Message from the President for 2018
It has been twenty-five years since Kaoru Sensei and I moved to Los Angeles after spending the seventeen previous years teaching and developing Yōseikan Aikidō in Canada.
I have been reflecting on what we did and on what happened. While in Canada, over twenty students had been promoted to Black Belt, the point at which they could start training at that level. Four of them are still active and sharing the teachings they received. We kept the same standards after moving to California. Since then, several external students have been promoted to begin training at the black belt level, whereas only three Honbu students have reached the point.
Let’s remember that Mochizuki Minoru Sensei’s Yōseikan Spirit is deeply rooted in the Samurai culture (Bushidō) which refuses to compromise. Therefore, we can call it the “Less Traveled Path”!
Times have changed, this is a fact. We have more technology to do our work faster; therefore, due to external and internal pressure we still struggle to cram more stuff into the same amount of time, expecting more results. We end up running from one assignment or activity to another, our attention span gets shorter and shorter—movies, popular TV channels and their commercials reflect that trend—stress level rises, and the quality of sleep has been deteriorating to the point where we do not remember the last time we had a good night’s sleep.
While observing other people, students, and myself, I have been reflecting on the following question: what are the causes of our inability to see clearly what is important—that is to say “the meaning of life and our purpose”—and why do we spend so much time running around to the point where we no longer have the time nor the desire to sit and think beyond materialistic concerns? And if there is any time available, why do we fill it with mindless entertainment and activities?
During 2017, we spent much time discussing that topic during camps and Mondō (Q&A periods), since we are all concerned and involved, yours truly included.
From that, I have noticed three groups of people—separated by grey zones allowing for transfer from one group to the other, depending on everyone’s progressive or stagnant degree of awakening:
- Those who are unaware of it or live in denial.
- Those who are aware of it and do not do anything about it due to an overwhelming feeling of “being stuck” (victim mode).
- Those who are aware of it and work with it (solution mode).
I have found laziness to be the main factor in our inability to sit quietly in order to think and reflect on the meaning of our lives.
Here is my present conclusion based on teachings I have received, my own research and practice. This should never be taken as a final conclusion but should be used as a base for further questioning and development.
FOUR TYPES OF LAZINESS:
1. Mental/Physical Torpor, Indolence: not thinking, doing nothing, wasting time, etc.—That is the literal meaning of the word, the “tip of the iceberg.” Then below appear subtler, sneaky forms of laziness.
2. Laziness of Procrastination: putting off what we know should or can be done now. The causes are #1, #3 or #4 types. (It does not apply to postponing as a planned strategy). Common examples of procrastination: “I’ll start meditating, dieting, exercising, resuming my training, reading this book, etc., after New Year, after I am settled, etc.”; “I still have time to work on this project”; “I still have until tomorrow to go to the dōjō”; “I will read this message later…”; “I know that I should start my meal with veggies and eat more of them, but…” (There is always a ‘but’ or an excuse such as an external pressure and/or obstacle).
On the surface, we know that we should do something (acting out of obligation as opposed to training ourselves to overcome laziness), but we prefer to remain in the safety of our zone of comfort, hoping that some miracle or time will take care of it, unless we are forced to act (fear factor or greed factor); for example, fear of an immediate consequence such as being fired or demoted; or desire for an immediate reward such as a raise or a promotion. Procrastination is often linked with the next form of laziness.
3. Laziness of Busy-ness or the busy-busy syndrome. From the time we wake up in the morning, we have to do this and do that, rush here and there all day long; when we finally get home at night and have some free time, we are too tired to think, do anything or reflect on our day.
We know that something isn’t right about the way we live our lives, “but” we don’t make time to think about it. Therefore, we fill that “free” time with mindless chatting and/or distractions. We go to bed, sleep a few hours then wake up in the early morning and the mind starts racing again… Common examples of that: “I still have time to make this call, to drop in at the grocery store on the way, to squeeze-in this meeting, etc.”; or “my priority is blah-blah-blah,” or “I cannot attend due to previous engagements” when we know deep inside of ourselves—but deny—that we may be missing a one-time opportunity and that the option of flexibility is available.
Once in a while, we come across a book, an article, a recorded teaching, or a documentary that we know can inspire us to make those changes that are so needed. In the case of a book, how many of us complete it? How many of us read it more than once, or reflect on each chapter, each paragraph, and each sentence one at a time?
