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Showing posts from 2011

The Happiest Person in the Room

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On one unforgettable occasion, Maruyama Sensei was visiting Rutgers dojo. In our new location we had to walk the gauntlet of the weight training room to get to the practice space. Thirty-odd young men were lifting huge metal plates on various machines and sweating profusely. Three or four of us trouped through in our gi, feeling rather small in the presence of all that unadulterated muscle. I muttered something about how Sensei was still the strongest man in the room. Sensei immediately said, "Don't say I'm the strongest, say I'm the happiest man in the room!"

That point comes back to me often. Sensei often says that having money, a girlfriend, a job, will make us happy of course, but the practice of aikido will help us become more happy even without money, without a girl (or boy) friend, without a job.

Recently, because some trees fell in a storm, our house had no power for eight days. When it was turned on again we found that the hot water, the heating system,…

Dark Matter

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In an earlier post, I wondered, "Is ki real?" Is ki an actual thing, or is it just a concept?

I teach aikido to college students. So I hesitate to write about science as if I know anything, because I know I will be challenged! But I offer this:

Only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum is visible to the human eye. We are all familiar with ultraviolet and infrared rays or waves and the ways in which they can be used: gamma rays, X-rays, infrared heat lamps, microwaves, and radio. Infrared light was only discovered by humans in 1800 and ultraviolet in 1901. But animals such as bees and snakes have sensed these parts of the spectrum for eons. How might a snake's ability to find prey or a bee's ability to find nectar have been described or understood before we had instruments to perceive these wavelengths?

Dark matter is a discovery that has only recently become known to non-scientists. Only 50 years ago, in popular culture at least, dark matter was the stuff of …

The Bridge

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Last night I had a dream of a world gone awry. It started with a newspaper report showing multiple cars driving off a bridge that had collapsed. When I went to the scene (arriving instantly in my dream, of course,) I saw car after car going over the edge into the water. Many people saw the problem, but no one was trying to warn the drivers. The rest of the dream had more scenes of people unwilling to help each other even when all it would take was holding out a hand.

When I awoke I thought hazily about this quality of empathy that was missing from the people in the dream. Empathy is something all humans - and perhaps many animals - share. We would try to help someone in danger without thinking, even if there were no direct gain. A psychopath, a person without empathy, has a mental disorder. Although psychopaths seem to make excellent business leaders, the idea of a world full of them is what makes zombie movies so scary.

The concept that people are connected is not a theory. It is no…

What is Ki?

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The concept of Ki, or lifeforce, exists in many cultures. In Chinese it's Chi or Qi, in Sanskrit, Prana. In western culture, while we may say someone has a soul that is distinct from their physical body, the soul is connected to the individual. Ki, as it is understood in Japanese culture, is a universal force that permeates everything. Individuals may manifest more or less ki, but it is a connecting force between everyone and everything.

In Japan, ki is an everyday concept that's found in many common phrases. For example the phrase "O ki o tsuke te," which means "take care," literally means, "apply ki."  "O genki desu?" the most common way to say "How are you?" means, literally, "Do you have ki?"  "Ii kimochi," a phrase heard often, particularly in popular songs, means "(What a) good feeling." "Ii" means "good" and "kimochi" literally means having, or holding ki.


Sense…

The Kokikai Sangha

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At the start of Kokikai Winter Camp some years ago I greeted David Nachman Sensei. I told him I was becoming more dedicated to Buddhist meditation, but I was having difficulty with the lack of a sangha. "This is your sangha!" he answered, gesturing to the 200+ people beginning to fill the gym.


This reminded me of a time I was asked to deliver a copy of a group photo to Maruyama Sensei. The photo had been taken at the previous winter's Kokikai Aikido camp. There were about 230 people in the photo, all sitting formally in lines, arranged with Sensei in the center. He zeroed in on their faces, all smiling, relaxed, happy. "If you didn't know," he said, "what kind of group would you say this is?"


I wasn't expecting the question and had no idea how to reply. "What kind of group?" he persisted, "College reunion?" 


We both agreed, no. "Family?" "No." "Religion?" Even religion, no. It was impossible for m…

The Power of Teaching

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When you think of the Buddha, you think of the young man who was born in Kapilvastu, who practiced many years in the forest and who went around India to live the teaching. But that is only a portion of the Buddha, because the moment when the Buddha began to build the sangha, he begin to transfer himself to the sangha and many disciples, monastic and lay, they continue the Buddha. You have to see the Buddha in the sangha. You have to be able to see the Buddha in the dharma (teaching). If you have not seen the dharma and the sangha, you have not seen the Buddha. The dharma is available in the here and the now. The sangha is also available in the here and the now. You do not have to go to India in order to see the Buddha.If you believe that Buddha is a god, and can bestow on us the things we want, then that is not the Buddha. 


