Wednesday, February 28, 2018

On Freedom And Selfishness

One of the great joys of being an American is the concept of freedom.

Freedom, at its core, is the power of and respect for self decision.  The power to decide that I will do this or that and the corresponding acceptance by the government (who makes the laws, ultimately) that my choice to do this or that will be respected.  Think about it:  the ability to speak or not speak, worship or not worship, write freely, and a host of other rights are all ultimately grounded in the fact that I, the individual, am free to do so with the confidence that I am able to exercise such freedom without interference.

However, we are now living in an age where freedom has in many ways turned into its pale sibling, selfishness.

Selfishness is the belief that I have the right to do what I wish to do, no matter what the consequences, so long as it is the best possible outcome for me.  It is tangentially related to freedom in that both involve the choice of the individual; it is not the same in that it involves a can involve a level of immaturity not found in freedom.

Mature people exercise freedom.  They review their choice, not only the context of what they wish to do but also in the context of what those decisions will mean to themselves and those around them.  Every decision has an impact; the true practitioner of freedom knows and practices that. 

Immature people exercise selfishness.  They review their choice only in the context of how it makes them feel and pay little attention to the larger world and society around them.  In their world, the only decisional impact that matters is the one that occurs to them.  The ramifications to the larger group around them are only important in the sense that they may or may not impact the person making the decision.

You will notice that I have carefully excluded the words "adult" and "children" from these definitions.  This is done intentionally:  I have seen 60 year olds who would completely burn the world down to satisfy their whims and 12 year olds that make the wisest of decisions. 

Can any society survive the large scale rise of the selfish?  I suspect the answer is no.  Ultimately, selfishness if not checked by maturity will lead to a society where every person makes the decisions of life based purely on what is best for them - and what is best for them is just as much based on the feeling and emotion of the day as it is on larger ramifications of decisions which leads to people and people groups bouncing off each other in the vain pursuit of their own personal agenda. 

Selfishness ultimately says that the person that fulfills my desires is the one I should follow, regardless if it is good or destructive.  In such a world the very fabric of society and lives is destroyed and torn up - only to discover that in fact the person  promising us fulfillment had an agenda of their own, that in fact they in turn are victimized by the selfishness of someone else.  It is only then that many realize that maturity brings freedom and true self empowerment and that selfishness ultimately only brings destruction.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

How Much Does One Need?

One of the great realizations on returning from training is how little I needed there - and how much I seem to have here.

Yes, I know - training away is a great deal like vacation in that you essentially rely on the output of others - those that clean, those that cook - and systems in place to manage the rest, like laundry rooms or showers/baths.  And of course it relies on the fact that one does not actually have to earn a living while one is away.  So in a very real sense, it is a sort of artificial environment.

But even within that artificial environment, there remains a kernel of truth:  I can get by with a great deal less than what I currently own.

Our home is approximately 2400 sq feet, not including a two car garage (223 sq. meters for my Canadian friends).  And it is full - pretty much completely (we are spared the spectacle of the outdoor storage unit known as the "the shed", which is really just a resting place for items you have no intention of every using and instead becomes a collection bin for spiders and rodents).  It is not "hoarder" full, but every room has a great deal of stuff in it.

To be fair, there is a rather large personal library that occupies a great deal of wall space (that would be mine).  And, just like any family, there is family memorabilia that one simply acquires and is here for the duration.

But for the rest of it - what we use periodically or even not at all at this point - there is the legitimate question of asking "why"?

Part of the focus of the materials of one's life is defined by what one does:  the workman has their tools, the farmer has their tools, the hunter has their weapons for killing and the tools for preparing, the cook the pots and pans, the swordsman their swords.  The narrower the focus both the more and the less one needs:  the more as one acquires additional expertise and skills (watch a woodworker or stone carver with their chisels:  who knew there were so many?), the less as other interests and activities fade and the materials that support them are no longer required.

The other focus is that of regularly moving the items no longer used on.  I suspect for many - at least for me- this a highly resisted activity:  every item we have represents an investment from ourselves or others, money and time we spent.  To just surrender them - even if we sell them for pennies on the dollar instead of just giving them away - somehow represents a "loss" to us, even we have not used the item for years and never intend to use it again.

Do I have an immediate response?  Not really - I am still trying to sort out my own life, to figure out what is remaining and what is staying.  But I am discovering one fact: the more time I am spending thinking about what I want my life to be focused on, the more I am finding that items I have held on to have less and less importance. And less importance, if I can hold onto the thought long enough, represent a willingness to cut the cord entirely.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Secret Of Change

This is a constant challenge for me.

I love the old.  I revel in it.  I hang it to it with the tenacity of a collector protecting his collection from the vicissitudes of time and elements.

But the reality is that fighting the old is the equivalent of hanging on to the anchor while the boat is moving away.  You cannot do both.

Let the old go.  No sense in fighting it.  Release it with open hands, ready to grasp the tools of building the new.  Because only the new change will take you to where you desire to go.

