Injured Life

Injury frequently gets in the way of training. There are many types of injury, too. Some injuries are physical, some are mental, some are emotional, but they all require rehabilitation. Some injuries present little difficulty in recovery, these are minor, but others require a large amount of time and detailed, consistent, professional work in order to get back to an operational state.

From September 2006 to March of 2007, the greatest amount of tragedy, to that point, occurred in my life. September brought the death of a grandmother and two uncles. November brought the death of my step-father, and March brought the death of Sensei. Five deaths in six months created a hole in my heart that for many years became the defining factor of my existence. I would often find myself weeping after the impulse to pick up the phone and call the missing loved one, but slowly, I began to smile at the memories. It’s eleven years already, and I frequently find myself laughing at the things they would say or do.

My heart was injured, but that’s because I used it. My body gets injured, but that’s because I use it. If I am to bring honor to anything, I must use it to the best of my ability, with the greatest care, and though I never have the intent to do harm, it is inevitable that there will be injuries, after all, that’s living.

A Furuya Sensei Lesson

The original post is from July 14, 2002

Lately, we have a good group doing well in swordsmanship. At the beginning of training, please continue to concentrate on your correct grip, correct posture and stance (kamae) and, of course, correct suburi. At whatever level you are at, beginning beginner or advanced veteran, you still need to maintain good suburi practice everyday. There is simply no way to get around this. You will only be as good as your level in these three basic points.

At the next level, please continue to practice moving your feet, walking in kamae with perfect balance and posture. Practice moving with a partner maintaining proper spacing, ma-ai. Everything in sword technique is based on ma-ai. I can almost say, “without exception.”

Finally, begin to practice the proper attack – shomenuchi (to the head), tsuki (to the throat), and kote (to the wrist). Practice to make a fast, strong attack and, as I always say, “make contact, no impact.”

To review:

  1. Grip, stance and suburi.
  2. Feet and ma-ai.
  3. Proper attack.

From this point, we can begin to understand sword technique. From the beginning, there is a profound psychology which one must begin to understand about sword from the very beginning. It is not simply to understand the order of the movements or the sequence of techniques, one must attempt to understand the psychology of the opponent and what he is trying to do to make you move or open your defences. At the same time, techniques begins at the point we understand the mind of the opponent and respond accordingly using his psychology against him.

You cannot overcome your opponent by strength or speed. You cannot simply crush him. You must eventually understand how to move like the “willow branch in the breeze.”

Beginner’s Mind

“To find the true Path, you need to find the true Teacher first. And one more thing, you yourself must become the true Student. . . . ” Rev. Kensho Furuya- March 16, 2002

Learning is accepting that we don’t know everything, and then struggling to do something about that lack of knowledge.  This can be very dissolving for the ego, or challenging at the least.  Our livelihood requires that we be the expert at something.  We receive compensation for our willingness or abilities to do something others either won’t or don’t do.  As a result, our egos build up this sense of security and arrogance surrounding our skill sets that have provided us with the opportunity to purchase goods and services.  Why not?  You’re awesome.  You’re surviving in this very difficult, constantly shifting and changing economic climate.  You’re a successful ___________(insert label here), and you’re continued success depends upon you’re ability to shape and to respond to your world.  A strong ego is necessary in our current socio-cultural construct, and is bolstered by what we know.  As soon as we know, the reason to learn is diminished.  After all, we know.

This is the danger of rank and becoming a “teacher”.  When we are new and fresh to the path, it is easier to be open to finding the teacher.  It is easy to be a “true Student”.  As time progresses, we can align ourselves to a teacher and become a student of the teacher.  Is this a “true Student”?  The true Teacher walks the true Path, but when the true Teacher is no longer there to walk with us, do we stop walking?  If I am a true Student, I carry my Teachers with me.

 

A Piece of Rice Paper

In order to be good at anything, one must do that thing. Malcolm Gladwell has supported and promoted the idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master something. The concept has come under fire and the research has been questioned, but we can only become good at something by doing it. As a rule, the more we do something, the better we become at it.  There are exceptions on both sides, but in general the more we practice the better we become.  As an addition to this, Ted Williams, the last Major League Baseball player to hit over .400, said, “Perfect practice makes perfect,” meaning that practice makes permanent, and if one practices incorrectly, one cannot be perfect no matter how many hours one puts in.

