The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prepare to Die


No, I'm not quoting The Princess Bride, a terribly funny movie with some of the best fencing to be found in a modern movie; and one of the few instances of where the movie outshines the original book.

A martial art is about fighting and there's no denying that. Even if your whole practice is based on a health practice, you can't forget that your martial art was based on the struggle of life and death.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Aikido World Journal. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole article. It is thought provoking and well worth reading.


Life and Death

About 20 years ago, I remember Mitsugi Saotome, Shihan said in an Aikido class here in Chicago:

Budo prepares you how to die ...

Hearing him say this on the mat I was intrigued to know more of this interesting perspective. I recall that my sinuses suddenly cleared in spite of the hay fever season and I listened very intently. Budo is the preparation for death. But in learning how to die, you learn how to live, respect, and appreciate life. Martial arts is combat, and there are only two options: survive and live on ... or die.

To press further, some people shun the martial art aspect of Aikido. While there are many that wish Aikido to a be a peaceful and beautiful recreational activity, it is my belief currently at this stage of my life that to fully understand Aikido is to accept it in its totality. To deny Aikido its martial arts side is to disrespect Aikido itself.

To try to dissect Aikido from its martial arts or Daito-ryu roots is to ignore the meaning of Aikido. It is a martial art --- a form of combat. And to study both aspects, should not depreciate Aikido but rather add to its understanding and meaning, in pursuit of serious study. To do this you must indulge in what made Aikido work and what essences it took on during it's evolution to Aikido.

In the case of refusing to recognize the "martial" of Aikido, we can look at different aspects of life to find out why doing so is so very much a hypocitical stand for those that say they are Aikidoists and practice Aikido. For instance, just because someone doesn't like the way the rind of the orange tastes, doesn't mean you throw away or forsake eating the orange itself. There is always something to learn from the things that one is more apt to avoid and dislike immensely. In our culture, we like to dissect things. We dissect thoughts and all sorts of things into two classes: things we like and are comfortable with ... and those things we don't understand, dislike and fear. We dissect animals too, but when we do ... we kill them at the same time, by doing so. It is much the same when we try to take off the "martial" from Aikido --- we take away its life and meaning.

In life, it is not unnatural for the female wolf to fight to protect her young. Furthermore, when an animal is cornered, normally it will not submit with its underside upwards but will attack with its last breath of life. Even the most smallest of animals will display this type of behavior. I have seen it rats and dogs. This is purposeful combat, meant for survival and the preservation of life.

Sometimes in learning how to fight and kill, you discover how important and fragile life really is. Unfortunately, there is no better lesson to this unless you have witnessed someone being hurt or abused, murdered, or have watched someone pass away in front of your eyes as a result of an accident. It is good to feel remorse, regret, and sadness. It brings you that much closer to appreciating life, nature and all living things. Death is as much a part of living --- as life is as much a part of death. They are diametrically opposed, but yet ... are so very much dependent upon one another. Without death, we would not appreciate life. We would not grieve. We would not have regrets at death. We would not have deep compassion for living without death as a reference, and visa-versa. They both compliment one another.

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