In that respect, here is something I have been wondering about and wanted to share with you:
In 1951, Mochizuki Sensei arrived in the Harbor of Marseilles, France, to escort a group of Japanese students to an international conference in Switzerland. Sensei’s plan was to go back to Japan via North America and promote friendship through Budō. From the taxi to his hotel, he spotted a Jūdō Dōjō on the side of the road. He checked in at the hotel, pulled his Dōgi out of his suitcase, then took another cab back to that Dōjō. The Jūdō teacher instantly recognized Mochizuki Sensei’s expertise and immediately called the president of the French Jūdō Federation in Paris, which resulted in Sensei being invited to go to Paris right after the conference. Sensei ended up staying two years in France, canceling his trip to America. The whole journey started from there.
My question here is: what would have happened and where would we be now if Sensei had made the following excuses (as most of us would have): “I am tired, I need to rest; I don’t speak French and we are leaving for Switzerland tomorrow morning…”?
On the more practical side, I have also been noticing along my nearly sixty years of Budō over three continents that the students who stay near the Dōjō are more likely to arrive just in time, or be late, than those who live far away.
The laziness of busy-ness is a very subtle form of escape that most of us don’t see or don’t want to admit, because in our materialistic society, being busy is considered as a virtue! It prevents us from seeing the true value of what is offered to us until it is no longer available to us (Consumers’ Mentality).
Now let us look at a fourth hidden but identifiable and closely related form of laziness:
4. Laziness (emanating from a feeling) of Inferiority or Low Self-esteem: feeling that we don’t fit, self-discrimination based on our origins, social class, material possessions, etc… It may start like this: “so and so has straight A’s, what about you?” Then we begin to compare ourselves with others: “I have to be the best in order to get adults’ recognition”; or “I have to go to this prestigious college in order to earn my friends’ respect”. Then straight A’s start taking the form of “$” and there we are in the rat race: “I have to wear this brand name, drive this kind of car, live in this neighborhood, etc.” We struggle to reach the top and once we have reached it, we start worrying about keeping that position. We look at our competitors as obstacles to eliminate, when, obviously, whatever their goals are, their existence has been providing us with the opportunity to improve ourselves constantly.
Low self-esteem may also lead to arrogance: we brag and show off to pull others down, convincing ourselves and others that we are better, when, actually, we cannot raise ourselves above their level.
There is a clear distinction between low self-esteem and humility. Humility stems from grounded self-confidence and awareness.
We recognize our true level. It keeps us alert, it simplifies our lives and helps us admit our weaknesses and correct them. There is no energy wasted on making excuses.
Laziness of inferiority may also lead to depression. It is prevalent in our competitive society, where our perceived self-worth is based on what we have and on what others think of us (external factors).
A very rampant and subtle form of Laziness of Inferiority may also be expressed in the following way: “I know that I have this gift, but I am afraid that I won’t be able to make a reasonable living with that!” Every child and youth has a dream. How many act on it?
Occasionally, a student announces right in the middle of college that they decided to change orientation due to a growing awareness that they were slowly being caught in a Chinese finger-trap. It takes courage to recognize that fact and take action. However, we will never regret such a decision, knowing that we had to go through that process in order to be where we are now. A reminder that often “the poison is the medicine”.
There is some form of laziness in each one of us. We must remain vigilant so that we become aware of it as soon as it arises and take appropriate action. That process also helps us develop tolerance and patience towards others since we can understand better what they are going through (due to our own struggle with it), whether they are aware of it or not.
Now let’s look at DETERMINATION, or the antidote to laziness.
During our Mondō, we discussed about determination and how to cultivate it. We distinguished determination—which is based on understanding—from stubbornness—which results from laziness and ignorance. We can consider three types of determination:
1. Unshakable Perseverance: in Budō, it consists in applying daily the two interconnected principles of Flexibility Overcoming Rigidity and Mutual Welfare, while overcoming the three increasing levels of difficulty—obstacles, challenges and hardships—that we are bound to encounter on our Path.
We start with Obstacles, like little things that are in our way, irritate us and to an untrained person could conveniently become excuses to procrastinate, but can be managed with the right attitude (Flexibility Overcoming Rigidity). That will prepare us to overcome the next level.
