of and commitment to a daily training schedule. The cultivating effects of these things should and need to show up in our kihon waza. This is what it means when we say kihon waza is the center of our Aikido practice.

1/26/16


Ironically, we moderns, we materialists, hold that virtue is a thing of the mind and not of matter. The ancients were different. Being experts at observation, they saw that virtue is in the flesh, in the body, or it is not at all. To be sure, this does not mean that virtue was not also held to be in our hearts or our minds or in our spirits. It is only to say that if it is not in our bodies, then it cannot be in these other places either. This understanding is not beyond our comprehension or even outside of our daily experience. It should not be so strange a concept. For example, if we observe a body with erratic breathing patterns, a red complexion, and shoulders hunched up to one's ears, fists clenched, we are not going to believe they are practicing the virtue of patience simply because they verbally repeat over and over again, "I am patient." Instead, we separate ourselves from our usual logocentric paradigms of understanding and instead believe the person's body. We surmise, siding with our eyes, and rightly so, respond, "You are not patient."


Like the virtuous heart/mind/spirit, the virtuous body, is known by a kind of absence, an incapacity to be pulled or pushed off center, an absence of reactivity. As such it is marked by a certain type of physiological organization, one that leads to and maintains an integrity of posture and a relaxed groundedness or heaviness. The virtuous body like the virtuous mind is a disciplined thing. It does not sway to the winds of changing conditions, and so it does not uncontrollably react to them. It is not a slave to them. Instead, it remains organized and simply responds appropriately by doing what must be done and nothing more or nothing less.


In addition to this prioritization of the body, the ancients also held that Man cannot think his/her way into virtue. So, for example, Man cannot think him/herself into being brave, that he/she cannot intellectualize or will him/herself into not physically and mentally reducing all of one's infinite response options into the three unconscious reactions of fight, flight, or freeze. They held that while the mind can be virtuous, virtue cannot enter into our being through the mind. Alternately, the ancients saw that the body can be cultivated with virtue, the the body was the gateway, that since virtue itself has a material component the body can have virtue weaved into its sinews and fused to its cells.


There is a long history responsible for why Man today holds that his/her self and wellness can be cultivated simply by sitting in a pew or a chair, or reclining on a couch, not moving, taking his/her body out of the equation, and simply listen and speak. However, that history has nothing to do with what is observed in Nature, or the effectiveness or viability of merely using our intellect to address the totality of our being.

This history has come to affect Budo today, even changing it outright and forcing it to break with its ancient wisdom. Today, in most dojo, the virtues are also thought up as immaterial things, ideas, and the body components of training are at best considered only metaphors or analogies for those ideas. It is no wonder then why we see a majority of disorganized bodies in Aikido today more than we see organized bodies, why the art is plagued by bodies that push and pull, that over extended, that are filled with tension and made light, bodies that require the environment in which it is training to be made less trying, less stressful, less challenging to its structure and organization. With this, with the absence of cultivating virtue through the body gone, with the understanding that the body is the only means of cultivating virtue gone, with the understanding that this is the point of training gone, the reasons for dedication and commitment are also gone. Today, the mats are filled with dabblers, people that train only in their comfort zones, and people who seek to do as little as possible so as not to disrupt their material lives. Today, any Budo sensei that wants his/her mat empty of these people must become more of a proselytizer than anything else, for few will be those that come ready to train and that will meet every requirement as if it is a tied off piece of rope to a rope-bridge suspended over a great chasm that they are using to get across to their greater self.

1/30/16


You can be on very friendly terms with your bokken. However, you should be married to your suburito.

1/30/16



February, 2016


The Warrior's Path is in part a matter of becoming skilled in resilience. And, when we are not resilient enough for the environment we may find ourselves in we will have surrounded ourselves with others that are, and they will lift us up onto their shoulders until we can find our feet again.

2/1/16


Aikido is not an exercise. Neither is it a philosophy. Aikido is the skill, the act of evenness, of centeredness.