The Buddha is a human being who has a deep capacity of understanding and of loving and of having maha karuna, great compassion, maha maitri, great love, maha prajna

Sangha

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In Buddhist practice, the "three jewels" represent the foundation of practice. These three jewels are the Buddha (or teacher), the dharma (the teaching), and the sangha (the community of practice). It's interesting that not only the teacher and the teaching, but the people around you are considered not just important but essential!

This community of practice might also be described as "spiritual friends," or people who share the same goals of practice. If we look around, we can see that, whether they call it by this name or not, many groups understand the importance of "sangha" in supporting others along a particular path, particularly a difficult one: AA, mental health professionals, even Jenny Craig!

Here's a quote from the Upaddha Sutra:
Venerable Ananda said to the Blessed One, "This is half of the holy life, Lord, admirable friendship." The Buddha replied, "Admirable friendship is actually the whole of the holy life. When a mo…

Judging vs. Living

If I am judging this moment, I am not living it.If I am living it, I am not judging it.
 Judging is head centered, living is heart centered.
 Judging springs from doubt and insecurity. Living springs from love and contentment. 
And each moment I choose again, as my choice a moment ago is no longer relevant. 
-Michael Jeffreys

What Are Your Three Things?

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Over the last few years I've had the privilege of taking several yoga classes with Max Strom. He's a great teacher and I think one reason is his knack for coming up with memorable concepts. One of these is to keep in mind your "Three Things."

Max spoke of a student who he described as "all over the place." This student had trouble focusing, and as a result he was distracted by every external stimulus and seemed unable to listen to verbal cues. Max decided to give him just three things to work on, but they would be three things that would work in every pose. From then on, every time he walked by this student, he'd say, "Remember your three things." This gave the student something that he could grasp to bring his attention back to his own body in the pose. Gradually the student progressed to the point that Max would just have to catch his eye occasionally and hold up three fingers.

Most of us could benefit from introducing this kind of concept …

5 (+1) Ways To Become A Better Teacher

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In my other life I work in interactive marketing and I'm told that if you write lists in your blog, you get more "hits." I am tempted to joke about how I know how to avoid being hit, but instead, here's my list of 5 Ways to Become a Better Teacher - with one BONUS way!


These tips were developed with yoga and aikido in mind, because that's what I teach. But who knows, they might be useful for teaching sports, music lessons, even physics! 


#1 Develop Confidence in your voice and in your demeanor.
If you're having trouble with this, start with your voice and your demeanor will follow.


#2 Watch Your Students.
I'm always amazed at how many teachers get so wrapped up in what they are saying and thinking that they miss the very confused looks their students are giving them, or the fact that their students are doing some thing totally different than what they were asked to do. You can learn a lot about the quality of your teaching by watching your students. And certa…

The Mona Lisa Smile

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In his book "Peace is Every Step," Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

"When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness. This half-smile, how many artists have labored to bring it to the lips of countless statues and paintings?..Mona Lisa's smile is light, just a hint of a smile. Yet even a smile like that is enough to relax all the muscles in our face, to banish all worries and fatigue. A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously. It returns to us the peace we thought we had lost."

Remembering to bring this small smile to the face can do wonders, not only for our own mental state, but also for the way we treat others. But how much harder is it to retain this relaxed, calm state when engaging in self-defense?

I remember about 10 years ago watching Maruyama Sensei experimenting with this half-smile. I would see him in quiet moments at the side of the mat, smiling a little more, a little less, until he…

Gently and Friendly

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I work for a marketing company, and one of our clients is owned by a Japanese firm. The Japanese owners recently introduced a new marketing tagline: "Gently and Friendly." The American division decided that this tagline, although it might be suitable for Japanese audiences, did not convey the way that they were driving, aggressive and technology-focused, and so they are using a different tagline.

I was thinking about this issue on the way home from teaching the first aikido class of the semester. Maybe this "tagline" would not be suitable for most martial arts, because it doesn't convey the driving, aggressive, "win at all costs" attitude that they want to portray. But perhaps "gently and friendly" would work for Kokikai Aikido?

