Showing posts from June, 2014

Just Shine

I often feel some conflict when it comes to my ego. Being a musician and practicing aikido both highlight this tension for me.

On the one hand, I understand that humility is good. It's important to recognize the talents and achievements of others. In my study of Buddhist teachings I've even heard that there's something called "no-self" that I'm supposed to be aiming for, where I realize the interconnectedness of all things and lose my ego.

On the other hand, to stand in front of a room full of people and play music, or to teach them self defense, I need a really strong sense of confidence about my ability and who I am.

Of course the martial arts has a strong tradition of respecting and acknowledging those who are more experienced. Even though I have been practicing Kokikai Aikido for more than 20 years, there are many current teachers in Kokikai who had been practicing for 10, 20 or more years when I started. And of course our founder, Shuji Maruyama Sensei, …

Start Being In the Moment...Now

I often hear people talk about "being in the moment," the way you might say "I want to learn to play the saxophone" - like an objective you could achieve if you only had a little more time or money, maybe next month after you finish cleaning the garage, or once you retire. "I need to be in the moment more."

I think this would make a great headline in The Onion:
I'm Going to Be In the Moment...Next Week "Being in the moment" is simpler than you think. It doesn't cost money. It doesn't take time. It's not hard. You don't have to cram your body into yoga pants and sit in the lotus position. You don't have to move to New Jersey, learn Japanese, get a guru, believe in chakras, or even meditate.

Here's all you have to do to be in the moment:

Whatever you are doing right now: pause for a moment and notice that. "I am here, doing this." If you are experiencing strong emotions, you may want to pause and notice your e…

What Does Kokikai Mean?

A Kokikai Aikido student recently asked, "What does 'Kokikai' mean?"

Ko  "light," means "radiant" or "shining" when used as an adjective.
Ki  usually translated as something like "life force," "health," "energy." Often translated into English as..."ki."
Kai  会 "association"

Back when Sensei was trying to come up with a name for his new Aikido school, he was in the car with Dan McDougall Sensei on a dark March evening, heading for class in Princeton. Sensei suddenly said to Dan, "Look at the headlights! What do you call what the lights do?" "Oh, well...shine, Sensei?" "No! Another word! Stronger!" Dan ran through a few similes, and when he hit on "radiant," Sensei said "Exactly! Radiating, like nuclear power!"

This is why we usually translate Kokikai as "School of Radiant Ki."

A word on the character 光 "Ko" This is an

Having Troubles? Try Simplifying.

So often in life, simple approaches to a problem are the most effective.

In science, theories that solve problems are often evaluated by the test of "parsimony." Occam's razor states that one should try simpler theories until simplicty can be traded for greater explanatory power.

E=mc2- pretty simple, right? But it explains a lot.

According to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, is ... 42. Humorous, maybe, but who knows? Maybe it is that simple.

When I'm having difficulty with a knotty problem, I look for ways to simplify my approach. Then, if I can, I keep simplifying. This usually leads to big improvements.

Two Ways to Practice

I've been thinking lately about two ways to practice.

Of course there are many ways to think about practice, but looking at things this way has helped me lately. I'll stick with a music analogy but it's easy to see how this applies to aikido, or to other things.

Technique The goal of technique practice is to learn to do something correctly. Often that "something" is just a small element of the whole.  In this type of practice you usually stop when you make a mistake, fix the mistake, and try again. Or you may continue to work in rhythm without stopping, but you may slow down or simplify in some way until you can "get it right." Getting it right means not just the outer form: playing the notes or doing the correct movements, but the inner as well: remaining relaxed, staying focused, keeping good posture.

Playing Through By "playing through" I mean playing the entire tune (or a significant section), keeping the beat, and not stopping even when I …

Another Post About Music and Aikido

In a recent seminar with the fiddle master Bruce Molsky, I became very interested in watching the way his body was engaged in playing the music. It was a kind of connected disconnection that reminded me of something we strive for in aikido practice. I remarked to a friend that Bruce's fingers, hands and arms seemed disconnected from his body, because they seemed to move independently of whatever the rest of his body was doing. My friend argued that his entire body was connected, because what the rest of his body was doing was reacting and emphasizing the music.

This is something that most, if not all, accomplished musicians do: when the playing has become familiar and comfortable enough, it almost happens by itself, and the rest of your body - and consciousness - is available: to emphasize, anticipate, engage, and even dance and sing.

In aikido practice we can see this in the most advanced practitioners. Certainly watching Sensei offers a powerful visual image of how this connect…

From Connection - to Detatchment - to Connection

A Zen writer once addressed the criticism that Zen Buddhists are too focused on being detached. A student asked: "Isn't Zen all about being 'one with everything'? So why are Zennies always talking about staying detached?"

The author responded that there was a progression in which the student at first has an unhealthy connection to their emotions and sensations, and has to learn to detach from this connection. But that eventually the student comes back to truly comprehending the unity of everything.

It sounded like a bunch of gobbledygook to me.

The other day my piano teacher started to talk about those moments in playing when you lose your ego, and it's "as if the music is playing you."  I got a little glimmer of what he was talking about, and I even saw the relationship to the idea of being connected vs. being detached.

So, let's see if I can explain it in a way that even I can understand.

Most people are used to letting their sensa…

Taking on New Challenges

At the age of 36 I decided to try training in the martial arts.

There was an aikido class offered at my local Y.  I loved it. I loved the fact that even a small person could throw someone big.  I loved the underlying principles. I was in great shape, I loved doing my part to become a better uke, learning to fall safely, no matter how hard I was thrown.

I was, and continue to be, very inspired by the founder of my aikido school, Shuji Maruyama Sensei. He often talks about the fact that Kokikai Aikido gives us a path that helps us continue to grow throughout our lifetimes. When the Olympics are taking place or during baseball playoff season, he often points to the short careers of athletes: most sports don't have world-class competitors who are over 40, or even over 30.

At some point when he was in his mid-sixties, Sensei made a comment that, "At my age, most people are retired and sitting around in a rocking chair!" Then we watched him fold a 280-lb. guy into a piece of …

Seeking Perfection

When I practice piano, I'm working on doing something better. It might be improvising within a certain scale, or keeping my left hand rock solid, or improvising according to a particular concept, or even just having good posture and relaxing my face. But invariably I mess up. I get out of time, I tense up, I play a note outside the scale. This is a source of endless frustration!!!! Can't I ever get it right? Even once???

I realized that my problem was in seeking perfection.

I've worked for a long time to let go of the idea of perfection in my meditation. I know that the practice of meditation is in coming back from my "flights of fancy": back to the breath, back to my body. The progress comes in that returning, and is not measured by the length of time I can remain "thought free," or in some perfect state.

Self-measurement, in my music practice, was defined at an early age, in piano lessons where I was assigned a piece and told to learn to play it as w…