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Injuries, failure, responsibility and the absence of doubt.

Over the past couple of months I’ve neglected my writing somewhat mainly because I feel like my mind has not properly been on my kendo.
What with holidays and diy work, I managed to injure my right arm. I pulled one on the tendons in the elbow and despite trying to be careful, only training once a week, it’s got worse and worse.
When I finally went to the doctors, it turns out I’ve got tennis elbow, a fairly typical thing for us kendoka. The thing that has annoyed me the most about this is that instead of being able to focus on my actual training, I’ve been focusing on not ago sting it anymore. I I clipped on just the right point, the pain is pretty bad.
I guess this is just another thing to go through like anything else in kendo. I’ve had the Plantar Fasciitis which I fixed with a simple change of foot wear.
How the hell do I go about fixing my right elbow? Despite being told to rest it I find that nearly impossible. Unless I immobilise my right arm, I end up using it all the time. Obviously what I should do is, take a break from kendo for a while but my own stubbornness about it says that I shouldn’t. There is something I need to change and/or fix in order for this to to away.
That being said, over time it is slowly healing and causing me less and less problems.
I think this is a good analogy for many things in life. Problems arise that you have to deal with and despite feeling like they are going to mess you up for ages, you learn to either cope with it or work through it until it doesn’t matter anymore.
I learnt a long time ago, that no matter how you think something will turn out, it never does and it is never as bad as you think. The really bad things hit you out of the blue and you could never prepare for them anyway.
That’s how I learnt to move away from the fear of everything. I don’t get nervousness or scared about anything really anymore.

This has helped a lot with the latest issues from the dojo. Our sensei has injured his hand quite badly and as such had been unable to even hold a shinai so myself and Chris have been taking the classes. Good thing we did our coaching courses recently.
Taking a class regularly is a bit of a new experience and possibly a daunting one. Up till that point, I’d been helping out with teaching the newbies and tweaking peoples kata but I’d not had to run a full class before or come up with a specific lesson plan.
I find myself doing what I believe I should do being only a lowly shodan. I try and teach the new people what my sensei would teach. It comes quite naturally and I find myself speaking sentences that I have heard a hundred times before from my sensei and others that have taught me.
On another front, I’ve found that I really enjoy doing it. Actually having some new students and watching them improve is close to intoxicating.
I don’t feel like I want to tell people what to do, I’m doing it because I want to keep the spirit of my dojo alive. I’ve never felt this level of connection and commitment to club ever before.
Back when I was in school I originally wanted to be a teacher but I got a quiet little IT job instead. Maybe I made the wrong choice.
It’s a complete honour in all honesty to be trusted with the up keep of the dojo and something that I will not forget easily. It’s improved not only my kendo but also my confidence. There’s no denying that on the first night when I stood in front of the whole class and they were all looking to me for direction, I felt a little like the proverbial rabbit but I just let my training take over and channelled my sensei. It went okay.

Now I hate to finish off on a down point but now I have to admit my failure. I went all guns blazing for my nidan last month thinking that I would be okay and pass fairly easily. This was not the case. I did not meet the require standard.
Now I could get annoyed about it and blame all sorts of things, but the fact is I did not do what was required to pass.
I had some extremely helpful feedback from Holt sensei and Salmon sensei at the end and I totally understand why. Now like any good human I need to learn from my mistakes. I need to sharpen up my kendo and clean up my kendo to the point where I am demonstrating cuts correctly which I did not do on the day.
The one thing I took from the day was that another kendoka who I meet when I passed my shodan was there attempting his nidan for the third time. He failed his when I passed shodan over a yeah ago. Seeing him pass made the whole experience much better.
There were a lot that did not pass that day and I think I agree with what Salmon sensei said recently in his own blog post that the gradings are getting harder. I think this is true so the only thing to think is to be better.
We all need to train ourselves so that we are doing the best kendo we can do so that not only are you more likely to pass but also that if you do fail, you are not left with the feeling that you could have done more. Also don’t try and get to the point of thinking that hopefully you will pass if the panel see you do one thing right. Leave no doubt that you deserve the grade.

Clearly I have some more work to do and need to continue on my path of learning.

I think that maybe I was in too much of a rush to get my grading and as such I was not focusing on what I should have been focusing on. Maybe I’ve been in too much of a rush over all, during kendo and life in general.