As a teacher in public schools, I see many students who don’t do the things that they’re supposed to be doing in order to master the skill. Part of the problem is that they’re interested in things other than the skills being taught in public schools. I know I was! With Iaido, Aikido, or any other martial art, it is different. We willingly walk through the door and pay dues, and bow in to the class, yet for many, class only happens when Sensei is watching. Some people want Sensei to watch and constantly talk to them and give them tips and pointers, and some even want corrections. This is not the way of training though. One must watch and copy what he sees and then try and do it exactly as it was done. Not once, not twice, but 10,000 times with or without Sensei watching.  Please, keep training.

Preservation

In the study of Iaido, and many things, it is important to copy what the teacher is modeling. Doing exactly what the teacher is doing, or the model student is showing, is the way we learn the proper technique. Matching our bodies to the exact position that is being shown allows us to learn the ultimate refinement of the technique, and tests our self-control.  We must learn the form before we can transcend it.

It is easy to watch a technique or a movement and think, “Oh, I know what he is doing,” and then do something completely different that we think is the same. Instead, try to make your thumb like the teacher’s thumb, try to make the arc of the sword the same arc as the teacher’s arc, match your teacher, copy exactly.

I remember one day training in the dojo and Sensei had gathered a few of the senior students around him as he watched my sempai and I train. He had scolded the group about their lack of progress in the art and told them they had plateaued. Silence settled as they reflected on their development. He then said, “Do you see how Steve uses his saya? He learned that by watching.”

It is difficult to see all the movements of our teachers. There is so much to learn, but if we don’t learn everything we can from our teachers, how can we expect to preserve the teachings? The art will pass from us, and the old teachings will become lost. We must preserve before we can rip it apart, separate it, and reconfigure, “Shuhari”. We must train our minds to see what is there and train to copy the form to preserve it. We are the living legacy of our teachers and in order to honor them we must preserve that which they have taught.  Keep training!

To Be A Blackbelt

The world is our teacher.  In every moment of every day there are lessons to be learned.  Some lessons are momentous, and others are subtle.  Some people believe that a black belt is an accomplishment, which it is, but it is just the “first step” along the path.

When we are born, it takes us a long time to learn how to walk.  We first learn to lift our heads, then roll over, then crawl, then cruise, then we take our first steps without the assistance of others, but as adults we forget how much work it takes to do these things because we walk so much and without much effort.  We take walking for granted, and think learning should be instantaneous, after all, there is instant coffee, but learning is not instant.  Learning happens in steps and stages.  Some steps are higher, some stages are longer.

I suppose the “first step” can be a difficult concept for people to grasp when it takes years to achieve a black belt, and there are many steps along the way to its acquisition.  I adopt my teacher’s perspective that a black belt means that the person who wears one knows how to learn.  There is an echo in the following: “First you have to teach your sword, then it teaches you.”

Keep training, keep learning, and listen to your teacher!

 

Flexibility

Learning keeps us young and flexible.  Even as our bodies begin to stiffen from the demands of living, we work and train to maintain our flexibility.  The same need applies to our minds.  New skills, new techniques, and new perspectives all stretch our minds.

Continue to look at skills and patterns of thought to determine where mental stretching will benefit you.  Keep training!

Focus in Training

Training is a gift. Every moment in the dojo is an opportunity to grow. Sometimes the lessons go beyond technique and enter the realm of history or social construction, but every moment has the capacity to stretch our minds and bodies.

I remember a time when I was in the dojo training and I had an epiphany about the whole of human knowledge. It was taught by a grain of sand I encountered on the mat.  As I rolled the fragment between my thumb and forefinger, squeezing and feeling, I thought about how small my knowledge was, then how finite the knowledge of the entire human race, but today, I reflect anew.

In every moment there are many grains of knowledge, and if we accumulate them, and synthesize them through the pressure of our teachers, and the long of our training, we form the solid rocks of our foundation. There is no substitute for training under a good teacher, but we must steal the grains of knowledge and make them our own. Keep training!

The Role of Sempai

People are very interested in things that are exotic or new. In a study about discrimination, babies will look at people of a different ethnicity than the ethnicity of the babies’ primary care givers longer than people of the same ethnicity. There is something attractive about the new and different.

When new people come to the dojo, they are very curious about training and Iaido. It is important for senior students, sempai, to help the new people become comfortable and at ease. Any rules or safety protocols should be taught by the sempai to the new students to help the new students know what to do and what not to do. If the sempai does not, the sensei will think the sempai doesn’t know, and thinks the student is not ready to become a role model.

We must constantly train to make sure we are creating harmony. That is the way. Keep training.

Paths

There are many paths we walk.  Sometimes they are groomed by our teachers, and sometimes we must carve them out of the wild using the techniques and methods of our teachers.  This path leads to a shrine O’Sensei helped create on the Northern island of Hokkaido.  Keep training to stay on the path.