For us, warriors are not what you think of as warriors. The warrior is not someone who fights, because no one has the right to take another’s life. The warrior, for us, is one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity.

[Yet another quote on the nature of the warrior.]

Sitting Bull
Hunkpapa Lakota Sioux chief and holy man.

“Don’t Waste It”

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs
Commencement Address, Stanford University, June 12, 2005

Full text here.  Video here.

What if you could…?

Every few months Sensei offers “Aikido In Focus” workshops. These are a series of “concise topical training clinics for accelerating both your Aikido and personal development.” They are usually about 2 hours long, on a Sunday morning. I’ve participated in every one since I started training, and they’ve been a huge contribution to my growth.

I have enjoyed them all, and have gotten immediate, useful feedback that has helped me improve my technique, or made me more aware of some aspect of Aikido I can be working with in daily training. But that’s not why I go, and that’s the least of the benefit.

Each one creates another small crack that lets new light in. It always takes me a while to figure out what that new light is revealing, but I know right away that it’s there. This time I’ve been sitting with it for almost a year, and I’m only just starting to make out the forms and patterns I’m seeing.

Back in May of last year (wow… has it really been that long?), in one of these workshops, we danced with the energy, exploring the elements in our Aikido, joining with the rhythm of the music. Getting out of our minds and letting emotion and body find expression through this different way of accessing what we already knew.

But the thing that mattered, the thing that stuck with me, and the thing that’s been gnawing at me since that day, was one split second at the very beginning. Sensei was introducing us to what the workshop would involve, and what we were there to explore.

I don’t remember the exact way he put it… If it was meant to really grab our attention, it was not overtly presented as such. Just an inconspicuous sentence among a few introductory thoughts, before we really got started.

“What if you could freely express who you really are?”

Something in that question, that instant, touched me deeply. I was surprised to find that for a moment I was blinking back tears. What if I could express who I really am? Really.

I didn’t know that I wasn’t. Haven’t I been having fun? Enjoying my training, doing interesting work, spending time with friends, and starting creative new gardening projects? But there was that feeling, the flicker of pain, the tightening of the throat, the knot in the gut. Just a flash. I noticed it, and set it aside to examine later.

The rest of the workshop was a blast. Joyful, expressive, playful. I had a great time, and discovered new ways to flow and move with and around conflict. But I kept thinking back on that flash of sadness. What was that about? Where had it come from. What was it trying to tell me?

For a long time after the workshop, I noticed something, but it was elusive. Malaise? Discontent? I found myself really struggling to get engaged with projects. Dreading sitting still. Resenting the dullness of repetitive tasks. Impatient. Wanting to write, feeling the urge to write, but with no thoughts coming up. Nothing there. Or more likely something there, but something well-hidden. Something suppressed. Something pushed away.

The workshop was titled “Aikido, Expressed” and was about “Breaking limiting patterns, and cultivating authenticity in your expression of Aikido.” For me it set me in motion in the direction of breaking limiting patterns and cultivating authenticity in my life. I’m not sure where it might take me, but I’m enjoying exploring the trail.

Here’s a short video by Mark De Souza (who I finally got to meet here!) that’s a very representative bit of the 3-day seminar with Dan Messisco Sensei at Two Rivers Budo in Sacramento, California. When I signed up, I had no idea who Messisco Sensei was, or what his seminar might be like. I really enjoyed it, especially because the pace was very slow. By that I mean there was a lot of vigorous training, but plenty of time to absorb the information presented. Some seminars are very interesting, but there’s so much thrown at you that it’s hard to retain any of it. Here I felt I actually was able to experience, and experiment with, what we were working on, not just get a quick look and move on. I’ll definitely be looking for more opportunities to train with Dan Messisco Sensei.

This was the first seminar held at Geoff Yudien and Adam Fong’s new dojo. Three of us from Aikido of San Diego drove up, picking up a fourth friend along the way. We had a great time, start to finish. A classic road trip, with great truck stop food, long conversations, and amazing scenery. The whole Central Valley was in bloom (almonds, mostly). If you are planning to visit this dojo we would all highly recommend the Residence Inn, Cal Expo as a place to stay. They have big suites that are perfect for 3-5 people. Also, be sure to eat at Thai Chef’s House, near the dojo, and the Mongolian BBQ across from the Inn.

