It’s Mine! It’s Mine! It’s Mine!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental, Spiritual | Posted on 29-10-2009

In my short “life” as a martial artist, working with weapons is one of the most frustrating and ironically most rewarding training experiences.  The 6-foot bo staff helps me identify and correct my physical balance weaknesses.  The wooden sword helps me identify and correct my weaknesses in discerning the optimal angles.  All weapons help me judge appropriate distances.

(Best that I can tell, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu is not a school designed to teach weapons, but instead uses weapons as training tools.  Nathan Paris—one of my teachers—once said “weapons show you how bad your taijutsu is.”  However, like any tool, if we’re going to use weapons as training tools, we must learn how to use properly use them.  I could be very wrong here…)

Working with weapons, I have found that I become so focused on the weapon and what I am doing with it that whichever technique I am working on seldom works.  On a few occasions, I am such a loss as to what to do, I end up ignoring the weapon and reverting to the basic taijutsu I am comfortable with, never using the weapon; at least I know that works better for me.  It’s not that the weapon is ineffective; it is ineffective in my hands.  I feel that because it is in my hands, I must use it.

A man with a weapon is the one at a disadvantage

“The man who pulls a knife on you is at a disadvantage.  He will clearly lose the fight.  The reason is very simple.  Psychologically, he only has one weapon.  His thinking is therefore limited to the use of that single weapon.  You, on the other hand, are thinking about all your weapons:  your hands, elbows, knees, feet, head.  You’re thinking 360 degree around him.  Maybe you’re considering some form of escape, like running.  He’s only got a lousy knife.  Now he might throw it at you.  Let him.  You still have a chance to avoid it, block it, or he may miss you.  You’ve got all the advantages when you think about it.”

Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do, p. 23.  (ISBN-13: 978-0-8048-3132-1)

In training, when I wield a weapon, I become so attached to it, that I forget my best weapon.  Me!  Body, mind, and spirit.  I am still available.  By attaching myself to the weapon, I reduce my effectiveness.  I should still be aware of the weapon in my hands and its capabilities—through training learn to also discern when the use of the weapon enhances my effectiveness—but I should rely on the basics of taijutsu, which always apply.

Becoming attached reduces options.

It’s not just physical attachments.  One particular class, we were taught a simple and effective technique, which we practiced one-on-one.  We then progressed to doing the same technique three-on-one.  Even though I felt comfortable with the technique, when it was my turn, it was a disastrous failure.  Based on the multiple incoming threats, I “selected” which one to do this technique on first, with the idea that I’d move to the next threat when I was “done” with the first one.  Even though I still feel I “chose” correctly, as I was performing the technique on the first threat, I became aware that the other two threats were converging on me from either side.  Because I was so determined to get the technique to work, I tried to accelerate it, which only contributed to me overlooking the proper distance, angle, and timing of the technique, thinking I could compensate for them with speed.  Result:  I was simultaneously struck on each side, with my hands on a third fully-balanced person.  (You don’t have to be a martial artist to realize my predicament; I’m just glad it happened in class.)

I had become so attached to the technique prevented me from realizing the simple option of just letting go and taking a step back.

Attachments can keep us in places we know we don’t want to be.

Within the context of martial arts, I discovered how “attachments,” whether physical—body—or mental, constrain my options.  Limit my freedom.

Analyzing my epiphany, other questions arose.  Do attachments affect other aspects of my life?  Can there be “spiritual” attachments?  If so, do they have the same constraining effect?

A single glance at my dogs revealed the answers to me.  I love my dogs, but am I “attached” to them?  Anytime I have to travel, I now certainly become aware of the physical attachment.  I am not “free” to make travel plans without ensuring for their proper care.  When I start to miss them during an extended separation, my emotional—or spiritual—attachment comes to light.  Yes.  I am attached to my dogs.

Could you detach yourself?
Could you detach yourself?

