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August 2017

152. One Job, One Gi, One Martini

A monk lives a life of single focus.  The Buddha’s purpose in founding orders of monks and nuns was to provide an environment in which spiritual development and discover of “self” or “not-self” would be made easier by not being part of the outside world with all the distractions that entails.

The outside or lay community would provide the monks with their basic needs including food and clothing and any expenses that they might incur in their study which could last years if not an entire lifetime.  In this way the disciplined, simplistic and orderly lifestyle was and still is conducive to meditation and finding inner peace on the way to kensho and satori and learning to enjoy the fact that all life is suffering.  Isolating and targeting that goal (or “non-goal”) was therefore easier since all of their existence was centered on that idea.

This is the source of the old Zen phrase, “One Bowl, One Robe”, representing the only physical and non-spiritual needs of the full-time monk.  I would expand that to include, “One Bowl, One Robe, One Bieru” in order to also take into account a little after-hours activity or some of that apres’ temple I’ve read so much about .

For those of us not into chanting about the glories of suffering and robe-wearing, having to make our own way in the world, make a living, and support the family gets in the way, intrudes as it were, on our having a long-term goal, a prime reason for not being able to train in martial arts like we might desire; thus the rationale behind the common saying, “Life gets in the way of what I really want to do”.

Compare that single focus in high school or university (that of education only and then whatever fun we want to find) to having a full time job and working towards career advancement, family, and then attempting to train consistently in martial arts.  One reason for finding it difficult making it to the mat is a lack of the fiery energy you had in your youth where you felt you could literally do it all and still have enough fire left inside to go to the beach and drink that entire case of bieru’s by yourself, and then get up the next day and do it all over again.  As we get older so many thing intrude on our consciousness and time that we wear ourselves out trying the make all the targets on our agendas and calendars thus leaving little of what is “us” for the mat.  Then, a lack of energy caused by too many irons in the fire creates a lack of physical activity which in turn causes weight gain, a lack of “wind” and we tire easily, and a corresponding lack of energy.

Another issue is that of begin out of school, having a job and for quite possibly the first time in our lives, some money in our pocket.  Thinking about that two week vacation to the California wine country or taking the kids to Disney suddenly looks so much more attractive than a week at a gasshuku working day and night while skinning your knees,  sleeping dormitory style on a bad bed, getting cracking in the head, being choked out, and then going home exhausted.

The solution for all these “reasons” for not training is becoming more efficient in how we organize ourselves.  When I first moved to Houston, I had a job where I had extensive travel and worked downtown.  When I was in town I made as many classes as I could by packing a protein drink and an energy bar in my briefcase.  I didn’t go home after work and before the dojo that night.  I worked late to get ahead on assignments at the office and free up time, and then went straight to the dojo after consuming the snack at the office.  I knew myself well enough to know with certainty that if I went home first, had a meal and then sat down for five minutes that I wouldn’t get back up and would miss keiko and then use the excuse of, "Well, I'll just go tomorrow night".

The other organizational strategy that I used was to write my training times in my calendar in red which told me to not violate those “business appointments” unless something more critical came up (such as a family emergency, illness, or some other issue).  I ignored invitations to Happy Hour or dinner out because those social events are always best done on non-work nights anyway.  I always wrote in important family times (birthdays, anniversaries, holiday events) and of course planned around job issues.  With some consistent practice at this balancing act, it became easy after a while and stressing out over any one area gradually disappeared since I was meeting the needs of all three.

I was always reasonable in this and split time between work, dojo, and family but always made time for all three.  Anyone who thinks that you have to become a monk and live a life of “One Bowl, One Robe, One Bieru” is wrong.  You can live a life of “One Job, One Gi, One Martini” quite well and have time for family too.  All it takes is a broader focus and some organizational skills.

See you on the mat.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

August 2017


151. The Secret Life of Dojo

In a movie too so very long ago called “The Secret Life of Pets” we were amused by the shenanigans of pets after the owners left home.  All in all it was a pretty funny movie in some sections while others were simply a rehash of other, earlier CG ventures into not having to hire real people or train real pets.

I was reminded of the movie not-so-very-long-ago (like last week) while working in the garage during the day when everyone else was at work.

Ah Grasshopper you say.  Why pray-tell were you at home and not at the office?

Well.  Having hit 65, combined with the changing economic conditions, along with life, the universe, and all that caused the decision after some pondering, ruminating, and chewing-of-the-cud to simplify, simplify, simplify, and increase efficiency by closing the shoe box of an office I was existing in (and paying money for) and moving my office to the house along with deciding to no longer be a property & casualty agent; but to instead focus on what got me into insurance to begin with and what I know best ………….. group benefits consulting and brokerage aka “how to keep the guys in the shop healthy enough to come to work and follow orders and not call in sick on Monday’s or Friday’s).

As we get older, we should re-examine parts of our lives to see what we can make less stressful and do better, how we can become more efficient (read accomplish more by doing less or put another way …….. how much can I get done while being as lazy as possible).  So this re-org of my professional life (I’m not retiring by any means but I do not intend to remain the work-a-holic I’ve been since I was ten years old) was a part of re-examining the aspects of my existence.  Slowing down and smelling the roses (and drinking more good whiskey) has become more important than it used to be.  Facing your mortality does that as evidenced by seeing that first Social Security check in the mail.