I’ll be going back to Two Rivers Budo when George Ledyard Sensei visits in September. Already looking forward to it.

Porch Sitting

Today we sit on Sensei’s deck,
the ocean glinting twenty miles away.

Weathered bamboo clatters softly overhead
as we settle in to sit, scattered lightly
like leaves blown into cool shady corners,
or lizards, basking on the warm wood in the sun.

I choose the shade.

Forty minutes? I’m used to just fifteen.
I see the sea, feel the air, 
hear the birds, and close my eyes
as Sensei sounds a small, clear chime.

A dozen little birds chatter down the hill,
a faraway crow gives three short caws,
and I wonder what might come up in forty minutes
that’s managed to keep itself hidden from fifteen.

A small plane hums overhead, and I think of flying. 
When I flew I got bit, hard. I loved flying.
I had a great teacher, and a community of friends.
I was never going to stop flying.
And then I stopped flying.

I worry, briefly, about that rhythm to things.
Flying, engineering, music…
Is it just that, the rhythm of things?
They come, stay for a time, and go?
They go with good reason, but they go.

A neighbor’s horse gives a sharp snort.
Right. And horses too.

What about Aikido? 
The thought of someday not training anymore,
not wanting to train, not missing it…
It’s unimaginable, gut-wrenching.
But could it go, too, in time?

The flying, engineering, music, and horses,
those were things I was trying to become,
was trying to get good at, would be someday.
They were places I did not belong,
and was struggling to get to.
When I saw this about each one, I let it go.

As I begin to realize this profound difference
the gut unsnarls and breathing relaxes.

Aikido from the first has felt like home.
There’s no trying, no struggle, no someday.
It’s who I already am. 
I won’t let that go. How could I?

Instead I let the worry go. 
It’s silly, like worrying that I might 
somehow float off the surface of the earth.
The wind takes the worry like a kite with a broken string,
and in a moment I no longer see it in the sky.

My attention is drawn to the deck, to sitting.
I wonder how long it’s been, and how much longer.
“Don’t be looking for the end, keep going deeper.”
I remember Kayla Feder Sensei saying once,

I return to breathing, 
noticing the thoughts that come,
and letting the breeze carry each one off.

Sensei sounds his small, clear chime again,
and I complete a last full breath.
When I open my eyes I’m mildly surprised
that everyone is further away than they felt.
But I’m very happy to see them again.

I know not how, but martial men are given to love: I think it is but as they are given to wine; for perils commonly ask to be paid in pleasures. There is in man’s nature a secret inclincation and motion towards the love of others, which if it be not spent upon some one or a few, doth naturally spread itself towards many, and maketh men become humane and charitable; as it is seen sometime in friars.

Sir Francis Bacon

Book One of the Novum Organum 

When Master Morihei Ueshiba, or “O-Sensei” (Great Teacher), as his students fondly called him, first began calling his art aikido (in 1942) he had already accumulated years of experience in other Japanese martial arts. By studying and mastering Daito-Ryu jujitsu, sword, staff, and spear, Master Ueshiba rooted aikido in the ancient Bushido tradition. Testing his ideas in actual combat and armed confrontations he established aikido as a potent self-defense form. At the same time he spoke of aikido – The Way of Harmony – in a revolutionary way, a way previously unheard of among the martial traditions. He taught that aikido is a budo of love and that its purpose is to unite the people of the world. He repeatedly told his students that aikido was not to be used to hurt someone, but to provide loving protection for all people. It was as it the Secretary of Defense suddenly announced that the role of the Armed Forces was to provide a safe, loving environment for the entire world. There were, of course, guffaws when the word got out about a “budo of love” and many came to challenge Ueshiba and his new art.

Richard Strozzi-Heckler

In Search of the Warrior Spirit – Teaching Awareness Disciplines to the Military