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April 2011

106. Hey Man ... That's My Grass You're After

Ah Springtime.  Time to trim the roses and engage in a uniquely suburban ritual known as "The Laying Of The Sod".

After two harsh Houston winters in a row with a couple of summers of the alien invasion of  (key ominous backgroud music) "THE CINCH BUGS FROM THE 19TH DIMENSION" that ate up big chunks of my yard, it was time here recently to put down new grass, to "re-sod".  AAA SOD LAY
So like the dutiful suburban animal that I am I reluctantly gretfully put down my cigar and my cold Corona and headed over to the local "Plants R' Us" store for some plants, top soil and a little greenery. 

I climb out of my big momma SUV Assault Vehicle and yell, "Bring me a Shrubbery!" AAA SHRUBBERY  being careful of course to avoid the triffids and the killler rabbits lurking outside the fence.

Well, not really.  I just picked up a few things, paid out and then drove over to get in line for the big stuff.

While waiting in a long line of Suburban Assault Vehicles for my turn a man walked up and asked if I was getting grass.  I restrained myself from making bad hippie jokes about how far out the Maui Wowie was today and said I was at this moment picking up topsoil before I did the grass thing.  He said thanks and walked away. 

In front of me tho' was a woman who was buying enough sod to re-do a football stadium (or graze a large herd of llama's).  The guy who had asked me what I was buying was told by the loader to drive ahead of the woman and I to the next station, where they could load his sod.  The woman, at the first station in front of me, had by that time taken all the sod so she motored herself up to the second station and lo' and behold ...... found the guy already in line ahead of her and they were ...... GASP ...... LOADING HER SOD IN THE BACK OF HIS PICKUP TRUCK. 


My reaction in watching this developing drama was to immediately turn down the CD player and roll down the window so-as to not miss one juicycomment made by either participant.  And boy ... did it get juicy .... and loud ..... and animated.  I've haven't heard such language out of a woman since buying a beer at the Brass Monkey on Saturday night full moon payday when I was in college and the oil field workers were in town off the drilling rigs and bumping shoulders with the Marine carrier pilots from the Navy base and someone stiffed the waitress for her tip and walked the ticket.

Suddenly this paragon of suburban pulchritude is waving both of her hands in the air.  Oh I thought.  She wants to be friends with the nice gentlemen.  The he waves both of his hands in the air the same way.  Oh I thought.  How nice that they both speak the same sign language.  ;-)

Well long drama short.  He got his grass and she got hers and it didn't come to fisticuffs (although I know that many of hte spectators, including yours truly, where sorta hopin' for a new event to enter into the WWF complete with sod pallets and all).

Now, you ask, why is Sensei writing about this?

Simply speaking ........ the woman came very close to committing suicide. 

If that had been anywhere other than broad daylight and in an upscale area of Houston and if the man she was yelling at had been, oh shall we say, a little "coarser" around the edges then she very well could have talked herself into an assault with some big-time battery thrown in for fun.  Nothing like exploring the ER benfits on that new medical insurance plan you bought last week.

My dad always said to pick your fights and be smart about where you are because you never know who could be behind you and who might be friends with the guy you're yelling at.  My old Sensei was fond of saying "Never pick on an old man until you know what kind of young man he was".

Zanshin is not just looking at uke after you throw him down in class.  It's also knowing where you are and what your shortcomings are and what their strong suits are.  A fat woman in an SUV yelling and flipping the bird at a guy who looked like a tackle for Texas A&M and who had done nothing wrong other than to follow the directions given him by the sod loaders and nursery attendants is not very smart.  He would have been justified in putting his head in her car and having a very direct conversation with her ........ but he didn't and actually showed some smart self-control and ignored her attempts to become the lead character out of The Taming of the Shrew.

Morals to follow in your life ............................

Don't let your mouth overload your butt. 

Know where you are and do not program yourself to automatically fly off the handle at every little insignificant provocation that comes your way. 

Pick your place. 

Understand the circumstances. 

Use good judgement and some discretion in how you react, what you say and what threats you voice and direct at others.

You just might avoid stepping off into someplace that you really don't want to be.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

April 2011

105. Who Are You?

Funny question isn't it; who you are?

During a conversation I had with some fellow Yudansha recently the topic of the environment came up; the political environment that is, except in the sense of energy policy.  One comment made centered around the idea of knowing people who are ok to be around (I guess even be friends with) until the topic of "Save the Whales" is breached.

The rub seems to be that they (the greenie or the "environmentalist") gets all hot and bothered every time the topic of energy policy, environmentalism, conservation and all the rest comes up.  And having had more than a small handful of these sorts in my life, likely as not they are the ones who seem to hook onto every opportunity to "discuss" it.

Problem ..... and think about this for one second or maybe two or three .... standing before you is an animated and committed person who objects to the use of coal to generate electricity, the use of natural gas, the use of fracing to get to the natural gas, drilling offshore (or onshore for that matter), the use of nuclear, the generation of CO2, the use of old fashioned light bulbs, on and on ad nauseum.

