Put The Bar High, But Not Too High

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

When you want to improve your skills, you have to define your objectives. How you choose them will make you successful or not.

Success is not only about reaching your goal, but it is also how you passed the obstacles on your way to getting to it. Saint Exupery wrote, “what matters is not to reach your destination, but to walk towards it.” (1) That is why you have to find goals that will force you to overcome some difficulties. But as in the Indiana Jones movie, I would say “Choose wisely!”

If your goals are too easy to get, you will not improve. When you have low standards, you get low abilities. I see many people on the mats with small objectives, they reach them, but do not get anything in exchange. Then it is better not to define any goal at all! Everything you gain without hard work in this life is not suitable for your development. It is a loss of what you could get by having higher standards. When your standards are poor, you don’t evolve, you regress.

A real goal has to be challenging to reach, but it has to be reachable. If your goals are too high, you will never get to them. And as a consequence, you might lose faith in yourself and quit. Quitting is never the right solution. The “keep going” principle given by Sensei at the start of the Bujinkan adventure is our strength. More than a quote, it is a credo.

Never give up. Fail and try again. As the Japanese saying says “Fall 7 times, get up 8 times.” (2) Failure is always your best teacher.

In defining those goals, you have to get a chance to be successful. Success is a state of mind. If you become successful in the dōjō by improving your skills, you will find the same success in any endeavour you do.

Success is also a habit that you build every day through failure. The late Arthur Ashe said, “Success is a journey, not a destination.” (3) The doing is often more important than the outcome. That is where Budō becomes a school of life. Your evolution on the mats will reflect in your daily life, and lead to happier living. Everything is connected.

I hope it is now clear how important it is to set achievable goals for your practice. This will have a positive effect on your life and bring you happiness. Isn’t being happy what Hatsumi Sensei teaches at every class?

We will never be perfect, as perfection is divine, but our commitment to Budō brings us every day closer to it. The more we train, the better we get. Our techniques get more straightforward and efficient.

Here is another quote by Saint Exupery. “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” (4)

Get rid of your self-imposed limits, aim high (but not too high) and be the happiest Budōka you can be.

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1 “Ce qui importe, ce n’est pas d’arriver, mais d’aller vers.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry in “Citadelle”
2 七転び八起き, Nana korobi ya oki. Fall 7 times, get up 8 times
3 Arthur Ashe was a great American tennis player in the seventies. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Ashe
4 “La perfection est atteinte, non pas lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à ajouter, mais lorsqu’il n’y a plus rien à retirer.” Antoine de Saint Exupéry

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Make Mistakes By Doing New things

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

IMG_20171125_104614This week should have been Senō sensei’s birthday. And thinking about his classes at the honbu, it reminded me of the soft precision he used in his teachings. He was also the only Dai Shihan asking to be hit, to show the perfect timing. His Taijutsu was impressive, and he was never afraid of making mistakes. We should be doing the same.

Somehow it resonates with my recent article on failure. You must make mistakes to improve our Taijutsu. (1) I spoke about Shippai, failure. But Shippai also means a mistake. (2) As often in Japanese, an action (mistake) can be a result (failure).

The moment you decide to change, you make errors. And as a consequence, you improve your skills. Albert Einstein said, “anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” We have to stop being afraid of change, and always try new things. This is the path Sensei is showing us to develop our Taijutsu. Accept it today, even if I know how hard it is to turn a decision into action.

Humans are reluctant to leave their comfort zone, they avoid trying new things. Humans love routine and hate changes. Even though we know that in life (or in a fight) everything is about accepting change. Did you know that “Henka” that we translate by “variation” also means “the beginning and the end of change?” (3)

Because we make mistakes, we can correct them and get better at our Taijutsu. Any new learning, or any further action we take, will see us fail. Accepting our errors is the best way to excel one day. With each try, we change the form until we reach the correct way to do it. What is wrong becomes good. But this way to train demands to be relaxed. This is why stiffness in the body or in the mind while training cannot be. Hatsumi Sensei often tells us to relax. Only when you release all tensions, that change is possible. 

In an ancient interview, Sensei explained that “what is not natural is not in harmony with life. Life changes constantly, everything is naturally evolutive, because nothing is static. In this perspective, everything that tends to remain static is not natural. And thereby, because it goes against nature, is doomed to disappear for it is fruitless.” The nine schools survived all these centuries because they didn’t remain static.

Humans learn new things because they make mistakes. The late Senō sensei used to tell us that when learning a new form, we make big mistakes at first. And then, through repetition, we make smaller ones, until they nearly disappear. Step by step, we get the correct movement and get it right.

