Monday, March 22, 2010


"Lord Naoshige said: 'The way of the Samurai is in Desperateness. Ten men or more cannot kill such a man. Common sense will not accomplish great things. Simply become insane and desperate.'" - Yamamoto no Tsunetomo, Hagakure

At seminar this weekend, our soke (the head of our fencing school) observed us during our drills and stopped us. "This is not good" he said through the translator. "When you are doing the kata, you have to act as if it were real. Don't swing your blades - cut. You must incorporate desperation into your training. You must act as if you were desperate. This will give excitement and make your training real." He then had us go at it again, but this time as if for real.

To the greatest extent I could, I complied. I drew and parried with full force, not just touching the blades. My overhead cut (kirioroshi) was as quick and hard as I could make it. My retreat was low, watching my opponent.

As I reflected yesterday on my training and on the experience, what came to me is that this desperation of which he speaks is both incorporated and not incorporated into my life into the opposite positions of where it should be.

My job is a series of desperations day by day, also known in modern parlance as "Fire-fighting". We careen from situation to situation, from emergency to emergency, adrenaline always pumping and goals which are not of our own making always needing to be fulfilled. We have reached the point of the Greek saying "The bow that is always strung will break."

On the other hand, the rest of my life has no sense of desperation in it. I meander from idea to idea, task to task without ever feeling a sense of urgency to complete them. They then become only nice ideas to think about, rather than things that need to be done.

I need to reverse this trend: work needs to become less desperate, the rest of my life more so. Sensei is right that with desperation comes excitement - in battle the excitement of living or dying, in everyday life the excitement of succeeding or failing with the course of your existence (a form of battle, just more stretched out). I have allowed the two to become reversed in my mind and in my practice, which ought not to be.

At work, I need to chart a course and confidently move towards it, putting emergencies in their place as opposed to them putting me in their place. At home and in my personal life, I need to insert desperateness into those activities which should have them, giving the sense of life or death and the importance thereof.

Because in some cases, it's those things that are the true matters to be desperate about.

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