I make sure a student pays tuition on time. A student should not owe money to his teacher. Paying tuition makes the student-teacher system simpler, I fulfil my obligations to the student and the student fulfils his/her duties: attendance and payment.
About two months ago, a student I did not see in many years came to the Dojo and said he wanted to pay me an old debt. He is now an adult, and it has been many years since he trained, but while recently talking to his mother, he realised that when he was a child they only paid me a very small fee because his family had no money. A nominal fee for a student who has no money is also a fee! And so, during the years I teach, I got paid in children’s paintings and in flowers from those who did not have any money. That’s fine, symbolic payment is a valid payment and a student who paid doesn’t owe me anything later.
The reason for this economy in Akban is related to the inner freedom I want. If, after a student left the dojo, the teacher thinks that the student owes him, that causes big trouble for the teacher, suffering.
A relationship should allow for exhaling and inhaling. If it is not possible to release then it is impossible to put in new air. I try to let go, and succeed. That’s because I like to breathe, one of the survival secrets I teach. This is how I come to Dojo with a happy heart.
Debt to the community
Akban is not me, Yossi the teacher, Akban is a precious and rare community of human beings, in the best sense of the word, veterans who have been training together for three decades. The debt to me, to the teacher, amounts to tuition and attendance, the debt to the community is not that simple and is indeed very large.
Community debt is not a financial debt, the community has not lent us money, the community has inspired us, helped us persevere in difficult moments, imbued the techniques we practice with meaning. Repayment must be accordingly. Paying off debt to the community is a complex work reserved for the emotionally stable, for very powerful people.
For example, the Ninjutsu database, the documentation project, is repaying a debt to the community in which I grew up, Bujinkan. It’s not about money – the cost to maintain the Bujinkan pool of techniques is not excessive – it’s about work, many hours invested in documenting our syllabus.
In order to repay an inspirational debt to the community, attendance is needed, it’s like gardening, like teaching, like raising children, repaying debt is a practice that requires attendance, presence.
Paying back such debt is an extra bonus, it allows us to grow as strong human beings and change roles – from children to guardians.
A veteran who teaches repays huge debt to the community. He continues the line of knowledge and contributes his unique perspective and interpretation.
A veteran who keeps coming and practicing even though he is old and injured – repays debt because he gives us all a better frame of reference and inspiration to keep on practicing.
A veteran who uses the knowledge he learned in AKBAN to build a business and explains how – returns debt of knowledge. Specifically, how to use martial knowledge in completely different areas and settings.
A veteran who understands how to be a seaman, knows how to surf, sail, understands the winds, the clouds and the sea and knows how to bring his expertise to us, repays debt to the community, he increases our knowledge and enriches us all.
Every contribution makes us all in this person’s debt – we owe him. And since in our community we’ve been together for decades, we all owe a lot to such people, me too.
Not everyone has the luck and the power to be able repay debt to the community, I think it’s fine, as wrote at the first paragraph, at this point nobody owes me anything, but when a veteran repays a debt to the community it’s a great thing, it’s wonderful. I have accrued great debt to Akban and I love this very much.
1. Video is a way to teach, even if only few people watch. True, this is not the ideal way, but I did learn things from videos and I think that others can too. We must Capture and distribute video to give away the knowledge we have acquired.
2. Video distribution requires courage. That’s the difference between writing a poem and putting it in the drawer and showing it to someone. In the case we show, we will have to live with the new reality and with the possibility that what we have created is:
a. Not good,
b. Too complex and not understandable
c. Clear and excellent, but not suitable for the reader.
The medication for fear, as we all know, is action!
3. Video photography, and critical observation, is a painful but excellent way to improve technique – both a technique of execution and a technique of verbal explanation. The engine behind my technical improvement are the movies I uploaded. You need to video and distribute to get internal and external feedbacks and improve.
A student asked me: “Why can’t I do the warm up with a T-shirt and then put on the Gi? It’s too hot in this heavy apparel. ”
“What a weak question” I thought.
With this thought I could have ended this dialoge, but I wear a heavy black canvas Gi and a combat skirt, the Hakama. That’s what I wear for work.
“…” say the horrified looks of students who, on weekends, pedal on bicycles wrapped in colored tights. “I’ll wear tights, I’ll put on branded sunglasses, a yellow Lycra hat, but a black skirt and a heavy jacket? It is unnecessary”, say the disdaining looks on the face, I’ll be a loughing stock.
It is unnecessary, but there is a reason why we are a loughing stock, a reason that relates to the concept of Respect. Practicing respect is always unnecessary, always superfluos.
When I related this exchange in the dojo, one veteran later told me: “In the trenches, at the Yom Kippur War, it was obvious that this was the end of us: we would soon die or be prisoners of war. It felt like the end of the world. I did not know if we’d see the sun the morning after”
I looked at him, I did not know what to say, I’m old, but on Yom Kippur I was in elementary school, so I listened.
“We cleaned our weapons and machine guns, then we polished our shoes.” I gave him a deep look, he never misses a training session, and on Yom Kippur war, under a smoky black sky, with artillery fire landing next to him, he polished his shoes. It seemed appropriate to me.
If one asks “what’s in it for me?” I will not supply an answer. In the old school the question is, “How do I do it?” When I try to answer the first question, I turn silent. What comes out of it? Nothing comes of it, nothing, it’s unnecessary.
It is possible that the late Professor Amotz Zehavi would have thought that this was an extension of the Handicap principle, maybe. I think it’s powerful.
Doing essential things is good, but it’s not like doing unnecessary things: treating elders and children with respect, not stealing even when no one is looking, putting on a Hakama and Gi on a hot day, being a mensch. Unnecessary.
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.
Information can be embedded into many things. If it’s an obvious, modern, WYSIWYG stuff, then even our slowly evolving wiki might not be enough. As one of the students complained: “isn’t there a way to make the Ninjutsu clearer?”.
I thought: “Clearer then this start of a Ninjutsu portal? clearer? I have to think about it, I thought it is too clear”
But sometimes people are not afraid of ambiguity, do not rush through fog or gifts that come wrapped. 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 of time.
It makes me smile, hiding is such an un-cultural thing to do, the exact oposite of my wiki effort. Reveal nothing, and love it.
Insights about martial arts can be this wrapped secret, this is why I love Ninjutsu Kata.
To us, modern guys, 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. The girl should be undressed A.S.A.P.
Hah, this is porn. Porn everywhere. Watching the unwrapped humans reveal it all, either in an adult site or inside the UFC octagon. And at the end we get nothing, less then the kindergarden eraser.
Why open it?
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.