Well, that's ok with me believe it or not.  I grew up in the country with the nearest town literally miles away.  My backyard was a pasture full of cattle and horses and early some mornings I could walk onto my back porch with a cup-o-joe with the steam rising from the cup and ground fog laying low and see deer grazing on the edge of the yard munching on St. Augustine grass or the mesquite beans hanging low on the tree while the mourning dove cooed from their nests in the live oak trees.  Suffering thru' puberty in such a "close to God" environment gives one a real appreciation for the beauty of nature and the need to protect it.

But, we used electricity and had air conditioning (finally .... when I was about 13 or 14).  We drove work trucks, jeeps and SUV''s (a Chevy Suburban or a crew-cab wasn't called that back then) that got bad mileage because we had to.  Didn't mean that we didn't clean up behind ourselves (we did).  Didn't mean we went around crapping up the country side (we didn't).  It simply meant that we had to temper our love of nature with the practicalities of work and life and we didn't gripe about the oil companies drilling for the oil to drive the vehicles or the natural gas to fire the power plants.

So now, there is this over-paid, over-sexed, over-educated, enviro-nut standing there lecturing you on the need to NOT use coal, natural gas, oil, gasoline, nuke, drill in ANWAR, drill in the Gulf of Mexico, process oil shale or oil sands, generate any CO2, on and on.  And while you are standing there unable to get a word in edgewise to stop the insanity ... (like, "Say, how about those Astros" and "Wanna go get a cold one?") ...  it suddenly strikes you like a jo in the back of the skull.

This guy drives a BIG SUV that gets about 5 gallons to the mile (a Hummer or one of those really large Dodges or Fords that's half pick-up and half-SUV and can carry a family of 12) AND he lives in a large 4 or 5 bedroom house even tho' he doesn't have kids (or the kids are all gone to school) AND he and his wife (and kids if they are still at home) ALL have  ... (1) a cell phone   ...   (2) an IPod  ...  (3) a lap-top   ..   (4) color laser printers on every desk  ..  (5) a High Def Plasma big screen in every bedroom WITH a home theater hooked-up   ..  (6) an AC that runs 24/7 set at about 70 degrees (whether they're home or not)   ..  (7) two to three cars in the drive way (mom and all the kids need transport to get to that manicure and massage and to meet the girls for that Vegan lunch)   ...   (8) a pool in the back with all the hot tubs and heating pool water and fancy lights  ..   (9) expensive pedigree dogs in the back that eat only custom food that could feed a family in India for a month ... and ... on and on and on and  .....

So while you're thinking about their energy heavy, environmentally expensive extravagent  life style they loudly and vehemently rag on "evil oil companies" and "greedy electric utilities" and "people who drive THOSE cars" and etc. etc. etc.

So Sensei      .....      this is Aikido HOW specifically?

Think about this for a moment. 

Aikido and the MA state that ideally there must be a balance in who we are and how we live and how we practice.  There must be balance and ethics in how we live, treat others, work  and train cooperatively, view our training partner, teach and act supportively of others, be non-critical when being positive is a better path to take.  But standing before you is a person who lives exactly the opposite of what they purport to believe in and they make no bones in telling how superior their ideals are and do not hesitate to criticize those that they hold guilty.  In essense; they hold ideals that they are unwilling to abide by and will actively go out of their way to be a doom-sayer; a very negative path to take and one that over time can become self-destructive.

They do this even tho' their entire life-style is dependent upon the "evil-doer's" and you know .... you know ...  that if pressed on the subject that they would NEVER agree to give it all up, live a consistent and coherent life and go back to a victory garden in the back, no tv, cell phones, computers or high-def tv's and instead burning candles and no air conditioning and conserving and recycling everything they can.

Now I ask you ........... is that hypocrisy ... or is that hypocrisy?  And more importantly, do you see anything deeply unsettling in the character of a person who loudly says one thing while doing another and who teaches their children to be equally hypocritical and bi-polar?

If they could only see the need to be practical while still doing reasonable things to help the environment and developing cleaner energy sources over time instead of acting (as my grand mother put it) all "high-and-mighty".  My Grandmother Maude had a saying for folks like that; "That little so-and-so can just kiss ole' Rose."  (I never ever heard her cuss and that offer of letting you take that kiss was about as close as I ever heard her get.)

Would you leave your money on the dresser of your bedroom and your sick and unconscious child in the bed and then give them the key and tell them you have to go out of town for the day on emergency business and would they please, please help you out?  Could you reeeeaallly trust someone who is so blantantly bi-polar in how they wear their public face but live their private life    .....    or would a small itch in the back of your head make you not want to turn your back on them for very long?  Would you want to offer them your elbow while training in Aikido on the mat?  Would you .... really?

Think about and make your own descision.  I for one tho' tend to find that eventually I scrub people like that out of my life.  Life is too short to put up with that kind of hypocritical aggravation either outside the dojo .... or on the mat.

