I want, I need, I have

Want, need and have are three very different dynamic states of being. And they have very different consequences. I’ve been through all three. To “want” just gets you that. Want. And it seems that we are always in “need.” We seem to want and need more money, more love and more understanding by others, not ourselves. There is a tendency to think we already understand ourselves which is why we sometimes get into trouble. No, make that most of the time.

I think we have this little problem primarily because of not living in the moment. Now and only now is all there is; all there will be and all there has ever been. When you graduate, or more to the point, promote to the next belt rank or life rank you move to the “this moment.” But it happens in the now. What you accomplished happened in a previous “now.” Therefore, I say that time as we normally consider it, doesn’t exist. It is only a device that man invented to lend order to his existence.

Have it, don’t need it. How is this done? Faith is how it’s done but most don’t realize that they are working out of this particular principle. Generally a student grows in the development of faith. At first there is faith in the teacher and gradually in fellow students. After all, what we do in learning Aikido is highly dangerous. The thing is we’ve used faith throughout our existence. When you step on an elevator you practice faith. When you step on the brake while driving your car you practice faith. When you step on an airplane you’re usually hoping like hell that your faith is well placed.

Getting back on track and throwing all this into Aikido practice, we are usually operating several inches from disaster. Observe how close a student’s head comes to the mat as he or she is thrown. Observe the leg checks and elbow and wrist locks as we practice and you can practically see disaster waiting in the wings. When you do not think of these things happening you are working with faith, my friend. you are operating from a state of grace or a state of being where negativity is not even remotely in the picture. When you operate at this level nothing can harm you; you are life itself and peace and serenity, possibilities and probabilities all rolled into one. At this level You cannot lose because losing is not in your potential. Reach for the stars!

It comes in 3’s

I used to think of three as an odd number but I slowly changed my point of view. Three is good. Now I like one better. In dealing with three’s consider the biblical connotation, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Then there is man, woman and child. And how about consciousness, sub-conscious and the super-conscious. The list goes on and on. Consider this: philosophers speak of the id, the ego and the super ego; science has it as energy, matter and anti-matter. Neale Donald Walsh’s book, “Conversations With God” describes man as a three-fold-being. Body, mind and spirit. Space is broken down as “here,” “there” and the “space” in between.

So what does this have to do with Aikido you ask? There is you, there is uke and finally there is the space between you which must be controlled, or at least utilized. Then there is your mind, uke’s mind and finally there is universal mind. Technically, there is only universal mind with two different aspects, your’s and his. and if you can successfully tie into his you will realize there is only one.

Three really is odd after all. Next, lets look at the idea of “happiness” and the number 2, the even number. As we search for and seek happiness we look almost everywhere. After much experience most people conclude that it comes and goes. That it’s two things repeated over and over again. We have it! we don’t! Well, I’m here to tell you that happiness is a one time thing! Singular. And it’s found in only one place. Inside! You are either happy or you’re not. No person, place or thing can give you happiness. Material things and people can only cause you to experience a moderately close facsimile of happiness. It’s not a condition, it is a state of being. With the correct type of training the practice of Aikido and some of the other arts can help you get comfortable enough to enter that state of mind or being. Add the right kind of instructor and practice can be very joyful. Join the wrong dojo and you will find it nearly impossible to attain peace let alone joy.

Playing with the 3’s can give you solace. For me “one” is the answer. And so it should be with you since the one is you. You are in charge. And there is only you. That’s ONE!

Mind Games

Pay attention! Live in the moment! All that exists is an illusion. Are all we see, hear and do really an illusion? Or are we being deceived by the illumined? Scientists using electron microscopes can find nothing substantial so what are we standing on? Our belief system has many rules and requirements but do not explain why we must obey them. These are simply mind games. Martial arts training follows along that same path.

Fighting systems developed during battlefield conditions seem illogical in today’s environment. Are these ideas relevant today? If a brick is mostly empty space and my hand mostly empty space shouldn’t I be able to put my hand straight through that brick? Or is my mind playing tricks? Self-determination and freedom of expression should be alive and well in the martial arts but they are not. Say or do the wrong thing and you are out on your ear. Practice incorrectly and you will have a problem with many teachers. Are we not standing on the shoulders of giants? The answer is yes and no. We were at one time. Mind games.

