Buddhism vs. Aikido

Posted in Martial Arts, Zen on April 24, 2014 by seniorsamurai

In her new book, Paradise in Plain Site: Lessons from a Zen Garden, Zen teacher and Buddhist priest Karen Maezen Miller wrote:

” These days I want nothing more than to enter an empty room with a group of strangers and sit still and quiet in samadhi, non-distracted awareness, for the better part of the day. I am always astonished by the presence of people who would dare to do such a thing—burn perfectly good day light to get nothing done.”

What struck me about that paragraph was that my first reaction was to translate it to my Aikido practice. I caught myself transposing words to fit my life at the dojo. It went something like this:

” These days I want nothing more than to enter the dojo with a group of aikidoists and practice quietly the philosophy and techniques of O’Sensei—-sometimes for the better part of the day. I am always grateful for the presence of people who would be here to do such a thing–burn perfectly good day light to get nothing done and perhaps come back again the next day and do it all over again.”

In Gassho, Sensei Miller and O’Sensei.


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!

Who ‘Youse’ Talking To?

Posted in Friendship on February 1, 2014 by seniorsamurai

I grew up in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, and  never realized until I began to travel for my work that I used any  number of words  that where shortcuts  to standard, accepted, proper english. In the business world I quickly worked  hard at losing the “Pittsburghese” For example, I had to give up favorite words like, ‘Junna’ which everybody knows means , “are you going to” ? Or how about the fact that,  ‘nother’ means “another”. And finally, I ad to let go of my favorite, ‘yizze’ which means, you will.

But as I’ve gotten older  I seem  unable to hear a current slang word and sort out it’s intended meaning.  Two words that fell into this category were  ‘Bling’ which seems to be  a lot of gold jewelry worn around one’s neck. The second word has to do with anatomy. Grown men referring to there penis and related anatomy as, “My junk” seems to imply to me that those parts of anatomy might be discardable? Go figure!

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania skyline photograph, t...

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania skyline

I’m feeling older by the day because I’m beginning to  believe I live on a foreign planet and am very far away from my native Pittsburgh.

What are your slang favorites that don’t translate?

Impermanence and It’s Brothers and Sisters

Posted in Martial Arts, Zen on January 25, 2014 by seniorsamurai

Shihoo nage, a aïkido technical falling, illus...

Recently I made a significant change in my life. We put our New England  home of many years on the market, had the requisite tag sale, and moved 1,000 south to a much warmer place.

Along with the turmoil and emotions involved in saying good-by to friends and neighbors of 15 years, moving and leaving,  I realized that I received multiple doses of the Buddhist concept of impermanence.

Of course a move of this magnitude makes any of us face change, and it was obvious even to me. But it was the more subtle reminders that surprised me. One of the more significant reminders that surprised me the most was  the first class at my new dojo.

I had been pleased to find that the new aikido dojo was near my home and had a small group of  dedicated students led by a Sensei who after 24 years of practice still brought great energy to practice and enthusiasm for his students learning. Yet my first night on the mat—you know when you don’t know anybody and are just trying to get the lay of the land— impermanence came front and center immediately after the warm ups.

At my old dojo we had been practicing together for a number of years so everybody knew everybody else’s capabilities. At the new dojo, after the warm up and at  the first pairing off , I was paired with an Uke who kept correcting my technique…every time, all the time.

I was a little taken aback but I quickly realized something.  My ego had moved with me and I really didn’t like some younger, less experienced  practitioner telling me what to do.

It dawned on me that impermanence, ego, and possible some other unsavory aspects of my personality didn’t get left up north. And here I was in this instance thinking that a new start at a  new dojo would mean something different here just because I moved.

I guess that just like at my old aikido dojo, it’s show up, shut up, and practice.

Sister Cities

Posted in Friendship on January 18, 2014 by seniorsamurai
United States

United States

Evidently US cities and states sometimes adopt other cities, states, and/or countries. I’m not exactly sure why, but they do. For instance I recently learned  that  Arizona’s ‘sister country’ is Pakistan.

When I learned this fact I immediately wondered what responsibilities, cares, or concerns go along with adopting one and other?. In this case does it mean that like families, we take care of our siblings, and therefore perhaps the USA might quit invading, fighting, and  bombing their sister country? Is invading our sister country and  killing innocent citizens brotherly and sisterly?

Thoughts on Stuff: What About Me?

Posted in Nature on January 11, 2014 by seniorsamurai

English: Doubler Stones in Winter

Sometimes I read or hear something and it sticks in my mind but just barely out of view.  Later it always seems to surface as a question. For instance, the following  surfaced recently, “What about me?”

The sentence I was reading that precipitated the question was, “Stones have their own spirit, obey the requests of the stone.”

Having lived many years in New England I  took stones,  rocks, boulders and the White Mountains for granted. They were always in sight. I certainly never got around to thinking about their spirit . However assuming  stones follow the Buddhist notion that all sentient beings have energy, I can certainly wonder what stones might reveal if I just ask.

I wonder if they would tell us what this planet was like before us humans appeared and tried to bend nature to our needs? Would stones laugh at our short term life views and attempts to use the planet for our own comfort without realizing the folly of our ways?

But what I’m  really puzzled about is how I would actually honor their request and ask the stones what their first request is?

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?