“Machigai” also means a mistake. (4) So please accept “Machigai” and don’t “Machigae,” “wait to change.” Do it now! (5)

To accept change is the key to adaptation, and to natural movement
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1 https://kumablog.org/2019/12/05/are-you-a-failure/
2 失敗, Shippai: Failure; mistake; blunder
3 変化, Henka. change; variation; alteration; mutation; transition; transformation; transfiguration; metamorphosis
4 間違い, Machigai: mistake; error; blunder​. Accident; mishap; trouble​. Improper conduct; indiscretion
5 待ち替え, Machigae: Machi, waiting; waiting time. Gae, change; alteration; substitute.

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Value What You Have

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

 

FB_IMG_1575890665755The Bujinkan created by Sōke is like a treasure, but few practitioners understand what it is, or how much it is worth. There is a Japanese saying for people not valuing what they have. It is “Neko ni koban,” as our “casting pearls before swine.” (1)

The Bujinkan is a treasure because of its techniques, like any other martial art. But also because it transforms us into human beings. My Budō brother Daniel Hernandez left Japan today with a beautiful message to sensei and to us. Here are some sentences that are taken from it. (2)

I don’t come to Japan only to train, but mainly to see you (Sōke), to see your eyes, feel your immense love, and to know that you are well. You are the only lighthouse in my life. (…) And I come here for the most important thing, you, my dear master. (…) Thank you in advance to all my brothers, and Bujinkan friends, to take good care of Sōke.

If your vision of the Bujinkan limits itself only to the technical aspect, it is good, but it is not enough. The Bujinkan is a holistic experience. And Waza is as valuable as the calligraphy session. The Bujinkan experience is bathing you in a mix of Waza, Japanese and Asian culture, language, and meaning of life. This complex mix allows you to find the best in yourself, and to get rid of the negative aspects in you. But, here, too, not everyone succeeds.

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Over the years, I saw many practitioners entering the path fully committed, and then leaving after a few years. They judged that the commitment was too high a price to pay for their ego. And I can accept that.

There is nothing wrong with loving the mechanical moves of Budō. If it is your case, I have to tell you that you are not Bujinkan. Sōke teaches at all levels and people like Daniel or myself, have been “educated” by Sensei’s vision of Budō. The men we are today have nothing to compare with what we were at the beginning.

All those years of travels and training. All those private moments with Hatsumi Sensei, have carved us into a better version of human. We are not perfect, but we are still walking the path under his guidance and his care for humanity. Sensei is a beautiful human being, and his love has been spreading all over the planet through his Budō. He gave the world a new vision of Budō that will last and blossom.

Stop arguing on social media about changes happening these days. They are not necessary. Stay focus on your training, trying to get what Sōke is teaching us. It is more essential than fighting techniques. Sensei is showing happiness, love, and tolerance. And between two Shutō and locks, we have to do the same.

Begin to value the extraordinary we have to be around a man like him. And don’t be the one not appreciating this beauty.

Stop wasting your time, (3) and accept this marvelous gift that Sensei is giving us.

Value what you have!

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1 猫に小判, Neko ni koban: Literally: Gold coins to a cat. Meaning: Casting pearls before swine / Giving something of value to a recipient that does not value it.
2 From my Budō brother Daniel Hernandez
おせばになりました いろいろと どうも ありがと ございました でわ また どぞ よろしく おねがいします.
De Corazón a Corazón ♥, I Shin Den Shin. Así recibí de usted querido Sōke sus enseñanzas, sólo agradecer todo el cariño brindado a través de los años. Espero sepan entender, ya no vengo a 日本 a practicar, sólo vengo a verlo a ud 先生, ver sus ojos, sentir su inmenso amor, y saber que está bien. Sólo ud 先生 es mi faro. Y no es por que no pueda seguir aprendiendo, de todos puedo y debo aprender. Pero estoy aquí por lo más importante, usted querido Maestro. Agradezco a mis Hermanos y amigos, y les dejo un pedido, cuiden a 先生 por favor. Makoto de Gozaimasu.
3 “Neko ni koban” also means “great waste.” Daniel Hernandez left Japan with a nice post on Facebook.

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Are You A Mindless Cyborg?

From Shiro Kuma by kumafr

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Body and mind are one. If you only develop the body and let the soul out, your taijutsu will be artificial. It will look good but miss the flavour. And it will never be alive and natural.

All martial arts in Japan, follow a three-step pattern called Shingitai. (1) Created by Sumo, the Shingitai is now used by all martial arts. Shin is the spirit/mind; Gi is the technique; (2) and Tai the body. But “Shin” is what makes it vital to your progression. Without “Shin”, your taijutsu is only Gitai, robotic. (3) If you don’t improve your general understanding of the art, you will move like Robocop and become a Cyborg!

