Saho-A Furuya Sensei repost

originally posted March 31, 2002

More than anything nowadays, we like the break rules, not keep them. Breaking rules expresses our freedom, I suppose – at least, this is how we think nowadays. As a teacher, it only means the student does not understand the purpose of these rules – especially in Aikido and especially in a Dojo. Rules are not to oppress or humiliate, rules are there to create a good sense of harmony among all members and to create a sense of order in which we can study and practice. In Japanese, this is referred to as “etiquette,” or “saho.” “Saho” is made of two kanji characters, one “to make” and the other, “order.” In other words, “to make order.” This order is very important to create a good atmosphere in which to train. We should never forget this.

However, order is not simply “following” or “mimicking” various rules – bowing when you have to bow, saying ‘hai!” when you have to say, “hai!” More than anything this saho is a spiritual practice. Saho is practice of the mind and spirit. If you cannot bow with the proper mental attitude and spirit, it is not a bow, no matter how much you lower your head. It is something you must practice with the proper spirit. It is like someone telling you, “thank you,” although it is obvious that he really doesn’t mean it. You don’t feel that your kindness was appreciated at all, in fact, you may feel badly that you efforts were neglected or unappreciated. This bad feeling is always the cause of dis-harmony.

To show proper spirit in saho is a very difficult part of practice. This is only because we think of ourselves too much and not others. Thinking of others, we learn how to appreciate their efforts, only thinking of ourselves, we never have time to care for others. We become selfish people and this is not Aikido at all. In fact, it is contrary to all Aikido principles.

Practice saho in the Dojo and learn to practice it with the proper mental attitude and spirit – maybe this will be the most difficult of all to learn – more difficult than the hardest throw or pin. Once you master it, then practice it in your daily life.

I once had a student who never said “thank you” for anything. One day I asked him, “Why don’t you ever thank a person when they do something for you?”

He replied, “My mother never taught me how to say ‘thank you.'” (Blaming everything on your poor mother, how sad!)

“How silly” I thought to myself. Later it turned out that he never appreciated anything from anybody, he was much too busy thinking of himself. It is not any pleasure at all to teach someone like this – they would never appreciate it anyways. What a waste of time!

When you know that someone appreciates your efforts – you feel good and warm and you feel like doing more and more for others – this is what we mean by “harmony.” When people think only of themselves, it creates an atmosphere of selfishness. “If he only cares for himself, I might as well think only of myself as well!” What kind of world is this we are creating?

Saho means to create order. Ultimately, we create this order by thinking of others. What is so bad about this? How silly to break the rule of such a wonderful practice!

In all practice, watch your “ma-ai.” We see Aikido as an exercise or sport, this is why we are not conscious of our spacing. We only appreciate this “spacing” because we are practicing a martial art. Please be careful in this!

We do this because this “sports” consciousness permeates our present culture so deeply. We must be careful at all times not to bring this attitude into our practice. This is how martial arts is changing today. . . . How sad!

When someone attacks with katatetori or menuchi, for example, we start talking so busy gossiping away or wait for the blow to make contact – this is sport. As soon as we “sense” his attack, we are already blending with him and moving out of the line of attack – this is martial arts.

After we throw, we pat him on the back or begin yakking away again, this is sports and exercise. After we throw, we try to maintain our spacing and timing and focus our zanshin on the opponent, this is martial arts.

When we come to the Dojo, we chit-chat away in the dressing room so it takes ten minutes to put on the uniform, this is how we act is a sports gym or health club. When we come to the Dojo, we change into our uniform as quickly as possible to get onto the mat to begin warming up, this is the proper attitude in a martial arts dojo.

When we come and go in the Dojo, we always make a proper greeting to the Sensei, this is a martial art. When we come to the Dojo, we always treat the Sensei as a waiter or janitor or clerk, this is a health club or spa.

When we come to the Dojo, we bow with the proper spirit of respect and modesty, this is a true martial arts Dojo. When we come to the Dojo, we are too busy yakking away with others and finding out the latest gossip from our classmates, this how we act is a fancy beauty salon or coffee shop.

