Forecasting by stupidity

By Yossi Sheriff

There was once a naqshabandi who wrote on the mosque wall: “The idiot-teacher’s corner”.

He requested his students to watch people as they entered and responded to the inscription.

“A passer-by responding to the writing in a certain way is ripe for studies. Another who responds differently will not be able to sustain more than a brief period of studying”, said this sage to some of his students, and asked them to be attentive.

It is said that eventually, although he never inquired about the matter, his forecast proved to be precise.

I have no gift of foresight, no such good insights, but I would like to have them.

Budo Ninjutsu is a martial art with no shortcuts. Years of perseverance are the only way to contain the huge accumulation of material and to practice it. Therefore, the instructor invests enormous efforts in his pupil. This is a lot of work measured by the needs of the practitioner, the instructor’s experience, and the strengths possessed by both.

If I had the gift of foresight, I would spare myself futile effort.

On the Sisyphean path one encounters those who stop. When a veteran pupil ceases to practice, I still sense that “oops” feeling anyone gets upon realizing that a unique, single copy of the dissertation he had been writing for over seven years has been deleted from his computer. Not just deleted, deleted with no backup.

“oops” indeed.

It would be helpful to foresee who is “capable” and who is not, who is worth the investment and whom one had better reject to begin with.

One evening, ten years ago, an expensive dinner at a restaurant in Jerusalem put an end to my attempts to foresee who is “capable” and who is not. I forecasted that Guy R. (who has since only intensified the frequency of his training) would stop training, and I even betted with Lior the price of a meal. If my memory has not been totally softened by the blows to my head, I recall that Gadi, Michael and Yoav also came along for the bet so I had to pay a lot for my mistake. It was nice evening, although the kebab was nothing to write home about.

So guessing didn’t work.

What did work prior to that dinner and still works today is an altogether different mechanism called filtering.

Such filtering mechanisms are scattered like mines, even where they seem quite innocent. I would like to stress that these are filtering, not testing mechanisms. There are people not “capable” of Budo who are quite capable in many other fields.

I wished to remain with those “capable” of many years of practice.

Some of the filters are straightforward, warm-up (Himum) for example. A person who looks for comfort and shirks work will not last more then several weeks. Another filter is the never-ending demand to show one’s training partner consideration (“sensitivity” in the code of ethics). Whoever cannot overcome his egocentricity in class will develop strong frustrations that will undermine his determination and will.

The pupil faces yet another obstacle. It has to do with the fact that I am an average human being, and sometimes there are problems between us because I am also a mediocre teacher. In this relationship I am sometimes in a position of a relatively young person teaching older and smarter people than myself, or alternately, teaching people much younger than myself for whom I represent much more than I actually am.

Problem.

It is big problem because some of those who can, who are “capable” of long years of Budo practice trip against this stone after many years on this path. As Dan once said:

“If we watch people walking along a riverbed, often one person slips on a stone, and then following him, many others will slip on it, just the same way he did.”

I don’t know what exactly are those stones that make veteran pupils trip after years of practice, but I do recognize a large, obvious, much earlier stone: in the relations between a teacher and a novice. It is a fictional image that the beginning pupil projects upon the teacher. In martial arts one stumbles upon into this stone incessantly.

At times the teacher willingly puts on this image and cooperates with this honey-trap which means trouble for both teacher and pupil.

The teacher who must always prove to be omnipotent, who has spent fifty years at the Shaolin monastery, who has been Israeli and European champion of the secret dragon society and is 11th Dan and head master of the most excellent method in this part of our galaxy… this nonsense knows no limits. If the young pupil buys it, no great harm is done. But if the teacher, after years of illusion, believes this story as well, then no doubt this is not a mere obstacle but an unbridgeable rift for both.

Filtering out those romantic vessels who wish to train only with Bodhidharma or Musashi themselves is simple: one must simply say one’s personal, unpleasant truth I too burp occasionally, my technique is not impeccable, I am the teacher and still I lose many fights, sometimes I’m sad, at others too merry, and from time to time I seek some good advice.

Another human being.

Although I am neither a naqshabandi nor mevlevi, this now seems to me a fitting heading for my locker at the dojo: one day it’ll say “The private locker of a mediocre, sometimes very stupid Sensei”. I cannot foretell by people’s response to it whether they are “capable”, but I seem to prefer teaching only those who can live with this truth: human beings are so much more than headlines and titles.

26/11/2007

Fighting spirit and a warrior’s insight

By Carmel Zitronblat

In our daily life we can aspire to be decisive but calm. Every action that we will do in this frame of mind will be simpler and correct. We can see a simple example for this in a test we attempt to answer. If we encounter a difficult question and stress accordingly we will perform below our abilities.

As practitioners of martial art it is important that we get acquainted with the inner feelings in a violent confrontation and aim to be in the best inner attitude to deal with these situations.

Soldiers who fight professionally learn very few techniques. A soldier learns a limited number of rote reactions to many situations. It seems to me as the basic level of being a warrior; it is most suitable to armies where you never have enough time to learn a large variety of techniques. Sometimes in this sort of fast military training, the warrior acts from an emotional base of fear and anger and not from real understanding. Misunderstanding and lack of insights in military training, and training that duplicates it, can leave a residue of negative emotions and fix the warrior in a sub-professional techniques, reactions and behavior.

A warrior or martial art practitioner who practices for a long time should be based in understanding so he can work out the optimal reaction to the many possibilities of violence.

Myamoto Musashi – a legendary Japanese swordsman from the 17th century, wrote in his book that a warrior should step into battle when his spirit is clean. In battle the warrior is under life threatening pressure that has physical and mental aspects. In this situation it is better to stay calm and sharp so the best solution will not be obscured. So better not to fight with fear, anger, hatred or any other strong emotion that might cloud our senses and affect our decision making. That, in my opinion and experience, is the ideal we should aspire to.

To understand fighting and have the correct fighting spirit we must train many years. Many training situations and various tests and encounters will promote our professionalism and give us the best set of tools to deal with violent situations. These tools can later be “left”, be “broken” to leave a clear no-mind attitude according to our individual insight and character.

10/09/2007

Women in martial arts

”’By Karmit Sagiv”’
Up to a time, not so many years ago, women were completely dependent on men for their livelihood and safety. In order to gain independence, they were required to separate themselves from the men and make their own living. Virginia Wolfe claimed that “a room of one’s own and a certain sum of money” would suffice and lead to women’s independence. In fact, Wolfe stated that women would have power once they could stand on their own and not be dependent both financially and mentally on their man. Is this in fact so?

Even today, in a world where there are increasingly more independent women, financially and mentally, they still have trouble gaining significant power in the face of men. Why, then do women have trouble catching up? Why are they distinguished from men? Why are there still fields that are “for men only” while others are for women only?

Numerous sociological theories provide answers for these questions, while pointing out a process of socialization, or social structure, as the key to understanding the phenomenon. Women, from the moment they are born, are expected to act in a certain manner – “feminine” gentle, submissive, as a wife, etc. In fact, they are expected to function in a world which is a product of male thinking, a world where men of power and influence define concepts and attitudes. Since the world, in all its aspects: social, cultural and political, is a product of male creation, it is only natural that it be fitted to the needs of the male population more than to the female ones. The latter is required to live according to the male rules of play.

And what happens in the field of martial arts?

This analysis may explain the relatively small number of women participating in martial arts. It is a known fact that the number of women is significantly lower than the number of men, especially in advanced levels. In order to understand why the situation in this field is so grim, we need to look back in an historical scale to try and find out the root of the problem. It seems to me that focusing on sociological analysis combined with a psychological one, might clarify the picture: The field of martial arts was made property of men, similar to military systems, for example. However, why specifically men? Sigmund Freud’s interpretation on the differences between the sexes may help in this case. Freud speaks of the urge for competition as a male characteristic. The first and most shaping competition is the struggle of the son with his father over the mother’s affection. This struggle ends in the healthy situation, with the experience of defeat, from which the child continues acquiring new tools for coping with struggles. Is it possible that this primary male struggle never ends, and that it yields into fuel for a subconscious need to be stronger, better and with higher endurance (and I mean the spiritual meaning of the term)?