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To understand this, we have to reverse the order of the terms. Shingitai is, in fact, “Tai Gi Shin,” as it is the natural order of our evolution.

And this is how to understand it:

  • Tai: Since the 19th century and the Meiji restoration it refers to the physical body. This is the first level of development for any budōka. It is purely mechanical. During this phase of your learning experience, you do the basics in a “1-2-3” sequence. It develops a basic flow in your movements.
  • Gi: This also reads as “Waza”. (2) This is not only the technique but carries the meaning of skill. This is the second level of the development of a Budōka. At this stage, you learn the correct form. You can reach this level only if you master the basics, not before. This is a rather formal phase where you must be as close as possible to the form taught in the dōjō. Precision in the techniques is required from the practitioner. It is not the time to create your own flavour.

  • Shin: This is the heart or the spirit. The Japanese do not differentiate the two meanings. It is the last level of development that you get after many years of training. If Shin is the last part of the path, it is also the longest. Many Bujinkan practitioners will never get to this level. To go there, you need to commit more to the art. Actually, I don’t know many who succeeded. Many are good at mastering the forms, very few can learn the essence.

When you have a free “Tai” thanks to good basics, you can enter the world of techniques. As we said earlier, the Gi is the second level of your training. See the “Taigishin” as three steps that you have to walk up in the proper order. The low level of many teachers comes from this lack of understanding. I get it, Waza can be more attractive, but if your body is not ready to play, the results will not meet your expectations. As always, going too fast is not the best way to train. Some things need time, and you cannot compress time.

But one thing you must never forget is that each technique is there for a reason. Because what you see is not the technique, it is only the “Omote”, the outside of it.  In a Densho there is always a line after the description of the Waza saying “there is a Kuden”. (4) (5)

The Kuden is the essence of the technique, and it is often transmitted in a class by the teacher. Without the Kuden, the form is a set of mechanical movements. There is nothing “magic” in a Kuden. It is the key to help you unfold the power of the technique. Within a given Waza, there might be more than one Kuden. And that is why it is so important to train slowly. Slow speed will help you extract the essence from each sequence of movements. When your professor performs a technique that you try to replicate, you often fail to succeed. Because you only do what you saw, but did not grasp every aspect of it, the essence is missing. It is like copying the Mona Lisa, one square centimeter after the other. In the end, your painting will “resemble” the original, but the essence will be missing. Copying a masterpiece will not make you capable of making a painting of your own. When you copy, you are not a painter. It is the same in Budō.

Teachers have a responsibility to teach their students to learn how to paint; hold the brushes, mix the colours, and structure a painting. But a teacher will never paint for you! This is why the Kuden is essential to teach things that are not visible to your naked eye. If you want to improve your Waza, stop seeing them as a checklist. Do them many times, until the outcome is like the essence and the form the teacher demonstrated. I insist: A Waza is not a checklist, it is a result. Create conditions to achieve the same result.

During one of my stays in Japan, a Japanese Shihan used a beautiful metaphor to help us understand. He said that each Waza is a canal with different angles. When you learn the sequence, you only have to stay in the middle of the channel, equidistant from the banks. This is the 1-2-3 pattern. Once you know it, you can go downstream, and “cut” the angles to gain speed and efficiency. You repeat it until you can do it right.

channelThe three phases are:

  • Phase #1: You learn the steps (TAI) in a “1-2-3” form. At this level, it is not essential to understand the Waza.
  • Phase #2: You understand the waza (GI), and you begin to cut the angles. The movement starts to flow, you gain speed.
  • Phase #3: You are efficient (SHIN), you have developed your movement, that is the one suiting your body. And you can do it your own way.

Shingitai is one of the secrets of Budō. If you don’t train the “Shin,” in each training, you will move like a Gitai, a robot. So, are you willing to stay at the Gitai level, or do you prefer to become a Shingitai practitioner?

Hint: Sensei said that “Budō is made in human,” it means that we are not Cyborgs!

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1 Shingitai
2 技, Gi or Waza: No difference! “技” is pronounced either “Gi” or “Waza.” As always you have the Japanese pronunciation, and the Chinese one.
3 義体, Gitai; Cyborg, artificial body
4 伝書, Densho: book or scroll that has been handed down through generations; book of secrets
5 口伝, Kuden: oral instruction​, passing information by word-of-mouth. It is also sometimes used as “experience”. The one you develop by making mistakes and correcting them.

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