Don't get me wrong, I don't think we need a tagline!  But it's fun to think through the idea... So,"gently" might represent the way we use less effort, staying as relaxed as possible.  "Fr…

Attention

Attention is precious. Our attention is like food that supports our purpose. There are significant consequences to how we focus our attention. If our attention is turned toward the purpose of being kind, being less greedy, being present for someone, our attention will feed that purpose.

Anger

I ran into a friend yesterday who is going through a painful divorce. It was difficult to see him this way. Once a champion bodybuilder, he had lost weight, his thoughts were scattered, he looked and sounded defeated. He was so wrapped up in his anger that he was unable to experience or appreciate anything else: not the caring of the friends who were offering support or the helpful advice that they were giving him, not the delicious food, or the lovely summer day. It sounded like he had been in this state for months, and it may be many months, or years, before he is able to resolve the things that are making him unhappy.

Maruyama Sensei has said that in the context of fighting, "being angry is like having your eyes closed." My friend is in a fight and the outcome is vital to him, yet he is holding onto his anger as if it will save him even though the opposite is true.

Why do we hold on to our emotions as if they were weapons? I don't have the answer. I just know that my e…

Float Like a Butterfly...

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Shuji Maruyama Sensei has been characterized as being "like a cross between a butterfly and a piece of heavy farm equipment." When Rick Berry said this at a dinner celebrating Sensei's 35th anniversary in the U.S., it really struck me and has stuck with me these last 10 years. I was thus very surprised to see Thich Nhat Hanh described as "a cross between a cloud, a snail, and a piece of heavy machinery - a true religious presence." (by Richard Baker, in the introduction to Nhat Hanh's Peace is Every Step)

Each of these great teachers has reached a profound level of understanding about the capability of human beings. But Maruyama Sensei teaches Kokikai Aikido, a martial art, and Thich Nhat Hanh teaches Zen Buddhism, a way of peace and individual transformation.

Isn't this interesting?

Instructing the Instructor

Recently I attended a yoga class during which one of the students corrected the instructor. I'm sure she had the best of intentions. She is another teacher in the same studio, she has more experience, and she did it in a whisper where she thought others couldn't hear. Nevertheless, it was inappropriate.

As we gain experience in yoga, aikido or any "internal" practice, we inevitably face this impulse to "teach." Sometimes the urge is very strong. A little voice tells us that we are being helpful, that the instructor will benefit from our experience and knowledge. Unfortunately this is not the case. It doesn't help the instructor in question, nor his students, and it doesn't help us either.

First, consider how it feels for the instructor who is "corrected" by a student, especially by one with more experience. He may already be nervous with this person in the class. Now his fears are confirmed. His confidence is weakened, he may have difficul…

On Bringing About World Peace

"Peace must first be developed within an individual. And I believe that love, compassion and altruisim are the fundamental basis for peace. Once these qualities are developed within an individual, he or she is then able to create na atmosphere of peace and harmony. This atmosphere can be expanded and extended from the individual to his family, from the family to the community and eventually to the whole world."

H.H. the Dalai Lama
from the Foreword to Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh

No Parking, Except for Bob

This morning I was flying back from a trip to the Seattle area. Going through airport security there was a Catholic priest (or someone wearing Catholic priest regalia), who had a phenomenal amount of carry on baggage. Far too much for him to handle himself: hee had a roll aboard, a cardboard box wrapped for shipping and two large shopping bags. He was being assisted by a woman wearing a stewardess uniform. She had crew stickers on her bag but was not flying as crew. (Both were in the check in line with us as well). She helped him get into the first class security line and then to jump to the front of the security, as they bumped around with all these bags, dropping them and forcing everyone to make room.

I wondered if I was being filmed for candid camera, or perhaps they were reenacting "Catch Me If You Can." The experience left me with a lingering discomfort, however, that went beyond the idea of a 'man of the cloth' expecting special treatment.

Everyone wants to f…

Cloud Gazing

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When I was a kid I used to lie in the grass under a tree and stare up at the clouds. I would just watch the clouds floating slowly by, gradually changing their shapes. Occasionally I would notice a cloud that looked like a familiar object, and I would name it, "dragon," "ship," but mostly my mind just floated like the clouds, with thoughts coming in and flowing out just as freely. It was incredibly relaxing. I think most of us have very few moments of relaxation like that in our lives.

