Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Place of Practice

In all aspects of our practice, our place of practice--that which surrounds us--directly reflects every aspect of our true selves.

When we are helpless within our circumstances or if we are only observers of our circumstances, it is revealed in our environment. We see what we like; we see what we do not. We see our preferences; we see our aversions. We find ourselves weighing the cost of making change against the benefit that might be gained. All of this is seeing ourselves.

Sometimes, though, this seeing contains blindspots.  Never separate from our environment, this seeing in the last example includes the belief that we are helpless or the belief that we are only acting as observers; moreover, it continues to feedback into shaping the environment as circumstances change. This can be a paralyzing trap that the environment reveals perfectly, even if we miss it.

When the power of our practice concentrates and expands--"Keep One-Point," "Extend Ki"--the places of our practice reflect it effortlessly. This in turn is seen by all when they encounter themselves in this place and see themselves in its reflection.

Now, look around: What does this space say about you and the power of your practice? Is your energy seen here? Do you see what is missing in your reflection?

Be free in all circumstances, yes, but do not believe you are separate from them.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cassandra's Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Having lived in the R&D world for so long where forward thinking is the norm, it becomes quite a challenge to interact with people who are stuck in the "Here & Now."  Whether it's the business folks watching the short-termed indicators or the people in their daily operations who don't have the luxury to imagine another way, they more often than not see the R&D fellow as outside their Here & Now.

Of course, the R&D team has a Here & Now as well: it just happens to be creating the Then & Out There.

Are they really different? Consider: The R&D team's reality is a vision, and they work daily toward its creation.  The Operations team's reality happens to be a vision too--a vision of how things are--and they work daily toward maintaining it. 

The visions of either team are arguably impermanent--today's operations are not necessarily sustainable, nor are all R&D futures attainable--but it is the vision that drives each and is the lens through which all changes are seen.

Simple enough, yes?

Now to Cassandra and her Complex (Wikipedia): In short, you have a vision of what will be, but no one believes you--and yes, it's all about you, naturally.  The few R&D folks who have the opportunity to live among the daily operations contingent have undoubtedly seen this one appear in the meetings and on the floor:  You're "thinking big" they have "a job to do"--notwithstanding that it's your job to think big, of course, or that if you have your way they won't be doing that job--at least in that way--for long!  In the end, there are two visions competing.  Sometimes there is successful negotiation and migration, a phasing in; other times, one of the visions must kill the other.  With only probabilities of future earnings or utility to defend itself,  R&D is often the loser.

Funny thing though:  Even if it's killed in the boardroom today, the R&D vision is often later realized anyway.  How?  Sometimes unsustainable operations and inevitable technology developments meet right where they're predicted--go figure!  Unfortunately, sometimes that's long after the team that made the recommendations was thanked and dismissed.

It's true, by the way: I personally do have a good deal of "I told you so"'s on my resume...

Speaking of which, back to Cassandra:  What if, over time, your "Here & Now" incorporates the habit of being disbelieved or misunderstood and later proven right?  If that is your vision, won't you work toward creating and then maintaining it?

If you gave Cassandra the prediction that she was in fact a spot-on prophet who was eventually going to be proven right, but added that she was habitually finding and focusing on those people who would not believe her, repeating this pattern, would she believe you or would she suffer tragic consequences, to include your "I told you so!"?

... or would that "self-fulfilling prophecy" be something she would have to discover for herself?

What vision would you have to hold, what habits would you have to develop, to become a successful "Prophet of Industry" ... or anything else that suits you?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Technique of Meditation

I have seen the “action-oriented” folks shun meditation--shikantaza, or “just sitting”--even among those who like to think of Aikido as “meditation in motion.” That is too bad. It is sad to see a martial artist who discounts one the most important techniques available...

We spend so much time in Aikidio, like in other arts, practicing and perfecting forms--the named techniques. These techniques are not fundamentally natural responses to our circumstances until they are fully integrated, ultimately ceasing to be techniques at all--at least in the “I’m doing ikkyo / I’m practicing ikkyo / I’m trying to make ikkyo work”-sense. Until then, practice is a great effort of doing.

How is simply being still any different? Have you tried it?