Friday, February 23, 2018

What I Learned In Katsuura II

What did I learn while I was away?

Well, the power of conscious choosing, as I posted about here.  And that was a pretty important concept.  But, fortunately, there is more.

1) The Power of Schedule:  This is something that our Soke pointed out to us.  During our time there - however long it might have been - we kept to a strict schedule.  We rose at 0400, trained from 0500-0700, ate breakfast at 0700, trained from 0900-1200, ate lunch at 1200, trained from 1400-1630/1700, showered at 1630/1700, ate dinner at 1800, and were typically in bed by 2000. 

The upshot of all of this?  We had a schedule that we did not have to think about.  We knew where we needed to be and what we needed to be doing and thus were free from the tyranny of wondering "what should I do next", allowing us to focus on the reason we were there.  Schedules, I learned, can be very feeing.

2)  The Power of Others:  Practicing in my small dojo in the middle of the country (well, lower middle really) one tends to feel that we are an island.  How refreshing to meet individuals from many different countries and realize that I am not just practicing a 427 year old art, I am doing it in the midst of a family all over the world of like minded individuals.  Family, I learned, can be very empowering.

3)  The Power of Flow:  When we do kata or waza, they are in forms that are separate - but in training, we began to link them together, moving from one to the next.  All of a sudden, one finds flow - and flow makes sense of things that are individually separated.  Things come together and one learns how to transition from one cut or block to the next smoothly - and eventually, without thinking about it.  Flow, I learned, can allow a series of separated actions to make sense.

4) The Power of Being Away:  Being outside of one's country - and especially conscious removed from media - one comes to understand that 95% of the things that dominate the news cycle in one's home country is seldom as important to the rest of the world as it seems at home - for perspective, the US population is approximately 4% of the world's 7 billion.  Most things that we are told we should care about are simply not as important out there in the rest of the world.  Being away, I learned, gives one a greater perspective on one's own home.

It was a meaningful trip  and I got much of what I hoped out of it beyond technique and correction.  I am looking forward to returning again.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Back From Japan: Asakusa Temple

Asakusa is a very famous temple in Tokyo, which is known as much for its surrounding shops as for the temple itself.  We went there on our very last day to visit a sword shop for some things we simply cannot get here in the U.S.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Back From Japan: Katsuura

Some pictures from the city we were in:

Cleanest 7-11 EVER:

Parking marked by ropes, not paint:

Katsuura is in a tsunami zone.  The walls to protect against a tsunami were impressive:

To the right is Shinmei Shrine, which I posted on last week:

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Back From Japan: Kakuoji Temple

The third of three temples close to the training center:  Kakuoji.

Another Graveyard:

There is a path that wends up the hill:

With an unknown (and largely uncared for) monument at the top:

Shelf Lichen:

But the view was amazing:

Monday, February 19, 2018

What I Learned In Katsuura I - Conscious Choice

Friends, I have to confess that I have been a little bit lazy, and intentionally so.  Part of posting pictures (and I still have at least 3 rounds to go) is that I have been trying to verbalize what I learned in training.

It is odd.  I have come back a different man from when I left.  The difficulty seems to be that I cannot fully verbalize how I am different.

Oh, I learned more about the art - mostly what I do not know.  I learned that I have a much farther road than I ever dreamed of before I get there.  And I learned that I have chosen to get there.

Which brings us to the first point in my learning:  Conscious Choice.

One thing that I did come back with is the sense of consciously choosing - in this case to go to training and (apparently) continue to pursue the art at higher levels.  It was just a thing that I arrived back in the US with.  I cannot tell you the point at which it happened, just that it did happen.

My life, for the most part, has been a series of unconscious choices.  Most things I have managed to blunder into or start as a lark - for example, Iaijutsu itself (I cannot even remember where I found it online) or cheese making or throwing or the harp (Walking by the music building:  "Learn to play the harp."  Okay...) or a plethora of things that have happened to me.  But just as easily I have chosen things essentially unconsciously at well - The Firm (yes, I consciously chose to do it but unconsciously chose not to consider the consequences) or financial decisions (multiple) or simply the amount of items that currently crowd my house, things I thought I might like to pursue and then decided not to or hobbies tried once and then abandoned.

But when I came back I was possessed by a sense of consciously choosing - initially my art, but extending to more and more aspects of my life.

Randomness has a certain thrill to it, but randomness does not allow one to increase one's skill level or decrease one's clutter in life.  And I am past the point where more activities or more things are going to create the thrill they once did.

The outcome?  I am choosing what I allow into my life and what I choose to practice.  Ultimately it will decrease the amount and number of items there, but I have come to understand that then everything that is in my life is there because I consciously desired it to be in my life, not just because "it sounded like a good idea".

Friday, February 16, 2018

Back From Japan: Tsutokoyamakosho Temple

This is the smaller of the two Buddhist temples near where we trained:

The playscape is a nice modern touch:

Many Buddhist Temples have associated Shinto Shrines:

Japanese graveyards are amazing.  They are very much a sort of miniature necropolis: