During the thirty plus years I have been teaching, so many students have gone through groups, so many students, that I feel that the data I present is not anecdotal, it has a statistical significance.
Grit predicts success.
Success is also personal. Each practitioner starts from a different point, equipped with different initial quantities of courage, intellect and money. A different starting point affects the end point. Those who come to groups from a low starting poing will find themselves after thirty years in a better place, compared to their own starting point.
What is the unit of measure of grit? Years.
Grit is founded on decades of persistance, grit manifests in resistance to external difficulties. Grit maintains focus in front of disruptions. We sum up grit toward the end of life. Period.
A practitioner who trains for ten years is at the beginning of the road. Ten years is about tenth grade. A practitioner who has been training for thirty years is getting nearer.
Should the training be in Akban? Of course not, but there must be a comprehensive practicum, not just practicing but an initiation practicum that the apprentice is a part of.
When I look at the student’s cards, I do not see a statistically significant deviation. Long-term training predicts a student’s personal success – success relative to his starting point.
And those students who have a good starting point? Money, high IQ, crazy courage, the same students create success that can be measured in absolute terms, not only relative. Academic achievements, excellent family life, money or if the apprentice wishes to – an enterprise that improves the quality of life of many other people.
Grit means a simple but very difficult thing – training is not an option.
Exarcheia neighbourhood in Athens is Tel Aviv, 50 years ago. The faces of the old people in the streets, grandmothers carrying baskets from the market, slowly climbing the steep streets, the bookshops, the aromas of family cooking at noon, I am sure I smelled Kaptadakya and Pastitsio.
I came for the winter seminar armed with Gaby Frischlander. Gaby is the senior teacher in Niradin, a Doron Navon Shodan and an AKBAN Nidan. Gaby came to test Vasilis and Aris for senior instructor level together with me.
Gaby and me have been friends for more then forty years. We are older now, but we used to play hide and seek in the workers’ neighbourhood, fought in the same elementary school, heard music in the same high school parties and stood in awe in the same dojo. Simple things, same old Seiko watch, same old shoes that I mend all the time, same jeans, same morning training routine.
Will power, courage and dedication. This combination of characteristics is not rare, we see it in many dojos. What is rare is something that we saw in the Detant workshop, something unique to the Greek dojo, a degree of spirituality. Economical hardship, creates, in some people, wealth.
I honor this combination of courage and spirituality. Alchemists’ gold is not dependent on loans from corporations, it stems from correct work, respect and awareness.
New year is coming, with new challenges. Whenever I go on a new hike I take many looks back, to see where I came from, old knowledge, old techniques, old friends.
For the new year here’s what I send to all who work: Get over difficulties, practice daily, breath deeply, thank you, Ευχαριστώ πολύ!
So, this is a Kurd riddle: A farmer has to cross the river with his only sheep, a sack of cabbage for the winter and a big wolf. What he sees when he comes to the river is one tiny boat with place for two. It’s either him and the wolf, and then the sheep eats the cabbage, or if he takes the cabbage, the wolf eats the sheep.
You get the picture…
So it’s a simple kid’s riddle and the guy can solve it with some extra rowing, some extra work.
When my teacher told me this, I just figured it’s a lame riddle.
“Nope,” he said, “the point is not how to juggle the passage, the point is that the wolf comes with you”, he said: “you have to take the wolf”.
So I am watching my wolf, sometimes it scares me, there used to be a time it got me into trouble, many times it protected me, but for sure, my students, and many of my friends here in Israel have a wolf.
So the riddle is not one of transportation, instead it points to the necessity of being the master of the things you carry with you, voluntarily or not.
Sometimes we rejoice in a little mystery. Instead of trying to reveal it all one can embrace the intangible. It is happier this way, more exciting.
When I was young, years ago, we played a bad game. My kindergaten teacher gave a kid a wrapped box. Then one kid would open the outer wraps, pass it on to another kid and at the end the so called “winner” would be left with some stupid eraser. Why open it? The box can sit, unopened, till the very end
Insights about martial arts can be this wrapped secret, this is why I love Ninjutsu Kata.
