Archive for the Aging Category

Aikikai Junior

Posted in Aging, Martial Arts on September 2, 2014 by seniorsamurai

IMG_2842 - Version 2


To be honest, the idea of a peaceful martial art sounded strange to me.

I had been introduced to aikido by watching my father practice a few times; this summer I was finally old enough to give it a try. After practicing for the six whole weeks of my summer break I have come away with a new perspective and a new passion.

I learned that aikido is more about bringing about calm than about punching and kicking.  It is about redirecting the force of an attack but it is powerful and mighty. Knowing the right technique is essential.  I liked both nage and uke because it’s important to experience both sides of a fight.  (“Seeing both sides” is probably important in life, too.)

I also really like the tradition and the respect that is part of the dojo, especially for the sensei. As a completely new student, not only did everyone accept me, it felt like all of the “older” students took responsibility for helping me learn techniques.

Maybe I liked it so much because I had a nice dojo, with great peers and, of course, Dee Sensei. I went to classes three times a week and I liked it so much that I plan to join a dojo in my hometown, too.

Every year when I spend summer vacation with my family, they introduce me to many new places and activities.  Aside from being with my family the thing I liked most this summer was definitely aikido.


Bones As Swords: A Concept Who’s Time Has come?

Posted in Aging on February 8, 2014 by seniorsamurai

It’s not uncommon for people to request that when they die their body be cremated and their ashes spread in places of their choosing. Or, the ashes  are to be placed in a wooden box and kept by the lucky family member appointed to decide mom or dad’s final resting place. In many ways, along with making burials more cost effective, cremation has a very spiritual aspect to the burial ritual. But recently I came across an article about a Japanese man who practices what he refers to as the dying art of Japanese sword making. Sword making has been his lifetime occupation and now at 67, he had been working with Chinese  and Japanese swords for the past 30 years. According to him sword making is a dying art because  sword smithing, like many of today’s crafts,  are mass produced in a day or two. But what caught my interest was when he discussed what physical qualities in the old days made a sword more able to stand up in battle. It seems that before the human bone is burnt in the cremation process, it contains phosphorus. If human bones are added in the sword making process the phosphorus will mix into the metal and after burning a while, the metal will contain the phosphorus. According to him,  it is not uncommon nowadays for the relatives of a deceased person to have a sword made with the addition of their deceased ancestors bones, as a beautiful artistic way to honor the deceased person.

English: Japanese sword stand katana kake of t...

Japanese sword stand katana kake of the horizontal type, holding a matched set of Japanese swords .

After reading  this bones to swords phenomena, my thoughts were in two categories. First, having a sword made of parents ashes sure makes more sense than a box of ashes  spread somewhere,  or passed on to children where the box is set on the mantel or kept  somewhere out of the way. Second, my thought was to have mom or dad’s ashes  part of a sword that could be kept above the fire place and used to keep the grandchildren in line when they come to visit. I can hear it now,” If you two don’t quit chasing around this house I’m going to get Grandpa down off the mantel and have him give you a smack on the butt! Oh,  the possibilities of reincarnation and a second life for Grandpa!

A Case for Boundaries

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Professionalism with tags , , , on January 4, 2014 by seniorsamurai

Personal Boundaries

All of my professional life was spent working in human service organizations. I wanted to help people! And, like many of us who go into ‘helping professions’ I had to learn–usually the hard and embarrassing way– about the concept of personal boundaries. No, not the office door is closed I’m busy boundaries, but the, “Have you got a minute” one’s or, “can I talk to you”…usually right now with a big sense of urgency.  It took me a long time–in retrospect forever– to realize that I could not be everything to everybody and what I initially thought was kindness and compassion was really my ego at play as I tried to fix everyone.  And of course, be a friend so they liked me. However the  boundary lesson was the realization that I was usually not dealing with patients, but invariable dealing with my staff.

Recently I came across a quote by Tracy Kidder in regard to boundaries that I wish I had read a long time ago.

“We all know people with toxic personalities. The toxins are less potent when we realize the role we play. If we have expected them to move us along the spiritual journey we have made a bad choice; if we think we can reach out to them and bring them along by administering a cure, we had better put on protective overalls and keep our role clearly before us. Such relationships keep us clearly stuck to each other as if the handholding where the goal.”

And you know what? I have come to realize that Kidders points transcend the workplace and can creep into the dojo and monastery as well. Different place, same dynamics.

What are your boundary demons?



Posted in Aging, Quotes I Like, Zen on January 1, 2014 by seniorsamurai

If you think with your head about dying, it is  not real dying.

When you are dying, dying is perfectly silent. Nothing to say. Just be one with the dying. All we have to do is just to be right in the middle of dying, which is perfectly silent.

Even if you don’t like death, when death comes you have to die. Even if you don’t like tomorrow, when tomorrow comes you have to be tomorrow.


English: Became Silence

English: Became Silence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

— Katagiri Roshi

Morning Has Broken

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Spirituality with tags , , on December 28, 2013 by seniorsamurai
Morning Has Broken

Morning Has Broken (Photo credit: zenera)

Singer and song writer Yusuf Islam (a.ka. Cat Stevens) wrote a popular song titled, Morning Has Broken that starts with the stanza, “Morning has broken, like the first morning …”

Because I’m a usually an early riser who loves the piece and quiet before the sun shows up, I’ve come to believe that no morning is in fact the same and that each morning is the first morning. No matter the rituals that might take place like clockwork, it’s the exact moment for that time.