What has happened to us? Life has given us so many experiences that whenever we have a thought, however random, it leads to another thought, and another, until we are carried far away from where we started. A lifetime's experience gives us many things to think about, many ideas to connect to. It's particularly unsettling to pay attention to the train of thought and realize how often it leads to self-criticism.

This idea is particularly appropriate in a practice, whether it be…

Sometimes Things Are Not What They Seem.

Here's a little story that shows that things are not always as they outwardly appear. 
This situation arose recently while I was teaching an aikido class. I was generally keeping an eye on the room while I conferred with my co-instructor. I noticed Andy and Raul were looking towards me, not practicing. I walked over. "What's up?"
Andy: "We're having some trouble with the shomenuchi attack." (Shomenuchi is a strike to the top of the head, based on a traditional sword strike.)
Me: "What do you mean? You don't know how to attack shomenuchi?" 
Andy:  "Apparently not..."
Suddenly I realized:  Andy wears a white belt; he has practiced regularly for several years, but in another style of aikido. Raul is a blue belt who was wearing street clothes because he had just returned after a year away and didn't have his uniform. Each one thought the other was the beginner. Each one was asserting his point of view as correct.
After a little explana…

Basho and Musashi

I once read a story about the Musashi, and Basho. This story must be apocryphal as they did not live at the same time, but I think of it often in relation to martial arts practice. Musashi was a samurai with a deep interest in Zen Buddhism, and Basho was a poet with a samurai background - both were also known as great travelers.

So, according to the story they met on their travels, and they sat down to talk and rest. As they sat in the forest, they saw a mamushi, or Japanese pit viper, sliding toward them. Neither moved. The viper approached Musashi, and, somehow sensing danger, stopped and changed directions. When the viper approached Basho, however, it slithered over his feet as if he were part of the forest floor.

Sometimes the objective is achieved by not having a fighting attitude.

I love your smile...

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Have you ever caught sight of your face in the mirror and noticed that your face looked tight and kind of...frowny? Everyone has heard the benefits of smiling:

1. It's less work (This is the one that's quoted all the time. It's probably not technically true that it takes fewer muscles to smile, but it sounds good!)

2. Smiling actually changes your mood and makes you feel better. There's lots of research on this.

3. People respond better to you when you smile. Good telephone salespeople will tell you that smiling on the phone makes people respond better - but the best research is to try it.

4. Smiling is good for your health. Research has linked smiling to everything from lowered blood pressure and a healthier immune system to longevity, and more likelihood of finding a life-partner.

5. It makes you more attractive. There's lots of research on this, too, but it's so obvious you wonder why anyone wasted the research money.

6. Smiling will keep your face looking yo…

Frequently Asked Questions in Aikido

At dinner after the seminar I taught in New York this weekend, the subject came up as it often does: What's the best way to respond when working with someone who you think is doing a technique wrong?

In answering this, there are several considerations:
Is the person doing something dangerous, or are they hurting you?Is this person of a higher, lower, or equal rank to you?Do you want to demonstrate your knowledge, or do you sincerely want to learn?First: if your partner is doing something dangerous or you are being hurt, you have to let them know immediately. This can be done in a manner that won't evoke a "fighting spirit" - for example, "I have been injured there, so I have to be careful on that side," or "I'm kind of unsure of this technique, can we do it slower?" or, (one of my favorites), "My old bones can't respond as quickly as I used to, so maybe don't lay on the nikkyo quite so fast!" I tend to use self-deprecating hu…

Women's Kokikai Seminar at Aikido Kokikai of NYC

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Yesterday I taught a seminar for women students at Aikido Kokikai of NYC. It was wonderful to work with these strong women who are so enthusiastic about their practice! I felt honored to teach them.

We worked on ways that women can become more responsive and strong partners so they can feel comfortable working with partners of any size and strength.

We also talked about ways to make our aikido practice "our own," for example by finding metaphors and ways to visualize ideas in practice that are more feminine. (My first idea for a feminine metaphor was the fembots from Austin Powers, but we decided this might be too racy for some. OK, it's just a joke, but they did have to have great posture in order to be able to aim correctly!)

Posture was another topic of the seminar, and all of us experienced how small changes in posture can make a big difference in our ability to respond to an attack.