And so goes the dojo.

Huh?  How did Sensei jump from cleaning out his office at age 65 to the dojo?

Well, Young Padawan Apprentice, it’s all the same.  Re-sorting what does and doesn’t matter is the same process whether it’s the job or the dojo.  How do you improve?  How do you become more efficient?  How do you move forward?

Part of this office closing and movin’ it to the house was of course boxing it all up and putting it in the garage for sorting, throwing away, and shredding (since I deal with a lot of HIPAA privacy issues …… Sounds like a line from a dime-store pot-boiler spy novel ………. “ .. he fed the secret scrolls into the gaping maw of the machine and the shredder ran for days until the dogs howled from the continual whine of the blades and the FBI showed up in their white “Joe’s Plumbing” van to see if there anything of interest in the bags of little paper confetti thrown out onto the curb by the street.  The furtive men in their “I Loved J. Edgar On My Knees” embroidered Izod’s ran back and forth as they single handedly put Scotch Tape’s stock value on the map while buying it by the rail car load as they pasted all the little squares back together …..” 

So I’m sitting in the garage with boxes stacked three deep around me and with the trash bags being filled and smoking a cigar while sipping bourbon; a classic requirement of any half-way competent paper shredder (just don’t let your neck tie get caught in the machine) and the trash truck came by twice during the day.  Along with the recycle truck.  And that was shortly followed by the “heavy day” truck picking up old mattresses and the broken down washing machine that in earlier times and other locales would have more normally ended up on the front porch with a pothos ivy planted in the opening (after taking the door off of course).

Next comes not one, but two different lawn maintenance groups who roll up, jump out of the trucks, do a Strategic Air Command style Defcon 5 level simultaneous wet-start of all the lawn equipment; the pushers, the riders, the blowers, the chain saws, the tree limb cutters, and the radio’s playing conjunto music.  There for a while it was so noisy that I couldn’t hear the rock and roll coming out of my radio and I quickly decided with no insult intended, that I much prefer the Rolling Stones to Selina.

Then the next wave of lawn boys (for some reason every house on my double cull-de-sac uses a different lawn company) along with someone getting their entire front yard ripped out and landscaped.

Somewhere in there was ATT, U-Verse, Xfinity, Direct TV, and Dish Network, all pulling up in front of various houses for repair, removal, or installation.

Oh.  And not to forget one electrician, one plumber, and two air conditioning repair companies (a hot summer day I guess).

So much like the movie Secret Live of Pets where the dogs put on rap, reggae, and heavy metal and hit the booze the second the owners walk out, the neighborhood came to life in a way that one never sees after working hours when everyone is home from school and is hiding inside, sipping their Cosmopolitan’s, Vesper martini’s (love “The Bond”) and channel surfing while kissing the dog, hugging the kids, and beating the spouse … wait … isn’t that supposed to be beating the dog and  ………. ).  It’s the part of life in the ‘hood that no one ever sees unless you just happen to be there AND be outside to watch the life as it flows by.  If you’re inside sick, or if you are addicted to Phil Donahue, or if you come out very briefly to climb in the car for errands, you’d never know.

A dojo is much the same.  The class trains and leaves.  The dojo falls silent but most of the real work goes on when all the deshi are elsewhere, just like the pet owners and just like the neighbors.

How does the Sensei make lesson plans?  What goes thru’ the minds of the senior players and instructors when they're not pounding uke into the mat or strangulating him into unconsciousness?  Do the deshi ever see Sensei or the Hatamoto sitting in their easy chair but not seeing the tv show?  While Sensei watches (or not-watches the tv) the spouse comments about how his/her feet twitch and their hands make little movements as he runs thru’ lesson plans, or analyzes a movement in his mind; the little twitches being unconscious movements that reflect the brain power being applied to solving Budo problems.

Do the deshi ever see a senior player wake up in the middle of the night watching the fan go around and visualizing a kata, trying to understand its’ relationship to other kata or movements?  Probably not unless they also wake up, trying to understand the night’s lesson, or remember a kata they’re working on for promotional demo or embu.

It’s not until you stop and slow down and deliberately immerse yourself in the flow either of the ‘hood or the doj’ that you begin to realize that most of the “life” in either really takes place in ways that are not immediately apparent.

In a neighborhood it’s the work that keeps the ‘hood going that you normally don’t see.  All the water, gas, and electric repairs.  The upkeep of the tv systems and internet.  The yard, roof, paint maintenance that happens when you’re not there.

In a dojo, most of the work is invisible.  It’s the mind working to understand, to comprehend, to remember, to integrate that is where the “real” work, the “real” activity is.  It’s the mind thinking, applying all its kilowatts and etheric waves and ergon energy to the problems; why does it work, why doesn’t it work, what’s that mean, what does Sensei mean by  “zanshin” and why does what I feel in keiko seem a little different each time I step on the mat?

Going to keiko and doing the drills, kihon, waza, and kata is the outward appearance of learning.  It’s what you don’t see, the inward work, that makes the real difference and it’s how people actually learn.

But unless you take the time and learn to un-see the obvious and then to see the un-obvious, you won’t know.

L.F. Wilkinson Kancho

The Aikibudokan

Houston, TX

August 2017