Religious leaders set up stringent guidelines to follow. Watch what they do, not what they say. Martial arts instructors say what you should do and how you should act. Watch what they do, not what they say. Our current civil environment in this country as well as around the world is the way it is because our youth are doing what adults, including local, national and international leaders, are doing and ignoring what they are saying. You say those kids are not copying your actions? Before you say another word consider your non-action the last time you saw or heard some elderly person being disrespected by an unruly youngster. In the east, non-action is an action. And you wish for peace. Mind games.

Getting better at Aikido and worse at life is common these days. Frustration with progress or the lack of it causes many to quit. Some at the 3rd, 4th or 5th dan levels. Or could it be they’ve achieved satisfaction and made the decision to move on? In reality, I think it’s because of too many rules, otherwise the training could enhance that other pursuit. Why not practice for the simple joy of it? Why are there belt exams? Mind games.

What’s your game?

B, B S., gone!

The “blue belt slump or BBS as the title indicates is not physical at all, it’s mental. I’ll explain it this way: I watched the U.S. Open golf tournament yesterday and it all fell into place. Rocco Mediate who finished his 72 holes first and was on his way to becoming the first player over the top 100 (158th) listed to win this tourney and also the oldest at 45 years old. He was one shot under Tiger Woods and Tiger hit his shot into the rough grass. Tiger had to make a twelve foot putt to send this tournament into a playoff. After Tiger made the shot one of the sports writers commented to Mediate that he must have been wishing for Tiger to miss. Mediate refused to go down to that level. He said that he never wishes for something like that, that he played the best he could and Tiger did the same thing. This may seem like a small thing but Rocco Mediate demonstrated by his statement that he is a giant of a man. And true manhood is in short supply.
What does all this talk of golf have to do with Aikido or the blue belt slump? Just this, it’s all about attitude. Winning at all “costs” in everything is not the solution. Simply do the best you can! In applying Aikido principles to your technique remember that the height of mastery is to protect yourself AND your uke, be he in the dojo or on the street. At the very highest levels it is not physical.

WHY and the Blue belt slump

Why! My mentor once told me this was the most important word in our language. I say that the second most important word may be “how.” Why something works or how it works is worth knowing. Then again the “how” may not matter as long as you “can.” This makes for an interesting thought equation.

I call this mental Aikido. Does it have anything to do with technique? Some things appear as gifts when they are really impediments. Some students prefer to have the technical aspects explained. But if that happens frequently where is discovery? Where is adventure? Even though we share a journey together, we travel the path alone. Even though the teacher must get inside the student’s head, one’s skin cannot contain two people. That’s why advice is not to be given lightly. It may, in reality, be interference. Which may explain why Aikido is not for everyone. It cannot be given away. Aikido must be discovered! Maruyama Sensei often says, “find out for yourself.” This is not a casual statement.

I have gained an understanding of certain techniques only after getting some insight on the principle behind the technique. but usually I gained the principle after practicing the technique for several years. Which is one of the reasons I said Aikido is not for everyone. Patience is required and even that may come from certain segments of technique.

Just as one must delay attacking until the pieces are developed when playing chess, one must wait for uke to fall into position during the progression of technique in order to move on to the finish. That requires patience and some have not practiced that principle in their daily lives, so they cannot apply it here. Why does the technique work? Or not. To the uninitiated it’s magic. To the master it’s common sense.

Keep on practicing when encountering the “blue belt slump.” Most things have a habit of working themselves out. In fact, there’s an old saying:”Things work out best for those who make the best of the way things work out.” Insight will come as you work through it. Obstacles make us stronger, not weaker.

The Blue Belt Slump

One of my black belt students commented the other day about a nemesis which surfaces from time to time. It was an old conversation revisited and it goes like this; If you practice a martial art long enough you will hit a plateau and cannot seem to improve. George Leonard contributed a whole chapter to it in his book entitled:”Mastery,” however this is not a critique of his beautifully written book. I’ve both seen and experienced this plateau. No only in Aikido but I also noticed it in Ji Do Kwan. I’ve always called it the “blue belt slump.”

A student may learn very well for about a year obtaining 4th kyu or 3rd kyu and suddenly seems frozen in that position and can’t seem to progress. The harder they try the more stagnant they seem to become. They may even seem to regress. It is at this point that the instructor must be the delicate and insightful leader necessary to guide him or her through the rapids and onto solid ground. How exactly is this done?

