« Posts tagged philosophy

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.

Sci-Fi and the Illusion of Reality.

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This a piece that I wrote some time ago after a probably familiar chain of thought events. I imagine many of you will be able to relate to this turn of events. I never really finished it before and have only now dusted it off with new and interesting insights.

Before proceeding, I should warn you that this contains spoilers for Inception, The Matrix Trilogy, A Scanner Darkly and possibly life itself.

As far as I’ve been able to see over my many years of watching pretty much every bit of sci-fi to grace cinema and TV, it seems to fall into two distinct categories. Space opera with the likes of Star Trek, Star Wars, 2001 and the thinly veiler political statement organised in the form of a piece that attempts to make you question the nature of your reality in it’s many forms.

Before going on holiday to Rhodes a couple of years back, I bought a book. I bought it in PoundLand so it was only £1. The book in question was ‘Matrix Warrior: Being The One – By Jake Horsley.’ Hardback too. It’s a fantastic piece of overthinking in itself and I strongly recommend it to anyone reading. In this book, Jake hypothesises that not only is The Matrix, hinting to the truth that reality is a dream world and that this is a concept that has permeated throughout most sci-fi and philosophical writing for a long time.

After reading over the course of my holiday and a little after I got back, I had the urge to go back and watch all the Matrix movies, which is what any good bit of overthink should do. Redirect you to the source.

I watched them with a different frame of mind. When I first saw the Matrix, I had seen none of the hype or anything about it. No idea how I managed that, but it happened. I was blown away by it. I think I must have subsequently watched it a good 30-40 times after that.

After watching these films again and reading the book, I was spurred on to think more and more about what other sci-fi and films give this idea.

I recently read a Scanner Darkly. The questions of reality within are massive. Not only does the protagonist, effectively split into 2 personalities, he questions which one is actually real and neither seem to be aware of each other towards the end. Philip K Dick really had a thing for questioning the nature of reality. The arguments for this permeates all his books in different ways and many other sci-fi books.

Then I saw Inception.

Oh crap, not another Inception article analysing it. That’s not what I want to do here. What I’m trying to show is that pretty much every piece of popular sci-fi written for the last 50-60 years is all saying the same thing.

Reality is an illusion. Or is it?

In the Martix, there is a key conversation between Neo and The Architect. Within this conversation we discover that the best way to make all humans within the Matrix accept the program was to give them a choice. Obviously the choice given to the subject is going to be one with outcomes that the program has already anticipated thus the choice is in fact a fallacy. This is obviously a bit of social commentary describing the illusion of choice that we have within our everyday lives. We think we have a choice, but in fact the choices we have are simply the selection of two or more already understood paths. Yet again, very few people actually tread a completely unknown path.

If we examine what is discussed in this conversation, effectively there is an anomaly in the Matrix program, namely Neo, one that is allowed to run it’s course, then reintegrated back into the original program and then restarted, thus improving the program. From what we find out about the program, keeping it perfect without the anomaly, seems to be impossible or The Architect would fix it. The Anomaly is then given the choice to save a few humans to keep the outside population going or to go back to the Matrix and save the woman he loves. Before Neo, all chose the former, meaning that Zion is destroyed, a handful of people survive, The Matrix is rebooted and the cycle starts again. According the The Architect this is the 6th version.

Neo on the other hand loves Trinity so much that he can’t stand to let her die so he goes to save her, thus as The Architect sees it, dooming all of humanity and probably the machine world to. Without the anomaly being reintegrated, then the Martix is doomed to be corrupted. The choice Neo is given is a horrible choice to have to make.

Although Neo makes what is seen as the selfish choice, he actually rejects both sides of the choices and makes up his own mind what to do in the end.

In The Martix, choice is seen as the power

In The Matrix, Morpheos calls that feeling that Thomas Anderson has that there is something wrong with the world, ‘A splinter in your mind, driving you mad.’ Isn’t that what an idea is? A splinter in your mind? If you don’t follow the idea it will drive you mad. As a writer I know this feeling all to well. You have to follow the idea or it stays, circulating and growing. They say there is a fine line between genius and madness and this is why. Not only can not pursuing an idea drive you mad, a genuinely new idea will seem like madness and pursuing it will seem like madness to the general populace.

Thus are not ideas and choice one and the same thing. An idea, a proper idea, is choosing not to choose an established path.

In Inception, the idea is the powerful thing.

There have been a ton of articles written about what Inception is. Is it a film about film making, is it attempting to incept us as an audience and if so what with?

The idea that is implanted first is that the world in not real. Is that what Inception is attempting to do? Plant that idea? Maybe, but that’s too obvious. You discount it because you can always trace the source of the idea, so what it’s really trying to say is that the ideas them selves are an illusion.

No one, apart from a very few individuals, actually have an original idea, ever. This article is not original. It was born from a bunch of other articles and opinions that all melded together in my mind to form an interesting hypothesis.

Most inventions around today are not original ideas. They are simply reworks of something that came before. A modern hammer is simply a better version of ones that were made before, that is a better version of a rock on a stick, which is better than just a rock in your hand. It’s evolution plain and simple. Knowledge is how we evolve now, not through physical adaptation.

When it comes to wanting or needing something, you would not want said item unless you had seen someone else with it in the first place. You cannot desire something that you are unaware of. For example, I saw an iPhone, I like it, my friend has one, my phone is crap by comparison, I want one.

Take yourself back 30 years. There are no mobile phones. If I want to call someone I pick up my house phone. I don’t want to have a iPhone because they don’t exist.

Where did the idea for a mobile phone come from? Who knows where it originates, but if you want an early example of the idea of one, how about a Star Trek communicator. It’s basically a small, handheld radio. Okay, portable 2way radios existed then and had for some time, but the idea of a small, pocket sized device for communication was not available. Was it a pure idea? Probably not.

If technological history has taught us anything it’s that things get more powerful and smaller for the same function over time. Imagining that a two-way portable radio would become pocket sized in 200 years is not far-fetched at all. Okay, I can’t talk to an orbiting ship with my cell phone, but a satellite phone could. It’s about the size of a house brick. No reason not to think that it will get much smaller in the next 100 years.

Ideas are not original, they are formed from previous experience and anaylsis of other facts.

This is the kind of thinking that is very much overthought in Jake’s book. Reason is a function of the illusion, and as such also completely unreal. Only unpredictability is true creativity and ideas. Once you have an idea and think about it, it is already not a true idea. In the act of spontaneity, a true idea is formed and only because it was done without thinking. And this is the nature of mushin in Kendo. Attacking without thought and preconcideration is creativity in its simplistic form. (Ha. I knew I’d kendo in here somehow)

In A Scanner Darkly, a fascinating chain of mental events is played out. Bob Arctor works as a narcotics agent. While undercover, he is himself, without disguise except his personality. When conversing with other agents, he wears a suit to disguise who he really is in order to keep anonymity. In order to do his he is effectively creating two personalities for himself in order to allow himself to be undercover and find the main dealers of Substance D. Neither of these two personalities in necessarily his true self. In taking D, he splits the two hemispheres of his brain and as such the two personalities he has purposefully created, begin to split apart. As Agent Fred, he refers to himself as a different person so often that eventually, Agent Fred just sees Bob Arctor, not himself. The other question is, who is the true personality? At the beginning, it’s the Agent Fred version of Bob, towards the end, it becomes much harder to tell.

At the end, another personality entirely. He is no longer Agent Fred as he doesn’t have his suit on and the Bob Arctor he has been for some time was just his undercover version of himself, also false.

By the end of the book, Bob / Fred has no personality anymore. Those two personalities were inventions or corruptions of himself. He is then at the end undercover again, with a new name and another false personality. His personality and mind are a complete illusion.

The Matrix is trying to tell you that choice is an illusion.

Inception is trying to tell you that ideas are an illusion.

A Scanner Darkly is trying to say that personality and mind are an illusion.

Most religion and spirituality is trying to tell you that your body is an illusion.

So what’s left?

I think, therefore I am?

So here I am back at the beginning.

The idea to write this article was not a true idea it was put there by a combination of outside forces that compelled me to do so. The combination of these outside influences became a ‘splinter in my mind’ that I had to remove. The only way to do that was to write this article.

I did not have a choice, I did not form the pure idea, but I had to do it, and thus what I think of as my personality and mind, is also completely illusionary.

!m!

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Giving it all away and the path to being a Jedi. (The Purge Part 4)

Take this piece of musing any way you care to but I always been of the belief that no matter where a piece of information, or advice comes from it can still have meanings. It comes back to my belief in learning the truth for yourself. Regardless of the source, things can effect you fundamentally. I’ve always been struck on the part of Return of the Jedi, where Luke goes to see Yoda for the last time and during their conversation, Yoda tells him that his not a Jedi yet and must face Vader again. Only then will he be a Jedi. Why?

Luke’s path in Star Wars is pretty hard. The emotional impact of it is downplayed a lot, but if you sit back and explain it in simple terms, it’s pretty awful. He lives on a remote planet with his Uncle and Aunt, who probably aren’t, they are really his adoptive parents and he has never known his real parents. Then out of the blue, he finds a message that he thinks is for someone he knows, goes to see him and then officers of the oppressive police state in which he lives, murder his adoptive parents and burn his home to the ground. I don’t know about you, but I’d be a little pissed off about that and Luke seems to handle this pretty well.
Next he’s dragged into a civil war, see’s his mentor die, his childhood friend die, makes a few new ones, finds his long lost sister, trains in a weird jungle, gets his hand cut off by his own father and then has to go back, face his father again and the evil ruler of the galaxy probably to die. Phew, tough break dude.

So what does this really mean, and why is it that Luke is not a Jedi till he faces Vader again? It’s his last major piece of mental and emotional baggage that he has to shift in order to be at peace in his mind. It is also an act of sutimei. Giving himself up, completely and freely without fear to perform the perfect cut. That is why he freely walks into the Imperial camp and surrenders himself to them. He has to go face him to finally be free of everything. He’s lost all his material possessions and everyone that was there during his childhood so he has nothing left except the knowledge that maybe, he can save his father from the dark side and his sister. Why do you think he tells Leia that she is his sister? Because he has to do it to release the mental baggage. I also see it in a kind of old world feel like Luke has to become the head of the family and can no longer just follow. He has to lead and thus an actual power struggle between father and son has to take place.
He gives everything to do this and knows that he will either live or die but has accepted that. It is sutimei. The ultimate goal of the rebellion is to crush the empire. Luke’s primary goal is simple. He just wants to try and save his father because without doing this he will never be complete and will not be a Jedi.

I’ve tried to understand this in many ways, but I think it makes sense to everyone. Most of us have some issues with our family and all have those little pieces of baggage that we’d rather we were free of but we push them to one side in order to not have to deal with them and ignore them as just, oh it’s family. You don’t have to consider yourself the head of a family, but with the death of my own Father I feel like I have now taken on that responsibility. I’m the eldest living male of the Beaumont family and as such, have to set an example for my own son to look up to. I can’t do this without facing the internal family issues.

I always equate personal spiritual development to an onion. The outside is dry, cracked and brown. As you peal away the layers, more is revealed that is smoother and fresher than the last. You have to start with the dry, unpleasant layers before the good stuff is reached and you can only peel one layer at a time. The layer you have to peel away is the one that is at the forefront of you mind on a daily basis and as such this can be the burden that obstructs your sense of mushin and fudoshin. When we first started training, our Sensei would simply tell us to leave your worries and baggage at the door. When you are in the Dojo you think only of Kendo.
I think everyone should do this all the time. It’s a state of mind that you can take outside the Dojo and cultivate it there as well.
I know I still have many onion layers to peel before it no longer gets in the way and I feel like my physical development in kendo is much more like a giant wall of pigeon holes which some are already filled. As I learn more the holes are filled more and more, but I know this is an infinite area so concentrating on one a lot more will aid them to be filled better.

I’m not saying you have to become a Jedi, but the personal development messages contained therein are still messages that have a meaning for the real world. If you are a christian, do you look at bible stories and think, that was an amazing thing that really happened or do you look at them as a story with a message? A message that should be easy to understand and apply to your own life.

As part of The Purge, not only have I been trying reconcile all those emotional and mental blocks, i’m trying to sell off as much as possible so I can recoup some money and make space, I’ve also started to give some things away. It’s a really nice thing to just pass something on to someone who wants and will make use of something that has just sat around and done nothing.
Not only that but I am looking a little deeper and trying to purge those mental blocks, the things that cause a little bit of guilt, the unresolved issues that creep up on you at 2 in the morning when you can’t sleep.

Meeting up with one of my friends who I’ve not seen for some time really helped me get some perspective on a few things. I always used to feel that when I met up with people I hadn’t see for some time, I felt like they had been doing loads in the mean time and I was kind of standing still. This is typical for those of us that just have fairly secure 9-5 jobs with not much variation. You settle into your life, doing the day to day stuff. I realised that for me this is no longer the case and the funny thing is that as soon as we started talking, I was almost looking for a way to give him something of mine.

I feel like it’s all starting to come together now. Not only am I unburdening myself of material possessions, I’m purging those mental blocks and now I find my thoughts drifting more and more to my physical well being. Eating a bit healthier, not drinking alcohol and just being more aware of that aspect on things. Kendo is part of it but I feel like it’s all leading to that first part of the purpose.

To mold the mind and body.

 

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Pink Floyd and Eureka moments.

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Dark side of the moon is a superb album. About 3 years ago I could not have said that as I really didn’t have an opinion on it either way. I would hear people go on about how amazing it is and had no basis to go on. I’d heard it many times, just not taken it in and felt bad about this because being a guitarist, I thought I should like it. Then one evening, while at home by myself doing the ironing, Radio 1 played the whole album from start to finish. Then I was sold. Pink Floyd are great and Dark side of the moon is an amazing album.
I couldn’t quite understand how I’d missed out on this for so long but I quickly came to the conclusion that I had not been ready for it. I think this is the way certain fundamental things in life happen as well. Someone can ply you with advice on all sorts of things, but if you are not ready to understand or accept, it will pass you by. I realised tonight that kendo is exactly the same. You have to be ready to understand a certain aspect and until that time no matter how many times you hear it and try it, the true understanding of the concept will elude you.

During jigeko tonight, while in tsuba-zarei up in jodan, sensei just said “Hit kote from jodan.” I had to ask him to repeat but I got the message, and it suddenly made perfect sense. It was obvious. How could I have not seen this. This is where a good teacher shows their true skill by knowing what the student is ready for. Eureka moment.

We rotate and my next opponent seems to not be susceptible to that technique but I try it a few times anyway. I come close. Then another one hits me.
The concept of mushin crossed my mind and I remembered the words from a translated lecture I’d read on George McCall’s website called PURSUING THE SPIRIT AND MODERN KENDO. It’s in 5 parts and I think it’s a must for every kendoka to read.
He said about during a proper state of mushin you should become like a mirror and the intentions of your opponent will be reflected onto yourself. Suddenly debana made sense and also how to do it correctly. Being a former fencer, the concept of debana is familiar to me as a ‘stop hit’ but it had never really flashed as something I could effectively utilise. As I observed my opponent begin to move to attack me I saw him do it and simply did debana kote, one after the other. Now I think about it, this is employing elements of kata number 6 and number 7 of the Bokuto Ni Yoru Kendo Kihon-waza Keiko-ho. That small debana and/or suriage kote suddenly made much more sense. Eureka moment number 2 for the evening.

I suspect that these eureka moments are a result of my eclectic mentality and methods of learning things. In a previous post I was lamenting the fact that I am a jack of all trades and master of none, but this is probably where my strength lies now. Because I am now focusing my attention towards a specific goal, all these things I have done in the past are starting to join together. I’ve been telling myself recently that I should meditate more to help me cultivate my mushin, but kendo does it too, so I shouldn’t worry so much about it. There is an old saying about meditation. When you get to a certain point, everything is meditation, therefore, everything can bring about or be approached with a state of mushin.

I used to worry about everything, all the time. I was nervous of social situations, didn’t know how to talk to people and constantly had this kind of internal dialogue with myself about what to say next and invariably just sat saying very little. Buddhist philosophy and meditation got me out of that and made me realise how easy life can be if you have this state of mind. It was a personal eureka moment that I had one Saturday afternoon out of nowhere that fundamentally changed my state of mind.

I’ve realised now that like with many things I’ve done over the years, I tend to not start at the beginning of things and try to rush in. I suspect I’ve been a bit like that with kendo too (you’d have to ask my sensei) but I think because I have done so many things that there are certain concepts that I already understand and thus when it comes time for me to understand the new concept in kendo, I already recognise it.
Whenever I want to really understand something I’ve always just read as much as I can, even if I don’t understand it at the time, but find later on down the line, connections are made between the various different bits of information. These are what makes a eureka moment. Most of the time I’m thinking “How did I not see that before?” The answer is simple.
I wasn’t ready to understand.

archimedes

 

Contradiction, keiko and efficiency. (The Purge pt3)

So this weeks session consisted mainly of running through the basics of kirikaiesh with 4 of our new members.
As it goes, it was a fairly sedate session, for those of us who’ve been doing it for a while anyway. I’ll have been doing kendo for 2 years in August so I’m still a newbie too but in terms of the club not so much.
During our suburi, we did 100 jogeburi. As it was called out I suddenly felt for my newest dojo mates and remembered the first time I had to do 100 of any suburi. It’s really hard.
These days I don’t even think about doing that. 100 is normal and fairly easy and it’s all down to efficiency of movement.
At one point I had to stop doing kendo for a couple of weeks because I found I couldn’t lift my left arm above shoulder height. I had no idea what was going on or how to sort it. The doctor did little more than give me anti-inflammatory medication and the inevitable physio referral form. The medication did wonders but I skipped the physio. I’ve had physio before for various things and to be honest it’s never really made any difference. What has made a difference is careful examination of what is causing the pain and then how to fix that.
I used to get terrible neck pains, all the time that would drive me to the brink if insanity. Physio did nothing, acupuncture had much better effect but didn’t cure it. Repositioning my monitor and keyboard at work did. Fixed it completely because I carefully examined my physical state and worked it out. I’ve never been exactly in tune with my body and having dodgy eyesight has never helped my hand eye coordination so to actually work something out physically was a big step forward for me.
Coming back to the arm, I realised I was just being too tense and jerking my arm as I was cutting which resulted in pain and weakness. I fixed it by relaxing during suburi and refining my cutting action to the point that it takes nearly zero effort. I was told to do this on many occasions before I properly worked it out, I don’t always catch on quick, but it took me time to properly assimilate the information and work out how to apply that to myself. I am reminded of the Buddhist adage: “You have to find the truth for yourself.” This is true in all things.

So while I was imparting this information about efficiency, something occurred to me. How do the concepts of mushin and Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku fit together? Mushin is about cultivating a state of absence of thought or anticipation. Simply being in the moment and performing the cuts as and when needed. Not thinking about what to do next. They should just happen.
Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku is about concentrating on one thing. This makes perfect sense in terms of a training session. Picking one thing that you want to work on throughout the whole session and during ji-geiko is a superb idea. I distinctly remember one night just concentrating on my seme to great effect.
But to the untrained mind these seem like contradicting things. How can you be of no mind and not thinking when you are concentrating on one thing?

When I first started to meditate, I found it hard to empty my thoughts and not think. You try not to think, then you think about not thinking, then you scold yourself for thinking about not thinking. It’s hard to get the thinking mind to stop. It’s like your reality filter. Everything you see, hear and experience is passed through the mind filter and some sort of conclusion is made. That drink was sweet, the sun is hurting my eyes, the tree is far away. This is unnecessary.
One of the main texts I read on meditation said that in order to cultivate emptiness of thought you have to first be able to focus the mind on one thing. The mind wants to jump all over the place and wants to look at things so you have to give it a focus. It states about picking a point in your nose where you can feel the air moving over it and concentrate on it. Because your breathing is mainly automatic, you should be able to just observe and concentrate on the feeling without thinking about it. Every time the mind drifts, you bring it back to that point.
The more you do this, the more it becomes easier and easier to do, to the point where your mind is no longer making a conclusion about things and becomes quiet. Something we should all try to remember is that the mind is a tool and as such does not have to be switched on all the time. You don’t keep a hammer in your hand while you’re trying to do up a screw. You have to cultivate the simple fact that the mind does a job but the mind is not the be all and end all of who you are. Once you manage to quiet the mind properly, the true experience of life suddenly comes crashing through in much greater detail, colour and texture but you are no longer thinking about it. It simply is, as are you.

So this is where the Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku and mushin come in for me. I feel like Hitotsu o Motte Kore o Tsuranuku is a preparation. A seed to be sown in the psyche before mushin. You don’t have to be constantly concentrating on the one thing. You’ve sown the seed of concentration. Concentration is not the same thing as thinking either it is focusing your attention while drawing no conclusion.

This all links to the efficiency as well. It’s not just efficiency of the body but also of the mind. I primarily focused on the concept of efficiency after reading the following book:
Matrix Warrior by Jake Horsley. Not only is it a wonderful piece of overthinking, but a superb piece of focus on how to cultivate efficiency of body and mind. I picked up my hardback copy in Poundland and it’s £1.50 on Amazon for the hardback. Just buy it. Okay, it’s based on a fictitious world, but that hasn’t stopped most religions.

This is how the third part of The Purge is being built for me. Cultivating efficiency in everything, mind, body and life is extremely important. If your mind is distracted by many different things (thank you internet) then you are not being mentally efficient. Why should your concentration not be constantly focused towards your goals in life? Why distract it with frivolous things for the sake of entertainment? This is the mind doing it’s best to be used, it doesn’t want to let go. It wants to run everything.

Lastly I feel as though I have always fallen foul of doing too many things. I work IT support and in the past have tried my hand at everything. I’ve been a jack of all trades and a master of none in all aspects of my life. This ends now. Outside of work I have in the past, played guitar in a metal band, played solo acoustic gigs, done drawing, sculpting, snowboarding, skateboarding, car modification and customisation, writing (okay, I still do this), prop replica building, electronics, old computer collecting and repairing, theramin building, guitar effects building, DJing, PC gaming, kung fu, fencing, theatrical sword fighting. The list goes on and I have had and still have some of the things that enabled all these things to go on. It’s just a big mess.
I have now vowed not to let this continue any more and focus on much less. If you spread yourself too thin then you get good at nothing. I’m not great at any of those things listed really. I’m better at some that others but in no way would I call myself an expert in any of them. The things I have worked most on are guitar playing (about 25 years), fencing (about 12 years), various computing activities (30 years). I consider myself an expert in certain computing fields, but in no way am I an expert in others. I’ve spread myself too thin.

Too many things, possessions, activities, attachments, are all fuel for the mind to have something to do and take control of you.