I have to train so that when I go for an attack I have no doubt about landing the cut. I have to perform so others have no doubt in my abilities and award me the grade my abilities deserve. My kata needs to be performed to the level that I do not make a mistake and I know exactly what I need to do at every point.
It should all be second nature to me.

It’s time to remove all doubt not only from myself but other people as well.

!m!

Survival, hypocrisy, childhood lessons and dead badgers.

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I try not to watch too much TV but there are a few programs that just will garner my undivided attention. On the flip side of this there are programs I dislike fairly passionately but have become quite popular and also I find myself compelled to watch. Reality shows, which to be honest are anything but, are simply compelling. I’ve always loved to people watch wherever I go. Sat in a street side cafe, watching people go by. One of my favourite places for this was the cafe in The Lovre. Typical. Go to the most well known art gallery in the world and I spend the time people watching.
Anyway, I digress.
The show I’m fascinated by at the moment is The Island with Bear Grylls. Anything with Bear in it gets my vote. He’ll do anything, eat anything and go anywhere. His wife must panic every time he nips out for a pint of milk. I always have this scenario that plays out in my head of Bear Grylls and Ray Mears going camping together. Bear is off running down mountains, looking for the worst things to eat he can, deliberately doing dangerous stuff just for kicks. Ray is just chilling out, making a shelter out of a tree and brewing tea with some lovely herbal leaves he’s foraged, shaking his head and trying to get Bear to sit still for 5 minutes.

I digress.

This show prompted a debate that I’ve had before. The guys on the island caught and killed a crocodile for food. They’d had nothing but coconut for days and did what any good hunter gatherer would do. Now some of the guys were seemingly a bit emotional about killing this not so defenceless animal. My wife said that people she knows and works with have categorically said that there is no way they could kill an animal for food.
This might be an unpopular opinion but if you are not prepared to kill something for food, you shouldn’t be eating meat. That pre packed chicken on the shelf in Sainsburys was alive and it was killed for you to cook and eat. It’s hypocritical to eat meat and not be prepared to kill it for yourself.
As a culture we are being removed from the unpleasant things in life. Unless you live on the streets or you live in a country that does not support you, survival is not a big deal. We all have plenty to eat, our water is clean and safe to drink. We have warmth and shelter.
If you strip that all away you should still be able to survive. Are you going to just eat nuts and berries, or are you going to hunt, trap and kill an animal too?
My wife put it quite simply. Imagine your 4 year old child is cold and hungry, properly hungry to the point of crying about it and growing weak. You’ve given them everything you could even so you will go hungry. Are you going to try and explain to them how you don’t want to kill something to get something to eat?

This brings me to my last little mental conundrum that I had the other night. While taking the dog for a walk, we happened across a dead badger in the woods. Not the nicest of things to come across but it was quite fresh and not all injured. The dog wanted it but I was less worried about him than I was my son.
This is a point where I could say that it was just sleeping and it will be okay but why? Why sugar coat the truth of life to a 4 year old. I have done so before when the dog has caught a bird and I’ve told him it flew away after I got it off the dog.
He went through quite a few ideas on how it would be okay before he understood that it was actually dead. He didn’t cry about it and he didn’t act like he didn’t understand. The funny thing was he started trying to work out what had happened to it. We suggested it got hit by a car and died on its way back to its home. Probably true. He was picking apart possibilities. Detective in the making, I don’t know but it was a good honest lesson.
This is the same thing as eating meat. My son is in no doubt about where meat comes from and if he decides he doesn’t want to eat it for that reason then good on him. I do question my own belief in this area too and always tell myself that if I had to, I could kill and gut and animal for food. I’m not saying that I want to but I could if it meant my family didn’t starve.

I think that this is a great analogy of how life is now anyway. Our basic needs for survival are all covered so physical evolution is taking more of a back seat. Mental evolution and survival are our key factor these days. There are those of us who are the creators, the ones who go after what they want and try hard. Those who don’t give up and will meet things head on, doing things because they are a challenge and because they are hard and necessary for the survival of what you perceive to be the fittest mentally.
Then there are those who don’t try for anything and just give up. They expect everything on a plate to be handed to then. That’s the scavengers and the bottom feeders and they are not at the top of the food chain (mentally speaking.)