If it is indeed so, that the urge for competition in women is lower, as Freud suggests, it would be likely to assume that women would find less interest in fields that combine significant competitive elements. Even if Ninjutsu is not, in essence, a competitive sport, groundwork, throws and stand-up fighting insert certain competitive elements into the groups.

Even so, we are still faced with another riddle: Based on the previous paragraph, we would expect the number of women in Ninjutsu practices to be similar to the number of women in practices of Judo, Karate and other forms of martial arts. Things, however, are not so. I believe the explanation to be, that fields such as Judo, Tae-Kwon Do and Karate, have adapted themselves to female audiences. This adaptation is seen in numerous areas, for example in separating men from women in the competitions themselves. This situation encourages women to remain in the field, and steers them away from fields that do not act in the same manner, such as our non-competitive combat Ninjutsu.

In addition, it’s not just that the number of women who begin training is relatively low in comparison to the number of men, there’s also a higher dropout rate for women from Ninjutsu. A claim stated not once in the groups, relates the high dropout rates to the inability of women to understand the field in depth. Such a claim is one that removes all responsibility from those who build and characterize the entire field. It is possible that these key players are unaware of the power they have as ones who pave the way and set the policies. As leaders, they can choose training concepts that either include or exclude women. Inclusion may be reached in many ways, from adapting training hours, through emphasizing exercises “not solely for men” taking into consideration the female anatomy, as well as combining feminine terminology in training. In summary for this part of the conclusion I will add: It is easy to find guilt in the women, but the problem, I believe, is not with them, but rather in the surroundings, that distance women due to the male ethos in Ninjutsu and in AKBAN for women.

As stated before, the field of martial arts is a ‘system’ built by men, and is thus adjusted to male audiences, and so is inhabited mainly by men. This situation repeats itself. It is a male magic circle, which is unbreakable by a foreign power (women). Thus, a woman who succeeds in penetrating the circle and comes to practice still has small chances of persevering, since she will have to adapt herself to the rules of the male world. Let’s take, for example the setting of practices: The hours of training are the hours of the afternoon to late evening, a woman who is also a mother can not persevere and come to practice while the kids are waiting for her at home. Also, the warm up at the beginning of practice emphasizes groups of muscle that require strengthening in men, and neglects muscles women need to work on more in order to reach the level of a fighting man.

In order to persist in the training program over time, I feel, support from the trainers as well as from the veterans, is needed in all the practice groups. The organization must understand the special needs and gender differences, internalize these differences and needs and adapt the transfer of information to different audiences. So long as the organization does not take these measures, women will continue to be a strange rarity in AKBAN.

26/07/2007

Kata analysis from Koto ryu

By Asaf Hochman

Go to Setto no kata in the AKBAN-wiki

Koto Ryu is one of the Japanese martial arts systems learned in Bujinkan and the various X-Kans. It is an extensive martial art system that exits also outside the Bujinkan.

In Koto Ryu Kata we can see, even before applying reverse Kata analysis the extensive use of Daken, hitting vulnerable points, and the use of the third AKBAN timing – attacking simultaneously with the opponents attack.

The Kata I’m referring to today is Setto no kata, where, even in the variations, one can see the use of pressure point hitting and various timings used in Koto ryu.

In Setto no Kata tori pushes a pressure point with the boshi, the end of the thumb, to unbalance the opponent. This unbalancing (kuzushi) using pressure points is very common in some of the martial systems learned in AKBAN. Here, in the variation it is used to move the opponents balance to the rear leg enabling the front single leg grab.

Different stages of Kata learning according to the Methodical pyramid

1. Preserve – in this stage we do the Kata exactly as it was transmitted.

The tori stands in hidari seigan no Kamae, uke grabs with right hand, tori uses a boshi to unbalance uke and uses a second punch to the ribs to push tori away.

2. Break – this is the stage where we change different parameters of the kata, look for a different ways of doing it and for context usability.