Over years of practicing the basic ikkyo--well after we are effective with it--do we not continue to gain more and more subtle insight into the technique? Increased sensitivity and finesse? Do we think that meditation would be different?

Beginners often mistake meditation for “doing nothing” whereas the practice of the martial art to them is “doing something.” It takes understanding a bit beyond this explanation to realize fully that the two are both still “doing” and that the noticing itself is a reflection of the effort itself. In this context, when we say something is “effortless,” we do not necessarily mean without force or without encountering resistance; it does not mean you will not sweat or feel pain. Instead, once comfortably integrated, you are not swayed by those things--you can do what needs to be done effortlessly--without internal resistance or distraction.  When the effort is gone, so is the doing.

There is were mastery lies.

In a sense, we are all slaves to our circumstances. When our bodies need oxygen, we inhale; when saturated with carbon dioxide, we exhale. When we’re punched in the nose, it hurts. When we’re tripped, we fall. What we can do though, even if only in limited ways, is to reconfigure our conditioned, habitual responses to our circumstances in a way of our own choosing. The martial practice itself is such an effort, conditioning different physical responses to different stimuli, expanding our capacity to operate under stress and duress. However, have you considered the added technique of not responding at all? Have you considered how much effort it takes to not respond if you’ve not fully integrated it as an option?

Meditation practice is multifaceted and integral to our practice at Sword Mountain. Our Aikido classes already incorporate meditation as part of the martial training. For the non-martially inclined and for those who see the value in the extra practice, we will soon be offering a combination of morning and evening meditation sessions to open and close our days. If interested in joining us, please contact us with your needs and watch this site for schedule updates.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Studying Aikido *and* Other Martial Arts?

There is a longstanding question in Aikido circles asking whether it is appropriate to study another martial art while studying Aikido.  Whether the source of the question is a want to correct perceived deficiencies in the art, or whether there's simply an opportunity to train with another teacher who is doing something different, or whether it's something in between, the answer can ultimately be clearly found within the Aikido practice itself right in front of your eyes...

... if you know where to look.

Year after year, practice after practice, technique after technique, repetition after repetition, the Aikido student alternates between the practice of Uke and the practice of Nage again and again and again.  If the practice of Aikido was only that of Nage--the performing of the throws and pins--and the role of Uke was simply that of a dumb attacker making mistakes to be exploited or that of an actor making Nage look good on the mats, then yes, it is easy to say that another art interferes with progress in Aikido.

But is Aikido strictly the art of the Nage?

It is certainly a draw, particularly to those of the "martial effectiveness" core, to think "I want to learn to throw someone like that!" Even among longtime practitioners, who hasn't completely overlooked the skilled Uke upon seeing the flawless execution of a new technique or variation?  It is tempting to see the art of the Uke as ancillary, a practice in deliberately doing things wrong, giving up one's center, being off-balanced, and so forth.  With extreme separation in the roles, learning to be an Uke is perhaps the incidental cost of learning to be Nage.

Whether there is this bias toward being Nage or whether at the other extreme there is a concerted effort to perfect the role of Uke, we are not yet performing Aikido.  Rather, we are studying two separate arts that are diametrically opposed...

... and certainly you cannot perfect being Nage while being Uke, right?  And how could you perfect your ukemi while being Nage?

Is the question so different than asking "How can you perfect Aikido while studying Karate?"

Somehow, though, through practice after practice, we do begin to master both the roles of Uke and Nage on the way toward perfecting our Aikido.  How?

What we are learning, the Aikido itself, in no small part lies in the awareness of when we are centered and when we are off-balanced, when we are leading and when we are being led.  It is in feeling the intention impulse that precedes an attack and in feeling the impulse that precedes a defense.  The Aikido study leads us to understand that it is the ability to fluidly move between controlling and yielding that moves us toward a desired outcome harmoniously.  

The opposed constructs of "Uke" and "Nage" are teaching tools, creating an imbalance to study it.  When you assume and hold the form of Uke, you perform like this; when you assume and hold the form of Nage, you perform like that--two completely separate arts in conflict.  Ultimately, though, the roles of Uke and Nage dissolve and the realization of the Aikido practice begins.

[Inspired by the AikiWeb thread, Learning from Other Arts.]