To is it should all be revealed as quickly as possible. This lack of patience is the mark of very disturbed kids. Everything should be understood immediately.
Maybe just a little bit, a hint. When I look at the video my Yoga teacher, Nir Adin, posted I see the Yoko Aruki step, I see work against several opponents, but even more – I see harmony. As we, martial arts practitioners sometimes guess, not all humans come to attack us, the majority just want to interact.
These insights, these experiences, are embedded inside many folk dances, from Egyptian Tahtib to the dance done during the Holi festival in Rajastan. Here is the mesmerizing thing.
Video of multiple friend – opponent dance, Rajastan
A student asked me: “Can I do the warm-up with a T-shirt and only then put a Gi on? It’s too hot inside this heavy uniform”. “That’s only logical” I thought, “only logical”.
We wear a Hakama, a little black skirt, and also a heavy Gi, we put our big backpacks and walk the desert for the desert gathering, we do not use GPS. It’s just a taste of the many unexplainable things we do. There is more to these then tradition or toughness.
I acknowledge the fact, many of these habits are unnecessary and can be made easier, but there is a place for it, it has to do with the concept of respect. Work, respect, must always border the unnecessary.
When I recounted the dialog above in the Dojo, one veteran told me: “In the Suez canal, in the Yom Kippur war, we knew it’s the end – either we’ll die or we’ll get captured by the Egyptian army. We felt like it’s the end of the world. We didn’t know if we’ll live to see tomorrow”.
I looked at him; I didn’t know what to say in front of the veterans. I’m kind of an ancient guy, but in the Yom Kippur war I was a kid in elementary school.
“And then what did you do?” I finally inquired.
“We cleaned our weapons, we checked the platoon’s machine guns, and then we tidied our uniforms and meticulously shined our shoes”. I took a good look at him – he never misses a class and in the Yom Kippur war he polished his shoes.
In our culture the question asked is: “What’s in it for me?” that’s a different way of saying: “why should I do it?”.
In any old school, the question is completely different. Rather then ask about the the functions of the anatomy we sing to the heart. When one answers a question about roses with a mathematical equation one is stuck, there is no perfume in the answer.
If a practice, a Budo, is completely logical and necessary it’s good but not powerful. To be powerful is another realm, to be powerful it has to earn the statue of a rose. It must not be fully explainable. Treating our elders well, not stealing even when no one’s looking, putting on a Hakama and a Gi especially on a hot day and, please do not forget – practicing a traditional Martial art in the modern battle field of the middle east.
Budo, with it’s health benefits, with the level of security it allows its practitioners, gets its power from somewhere else. Practicing for many years is the essence of the unnecessary, and so is the seed of personal freedom, the freedom to work hard. Zorba the greek summed it up: “This is true happiness: to have no ambition and to work like a horse as if you had every ambition.”
“Where’s the AKBAN nutrition plan?” A student asked me. (answer at the end, please wait)
In 1985, I lived in an old age home for only a few weeks. I slept in my grandmother’s room to take care of her.
The old people ate three meals a day and I had to prepare myself emotionally for each meal. Every meal, a herd of old people, herd is not a strong enough word to describe the scene, would devour the food. The tenants were concentrated on a goal – eat fast, eat a lot. It was not a good experience, neither for the elderly nor for me.
I observed a woman there. She did not carry a samurai sword, she did not fight in any arena, she did not speak much, but she had an aura of power and humanity around her. This old women helped those who had to sit down, religiously blessed and washed her hands and then served food to others before she touched the food. “That’s the Rebbetzin,” they told me when I asked. She did a practice at every meal. I will give a name for this practice: “Honour.” Unnecessary honour, unnecessary, unreasonable, not obvious, and therefore an item that can not be understood in economic reason.