My teacher, the late Grandmaster C. K. Kim once told me that when students are doing “well” to critique them hard and when they are doing poorly, praise them. In today’s environment many people apply the “good job,” phrase anytime someone performs anything even remotely adequate. I have never subscribed to that philosophy. Continuous praising can lead to a dulling of said praise so that when a significantly effective performance occurs there may be no way to acknowledge it. Plus, at some point I believe one must learn to develop self-confidence which causes self-satisfaction to grow from within. That said, I think Master Kim was talking about getting students to reach above and beyond their normal capabilities at a time when their positive performance enhanced enthusiasm could sustain the critique necessary for their advancement.

As a student progresses, my job is to create a continuously subtle stress and at times, a very large amount of it. This is akin to planting a seed and allowing the subtle pressure of the dirt covering it to cause enough resistance for the seed to erupt into growth. A new plant is born, much as we effect change as the fire of stress forges us. Too soft, no growth, too hard and the student loses his way, breaks down or quits. Poised between too much pressure and too little pressure, that is the level at which the insightful sensei must operate, right on the edge.

The typical student does not know that his sensei may hit a plateau himself where he cannot set the correct altitude for his student to work.

Leadership Principles

Most competent martial artists can function very well when they are fresh and well rested and full of energy. And many not so competent artists can do the same.

The question is, can you function in a life or death situation when you are physically exhausted and drained of energy? Can you function when you are injured and can hardly stand up?

This is where mental conditioning comes in. This is the reason few individuals make it as navy seals or special forces recruits. Or marathon runners. Or true martial artists for that matter.

Your mind must be strong enough to control your body and not the other way around. If you fall down seven times you must stand up eight. when your body screams stop, the man with the superior mind , the mentally strong individual goes on to complete the task; to fulfill the assignment; to reach for the goal and to finish what he starts. Half of the human race is male, half is female and I like this definition of a man. Strong women may properly raise a male child to adulthood, but only a man can show a male child how to be a man. Leadership is part of it.

There is movement in everything. Everything is in motion. Nothing rests, so you cannot stand still even if you wanted to. So train. Train hard and you gain control of your body. Train hard to gain control of your mind for this is essential for true growth.

Many examples of satisfactory instruction exist in the martial arts. Many can teach how to punch, kick and throw. How many can teach and train a student and develop him or her into a superbly sharp instrument that can cut anything, then teach him not to use it? This may sound like a contradiction in terms but if you think this is the case your thinking does not go nearly deep enough. Not only are you on the wrong page, you are in the wrong book. As human beings we are acquiring an amazing amount of knowledge; an amazing amount of information on how to do and make things, but no more intellect or morals. Mankind tends to make the same mistakes over and over again.

My message to you as a future leader is this:

In normal everyday activities it is okay to make a mistake, strive to make that mistake only once. And if you study your brothers and sisters actions carefully there is no need to make any mistakes. By this I mean incorrect actions.

Dare to dream. Dare to dream big even though this may lead you onto the cutting edge of life adventures. Miscalculations may happen when you are on the cutting edge because you are operating in unfamiliar territory. Be bold! In these situations others may consider your missteps to be wrong but ignore other people and their comments. there is a price to pay for learning new ideas and experiences. You may pay with time and or energy and sometimes injury. However, only you can decide whether those costs are worthwhile. Your teacher cannot, nor should he give you all of your experiences. It’s your life. Remember, you get certain results even if you do nothing. The law of cause and effect is forever in operation.

Are you leading?

The statement, “We teach best what we most need to learn,” taken from Richard Bach’s novel, “Illusions,” is a principle I teach frequently. Leading is not much different. Leading calls for stepping out of your comfort zone, out into no-man’s land. Leading puts you on display. Why would anyone sane want to be put through that jazz? History is full of leaders being practically eaten alive. Most of the time it is a set of circumstances which throws you into a particular role, not your determination. Yet determination has a lot to do with it. If you were not determined to do or to get something or to be something in particular you would not necessarily be thrust into the position. Of course you could accidentally fall into a situation, but even then you were going somewhere or doing something weren’t you? Was it an accident? I know it seems like I am arguing opposing sides. The question I’m asking is this; is it paradox or can be explained away?

