Independence Day 2014!

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In celebration of Today, the 4th or July, I thought I would share some quotes from the men who sacrificed so much that we could be a free and independent people.  Between hot dogs and backyard games, we should all take a moment to reflect on the words and actions of these men everyday but especially on this day.

The best thing to give to your enemy is forgiveness; to an opponent, tolerance; to a friend, your heart; to your child, a good example; to a father, deference; to your mother, conduct that will make her proud of you; to yourself, respect; to all others, charity.
— Benjamin Franklin

Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right…and a desire to know; but besides this, they have a right, an indisputable, unalienable, indefeasible, divine right to that most dreaded and envied kind of knowledge, I mean of the characters and conduct of their rulers.
— John Adams

The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I Am Not A Virginian, But An American!
— Patrick Henry

A militia, when properly formed, are in fact the people themselves… and include all men capable of bearing arms.
— Richard Henry Lee

No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government
— Thomas Jefferson

The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good
— George Washington

Afraid of what?

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You can do anything if you’re not afraid.  – from the movie “Daredevil” (2003)

Well almost anything.  Let us remember this is a quote from a movie.  And not a very good movie either starring Ben Affleck.  Regardless the quote bares further contemplation.

Everyone is afraid of something, unless they are insane.  Some are afraid of the dark, some water, some spiders or snakes.  Even the most fearless warrior is afraid of something, even if he never shows it.  There is a difference between being afraid and appearing afraid.  Each has its place.  Fear is a normal response to things that are new, unexpected or we have been conditioned to fear.  I’ll admit it, I am afraid of spiders.  My fear stems from being forced, by my parents, into a spiderweb filled storage crawl space under my childhood home 2-3 times a year.  I had to crawl into the 3 foot high, dirt floor space a good 4 feet to reach the chain on the light.  There were spiders everywhere.  Even though I know where my fear comes from and I can mostly control it, and I understand spiders aren’t usually the bad guys, the fear is still there.  You won’t know it if you throw one in my lap, but my pulse will elevate!

Controlling fear is the key to success.  When we spar we begin with a fear of being hit, this leads us to flinch and thereby typically lose the match.  As we train and gain more self-control we learn to control our fear and thereby our flinch, so we might begin to win a few matches.  The fear however is constant as hopefully no one likes to get hit.  The fear will lessen but that is because we are masters of the fear instead of the fear mastering us.  The path to self-control and controlling your fear starts with an act of sheer will, the decision that you are not going to flinch or run screaming like a girl!  (Sorry girls)

There you have it, boil it all down and fear is a decision.  Following the Sept 11th attack on the World Trade Centers, many of the people trapped in the buildings chose not to be afraid of what they knew was about to happen.  Instead a few of them called loved ones to share a final moment, one such caller was described as calm.  I am sure others were consumed by fear, for themselves or their loved ones.  None of us can say with honesty or certainty how we would react in a similar situation.  We react to fear based on the situation, on our state of mind, on so many factors, but if we train to control our fears beginning in the sparring ring we will be better equip to face and handle our fears when they catch us unaware.

If you are a person of faith I would add fear, like worry, is a lack of faith.

Unity, Truth, and Goodness

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What do Unity, Truth, and Goodness have to do with the Martial Arts?  That is perhaps hard for many to see, especially those new to the Martial Arts.  Here is a quote to start the conversation with:

Franciscan John Duns Scotus says that when the one, and the true, and the good are operating in unity, whatever is happening will always also be beautiful! This is his de facto definition of beauty: the harmony between unity, truth, and goodness. When you can see all three, or even one, you will always be delighted.  Beauty is experienced precisely in our ability to hold together the oneness, the truthfulness, and the goodness of things—despite all the seeming contrary evidence (which is always there!).  –Richard Rohr, Catholic Franciscan and Founder of the Center for Contemplation and Action

Now that may not seem to apply to the Martial Arts but I hope you will find that it actually does.  When we begin to train in the Martial Arts there is nothing beautiful about it!  We are awkward because we lack understanding and knowledge, we lack experience necessary to perform the basic movements of the Martial Arts.  Our mind and body do not have Unity, they both resist in relinquishing control to you, the student.  The more you practice the more Unity you gain, things begin to become natural and flow.