So, which do you want to be?

!m!

Keiko, koi ponds and bad wiring.

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The last couple of weekends have been a big amount of hard physical work in very different ways.

Last weekend I went over for a training session in Cambridge with Jackson Sensei and Gowland sensei in the morning and had a quite different session. It’s a little session that Matt has put together incorporating all 3 of the joined clubs in the area.

The format was really simple. Warm up, three lots of suburi, one round of kirikaiesh then jiegeiko for the rest of the session and a full rotation. Turn out was good, around 14 of us so it took a while to do a full rotation. Eric was doing jigeiko, ichi-gomi-geiko and then ippon shobu. I started and finished with him so I did it twice. Then just to finish off, we did one more round of kirikaiesh.

Now I’d hit that point during my last lot of ichi-gomi-geiko where my body was beginning to flag somewhat. Not really surprising seeing as I’d done a full round of 15 bouts of gigeiko. So when Eric called at the end to do one last round of kirikaiesh, I was really not all there but threw everything I had left into it. As I’ve mentioned before, bad motodachi can really make kirikaiesh crap to do, but up against someone of Eric’s level it’s a pleasure. My first cut was spot on and my saiu-men cuts were quick and on target. As I made my distance back for the next 10 cuts, I felt myself scrape the bottom of my energy reserves and I began to slow down. The first 5 cuts were really slow, but I dragged a bit more out with louder and stronger kiai speeding up towards the end. Making distance, I did my last men cut and skipped down the side of his men. Damn.

We finish and Eric tells us not to take our men off yet, only he is taking his off. ‘What now’, we all think.
Jackson sensei, takes up a place on one side of the dojo and we all have to line up on the other, and do ippon shobu. Nice.

All in all it was a really good training session. Doing that much jigeko really allows you to settle down and concentrate, get into the zone so to speak.

This weekend just gone was a little different. I’ve been building a koi pond in the garden and it’s the first bit of serious garden landscaping I’ve done. Along with digging the thing, 6ft square and 2m deep, I’ve lined it, filled it and put decking all round. This has also been complicated by the completely dodgy wiring going to my garage.
To cut a long story short, in trying to fit the pond pump I found some pretty serious wiring issues going to my garage meaning that I had to lay a complete new bit of armoured cable and install a new RCD unit.
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Saturday I worked solidly from 9am to 6pm and finally got it all ready for the fish, kindly donated by my father in law.

I felt a little connection there after the long hours of work going into the pond when I went outside after dark, turned on the outside lights and relax. Mokouso.

As with any activity, I’m beginning to understand the nature of mushin a little more. While working on the majority of my projects, be they work or home, I end up mot really thinking about doing it because I have enough experience that I no longer have to actively engage my mind to the task. When I do this is as Yagyu Munrnori describes as a stop in your mind. You are doing a task or learning something and when you have to think about it, you stop for an instant or even longer.
As you get better at things these things no longer occur and you simply do the things you have been trained to do without thought.
I have lots to think about round the pond now.

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!m!

Call centres and personal responsibility.

One of the biggest problems in today’s society is the decline of personal responsibility amongst the general population. Everyone wants to blame everyone else for their terrible existence, lack of job, bad health and every other hardship they may face. No one takes and kind of responsibility for it. If life has taught me only one thing it’s that if you want something, you have to make it happen. Things do not just fall out of the sky for you.
But the question is, why does everyone lack this idea of personal responsibility these days? Have we all become so suppressed from creative thought that all we can do is consume? Why do we all just want it easy?

Back when I first started working, I worked for a small software house that employed about 20 people. When someone phoned us, we put it through to the person who could deal with their enquiry the best. Everyone had a distinct role and took on the responsibility for that call when it was put through. If someone reported a bug to me, I would look at it, fix it, update the logs and send out a disk to them to fix the issue. If it was really serious, we could connect them to out modem link. This was in the early 90’s. Technology has moved on somewhat since then but what was key here was my personal responsibility to take charge of the thing I was fixing. There were a few projects that certain programmers took charge of and would fix if needed.

