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September 2008

18. Todays' Thought - Sheep and Wolves - Part II

"Markets Collapse, World Comes To An End Next Tuesday, film at 11!".

People who don't understand the difference between the sheep and the wolves having a difference of opinion about becoming a vegan instead of a carnivore also fail to understand the apocalyptic headline above.

Unless you've been living under a rock then you're well aware of the current financial crisis that has all of Washington running around with their fundoichi's on fire.  The fact is that we'll survive, the idiots in Washington will put down their martini's and lobbyist' money long enough to fix the crisis, and other than a little heartburn and some inflationary trends in the economy life will resume after the the presidential elections until the next headline, foretelling another more definitive form of doom and gloom.

One of the major differences between a classic conservative and a classic liberal (although sometimes the difference isn't all that vast) is that a conservative believes in the innate "evil-ness" of man requiring rules that have a penalty attached; follow the rules, everyone benefits and the bad guys go to jail (or as the ancient skip from SNL said, "Bailiff, whack his pee-pee").  We can view this as the "School of it's all evil".

A liberal on the other hand views mankind (yeah, yeah, woman kind too although I use proper English and view "mankind" as the generic term for all of humanity, man, woman, child, animal lover, non-specific sexual preference,etc.) as being only "good"; we just need a nudge to convince us to run in the correct direction, that direction being decided by the liberal of course.  We can refer to this as the "School of it's all good" or as the Buddhists say," Right Thoughts", or "Right Actions".  (Now define what "right" is and I'll tell you about the definition of the word "is", is.

Before you think you know how I vote, I'll just stop you there and tell you that I personally view both as being part correct but completely incorrect.  There's a good reason as to why I define myself as a Zen-Objectivist.

My only point here that I'll do my best to belabor and confuse you with over the next couple of days in between client issues, is that martial arts is supposed to crack open our windows of perception so that we can operate by some general ideas that best enable us to be aware that; (1) the other guy may not always be looking out for our best interest, but (2) neither is he always looking out to screw us either.  It can be a little of both; part of one but not all of the other.  It's up to us to define which, when, how and the why.

In business, this is called "negotiations" by which we sit down and talk and arrive at a contractual agreement that serves to encourage the honest to stay honest and the partially dis-honest to not go overboard and, contains penalties by which the totally dis-honest gets his "pee-pee whacked".  (Man, sometimes I really miss Chevy Chase and Jane Curtin).

In martial arts, this idea of acknowledging that good and evil do co-exist side-by-side and that each person has the ability of choice enables us to best identify risk, whether that risk be directed at us as a Sensei, at our students, friends or family.  The identification of that risk, the correct assessment of how to address it takes on a whole new meaning for us since we're not just dealing with your mortgage rates or a new federal tax to pay for someone else's greed.  As a player, you're dealing with busted joints and heads, physical assault kind-of-stuff; you know, mayhem.

The current financial crisis is a direct result of a failure to understand this.  Glass-Steagal, a depression-era law that firewalled the activities between commercial banking and investment banking was repealed many years ago under the assumption that rules weren't needed and that by removing that firewall, people would make the best free-market decisions and that everything would be hunky-dory.

Well, surprise.  Without the firewall rules everyone's greed set in and now we have this crisis.  OK, Sensei; so how in the world does this apply to Aikido?

Glad you asked, "Free Market Grasshopper".

Read Part III

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008

17. Today's Thought - Sheep and Wolves - Part I

Today's Thought:

"It is useless for the sheep to pass resolutions in favor of vegetarianism while the wolf remains of a different opinion."

Dean William Inge

I may write more on this later but for now, consider the full range of permutations that this can apply to; all the way from the current financial crisis in Washington to shopping for groceries at the supermarket after dark and including, business negotiations.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008

16. What Passes ............

 Had an interesting question recently on underlying structures of martial arts that on the surface was simple but after I snapped off a quick answer, I got to thinking about it more in depth and was reminded of a quote that I have hung on the wall of my office.

"What passes for optimism is most often the effect of an intellectual error."
Raymond Aron

We're preparing here in Houston to get back on the mat.  Our electric provider, having been roundly and loudly castigated in the press and in the state capital for having done a p----poor job of maintaining the power grids and resulting in almost a million people still being out of power and in some cases water and sewer for two weeks now after the hurricane came and went is finally getting their s---- together.  The dojo has lights (finally, yeah, go team).

So, aside from being antsy about getting back on the mat, I've been ruminating on what to teach and stress as being important, once the ukemi actually restart this week; thus the quote from Mr. Aron.

All too many times in MA, students and teachers also, simply go thru' the motions and believe that they are reproducing that MA that is most effective and most advanced when what they are actually doing is nothing more than .....  going thru' the motions and not paying attention to what is most important.

Randori aka freestyle is of course attractive as it illustrates the highest levels of expertise if, IF AND ONLY IF, it is done correctly.  How many times have we as Sensei had a new Shodan or Nidan (or kyu class level player for that matter) come to us and want to "go full speed" and "do it for real"???

How do we as Sensei, especially someone at my grade as a Hanshi (exemplar) address this?

I quite some time ago chose to address it by example (hanshi = exemplar = he who gives the example) by training as a beginner.  If working in a high level class (with our Aiki Budo Waza Study Group which is restricted only to grades of Yondan and higher) I'll work a little quicker, a little snappier, BUT I'll still work with precise fundamental exactitude by following every principle in the system and will never allow myself to get sloppy.

At my grade I have become good enough to where I can do it wrong and still make it play even against my 5th and 6th dan students.  But if I do so (play sloppy because I can) then I set a bad example that others will begin to unconsciously emulate and will also de-program myself so that given enough time my overall ability will actually decrease.

Feeling good about what we can do and then feeling so good about it that we allow the "good time" and "good feeling" to create an overriding optimism in us and in our actions is not necessarily bad UNLESS we allow that optimism to allow an "intellectual error" as Aron puts it; that error being a failure to observe the fundamental principles in everything that we say or do.

Optimism is only deserved after doing the work correctly and following the line of principle and fundamentals exactly.  Optimism without having first followed the base tenets is undeserved and may lead to the intellectual error of believing that we are improving our core competencies when all we are actually doing is engaging in an exotic form of mental masturbation.

Go to class, do the work, and do it correctly each and every time you tie on the hakama.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008

15. Maestro

Maestro - a term that I was first exposed to in Spanish while growing up and  living in South Texas on a ranch.  The term there (in cowboy country) was generally used to identify an old man who was considered the "go to guy" on a particular topic.  When I was a kid I knew two ranch hands that it was applied to but now, some 40 years later one of the two really sticks in my mind.

He was an old man who had lived in brush country all his life and had done about everything.  Raised by an Indian Shaman, expert in herbal and old country medicine, able to sniff the wind and tell you the weather forecast, an old cowboy who knew how to sit a horse and run a brand, played dominoes like a fiend, and at age 85 had a crew of young kids he ramrodded in fence and windmill repair; up at 4 AM everyday, at the cow camp before sun-up fixing black coffee and breakfast over a mesquite fire, he got the men fed and by 2 PM was in his pick-up on the way out to the pasture.

His breakfast everyday consisted of potatoes and eggs with camp bread (pan de campo) with black coffee strong enough to de-hair a dog, and afterwards a chaser of one jigger of gold tequila and a cigar all of which taken together (at least according to him) was his secret to long life.

Anytime someone had a personal issue, they went to him for advice and they generally listened and followed it.  I think that one reason as to why he was so highly regarded, even tho' he had very little "formal" education was because he was always curious and always willing himself to ask advice, even of those much younger than he, if he thought he could learn something of value.  Humble he was, almost to a fault since he never took credit for anything, even if he should have.

All these years later, I find myself emulating him somewhat in the "always curious" and "try to stay humble" departments and wishing that I had been older and smarter than the snot-nose teenager that I was at the time so that I could have learned more from him than I did.

One important lesson that I think I did manage to take with me is that even tho' people addressed him as Maestro, he never really wanted to be that, and for that matter, neither do I.

