Friday, November 28, 2008


Insight: the second-to-last thing that went through the poor fellow's head... You know, right before the bokken!
Understanding the moment is something that happens outside the moment. It is something that takes you away from the moment. The bokken is a hard, wooden practice sword used in some martial arts practices, including Aikido. The intensity of weapons practice should bring the practitioner into full awareness of this very moment. Any distraction may create an opening and lead to his end.

But, understanding this is in itself one such distraction.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Zen Beatings, Aikido Randori, and Spirituality

Nothing will call your attention to this very moment---fully integrating your mind and your body, knocking you completely out of any thought loop---faster and more completely than having the shit kicked out of you.

The Aikido version of all of this is facing that guy screaming fiercely from the bottom of his belly, swinging that big slab of hardwood at your skull, or facing a handful of thugs rushing at you from the other side of the mats, coming to take you out, with you just trying to survive for a maybe a minute... These are the opportunities to practice this same flavor of spirituality: We practice finding and operating from a place of peace and harmony within these chaotic situations. Eventually, we may even begin to realize at a very deep level (vice intellectual understanding) that these dojo situations are analogous to other situations in our lives.

These situations will knock the mu out of whatever you think mushin means, leaving you with the real deal. That's when you'll truly know spirituality.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wisdom Seen Elsewhere: Suffering / "Losing Your Life"

Our suffering only exists in the present moment. We worry that in the future we'll be old, we'll be sick, and we'll die. But those things aren't real. We have to cut off the heads of those things because they are demons that cause us to lose the present moment and lose our life.
--- Thich Nhat Hanh, commenting on Master Linji's discourse. Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go.

The expression "losing your life" means something different to zen masters than it does to most. People stuck in day-to-day life, living as if sleepwalking, might be referred to as corpses walking slowly toward their graves.

If "losing your life" has absolutely nothing to do with physically dying, then what must it mean to be alive?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Karmic Retribution

They're speaking of me...
I see it - It must be true:
It's what I would do.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Aikido Practice and Spirituality

There is a constant debate regarding spirituality in aikido, specifically with regard to the martial effectiveness of the art itself. One of the latest instantiations of that topic is found in this AikiWeb thread. Here was my thought:

My Post

From one point of view, anything or any activity is an opportunity to discover spirituality; once outfitted with that perspective, everything and every activity is an expression of spirituality.

If that's your belief, then there is no reason that spirituality cannot be discovered in poor aikido practice, and there is no reason that poor aikido practice cannot be a spiritual expression.

For what it's worth, I suspect that someone is more likely to find and to maintain a course of spiritual development with "proper practice"---whatever that means. I also suspect that an instructor with deluded spirituality can do much more harm to a student than a bad martial arts instructor ever could with poorly transmitted physical techniques.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Fall goes, Winter comes,
Regardless of any want.
What are you to do?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Aikido & the Church Parking Lot

In my childhood, I used to be amused after church services. After one hour of obligatory weekly spirituality, everything was immediately forgotten in the congregation's race to get out of the parking lot. More likely then forgetting, the bulk of people never really knew the purpose of being there in the first place.

Some will argue that it is better to go than not to go, even if you do not know why. For some people, at least they are off the streets for an hour a week. For others, who knows when something will click and all of what has been transmitted may suddenly make sense. Being in the presence of a mystery may even transform you unwittingly for the better.

Who knows?

I claim no special insight, but I presume the point is deeper than a mandatory social hour and that the application of what is conveyed is not meant to be limited to that hour. The wisdom and principles are seen in the mundane. God is everywhere, so to speak.

The martial arts (and other arts) that have adopted the -do suffix are seen by their founders as something of a spiritual path. Through sincere and dedicated practice, you may eventually see the world through the master's eyes...

... or maybe you will just learn punching and kicking, flower arranging, or how to make a pot of tea. The deeper aspects are not mandatory, and they are not for everyone.

In any event, Aikido, an art that adopts the moniker, "The Art of Peace," practically invites scrutiny to the more spiritual aspects. The founder himself states the purpose of aikido: True victory is victory over oneself, right now. Still, squabbles develop. Why do we practice?

Here is one of my somewhat obtuse posts from an AikiWeb thread. An anonymous user presents a problem and asks what he should do. A decidedly un-aiki discussion follows. Is there an aikdo-compliant way all of this should have been handled? I think so.

The Post

Today we'll practice shomenuchi ikkyo omote. Demonstration, clap, pair up and practice!

A shomenuchi with a roaring kiai! Have you ever observed how different beginners respond? Some flee the atack. Some cover their heads and cower. Some stand dumbfounded. A few do something else, like an unrefined counter-strike. Whatever the starting point, over time we're going to work to make that beginner's technique become something like what was demonstrated. We'll practice shomenuchi ikkyo undo basic exercise again and again. We'll transform the slumped over cowering into the bright-postured shomenuchi ikkyo undo. We'll transform fleeing into fearless entry. We'll transform being dumbfounded, stuck in thought, into immediate and appropriate response. We'll transform the unrefined counter-sttack into fierce kiai and off-balancing atemi in the spirit of irimi.