These days if you need something fixed or your gas bill changing or your bank account looking at, you generally end up calling a call center. When you call these places, you will be randomly put through to whoever is free. Is the person you spoke to last time? No idea as you didn’t get their name last time. Try and get their full name next time. You might be lucky. Then ask for their extension number or their direct dial number in case you need to speak to them again. Probably not gonna happen. They will probably tell you that they don’t have extension numbers. Most won’t. The phone system automatically directs to who is free so you will never get the same person again. So what can you do? If nothing gets done, you’ve got no comeback. You phone again and speak to someone else. The person who took your call has no sense of personal responsibility for your problem because they never get any comeback if they don’t deal with a problem, therefore they don’t care.
You get the run around from the call centre because every time you ring, you have to explain why you are calling, again. You then don’t care because you think this is the normal way society behaves. It permeates through into everything you do. You feel somehow privileged when someone finally does fix your problem after you’ve waited to be talked to. You begin to think that this is the way the world is meant to work.
News flash: It’s not!

Outsourced IT departments also create the same problem. The thing you have to remember when you employ someone is that not only do you employ them for their time and expertise, you also employ them for their personal responsibility. You want them to take charge of issues and projects and deliver on them. Personal responsibility.

So back to the call centres. If when you phoned one up, the person on the other end told you their name, straight away and gave you a direct dial number, you’d feel much better about your experience. Not only that, because you could speak directly, at any time, to the person who dealt with your initial call, they would be more motivated to help you. If they don’t sort it out when they say, you’ll be calling back to find out what’s going on.
With your standard call centre you’re stuck with explaining the problem again if no one sorts it out. You begin to think that this is the normal way to behave and it permeates through your life. Lack of personal responsibility.

People seem to forget that no matter what happens in life, it effects everyone and has a much wider influence on general thinking in society.

Everyone should work on their personal responsibility and stop making excuses.

Collecting blackberries, hard keiko and blood offerings.

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This weekend I was reminded while out collecting blackberries with the family and the dog that most of the good things that come in life, need a certain amount of pain to achieve.

As I stretched my hand over a particularly large bunch of berries and caught my left hand on a stinging nettle, my right on a bramble thorn and my bare legs across a load more nettles I began to wonder why stinging nettles seem to love growing under brambles. Maybe it’s a mutual protection pact between plants, if you believe that plants had some level of rudimentary intelligence, or maybe it’s just life following a rule I’ve always believed.

I also hold this strange thought that any time I do any kind of DIY work, or make anything, if I don’t cut myself one way or the other, it won’t work. Someone once told me then that I must believe in a good old fashioned Pagan blood sacrifice. It’s a bit of a joke but the concept is not new and has been around for thousands of years. People would deliberately spill their own or an animals blood to appease their gods. I’m no religious nut though. I don’t believe in gods or spirits, but I do believe in energy and that you can effect change in things indirectly through utilisation of various forms of energy.

20131002-142902.jpgAs mentioned before, I’ve dabbled in the magickal arts, researched all sorts of different philosophical viewpoints, behavioural ideas and physical areas of science. The majority of what I have learned has points out that nothing is achieved without practice, but I also believe that pain and hardship is an important part of that learning process. It’s also the process of learning that certain things are not bad, they are indicators that something is happening.

Spirit or ki is the important thing in kendo and training the spirit through hard keiko is a big part of it. As I’ve mentioned before, a good kiai raises your spirit which gets you through any pains.
Anything that is hard to do or is a bit painful makes more of a psychological impact on you. It seems more worthwhile somehow. If a tattoo could be applied without any pain at all, would so many people have them done? If they did, would people be more likely to have them removed? Would tattoos become something less permanent? The majority of people I know with tattoos really loved having them and the pain of having one done is an important part of the psychological process.

 

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Things have to be hard to do or they are not worthwhile. More to the point, they have to be hard work for yourself to have a distinct psychological impact.
This is how it is in kendo. If you are not constantly pushing yourself to the limit of your endurance, spirit and mental capabilities, you will never progress.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to sit back and eat my blackberry and apple pie that taste oh so much sweeter because it cost me a little pain to acquire.

 

 

 

 

 

(Update: I find it quite synchronous that the evening I posted this up, I tore my toe nail open during jigeiko.)

The body echoes the mind. Mental strength and the power of excuses.

