Saturday, February 22, 2014

Can't Put Down the Sword

Today I rode to the dojo planning to tell sensei that I was going to stop iaido.

As I rode up to the dojo I saw his silhouette swinging the sword and flowers flooded my mind. My courage wavered and when I walked in and said goodmorning I didn't want to quit. As I got changed I thought about how I could tell him my decision, and as I stepped out my volition shrank to the size of an umeboshi (very small Japanese plum fruit) and I knew it wouldn't happen today.

The number one thing we learn in the martial arts is not to worry.

When you have a problem you think. You think why this problem arose, how you can fix it, and the worry disappears. Then you move and live.

It's all just cause and effect.

Technical perfection and a complete absence of fear are both impossible abstractions. We are not perfect and we are going to have our Great Failure: death. We must accept our mortal fate and continue our lives the way we want, maybe that means the best we can. Maybe that's the -do, "the way".

Aside from that we're focusing on the details, the jutsu (technique).

So we don't worry, but that's just what I've been doing.

Issues of time, I guess. I don't feel like I have enough for all the things I want to do. I've gone far enough in kyudo to see what it takes to improve. I know we should not obsess or worry about success, but I want to be better. That's not a bad thing. I want to improve and I want to spend the time with it to do so. I want something I can put my full effort into and progress in. If I'm spending more time thinking about kyudo than doing it then it bugs me. This is kyudo for me. It is an art and a source of deep friendships and love. If one made me choose one art for the rest of my life right now, I would choose kyudo with confidence, as strage as that may seem.

I think if I could put all of my effort into kyudo it would be beautiful. If I could just cut off iaido, my kyudo would bloom to what I want...

but I just can't.

Thinking is what trips me up. I make demons and angels, but the actual practice is unexplaninably fulfilling for me. I've grown very attached to my sensei in these last two months, and I think he has to me. I love my iai practice.

What it really is is fairly small. It's Friday morning for about an hour and a half and $50 a month. In time if I continue I'll start the jo which will add about another hour a session and another $40. It is a day away from kyudo. It is money I could otherwise use for savings, bills, or anything else. (It's also about not doing martial arts, and the vaccuum which would allow me to enjoy other things and subconsciously process better what I have already learned ... but that's a whole discussion for another post.)

I don't know.

On the paper in my mind I should quit. It moves my emotions to want to quit.

In real life I can't. My body and the outside world draw me in.

Now I'm back in the mind, and I'm being drawn into the labyrinth of details that are too much for this blog ...

but I do have a big point here I want to communicate:

The good thing about all of this is that there is no need to rush, and no decisions to quit are forever.

I don't have to make any decision now. I can think and see how things go and quit next week or the next, or next month, or next year. There's no need to decide right this second.

This is HUGE for me. I usually deal with such matters with an apocalyptic urgency. It's unecessary and unbecoming. This is something I want to change.

Also, even if I stop I can always start again.

I know this cause I talked to sensei about this last week.

I've had thoughts of quitting for the last month and finally voiced them with sensei last week.

That was a very good decision. I think the worst thing you can do is just show up one day and resign out of the blue leaving no room for discussion or goodbye's. What you do in training is learn from a teacher. Of course we're learning physical skills, but I think we can learn much more about living our lives and how to make decisions at the various crossroads we come to. My sensei is there to help me and wants me to succeed, even if it means discontinuing training. A good teacher will always help you on your way no matter what.

So I told sensei about my worries and asked him as someone who has practiced various arts over a long time, what he thought about my worries. He sensed my direction pulling away from iaido and I could see him feeling a big distraught. Wse talked a lot but basically there were 3 main parts.

First, if you're practicing too many arts and your time is spread too thin, you won't learn anyhing in either of them. That's not good, and in that case, you should pick one.

Second, I can stop and restart anytime. The dojo's not going anywhere and nobody would harbor any malicious memories towards me for taking or break or making the decision to focus on other things.

Third, if iaido takes over your life and takes precious time away from my wife and relaxation, then it is not worth it.

There is no need for the sword, but there is a need for our contentment.

Art should support our life, not replace it.

So I continue.

But I don't know.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Talking With My Iai Sensei: Difference between "Jutsu" and "Do"


This is a word I use more than any other in my blog. It's what I believe it is that I'm doing when I practice various disparate arts. It's the connection between everything. It's the reason. It's what I seek.

I feel like it is the best word to describe what I do, and yet I've only rarely heard it used by Japanese people. The few times it has been used, I think it was used directly for me because my interest is in the specific term of "budo," whatever that really means.

I think the topic has come up more with iai than any of the other arts I've practiced.


Perhaps the biggest reason is just myself: I deem it an important part of my practice and life, so I use it more and make it more relevant, though others may not think so.

I use the word "budo" because I'm looking for the connections between lots of different arts, many of which are practiced by my iai sensei, and I think he must have the same thoughts as me.