If you stop your training there, you have accomplished much and it will serve you well in every aspect of your life.  But you will be lacking.  As we continue to train the Unity of our practice becomes comfortable and smooth, but is missing something.  With continued training you will begin to experience moments of epiphany when you see the Truth of your perfect execution and the True uses of that particular technique.  You will even see the Truth of using a particular technique in ways you were never taught.  You will feel confidence and power swell in a type of calm pride.

If you stop your training at this point you will be a formidable opponent who can handle most situations that would call for Martial Arts skills.  But you would still be lacking.  Because at this point you have only seen the partial truth of your training.  You have the Truth of each technique but you have yet to assemble them to their true ending.  Goodness.  This training part of your training is difficult to be taught, because you feel your training is complete.  Your physical training is, but we are more than physical beings and the Martial Arts at every point recognizes that.  I will try to explain this next step in your training, most ignore it, few understand what they seek, and fewer discover it (I am not professing that I have).  Goodness comes from the picture and feeling of the Unity and Truth you have gained.  The Goodness comes from understanding that all your training, all your sweat was not leading where you thought.  You thought you were training to be a Master Warrior near indestructible!  Instead you start to see the Goodness, the Truth the Unity that in training and honing your body and mind to fight, you no longer desire to.  You seek Justice through peace not strength or will or power of what you could do.  Rather your skill and power is only meant to be used in a reflective manner, defensive only.

If you stop your training here, you have much to teach the world of students who await you.

This is the secret of the Martial Arts that most have forgotten or chosen to ignore for a multitude of reasons.  Live in Peace (Goodness).  Live in Awareness (Truth).  Live at Peace with yourself (Unity).  You will be the calm, unmovable Stone at the center of a raging river of life.

A Different Mindset

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“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” —Mark Twain

In life we are told and taught to be prepared.  Mark Twain’s quote states the obvious, no one knowingly gets up in front of a crowd to speak without preparing!  We prepare for everything from presentation to disasters.  But what about Karate?  Do you prepare to defend yourself?  Honestly, the best you can do is practice and practice some more.  Because unlike a test or a speech, a fight is dynamic, you must rely on instinct and the skills you have practice and hope they are enough.  I guess that is the reality we don’t like to admit, you can never be to prepared and you will never know if you are prepared enough!  Some would take that as license to never prepare, which of course is pure folly.  Some will try to prepare for every possible situation, again pure folly, since I am pretty sure the chances are pretty small I will be fighting a bus load of midget ninja’s any time soon!

The moral of the story is prepare, train, but relax.  If you are training well, when the time comes you will handle any situation with a grace and skill, that will surely surprise you; since I guarantee, you will not have trained or prepared for the situation you encounter!

Train hard, train often!

The Eleven Proverbs of Mas Oyama

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  1. The Martial Way begins and ends with courtesy, therefore, be properly and genuinely courteous at all times.
  2. Following the Martial Way is like scaling a cliff – continue upwards without rest. It demands absolute and unfaltering devotion to the task at hand.hiji_oyama
  3. Strive to seize the initiative in all things, all the time guarding against actions stemming from selfish animosity or thoughtlessness.
  4. Even for the Martial Artist, the place of money cannot be ignored, yet one should be careful never to become attached to it.
  5. The Martial Way is centred in posture.  Strive to maintain correct posture at all times.
  6. The Martial Way begins with one thousand days and is mastered after ten thousand days of training.
  7. In the Martial Arts, introspection begets wisdom. Always see contemplation on your actions as an opportunity to improve.
  8. The nature and purpose of the Martial Way is universal. All selfish desires should be roasted in the tempering fires of hard training.
  9. The Martial Arts begins with a point and end in a circle. Straight lines stem from this principle.
  10. The true essence of the Martial Way can only be realized through experience. Knowing this, learn never to fear its demands.
  11. Always remember: In the Martial Arts the rewards of a confident and grateful heart are truly abundant.

