Technique or Mind

This is an excerpt taken from a book by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of shotokan karate entitled, “KARATE-DO KYOHAN.”

“True karate, that is, Karate-do, strives internally to train the mind to develop a clear conscience enabling one to face the world truthfully, while externally developing strength until one may overcome even ferocious wild animals. Mind and technique are to become one in true karate.

Those who follow Karate-do must consider courtesy of prime importance. Without courtesy, the essence of Karate-do is lost. Courtesy must be practiced not only during the karate training period but at all times in one’s daily life. The karate student must humble himself to receive training. The student must always be aware of and receptive to criticism from others; he must be constantly introspective and must readily admit any lack of knowledge, rather than pretending to know what he does not know.

Those who follow Karate-do must never forsake a humble mind and gentle manner. It is the small-minded individual who likes to brag upon acquiring some small skill, and those with little knowledge who carry on as if they were experts are childish. It is because of the large number of false martial artists in the world that the public tends to either ignore the martial artist or to consider him wild. Therefore, many serious martial artists are embarrassed. Students of Karate-do should always keep these points in mind.

Those who follow Karate-do will develop courage and fortitude. These qualities do not have to do with strong actions or with the development of strong techniques as such. Emphasis is placed on development of the mind rather than on techniques.”

If you change the words karate and Karate-do to Aikido or most of the other martial arts this statement has much relevance for today’s martial artists. Also, how we think has much to do with how we live our lives. And this is a process sorely lacking in today’s society.

When is the correct time to change? How do you process change, or more to the point, why should you care what happens around you? Today it seems to be all about “ME,” whereas, the correct messages suggests it should be all about “WE!”

As a martial arts teacher, the message is best demonstrated by living it, not necessarily saying it. And by my observation, saying it should happen more than it does.

Come again?

Growing up in Chester, Pennsylvania during the forties and fifties was really opportunistic. By that I mean gaining insight into a different aspect of life than youngsters experience today. In this era children have most anything they want, not to mention the freedom to try ideas not dreamed of in those days. Also, these same youngsters have several disadvantages such as extreme violence and constant turmoil.

The nice advantages: martial arts training, many more sports than existed then, and I’m not sure if this is a positive or negative, medicines. I’m not sure because there have been claims that we would be stronger with more bacterial resistance when exposed to more germs, rather than taking hundreds of antibiotics. In other words, maybe we could develop a stronger more natural resistance.

The likelihood that we may study martial arts from a very young age is extraordinary. Even when I was a teen these arts were not readily available. Of course, much of this has been abused in the last several years, just as this society has abused cell phones. So, what do I mean by abuse? With cell phones, many do not realize the danger they put others in when talking while driving, nor do they consider cell phone rudeness while out in public. In the case of martial arts, it is the 7 or 8 year old black belt. Never mind the understanding of black belt being the beginning of serious study. Of course this problem rests with instructors, not parents. But the almighty dollar speaks very loud.

I made many mistakes as a young instructor. Of the two dozen or so black belt students I produced in Quiet Storm, two were teenagers. One was fourteen and one was fifteen. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m very proud of how those young men turned out. Both are now fine upstanding family men and the younger of the two is a renown professional jazz drummer. I still think they were too young even though they turned out okay. Too much rank can put too much pressure on youngsters.

What happens when children are given too much responsibility at an early age? First of all they lose their childhood. Second, they can suffer burnout, which is what happened with a current Delaware female basketball star when she went to college this year. Or they can become difficult to deal with as tyrants later on. Parents, as well as teachers must give the child proper dosages of responsibility at correct intervals if we want him or her to grow up tall and strong. Too many activities, too many video games, too much television and yes, sometimes too much (school) homework can be detrimental to their health and growth. What goes around, comes around. Good life-lessons can be difficult to comprehend sometimes. Did you ask how difficult? How and when and where did you get your life skills?

If you think I’m off-base, take a close look at the present condition of our society. Multiple mass shootings in schools, workplaces and sometimes in the home. Rebellion and lack of parental respect runs rampart throughout the land. And these examples are slowly spreading around the world. Disciplined martial arts training may be the answer. Correct parenting skills need to be taught and practiced while dropping this crazy idea of being a pal to your child. Being a friend to your child is one thing, being a pal is not the same thing. Our children are screaming out for limits and discipline.

The same thing is true of a good teacher, whether martial or academic; he or she may not get too familiar with the student. You gain a strong insight and learn what turns them on and off and use it, but a little distance is essential to learning. Do you have another idea?

Choice is not chance

In continuation of my last entry, I hinted at this conclusion: choice is all there really is. I say that because every action, non-action or I should say, inaction is choice, there is no chance. Just as there is no such thing as chaos. There is only “order” not yet understood.

As I contemplate this, I’m reminded of meditations I’ve experienced on occasion. For instance, during the last encounter I realized an unusual sensation, namely an openness, or emptiness. I use emptiness even though that word does not quite fit. I just cannot find one. There is a feeling of movement, sometimes inward and then on occasion, moving off as in moving to another place. The strange thing is it becomes a different place even as it feels like the same place.

I also experience a conscious decision for movement even as it’s done unconsciously, if that makes any sense to you. I seem to recall feeling my body, but from a distance. During some of my transcendent meditations, I lose awareness of my body for brief periods and on other occasions, not at all. To feel my body at an internal distance can be a rather progressive thing. At least I feel that is the case. In these endeavors I occasionally feel as if I’m on the verge of some grand experience that is difficult to explain.

Where am I going with this? It’s the reason I’m training in the martial arts. Namely, developing an intensely disciplined mind to help me move onward and inward psychically and spiritually. While I’ve physically gained good health and fitness, it is my wish that this journey will make me a better human being, with the accent on “being.”

Choice; or chance

Many, when making a choice, would consider choosing a very casual endeavor. Few, if any, realize how far-reaching their decisions can be. When you choose, you make a statement. You make a declaration to the universe. For instance, I receive phone call after phone call from people wishing to gain martial skills with no real understanding of the commitment required. They see movies of men and women using impressive techniques after only rudimentary training cycles, showing time chopped into days and weeks. They think that black belt equals expert and in ten easy lessons. Well, to be honest, maybe they really believe it will take five or six months. Or they want me to transform their undisciplined child into an amazing example of the youngest black belt in history.

People fail to realize that black belt does not signify the end, it is the end of the beginning. It means the beginning of serious study. When you enter a traditional dojo, two choices must be made, not one. The choice to pursue a pastime endeavor is what usually happens at first, but then comes the choice to change their way of thinking, the choice of participating in a life-altering experience. Or the choice of dropping out when the realization hits that choices are no easy task.

There are no chance encounters. Real choice was asked for long ago, it just may have been forgotten. How long ago?

I forgot.

Why martial arts?

Why do I practice Ji Do Kwan and Aikido? My life’s not been in jeopardy in the last 55 years, so why train in these martial arts. I don’t believe it’s ego because I have nothing to prove to anyone. Plus there is no one to impress. This question should be on the minds of most who enter a dojo. Some claim to search for peace, love and harmony, but these cannot be found outside of yourself. And yet there must be a possibility of gain or it makes no sense to sacrifice hundreds or thousands of hours. I’ve suffered many broken bones in these arts as well as experiencing much pain and anguish. One broken jaw, two fingers, one arm, two ribs (one on each side of the body, twenty years apart), several broken toes and one dislocated finger. In addition, many of my contemporaries have gone through hip and knee replacement surgeries. Thank God, I have not had to endure those. I also have my teachers to thank for correct instruction on how not to lock my knees and hips on kicking extensions. But back to the question, why?

Taking an old idea first, I gain by giving. By that I mean whatever I learned was given away to others almost as soon as I learned. My teacher was wise enough to know that by struggling to explain to others what to do would enhance my own understanding.

However, in the beginning I wanted self-protection. And I drew to me the best teacher available at that time. One with principles and abilities. In other words, not just one with street-fighting abilities. The broken bones I endured were about how badly I wanted it. And I trained even while wearing casts on my hand and my arm. That’s wanting it pretty badly, huh? But back to those reasons. I gradually came to sense something missing from my training. Just what, I didn’t know at the time. I started researching. As I continued to research I discovered that about eighty percent of the art was hidden from view. I have since changed that number to ninety percent. Another discovery? Your instructor cannot give this to you, you have to acquire it yourself. Just as no one can give you self-determination. They can draw it out of you, but first you have to have it inside.

While enduring this journey, I’ve made several discoveries concerning myself. The first and foremost being I’m stronger mentally than I originally thought. Second, I’m much healthier, though some of that may be genetics, and I was able to keep the fat off. My confidence soared. Last but not least, I’ve gained many, many friends and traveled more places than I would have if not for the arts. One more thing, my decision to study these arts have brought so many people together that four marriages have resulted from this dojo. (more on these choices in my next blog)

I am not saying that last example was why I practice but martial arts training can take one in many different directions. I’m famous and rich, just not yet financially so. I’ve been in magazines and on TV several times, all without conscious effort. Note that I did not say without intention. I cannot give without becoming known.

Losing a student

In my last blog I talked about losing my 20 year student Merdy, who passed away. I wish to clarify. A dojo may lose students and a teacher may have students leave. But a true teacher does not lose students. Students move on.

Allow me to go deeper. Any teacher who teaches from the heart celebrates a student’s growth into the next level. While some students merely stop attending class, they should not be vilified just because they may not be able to handle their Sensei’s newer, or should I say, deeper levels of teaching. If the present environment is too stressful, a separation is called for. If the student’s understanding is coming too rapidly and the challenges not as forthcoming, a separation may be called for. Its called kicking the young bird out of the nest, telling him/her “go out, seek a new discovery or new understanding. Then come back and show me what you have discovered.”

And sometimes you experience a separation through the transition of death such as my friend and student Meredith (Merdy) Chaplin last week. As I said, growth requires separation, even though we miss that person deeply. Merdy is one of the most complete human beings I’ve had the honor of knowing. To be called Sensei by someone of his caliber, to have him as a student is both humbling and awe inspiring at the same time. His works of art are unique. The Kokikai summer camp tee shirts designed by Merdy always sold out. The figures on the 2001 shirt appear to be moving. He started a graphics design company but had to close it because he could not get many of his clients to pay their bills. These were some large, very well-known companies too. But that’s business these days.

It is a great responsibility to teach. It is humbling to teach. It is an honor to teach. And finally, there is an obligation to teach. Why? In what other way will the human race advance if one does not pass on what he/she has acquired? We truly are our brothers’ keeper.

Merdy’s large roll-outs were beautiful to behold for such a large man. AS one student put it, “I attempted to copy his rolls but could not.” As Merdy’s Sensei, I had the responsibility to teach him small rolls, back rolls and large rolls. Well, he ended up teaching all of us how to roll large and quietly.
As I’ve said before, if a teacher cannot learn from his students, he is not much of a teacher. This man also taught many of us how to apply our humanity. I have not met many whom everyone liked. Change many to any! Other than Merdy.

He will always be listed as Meredith Chaplin, 2nd dan, an active member still training in Wilmington Dojo.

Merdy

It happened yesterday. Merdy passed.
I received the news today.
Today I lost a friend but it feels like my right arm and this is closer than family.
The hits you can see coming are so much easier to absorb, even when they knock you down.
I haven’t really lost him, the world is just so much smaller now, the slights more insignificant.
I am truly blessed for how many can say in truthfulness that they know a man whom everyone liked.
The first question asked of me upon arriving at last summer camp: How’s Merdy? Is he coming to camp?
I can’t see to write anymore

What vision?

What vision? What dream? In my last blog I talked about having great vision and the benefits it will bring you. Dreams are in the ballpark also. But if you will develop great vision, you must also have clear intention. Otherwise you merely meander about like a small stream. But unlike that stream you are being carried along without focus because life does not stop moving. The stream is water seeking its own level, the next lowest level. Do you know what you are seeking? Intention gives you direction, desire gives you motivation. There are some who say that divine intervention or predestination is running things. But if that’s so, where is your free choice?