Challenges require more time and effort but are manageable to a trained person—according to their level. Challenges stimulate us to constantly expand our zone of comfort. Examples of challenges are studying and speaking a foreign language, traveling to unknown places, eating unfamiliar foods, accepting to reconsider our opinions regarding likes and dislikes, continuing what we start and maintaining our focus, dealing with injuries and health conditions, providing our students with a stable place to practice, etc. By training ourselves to deal with challenges, we prepare ourselves for the next and last level of difficulty.
Hardship is whatever falls on us unexpectedly such as accidents, natural or man-made disasters, life-threatening illnesses, death of a loved one, and betrayal from a trusted person, etc. An untrained person is more likely to function in victim mode when facing any level of difficulty. To an untrained person, an obstacle may appear as hardship. On the other hand, a trained person—while experiencing unavoidable physical and/or emotional pain—will immediately function in solution mode and will seek to manage the situation by breaking it down into challenges and obstacles. Such a person is more likely to take leadership and save lives if an emergency occurs.
Once Tomiki Sensei said to Mochizuki Sensei that he could survive the Siberian prisoners’ camp where he had been incarcerated by the Soviets at the end of the war due to the rigorous Budō training and discipline he had undergone as a young man. Other university staff members who had been interned with him were mostly intellectuals and some died miserably due to despair on top of hardship. Tomiki Sensei also added that he had a purpose that kept him going: introducing Aikidō into Japanese universities. He used that time to devise his system and plan.
2. Fruitful Perseverance: we must reflect on what is productive and then practice it diligently until we reach a point of non-return. Useless activities will then be abandoned easily.
3. Altruistic Perseverance: by applying and training ourselves in #1 and #2 types of Determination, we increasingly become aware of our mission as human beings, which is to contribute to society’s evolution through our inborn gifts—we all have inborn gifts. All living beings want happiness and the only way to achieve happiness (peace, stability of mind)—and manage stress—is by training ourselves to develop and share those in-born gifts with others. That requires being aware of and working with all types of laziness, especially #3 and #4. (Refer to Matthieu Ricard’s book on Happiness).
I have been reflecting on my past and present experiences, on my own training; I have been observing students' behaviors and listening to their comments, and then I realized that Determination is the result of a process. Determination is not inborn, although it may be triggered by the need to survive. However, I have been observing that very few people maintain their determination once they have acquired the basic necessary skills to survive. They are more likely to quit and use that new acquired self-confidence to profit for themselves.
“DETERMINATION MUST BE CULTIVATED!” Those three interconnected types of Perseverance (when we practice one, we reinforce the others) can also be called Will-Power. When we practice them persistently, we may not feel much progress at the beginning, but slowly we become aware of their interconnectedness. By persistently going through the process of working with obstacles, challenges and hardships, we reach a POINT OF NON-RETURN after which it can be maintained with moderate effort. From that moment on, all fear of slacking off or quitting is gone. We may skip one or several Keiko in order to take care of some important matter, but we will be back on the Tatami as soon as possible! In that case, whatever occurs becomes part of our training as we will also take time to do our “Hitori-geiko” (physical and mental solo-training). That is true Shugyō. Unfortunately, very few reach that stage but the younger we start, the more likely we are to reach it.
Before reaching that point, any absence due to laziness, mismanagement of one’s schedule, illness, injury, urgent matter, etc. is likely to become a distraction; we will fill that time with something else (“laziness of busy-ness”) and we will never return to Keiko or we will keep repeating the same pattern of behavior until we quit permanently.
I have also been observing that talented people and those who have it easy due to convenience of any kind are more prone to quit whenever some changes occur in their lives. Regarding talented students, they also tend to get more attention from teachers and Senpai, take it for granted, slack off and stop progressing. Once that conduct has become evident, they lose that attention, then switch to something else, change teachers and repeat the same pattern. By contrast, those who have to struggle know that nothing comes easy: they develop early the skills to overcome their difficulties, which ensure the cultivation of determination.
Here is the revised Budō Mantra as for now:
The key to progressively fruitful practice (Keiko) is to cultivate and maintain our determination by working with all the obstacles, challenges and hardships that we are bound to encounter along our Path (Dō).
Please remember to take all of this as material for thinking and testing. As Mochizuki Sensei taught us, “do not take anything for definite and test it for yourselves first; then draw your own conclusion.”
Kaoru Sensei and I renew our vows to continue with your support the mission that Mochizuki Sensei gave us as well as our wishes for a mindful and fruitful 2018.
Patrick Augé and Kaoru Sugiyama