When I was appointed co-chairman of the safety committee while working at a Reynold’s Metals plant in 1973, I made a very important discovery. There is no such thing as an accident. And no you did not mis-read my last statement. All events are caused. All actions and events! You see there is a universal law in operation called the “Law of Cause and Effect.” If you backtrack through every action you may find a root cause. Looking back from one event leads back to something else, which leads back to another event which developed from another action, to something else again. And again, and so on.

What caused you to take up Aikido? Did something happen in your immediate past to prompt you to seek personal safety? Or did you need better balance and timing in your life for stabilization? If so what caused that imbalance. Was it poor health, caused perhaps by poor eating habits? Or maybe the habits were not poor but the quality of the fruit, vegetables or meat was poor.

Even many of those thoughts you have, especially the really weird ones do not necessarily develop inside your head. They may be coming from somewhere else, from some other person whose thought process overlapped your thoughts. But that thread is for another blog.

Let’s say that you are attacked verbally. What do you do? You cannot necessarily control what happens around you. But how you respond to those circumstances is entirely within your control. All events are caused, but your response is caused by you. The type of response is based on your past experiences and actions which are a direct result of your training, whether that training was proper or not. (This line goes from you and your background to your instructor and his or her background to his instructor) Mental or verbal Aikido is sometimes the only response necessary or appropriate. I call it taking Aikido off the mat and into everyday life. Does Aikido always have to be physical? Or maybe I should be asking if there is a difference between the physiological and the psychological aspects of Aikido? Are we not working in both areas?

These are some of the things we must think about frequently. The comments I receive from some lead me to believe that many do not think along these lines. What questions or comments have you received?

Worldview (and how you see it)

Many people have described my way of looking at the world as being different from most others. Is that a compliment or a dig? I’ll give you my answer at the end of this blog. I shall start with an idea I’ve discussed previously: Can you change your past?

The most common answer is no, absolutely not! Yet if one would stop and think it out, the answer is staring you right in the face. Last Saturday afternoon I had this very conversation with my old senior student, Bill Groce and a close personal friend of his. He knew where I was going with this line as he had heard it all before and remained silent. I told his friend that I would prove to her satisfaction that one can change one’s past. I had met her earlier that morning and the time we talked about the past was late afternoon. The question I asked her was this: since I met you this morning am I in your past? After several attempts to clarify the question, she agreed that I was in fact a part of her past. At that point I simply asked her if I was a part of her past the day before, or the week before or at any time previously. She said I was not in any part of her previous past. My answer, “You’ve just shown that you change your past continually, as you are always adding to it and I rest my case.”

The young lady sat there looking at me with a stunned look on her face. Groce had been telling her that he operated the way he did because of hanging around me for 20 years listening to conversations like that. After that I had her undivided attention. She said that “no one has ever talked to me about this before and I’ve never thought the past in this way.” She conceded, by the way.

The next idea I wish to discuss is the idea of death. The common thought is we live and then we die. A common statement is that we can’t get out of life alive. So, what is life? Man describes or attempts to categorize life as we know it, yet cannot define what it is. The questions are these: What are we? Are we our bodies? Are we our thoughts? Or are we spirit which animates us? And if so, how does that work? If we are really just physical beings, well, science says that energy cannot be created nor destroyed. Since everything is ultimately comprised of energy and everything is nothing more than units of this stuff called energy, the human body must be made of the same stuff. Our bodies break down and decay in the end but nothing is destroyed. We are animated by spirit which simply leaves the body at the end of a process which we really do not understand and I have never heard of spirit dying. My belief is we merely go through a transition into something new. Or maybe something old. And this brings me to Aikido and a new question. What does Aikido have to do with all of this?

Well, it goes something like this: Last night halfway through the Tuesday evening class I noticed that several students were having problems with a particular technique and I mentioned that most people seem to look in the incorrect direction for an understanding. They strongly attempt to master the technique, however, if they encounter problems they should really work toward mastering themselves. As I see it that is the correct challenge. That’s what self-improvement means to me, mastery of “self.” When I move into that realm called self control, or maybe a better description would be “self observation,” I experience a certain feeling and a technical, but not necessarily clinical understanding happens. It’s as if my inner eye opens and I see things more clearly. All this is looking at the world differently from the way I hear others describe it and it brings about less bouncing around and losing my energy to other things. There’s an added benefit, more youthful vitality.