Tori now can do the kata against a Tsuki attack and use the first or second boshi to unbalance the Uke to prepare him for takedown.

3. leave – this is the stage where we try to perform the kata or the sequence in free sparring.

My advice is to practice this and other kata in randori situations. It is also important to practice the simultaneous timing as it is this feature that make these Koto Ryu kata so useful.

07/07/2007

Professionalism

Foreword: The list I have compiled is not a definitive explanation of the term, but rather a summation of personal insight.

Characteristics of professionalism

Understanding

There can be no professionalism without an understanding of the field one is in. Among other things, understanding means comprehensive knowledge of the information in the field at hand. There is a need to distinguish between the important issues and the less important ones, as well as having the knowledge of action in order to achieve superior results within the limits of human capabilities.

Noticing the small details

(or insisting on fine tuning)

Even if everyone engaged in a certain field has access to the main boulevard of knowledge and understanding in that field, the difference between a professional and a non-professional, will manifest itself in the ability to insist on small details and nuances. Understanding of these details is the result of noticing an array of details, and the “small details” at that.

Even if the majority of those engaged in the field find it easy to understand or to acknowledge the clear details or basic understandings, only a minority has the urge to act and reach the maximal level of understanding, this is probably due to the high price of doing so (see next paragraph). It must be stressed, that a someone with an understanding will be able to distinguish the important details from the non-important ones only after reviewing all the details at hand, “small details” included, and considered every one of them. Insisting on understanding and executing the small details allows emphasizing important ones, and it is this, which creates the difference between achieving an 80%result and one, which is 90-100%.

It can be said relating to this point that professionalism cannot be taken lightly.

Persistence

There can be no professionalism without persistence. Professionalism cannot be random, passing or limited to a single act, but rather must be consistent and as such, measured over time.

A value that stands for itself

Yet another characteristic of professionalism is seeing it as a value that stands for itself. The urge to act professionally comes from grasping professionalism as an independent value and not as a means for attaining another goal.

The price of professionalism

Investing resources

Much time and many resources are required in order to become professional. Since persistence is necessary, investing resources must be done regularly. What this means, is that in order to be professional, you pay a price by investing many resources that otherwise could have been geared to other things. An example of one main resource is time. Professionalism requires much time that could have been used in a different way, such as spending time with family or friends, doing other hobbies, or just resting.

Reactions from the surroundings

Even if the immediate circle of professionals knows how to appreciate it, many times the broader circle of those who are in the field will have trouble accepting a professional, whether because of envy due to the inability to reach that same level of professionalism (the professionalism of the professional emphasizes a lack of professionalism in others), or because of other reasons.

Due to this, the professional can find himself lonely, since he works according to his professional truth and his professional standards, which may be different from those of people around him. Thus, he may reach different results, conclusions and understandings than those of most people, whether in the same field or not. This difference may lead to a negative attitude of surrounding people towards the professional, and in extreme cases even ignoring or out casting the professional. There seems to be a general human inclination towards conformism, a difficulty accepting ideas and understandings different from popular belief.

This and more: Due to the resources invested by the professional, there will at times be close circles that are not professional – family, for example – that will feel neglected or offended. It must be remembered that most people are not professionals, and so, investing a lot of time and receiving professional results are strange to them, and they are unwilling to pay the price. This does not mean that all of these people are inappreciative of professionalism, though they are not always willing to pay the price required for associating with a professional.

Summary

Understanding, insisting on detail and persistence are characteristics of professionalism as well as the conditions for it. The price of professionalism is investing resources, and, at times, a negative reaction from the surroundings, which may, in extreme cases lead to loneliness.

15/06/2007

Wabi Sabi

By Yossi Sheriff

What is beautiful and what is not? Many years ago, in Greece, a man wrote that beauty derives from something that is perfect. From then on it was made clear that a thing of beauty is that of elegance, symmetry, sometimes something new, sometimes a thing that does not decay, eternal.

Many words have been written since Plato equated beauty with perfection, words that tried to define what fits ideal beauty and what does not. Thus flows a great river of western thought, a current which still propels us today, putting us in the new car, inside clean-cut sky scrapers, admiring tight skin and symmetrical facial features of a young model.