It was fun to practice with a group of women, although essentially I didn't feel…

Teacher as Performer

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Last night I attended a fantastic concert given by Zakir Hussain and Niladri Kumar. Later I tried to put a finger on what made the performance so electrifying. It wasn't just that these two are amazing virtuosi and very exciting to watch. It was their ability to connect to the audience and to each other that gave them the ability almost to stop time.  This is not always the case -  I have gone to see world famous jazz musicians whose performances left me cold. Sometimes it seemed the musicians were showing technical expertise but not connecting with the audience. Other times I sensed a negative, competitive edge among the players.

I can't count the number of times I've heard Maruyama Sensei talk about how important it is for an aikido teacher to be exciting, captivating, fascinating. A critique he sometimes makes of students' demonstrations and tests is that they're not interesting to watch. He chooses his ukes (attackers) not just by how strong, fast, flexible the…

Kotsu-Kotsu

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Several years ago I visited Japan for the third Kokikai Aikido International Convention. Because of the language barrier I wasn’t able to talk to very many of Maruyama Sensei’s Japanese students in depth. However, I did spend some time talking to Shuji Ozeki, founder of Kokikai Australia, who speaks English fluently. Ozeki Sensei has practiced Kokikai Aikido for over 25 years. He now lives in Seki, Japan and runs the Ozeki School of Japanese Cuisine.  We immediately slipped into a discussion about the core of Sensei’s teaching, and whether it was different for Japanese or American students. Ozeki Sensei was effusive about the way that Sensei’s teaching has greatly benefited his own life and benefits others by encouraging all human beings to respect one another.

Ozeki Sensei explained to me the Japanese phrase, “Ichi go, ichi e.” I had purchased this calligraphy at a temple in Kyoto. I have heard it interpreted in various ways. Maybe I intuited Ozeki Sensei’s interest in Zen Buddhism w…

Paying Attention

Paying attention is probably the simplest and yet most challenging thing you can do to improve your aikido practice. It is very difficult to watch attentively. Our minds wander. We have internal discussions. We hear a noise and look, and lose focus. We need to practice paying attention to every detail all the time we are practicing: not just paying attention to the instructor, not just to hand and body positions, but to timing, the way our partner feels, the look on our partner’s face, the mental state that this look signals.

Paying attention when you are watching the instructor or when you are practicing ki development exercises is a first step. Then work on paying attention to your partner during practice. When does she get her balance back? When does she have an opportunity to resist? When does he feel weakest? Pay attention to yourself: When do you have good posture? When do you have bad posture? When are you too far away from uke? When are you using one point? When are you using …

Taking Responsibility for Your Practice

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Everyone comes to class to learn something. Consciously or unconsciously, they place the burden of teaching on their instructor. In aikido, for example, many students believe that there is some set of “correct” techniques that the teacher will “impart” to them. They think that a good teacher will impart the techniques more correctly, and, therefore, if they don’t learn it’s the teacher’s fault. This is 100% incorrect. The person who is responsible for what you learn is you. The instructor can provide help and encouragement but you must give your full attention to your practice in order to progress.

Maruyama Sensei provides an amazing example and he is a great teacher. He has taught a lineage of students who are also wonderful teachers. But they all understand that even when we have a great teacher, our learning must come from within. When Sensei says, “Find out for yourself,” or asks, “Which is better?” he is encouraging us to take responsibility for our own learning.

When I have a que…

Maintaining Beginner's Mind

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We can all benefit by practicing with an open mind. This idea can apply to martial arts practice, other internal arts such as tai chi or yoga, or even music, art, or computer programming.

Zen Buddhists talk about retaining "beginner’s mind." The problem is, when we come to have even a little experience, we tend to rest in the belief that we "know something." This mindset is a big obstacle to growth. When we think of ourselves as teachers, it’s hard to keep our minds open to learning something new. Our thinking becomes rigid. Trying to keep this “beginner’s mind” becomes even more difficult as we gain experience, becoming black belts and having teaching roles. We want to be seen as knowledgeable and worthy of respect. It feels more comfortable to be the one who knows, rather than the one who is learning.

But a rigid mind is more than an obstacle to learning: it can be dangerous in a self-defense situation. In a situation that may affect our safety, or the safety of …

Finding the Correct Feeling in Aikido

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From the moment we first bow onto the mat in a Kokikai Aikido class, we can work on finding the best feeling.  One mistake many students make is practicing too fast. This encourages stiffness and does not allow the opportunity to be sensitive to how you feel or how your partner feels. Once you're comfortable with practicing a technique slowly, then you can start to increase your speed, but always stay aware of how it feels. You may decide to slow down again to try to catch a new idea, or to regain your best feeling.