2/1/16


Truth be told, personally, I am not a fan of the ponytail - in Aikido or in any warrior art. However, it is not because it hearkens back to "Above the Law," or because it is often an element in some sort of exercise in the exotic Other fetish, in this case the samurai. No, for me, it goes back to when I was able to control a person's height and mobility by controlling their head by holding onto their ponytail, and using it to my advantage and being able to strike and check counters at will and repeatedly. For me, warriors do not give up such an advantage by adopting such a disadvantage.


That said, this is not what irks me about ponytails in Aikido. What I find irksome is how many aikidoka grant authority and skill to someone just for having a ponytail. It is the associated superficiality that I find distasteful and hard to swallow.

2/3/16


The point of reflection is self-critique. Self-critique is an integral part of The Way. It is a process of continually measuring oneself against known and adopted ideals. In the end, the goal is greater proximity to those ideals or an even further refinement of the ideals themselves. Subjectively, for the person practicing reflection, the act manifests itself in the cultivation of the virtues or skill set of integrity, consistency, and authenticity. With these skills, the aikidoka is able to project his or her practice into the undiscovered and yet keep it whole. To those following, to the kohai, or even to peers, the reflections of others can act as light posts or as anchor points, devices that can be used to determine directions and orientations that may be worth our time and further exploration. These reflections are offered here in that spirit.

2/4/16


If your teacher does not know your name, if he/she cannot remember it, that is not a fault of his/hers. That is a fault of yours.

2/5/16


The two ultimate darknesses: Yin that wants to be Yang, and Yang that pretends to be Yin.

2/6/16


My charge is to inform, not to inspire. Do as you will.

2/7/16


Awakening, Enlightenment, Mystical Union, Spiritual Maturity, call it what you will, is a skill, a craft, very akin to all other crafts, such as cabinet making, metal working, pottery, etc. That is to say, spiritual maturity can be learned, as it is a science of the heart/body-mind, and its practice must be kept up because all skills are perishable skills.

2/8/16


What is one learning when everything is allowed to escape or disappear amidst a sea of compromise?

2/10/16


It is likely the fearless were born fearless. It is also possible they were raised that way. What is unlikely, what is less possible, regardless of what the Health and Wellness Industry is selling, is that the fear-filled can muster up the courage necessary to practice a fear-reconciling technology to the degree it must be practiced.

2/12/16


Budo is not for everyone, and I am for even fewer.

2/12/16


True power does not feel itself.

2/13/16


There's a huge difference between theory and "gknowing," as one of my Religious Studies professors used to say (think "gnosis"). In today's world, everyone claims to be an expert, claims to know, and everyone has the "credentials" to back the claims up. Credentials abound, and sometimes in a few years, even down to a matter of hours, "masters" are born, sometimes everyday. However, I call bullshit.


"Expert" and "experience" share a root word and so the meaning of one should be found in the other. That said, then, any knowledge or expertise outside of experience should only be thought of as theory, even when a claimed "expert" is saying it and even when credentials claim to give him/her the right to speak and the authority to be heard.


Theory, or knowledge claims made outside of experience, can at most only be understood as "possible but unproven." That said, the following should be understood as theory and seen only as a lessor knowledge, as something only possibly true, and something still unproven. Meaning, you should not give the following much weight:

Weight loss instruction from anyone under 35 years old.

Long-term fitness instructions from anyone having under 30 years of training.

Martial instruction from anyone whose arena of application is the dojo or the sport arena or weapon-free zones.

Instruction on commitment and dedication to training from anyone who is doing said training as their primary job, and/or who has no kids, and/or has no spouse.

Advice on blending, harmony, and Aiki from anyone that is single, divorced, and/or is alienated from their parents, their siblings, and/or any of their children.

Instruction on centeredness from anyone that self-medicates, uses medications to affect mood or sleep, is addicted to sugar, and/or to self-destructive or excessive behaviors.