Coherency.  Self-honestly.

If nothing else Aikido to me means becoming a whole human being and living a life in balance. 

Understanding the need to study the sword and the pen both. 

Looking for the idealistic without loosing sight of the realities.

Without living a life in balance you cannot become a complete human.

Just a thought.

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

April 2011

104. Where Am I?

Seems like a funny question but many people stumble (I use the word quite literally) thru' life not reeaaaalllly knowing exactly where they are.  Reasons can vary but one of the most common I've found is that tape playing inside your head.  You know; the one mommy and daddy put there and that to one degree or another controls your response to outside stimuli.

Zen (and Buddhism in general of which "Zen" is only one subset) is supposed, is SUPPOSED, to cure you of that; teaching you to always be in the here and now.  However, Zen/Buddhism themselves actually create new tapes and new belief systems that themselves are fully able to cloud your perception of "where you are ....... and who's your daddy".  Sometime they work and sometimes they don't.  Over the last 40 years in the MA with my side study of Zen and other meditative ideas I think they work best if you also train in an environment whereby if you fail to be here now, you'll get whacked.  That's what MA are good for.  They are a very direct learning tool that teaches perception in a way that 100 years of zazen simply cannot.

So how, one may ask, does this confusion about where you are play out in the specific environment of the dojo?

If Sensei watches you do a waza he may make no comment at all because either (a) you're doing it correctly, (b) you're doing it correctly for your current rank and while eventually needing correction for now it's most excellent for your level, (c) you're doing it so badly that correction is not possible at this moment due to other things (how you're placing your feet or how you're holding your mouth ;-)  for example) must be fixed first before we get into the nitty-gritty of the actual waza itself.  Important principle of martial arts; foundation and principles first, waza second.

Sometime tho' Sensei sees something that can be corrected and deems that everything else is equal and that the waza can be corrected, improved and polished.  So Sensei makes the correction ......... and makes the correction ......... and makes the correction ....... and says "Do it right side" ......... "Again" ......... "Again" .......... "Again" ......... "Now do it left side" ....... "Again" ......... "Again" .......... "Again" ..... "Do it right side" ......... "Again" ......... "Again"and just keeps making you do it over and over and over and over and ................................... until you begin to get a little perturbed and maybe a little tired of hearing it and maybe a little frustrated and maybe, just maybe you make the mistake of voicing some comment like, "I thought I was doing it".

Wrong response fundoichi breath because if Sensei thought you were doing it right then he would have stopped long, long ago.  Now Sensei may start to climb your frame and give you one of two choices; shut up and do it until I'm happy or, there's the door and don't let it hit you in the butt on the way out.  So for those out there in Blog-O land new to the MA in a traditional (not a health club) environment focused on building bushi, here's what just happened.

Sensei saw that you were ready to advance and wanted to give you a lesson to polish and improve that waza so he did .......... and you did it exactly the same wrong-way you've been doing it for the last year.  So he said do it again to fix it ...... and you repeated the same mistake ......... and again ......... and again.

You have fallen into the pattern of not being in the here and the now.  You mind is somewhere "out there" but not "right here".  If you mind was truly, honestly, and completely "right here, right now" then you would have made the improvement Sensei just gave you the first or second time and would not have just kept repeating the same FUBAR over and over.  Your mind was somewhere else and you were playing the same tape in your head that caused you to subconsciously and automatically repeat the same error over and over.

So now Sensei has to find a way to give you a katsu; a sharp "Hey you, pay attention" to snap you out of you automaton responses and make you jump to attention and focus on "the here, the now, this moment, this time, this place".  Sensei has had to roughly, directly, rudely and crudely shock you out of your complacency and your pre-patterned behavior; a very direct teaching lesson in zanshin as-it-were that works at that second due to your not expected Sensei to be quite that loud and that direct and that intimidating.

Over time (years perhaps) you finally understand and at that moment, Sensei can begin to trust you completely because now he knows and can see in your eyes that you've finally grasped that lesson of understanding how to be "here" and not "over there".  He knows that now, by making one simple correction, he can fix and improve entire sections of your basics and all the applicable waza immediately because you are focused and grasp every little detail of what is happening around you. 

Even more importantly; he knows that you have now understood the real lesson, the only one that actually matters ............. keeping your focus on the moment out there in the street where running on autopilot with no real or focused perception on what is going on around you can be not just dangerous but also fatal.

Best of all; once you understand this within the realm of budo/bujutsu, you'll understand it everywhere and anywhere.  It is, you see, one of those "universals" of Aikido that applies .... well .... "universally".

Do yourself a favor ....... just say no and press the "off" button on thoses tapes running in your head and pay attention to the moment, the now, the here, this time, this situation because it's the only one that counts.

ZANSHIN Grasshopper   ..... zanshin ...........

L.F. Wilkinson Sensei

Aikibudo Kancho

Aikibudokan, Houston, TX

April 2011