Posts from April 2007

The Mathematics of Doing


April 30, 2007
Ohad Samet

By: Ohad Samet

Paul Erdős was a renowned Hungarian mathematician who, at the age of 21 received a PhD in mathematics, and eight years after being accepted to university began wandering around the world. What do I mean by wandering? Well, it is said that upon finding a problem he was interested in (usually simple problems with complex solutions), he would schedule to work on it with another mathematician, go to his house, stay on his couch and not leave until the problem was solved. In this manner he published 458 articles with collaborators, which is a huge amount. His dedication and passion for mathematics made him a center for activity of very skilled men in the field he loved the most. His work was so significant that anyone who was associated with him, directly or indirectly, received a number describing his proximity to Erdős – those who worked with him directly were “Erdős number 1”, those who worked with his number ones, were assigned “Erdős number 2” and so on.

 

Erdős was one man with such an insatiable lust for a certain field, that his entire life was dedicated to the search for new understandings. He himself was Erdős number 0, simply zero.

 

 

Why did I go? At first for the path, then for the effort, and at last for a different reason altogether. I am not a Hungarian mathematician, thank God, and I do not intend to sleep on anyone’s couch. What I do have is this idea – “after practicing for many years, you can understand things that can only be understood from doing something physical for many years, alongside people who are doing the same thing as you”.

 

This is not a complicated concept – it concerns people like us, those who do not live to train (like Chinese monks, for example), but rather live life as well as train for long periods of time, do this actively, coming to practice every week, of course, and for many years. My math is simple as well – it is the distance in years between now and later, it is the distance between my number now and number 1 of this idea. Erdős’ idea is relevant, since, like in his case, what is unique in his desire to understand, is the relationship with people.

 

En route, I met people of all “numbers”- some who have been training for short periods of time that still have beginners’ enthusiasm, and those that train for many years and can still look back to the beginning and tell me how it was once different. Then there are those who have been training for more than a decade and those who’ve been training since before I was born. When putting all those people on an axis, you do not see a group following a leader, but rather people dispersed along a path constantly in motion. At the end everyone reaches the same point, where there’s a long way ahead, but also a long way already behind them. You don’t need more than that.

 

Getting there is not a simple task, you have to walk and carry substantial weight on your back, make an effort, sweat, and then after a long time you reach a place of understanding. This is not a very profound understanding; you cannot crack the secrets of the atom bomb with it. It is an understanding regarding how to live in a certain manner, practicing physically for many years. This practice requires preserving the past and some of which acceptance of the present.

 

In the end it is all about hard work and lots of patience, strong over-sweet tea with a smoky flavor, sparring in the desert, rain at night, practice again, and a few days and nights that go by each of us alone and for all of us together.

 

Finally, if you stick around long enough, I think that something good comes out of it all: nothing too grand or complicated, surely not an article on the number theory. Just an understanding and a meaningful reminder of living our life at this time, an ability to honestly say: “I was there back then, and I am here today, and, so it seems, I’ll also be here tomorrow”.

 

 

This is the difference between those who were “ErdÅ‘s number 1” and those who read about it in his book saying it was “very interesting”, saying they felt a strong urge to be a part of an effort such as ErdÅ‘s’ and his colleagues, yet kept sitting on the couch in their homes. This difference exists because in the DÖ we practice you cannot stand aside. The quest for understanding requires mental and physical involvement, among other things, because it is available here and now for those who are interested.

Alone


April 17, 2007
Zion Cohen

By Zion Cohen

Alone, being truly alone, not lonely in an emotional sense. How often do we find ourselves alone with no one around, in a place where there are no distractions aside from thoughts?

Most of us do not like being alone and steer away from it. I am not speaking of being alone at home or in the street; there we are still surrounded by everyday distractions of life: t.v., newspapers, telephones and more.

What then, is the meaning of being alone?

It is much like other things that we carry out: first and foremost, it is a physical practice, something that is done with the body, not on an emotional level.

Being in a place that is cut off from people, a distant place to which you don’t take any objects that might deflect attention such as a book, a newspaper or friends. What is left then are many thoughts, those that tail us and deal with simple everyday life: work, friends, and family. Then there are those that allow us to look deeper, to wonder about things that we don’t usually think about since we are busy with a million other things.

