You’re Already Dying!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu, Mental | Posted on 20-11-2009

Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

“Each moment has the potential for us to reach enlightenment.”

In our dojo—and in every Bujinkan dojo worldwide—every class starts with these words.   Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

What does that mean?

(As I’m finding out, Japanese is a very contextual language.  Any word or set of words in Japanese can have completely different meanings, depending on the context.  But as I’m also learning, such “duality” also contributes to the “mystical” nature of the language—more than one meaning can be intended with a single statement.  With a single statement, not only can the “how” be communicated, but also the “why.”)

The first interpretation I was given for “Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo” was “each moment has the potential for us to reach enlightenment.”  Depending on who you ask, the words may differ, but the context is usually the same.

Beyond that simple translation, I wasn’t given much more instruction.  Sure, I’ve had discussions with my teachers on it, but it is usually left to me to find out.  As it should be.  Each one of us needs to take the concept, and make it our own, something that makes sense to each of us.

Initially, I used the statement to add focus to my life.  I interpreted it as becoming aware of what I was doing each and every moment, realizing that what I was doing at that specific moment was a choice that I had made, and ensuring that all my attention was focused on what it was that I was doing.  After all, I made the choice.  Why would I half-ass it?

Such an interpretation has helped me out immensely, and I still continue to see it that way.  But as with any concept, it’s meaning evolves as I evolve.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to watch Warren Miller’s new film “Dynasty.”  (Warren Miller produces a film about skiing—and sometimes similar sports—each year.)  I had seen some of the other Warren Miller films before, and I find them all to be quite inspiring, pushing me to be become a better skier by showing me what is possible.

In “Dynasty,” there was a particular segment that caught my attention.  This segment was about “disabled” athletes and how they had overcome their disabilities in order to do what they loved.  Ski!

Disable SkierThese guys were incredible!  What they can do on a slope was breathtaking.  However, as amazing as these athletes were, it was within one particular scene where it struck me.  In this scene, painted across the back of the seat of one of the “rigs” these athletes use, were the words “DIE LIVING.”

Die living?

From the moment we are born, we are already dying.  In geologic time, one could argue that we’re already dead.  Sure, our bodies go through several changes throughout our lifetimes, but the result is invariable.  We die.  Most of us, at some point or another, will imagine ourselves when we are in our golden years.  However, not only are we not guaranteed those golden years, we are not even guaranteed tomorrow!  Death reaches us all.  “Live dying” is more accurate.

How many of us feel caught in the same morose routine day in and day out, trudging along in this world full of absurdity?  Are we happy at work?  Are we happy in the city we live in?  The state?  The country?  Are we happy with our friends?  Our health?  Our dogs?  Our neighbors?  Are our dreams only dreams?  What if we died tomorrow?

We are dying.  Might as well be.  We have so little joy in our lives, that we latch on to every little bit of happiness so tightly that we cause it to fall apart.

Die living?

Is it that simple?  Can we just turn the words around and change our outlook?

Why not?  Why am I unhappy with work?  With dogs?  With friends?  Why am I not actively pursuing my dreams?  If my state of mind is a choice, why am I not choosing to be fantastic not only every day, but every single moment?

I don’t want to live my life in such a sterile environment that doesn’t have room for risk.  Risk is where the fun is at!  I want to enjoy my life!  I want to skid into death at 100 miles an hour, with body worn out from all my adventures, yelling “what a ride!”

Anything short of that, then I might as well be dead already.

I have a choice then:  “Live dying” or “die living.”

Guess which one I’m making.  Right now.

Shiken Haramitsu Daikomyo.

Thank you!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 12-11-2009

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day.

It’s been nearly 13 years since I separated from the military, a fact that I had nearly forgotten.  Yesterday, however—for the first Veteran’s Day that I can remember—I was thanked for my service to my country.  (This year—again for the first time ever—I was also thanked on Memorial Day.)

It felt good!  Every single time I was thanked yesterday incurred a wave of emotion within me that made me proud of what I once was, and I appreciate the gratitude.

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day.

Today, I thank the soldier.  Today, I want to thank the airman.  Today, I want to thank the sailor—Navy or Coast Guard.  Today, I want to thank the marine.  Today, I want to thank all the brave men and women who are serving or have served in our country’s armed forces.  Ever.

Today, I thank those who are serving or have served in Afghanistan.  In Iraq…either time.  In Somalia.  In Panama.  In Grenada.  In Vietnam.  In Korea.  In Germany.  In Italy.  In France.  In Cuba.  In our own country.

Today, I to thank the volunteers that enter our ranks, who willingly sign on the dotted line that they will give their life if deemed necessary for a greater good.

Today, I thank those who were drafted for not running away.

Today, I thank the Air Force and Navy fighter pilots in the air after 9/11—without weapons—but with orders to fly into any plane that posed a threat to our country.

ChiefsToday, I thank cooks in the “dining facility” for ensuring I was nourished enough for my mission, as inane as it felt at the time.

Today, I thank the SP who guarded that plane in 5-degree weather.

Today, I thank the sailors who intercept torpedoes meant for the “big ships.”

Today, I thank the specialist who loaded the printer paper at the computing facility.

Today, I thank the submariners, the operators, the pilots, the tankers, the grunts, the swabbies, the zoomies…the staffers, the privates, the sergeants, the captains, the colonels, the generals…

Today, I thank every single member of the armed forces—regardless of their duty—because each and every one of you contribute—or have contributed—to the mission; every job is integral in its success.