When you think of honour, you think of a relationship that is directed towards another person, a relationship that expresses hierarchy and social position with someone else. But there is another respect, an honour directed at a technique, an object, a way of life. Through our gaze and action (and this must be practical) we respect, we honour, a technique, someone, something. In English we write: respect, re-spicare in Latin, in the sense of “look again, look again”. What do we look at again with intent? What is the unnecessary thing to do? How do we look and for what reasons? This is very important, it’s fundamental.
What we do is important, but it is not the essence of practicing honour. You can just take the sword and pull it out. But the ritual that precedes the retrieval, the unnecessary ritual, the physical, is the one that establishes practice of honour.
“For honour you have to work,” goes the Hebrew proverb. It does not just manifests, it’s an effort. And this effort is a path that separates respect from weakness. Looking again and again at pretty girls, well, that may be re-spicare, but there is no respect in it, because it is not an effort. We need an effort, the woman naturally feels like attacking the food but she doesn’t, and I want to sit all day at home, drink cola and gnaw at cheese.
Gideon, in the Bible, understood that respect separates humans from animals. To stop, (stop!), to drink water in a dignified way, to bow, to give a seat for an old man, unnecessary, unnecessary, and therefore – a gate of honour.
Respecting the food we eat, respecting the technique or the person is not an easy job and not an easy choice. I’m not looking for easy choices. “There are no shortcuts,” is the motto of those who can walk long distances.
Yesterday a practitioner came to the dojo. He broke his hand three weeks ago and took off the cast. So he came with a bandage and just did the kicks and the sit-ups. It’s his honour to his practice, that’s how he breathes the air of a master, that’s how he is more than just a creature.
For us it is Ninjutsu, for someone else it might be social work, Karate, Carpentry, Tai Chi, Vegetarianism, Prayer.
Shame and honour do not live together, shame and inner weakness live together. The unnecessary act, the additional observation, the attention, not only go against the bon ton and fashion, they produce a cycle of discipline and power. A circle that does not have to use a boxing bag to draw its boundaries, you can draw a circle of honour with a cup of tea.
Honour sets the heartbeat of the martial artist, the carpenter and the poet. Only those who use respect can have strength and precision.
I set my clock to a time a few hundred years ago, measuring the time according to the correct attention in the technique, not surprised by having to do repetitive work. And the clock is my frame of reference for practicing honour. Every one can measure his attention with an individual inner clock. In the dojo it is the Ninjutsu technique. In another classroom it’s an old musical instrument, an old musical score, in another discipline someone purifies himself before writing precise Hebrew letters using a feather on parchment.
And when a tradition has been using honour for hundreds of years, it is an even stronger . What do I mean? You put your feet in the Ninjutsu’s Kamae, you stop, stop, and listen. You can hear it, that’s the sound of ancient steps, quiet, quiet steps.
You do not have to look for honour in a group of fighters, you do not have to look for it in monasteries, on the contrary – here’s your nose and there’s the honor, just under your nose.
No wonder there is no Akban diet program. A diet plan of honour and respect can only be understood by a person who has been hungry and chooses, every meal, to be hungry again, like the Rebbetzin. Chooses not to attack food but chooses to exercise power and discipline and wait a little, while hungry, especially when hungry.
So, blessing the food, an honour technique. Giving a bow to the sword, an honour technique. Saying ‘thank you’ every morning, an honour technique. Wearing a silly skirt for training, an honour technique. Sitting quietly before a training, an honour technique. Giving a bow, an honour technique.
In the early 90s, Masaaki Hatsumi arrived to Israel for the second time. Masaaki Hatsumi, the teacher of my teacher Doron Navon, arrived with the Japanese shihans.
It was a great Ninjutsu seminar; but I missed it. I got sick a day before the seminar. My fever was so high that most of the time I was hallucinating, I couldn’t read, I couldn’t watch TV, just lied in bed for a few days and looked out of the window.
At the last day of the seminar all the veterans met for late dinner. Moshe Kastiel called me on the phone: “Sheriff, we are having dinner for the sensei before he flies back to Japan, maybe you can come over?”.
“Forget it Kastiel,” I told him, “I’m terribly sick, I can’t sit through dinner and chat in Japanese”.
“Sheriff, stop bickering. Tonight at seven we’ll be in restaurant ‘Turquoise’ in old Jaffa. Don’t miss sensei, be there.”
Moshe was right – I was there. My spouse helped me get my clothes on, put on a formal jacket and a tie and then she drove me to Jaffa. I sat in the restaurant next to her, still feverish. Everybody ate fish and shish kabab. Me, I was slowly sipping mint tea and wiping the sweat off my face.
Throughout the dinner the sensei made jokes and had drinks with everybody. All of a sudden he looked at me, pointed and said: “Godan!”
I didn’t get it.
The Japanese and all the Israeli instructors were there so I thought he’s pointing at someone next to me. Doron said: “You’ll do Godan now”.
“Godan” in Japanese means “5th Dan”, a test that’s also called “Sakki” – testing the killer intention. Sensei is standing behind the person who’s taking the test, raising a sword made of bamboo called “Shinai”, closing his eyes and striking down with it. The person taking the test is supposed to dodge it.
I told Doron I can’t do it, I’m sick, next time. Doron heard me and said: “Your Godan is tonight”.
Everybody paid the bill, put on their jackets and coats and started walking to the ruined houses, between the restaurant and the Arab neighbourhood.
There was a piece of bare ground there, next to some broken-down walls, and the rising moon lit it beautifully.
I gave my spouse my jacket, loosened the tie and set in Seiza.
There was a small problem, the sensei’s Shinai was already packed in the van that should have taken them to the airport, so Uri T- a student of Doron’s, ran to a pine tree, near one of the houses, clung to a big branch and broke it from the trunk. Then he cleaned it off all the small branches and gave it to Hatsumi sensei.
There was another problem- the neighborhood was near-by and we were a big group of Japanese and Israelis – a strange sight. I kept sitting and the Shihans, my spouse and the Israeli instructors formed a circle around me so no one could see through. Hatsumi sensei burst out laughing seeing the huge branch Uri handed him. He gave the branch to Doron and walked behind me while talking and laughing with Doron. I already closed my eyes, sitting down, and thought that I should have opened the top button in my collar. I was sitting on the sand in seiza.
For years I’ve trained for this test. Even though Doron said there is no way to prepare for it. I’ve always tried to sharpen the senses in order to hear or feel the strike and the intent behind it. That’s what I did that night, sitting in old Jaffa. I sat with my senses sharp – preparing for everything. At some point I felt something and jumped to the side, on the ground – when I turned around I saw that nothing happened yet the test did not start – Doron and Hatsumi stood far from me, looking at me silently.
I jumped because I thought I felt them. Then it got very quiet. I sat in Seiza and the sensei, behind me said: “Leave everything”.
I don’t know what happened to me – suddenly, after many years, after many fists fights and one real war, I stopped being prepared – I suddenly found myself to the side on the ground and everybody clapping.
While I’m writing this I’m thinking about what Dan, one of Akban’s veterans, said to me. A good summery for every method and practice.
He said: “If you’ll prepare for everything, you’ll be ready for nothing- so prepare for nothing”.
In the year of 1703, forty six Samurai cut their own stomachs open. I believe they did it happily. They left another Ronin to tell the story. That’s what happened, a guy named Kira Yoshinka caused a Daimyo to cut his stomach, commit sepuku. The Daimyo, Naganori, left 47 samurai that swore to avenge his death. After two years of working in various jobs the ronin gathered in a snowy night, penetrated the stronghold, killed Naganori’s retainers and slit Yoshinka’s neck after he refused to commit suicide.
The modern visitors who, till this day, visit the graves think of the immense loyalty, but hidden inside this myth is another, twisted, value: the ancient solution to injustices in this life – death. Ruth Stein, in her invaluable book, explains the logic of the shahid, she sums it up with the header of the first chapter: “Evil as Love and as Liberation: The Mind of a Suicidal Religious Terrorist”.
It’s Thursday today, the 17th in March 2011, 308 years ago, at the 20th, very near to Sakura, forty six smiling heads rolled on the ground. Reluctantly I join the myriad of people who got inspired by this horror. This is a horror myth that is cross cultural, from the Philistines’ Dagon temple to Karbala – death of other as the solution to unsolvable problems.
Death as the riddle solver: a peasant from Frigia ties a knot that can not be opened. Alexander of Macedon, the person who later kills hundreds of thousands, starts by killing the knot, he cuts it with his sword, and for this symbolic solution some people highly commend him.
Alexander dies at the age of thirty three from an illness or poison. In his private battle he does not dance with the sword, he dances with microscopic bacteria. It seems that he would be happy to exchange manner of death with the forty-six Ronin.
Presumably it seems like a similar thing, in essence it is deeply different. The difference between the shahid and the technician is in the right the first one claims over another person’s life. The shahid and the ronin feels just when he kills, that is the hole in the logic of the killer. To hide the illogic this hole must be shut completely with anger. Anger and hatred are strong, much stronger then many other things, but not from all things. Anger and hatred are losing this week.
Today Japan is in the wake of a terrible disaster and on the brink of a possible nuclear tragedy. At the Fukushima facility the cooling water evaporate and the fuel in the reactors slowly heats in a process that might lead many people to death they did not choose. In Fukushima there are some technicians still trying to solve this impending catastrophe. They say that there are fifty, Fukushima’s 50. I am looking at the fifty and looking at the 46. It will not be the same kind of death because the process is different.
Hatred, loyalty and bravery are watching, astonished, right now on the Fukushima compound they are loosing. Something for which we have no words for is taking place right now. Loyalty, bravery and love are getting a deadly dosage of radiation. My heart is with Fukushima 50.
Researchers in the field of animal behavior noticed an interesting phenomenon when regarding territorial fighting fish: these fish, the males to be precise, fight each other following a breach of territory. Researchers saw that a fish that has won several times in a row has a better chance of getting into an additional fight, as well as having a better chance of winning this fight. Conversely, and with even greater statistical significance, a fish that has lost several fights has a smaller chance of going into another fight and a greater chance of losing it or retreating in the middle (see reference no. 1). These phenomena have received the terminology “winner effect” and “loser effect” respectively.
The biological reasoning behind this phenomenon is clear: a fighting fish risks injury and wastes energy in each fight, as well as elevating his risk of being preyed upon. Consecutive losses place the fish in a certain hierarchy. Previous losses affect his behaviour and he avoids confrontation when possible. Furthermore, if presented into a fighting situation, he would prefer to finish it quickly. Quite often this fish will lose the fight. This is the loser effect.
Winner and loser effects have also been studied and presented in mathematical models in the evolutionary concepts of the game theory (2).
In a research conducted on territorial mice (3) it was found that mice had a significantly higher probability of winning their fourth fight, when followed by three previous wins. Also, the time lapse of the fourth confrontation was shorter, and the probability of “freezing” instead of fighting decreased significantly. Another interesting finding was that there was a strong correlation between the number of wins and the level of Testosterone in these mice. Testosterone, the main male hormone, is linked to male sexual development as well as to aggressive and competitive behaviour and social dominance.
The correlation between rising Testosterone levels and the winner effect are further pronounced when neutered mice are used (4). In these mice, consecutive wins were not sufficient in sustaining the winner effect for long periods of time. Additionally the winner effect causes the mice to improve their chances of winning in the future without regard for their initial combative capabilities. This study shows that as with fish, the winner effect is present in territorial mammals, and it is Testosterone hormone-dependent.
There is scientific evidence that in man there is also an increase in Testosterone levels preceding an imminent fight as well as following a fight. Testosterone increases coordination, cognitive abilities and the levels of concentration during the confrontation. It was found that among competitors that won, Testosterone levels were high and dependent on the elevated spirit of the winner. This effect was found among Judo practitioners as well as among chess players. On the other hand, Testosterone levels within the losing groups decreased (5). Researchers speculated that the reason for elevated Testosterone levels among the winners has to do with the fact that they stand before more competitions in the near future, as opposed to the losers who would rather abstain further fighting and risk injury.
