David M. Valadez
Upaya is matter of seeing instantly where the deshi is and what there is to work with inside of them to get them to the next level of skill. Master teachers do not have a schtick or a catch-phrase, no spiel, that they repeat over and over and say to everyone. Everything is coordinated and aimed accordingly, and every lesson has an underlying layer of spontaneity.
Love is like a bonsai in many ways. In one way, like the bonsai, it dies from neglect. Meaning, work is required. Work as love is the practice of sacrifice. Sacrifice is the practice of reconciling self-attachment. The absence of work in the end is nothing more than an attachment to self - a selfishness. Attachment to self is the absence of God. The absence of God is the absence of Love. All of these truths must be tended to - love is like a bonsai in many ways.
The most difficult craft, the most demanding artwork, the most meticulous and most painstaking artifact to produce, what should capture your heart most, what should motivate you most, what should interest you most, is the craft of self. Everything, no matter how wonderful, holds less wonder, no matter how beautiful, holds less beauty, no matter how important or meaningful, holds less importance and is by comparison meaningless.
Sorry - playing a sport or an instrument doesn't even come close. --Someone who has done all three.
Everyone needs a sacred space - a place where the world is kept afar by that place’s proximity to the divine, a sanctuary for our hearts, minds, and our bodies - for our spirit - a place to breathe freely and to wrestle with God, to die at God’s hands, and to be born anew daily.
To you, you're a special snowflake. To the Fire, you're all just water.
When Uke, have nothing to achieve. Do not move to set up Nage.
When Nage, you have what you need. Allow Uke to fall into the lock.
Both, move where you need to move - nothing more, nothing less.
I have found it very useful to separate myself from the institutional inertia that prioritizes a dueling training paradigm over an assault training paradigm. Dueling, generally speaking, has the offense duelist still preoccupied with a concern for his/her own self-defense - something an assaulter does not have. An assaulter, unlike the duelist, has his or her mind preoccupied with the assault, the demise of his or her prey (the victim). This is a key difference in mindset between a duelist, who is either trying to win or trying not to lose, and an assaulter, who is only trying to kill you or have you no longer able to continue a defense. This difference in mindset also manifests itself in corresponding movements.
Biomechanically, I have found that this difference in mindset tends to express itself (when standing) in a spine-to-spine displacement. Meaning, a duelist's mindset tends to have him or her self-imposing a set distance from their opponent, whereas an assaulter’s mindset tends to have him or her entering a minimum distance of where their spine has displaced the victim's spine (i.e. They are now standing where the victim was once standing in space.)
Therefore, if "realism" is a concern in one's training, and we can accept that reality is marked more by infinite possibility and less so by finite cultural-based exclusion, then we should include assaultive mindsets and behaviors in our training at least as much as we do the mindsets and behaviors of duelists. That said, and when you acknowledge that most duelist self-defense concerns are overwhelmingly addressed by improvements in lifestyle and in character-development, then you know for sure that most of your tactical architectures should be addressing assaultive mindsets and biomechanics and not those of the duelist.
Reality is more made of infinite possibilities than it is of finite exclusions. Inversely then, when you sense finite exclusions, a loss of infinite possibilities, then you know you are likely abiding in delusion.
In training, prioritize concept over skill-development, and skill-development over tactical architecture (techniques). This is part of addressing the infinite possibilities that make up "reality." For you are never going to make up enough techniques to address all of reality and you are never going to reduce reality so that it becomes addressable by a handful of techniques.
When weapon training, yes, include weapon-to-weapon training, such as knife-to-knife, but be sure to include in trainings where you must draw the weapon in order to bring it into the fight - not already having it in hand. Deployment and retention are where empty-hand and armed architectures weave into each other. It is in that weaving that both empty-hand and armed architecture find their highest martial viability.
Practice with deploying folder knives as well as with fixed blades. Many states, like California, have stiff penalties for carrying fixed blades concealed on one's person. Such laws do not generally apply to folders. When working with folders, know and train in techniques that utilize the weapon in its closed state as well as in its opened state.
Aikido training is deeply personal. It is geared toward self-improvement and not the defeat of others. This is one reason why the Founder proscribed against having competitions in the art. Self-improvement, in many ways, comes by defeating the self. Defeating others only works to hide the self-work we have yet to do.
In case your friends ask you, "What is Aikido?" - a good place to start:
Being part of Budo, Aikido looks to simultaneously address and improve upon a practitioner’s total person. Training involves cultivating practices in strength conditioning, aerobic capacity, mobility and flexibility, eye-hand coordination, balance and posture, body-mind coordination, nutrition, lifestyle and world view, character development, emotional grit, and spiritual maturity. Aikido’s training paradigm primarily consists of paired martial arts exercises, solo martial exercises, resistance training using both body weight and weighted materials, running, meditation, and work/service. Progression in the art is noted by program advancement, rank advancement, title attribution, and uniform allotment. In accordance with Budo and the proscription of the art’s founder, Morihei Ueshiba (1983-1969), there are no competitions in Aikido. Training is deeply personal and is geared toward self-improvement and not the defeat of others.
There are five powers to every waza that must be balanced and interrelated for Aikido to occur. There is the stabilizing power, the moving power, the inward-oriented power, the outward-oriented power, and the fifth power about which if we say anything we are wrong in our description of it. These powers are more known and made useable by seeing them through their degenerated states - those states that they should not be in but often are. Meaning, a given waza will first become strained and unnatural when for example the stabilizing power degenerates into a lack of accommodation or flexibility; when the moving power degenerates into a loss of true integrity or actual effect; when the inward-oriented power degenerates into isolationism or introversion; when the outward-oriented power lacks depth and remains satisfied with and attached to superficiality; and when the fifth power materially manifests itself in any shape or form. At such times, the five powers become obvious and knowable by what they are not and should not be. Then, for the adept, their true understanding becomes easily grasped. At this point, if we can adopt the fifth power we can through it adapt and correct the remaining four powers into their right and natural states. Balance and naturalness then returns to our waza.
If a deshi stops his or her training early, Aikido, my Aikido in particular, will be no big deal - perhaps even less. Such a deshi will not know what he or she has left and will be missing because such a deshi has experienced very little of the art, particularly my art. In the beginning, the deshi comes into the dojo very fragile, either physically, emotionally, or spiritually, or in total or in any combination of these three aspects. That is to be expected. After all, they are at the dojo to transform themselves and to do so in positive ways, gaining antifragility being one of those ways. My early goals for the deshi as sensei then are to create a vessel capable of receiving and holding the art, particularly my art. This is what must be done first and foremost. This process takes time, and in my experience has proven to be consistent with the traditionally-given duration of ten years. Before that, my deshi can only experience what is not my Aikido - to be fully accurate. Moreover, at the very beginning, my deshi will seldom experience even this. Today, this may be seen as "elitism," but such a view ignores how much work and dedication actually goes into taking a deshi from a fragile state to an anti-fragile state. You will never see this much labor being practiced by a so-called teacher in more "egalitarian" dojo. Historically, this perspective was just seen as obvious. For how cultivated could a teacher be and how viable is his or her cultivating practice if he or she can fully maintain a shared context with a person who has done no such cultivation?
You cannot green-juice away a toxic world view. You cannot low-carb away an immature spirit. You cannot back-squat up poor sleep discipline. You cannot out-sleep weakness.
Deshi: Sensei, can someone become virtuous through zazen.
Sensei: Let us say that no one can become virtuous without having some aspect of their overall practice dedicated to silence and to stillness.
Today, in a world of borrowed and/or usurped discourses, terminology is often used by one discourse as a means of benefitting from the cultural capital of another discourse. Because these borrowed words or phrases are primarily used by dabblers, said words are more often than not used incorrectly and as a result their meaning becomes warped over time to such a degree that they may even outright contradict a given author's or scientist's original intent or meaning for the term. Some examples of this are "the 21 foot rule," and "fine motor." If one were to go back to Tueller's research, or even listen to the countless clarifications he made over the following decades to counter the common misunderstanding that comes from such borrowing, there was nothing "rule" about it. Equally, if you go back to the original research wherein the phrase "fine motor" was used, it was not a reference, as it is thought today, to relatively smaller muscle groups and/or smaller body parts, such as in comparing fingers to legs. Rather it was referencing movements such as pinching fingers together vs moving a limb through space. Without going back to the source, or without understanding the economy of cultural capital, one is likely to believe that sound martial tactics require you to shoot someone 21 feet away from you or that one should blanket forfeit using smaller body parts for using larger body parts when fighting. This kind of pseudoscience is seen everywhere in the martial arts today. One could go on and on. Take the flinch response: In the past, warriors trained to lose the flinch response. This is because the flinch response was rightly recognized of consisting of uncontrolled muscle flexion that constricted the breathing cycle, that locked the arms at or near their point of origin, and that locked the legs so as to negatively affect both balance and mobility. The idea of tactical decisions being based upon such an uncontrollable reaction to fear and not upon sound strategic thinking was ludicrous to the warriors of the past. Today, for many, it's the exact opposite, it the mark of sound tactics! However, if you look closely, you are seeing a misuse of the phrase "flinch response," a misuse being made to capitalize upon the cultural capital afforded to another discourse that is centered around another misused term, "natural." On and on, ignorance is passed from one person to another person like this.