Meditation Point #133 – Good v Evil

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The best way to fight evil is with small acts of kindness.  — Gandlaf, The Hobbit

The actual quote is “…what I have found it is the small everyday deeds or ordinary folks that keep the darkness at bay.” but I like my version better.  And it holds true more often then we may like to consider.

It really is the little things in life that stay with us.  A sunrise, a smile from a passing stranger, someone stopping so you can cross the street in the rain, a kind word, a display of common decency, all of these thing recognize us and connect us as human beings, as equals.

Let me know what you think…

 

The Magnificent Exterior

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The brothers praised a monk before Abba Anthony. When the monk came to see him, Anthony wanted to know how he would bear insults, and seeing that he could not bear them at all, he said to him, “You are like a village magnificently decorated on the outside, but destroyed from within by robbers.”
— St. Antony The Great (Anthony of Egypt is the Patriarch of all the Desert Fathers and of all Monks.)

I Love this quote, it demonstrates that Abba Anthony was a tough character who could not stand for fake people and people who did not know who they were. Sticks & Stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you, that is the point being made in this quote, words are harmless to those who know their worth. That last part, “words are harmless to those who know their worth” is a slight play on words, there are two ways to read it, both are correct.

I leave the rest for your reflection and comments.

Happy Thoughts

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To think bad thoughts is really the easiest thing in the world. If you leave your mind to itself it will spiral down into ever increasing unhappiness.
To think good thoughts, however, requires effort.
This is one of the things that discipline – training – is about.

James Clavell, in his novel “Shogun”

I read this book as a young man and have to say it is still one of my favorite novels.  At the time I was training very hard in Karate and this novel steeped me even further in the history and culture of old Japan, brutal, savage yet elegant.  Today I teach students in the art of Karate and hopefully Life.  I am an avid observer of the world and I see increasing negativity in general.  One of the aspects of how I train my students is control of themselves and their minds.  The above quote goes to the root of my teachings (though I never connected the two) in that we control nothing in the world without first controlling ourselves.  Negative thoughts are destructive to yourself, your world and those around you, it is like a disease.  Our thoughts are ours to do with as we please.  Yes our thoughts can be influenced by the things around us.  That is why it is a bad idea for an Alcoholic to hangout in a bar with his/her friends.  Ultimately though we have ourselves to deal with, the environment or situation we are in are only as influential as we let them be.  This all sounds so easy but it is a lifetime of work and practice and failure to become proficient at.  The world is dynamic but our inner world’s are infinitely more dynamic, to infinity and beyond!  But like any lesson it starts small, baby steps, with awareness.  We cannot change or control anything we are unaware of, become and observer of the world.  First we need to see the small things most people never see.  We can find perfection in the small things, the cut of sunlight through a cloud or the beat of a butterfly resting on a flower, or even the silence of being totally alone in a room.  Some of the things you will notice may make you uncomfortable in a strange way, that is your body fighting awareness the way you fight waking in the morning (if you are like me!).  What does this have to do with not being negative?  Everything.  You could start by focusing on not thinking negative thoughts, however your success would be short lived.  You have to have something to fill the void left by the negative thoughts you eventually will banish.  Why?   Because your brain never stops, it is always churning away, in the computer world we call that paging.  Paging is moving information into and out of usable memory, if you page to much you can’t do any useful computations or make any useful observations.  Observing the little things in the world require you to stop thinking so much, to quiet your mind or in computer terms to limit or stop paging so we can take in new information.  As you do this you are increasing your positive memories and thoughts and reducing your negative thoughts without trying to force it.  You will eventually get to a point where you will be able to control what your brain is processing positive or negative and more importantly know when you are paging negativity because you are more aware.  Awareness is one of the keys to good thoughts with its byproduct, happiness.  As an observer you often find yourself in a calm state of acceptance like someone watching a play…but that is a topic for another discussion.
‘Stop and smell the roses’ are words of supreme wisdom which few of us ever understand until it is to late.  Stay positive, train hard, train often.