The loser effect has also been studied on other animals (6) and is applied to other fields such as economics (7) and politics (8).
I would like to deduce from this phenomenon on martial arts in general and the martial school I study in AKBAN.
It is difficult to defeat a veteran. It is hard for me to beat someone who wins fights with me every time over. Even if inside I know I have improved, narrowed down gaps in technique, worked on my weak points €¦ evolved. Still, some hurdles are difficult to pass.
When I begin Randuri (practice fighting) with someone who has beaten me in the past, the mind and body do not work properly. Perhaps it is the mind that prevents the body from working as it should. I think too much, react too late and surrender positions. What chance do I have of winning to begin with?
On the other hand, there are those that cannot beat me. I feel that they give up on submission too easily, do not attempt to go into attacks, do not follow through with the techniques and look rather despaired against me. I, on the other hand, feel rather confident working with them. I allow myself to be a little more adventurous in Randuri, try out new techniques without concern and put myself willingly into bad positions. Often, when these same people work with other practitioners, it is noticeable that they give more of themselves, go all the way. This is an interesting phenomenon.
People are complex creatures, at least on the emotional-conceptual level, more than any other creature. The intricate social concept enables people to learn from the experience of others and apply this experience to them. “Who is wise? He who learns from all men”.
In a group dynamic, it is very simple to identify the dominant person, the authoritative person, the leader, and follow them. On the other hand, it is also easy to spot the weak person, the lowest in the chain of command. This can be noticed in groups of children playing.
These same characteristics enable us to see who is stronger or weaker, winner or loser. Even without personal experience, from observing alone, it is possible to assess within a group of trainees who is the strongest. If I fear him before the confrontation, the loser effect begins to have impact on me, even if we haven’t yet taken a bow or shaken hands. The winner effect has disadvantages as well: excess self-esteem, disrespect to the opponent and at times a feeling of having “reached the peak” and stopping the running (9). The loser effect has an advantage: a lower probability of being hurt.
The winner and loser effects are just a part of the whole picture, of course. There are many factors that affect us prior to and during Randori: technical level, physical fitness, fatigue, daily troubles, moods etc. However, psychological and hormonal effects have a direct or indirect influence on us as well. If De La Riva comes to Israel to train with us, and I do Randori with him, I wouldn’t do a violent Randori. Not just because he is tens of times better than I am and I fear his response, but also out of a feeling of respect and the fear of injuring or being injured. These reasons are also included in the loser effect. This can also be seen in Randori with the coach when he says “work, don’t be shy”. This hurdle is also difficult to pass.
1. Yuying Hsu and Larry L. Wolf (2001). The winner and loser effect: what fighting behaviors are influenced? Animal Behavior (61), 777-786.
2. Michael Mesterton-Gibbons (1999). On the evolution of pure winner and loser effects: a game-theoretic model. Bulletin of Mathematical Biology 61, 1151-1186.
3. Temitayo O. Oyegbile and Catherine A. Marler (2005). Winning fights elevates testosterone levels in mice and enhances future ability to win fights. Hormones and Behavior (48) pp 259 267
4. Trainor B.C., Marler, (2001). Testosterone, paternal behavior, and aggression in the monogamous mouse (Peromyscus californicus) Horm. Behav. 40, 32-42.
5. Allan Mazur and Alan Booth (1998). Testosterone and dominance in men. Behavioral and Brain Sciences (21) pp 353-363
6. Hugh Drummond and Cristina Canales (1998). Dominance between booby nestlings involves winner and loser effects.
7. Anthony J. Richards (1997). Winner-Loser reversals in national stock market indices: Can they be explained? The Journal of Finance Vol. 52, No. 5, pp. 2129-2144.