The western ideal of beauty is filled with contradictions and interpretations all leading mainly in the same direction. A certain picture is beautiful in the eyes of the beholder since the clowns’ tear appears so real. The ancient Japanese temple is beautiful to another Platonist beholder due to its symmetrical appearance.

This perspective of what is beautiful and perfect penetrates all venues of life, slipping even into our place, the Dojo, the training area, a never ending confusion begins. Our occupation, walking down the paths of ancient warriors, may become a show, and then it no longer is a practice of fighting, but a performance of western style esthetics, maybe even a nice performance, suitable for the National Geographic Channel.

Even in Japan different opinions exist regarding beauty, but a different way of thought exists as well, a way in which simplicity is not equal to asceticism but to that which is natural.
The origin of this esthetic thought lies in Zen Buddhism, and from there it penetrated several other disciplines, even the tea drinking ceremony. Morata Juko, a Zen Manara priest, stopped the then popular use of fine (and imported) chinaware in the tea ceremony. A century later, Sen-no-Rikio (1522-1591), a master in the tea ceremony for the infamous Hidioshi, created a new kind of tea house resembling a peasant’s house: rough mud walls and plain wooden beams. Parallel with the perfect Chinese decoration, San-no-Riko presented, with the same degree of esthetic importance, crude pottery made by local craftsmen.

In this competition over “who will decorate the room with imported paintings” and “who will buy walls coated in golden leaves” – these two masters looked at things in a fresh perspective and created something old. They created a new form of esthetics: Wabi-Sabi.

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese term, which since then has received many meanings: old, natural, imperfect, worn down, blunt, rough, etc. This new-old concept of Wabi-Sabi, of “beauty”, had its affect on many things.

Pottery made in this manner are not always symmetrical, they don’t have to shine. They have a natural quality about them that improves with time. Thus, the aging of matter adds to the beauty, something that becomes more beautiful with time.

I have an old T-shirt, which has already been to several “24” training and to tens of morning practices at the beach, full of holes, faded. To me it’s Wabi-Sabi. And the mythical AKBAN teapot, burned, black, full of smoke from many campfires, its handle fixed with wire, dented – it too is Wabi-Sabi. Every year that passes, every tea leaf that has been in it only adds to its beauty.

Not every old and ruined object is Wabi-Sabi, a purposeful interference is needed, awareness to the beauty of what is going to end (awareness, intent, ability to execute, without these there is no Do).

I especially like the story of Rikio’s entrance exam for Jo-o: When Jo-o asked Rikio to clean and prepare the yard, covered with fallen leaves, Rikio raked the yard perfectly, and then, just before the teacher arrived, grabbed the branch of the tree above the yard and shook it so that some leaves fell to the ground. That too is Wabi-Sabi.

Sometimes I look at the faces of some of the veterans in the Irgun, and see the beginning of creases made by the hardships and by the sun, see the smile lines around the eyes, and I think: this too is Wabi-Sabi, Wabi-Sabi people.

On the wall in the old Dojo in Kiriat Shaul some nails were sticking out of the walls, under which long lines of rust were seen against the white walls, right behind the Bamboo planted by my teacher. The beauty of wearing out, aging, imperfection.

I contribute as well, when sometimes, rarely, a technique comes out too perfect, I spread a few leaves, change my breathing a little, maybe slightly trip at the end of a throw. Just in order not to fall into the trap of the new, the polished and the perfect.

Around all of us, everything is not perfect, intentionally not finished, intimate, natural, and very beautiful in my eyes: the techniques, old sword’s scabbard, my T-shirt filled with holes, the people.

Slowly slowly – our organization turns Wabi-Sabi.

07/06/2007

Shin Gan – the special vision

By Yossi Sheriff

“(Yigal) Amir returned towards the gray transport vehicle and secretly released the safety-catch. He went back to sit on the concrete flower pot and noticed two guards by these service vehicles, as well as many police officers, attendants and drivers. No-one noticed his presence, since he was blended into the background and appeared as authorized personnel. He continued looking towards the stairs and noticed several ministers walk down.