In the beginning it might be upsetting to face the thoughts that arise in such a situation. However, with time I’ve learned that things aren’t so bad, after all, there’s no one who watches neither laughter nor tears, there’s no one to judge.

If you cannot go to a distant place to be alone, the physical aspect can always be reproduced in small doses, perhaps even in a dark room. If possible, it is better to get out of the house to an open field or to a place that is far away from distraction, and then do nothing but pay attention. It might be overwhelming and confusing, but in time things start making sense.

 

The practice is physical. Many times, when thoughts are confusing, we don’t have to think but rather listen, listen to familiar sounds: a car, a bird singing. Then we can relax, close our eyes and eventually listen to the inside sound, to our breathing, to ourselves…

The meaning of Do in Budo


April 2, 2007
Yossi Sheriff

By Yossi Sheriff

We must not forget the effects of our physical experiences on Dō.

Dō is an important concept in our discipline, it is a word loaded with the effects of our actions, movements and physical habits on who we are. Many things have been written on the concept of Dō; however, the things that interest me are the things actually done to achieve it.

In order to convey my meaning of Dō, I will give a few examples: I am not certain that a man who wakes up early each morning to milk cows is practicing Dō, hard as it is, however, a carpenter performing his craft professionally and creatively for many years is closer to Dō. I am not always convinced that a parent raising children practices “the Dō of raising children”, however a veteran marathon runner who has practiced for decades is certainly performing a certain Dō. A boxer that has been practicing for years to be a champion is not necessarily doing Dō, but I am pretty sure that if he were to keep practicing regularly many years after retiring from competition, that would be a type of Dō.

It is possible that the Dō of a man practicing meditation at home every day is getting strong, but the Dō of a man meditating every day while engaging in mondo with an experienced teacher is even stronger.

From the examples I have presented it is possible to isolate a few characteristics of Dō (there are several more):

  1. Dō is always achieved through action and participation of the body.
  2. Dō is always performed in a regular and constant discipline and never in an unstable manner.
  3. Dō is unaffiliated with material or egotistic achievements.
  4. In every Dō there is a stage of healthy communication with a person who understands the more complex aspects of the discipline.

In this article, I would like to focus on just the first characteristic I mentioned, the physical one. Our entire Budo discipline relies on physical experiences. Years of endurance, willpower, physical difficulties, having a WORD, all these can only evolve on the basis of physical work. Even the practice of meditation (as a part of a Dō, not for relaxation purposes) uses the body as a vehicle, as a basis for mental understandings.

Years of practice in Budo Ninjutsu change the body, some of us are at the stage of being dumb and strong, so the bodies of almost all of the veterans (including myself) are dumb and strong. This is a necessary milestone on our path because our discipline revolves around combat efficacy and in order to achieve that, on our basic level, we need strength. However, in the not so distant future awaits an age in which skill and experience will hopefully replace strength. Our bodies will then change and become wiser, and we will be able to enjoy its non verbal insights. At the present time it is important to understand that this is the way to make progress, working hard, you don’t give steaks to a baby. We are still babies. I personally do not believe in any “Kefizat Haderech”, any attempt to make short-cuts and skip road marks leads to loosing the way. Through our physical experiences we generate a huge change in what we define as self, this change has to be gradual, lifelong and pre-trodden.

It is important to go through all the stages; I just reread a short story that I really love. In Zen Buddhism it is essential to study for at least ten years with a master before receiving teaching qualification, this path is usually very organized.

One Zen practitioner, who has trained many years and already began teaching, arrived in pouring rain, as occurs in Japan, to the house of another teacher. Upon entering, the teacher residing at the house asked nonchalantly: “when you walked in, you placed your sandals down at the porch, what side of the sandals did you placed your umbrella at?” The sodden teacher did not have any answer and was honest enough to promptly stop teaching and practice an additional six years with the second master. As for me, I usually do not remember where I left the stupid umbrella at the first place.

Doing our discipline -Budo Ninjutsu- is stronger than writing about it, even though some insights have to be conveyed through talking, it saves time. I try not to forget: Dō depends on physical action and awareness, even while meditating.