In an art that still uses suwari waza training, it is idiotic for practitioners to entertain the self-defense commercial industry's cue-response paradigm of understanding for Aikido. The presence of suwari waza makes it obvious that Aikido's training paradigm is something different. Aikidoka would be much better off spending their time figuring out why the ancients themselves rejected the cue-response paradigm and adopted the one they did - the as-if paradigm.
There is a whole generation of us raised with a fetish for the new, an almost religious need to be distracted by novel things, people, and places, a devout adherence to the belief that satisfaction and meaning can only be found there. This is quite different from Budo, where we seek satisfaction in nothingness itself, devoting ourselves to the truth that can only be found there - an ancient truth.
The subtle more difficult skills to acquire, those attributes that sit at the center of being consistently victorious in real-life conflicts, whether those encounters are violent or non-violent in their contestation, cannot be thought of as purely physical. They are equally of the mind. "Equal" here means that while not purely physical, they are not imaginary either. We can initially simplify our description of the locale for such training as being of the "body-mind." As we progress under a master, however, we will come to better understand and expand our definition of "spirit," and then we will become fine using this one-word description too.
If your traditional martial art is not practical, it is not because it has not been modernized. It is because you are not traditional enough in your training and in your quest for understanding.
Do not wear heels or flip-flops, no tight pants, always be armed - start with that.
Find a master, a person capable of cultivating within you the secrets of power, a person able to lead you from form to beyond form, to pure being where form and self cease to exist, to where spontaneity exists and to only where true application is possible.
A projectable Uke is a necessary part of learning the art. Such an Uke is intimately related to cultivating Kokyu-Ryoku and to gaining a deeper understandings of Aiki. However, a projectable Uke is not a choreographed Uke. A projectable Uke is not a dressage pony, a person that follows hyper-subtle or pre-arranged formats that mark when he or she is supposed to throw themselves. There are no training benefits from an Uke such as this, whereas a projectable Uke is the best of training tools! So what is a projectable Uke? It is an Uke that has learned how to organize his or her body-mind so their center remains present throughout the given technique, drill, or exercise. They do no more and no less that this.
Classes aren't going to get easier. They always get harder. The better you get, the more dangerous the classes will become. Expect to get less comfortable, not more.
Grabbing is low percentage. Trapping is what should be done instead. Grabbing is reaching for things. Trapping is letting the attacker or part of the attacker land inside of your control. This is true even when your grip is being used. Do not try to grab them with your grip. Instead, let them land inside of your palm, and then close your fingers around them.
Some will come to Fear and they will run away. Some will come to Fear, and they will pretend it does not exist. Some will come to Fear, and they will wait it out, just wait for it to pass, doing nothing but waiting, knowing nothing, including nothing of the events that bring Fear. You will think these are three different people, but really there is only one here - the quitter.
The matador moves at the right time, in the right way, and at the right distance, and in doing so the strength of the bull becomes irrelevant. When the matador does not do this, both the strength of the bull and of the matador become part of the force equation that makes up the impact and struggle that we see as the observer. The manifestation of the impact and the now-observable struggle we the observer witness are not the product of reality, just as the making irrelevant of the bull's strength via the above-described means is not a product of delusion. This observable difference in force and energy does not rest in the opposition between falsehood and truth. Rather, the contrast lays in skill and in the lack thereof. It is the same with human-vs-human violence. Struggle and great effort, the reliance upon strength and exertion, these are not the signs of reality. These are the signs of skill being absent.
A huge part of training is to stop wasting time doing everything else.
The self technology of serving others does not mature the spirit in the service itself. Rather, the spirit is matured when after practicing a life of service no such aid is returned to you, not even, or especially not even, from those you had served. Only then does God make his presence known.
Training: To observe and assess, stress, adapt, and then repeat.
Your exertion has nothing to do with the application of power. Exertion may be a sign of strength, but as far as power goes it only marks its absence.
When I was mentored, I listened for and heard every correction my teachers gave, even the ones directed at other deshi. Today, more and more, there is some kind of dark force on the mat, an accepted working in selfishness, pride, and in an absence of awareness whereby "deshi" cannot hear these corrections or or whereby they feel them only applicable to others.
You will have to be in the world. However, though in the world you must not be of the world.
Most beginner mistakes can be corrected by fixing timing and paths of travel and direction. However, if this is all you correct in your art, you will forever remain at a beginner level.
The journey from weakness to strength is in many aspects The Way itself. The challenge is a great one, and by that greatness we make ourselves more than we were and even more than we once thought possible.
"Why should you not be stronger?" Most hear this question in a way that it carries for them a kind of accusatory tone. They do not see or hear the infinite potential and possibility in the question. They cannot sense its freedom. They cannot listen to it and hear it saying, "Just as others are stronger, there is nothing that can exclude you from becoming the same. Like them, you have every right to that same strength!" It is like this for all the virtues, "Why should you not be compassionate?" "Why should you not be humble?" "Why should you not be wise?" "Why should you not be brave?" For most, these questions trigger an automatic defense mechanism, one wherein all the time and energy that could have gone toward self-transformation is used instead to either relabel a given lack of virtue as "virtuous enough" or to argue that one is already at a maximum level of effort in their cultivation of self and that thus they are therefore exempt from the criticism they feel is being waged against them. Only a very few will see the self-work that should be done through the lights of "it can be done" and "I can do it," and only these very few will then do the work. Only these very few will become virtuous.
You do not choose your career in the hopes that it will fulfill or aid you in following the Way. To do so is to cling to the cultural fictions of our time and to attach ourselves to the material world. This moves us off of the path. Instead, follow the Path on the inside and outside of yourself, be a walker on the Path through and through. When you are like this, whatever you say, think, and do becomes a part of the Path, including your career.
In Ne-Waza, you must thoroughly let go of the concept of "upright."
Warriors are raised through unfair standards. They are reared not to be concerned by what is fair but rather by what is made right through their sacrifice.
Give me a Krav Maga crowd any day of the week over your average Aikido crowd. At least the former knows evil exists and trains accordingly. The latter always seems so adrift in delusion and within a fantasy meant only to cater the ego.
Regarding the problem of one's own learning curve, the issue is not feeling like an idiot. The issue is not feeling like an idiot enough.
Self-pity is the warrior's greatest toxin.
Brush and sword. Theory and practice. Heart/mind and body.
When you employ right lifestyle choices and worldview, when you can continually practice reconciling fear, pride, and ignorance, and when you are skilled at martial strategy, and you are skilled at and armed with knife and handgun, etc., the duelist will be as rare as he or she will be mismatched. For the duelist will either control you too little, because he will not seek to occupy your space, allowing you to draw and wield your own weapons, etc., or the duelist will seek to press upon you as fully and quickly as he can so as not to allow you to bring your weapons to bear - which opens the door up for Aikido pins, throws, and strikes, etc. This is what it means when we say, "Aikido is a weapon art."
Today, there's a daisy chain of intellectual masturbation going on where folks just repeat by default the same ideas over and over again, talking to the same group of people over and over again, never applying a process of verification and criticism, but just repeating things over and over again. “Truth” today simply means “what is most repeated.” To the future generation, you will have much to sift through before you discover what is useful and what is useless.
Drilling offers the most repetitions within a given amount of time. Therefore, drilling is the most efficient way of developing a skill. However, the problem with drilling is that the dabbler practitioner will "milk" the drill, subverting it, and therefore having said drill be a waste of time. The solution to such a problem can only be solved so much, actually only very little, by moving the drill closer to a live training environment. This is because live training environments only produce a survival mode in the dabbler practitioner. In which case, skill development, which was the goal of the drill, will likely not occur still. The true solution is to attack the dabbling itself.
There is no "Aikido" viable outside of the greenhouse of Kihon Waza without a fully integrated Ne-Waza, true, but this is also true of a fully integrated Atemi-Waza, an integrated knife skill, and an integrated firearms skill. The art cannot really shine with the light of life and of truth without these tactical components all being present. However, when such an Aikido is manifested, everything else not of this Aikido, is dull and little more than delusion - very impractical.
A Comparison of Historical and Contemporary Understandings of Martial Arts and Aikido Training:
Historical Understanding: Martial viability and spiritual maturity are not contrasting in nature but are co-dependent.
Contemporary Understanding: Spiritual maturity stands in contrast to martial viability and/or is independent to martial viability.
Historical Understanding: The term "combat effectiveness" is always related to non-rule-governed weapon/armed multiple-attacker combat.
Contemporary Understanding: The term "combat effectiveness" is related to rule-governed weaponless duels.
Historical Understanding: "Training" means daily training, 4-6 hours a day.
Contemporary Understanding: "Training" means practicing two to five hours per week.
Historical Understanding: Physical strength supplements technique.
Contemporary Understanding: Physical strength stands in contrast or in opposition to technique.
Historical Understanding: Training is concept-oriented.
Contemporary Understanding: Training is technique-oriented.
Historical Understanding: Live application of technique is a problem of mind cultivation. Training then orients itself toward mind cultivation and the spontaneity of one's art.
Contemporary Understanding: Live application is a problem of architectural complexity. Training is oriented toward a discourse on reducing and simplifying technique.
Historical Understanding: The tactical elements of the art are understood to work interdependently, and such interdependency is understood to provide the martial viability of each tactical component. For example, ne-waza and the threat of ne-waza set up nage waza; nage waza and the threat of nage waza set up katame waza and atemi waza; empty-handed elements support and are supported by weapons; etc.