Today, I thank every single member of the armed forces for preserving the freedoms granted to me by our Constitution—including the freedom to berate you.

Today, I thank our allied uniformed members, for their blood spilled next to ours.

Thank you!

Today!

Because today is Thursday.

Better than Best!

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Posted by admin | Posted in Buddhism, Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu | Posted on 06-11-2009

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Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) is one of Japan’s most legendary warriors, credited with having never lost a duel.  By the age of thirty, he had already fought over 60 duels.  However, after thirty and until his death at 61—although his understanding of technique appears to have advanced exponentially—Musashi fought barely 10 duels.

What happened when Miyamoto Musashi turned 30?

“At the age of thirty, I reflected, and I saw that although I had won, I had done so without having reached the ultimate level of strategy.  Perhaps it was because my natural disposition prevented me from straying from universal principles; perhaps it was because my opponents lacked ability in strategy.”

Miyamoto Musashi (Gorin no sho: Writing on the Five Elements; ISBN-13: 978-0-8348-0567-5)

Miyamoto Musashi, considered the greatest warrior in Japan, was able to objectively look at himself and conclude that not only did he have much room for improvement, but also that his past successes “may have been lucky.”  Miyamoto Musashi had conquered his ego.

In martial arts, I have found that ego is the largest obstacle to learning.  When the teacher demonstrates a technique for us to learn, some students will:

  • Attempt the technique very fast, trying to demonstrate how instant they absorbed it.
  • Resist the technique, trying to show how that technique is ineffective on them.
  • Perform a different technique that they know, trying to show how successful they are, even without the technique being taught.

(The list above is not exhaustively inclusive; these are just some of the things I have observed not only in other students, but in myself as well.)

The source for all such behaviors is ego.  We are so good at what we do that we don’t need to learn any more.  I am better than you.

In a dojo, I have found three sources of feedback: the instructor, our training partner, and ourselves.  The first two are external, although students may tend to treat them differently.  Generally, students will always listen to the instructor’s feedback.  (Even then, ego will sometimes prompt the student to raise an excuse as to why the instructor’s feedback doesn’t apply to “them.”)  It is much more difficult to accept feedback from our training partner.  They just learned the same lesson too, and our ego tells us that we are smarter than them, and thus we know the lesson better.  Our techniques always work; we don’t fail.  Our ego tells us their feedback is incorrect, although only our training partner has firsthand knowledge of the effects of our actions.  In a large class, the instructor will seldom be able to simultaneously observe all students, but our training partner is a constant source of feedback.

The third source of feedback—ourselves—is internal, and can also be further categorized.  The first category is “extraspective.”  This is the feedback from our senses; our tactile and visual inputs usually, but all of our senses.  Our ego will sometimes interfere with how we interpret these inputs, but we tend to believe them outright.

But the hardest feedback source from which to eliminate ego from is introspective; taking a look inside ourselves.  True honest introspection requires us to admit that there is something about ourselves that could be better, that we are “suboptimal.”  It forces us to realize that there is such a thing as “better” than “best,” as Musashi was able to conclude.  With honest introspection, we realize that if we didn’t get the technique to work, it’s because WE did something wrong.  We realize that although we managed to take down our opponent, it was because we did something else, or applied extraneous strength and/or speed.  We realize that although we did manage to do the technique properly, we don’t know why it worked.  We learn.  We improve.

Ironically, being honest with ourselves first also makes it easier to accept external feedback.  Once we acknowledge that we can improve, we look for information that will help us improve.  The easiest sources are external, and we actively seek them.

If suspending my ego accelerates my learning martial arts, what other aspects of my life can it help me improve?

All of them!  Taking a hard, critical look at ourselves helps us discover—and acknowledge—those important areas in our lives in which we are performing suboptimally, and the steps we have to take to improve them.

The same sources of feedback apply.  A martial arts teacher is an “authoritative” figure, akin to a parent, supervisor, et al.  A training partner is a “peer,” akin to a coworker, a sibling, a friend.  The same tools are available!

But how do I eliminate my ego?

Begin by assuming that it can’t be done instantaneously.

A simple yet surprisingly effective tool that I have used in the past is the Tendai-Mikkyo meditation Sange Mon:

  • Warning:  Sange Mon is a meditation that can be done alone.  However, the exercise contains a subtle power capable of adverse effects when the mind isn’t completely open.  It is difficult to properly convey the full instructions—and the potential pitfall—of the meditation in written form.  I highly recommend finding a “guide” to lead the first iterations of the meditation.

1)      Clear your mind.  (Everyone has a method that works best for them.)

2)      Review your events and actions from a period.  (Usually the previous day.)

3)      Identify an event in which you acted suboptimally.

4)      Understand that each of your actions stems from a choice or decision that you made; take responsibility for those decisions.  Identify the decision and the point in which it was made.

5)      In your mind, relive the relevant actions that took place exactly up to the decision point.  Make the same decision that you made.

6)      In your mind, play out the consequences of your decision exactly as they happened.

At this point, you may be swarmed with negative feelings.  Regret, embarrassment, chagrin; these are all consequences of your decision, and are part of the meditation.  NEVER stop here.

7)      In your mind, once again relive the relevant actions that took place exactly up to the decision point.  This time, make the optimal decision for that situation.

8)      In your mind, extrapolate the consequences as they would have played out based on your optimal choice.

There are numerous effects to this meditation, and two people will never feel the same.  There is no guarantee that it will even work for you.  It is simply a tool.  I can only attest that it works for me.