Another mistake beginners often make is to focus on the outcome. It's easy to pay most attention to whether, or how hard, your attacker fell, or whether you could overcome his or her resistance. Remember that if you practice stiffly and without the correct feeling, you will get better and better…at being stiff and having incorrect feeling. In order to help their students practice with correct feeling, some instructors discourage resistance in general practice.

If y…

Correct Aikido Technique: Like Making an Apple Pie

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Think of making an apple pie. The basic recipe is easy. But each pie is different depending on the sweetness of the apples, the humidity, the oven, etc. etc…A great cook knows how to adjust the recipe each time so that every pie is delicious.

The practice of self-defense through Kokikai Aikido involves coordinating our mind and body in order to lead the attacker’s mind and body. In other words, there are two (or maybe more!) minds involved. And two (or more!) bodies. Everyone, nage and uke, experienced and inexperienced, moves in the way that is natural for their body. Every attacker, every attack is slightly different. Both uke and nage have a slightly different mindset each time.

Just like an apple pie, every Kokikai technique has a recognizeable form. The basic techniques may be simple. However, to work toward a “perfect” technique, just like a pie, we have to learn to make it just right for that situation. As students we must work very hard not to rely on external aspects – how mu…

Overcoming Obstacles to Practice

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This is the first post in a series. It was originally written as an article about Kokikai Aikido, but the ideas could apply, more or less, to meditation, yoga, or, well, life.

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Recently an aikido student wrote from Japan where he was on an extended trip. He was taking a calligraphy class and he asked the teacher, “How should I do this brush stroke?”  She answered, “Boldly!”

The calligraphy teacher was using aimaisa. In Japanese, aimaisa means something like “vagueness,” or “ambiguity.” If the teacher had used descriptive words like “with a downward stroke,” or “thin at the top, fat at the bottom,” the student would have focused on trying to make his work look correct. She knew that if the student wrote it with the correct feeling, the character would be more correct. By telling him to write “boldly,” she was helping him gain a deeper level of understanding based on direct experience.

Beginning students of Kokikai Aikido are often similarly focused on objective aspects of practice. …

The picture of myself

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A thought, which is that as a musician, I am like that really flexible woman in my yoga class. She doesn't have to work hard at the flexibility part, because she is naturally flexible and therefore most of her poses "look good." But when it comes to the strength part, she at a loss, because she has never had to work at looking like those pictures of yoga poses, and so she doesn't know how to approach the part that requires effort and attention. However, for the yoga to be really beneficial for her, she needs to address this aspect of the practice.

As a musician, I have a good "ear." Sometimes when I am improvising, just like the flexible lady, certain things come easily to me. But when it comes to the hard work (keeping a rock solid rhythm, practicing the chord changes so I can do them without flubs) I have a hard time, because I have never had to work hard in order to sound what I think is "decent." When I record myself and play it back, my self …

On Common Sense

This is an article I wrote for the Kokikai Web site a few years ago. It's been removed from that site so I thought I'd repost it here...

On Common Sense

When I began teaching aikido at a university dojo, Maruyama Sensei told me that I needed to give special attention to teaching university students. “You need to talk more.” he said. “Make sure they understand common sense.” Sensei seldom says anything lightly and I have since given much thought to these words. The more I consider it, the more I realize that thinking about common sense can illuminate our practice.

“Common sense” sounds like something everyone should be able to understand without an explanation. Yet what one person may call common sense may seem senseless to another. Common practices of etiquette provide many examples. Much of our modern etiquette derives from practices that were originally common sense ideas. I was told by a history teacher that friendly knights would raise their visors on encountering each othe…

Equipoise

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This is a lovely word I read today. It made me think about several things at once.

The first was: the way we react to thoughts that arise during meditation. The mind has been likened to wild horses because of the difficulty of "reining in" these thoughts. A better way to bring about equipoise is the practice of noticing the thoughts and then gently guiding the attention back to the breath or other focus point.

The second thing I thought of was: a sword technique we practice in aikido. Please bear with me while I describe it - it's a simple practice but hard to explain in words.

Two people face each other holding bokken (wooden practice swords). The swords are held diagonally across the body and the opponents' swords are crossed, with each person applying some pressure. This is in effect a standstill. But theoretically one person could push the other's sword aside and thrust forward. For someone defending against this attack, the key is to maintain relaxation and …