If attachments—and their effects—consistently apply to both martial arts and canine companions, what else do they apply to?  Relationships?  Religion?  Jobs?  Income?  Where we choose to live?  Social status?  Shoes?  What attachments do we have that we can identify?  How do they affect us?  Which ones are created by our egos?

I’m not advocating eliminating our attachments.  I’m certainly very okay with my attachment to my dogs; the benefits they provide me far outweigh the “loss of freedom” they incur.

I am advocating becoming aware of them and analyzing their benefits.  What happens after that is up to you.

(To triangulate my opinion on attachments, you should also read my redheaded friend’s rant about the round holes.)

The Big A

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 22-10-2009

Note:  I rarely have original thoughts.  As an engineer, I’m well suited to using established methods to develop solutions.  I don’t create.  My blog posts are not original thoughts.  What I do is take a topic I have learned, turn it upside down, inside out, push it, pull it, smash it, analyze each little piece, put it together again, et al.  Once I have gathered as many perspectives on a topic as I possibly can, I mix it with another topic that has already undergone the same process, and examine what such a mixture yields.  This blog is an example of that; the result of mixing two topics.  Without the topics, I have nothing.  I would like to thank the two people that shared each topic with me, Roger Choat and Ethan Capers, who also happen to be my teachers.  Thank you!

Remember learning how to write?  Back in first grade?  I don’t know about you, but I was given a rather large sheet of paper with several horizontal lines; some of them solid, some of them dashed.  I’m willing to bet that the first letter we were all taught was the “big A;” capital A.  Stay within the solid lines, use the dashed line to come across.  I’m certain that everybody’s first “big A” looked strikingly similar.

We are taught to write in such way because at that developmental stage—for the most part—we have no concept or perspective whatsoever of writing, and the “Big A method” is the best proven method that provides such perspective.  The Big A method is the simplest, quickest—the most efficient—method to get everybody writing.

When was the last time your written capital A looked like that “big A” you learned in grade school?  Since being taught that “big A,” we have “personalized” it, then learned the cursive form, and then personalized that!  Depending on how often you handwrite—an art that is being lost—your writing may have “evolved” to a mere chicken-scratch.  (Not only am I aware that mine has, I even know how and when it happened.)

Learning a martial art—especially for the first time—the rudimentary basics are taught first.  This can be tedious and boring.  Very boring.  The “big A.”  Not only is the “big A” taught, it is repeated numerous times until the importance of the impeccability of the “big A” is somewhat understood.  Then, once one thinks that they know all there is to know about the “A,” the “cursive big A” is introduced.  The “cursive big A” means exactly the same as our first “big A,” but it is done differently; a different perspective on the “A.”  The “cursive big A” is easier to learn than our first “big A,” because the concept of the “A” is already present; it builds upon the “big A.”  The “cursive A” introduces the perspective of how the “A” can “connect” or “flow” with the following letter, whichever it may be.

As the “writing” progresses, each one of us develops our own methods for making it more efficient.  Our personalized “chicken-scratch” develops.  We each feel that our “chicken-scratch A” is the most efficient form of handwriting an “A.”  (One of the dangers to keep in mind is that if our “chicken-scratch A” becomes so unintelligible that nobody—sometimes ourselves—recognizes it, it will cease to function as an “A” and hence be “A.”)

One of my personal epiphanies was that learning a true martial art not only a life-long devotion, the true “learning” doesn’t begin until the attainment of black belt.  All studies up to black belt are designed to prepare you to learn a martial art.  It is tantamount to the fundamental basics learned in grade school being the preparation for study beyond.  The “big A.”

It is easy to become frustrated with this process; especially in Western cultures, where we are increasingly becoming dependent on instant gratification.  Why put any effort into such a time-consuming process?  Can’t I just use money and get it now?  (Unfortunately, some black belts can essentially be purchased.  However, such purchased black belts don’t come with the experience, knowledge, and/or wisdom that come with one that was earned.)