Instruction on power development from the largest person on the mat.

Instruction on meditation from anyone that never had a meditation mentor in a monastic or a semi-monastic system, and/or that meditates to relax, and/or whose practice centers around meditation sessions under 30 minutes at a time.

Instruction on emptiness, self-detachment, or on reconciling fear from anyone with food preferences or sexual hang-ups, and/or counter culture tendencies.

Instruction on compassion or love from anyone who doesn't listen to music, does not dance, does not laugh and play with children, and/or avoids animals.

Instruction on inner strength from anyone that is physically weak.

Instruction on living a fulfilling life who has not had a death in the family.

Get the idea? The list can go on and on. Yes, some theorists can stumble upon the truth, but these people are rare, so rare that it is more likely that you are not one of them than you are, and more likely that you will never meet them in person than you will.

To gain wisdom is to accumulate experience. To gain knowledge is to formulate that experience for the inexperienced to consider as they gain their own experience.

2/13/16


Budo is a spiritual path. The Budo sensei thus takes on the huge responsibility of mentoring another person in the cultivation of the spirit. Most "sensei" today avoid this, following the way of the world instead and thus opt for the easier path of coach or trainer, opt for self-concern over the concern of others, and choose convenience over commitment. Let them be the farce they choose to be - I say. However, for those that practice the courage and sacrifice necessary to adopt this responsibility as their own, know this: Be mindful of not holding your deshi accountable for consistency between thought, word, and deed. Without this consistency, without requiring it of them, without helping them to achieve it, you slot them for the worst spiritual trap possible: hypocrisy. Like this, there is a special Hell waiting for you then.

2/14/16


For shomen suburi to be a conditioning exercise wherein the hara is made more powerful, no energy can be released through the grip, wrists, or elbows, and the shoulders and the biceps cannot be isolated from the whole of the body in the movement. Additionally, you must not make it a quad and glute workout by bending your knees too much and dropping your weight too far. This breaks connection with the pelvis, and it prevents the spine from dropping straight down and acting as a point of leverage for the entire movement. For the hara to be conditioned it must be used to maintain structure and the center of this structure is the vertical axis of the spine. The sword movement challenges this structure and so it strengthens the hara or conditions the body to be more able to maintain this organization or structure under higher and higher degrees of stress.

2/17/16


You are an idiot. You are an idiot not because you do idiotic things, but because you prioritize not feeling like an idiot over the stopping of doing idiotic things.

2/19/16


Indecision is a sign of spiritual immaturity.

2/21/16


To be able to do what others cannot, to be able to do unusual things, you must first believe in unusual things.

2/27/16


A technique does not just consist of spatial elements only. It also consists of timing elements. Techniques have a flow, a fluidity, a rhythm. If your technique is staccato, filled with moments where you stop and wait, this is likely because your technique consists of clashing angles or because you have poor weight distribution, etc. In other words, your body or mind is being stressed by one thing or another and the need to stop and wait is the need to stop and wait for that stress to relieve itself. Starting and stopping, waiting, reveals a lack of harmony, an absence of musubi, in your technique.

2/28/16


Keep your feet on the ground. Stop taking five steps or more for what can be done with one step. If you're needing to use balance-adjustment steps over and over again, that's a clue: You're in the wrong place, at the wrong time, in the wrong way.

As the mind should be stable so should the body.

2/28/16


The solution of kokyu power solves a question of efficiency. It does not solve all questions of combat. Efficiency, or how to achieve more with less, is not the answer to all questions. It is merely something that increases in importance when weapons are involved. There are still the elements that are unknown and the ones that cannot be known, the fogs of war. For that, efficiency can never be the sole answer. For that, raw strength and a mind that accepts death over quitting ia also going to count.

2/28/16


There's a point of no return to the spiritual path. If you are able to keep one foot out of its waters or if you are able to turn around and walk away, then you know you did not reach it and that your path was not all that spiritual.

2/28/16



March, 2016


There is some truth to the position that a spiritual practice lends itself to self-improvement and to increased states of wellness. However, part of a viable spiritual practice demands that you drop all concern with these things. Go figure.

3/2/16


If two hours of dedicated practice every day for the cultivation of your being is beyond you, you're doing it wrong. Your Budo is wrong; your life is wrong.

3/5/16


When a beginner, you should always do more of the following than you are: lower your center, turn your hips, and breathe deeper.

3/5/16


When training toward or with stress inoculation, pain experienced outside of the training context, pain that cannot be positively reinforced via the pedagogical paradigm, is counter productive. Rather than cultivating resiliency in the deshi, you produce timidity. You increase frailty and you lose the cultivation of grit.

3/8/16


Premature exhaustion, the physiological inability to perform as needed due to a felt fatigue, is caused by both poor physical conditioning and by low psychological stress tolerance. Of the two, the latter is more conducive to premature exhaustion. This is why after a certain point of physical conditioning is achieved, training should primarily look to address the tactical issue of premature exhaustion primarily through increasing psychological stress tolerance.

3/8/16


Either way, because you couldn't properly commit, couldn't learn the art's modes of gaining efficiency, and you are simply aging, or because you could properly commit, you are learning the art's modes of gaining efficiency, and you have primed yourself for greater states of tactical maturity, training is only going to get harder. Whether you are challenged by having to do less or you are challenged by being ready for more, it is best to show up for training fully ready to perform and to be pushed to failure.

3/11/16


Trying to turn Aikido into a practice that has nothing to do with combat is not going to make the presence of weakness acceptable. All forms by which integrity disappears, or is made absent, as happens when weakness appears, must remain nevertheless totally unsatisfying and undesirable. A coward is always a matter of unreconciled fear. A frail body is always a broken heart/mind. An immature spirit can never be one with God.

3/11/16


In a perfect world, it is always best to clear the line and atemi. Only the world is not perfect, so hit the fucker. Hit him hard.

3/16/16


Ukemi training as a whole, beyond the mere falling, and outside of the dressage/choreography that dominates Aikido today, cultivates the martial attributes of sensitivity, responsiveness, functional fitness, an intuitive sense of timing, and spatial awareness. Without these things, your chances of gaining victory under combat conditions is next to nothing. Ukemi cultivates a whole set of serious offense-oriented skill sets.

3/17/16


As the world becomes populated more by the self-serving and the power-hungry, the more need there is for a person of honor. However, the more the world so turns, the more the need, the greater the difficulty to become such a person.

3/26/16


There is a relationship between a lack of strength, cowardice with one's body and with one's emotions, a lack of discipline and self-control, an absence of awareness, both in oneself and of others, no concern with honor or integrity, and a incapacity for wisdom, an incapacity for compassion, a lack of inner strength and centeredness, and the absence of a meaningful and fulfilling life. Child psychology is only beginning to stumble upon this truth, but Budo has known it for centuries now.

3/28/16


Budo, like all warrior codes, was first developed as a system of wellness for men and women that regularly entered into the toxic and highly corrosive environment of combat. All of its symbolism, its mythologies, its rituals, all of its conditioning exercises, its stress inoculations, its philosophy on space, time, and impermanence, its social structures, its moral and ethical prescriptions, etc., all of this was designed and organized to be able to have a human being repeatedly enter into the most psycho-physiological destructive realm there is for the human organism, that of human-vs-human violence, and have that person be able to function there in that realm and then have him/her return as if he/she had never entered it. Budo still functions like this for the professional warrior today, those in law enforcement and in the military. But, today, for the civilian, Budo has taken on a new role, a role it fully meets. Today, Budo can, does, and should function to address the toxicity that is addressing us all, the psycho-physiological corrosive environments that are modernity and materiality.

3/29/16