According to many eastern philosophy’s, the mind and the body are closely linked. The body echoes the mind. I’ve often wondered about the power of mind over matter, magickal theory (I’ve dabbled) and how much control, besides the physical movement of your body, your mind has over external things. I also have been contemplating the connection between injury and illness with the mind. I have seen many an occurrence of someone focusing on an injury or illness to the point of making it worse.

People are so preoccupied with making excuses as to why they cannot do things. The simple reason is that people are frightened of failure, they think it makes them weak. They maintain this front of being strong and then making an excuse of why they cannot exercise that strength. This is true weakness.
Facing anything with complete conviction, making no excuses, attempting to overcome ones perceived problems and still failing is true strength.
You cannot know success until you have known failure. Failure is not a negative thing, it is the enabler of learning, understanding and the path to success.

There is a tendency amongst most people to focus on negativity. Events occur as they will, but the mind will generate the negativity of that event. It is simply how you approach things. If during a bout of jigeko, I attempt a technique and it is a failure, I try never to look on that as something negative. I could say “That didn’t work. I’m no good at that technique.” Or I could say, “That didn’t work. What can I change to make it work.” I always assume a failure is my own understanding not being up to scratch yet and something I can improve. Telling yourself that you should have been able to do it is lying to yourself.

This leads naturally to the conclusion that if mind echoes the body and body echoes the mind and in a state of mushin, your mind echoes the mind of your opponent, then also your body will echo the body of your opponent, thus you will feel their intentions and an instinctive counter will be obvious.
This is the nature of debana waza.

Last week I went to training feeling decidedly not 100% but had decided it would not hold me back and as a result, had a very good session. My upset stomach was something that I had to control and overcome. As such by the time we had finished, I’d completely forgotten about it.

It’s like the mental process of how you view pain. Pain is an indicator that something is going on and differentiating between something serious and just tension or tiredness is something I think you develop over time while training.
It leads to mental strength and that is the core of where these excuses and strength to continue come from. I think having children gives you a lot more mental strength than you expect. Dealing with sleep deprivation is probably the first parental challenge. Being able to still get up, look after your child and do day to day stuff, go work after all night in a hospital room on about an hours sleep is just par for the course. True story.
Grossed out by vomit and other bodily excretions? You won’t be after about a month. Children are also very good at making you less attached to your possessions.

During my time fencing, I went up against a guy at a couple of competitions who was in his late 60’s and had Parkinson’s. He was without a doubt one of the best fencers I came up against and he turned up to the piste, with a limp and shaking violently. As soon as he came to en-guarde the shaking stopped and I scored not a single point against him. His movements were extremely small and I never even saw or felt where he hit me.
I’ve always held him in my mind as a perfect example of someone who didn’t let themselves be held back and didn’t make excuses for failure. A prime example of how to overcome challenges.

And if you want another example of someone who doesn’t make excuses…

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Tell me again what your excuse is.

Mental clutter. It’s not just about things. (The Purge part 2)

First off I want to say congratulations to my sensei, Matt Marley for passing his Sandan at the weekend.
Omedetōgozaimasu.

Last nights training consisted mainly of sensei trying to pass on as much as he could within the time we had from his weekend at the Watchet Seminar. I would have gone myself and attempted my Shodan, but it is just one month too soon for me to try. I’ll be doing that in July.

The main thing we worked though was getting into our heads that you cannot just attack blindly. You have to create an opening one way or the other and you can’t just expect something to work. The other thing that really stuck out for me was the concept of employing a kote-men but also being prepared to to stop and go through if the kote strike was successful. Using kote even if you miss, is a good way to open someone up for a men cut, but if you actually perform a good cut, on target, the men cut is unnecessary. It occurred to me that this is true with every single cut. If you miss your first cut, have good zanshin and are prepared to strike again, you may well have opened something up with your failed cut.
I was once told that the basic essence of kendo is to be ready at all times. It has made me realise the futility of thinking things like; “On this next cut I’m going to do kaeshi dou.” Where is what I should be thinking is more along the lines of; “For this bout of jigeiko, I will practise my kaeshi dou when and if the opportunity arises.” These are mental seeds as opposed to fixations. A good bit of Fudoshin.

Interestingly last night, sensei set us the homework of going home a looking up the four sicknesses of Kendo. In looking these up there seems to be some confusion on the net as to what they actually are. Some show different things than others but if I understand them correctly they are: fear, doubt, distraction/surprise/confusion and anger.
Fear is pretty common for us relatively new kendoka, especially when you come up against someone of much higher grade and experience than yourself. Fear of not performing a good cut, of getting hurt, of looking stupid or anything. It prevents you from acting instinctively and in life can prevent you from doing things you actually want to do.
Doubt is also universal. “What’s the point in trying that as I’ll get it wrong.” So what. Doubt serves no purpose in anything. Do not suspect you will not be able to do something, know that it is not in your skill set first, but you have to try it to know. So you should try everything to know if you can physically do something. When you fail, you will probably know what you did wrong and how to not do it wrong again thus giving you something new to do, but of course do not stray into arrogance.
Distraction/surprise/confusion. These are all just different ways in which your concentration or ki is broken. A surprise technique from your opponent, a noise from the other side of the dojo, a lack of concentration. It’s a lack or disruption of focus and this is something you can exploit in you opponent through the various forms of semei. There is plenty to distract you in life.
Anger is just your mind fixating on some perceived slight or thing that your opponent does that annoys you, or getting hurt. It clouds your focus and mental discipline. Anger at yourself for not doing a cut very well. This does not matter. We learn by doing and making mistakes so make your mistake and learn from it. Don’t beat yourself up over it, you’re opponent will do that for you, no trouble.
During all this last night, I tried to concentrate on being patient. You cannot rush in blindly to do an attack or perform the waza if they are not open and subsequently you have to wait for the moment that they do become open. More than once with different opponents I slowed down dramatically and in doing so, caused confusion in my opponent leaving them open for a fairly slowly performed dou cut. It was like I could see the point where they were in process to strike, their shinai is raised, their brain short circuits as to what to do next and I did a deliberate dou cut slower than I normally would, just with the right timing and much better accuracy.

I’m reminded that the odd few times I actually feel like I have hit a state of mushin within training, everything faded away and left only reaction. The first time I did a kaeshi-dou really nicely, I done it, gone through and turned round before I even knew what had happened. My opponent didn’t see it coming and I did not think about employing it.
When I used to meditate everyday I reached a point such as this in everyday life and found I had managed to drop all preconceptions and fear about what was about to happen. I realised that what ever happened in life, I could deal with it and I’d still be here.

So what has all this got to do with The Purge (not the film)?

As I stated in my last post about removing those possessions that bring you guilt, you also need to try and resolve those issues in your head with people that cause you guilt or pain or suppress you in some way.
I used to be good friends with someone who was very good at being able to understand a person’s problems and help them understand and transcend them. I was friends with him for many many years and also feel that for a while he managed to help me in the same way. There was only one problem though. Once the person he had helped had overcome their issues and managed to fulfil some of their deeply suppressed desires, he became highly critical and upset if not included in things. This is like releasing a bird from captivity, telling them to be free and do what they wish but then telling them their sitting on the wrong branch and building their nest wrong. To the person on the receiving end of this it becomes emotional baggage and a piece of guilt because you believe you owe that person something for helping you and because they seem to be expecting this that’s what you do. They’re you friend, right? Wrong. Friends do not act like this and as such are just adding to your emotional baggage. You have to recognise the people that do cause you this and detach from them.
Although it sound selfish, you are only responsible for your own mental well being. If someone causes you pain in some way it’s because you let them cause you pain. If someone tries to make you feel guilty for not doing something for them or not including them in something then they are not truly at ease with themselves. It is not something for you to feel guilty about but something that maybe as a friend, you want to help them with. If they do want to be helped you cannot help them.
If you’re wondering what happened with me and my friend, I don’t see him any more. I had to go and pursue my own path and one day maybe we will reconnect. I bear him no malice and hope , like I hope for everyone, that they get everything they wish to get from life.

This is exactly the same in Kendo.
Removal of the mental blocks, pre-conceptions, fear, doubt, distractions and guilt lead to the a state of mushin and being ready. I also think of it this way.
There’s no mind in ki-ken-tai-ichi.

!m!

UPDATE:

I now realise that what I had put down as the four kendo sicknesses are not completely correct. The more I try and read on the subject, the more I find different explanations and specifics. Please update me in the comments.