I don't ever want to become a "maestro", a great artistic master of Aikido, or of anything else.  I think that when you reach that level, and then (heaven forbid) actually allow yourself to accept what it implies, that you lose the innocence and the naivete that allows the excitement at new discoveries that leads to innovation, to progress and to advancement.  You lose your curiousity that allows further achievement and your lack of humility gets in the way.

Today, Antonio Rivas Maestro strikes me as a man who never really accepted being "the master".  He was careful to keep that innate curiousity that allowed him to become the "go to guy" even though I am certain that when younger, he never envisioned himself as such.  He continued to learn and grow until he became the "maestro" by default and at the insistence of others who respected him and without ever wanting or striving for that.

I think that he never really accepted what that meant.  He was just an old cowboy who played dominoes and who looked forward to his two vices in his older years; his morning tequila shot and a cigar and always kept his mind open to new thoughts and ideas; even if they came from a young snot-nose kid like me.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008

14. The Family Affair

Having just gone through a hurricane and attempting to keep everyone in the dojo in some form of communications and still not having electric at the dojo (so classes are temporarily suspended for the time being) I sent out email that I know about half the dojo could receive, track and respond to either by email at home (they didn't lose power for long unlike me), or at the office (didn't lose power either so the boss cracked the whip, hurricane or no) or by BlackBerry (which I and most professional level business people use for staying in touch at all times).

Aikido teaches self-defense, Aikido teaches self-confidence and Aikido aside from being fun, is good physical fitness as it merges and unites body, mind and spirit.

Something that I noticed, however, as the last two weeks of hurricane joy ("oh happy, happy, joy, joy") is that Aikido, at least amongst serious players, tends to develop family outside the family.

As everyone came back on-line, those that never lost or just got back power, water, lights, phones, internet, invited those without to come stay with them, even if they didn't know each other all that well or were still fairly new to the dojo.

Aikido is incredibly good at teaching players how to learn to trust others (another semi-hidden benefit of long term training).

After all, if you trust someone to NOT dislocate your elbow during training then you learn by default that you can trust them in your home.

Aikido gives you that family you never had before.  You can't pick your parents and siblings nor can you choose your blood next-of-kin.  But you can choose your Aikido family.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008

13. Tsunami Ryu Aikido

Here in Houston about a week ago (before I got the electricity back in my home) a hurricane hit the coast about 90 miles from here.  Named Hurricane Ike, it was one of the largest storms to hit Texas since the 1960's during the last hurricane cycle, which runs in 25 year cycles and 40 year cycles.

The 25 year cycle is when a "big one" hits Texas or Louisiana and the 40 year  cycle is when a large number of storms hit land in the US instead of fizzling out over the Atlantic Ocean, turning north into the Carolina's or turning south into the Yucatan and Mexico.

Being without power for a week or so and having not only my home but also my business office and the dojo shut down for that time gives one pause to consider the value of Aikido training in circumstances other than dojo training or self-defense.

Calm.  Peace.  Adjustment.  These are the traits that I noticed in myself, my wife (a Rokudan) and the players in our dojo.  Even today, a full week after the storm hit, I monitor email and blackberry text-ing between the players and other than the "minor" inconvenience of not having electricity, everyone seems to understand the Zen of "just being" and "just dealing (with it)".

No panic, no insanity, just the recognition that there is no reason to be concerned and that this too shall pass.

Some non-Aikido people (even the newspapers have written about it) are getting frustrated with malfunctioning traffic lights, lines for MRE's and bottled water, no power and in a word are just getting ........... bitchy.

The longer I train in Aikido (you can't just "study" it like studying math, you have to TRAIN in it) the more value I recognize in the way it permeates your soul and your being.  It makes you "flexible" and gives you the ability to adjust to circumstances that others can't deal with.

You become able to flow and take that deep breath and relax and adjust because after all; if you can defend yourself and face an attacker with a knife who is trying to take your head off at full speed or deal with multiple attackers, then what's a little MRE or not having electric for a few days?

Aikido teaches you to understand the relative differences in life between that which is truly important and critical and that which is only an inconvenience.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston, TX
September 2008

12. The Aiki-Poodle

I receive a lot of junk mail from clients and friends and for the most part quickly delete it based on nothing more than the subject line of the email.  Every once in a while tho' I run across something worth passing on.  The one concerns why one should stay on the mat and get focused on training.