Contemporary Understanding: The art is contained entirely within Kihon Waza (empty hand). No tactical co-dependence exists.
Conclusion: We are not traditional enough in the practice of our traditional art.
Your main assumption is that everyone is armed. If you don't know, treat the person as armed. If they could be armed, treat them as if they armed. If they say they are not armed, treat them as armed. Everyone is armed.
Less-lethal weapons do not make a person less violent. Non-violence is a skill of spiritual maturity. It is not a technological issue. Anyone can sow and reap hatred, cruelty, and violence through his or her words, through resources, through distance, coldness, neglect, and through ideas. The absence of lethal weapons will not have him or her reconcile his or her ego-attachment more. Equally, Non-Violence, Peace, Compassion, these virtues are not reached by a person through a default that is his or hers via a weakness or a cowardice. Peace must always stand in contrast to a capacity to carry out extreme violence or it does not stand at all. A person is only as non-violent as his or her capacity for violence holds true and relevant. Aikido cannot be a peaceful art. Only an Aikidoka can be a peaceful person, and this he or she can only do as much as his or her Aikido is violent.
Under certain conditions, scars and grime on a weapon can be acceptable. They can be signs of a well known weapon, a real weapon. The two things that must never be on your weapon, however, are a pristine shine or dust.
Pain and fear cannot immobilize you - this is the warrior's mantra.
If you cannot even move aside for just me when I walk by, then you certainly will not move out of your own way either. If you cannot move out of your own way, I can teach you nothing. You should not stop at me then. You should keep on walking.
All Ways dead-end in a prison of one kind or another but for the Way that travels through Fear.
Over the years I've heard caveat after caveat regarding the so-called dangers of the mentor/disciple dynamic. For me, these are tales the "same" tell amongst themselves so as to keep everyone the same. They are akin to tales, like stories of the Boogie Man, parents of old used to use to keep children the same as them. They are efforts of the status quo, institutional inertia, so to speak. The morale, or the deus ex machina, in these stories is always the same: Leave; find a new instructor. Obviously, I am not a fan of such positions. However, here I find some overlap, only I also find myself going one further: If your instructor is so replaceable, and if what they are teaching is so substitutable, I say leave now. Wait not for the elements of any cautionary tale to arise. You already have all the reason in the world not to commit to such a mentor. And, or but, if what your mentor is teaching is something irreplaceable, then I say cowboy the F up and take it. It will be worth it in the end, and in the end you will see that you were indeed always the taker and they always the giver. Rather than being amazed at how you stayed, you will be amazed at how they let you stay.
I am not the cause of the throw. I am not an observer of the throw. I am the possibility of the throw's manifestation. I am the void that precedes Heaven and Earth!
Long before cruelty spills the final drop of life from your relationship, injustice and the absence of kindness had already delivered the coup de grace.
Strength and mobility must be balanced against each other, but "balance" always assumes a third aspect against which the former two are weighed. If your combat arena includes weapons, you must move the balance point closer to mobility. If your combat arena does not involve weapons, you should feel free to move the balance point closer to the side of strength.
When you're listening or reading the fictional and revisionist histories of others (what every biography has to be) on how to find discipline, commitment, and motivation, you're not practicing these virtues. Moreover, you're not even "about to" practice these virtues. This is because these tales and so-called words of wisdom have nothing to do with the practice or the cultivation of these virtues. Virtues are not born in words and ideas contained in our own mind. They are seeds that are passed from one person to another, seeds that you then grow under that relationship. Only a person has the capacity to generate in another what is of the invisible world. Man cultivates Man! Spirit cultivated spirit! A person does not cultivate himself but in superficial things, in things of unimportance and of having a temporary nature.
Pins in Aikido, like all other parts of kihon waza, are cultivating tools. They are not tactical employments. Trying to make them so ignores the fact that a one-on-one pin is not only highly unlikely to be successful but it also ignores the fact that there are way more efficient and way more viable martial options that should hold combat priority over pinning. If you really want a martial solution to complete a throw or a takedown, draw a weapon and use it, or stomp or kick, or escape, etc. - almost anything works better than pinning one-on-one. If you want to pin, if you have to pin, then have backup, a partner, or two or three teammates. That's when pinning becomes martially viable in the real world. Not before.
The fear of living is always preceded by the fear of death.
Budo is not a lifestyle. Lifestyles have membership fees, business contracts, days when there's no practice, motivational speeches, certificates, empty rituals, seminars, etc. We say: Budo is life, life is Budo - Budo is breath.
The flowery Aikido ukemi is ultimately derived from the same source that the delusional Nage stems from: An unreconciled fear of death and the ensuing compromise in self-delusion that makes us believe that we may live without needing the aforementioned reconciliation.
We all know the solution is always going to be found in more discipline, commitment, depth, and self-reliance. And, we all know that these virtues will always be the foundation for gaining more skill and more understanding. Here is a list of how these virtues can be put into practice:
For Dojocho, start with these:
- Leave the Federation system.
- Abandon the ranking and testing system.
- Train daily four to six hours.
- Hold daily classes two to four hours at a minimum.
- Keep the violence in Aikido.
- Look to the past more than to the future for reference (e.g. To traditional Chinese arts more than to MMA; To religion more than to science; etc.)
- Keep traditional weapons in your art.
- Require body flexibility.
- Keep striking training in your practice.
- Keep Ne-Waza in your art.
- Keep knife and firearms in your art.
- Practice and require high levels of health and fitness from yourself and your deshi.
- Make strength training a priority in the practice.
- Keep fear on the mat and the reconciliation of fear a part of the art.
- Study and know Japanese and Chinese History, Philosophy, and Religious Culture.
- Study and understand the European and Asian mystics and the modern philosophers that have attempted to address or counter their thinking.
- Let go of Hombu and current Japanese instructors.
- Make diet a part of the practice.
- Unite the martial and the spiritual in the practice. Do not contrast them.
- Remove yourself from the seminar circuit.
- Prioritize regularly training with the same people and solo training over seminars and traveling to other schools.
- Have a teen intensive program where everything mentioned in this list is amplified.
- Do not accept every walk-in deshi. Have a selection process that includes an interview, a background or personal history check, and a lengthy trial period or probationary membership.
- Have a well codified expulsion process that includes lack of commitment and not responding to training as culpable.
- Regularly train in Jiyu Waza.
- Abandon the self-defense paradigm.
- Understand and use kihon waza as Body/Mind cultivation technologies.
- Reject, denounce, and even punish any Uke for throwing themselves.
- Include ascetic and ritual practices in your art.
- Do not let money stop you or encourage you to stop employing any of the elements on this list.
- Architecturally speaking for waza, begin by prioritizing the projection over the blend, then prioritize the blend over the projection, and then blur and unite them so that the projection is the blend and the blend is the projection. Do not start and end with the blend. Do not ever exclude or abandon projection.
- Aim and orient yourself for transcendence of the art. In the end, your Aikido must make sense to you, and it must make no sense to the aikidoka that have not followed these above-listed practices.
To improve, you're going to have to sweat a lot, struggle to catch a breath, and struggle with exhaustion. These are the minimum requirements for advancing in skill.
Is the “bar fight” scenario and the ensuing questions it supposedly raises best addressed by answers centered on tactical architectures or by practices meant to address the obvious spiritual immaturity in the bar-goer and/or in the bar-goer that has reallocated the abnormal behavior of violent dueling into delusional forms of “normal” or “acceptable”? If martial success is truly our motivation, and if that success includes and prioritizes our not being harmed over the harming of others, then our energy should be spent on the latter, on addressing the underlying spiritual immaturity over seeking and validating tactical architectures for duels.
Aikido’s training assumptions regarding range and target penetration are more applicable to attackers having an assaultive mindset than those assumptions regarding range and target penetration one sees in dueling combat sports. When Aikido’s assumed range of penetration and degree of commitment are “unrealistic" it is due to dueling behaviors and mentalities being ignorantly adopted as a given dojo’s primary perspective. These days, this is quite common in Aikido because the overall discourse on "martial effectiveness" is dominated by dueling mindsets and/or dueling environments - environments related to high degrees of spiritual immaturity.
Before learning what to do in a bar when a person takes a swing at you, instead, use your practice to reconcile lifestyle decisions and the adopted worldview and sense of self that has you possibly practicing self-medication and believing it to be unproblematic or separate from your degree of spiritual maturity.
We require a re-broadening of the definition of "Aikido." The art cannot be limited to its basic techniques. One's art needs to recognize the relationship between spiritual maturity and the exposing of ourselves to violence even when it comes to the mundane concern with self-defense. The cultivation of the spirit is not a mere moralistic position but rather has a real strategic value that goes way beyond being able to remain calm amidst chaos.
As the spirit matures, ego-attachment, fear, pride, and ignorance become more reconciled in our daily life, and this in turn increases our presence, which in turn increases our awareness. Awareness is the primary tool the warrior uses to counter the three strategies that make up the assault and determine its success: surprise, speed, and violence of action. Thus, you cannot consider your art to be martially viable while your spirit yet remains immature. For spiritual immaturity leads to a kind of blindness that acts as fertile soil for surprise, speed, and violence of action. Before Death's kiss arrives upon your cheek, Spiritual Immaturity was already unzipping your pants.