Efficiency must be applied to everything and to do this I must purge it all.

!m!

 

Update:  I’ve changed this post a little as I was somewhat confused before about the concept of fudoshin. I have now changed that terminology to the correct one as I don’t wish to confuse anyone or myself. I will explore fudoshin another time.

 

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.

Clearing out the clutter. Life, possessions, guilt and Kendo. (The Purge part 1)

Over the course of many months and to be honest, the last 5 years, I’ve been dealing with clearing out the clutter and just the massive amount of worthless stuff I had accumulated over my life. It’s been a mammoth task to fit all this useless stuff into our rather crowded 4 bed detached.

The strange thing is, over time this clearing out has become a kind of central to my way of thinking. My wife has a great phrase to live by just when you’re about to buy something. “Imagine it in 3 months time and you have to dust it.” Pretty soon you realise you don’t need these things and all they become is a source of guilt. Guilt for yourself and for your children, yes, your children. I primarily associate my spiritual side with Buddhist principals and although I don’t follow rigidly I more and more realise the futility of desiring things.

Possessions fall into one of two categories. They are either things that enable you to do things you want to do and improve your life or they are just a source of guilt. All those little nick-nacks, ornaments and things that used to belong to your grandparents, they only bind you down.
Then there those things that are for a hobby that you no longer do, the sketchpad and drawing boards for your brief obsession with drawing. The guitar that you never play but you really want to keep for some reason. The snowboard that you used on one holiday, one visit to the snowdome and then has sat in the shed for the last 3 years.

They bring you guilt for many reasons. They can be something that you feel you should be doing or that you used to do that you think define who you are. But they are not who you are. If they were, you would still be using them and doing that thing. You’re probably doing something else now that you think defines you. This is not true.
You define you and the things you have are because of who you are. We’re a very materialistic bunch in the west and find it hard to judge a persons worth based on non tangible assets. You have to release the guilt and the item associated with that guilt.

The other way they bring you guilt is by it being something that used to belong to someone that you miss or was given as a present. Even if you don’t really like it, you have it because you think you should. You can’t bring yourself to throw it away because you feel guilty about doing it. “Grandma gave that to me.” So what? Grandma didn’t want you to have a load of guilt. You stick it in a box in the loft and then sometime down the line you look through it again and remember who gave it to you, why you should keep it and the guilt propagates again. You pass them on or die and someone has to sort through your boxes of crap. They look at it and keep them because they belonged to you and they care about you. They keep them, then feel guilty about wanting to throw them away.
Never give anyone a present that you know they will not want. Don’t give someone something that you would throw away. Don’t pass on guilt to someone else. Don’t keep loads of little crappy things for someone else to sort through after you die. Better still, don’t buy them in the first place. There is a big difference between what you need and what you want.

I’m still in the middle of ‘The Purge’ as I like to call it. Everything I own is coming under scrutiny and if it is something that brings me guilt it goes. If I haven’t used it for over a year, it goes. Even if it’s something I really, really wanted at the time but have no real use for, it goes.

The cool thing about this was that this way of thinking paid for my first set of Bogu.

Back when our Dojo was still very young and those of us who made up the core of the first intake of Meirinkan reached the level where our sensei said we should get into Bogu, I was feeling a little guilty about the prospect of shelling out £250 on my first set. My wife wouldn’t have been impressed either so I made myself a pact. I had to sell enough stuff to pay for it. The funny thing is, I managed it, in time to get my set at the same time as everyone else and also had some extra money left over. Additionally I have more space in the house, less items that I thought I might need one day, subsequently less guilt and none attached to the Bogu I had just purchased.

I now reach payday and think, “I’ve been paid. I can buy something I really want to. I don’t want anything.” Okay, maybe a really expensive Shinai, but I’m happy with the nice smoked one I got from Nine Circles for my birthday from my wife this year

Guiltless bogu

Guiltless bogu

!m!