My year is split equally between two distinctly different locations: a condominium complex in northern Florida, contrasts sharply with our farm house, barn and large meadow on a pond in New Hampshire.

Florida serves as a winter home, free from severe temperatures, months of snow, and days of depressing gray overcast weather. A place where I don’t have to worry about yard work, house upkeep, and I have an abundance of free time to follow my whims.

In Florida the early morning rhythms of my ‘hood’ begins with the newspaper delivery by 5:30, followed by a neighbor faithfully walking his dog. He’s usually greeted by several sets of joggers out it get in a run in before it’s time to strap on the corporate holster (cell phones, lap top) and head out to take on the global markets. Finally before the neighborhood settles down a few garage doors open and discharge the remaining daily workforce. By that time I’ve welcomed another day with my morning rituals.

In N.H. in our life on a dirt road, morning presents itself very differently. From my second story office overlooking the pond I may see a light across the water in one of the few, year round houses. Instead of the newspaper, joggers, dog walker scenario I’m more likely to see the local beaver family cruising the shore line. Their usually followed by from one to three families of geese coming in, full squawking mode, looking for my wife’s corn meal breakfast handout. About that time the sun begins to crest the ridge and I can get on with my coffee on the dock.

In both instances I’ve come to appreciate my surroundings even if one may seem a little more exotic that the other. They both present a ‘first morning ‘ with all the hope and glory of a new beginning. What will this day bring? What will I contribute to this day that is worthwhile to mankind?

I’ve also come to believe that during this time if I’m quiet and I listen closely, both places reveal secrets from long ago. Voices in the wind, from the creatures and people who we the current neighbors  have replaced. I believe there are echoes in the grasses and stones. Much of it coming from long before us humans came to these places. It’s the voices of the land, the spirits of the wind and, the shadows of the moon. But mostly, in both places, it’s the voice of silence.

What do you hear at your silent places?



What Do You Expect From Your Practice?

Posted in Aging, Spirituality, Zen with tags , , , , , , on December 14, 2013 by seniorsamurai
The main hall of Antaiji Temple at Hyōgo Prefe...

The main hall of Antaiji Temple at Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Antaiji is a monastery in rural Japan where Zen is practiced without any additions or modifications. This means that Zazen (sitting meditation) is practiced solely for the purpose of Zazen. According to Abbott Muho the message is clear, “Zazen will not get you anywhere. Zazen is without gain. Zazen, which is one with enlightenment, is what is put into practice here.”

Each day, all of the practical life activities year around Antaiji is centered on Zazen at. Resident life is simple and pure. Antaiji has no parishioners, and there are a minimum of Buddhist services. Instead, the self sufficient life to enable Zazen involves a lot of work in the fields and forests. Muho says, “Our Zazen practice is based on the Zen motto: “A day without work is a day without food”. Work and food here are directly related, with all of the residents actions  rooted in and aimed at the one force that keeps them alive.

This lifestyle isn’t an ideal but it is an actual practice which is manifested in the basic attitude of one’s actions in every day life. Practioners use Zazen to cause an inner revolution in themselves, while covered with sweat and dirt in summer, persevering in the snow and cold of winter. Their day to day life is also not a form of asceticism, but the plain, original form of Zen life, which requires long years of practice. Self sufficiency for the residents isn’t a goal in itself – it only serves to support the practice of Zazen.

So what’s my point you ask?  My point is that staying at Antaiji, people do so because they want to live their lives as bodhisattvas, serving the Sangha (community of practitioners) while not expecting any reward.

Can we say that, even on even some minor level,  about our practice in the dojo, Sangha, or day-to-day living? Or, are these done with an expectation of  some reward? 




Framing Your House

Posted in Aging, Friendship, Martial Arts, Questions, Spirituality with tags , , on December 7, 2013 by seniorsamurai
A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori...

A classical aikido throw being practiced. Tori maintains balance and structure to throw uke, while uke safely takes a forward roll (mae ukemi). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Poet Maya Stein  wrote about a potters effort to sculpt a face, “Her fingers could not handle the finer points of the clay, and so it’s face warped into a caricature with oblique white ovals for eyes and improbably round lips. There wasn’t much to the skull or the ears, and hardly a trace of the jaw line that marked her own silhouette. She was simple and doughy; the roughest of creatures, but such is the beginning that marks any beginning: vague outlines, hopeful guesses at proportion, an innocence of form and shape. The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape at our own tender insides. So she will do her best love her now, this uneven, funny being, and hold her for exactly what she is: blameless and forgiving. “

Reframing this text in the context of aikido goes something like this:  In the beginning her hands could not handle the finer points of the technique, and so her face froze into a frown with wide questioning eyes and improbably questioning lips. There wasn’t much to her effort, and hardly a trace of completion that marked her finishing throw. She was simply and clearly, the most awkward of students, but such is the beginning that marks any beginner: stumbling entering steps, hopeful guesses at positioning and proportion, a clueless innocence of what exactly comes next. The hard work will come soon enough, of course, the ruthless attempts at getting it right and the self-flagellation that ensues when failure hits, the way we chew and scrape at our own tender insides for our inadequacies. So we Uke, do our best to support and take Ukemi for her now, this uneven, clumsy being, and honor her for exactly what she is: a work in progress just stepping on the path…just exactly like we did in the beginning and continue to do one practice and one technique at a time.

Why should we martial artists be different from a potter, musician, weaver, or swordsman?