The marketing campaign of modern martial arts has the non-practitioner convinced that he or his children will gain things like confidence from the training. But, why does a person feel the need for confidence or all the other positive characteristics these sales pitches offer? Is there not some internal or external discomfort they wish to alleviate and distance themselves from by such things? Are they not wishing for some kind of suffering to stop? And yet, true Budo, from a certain perspective, is the exact opposite in nature. Meaning, Budo only comes with pain and fear and discomfort, and there's no running away allowed.
The finer stones for polishing the spirit make use of boredom and monotony. Training that still holds an entertainment value cannot take you far on the Path.
In this day of likes and shares, modern Man more than ever believes he can address the emptiness that is his/hers for having forfeited his/hers spiritual center through fame and popularity. As such, he/she has become attracted to the extreme and the elite at the same time that he/she has become ill-prepared for such things. Today, your Budo program then, should it be elite, will draw people who should not be there. To keep your program's integrity, you will thus require a selection process, minimum training requirements, an expulsion protocol that includes an NRT ("Not Responding to Training") element, and a great deal of upaya - the teaching ability to re-culture another accordingly.
If you allow your feet to move as a response to forces acting upon your stance, taking and making all the micro-adjustments people having the wrong maai use to keep their balance, you will not condition the body. Keeping the feet grounded and still in kihon waza, holding body organization and the ground path in light of applied forces, will strengthen and condition you for throwing, pinning, striking, etc.. Not doing so is like removing plates from a barbell mid-lift.
Our minds must remain conscious enough within environments of violence so that we may make the appropriate decisions according to sound strategy therein. Our mind cannot be absent and nor can it be preoccupied with our technique. As much as possible, our technique must function at an instinctual level, as a kind of tactical reflex.
In the beginning, there is almost as much meandering as there is purpose-driving. You will need to have an appreciation and a capacity for doing both comfortably.
The training, even when it is aimed at things such as power, strength, health, mental wellness, even when it is aimed at communion with God, all must eventually culminate and find their ultimate meaning in the service and self-sacrifice of and for your fellow human being. The sage that stays in the forest or on the mountain top is no sage at all.
Why should it be a strange concept that one engages in her Aikido at least at the level that a national or international athlete engages in her sport? Why should it be strange that martial prowess, artistic perfection, or spiritual awakening, are held as motivating for the Aikidoka as winning is for the national/international athlete? Strangeness is on the other side.
No one comes to the dojo without the purpose of some sort of self-transformation. Yet, in doing so, how many beforehand believe that there will be no homeostatic energy to overcome, that one's fears and self-doubt will just let go and offer no resistance to the change, that years or decades of practicing self-distraction, quitting, and failing at one's commitments will have no effect to reconcile? How many believe that he or she will always enjoy the training or that their desire for training will forever remain unimpeded? Fools.
You must learn to separate your feelings from your exhaustion and your pain. You must not allow them to connect to anything that interferes with mission success.
To have a centered heart/mind in combat is to purify out shikai, or the four psychological weaknesses: astonishment, fear, doubt, and hesitation.
Your Aikido becomes beautiful when amidst the chaos of violence your technique shows heijōshin (natural mind), and when you engage the adversary with rei (respect) and hinkaku (grace and dignity), kigurai (gravitas), sutemi (total conviction), and zanshin (continued awareness).
It is not true that in the land of the blind the man with one eye is king. In truth, the man with one eye is a mutant, a retardation embodied. He is half-formed. His vision is a reason for fear and ridicule. His ocular organ is an obscenity and he is a abhorrent in appearance. And, there in that land, the man with two eyes is a demon.
Every tactic must not assume its success. In fact, you must assume its failure even under its full fruition. That is to say, for example, you must expect the adversary to absorb and take your fully thrown strikes and kicks, you must expect the adversary not to be incapacitated by your shots on target, etc. You do not assume otherwise until you see otherwise.
You must be able to suffer.
With little to no access or exposure to violence, contemporary Aikido in Japan appears to be mostly influenced by anime.
Aikido addresses in a very practical way the human condition of self-consciousness, the self-awareness of one's impermanence, and the ontological fear that is related to such things. Additionally, it brings with its implementation the neutralization of the self-harming thoughts, words, and actions, we practice in the face of this ontological fear. In this way, Aikido is a life-saving art.
A lack of faith is an abundance of pride. An abundance of pride is being unskilled at humility. Being unskilled at humility is living in bondage to the delusion of self. Living in bondage to the delusion of self is being unskilled in the practice of detachment. A lack of faith then is a matter of being unskilled. You thus won't find faith. It's not something just around the corner, on the horizon, etc. To have faith is to be skilled in the above listed practices and to be so in the face of the infinite and unknowable need to be so.
The degeneration of a teaching or a practice can be mapped through population types. These types are sequentially located on the timeline that functions in conjunction with the teaching or practice passing through History. These population types are: Mystics, Priests, and Academics. Teachings or practices that are able to rebirth themselves following their ultimate degeneration at the academic phase do so only via a fourth population type: Hermits. From the point of view of the other population types, hermits are understood historically as practitioners, heretics, fringe persons, and mystics.
Hermits, throughout history, and throughout the above listed sequence, don't give a crap about how you understand them, about what you believe the teaching is or should be, and/or whether you follow them or not.
Two people: One experiences the removing of a responsibility as a loss, as a statement on their inability. The other experiences the removing of a responsibility as something they got away with - a lightening of their workload.
The former person will post-removal start working to improve themselves, so that they can then be regranted the responsibility. This person will change and that change will be an improvement. The latter person will only think post-removal, "Ah, I got away with it." This person will never change. This person will never improve.
We are all ready to say Budo is a means of self cultivation. And, yet, the question is begged: Which part of me is not me? Are my words? Are my thoughts? Are my actions? To these questions, we would all easily say, "Yes, Budo training should manifest itself in our words, in our thoughts, in our actions." But is not my parenting made up of my words, my thoughts, my actions? And so, do I really know Ikkyo or Aikido, am I really practicing Budo, if I am for example estranged from my son? What if my child has nothing of the warrior within him or her? What if he/she is weak, frail, entitled, self-medicates, and has a victim mentality? What if I cannot endure the turmoils and tortures of my marriage? What if I am divorced? Do I know and practice Budo? Can I know discipline, sacrifice, and commitment? Or, are my words, thoughts, and actions not a part of my relationships? How can that be true? How many of us then only play at Budo? How many of us talk the talk but not walk the walk? How many of us leave huge parts of ourselves off of the mat and outside of the dojo? How can we be on the Path if so much of us is elsewhere? How can it be a Way if it does not include all ways?
In Aikido, we do not throw people down. Rather, we aim falling people.
To serve God is to be a caretaker for Creation, to be as a son cares for his elderly father’s legacy and his is aging body. It is to be the dutiful son. To serve God then is to be servant to Man, to know and feel, think, act, and speak as so to recognize the creator in all of the created. To serve God then is to be the Son of Man.
There is a relationship between spiritual immaturity and mental unwellness. However, it is not one of causation or of correlation. It is a structural relationship. For example, to cultivate the spirit requires both positive and negative energies. Negative energies are repelling energies, such as self-disgust, etc. Without energies such as self-disgust, the practitioner seeking spiritual maturity has only half of the available forces to move her from where she is to where she wants to be in terms of spiritual cultivation. The lack of a capacity to reflect upon herself, and to be repelled from that self through things like shame, disgust, etc., leads to the spirit remaining immature. In the same way that one is left spiritually immature, the sociopath, for example is known as such to those in her life. The lack of concern for others in the sociopath and the inability to generate the repelling energies of shame, disgust, etc., operate through the same structures by which the practitioner moves nowhere in her practice. As the practitioner advances not, so does she become sociopathic.
An adolescent rebellion against tradition is as off the mark as tradition is for tradition’s sake. Both lack insight and understanding, and so both have no capacity for practicality. Then, one is looking an at intellectual exercise, not a real practice.
Most can understand the stress/adaptation model used in warrior training, but what few grasp is that the adaptation being sought after is the capacity to let go of one’s held sense of self.
The presence of God makes a space sacred. What must occur for the presence of God to occur? You must leave.
The Way of the Warrior is saturated with sacrifice. In fact, should one hold Budo synonymous with sacrifice, such a view would never be far from the mark! This is where most romantic notions of the would-be-warrior come to end, and where most dabbler practices cause one to quit. While the novice comes to training looking to gain, the practice is all about giving things up, letting go, about things dropping off. It is all about sacrifice. For even when the novice raises supposed issues on discipline, she mistakenly believes her problems stem from motivation, from not doing enough. In truth, the obstacles to her training, why her skill does not advance, why her practice does not deepen, these things stem not from an absence of discipline but rather from an incapacity to sacrifice - the inability to stop doing what should not be done, to stop being with those she should not be with, to stop holding onto aspects of herself that she should not hold onto, the resistance against letting die what should die, the resistance against killing what should be killed. She fails and her practice falters because she cannot sacrifice what should be sacrificed.
If you cannot commit to a teacher, Budo is not for you. This is not such a great loss, and you should not let your ego feel as if it needs to defend itself against this truth. For even if you have it within you to commit to a teacher, you likely will not be able to commit to the teaching. Meaning, you will likely find no real spiritual maturation or martial effectiveness through your training because you will not have it in you to make all the sacrifices that need to be made for such things. This will not change whether you feel devoted or not to a master. If on the other hand you want to be able to commit to a teacher, if you want to be able to be a person capable of making such needed sacrifices, then you should just be that person and stop wishing for a Budo that exists outside of commitment to a master and to a teaching.
There is no Aiki without Kokyu. There is no Kokyu without Aiki. Even when you are using circular patterns for blending purposes, should a force vector cut through the center of your circle, your axis must be like Mt. Meru! It must be unyielding, unwavering, all-encompassing, all-powerful.
I am always amazed how those that do a "lite" version of a practice feel the need to tell those that do the full version of that practice what that practice should and should not be. Then, I remember the ego attachment that binds such audacity to the need for lite versions and it all makes sense again.
Awakening is a skill, and you likely suck at it. Like with all skills, we must ask ourselves: How much time do I practice? Is my practice a good practice - is it viable? How much time am I devoting to any counter-practices? Do I have a teacher to show me shortcuts and to hold me to my own integrity when my practice is faltering or am I just making it all up as I go along? Is my practice mainly an intellectual exercise or is all of my being being addressed in my practice? Is my practice held to greenhouse environments or do I challenge myself with living and hostile environments? Is my practice “up in the air” or is it aimed at having “my feet on the ground”? Awakening is a skill, and you probably suck at it - that is the mantra for the real walker of the Way.
You will have those that hold that a weapon will solve all tactical issues in and of itself. These people unconsciously hold that the weapon itself comes with skill and that he or she does not therefore need to train in and for the implementation of that weapon. Then, you have those that hold that training in empty-hand fighting alone will meet all tactical possibilities. These people unconsciously confuse sport environments or young-male-ego contests with places and times where and when real violence occurs. The unconscious bias at work in both camps are, from a Zen point of view, a matter of abiding in ignorance and ultimately a matter of practicing the delusion of self-attachment.
Movement that stops and stutters is unnatural movement. It is you moving against Nature. If your technique starts and stops, you are not doing Aikido.
When it’s for real, and all other things being equal, the one that can suffer the most wins. In fact, that person wins most times, even when all other things are not equal. Vital is it then, this capacity to suffer, to endure without faltering through great trial and great discomfort, through pain, and through Death’s proximity.
The only Truth is the one that is innermost, that is in that place within me where I am least myself. There, Truth is both communion and singular, both meaning-filled and empty. Outside of me, this is all paradox and contradiction. Inside of me, nothing else makes sense.
Through breath, the Divine is moved from place to place, from being to being. Drink of this breath and feel the pleasure of peace it brings.
Let me bask in You. Lift me up in Light. Hold me, and I will bring you with me.
“Why do you choose to follow your own way as if it is equal to The Way?” this is the question amidst the silence that fills my mouth when I see you at my gate.
Those who hear the name of my art wonder why I would study such an impractical thing. Those that see my art wonder why I study how to kill people. Those that study my art know that we study how to let ourselves die in a very practical way.
The Man that has not heard God’s voice in the Darkness or that has not had her chest pounded into dust under that incomprehensible weight thinks she could enter into a love affair with God if only these things were to happen to her. Then she could believe! But God’s true romance is found in the silence, in the darkness, and in the distance. For like any love affair, it is not real until it survives these things and the doubt they bring.
You cannot walk into the Void. You have to fall into it.
First, make sure your Awareness can extend to the lengths of your body. Then you can start dealing with Awareness of the Universe. Don’t jump the gun.
A child is a human being. As a human being, self-cultivation is open to them. As a being that has self-cultivation open to them, children are a being first in possession of a lack of virtue or of a diminished state of virtue. For example, children that have no training in The Way will be less capable of being resilient, they will lack grit, they will be less likely to endure hardship, difficulty, discomfort, and/or boredom. In other words, children, as human beings not yet cultivated in The Way, will be, for example, quitters and cowards, etc., and they will not stop being such until they have cultivated themselves otherwise. As with all beings, the homeostasis that holds one to quitting and cowardice, etc., will not be overcome purely by energy internal to the child. External energy is always going to be required. As a parent then, yes, pick your battles, but know that the activities and practices that are more capable of reconciling quitting and cowardice, etc., in your child are also the activities and practices your child is more likely going to want to quit. If you want them to remain quitters, let them quit. If you want them to not be a quitter, then do not let them quit. Be that necessary external energy.
Kinesthetic awareness and coordination of one’s center is proportionate to the strength of one’s center.
Traditionally, we say, “The Warrior must maintain presence, must maintain centeredness.” Scientifically, we say, “The Warrior must not allow an Amygdala Hijacking of his/her psycho-physiological self.”
The Scientistic challenged the Mystic: “God is not a genie in the sky - no such thing exists.” In reply, the Mystic added, “You are right. God is not a genie in the sky. No such genie exists.”
These eyes seemed so real.
The taking of responsibility of one’s mistakes, the associated negative effects, the consequences of failure, etc., is to free oneself from the nihilistic despair of fate.
While one can only fall or leap into Heaven all at once, one can only enter Hell step-by-step.
Your highest accomplishment, your finest trial, your greatest success, rests within you. This is not another reference to dig deep for a motivation you are lacking and need to accomplish some worldly goal, etc. This is a literal pointing. For you will do nothing better and nothing more noble than transforming yourself into a holy being, into a being of virtue - to stop being weak, cowardly, sickly, emotionally frail, triggerable, materialistic, prone to despair, filled with addictions, anxious, etc. The Hero’s Journey is only one journey - the journey out of Hell. There is no true heroism outside of this.
Triviality is something we deshi bring to the table. The master, on the other hand, sees everything worthy of his full being.
Zazen does not prepare one to accept death. Zazen is the acceptance of death itself.
If you can understand my art, then I have not gone far enough.
I will never ceased to be amazed by those that train with me, that say they train with me, that believe they train with me, but that move nothing like me. It is the uselessness I find amazing, the zero need for a teacher when one can move like oneself all by oneself.
Once I heard a deshi praising her teacher by saying something akin to, “He really lets you develop your own style.” I thought, “Oh, you mean he does not teach you.”
Days fade and hours disappear. Does this not reveal all I need to know about Nature? Do I really require some other truth by which to guide my practice, the love in my life. Do I really need another reason to find my courage now?
When training is for real, when life is on the line, efficiency, economy, and effectiveness proscribe and reduce version and variation. The countless styles you see in Aikido today are a sign that aikidoka are not training for real.
The stone that yields is the stone that does not sharpen.
The prophet is a paradox even unto himself. He or she is chosen, which marks some kind of elitism, but the choice in both nature and in its end is to serve, which marks some kind of poverty, some kind of insignificance. In faith, he or she is an idealist, a romantic, a lover of Man, but weaved through this romance, like a neuron pattern, is a deep disgust that the prophet has for others and for anything that creates distance, delay, and/or a deconstruction of his/her intimacy with the Divine. He or she exits through and because of words, both those in his/her head, those whispered or shouted or roared from some unknowable place, and those he/she uses to teach and lead, these the deepest, most real parts of him/herself, those aspects by which he/she considers all else false, including his/her words, exits only in a silence and in an absence of communication. Then, in the prophet, there is the notion of saving, of helping, of carrying the weight of others, of taking burden upon oneself, but deep down the prophet knows that he/she is chosen but for two reasons, both which work to contradict this altruistic vein: The prophet is chosen not because he/she is a savior, but rather and ultimately because he/she is a destroyer; and, second, the prophet is chosen because the chooser knows that he/she will, regardless of any romantic notions and fondness for others, not fail or turn away from his/her mission to destroy things that must be undone.
Think not that I have come to bring peace in the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. --Matthew 10:34
Our sense of quality of life, when you ponder most deeply, is best determined by but two things: Our subjective sense of mobility and the intimacy of our relationships. This is because at our innermost core we are moving and social beings and little else. By extension, with even half as much pondering, one can see then how important discipline is to our existence, as one can easily understand why when we see unwell and/or unhappy people, we see undisciplined people. It takes discipline to maintain and improve our mobility, to ensure that though aging, sickness, and injury our flexibility and strength do not equally deteriorate. Is this not true? For our relationships, intimacy is based upon seeing to and meeting the needs of others. Intimacy is a matter of never shying away from affirmation and support. It is a laboring for those we claim to love. Ultimately, structurally, our intimacy and the wellness we receive from our relationships are derived from a work capacity, one we hold according to whether or not we are and remained disciplined to do such work. When we feel lonely, isolated, depressed, when we are of those those souls that feel coldness from our spouses, our children, our parents, and siblings, etc., we feel thusly because ultimately we have become slothful people, undisciplined people. Long before we are unwell, we are lazy.
The Darkness will make you unwell. Then, can we not see our illnesses, especially our repeated or long-enduring ones, not only as disease but as dis-ease? Cannot these especially be seen as symptoms marking our departure from The Way? Alerts telling us equally do something different and what to do instead? Yes, of course we can.
All my masters, help me to not shame you and in doing so stop me from shaming myself.
To the outsider, the master will appear to be an expert in all fields. This is an effect of the master seeing all ways through The Way, and The Way through all ways.
The martial energy of the mat determines the quality of each deshi’s practice. Therefore, be mindful of the following fact when you are dojocho: Martial energy is less determined by what or how you teach and more determined by what you tolerate.
There’s an audacity required for spiritual awakening, or for the achievement of any kind. When you find yourself near a master, it is not a weakness or a feint sense of self that will make him or her the catalyst for your own self transformation. Rather, it is a boldness, a cold steel nerve, that says, “I can be that too,” that is the catalyst.
Though Budo must be seen in all ways, mastery in Budo is always going to be a matter of a singularity, always a matter of how many other things you did not and do not do. Most importantly of the things you did not and do not do is time off of the mat.
Many people like to think in years, starting with when they started training, when it comes to describing their Budo practice. Such a view could be very misleading. For the “budoka” that showed up here and there or took many hours off the mat per day or per week, even years off the mat, can at some point boast a great number of years using such a view. In truth, such a practice is better understood through the phrases “never really started” or “actually quit a long time ago.” These phrases certainly make sense, more sense, when we observe their lack of skill, while “I’ve been training for ten (or twenty or thirty) years” only causes perplexity.
The Way makes use of the practice of servitude. Do not kid yourself about this fact or about the supposed peace you think the Way or being in the service of God is supposed to bring you. For the way of the servant promises only three things: to be used, to be abused, and to be forgotten. For the non-walker or the dabbler of the Path, surely, they think, “This cannot be right!” For the true seeker, these three things are the blessings they seek. For it is through them that they find communion with the Divine.
In the same Way that Aikido’s martial nature has become so watered down that it can no longer partake with other arts in the general conversation on effectiveness, Aikido’s spirituality, perhaps more so, has also become watered down. It too has nothing to say or to add to the larger conversation on the cultivation of the self. Aikido’s spirituality today consists mostly of metaphors and talismans, of pleasure-seeking experiences, worldly distractions, and numbing efforts - not at all apart from the “new normal” that plagues our modern existence. Whereas the Founder studied a Way thoroughly saturated with ascetic practices, ego reconciliation actions, and purification exercises, all aimed at mystical communion and ecstasy, today, aikidoka have become satisfied with mere dopamine release and alignment with Modernity’s efforts to have violence monopolized by its institutions - an alignment they self-righteously rename as “non-violence.” However far Aikido today is from the martiality of its Founder, it is even further from his spirituality.
It is said that Budo begins and ends with rei, what can be understood as courtesy, and proper social protocols or rituals. Many believe this is just a stressing of good manners or politeness, some kind of incidental of Japanese culture. For this reason, there are many dojo, the number growing exponentially, especially outside of Japan, that have opted not to stress or even hold such behavioral emphasis. In truth, the importance of rei in the martial ways stems from Budo’s Confucian origins. In Confucian thought, the fulfillment of rei is something only the sage can truly practice. In other words, it is a practice marking a cultivated awakened state of sorts. Even for us moderns, this is not so difficult a concept to understand if we but apply a little thought. As awakening goes, it stands in contrast to the egocentric and blinding energy, both physiological and psychological, that is ours when we practice self-attachment, or when we follow our fears, or when our discriminating mind, using the Buddhist understanding, ignorantly prefers any “X” over any “Y,” etc. In short then, as the unawakened mind becomes prone to this egocentricity, the unawakened person becomes more self-serving, or what Kung-Tzu understood as asocial. “Asocial” is the bypassing or ignoring of rei. Simply observe the fear-plagued or those stuck in any sort of time projection, such as when the depressed and the anxious become locked in either an imagined past or an imagine future, or observe the hungry and the fatigued, the stressed, the “overworked,” etc., and you will see that their capacity for rei is greatly diminished. As rei is an awakened state practiced by the sage that has cultivated himself or herself accordingly, a faltering in rei is practiced by the cowardly, the weak, and the undisciplined - by the unawakened. To say that Budo begins and ends in rei is to understand this fully.
Devastation never truly hits us all at once. It creeps up on us inch by inch in the things we ignored but should not have ignored and in the things we tolerated but should not have tolerated.
If I asked a person for directions to Disneyland, myself not knowing the way, and should I not find its location because the directions I was given were bad or because of my inability to follow a set of good directions I was given, I would not therefore conclude that Disneyland does not exist. This would remain true for me regardless of how many people gave me bad directions or however many times I proved unable to follow good directions. Disneyland would continue to exist for me and I would thereby be motivated to find my own way there. This is how one should understand God.
Skill development is best honed in drill, in repeatable exercises done in low stress to moderate stress training environments. Scenario training is best for decision-making development, but this is a development that happens after the training, in the following debrief and in future mental imagery training. Scenario training does not develop decision-making skill in and of itself. Scenario training does not develop skill. Pressure testing, stress inoculation training, etc., is meant to identify, develop, and expand overall system (body, mind, weapon, strategy, skill, tactics, etc.) parameters. Outside of cultivating grit and a reconciliation of fear, which happens only over a long duration of exposure to such training, and only so long as the training is continuous and properly employed over that long duration, this type of training also does not develop skill. While mindset, grit, and decision-making components play a significant role in combat effectiveness, they assume the presence of a baseline skill set. For under the threat of real violence, and different from adolescent masculine egoic duels, you are never going to hype yourself into mission success and/or survival. Thus, overall training time should be dominated by skill development or drill, with scenario training and pressure testing taking on a supporting and supplementing roll and having less time dedicated to these latter training types.
All my real teachers scared the shit out of me. Today, many will warn about abuse and tout the overall effectiveness of positive reinforcement. I know nothing about the effectiveness of these things. I suspect it is because perhaps effectiveness is not there. Either way, from what I know, I say, if you really want to learn anything, find a teacher that scares the shit out of you. I also say, look, and see, where a deshi does not improve in any significant way, you will see a teacher that is not scaring the shit out of them.
When it comes to self-cultivation, nothing of value is on this side of boredom. Everything of value is on the other side of boredom.
For the undisciplined, what the disciplined considers to be a mere aspect of training is considered to be an obstacle - what the uncommitted considers to be an insurmountable obstacle.
As there is a charge of energy and wellness you receive from training highly committed and self-disciplined deshi, there is a kind of energy drain and un-wellness that you feel when training people that are uncommitted and without self-discipline. Whatever personal factors may be at work, and I am sure there are many, I cannot help but to feel that this is Nature’s way of selecting, a selection that happens via its law of cost/gain. It is very much along the lines that Nature favors those lions that do not waste more energy during the hunt than they can receive via the kill over those lions that have not learned or that reject this law. There is definitely something cosmic at work.
It does take a kind of bravery to stop trying to do things by the numbers. Just as there is a kind of cowardice in the need to do things by the numbers.
My priorities in order are:
- My relationships
- My upcoming move
- My current work transition
- My training
What is your perspective on this prioritization?
I can only share what and who I am. I have no recommendations or even opinions to offer that you should adopt. So, for me, in my understanding of the spirit (training), it is that aspect of myself and of the universe that permeates all things. As a result, there is nothing I do, or think, or say, and nothing I am or partake in, that is not both determined by and determining my spirit. Take for example a relationship that I have: my marriage. I cannot imagine a marriage, any marriage, including mine, that can be said to exist outside of my spirit, let alone be prioritized over my spirit. In fact, I would hold that the quality of my marriage is in fact determined by the quality of my spirit. Meaning, spirit is not only higher in any sort of scheduling or worldly sequencing I might want to write up, but spirit is the founding principle upon which my relationships are inevitably based upon. As a result, if pressed to graphically represent what I am speaking about as you have, rather than writing a list, I would draw a circle with a dot in the middle. The dot would represent my spirit and thus the training of my spirit, and all the other aspects of my life would be contained within the circle, orbiting around that center dot. Or, even better, I would generate a sphere, where the sphere itself, both its perimeter and the emptiness contained therein, would represent my spirit, and the training of that spirit, and all other aspects of my life, would be moments and materials contained therein. Imagine: a planet amongst the fabric of space.
So is it fair to say that spending time on a drill is cultivating yourself in a way that will benefit all aspects of life?
Training in Budo is a matter of cultivating the spirit (kokoro, the “shin” of “senshin,” the body/heart-mind composite), yes. But, and this may be where your question is stemming from, not everyone is ready to train in Budo or ready to train in all aspects of Budo. Most people, think 99.9% of the population of new Budo deshi, require a kind of preparatory education - one that gets them to a point where training and real cultivation of the spirit can actually occur. Before that, or within this preparatory education, people must first learn and learn of virtues like commitment, sacrifice, discipline, bravery, etc., and they must also learn and learn of things like fear, attachment, fetteredness, unawareness, weakness, disengagement, etc. For some, this preparatory education takes a relatively short time but for most, especially here in Southern California in 2017, this education may take a very long time. For some, it may take a lifetime. More and more this is the case. This does not mean that their spirit will not be honed to some degree but you must think of this as the difference between someone that sits on the couch all day and someone that stops doing that and starts to walk 20 minutes three times a week. While the latter is an improvement over the former, and while it may be a significant improvement compared to the former, the latter is never going to win the Olympic marathon - so to speak. The true seeker of the Way is more akin to the athlete seeking gold in the Marathon.
Thus, in the preparatory educational phases, a Budo drill is necessary and does cultivate the self, but the real training and the real cultivation can only happen on the other side of this. So, to answer your question, I would say, “Yes, and no, a Budo drill will benefit all other aspects of life.”
This may seem like a deflection, but in Budo, in Zen, we allow for things of the world to transform in what they are to us according to our level of self-cultivation. This is the idea behind Ch'ing-yüan Wei-hsin’s verse:
"Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instruction of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains and waters are not waters; but after this when he really attains to the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains and waters are waters."
Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: “The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received.”
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry. “If nothing exists,” inquired Dokuon, “where did this anger come from?”
Original sources are as difficult to grasp without a teacher as misunderstandings are as easy to hold via dabbler interpreters.
The questions of “What art?,” “Aikido?”, “Judo?” “Tai Chi?,” etc., all assume that these practices are singular and universal things - that they are each one thing and that they are the same thing everywhere. Nothing could be further from the truth! This universal singularity is nothing but a political fiction made for marketing reasons. Nothing about this singularity is true. There is no one Aikido. There is only the Aikido of each person. Historically, this was well known. Moderns are very self deceiving and so they have forgotten this. In the past, a deshi went not to learn an art but to learn from a particular master. It was like this even in Zen. Do not follow a fiction. Do not look to train in this or that art. Choose a master, not an art.
Yin and Yang, the universe itself, are shared amongst the five elements and corresponding attitudes. And so must your art be: Hardness corresponds to wood and refers not to a stiffness or a rigidly but to a holding or not yielding. Gentleness corresponds to water and refers not to a weakness but to a forfeiting of shape so as to fit- it corresponds to adaptation. Wind corresponds to flexibility and refers not to a stretching but to a yielding - to a letting of things be, to accepting. Strength corresponds to fire and refers not to contestation but to enveloping fully. Void refers to the unattached and the unknowable - the potential and ability to be one with any of the elements or even one with all of the elements at once.
Many see the death of O-Sensei as a catalyst for the ineffectiveness of federation Aikido. That problem wasn’t caused or instantly generated with the death of O-Sensei. That sort of rhetoric is just part of the problem. Early Japanese instructors had that special something, including Tohei, who credited this kind of significance to O-Sensei’s death. You just need to ask those early western deshi if their early training was light and gentle and fake - it wasn’t.
Degenerations in an art happen over time and with many people being responsible, all of them making one minor compromise after the other, small compromises that over decades add up to what we see now.
Still, if you look closely, beyond all the personal interest, behind the reasons why anyone makes a compromise, and you will in fact see that the Founder himself opened the door for the deviation. He presented the idea that Aikido was not an elite art, that anyone could do it, that everyone should do it. This is not true at all. In fact, even in his day this was not really true, as many of his deshi were strong, dedicated, experts already in other arts, etc. Aiki versions of the same techniques were always considered an elite skill level.
When O-Sensei talked or led people to believe that anyone can practice Aikido, he opened the door to not only the weak and the unskilled but also to the person that can only train one to two hours a day or a week, to those that cannot surrender their fears or their pride, etc. He opened the door to the inferiority of the mediocre.
Over time, as instructors opened their doors to everyone, to anyone, the hardcore real warriors were outnumbered by the dabbler masses. That’s when the cultural shift happened that caused the paradigm shift we see. All you have to do is look at any dojo, maybe your own dojo even, and you see a handful of deshi, maybe even only one or two, ready to kill and beat the shit out of each other for the sake penetrating to the art’s technical depths AND then you see an overall majority of folks that are just training when convenient, to get some exercise, to socialize, etc.
It is not the death of O-Sensei that is the biggest problem. It is the idea that Aikido is for the masses. It isn’t. It is an elite art, made for and trained in by elite warriors. It is the exact opposite of what O-Sensei said is true. Instead, he should have said: “Not just anyone can do the art; and even if you try, most of you will not get it. But you should still try.”
There are many benefits to training in Aikido. There are many ways of extending or adapting Aikido so that these benefits become infinite and infinitely available. However, it is foolishness to hold that the adaptability of the art validates all adaptations or to deny that the adaptations themselves are not always a corrupting agent. So, do your Aikido however you want, toward whatever end you want, but accept your Aikido as the adaptation it is, and do not deny the corruption it presents.
I think the only real solution is to do what our dojo does - Senshin Center. We do our own thing. We do not make it our mission to fix the art. In fact, we are ready and happy to accept that the art’s majority will today look at what we do, and say, “That’s not Aikido!” Thats how I know I’m not only on my own track, but, for me, that is how I know I am on the right track. When my art stops making sense to the majority of Aikido practitioners, when they have to have a debate on Reddit using one of my videos from our YouTube channel and when the posters go back and forth on whether it is Aikido or not, I know I’m on to something.
This is the only fix: Fix yourself.
My take on Kihon Waza is that it’s a training paradigm based on the Confucian pedagogy of using “as/if” repetitions, repetitions meant to generate a specific naturalness - the art’s ideal mind, body, and spirit elements. All over the world, however, people seem to be using the modern pedagogical self-defense paradigm of “if/then,” and, for example, pins are being tasked to be more than mere developmental tools and forced to become tactical applications. Letting go for the moment that this is clearly a veering away from the foundations of the art, and accepting the idea that Aikido is being made more valid or more martial by “fixing” its Kihon or by utilizing outside sources coming from social media famous martial arts stars, and accepting for the time being that Aikido’s stance on the moral and spiritual value of non-violence is best addressed or even possible to address by tactical architectural issues, what I am seeing is very problematic.
Clearly the high tactical percentage move for someone that counters your pinning or throwing attempt by rolling out of it is to use the distance created to draw a weapon - knife, handgun - or to use the opportunity to run and avoid the situation. Even stomping or kicking someone on the ground is a higher tactical percentage move, and so too is going into a full ne-waza application. Instead, people seem to be suggesting that these options are not available or should not be made available because Aikido has an imperative that it should be non-violent and always sided with addressing multiple attackers. Hence, again for example, people might want to employ and suggest more pins and lateral vascular neck restraints (LVNR).
However, pins such as the ones often shown as fixes are as vulnerable to the same counters as the traditional pins people are saying needs improvement. This is because the uke can always move either the lever or the fulcrum being used - as is often demonstrated for the traditional pins. Also, if one is adopting the self-defense paradigm, what is the ultimate aim? Am I to actually adhere to tap outs in the street? Or, am I actually to hold this pin until LE arrives? Really? I am wondering if these suggestions are not seated in the subconscious assumptions of sport BJJ and the experts often opted to use for gaining a “larger” perspective. I’m wondering why not just go to the older Japanese jujitsu art’s instead or people that train in Aikido with these purposes in mind? They have much better solutions for this. Or, why not go to Aikido practitioners that have LE or Custody experience?
An LE component is very helpful here, or a criminal defense attorney, for additional reasons. Here’s why: In most states, unconsciousness is one of the criteria for determining when a use of force is considered to be “serious bodily injury” or not. “Serious bodily injury” is one of the components for determining what is called “felonious battery.” Since you’re in the world of self-defense applications and no longer in the realm of conceptual learning and development (as in the traditional Confucian “as/if” model), it has to be said that while the LVNR may appear less harmful than drawing a weapon or more effective than running away (which I would disagree with), you’re going to end up having someone arrested and possibly face felony charges for utilizing it if they take a person to unconsciousness. This is going to happen because no cop is going to accept that you passed someone out because they held your wrist or that they fought you all the way till they passed out. At most, the uke/attacker will go to jail for misdemeanor battery, but the one passing someone else out is going for the felony. Again, is this oversight related to the sport BJJ perspective? It sure looks like it.
You need a capacity for concentration, for focus, for attention. This is true. You must put a jumbled heart-mind behind you in order to consider yourself beyond the beginner level in Budo. But, this heart-mind is far from what the skilled must possess. Its cultivation is a beginner endeavor, a kind of toxin used to cure a bigger disease. Take too much of it, use too much of it, expose yourself to it for too long a duration, and like all toxic materials it will be your undoing. Today, many people talk about mindfulness, especially in the tactical community, but they confuse the concept of what is usually translated as mindfulness, namely Honshin, Mushin, Fudochi, etc., with this concept, this beginner heart-mind of focus and concentration. They fall victim to the propaganda and money making schemes of the Tibetan Buddhists and Entertainment Buddhism as a whole, and they mistake that school’s magic spells and fetishes for magic power with the insights first systematized in Zen and earlier schools of Buddhist thought and practice. The truth is, what they have come to think of as mindful is only the filled mind. The filled mind has no practical use at a daily level or at the speed of life in which tactical elements manifest themselves and strategic decisions must be made. The filled mind is a tool only for sick people. At a certain point in your training, the filled mind must be abandoned for the waste of time it must come to be.
The Ponzi scheme that is the federation system deceives its followers into believing that the non-practitioner-potential-student really cares about paper trails (certifications), artistic genealogy, titles, and ranks. In nearly all cases, they don’t and won’t, and hard sincere authentic practice will always trump these things when it comes to attracting new students. The cases where hard sincere authentic practice does not trump a federation’s cultural capital system happen only when a new student has become more interested in symbols than in reality. This is actually a good thing when it comes to increasing the right kind of dojo membership. These kinds of people are not good new students. They tend to be unable to do the real work necessary to achieve real things. In fact, your membership practices should seek to filter them out under the premise that neither of you are after the same thing. The win-win is found in a parting of ways: Their needs and wants are to be found elsewhere, and they going elsewhere serves your own need for hard sincere authentic people.
If you keep stepping with your left when it should be your right, or using your right hand when it should be your left, or stepping forward when you should be stepping to the side, you have no awareness of your own body. Before we start talking about situational awareness or awareness of the divine, the “Great Cosmic Awareness,” let’s just see if you can find your right foot. Shall we?
Was it wise to really expect me to stay still, to not move or advance, such that you could remain the same and always find you and I side by side? Was that really who you thought I was, a staying-still being? Was it really such a mystery to know that I was always moving and that you would have to move with me to stay near?
To train for real is to train like your life depends upon it. It is foolishness to believe that egos not yet cultivated by the path will not seek and find ways to not train for real. Such small selves will always look for and take easy ways out, shortcuts, exceptions, exemptions, etc. You cannot leave it up to undisciplined practitioners to act as if they are disciplined practitioners. For this reason, learning curves aside, you must make the training such that their lives and limb are at stake in the training. Then, they will train for real even when learning curves are being addressed.
If you want to learn, you must commit. This commitment is not for me, the teacher, or even for you, the deshi. This commitment is what learning itself requires. The student that cannot commit, does not really want to learn, and the teacher that does not require commitment does not really want to teach.
When you do not expect real results or real applications, the art can be seen as a mere matter of fulcrums and levers. Meaning, under controlled conditions and within controlled environments, forces can be so reduced that the swinging and controlling of limbs or the extremities of the body will suffice. However, under more violent conditions, the forces that must be addressed are much greater and thus require a particular kind of body organization, and that organization requires a particular kind of strength and power, and no matter how you look at it that strength and power must be great. Some aikidoka today have great angles and great timing, but you can look at their organizational development and say quite confidently: "Only under controlled conditions - too weak, not enough power, not developed enough."
The effectiveness of waza applications rests in the space/time between waza, what Kihon Waza assumes for the sake of learning curves and what Kihon Waza thus prevents one from learning or even knowing about. Strangely, it is this thing that is not Kihon Waza and that is blocked by learning Kihon Waza that makes any technique from Kihon Waza effective in live environments. First, and obviously, this is why studying Kihon Waza is never enough, but, it should be noted, the traditional arts never meant for one to merely study Kihon Waza. This latter trend is a modern corruption. Second, in the face of this modern corruption, modern practitioners work mostly in setups, not in spontaneity, when it comes to application and as such they have come to appreciate those moves and arts more tolerant of such over-simplification. Again, this is another modern corruption, as the ancients knew that such tactics work only on the ignorant and that their success is heavily conditional upon a luxury of time and forewarning - two things often absent from live environments.
We may or may not get what we deserve. However, we will always meet what we allow to manifest.
Ascetic practice is a necessity for Budo. However, the anchorite’s asceticism, the full exclusion from society and the world, has to be seen as a lack of coping skills, as a disengagement, even as an act of cowardice. This is the difference between the warrior that utilizes asceticism and the anchorite that uses asceticism. The warrior is like a Bodhisattva, in that he or she stays in the world for the sake of others. Even his or her distance from the world is meant for the sake of others in the world. The warrior takes on the cultivation of the self, a kind of serving of his/her own self, for the sake of serving others better, more fully. Differently, the anchorite keeps his/her practice merely at a serving of self.
In 12-century Europe, a knight’s martial prowess was marked and symbolized by finery and flamboyancy. His weapons and bridle were gilded in precious metals. His armor was bejeweled. He donned and associated himself with excess and with symbols of power and greatness, such as long hair, exotic cloths, and emblems made of terrible and fantastical beasts. In contrast, the Templar Knight, by monastic rule, was forced to cut his hair, and to don a tunic of burlap, having only one mark on it – a cross red-in-color. His weapons and bridle were not allowed any décor. They referenced not finery and flamboyancy, but simplicity, practicality, and poverty. Yet, but three decades into their existence as an order and as a knight on the battlefield, their enemies noted their burlap tunics and red crosses as marking the most dangerous and fierce fighters, a French king turned over command of his entire army to the Templars after he observed how inept his own forces were in comparison, and an enemy stronghold that had surrounded a 40-man Templar force reasoned that they would have to break with the cultural tradition of taking hostages for ransom and instead slay everyone of them rather than face them on another battlefield where a second victory would be far from likely. Can your art make such a testament or does it require finery and flamboyancy to seem legitimate? And, how would you know if it could if you never doff the gilded trappings and free yourself of the symbols of prowess, and instead choosing to relate to prowess directly, without intermediary?
More that what you know, more than what you do not know, more than what you believe, what I am to you rests upon what you will not believe.
A canned prayer is like a canned technique: Useless. You must find your own prayer, and you must carry it with you through battle, through your darkest days, finding it upon your lips when you all light is absent. Only then will it become potent and useful, a true prayer.
The very curse of delusion is the very grace of delusion. Delusion is yours because you want it. You can un-want it.
After such presence, it is insane how easily I can disappear for some, some in particular.
To be a servant without the expectation of reciprocity, to strengthen yourself only so as to endure more suffering, to return and pour out only love in the face of neglect and abuse, this is the miracle the Way offers, and compared to it, you will have preferred that I asked you to perform the miracles of raising the dead or walking on water or emitting a glowing radiance from your entire body.
Make changes, not excuses.
Boredom, the need for change, change for the sake of change, how different is this from the addiction cycle of material distraction? All of these things are diseases of the spirit, signs of unwellness. Make one change, the need to no longer need such changes.
Traditional East Asian culture posits that all of existence follows a given and knowable set of rules. Man, Time, Space, even God, all are subject to this given and knowable set of rules. That said, when I observe human-to-human relationships, I see that they are destroyed or deconstructed first and foremost by a lack of investment - so to speak. Equally, and in reverse, our relationships are maintained and kept healthy by our investments in them. For example, if you want your earthly lover to feel alone, forgotten, alienated, ignored, then all you have to do is make your presence in their lives equal to your absence: Divest yourself from the relationship. Whether the divestment is intentional or not, when they can ignore you or note you, when they can listen to you or not listen to you, when they can walk out mid-sentence or stay to hear you complete it, when they can ask something of you or not ask something of you, etc., and there is no change or difference in any outcome, then you have no relationship. You will have violated the natural rule governing intimacy, togetherness, love. Following this line of thought, when we see that one does not have a relationship with their own spirit or with the Divine, with God, you will see the same exact things: No investment, and a equality existing between one's own presence and absence. In the same way, perhaps, as an earthly lover should not be expected to feel loved or to remain in love with you, God's silence, absence, God's moving on, should also be expected.
The hard part is honoring without fail what should always be honored. The weak do not understand this. The weak, though they have never tried it, believe it an easy thing to value what should always be valued. The weak are always stupid like this, as stupidity and weakness always go together. No one is strong and stupid.
Ignorance is not a matter of not knowing something. After all, not knowing something can and should merely be a matter of not knowing something yet. What marks ignorance is not the absence of knowledge but rather the not knowing that one does not know. The ignorant are ignorant because they do not recognize themselves as such. Ignorance requires this lack of self-awareness.
When you’re a mentor, be it coach or parent, or what have you, you honor and note only the work, not the outcome or lack thereof. The deshi or child, or what have you, that accomplishes something or that accomplishes nothing and does not work or does not work hard should not receive your attention but for your disdain.
Keep count of your required or received exceptions. The more you receive, the more you become “that guy,” the more you dishonor your warrior brothers and sisters, the more you are undeserving of their respect and mutual aid.
It is not enough to just be hard to kill. You must also be skilled enough to save the life of the warrior standing by your side. Your responsibility to train is not made null just because you can reason away or ignore the threat to your own person. Your shield is not just for you.
Indecision and fixated upon a decision stem from the same sources. The awakened mind decides to act and acts differently when warranted without effort or impediment.
Asceticism should be like breathing, not like watching a television program. It’s not entertainment. If it is like the latter, you will “change the channel” when you get bored - and you certainly will get bored. If that’s you, if you’re prone to boredom, that’s in you, that is you, and you should stop wasting your time looking for “something you like.” In fact, needing “something you like,” believing there’s nothing wrong with such a view, holding such a view - that is the problem. Your capacity for boredom is a weakness you should first work to purify out. And, guess what, guess how you do that: Asceticism. Weird. The Divine is not without a sense of humor.
Where is the real “kool-aid”? Is it in the training everyday, in the emphasizing of strength, in the always looking for how to serve, in the humility, etc. - are these things so easy to hold and so commonplace that they are for the weak and undisciplined and remind one of an instant sugary and artificial beverage? Or, is the real “kool-aid” in that beer or glass of wine taken every day “just to take the edge off, maybe in the countless prescription medications meant to help with uncontrolled moods, migraines, and insomnia, or maybe in the mass movement toward echo chambers, “the in” entertainment, and other modern distractions away from the self, maybe in the carb addictions that support the obesity epidemic, maybe it’s in these things that take no more effort than to allow the institutional inertia to take you, no more effort than to stop thinking for oneself, etc.? Is this not the “kool-aid” everyone warns to avoid, the drink everyone has upon their lips and in their guts?
Belief is vital. This is so because one either believes or one does not, and one does or doesn’t based upon whether one can or cannot. The difference between does and doesn’t is a matter of consistency vs inconsistency or of authenticity vs inauthenticity. The difference between can and cannot is a matter belonging to the great mystery of Man. Meaning, one person can hold a faith and another cannot and no one knows why this is so.
Courage, discipline, resilience, and empathy - these are the survival virtues. They are the ones you cannot do without. These are the ones you are supposed to ensure your children have.