(4) As he was sitting on the flower pot a citizen noticed him – who was not a part of the security force – named Benyamin Avershomi. He approached one of the police officers, pointed in the direction of Amir and asked that he be removed from the area. The officer approached another man by mistake, who was on his way out of the parking lot in any case. The officer then returned to Avershomi who pointed him again in the direction of the assassin. This time the officer walked straight to Amir, didn’t ask him what he was doing there, but asked that he go westwards towards “his car”. Amir got up and walked a few steps to the west, but two minutes later went back to sit on the flower pot undisturbed and no-one remarked…”

From the statement of the inquiry committee on the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, page 27 paragraphs (3) (4)
Jerusalem 1996

Reading the passage above always makes me shiver. I remember the evening when Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, and the intense feelings I had for many days following the event. When I read about key events such as these, junctions in history, I find it hard not to think what could have been if only…

On November 4th 1995, there was at least one man who felt, and did not keep it to himself, but rather acted on his feeling: he asked a police officer to check Yigal Amir. I believe he did this because he really knew. This is not a common every day act. Avershomi insisted that something was not right with Yigal Amir. Tens of people were standing or sitting in the fenced piazza behind Rabin Square, and Avershomi, who was standing outside, sees only the assassin. Police officers who walked by Amir “mistook him for an undercover officer” (page 27 paragraph (3)), but Avershomi, as if receiving personal information, sees only him.

Of the principal traits in my view, the main one is this: the ability to identify danger in advance, and its derivative, seeing beyond the personality displayed by people into their essence. In Japanese this is referred to as Shin Gan.

Shin Gan, in Japanese: super-human eye (or insight).

I don’t think that it’s possible to practice for something of this sort, on the contrary, I think it shouldn’t be practiced. However, I think that in the background one should always be very sensitive, balanced and attentive; one should believe everything that is going on. Things happen to us all too often, much more tangible than a premonition regarding a suspicious man, and we don’t believe they are happening. Many times people who are involved in a serious car accident do not believe it is really happening. I have seen this occur twice. In this state of severance and distance from the immediate experiences of life, there is no sense in speaking of Shin Gan.

19/05/2007

KAMI


By: Guy Renan

In Japan, Kami is regarded as a type of force that exists in nature. Sometimes it can take form, and be conceived as a real entity. But in essence Kami is not really defined and is without form.

The word god is not a suitable translation of Kami, but in Hebrew, as well as in English, there is no exact word for Kami, therefore, in many places Kami is translated as a god. It is said that Japan has eight million Kami; this is to say that Kami can be found in many places and phenomena. Certain places, objects or natural occurrences that have a certain presence or relay a certain feeling, can be Kami.

At times, Kami can exist even in animals and humans. Often people with special powers become Kami when they die. Some of the founders of different schools of martial arts in Japan are considered Kami. Kami is always related to nature, it is the epiphany of nature. The movie “Princess Mononoke” describes extremely well some of the concepts of Kami. One can get a better understanding from observing this film.

Kami is neither good nor evil, it has nothing to do with ethics, and it just is what it is. It can be beneficial and also harmful. The relationship between Kami and man depends on man’s conception and behavior. However, it does not require human attention in order to be, it exists even where there are no living beings. It may actually be much stronger in places where man is not prevalent.

As well as some of the veterans in AKBAN I envisage Kami as a sort of presence or power in certain places in nature. In Israel there are many places where you can feel it, especially in the barren relatively empty south of the country. When arriving in a place and feeling something different, something not sensed before, when seeing something or standing somewhere that arises certain feelings, these are signs of Kami. Some places create a certain atmosphere or feeling, while other places create a different feeling altogether. One must be very sensitive since our culture, the way we live our daily lives, have numbed our abilities to feel.

We’re not speaking of a being, but about nature that usually affect us in gentle and subtle ways, and sometimes in bursts of power. This power is always present, even when we do not sense it.

06/05/2007

The meaning of Do in Budo

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.

02/04/2007