Can’t

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Words spoken by others are powerless unless we give them power.  “Sticks & Stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you”.  I’ve spoken and written on that in the past.  That is not the topic today but it is an important backdrop.  While we should be thick skinned when people speak hurtfully or hatefully towards us, this is only half of the equation.

Words do have power.  Words can define our being and our existence.  The words we use, think and in some sense feel can affect us both mentally, physically and spiritually.  Can’t or Can Not is just such a word.  One of my students reminded me of this last night.  We were working on a new block drill which he was having a hard time with.  In trying to correct him he got frustrated and said “I Can’t”…and that was the end of it.  You see, “I Can’t” turned into he couldn’t because he believed it and more importantly he quit with that proclamation.  It didn’t matter that I knew he could.  It didn’t matter that he knew how to do the block already.  Through his proclamation, “I Can’t” he made the possible, impossible.  He changed the state of his mind from positive effort to negative reservation of defeat.  I spoke to him about this and having no affect had him sit out the rest of that drill to reflect.

Later in the class we were doing bag work, a standing side kick to be specific, and I corrected something he was doing wrong.  After a couple of corrections he began to say ” I c…” I was ready for him and abruptly cut him off and admonished him to not finish that statement.  I then helped him focus, reminded him of the correct technique, distracted his mind and within three attempts he was doing it correctly!  Unlike the first drill, I had stopped his negative statement before it became his truth and in doing so helped him succeed.

Hopefully all of my students learned from that event.  I commented on it to drive the point home.  The power of “I can’t” or “I don’t know” or negative statements like them are underestimated by most.  Often people use them as an excuse, for it is easier to say “I can’t” then to try and fail.  Some are so afraid of failure that they would rather never try then to admit they are lacking, in that way they can always fantasize that hey could have, would have or can ‘when they are ready’.  This is perfectly normal among children, it is part of growing up, dealing with fear and personal limitation, however left unchecked it can handicap the adult they will become, leading them to a life of mediocrity filled with missed chances.  ‘Should of, Could of, Would of’ is what they will see when they look back on their life.

Words are powerful.  But the power resides in ourselves, what power we give them, how they affect what we believe about ourselves.

The following quote isn’t in perfect alignment with my above thoughts, but it does speak to staying positive and always giving everything your best effort, regardless of how things seem or the opinions of others.  It may take you more attempts then others to accomplish something but I guarantee if you stay positive and keep trying you will accomplish more then most.

If successful people have one common trait, it’s an utter lack of cynicism. The world owes them nothing. They go out and find what they need without asking for permission; they’re driven, talented, and work through negatives by focusing on the positives.
– Mike Zimmerman

Is Your Jar Full?

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When things in your life seem almost to much to handle, when 24 hours in a day are not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar……and the beer.

A Professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him.  When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.  He then asked the students if the jar was full.  They agreed that it was.

So the Professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar.  He shook the jar lightly.  The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls.  He then asked the students again if the jar was full.  They agreed it was.

The Professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar.  Of course, the sand filled up everything else.  He asked once more if the jar was full.  The students responded with an unanimous “Yes.”

The Professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty
space between the sand.  The students laughed.

“Now,” said the Professor, as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life.

The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions – things that if everything
else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full.

The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car.  The sand is everything else – the small stuff.”

“If you put the sand into the jar first”, he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls.  The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you.  Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness.  Play with your children.  Take time to get medical checkups.  Take your partner out to dinner.  Play another 18.  There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal.  Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter.  Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”

When he had finished, there was a profound silence.  Then one of the students raised her hand and with a puzzled expression, inquired what the beer represented.

The Professor smiled. “I’m glad you asked.  It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.”

— I couldn’t have illustrated it better myself since the sad truth is most of us spend all our time dealing with the sand in our life.