"A Short Tale"
by Unknown Author

A wealthy old lady decides to go on a photo safari in Africa, taking her faithful poodle named Cuddles along for the company.

One day the poodle start chasing butterflies and before long, Cuddles discovers that he's lost.  Wandering about, he notices a leopard heading rapidly in his direction with the intention of having lunch.

The old poodle thinks, "Oh,oh!  I'm in deep doo-doo now!"  Noticing some bones on the ground close by, he immediately settles down to chew on the bones with his back to the approaching cat.  Just as the leopoard is about to leap the old poodle exclaims loudly, "Boy, that was one delicious leopard!  I wonder if there are any more around here?"

Hearing this, the yound leopard halts his attack in mid-stride and as a look of terror comes over him he slinks away into the trees.  "Whew!" says the leopard, "That was close!  That old poodle nearly had me!"

Meanwhile, a monkey who had been watching the whole scene from a nearby tree figures he can put this knowledge to good use and trade it for protection from the leopard.  So off he goes but the old poodle sees him heading after the leopard with great speed and figures that something must be up.  The monkey soon catches up with the leopard, spills the beans and strikes a deal for himself with the leopard.

The young leopard is furious at being made a fool of and says, "Here monkey, hop on my back and see what's going to happen to that conniving canine!"

Now the old poodle sees the lorpard coming with the monkey on his back and thinks, "What am I going to do now?", but instead of running, the dog sits down with his back to his attackers pretending he hasn't seen them yet.  Just when they get close enough to hear, the old poodle says, "Where's that damn monkey?  I sent him off an hour ago to bring me another leopard!"

Moral of this story ..........

Age and treachery will always overcome youth and skill.

Or, put another way, long -term training and "mat seasoning" develops your instincts in ways that "book-learning" and intellectualizing cannot.  You begin to notice things that you wouldn't otherwise pay attention to and the better we are at noticing everything around us, the more developed our instincts are and the more capable we become at making the appropriate decision for any given circumstance.

Developing confidence in our Aikido skills allows us to calmly sit back and make intuitive evaluations instantaneously in situations that to us merely resemble another training secenario; but that to other, untrained, non-Aikido players is utter chaos and frightening in the extreme.

Come to class and train.  There is no other way than exposure and a steady diet of study and practice.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
Aikibudokan, Houston
August 2008

11. How To Wear Your Black Belt - Part V (Humility Redux)

Got to the office this morning and was greeted by two serendipitous items.

The first was a song being played on the web-stream that we link to  at the office ( titled 'Coffee Monkey'  with such lines as "I can't get enough of that coffee in my bowels", and "I like it black, black, black".

The site has a discussion board where listeners can post comments or pictures and someone posted a picture of a poster that said, "Coffee - is the planet shaking or is it just me?"

The second item was a newsletter that came in the mail.  In my profession outside the dojo I receive more paper across my desk than I can tell you but this one had one of those 'Comments & Daily Thoughts' sections that caught my eye and while reading it and listening to 'Coffee Monkey' I realized that the two fit together so here's the idea this morning.

When life is running you hard like a buck running a doe after the first freeze of winter, don't let it "shake your planet", or "shake you".

Step back and take 10 deep breaths Zen-style whether it be at the office, at the dojo, or most especially at home with the family, and then consider this for a moment before stepping off into it;

"Count Your Words Carefully"

The 6 most important words:  "I admit that I was wrong."

The 5 most important words:  "You did a great job."

The 4 most important words:  "What do you think?"

The 3 most important words:  "May I help?"

The 2 most important words:  "Thank you."

The 1 most important word:  "We."

The least important word:  "I"

(Source:  A Short Course In Human Relations, by F. C. Minaker)

It just struck me as an exceedingly positive way in which to approach our relations with friends, family and co-workers, and of course Aikido players; another form of humility on the mat, as-it-were.  Now I may have to go buy the book and read what else he has to say.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei
Aikibudo Kancho
August 2008