When I first joined the class and sensei asked me why, I said it was because I had an interest in budo.

When I say this, it is very clear to me, and is certainly a specific term in Japanese, but do we really know what we're talking about?

There are a lot of words Japanese people skillfully avoid saying. Usually they are words that specify a subject, which is usually averted. This can be in the simple words of, "I" and "you". I think the term budo is avoided on purpose often, because people shy away from using a word they aren't completely sure of.

Does anybody really know what budo is?

Sensei helped clarify this the other day. I'm not sure how the conversation got started, but the important part went something like this:

"What we are practicing are various types of jutsu (technique [not necessarily including the "-do" part of martial arts, and budo])". Sensei looked up at the scrolls on the wall that have all of the techniques of the various arts he teaches. "All of these jutsu have been used and cultivated since hundreds of years ago, and they are a kind of treasure. Because we're lucky enough to have these techniques passed down to us, I think we should practice them and pass them on. But this isn't necessarily the "do" that is connected to various arts like iai-do, karate-do, ju-do, etc. As the arts left the battlefield, they have very little practical application today. We have no reason to carry swords or bows and arrows or settle arguments by punching and kicking. Instead, it was decided that we should practice these arts for self-cultivation, and we call that -do, as opposed to just -jutsu which is bare technique. But what we are training here is jutsu.

"Budo is a very difficult thing to describe. Though I've been practicing these arts for decades, I don't think I can describe it very well. I think it's something that at the very end, if you can find some kind of definition for budo for yourself, you can be happy. What we do here is practice these jutsu techniques. After a while, perhaps it seeps into our daily life naturally. Maybe that is budo.

"Perhaps budo is the way of living.

Budo is the way of being human."

Budo: not the way of martial arts, but the way of being human.

This has been ringing inside of me for the week that has passed since we had this discussion.

I don't need to practice swinging a sword. Perhaps it's good to carry on the tradition. By swinging the sword we can perhaps learn valuable lessons of being human.

Budo is not a cheap term to throw around. It is also not a magic term that I should substitute for what I'm really trying to say.

I shouldn't substitue budo for what I really want to do.

There is a big discussion about the difference between mindless jutsu and soulful do. I think the popular trend is to follow the latter while condemning blind techniques. I believe in this as well. However, to ignore the jutsu while that is specifically what we are doing because of some elated ideal of "the Way" ... I think we're being lazy, overconfident, and self righteous. We should be honest with ourselves and our practice and each other.

In the end the jutsu is what we're doing but it's not really a big deal.

Learning to be human ...

just being human.

We are human.

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Line

Seen from the sky with crystal perfection,

stuck in the dirt,

we are the just the same,

and yet,

there is a line.

There is a spark and we CAN see the difference.

I'm not supposed to be here. I've done this before. I graduated a long time ago.

Today I'll make things right.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

So Many Bees


So many flowers. I don't have time for them all.
So many bees, so busy busy.
In great numbers the mind is broken and our parts just start moving on their own.
I dream of one flower, and the space to be with it.
We're all just ghosts, and tweets, and hotmail accounts, and leaves, and feasts, and farts...
but we're also everything packed into a tiny ball as seen from space,
there where everything is perfect, and everywhere else where we scramble as demons,
we are the same.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

I Am Not an Empty Cup


Improving the ability to empty on demand, little hesitation to spill what's given to fill up with something better.

For a guarantee I'll spill anything I already have.

Calculating gains I wake up already with a cup full of crimson desire, this hungry blood infection. Give me give me give me something new.

I'll empty my cup cause you told me I should.


In budo there is the analogy of the empty cup. If our cup is full we can't receive anything else. In order to learn or experience something new we must empty our cup. By practicing budo I've learned to cultivante an empty mind to learn new techniques. When I go to a class I have confidence in forgetting all else in order to focus on what I'm doing at that moment. However, the rest of the time my cup is overflowing with ideas of gain and elaborate plots of attainment at a terrifying speed.

On a day off I wake up and before I get out of bed I already have planned a day using every spare minute to achieve my desires. I leave nothing up to chance, the unknown, or the people around me because I'm just following the track of my obsessions. In that there is no life, no inspiration, no experience. Instead of taking advantage of the life I have and enjoying it, I'm wasting it all on mindlessness.

My cup is always full until someone tells me to empty it for something new.

What a waste.

What a low level of budo.

What small understanding.

Like this we wear budo apparel without changing anything on the inside. We are merely consumers paying for self-esteem and entertainment, but really it's just a lie.

I think if we want to really become the budo we practice, if we really want to experience the world honestly and do honor to the people we encounter, we must cultivate an empty cup from the beginning, and for no purpose at all.

We must be ready to accept whatever failure or success may come our way instead of paying for something before we even get started.

I'm sure I will experience more pain and suffering than I can ever imagine in my future. I'm also just as sure that I'll find joys I could not possibly comprehend.

I don't know these things, but I am not afraid.

An empty cup just because.