Let’s extrapolate the “Big A method” beyond the context of martial arts.

I’m certain that the majority of us can recognize when the Big A method is required.  When looking at a near-vertical mountain that must be climbed, we recognize the value of a mountaineering class.  When looking at a river colored white by rapids, we see the need of a kayaking school.  Both use the “Big A method.”

However, we may fail to recognize that the Big A method is used in essentially every aspect of our lives.  Learning to drive.  Learning to parallel park.  Military basic training.  Swimming.  New job.  Engineering.  Mathematics.  Pretty much anytime we tackle something new.  We may not realize it because we may feel it’s menial or insignificant.

Expertise—in anything—is not something that we can create instantly, especially within ourselves.  If we truly desire to not only learn but also understand what we learn—not just the “how” but also the “why”—we must build a solid foundation of the basics.  We must learn the “big A.”

Now think of how many things each one of us jumps into without the basics?  Do we struggle with them when they get difficult?  How about the “big A” of relationships, communication?  Without fully understanding communication, do our relationships progress?  What else can you think of?

Schedule Your Failures

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Posted by admin | Posted in Mental | Posted on 10-10-2009

Disappointment.  Frustration.  Discouragement.  These are some amongst a myriad of emotions that are experienced when confronted with failure.  In a society that places such high regard for success, we have left no room for failure.  But failure is essential in understanding success.

Yes, random freaky “stuff” occurs; all the time it seems.  We have all tried something new, and it worked flawlessly the first time.  Why did it work?  To recreate that success, the only concept we have is to exactly mimic what we did the first time.  That might just work in a static environment, but what are the chances it will work in a dynamic one?  How about an adaptive one, “learning” from our previous actions?  If two boxers were to meet for a second time in a ring, do they remember the first bout?  Through failure we discover the boundaries of success.

In order for our failure to be meaningful and effective, there must be some constructive feedback associated with it so we can learn.  Although not always readily available or blatantly obvious, every failure always has an associated feedback.  Sometimes, feedback will be verbal; given by observers.  Other times, feedback will be physical; the pain felt when walking into an object.  Feedback can be mental; our deductive reasoning.  Usually, there’s a combination of more than one source.  Whether we choose to accept it or not, there is always feedback.  Properly identifying and utilizing the feedback from our failures—especially our personal failures—requires an open, objective, and honest mind.

Success is never guaranteed; there’s too much randomness and universal chaos to ever achieve a 100% probability of success.  Sometimes, people do just get lucky (or unlucky, depending on the perspective.)  But there are those who always appear to be consistently lucky.

Who are these statistical anomalies?  Why are they so lucky all the time?  More importantly, how do I become one of them?

It’s so simple.  Those lucky “bastards” have developed the ability to not only discern the opportunities within the surrounding environment, but also capitalize on them.

Very early in my martial arts training, Lary Speakman—my first martial arts instructor—told the class that begin understanding a technique, it had to be repeated at least one thousand times.  One thousand?  Really?  Over the years, I began understanding what Lary meant.

During the beginning repetitions of technique, it rarely ever works—the timing, distances, and angles are still being learned.  These are failures.  With enough repetitions, the mechanics of the technique are understood well enough that it begins to work consistently.  Once the mechanics are understood, variations—changes in the attacking pattern—are introduced to challenge our understanding of the technique, resulting in the technique rarely working…again.  These are failures.  Once as many variations as possible have been introduced, and sufficient understanding of the technique has been reached that it once again begins to work consistently, pressure—time, strength, or even multiple attackers—is introduced to reduce the time required to perform the technique, and it once again rarely works.  These are failures.  However, after changing the surrounding environment of the attack nearly one thousand times, discerning the opportunities and capitalizing on them becomes second nature, a mere reaction.  The purpose of the one thousand repetitions is to create as many different failure scenarios as possible—within a controlled environment—to yield as much feedback as possible.  We are scheduling failures.