Aiki-Sword-Furuya Sensei repost

originally posted on August 13, 2001

Aiki Sword is always difficult to learn as much as it is difficult to teach. In most classes, it can be frustrating. One basic reason for this is that we have not yet mastered the fundamentals of the sword. Many times, we assume that we can just pick up the bokken for the first time and simply do whatever the teacher says, afterall, how difficult is it to swing a wooden stick around? I agree, of course! But when we are talking about the sophisticated and complex movements of the Japanese sword, it is an entirely different matter. Each movement – each step, each cut, must be practiced over and over. The subtle points of the kamae must be perfected to create an invincible defense. The cut must be as with a real sword – not simply waving the bokken about in a futile, weak and meaningless manner. Each step of the foot is smooth – you cannot bounce your hips around – you cannot walk like you are about to fall off a tightrope. And then, with all that you must focus on, – you must completely empty your mind and let it happen naturally – almost as if you are letting it happen on its own. This cannot be accomplished so informally and easily without a tremendous committment of time and energy. yet we think so! Without a effort and practice, we think we can do anything so we are always disappointed when someone says, “No, that is wrong!” We are shocked!

“How can it be wrong?” I think to myself. I know when I am doing something wrong and I am not doing it wrong now! Don’t criticize me!”

Of course it is easy to be wrong and not even know that we are wrong and even be totally convinced that we are right! It was very funny to me yesterday when my student visited me in the Dojo to adjust my new computer. I think I have been using the computer almost as many years as he has been around. . . . As soon as he sat down at my desk, he said, “Sensei, your computer is much too low, you need to raise it by two or three inches.”

I was quite surprised at this because I have been using the computer like this for more than twenty years and I have found that there is nothing wrong. Besides, it is in the most logical and common sense place, on my desk, on front of me where I can easily get to it and use it! What could there possibly be wrong with this?

Anyways, I found a large old dictionary, about four-five inches thick, and propped my monitor on top. Oh my God! What a big difference! How stupid I am! I immediately noticed that the monitor is now more closely at the level of my eyes so that I don’t have to bend my neck just a few degrees downwards but can look straight ahead at the screen. Suddenly all the tension in my neck began to disappear! How come I didn’t think of this? Or, why didn’t someone tell me this many years ago? Just those few subtle degrees the neck must bend can make such a big difference in the angle of your neck and shoulders – and eventually create a lot of tension and suffering. I never noticed it before! And always thought that there was nothing wrong until I finally tried it out! That night, I decided to teach bokken, and thought of this morning episode over and over.

In bokken, we can be totally wrong and off by only a few degrees in the angle and never realize or notice ourselves what a big difference it can make in everything – to the point that we do not think that anything is wrong with ourselves at all and that we are even right – and be foolish enough to insist upon it!


PS: If you cannot treat the bokken as a real sword and train with it as a real sword and have the mental dexterity and focus to learn from it as a real sword, it is not real swordmanship and you are simply wasting your time.

Eyes in Sword-Furuya Sensei repost

July 30, 2002

Your eyes are very important in sword training, most students neglect to develop their eyes. Most Aikido students who practice sword do not realize how fast the sword can move. One must train his eyes to catch the sword and not lose their attention no matter how fast the sword is moving. This is not something that you can understand intellectually, it comes only from constant, diligent training.

The Edge to Training-Furuya Sensei repost

originally posted on July 26, 2002

Most people, I think, look at sword as an exercise or “fun” kind of thing like playing “samurai” of knights of King Arthur’s Court. Maybe this is okay for kids but not for adults or serious students of the sword. As I mentioned yesterday, you must have the right and proper mental attitude before you pursue its study, always keeping in mind that the act of taking a life, symbolic or metaphorical or not, is not a good thing. From this standpoint, we try to understand sword. It is like Tibetan medicine which takes very poisonous and lethal metals and herbs and transforms them into life-saving medicines. We take a lethal art of the sword and transform it into a “life-saving” art. We derive tremendous internal power from the process of this mysterious transformation.

One aspect of Aikido today and sword training, for that matter, is how we understand it nowadays. We talk so much about harmony and ki and blending and all of these fancy words – which I use myself everyday in the Dojo. But how much do we really understand such wonderful, but difficult and profound ideas? Do we really study and understand them or are we just fooling others and ourselves? This is an important question to ask ourselves. I ask myself this question everyday here in this Daily Message. . . . each day.

Most will argue that in this day and age, we don’t need such martial arts mentality. We generally re-create Aikido into a playful exercise. . . whether we want to admit it to ourselves or not!

This is just like removing the tempered edge from a sword and blunting its point. It is like removing the attack from Aikido training. It is like taking the bullets out of a gun. It is like removing the flower from the stem. It is taking the sun from the sky, it is like removing the soul from the human being. . . .

Within all of this gibble-gabble, we ignore or neglect one point which O’Sensei always discussed without fail. Aikido is “fuhai no budo” – Aikido is invincible and undefeatable. Without understanding this one fundamental point about our training, everything else becomes meaningless, doesn’t it? Now we are at the first step to Aikido and sword training. . . .