At 68 years old I can still demonstrate jump, spinning crescent kicks at someone’s head while many of my contemporaries are experiencing hip and/or knee replacement surgery. Of course I could be hallucinating and all of my correctly moving joints and conditioning could just be good genes that I inherited from my parents. But I like to think that positive thoughts and an inward looking approach to life has produced all these benefits. And Aikido fits right in with this attitude. This martial art affords me the opportunity to practice a personal defense which allows me to explore variables of timing, a greater usage of space (or sometimes the lack of space) the experience and occasionally the comprehension of certain laws of physics, sometimes even psychic communication with another person (as when you sense what he’s about to do) and just feeling great.  As I sense uke’s intentions I do not have to destroy him, I merely deny him balance, timing,  coordination and rhythm and I may do many things. What do you think? Where do you fit into this world view? Are you able to shrug off the prevalent pessimistic attitude enslaving the most of the world so you get in touch with you greatness? Do you consider an accusation of being different a put down?

I consider this to be complimentary when aimed at me. I kind of like being different. As a matter of fact my mentor once told me that most of the time the majority is wrong. time and experience have proven him to be correct.

When you think differently, you act differently and the world responds to you differently than it does to others. You just see the world different and you are.

Who is leading?

While pondering life’s pathways the other day, I thought about the law of unintended consequences. Most know of it but not necessarily what it is or how it works. I can’t tell you how it works, however I do know that one must think deeply and long when considering the consequences of an action. And that leads me to explain how this law affected me.

I never intended to teach Aikido. Come to that, I never intended to teach Ji Do kwan either but I’ve always felt what many books have said, namely that the universe works in strange ways. My father wanted me to become a teacher and I resisted that very strongly. I quit college after one semester and that act required me to move out of my father’s house in order to avoid his instructions. I wanted to sing, to be an entertainer. The vocal group I sang with as a teenager even performed on the Apollo Theater stage in the mid sixties. We cut two records, one in New York and one in Philly. But we never made the big time. Was that message coming from the universe telling me that I was moving in the wrong direction? It’s hard to say but the roadblocks kept cropping up, sooo. I moved! Several years after that the military called and soon after that ended I got bitten by the Karate bug.

I only intended to learn enough self defense to protect myself and for conditioning but that “bump in the night” happened in the early evening the first time around. You know what I’m talking about, that scary situation for which you are never fully prepared. One example is public speaking which I almost failed in high school. Another is leading a group in a direction that is unfamiliar, or rather into the unknown. I was asked to take over the dojo. Richard Bach said it well in his book entitled “Illusions, ‘The reluctant Messiah: “We teach best what we most need to learn.” And I was off running, making many, many mistakes but little by little gaining some small understandings through experience. I spent 18 years growing into the teaching mode. Then it happened all over again after I had just gotten comfortable teaching Ji Do Kwan. Maruyama Sensei told me to do the same thing; “go out and open a dojo.” At 5th kyu yet. At least I was shodan in Ji Do Kwan when the order, that bump in the night, came flying at me. Now, about this leadership thing; they say that leaders are made, not born. Maybe those who said it were wrong. What do you think?

People keep looking to me for advice on much more than martial arts. They seem to think I have infinite knowledge on psychic and psychological methods of dealing with life. What I do is observe how life unfolds around me and I add the results to my repertoire for usage. For instance, if all traffic would keep to the right lanes on a highway except to pass, smoothness and efficiency would result. Very few drivers operate this way and some states have rules regarding it. This will work inside shopping malls as well but it has not happened.  Common courtesy, civility and consideration for those around you will work as oil or lubrication for the smooth interactions of everyone producing far less stress. Less stress means lower blood pressure. Lower blood pressure means less visits to the doctor, which translates into cheaper insurance premiums which leads to more money in your pocket. And that’s just from paying attention to driving details.

If you ask what all this has to do with Aikido, there are several answers. The first being this: paying attention to the “details” means the “whole” takes care of itself, as in watching the pennies solves the dollar accumulation problem. Pay attention to the details until it becomes second nature, eventually letting go and nature takes its course. No longer seeking, just being and discovering, or rather, uncovering. What, you say? Answers! Answers start to come from inside, not outside in. Relaxation happens; calmness begins to permeate your being; balance becomes a part of your life; you find that you are no longer empty inside and you are happy. It’s all a conscious decision. Over time, looking back one discovers he has become the path, he is no longer treading it, he lives it. Which is why I stated in my shodan dissertation, “Aikido is me dancing life.”

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