Step outside the dojo for a moment, since this is "real life."

Where are you coming from? Here you are. There is no going back to change the circumstances of right now.

What is coming at you? What is it that you face? No wishful thinking will change the circumstances of right now.

The circumstances are set. Events are in motion: An instructor mindlessly makes a pass at a female student. The female cowers. A third-party male friend of both watches dumbfounded.

Where is the error, who is at fault, and what is aikido's path through this?

Does it matter in aikido's practice whether or not the attack has intent? Will we respond differently in the moment if it does? No, that is decidedly not how we train. We "protect" the attacker and act with "loving kindness." Why? Ultimately, we do not know the attacker's mind. We do not know the causes and conditions that led to this moment. We do not add our assumptions to the situation. We do not judge good or bad, right or wrong, or degree of fault. We simply act---or, perhaps better said, we act simply.

The instructor operated in habitual mind; he lost zanshin. It happens. Restoring harmony with the universe is to restore zanshin, his awareness. In the lucid moments, he may recognize that his behavior has a negative impact on the club; the goal for him and for everyone is to remain lucid.

The woman psychologically cowers. The friend stands dumbfounded. Are they at fault? Restoring harmony with the universe means what for them? Perhaps it means restoring their original minds (to borrow terminology) as well---examining what baggage they carry that caused them to fail to act when they sensed an attack and working through it until their responses start to look like aikido.

This is what aikido practice is for me. If your understanding of aikido is different, I will naturally expect different response. Through continued practice, hopefully we all meet in the same place.

Bow to shomen. Bow to teacher. Bow to each other.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Aikido Principles in Action

Examine without preconceived notions -- shoshin.
Remain unwavering in the face of passions and delusion -- fudoshin.
Engage free of ego -- mushin.
Act in the moment to restore this mind -- aikido.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Lord Byron on the Middle-Aged Man

Of all the barbarous middle ages, that which is most barbarous is the middle age of man! It is -- I really scarce know what; but when we hover between fool and sage, and don't know justly what we would be at -- a period something like a printed page, black letter upon foolscap, while our hair grows grizzled, and we are not what we were.
--Lord Byron

Other Byron quotes can be found here.

Aikido: To Test or Not to Test

This post, To grade or Not to Grade...That is the Question, provides one of the first honest presentations of what is behind this question that I have seen.

Here are my thoughts today:

Gradings anywhere are about facing knowing what someone else thinks about you, and facing someone else's assessment of you is ultimately facing yourself.

What did the founder say was a goal of aikido? Masakatsu agatsu - True victory is victory over oneself.

It is true that your skill, talent, understanding, and so forth, are your own whether you test or not. From that perspective, rank means nothing. However, rank does not truly mean nothing until the possible pride or shame that may arise from the test and the wearing of your assigned rank means nothing as well. Note that this includes comparing yourself with others. If you do this, then rank still has meaning to you; you create rank every time such a thought arises.

If rank really means nothing to you, then you neither crave rank nor do you have an aversion to rank. In that case, you may as well test.

Wisdom Seen Elsewhere: Be Still and Know

Meditation of the Day - November 5

"You could study the ancestors, but without a deep feeling of communication with them it would be surface learning and surface talking. Once you have gone into yourself and have learnt very deeply, appreciate it, and relate to it very well, everything will come very easily."

--Ellen White, NANAIMO

Inside of every human being are our ancestors, and these ancestors still live. Today, the white man calls this DNA, but there is more than DNA. We have the ability to go inside of ourselves and learn from the ancestors. The ancestor teachings reside in the place of the center. The ancestors are waiting for us to come there so they can share the ancient teachings. It is said, "Be still and Know".

Great Spirit, let me walk in the stillness.

Don Coyhis

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Aikido & "Aversion to Violence"

Ron Ragusa's blog on AikiWeb caught my eye with post "Ninety-Eight," wherein he noted O-Sensei as saying, "Practice the Art of Peace sincerely, and evil thoughts and deeds will naturally disappear." Ron was citing his own observations regarding Aikido's transformative properties, leading practitioners toward a more peaceful lifestyle.

What caught my eye was his own thought, "The idea that Aikido will somehow cause masses of people to behave in a more peaceful manner is a misunderstanding of how Aikido practice engenders an aversion to violence among practitioners."

Can peace come about by fostering an aversion to violence? Is such peace true peace? Can the purpose of sincere practice of a martial art be the fostering any aversion? Ron and I discuss some of these things and others in the comments to his next blog entry, "Ninety-Nine."

I will probably add to those thoughts here, but, for the record, there is the root.