I believe we draw to us everyone we encounter and we cause every event that we experience, whether good or bad. We cause this by what we do or do not do. Consider this little idea; look around you and observe and categorize how seldom people seem to know what they are doing. Or, to put it another way, how little they consider the consequences of their actions. Make it something simple like driving or even executing a very simple technique like throwing a kick or maybe a punch. You will see some who know what they are doing. You will see some who think that they know what they’re doing; some who know that they don’t know. And way down at the bottom are those who don’t know that they don’t know. The path out of this conundrum is through the act of intention. You test it. Then you do it again, and if it doesn’t work you seek instruction. If instruction is not available then trial and error is the only way out. But at least you are seeking. Or you’re working the practice and development of great vision and insight. If its consciously achievable. Why do I say that?

Because the body already knows how to move efficiently, thinking is not really necessary. Thinking of a movement actually slows it down because conscious thinking does not happen fast enough. Even though thought can be pretty quick. Get your conscious mind out of the way and give your sub-conscious mind and body free rein. What may happen is something like that meandering stream I mentioned earlier. Now I know this sounds like I am going around in circles, but isn’t that how the planets and galaxies operate, going around in circles. My answer is “as above, so below.” This is a Hermetic principle which describes something not normally seen or understand. In other words, substitute a parable for the lack of understanding.

Life is a paradox.

Great Vision

You may be experiencing extreme pain and mental depression and it is demoralizing you to the point that your situation leads you to wish for death. Something happens and you reconsider, maybe because you are told that your next action will cause someone else to have more life. Or, not so drastic a circumstance makes you think twice. Your life is not your own. I’ll repeat that; your life is not your own. You are life itself. And you may do what you will with it, to the point of planning on going to the movies tomorrow afternoon but you may end up in North Carolina instead. You don’t know what you will do next really. Unless you have great vision.

However, great vision does not require great eyesight. What’s required for great vision is great insight. That’s right inner vision is the key to success. There are quite a few individuals who have walked among us and many in the past who through great vision have shown the way but few hear. And fewer listen. What is required for the message to resonate within is simply inner vision on the part of the recipient. You must be ready to receive it. Check out the dynamics of a tuning fork; check out the principle of entrainment when two similar clocks with equal length pendulums are back to back on opposite sides of the same wall. Notice that they are not touching each other. No matter how you start them, both pendulums will eventually become entrained and move in unison. A similar occurrence happens when you come into the presence of, or encounter a great sage. There is a dynamic feeling which radiates within the immediate vicinity. You may not know why you feel good, you just do. Let me change that. If you are on the correct wavelength you will feel really good, and if not you may feel slightly uncomfortable.

The Way

Life is a journey, so they say. Several years ago I read a short story to my students and it went something like this: A sage encountered a young man and urged on him a journey with a map to a great treasure. The youngster started off and before long encountered a beautiful jewel on the trail. He picked it up, looked it over and threw it away saying I don’t need this as I’m getting a treasure at the end of my journey. Later he found a diamond in the dirt along the trail and discarded that also. Several days later he discovered a small bag of gold nuggets and threw it away too. This went on for a number of years and at the end of his journey found no treasure at all. Angry and disappointed he went and found the sage and yelled and screamed at him for lying. The sage merely looked at the now old man, smiled sadly and asked how he could have no treasure.

Years ago when my father drove our family to an amusement park or to the Jersey shore or Maryland beaches we children could hardly wait. I, along with my brothers and sisters wanted to know why it took so long to get there. The anticipation was almost impossible to bear. The trip home seemed to take no time at all. We were too young to understand about delayed gratification and the same thing can be said about learning Aikido. The journey is what’s important, not necessarily the destination. But we want to have it all yesterday, not work our way through the seemingly endless struggles or the many apparent failures or even to marvel at the infrequent discoveries of grace, rhythm and success. We want it all now. But here’s the paradox, If you only knew! You could have it all now. Dreams!

Sensei Rick Berry’s thoughts on the martial arts in general, aikido in particular, and life at large.