Once asked about how many times he had failed to yield a light bulb, Thomas Edison replied, "I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
Once asked about how many times he had failed to yield a light bulb, Thomas Edison replied, “I have not failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Extrapolating this concept outside of martial arts, where can it be applied to?  Everything!  The chance of a mechanical issue being correctly diagnosed by a mechanic who was worked on one thousand cars is much higher than that of a mechanic who was worked on ten.  How about landing an airplane?  Trading a security?  Coiling a rope?  Making coffee?  Crossing the street?

In martial arts, the only true measure of success of the technique is its effective use during a live scenario, when the conditions within the surrounding environment are completely random, and during which the pressure applied is at its maximum.  (Every true martial artist hopes that this will never happen.)  These same conditions apply in every aspect of our life!  Work projects, extreme weather conditions, financial hardships, raising children, severe diseases.  At the most critical moment, failure is NOT an option.  We NEED success.  We NEED success or the consequences are severe, even potentially terminal.

Planning success requires scheduling failures!

Louis Pasteur once said: “Did you ever observe to whom the accidents happen?  Chance favors only the prepared mind.”

I would take it just two steps further than that.  “Chance favors the prepare mind, body, and spirit.”

Proper mind.  Proper body.  Proper spirit.  All three are essential for a balanced life.  By “preparing” all three, we will become those “lucky bastards;” we will be the consistently “lucky” ones.

Of course, I could be wrong.  In which case, Jean Cocteau, the French artist, summarizes it neatly:  “We must believe in luck.  For how else can we explain the success of those we don’t like?”

Lift Your Knot

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Posted by admin | Posted in Spiritual | Posted on 03-10-2009

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We are all connected.  In some way, shape, or form, that person you see across the room—or the street, or on television—is ultimately somehow connected to you.  What varies between that person and someone you know personally is the number of degrees or hops away then are.

In this aspect of “connectedness,” it shouldn’t be too hard to visualize ourselves simply as being knots on the a net; each one of us is a single knot, directly connected to those closest to us, who in turn are directly connected to those closest to them, who are directly connected to those closest to them, ad nauseum.

Obviously, if we are all part of this net, this is a pretty big net!  Such a net could represent all of humanity.  (If we were to extend it beyond just “humans,” it would even be bigger.)

If this “humanity” net was spread across, gravity would make it drape on the ground.  As a sentient race, it is not only our responsibility but also our duty to elevate this net as high as possible; the higher we are off the ground, the closer we are to understanding the “universe,” however each of us may choose to currently define it.

On a net, lifting or lowering any individual knot will in turn lift or lower—to some extent—all directly connected knots, although never to the full extent of the original knot’s movement.  In other words, if a knot is elevated, it elevates all attached knots some; if a knot is lowered, it lowers all attached knots some.

Fishing net (stock image)As individuals, we can only affect a single “knot.”  The knot that we choose to affect does not necessarily need to be our own; we can focus on any one knot at any given time.  (Unattended knots will have gravity pulling them down.)

Being fully responsible for my path—making and taking responsibility for all of the decisions and subsequent actions in my life—of all the knots this “humanity” net, the single knot I have the most control over is “my” knot.  Of all the knots on this net, the one I can elevate the most is my own.

We can choose to work on any knot other than our own, but not only will we not be able to lift that knot as much we could lift our own, but since our knot is left unattended, gravity will lower our knot.  Unless our knot is somehow otherwise attended to, gravity will pull down not only our knot, but have a negative effect on all directly connected knots.

How often do we focus on someone else’s happiness?  Even at the sake of our own?  How consistent are the results?

As a “knot on the net,” the greatest universal impact we can have is focusing on our own happiness.  By elevating our knot as high as possible, we have the most positive effect not only on those directly connected to us, but to humanity as a whole.  It is through our happiness that we bring happiness to others.  By focusing on our happiness first, we make it easier for those around us to be happier as well.