Showing posts with label 武道、武、道、. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 武道、武、道、. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Creating A Work Of Art Part 2

2 hours on a flower marble and my arms are about to fall off... let's hope the kiln gods are kind... I kinda don't think i nailed this one, but maybe... if you wonder why great marbles are worth the prices they are fetching, this is part of the reason... I can't tell you guys how much work I do that you never see... try... try again... tweak this... ponder a solution to that... try again... repeat as necessary... it truly is a journey through numerous processes to get things dialed in... great marbles and glass doesn't just happen... every single one of us has to put in the blood, sweat and tears... the best part is, once I dial something in, I get to start the grueling process all over again with something new my brain has conjured up... I don't need bondage in the bedroom, because I torture myself all day long in the shop... and I wouldn't have it any other way! LOL
Brent Graber

In my last post, I talked about adding on to ourselves, adding techniques and skills.

The other side of all of this I find more difficult to describe.  It’s the process of taking away, of removing that which isn’t necessary and may actually be a hinderance.  A sculptor removes material to make a sculpture, chiseling and polishing, and in budo we do the same.  We are constantly refining our technique to remove all the unnecessary movement.  It’s interesting that when learning a new skill, we engage all sorts of muscles that aren’t necessary to do whatever it is we are trying to do.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to pull my shoulders down away from my ears when I’m learning something new in the dojo (or even when I’m having trouble figuring out how to write something well).

Around the dojo the admonitions to “relax” and “use less muscle” are so common that everyone expects them.  What are we doing when we relax and use less muscle?  We are refining our technique, removing what is unnecessary.  On the first day we learn what the technique is and how to do it.  After that becoming good at it seems to be mostly a matter of removing the excess effort and unnecessary inputs.  

This goes for the rest of what we are as well.  Most of us have images of what we want to be, but getting there is awfully hard.    

Just like in budo, we have to work on removing that which is unnecessary.   We all have traits we’ve picked up that are unnecessary or prevent us from being what we want to be.  Just like all the practice that goes into making a good sword cut or a nice tsuki or a beautiful throw, it takes practice.  Learning to swing a sword is a good example.  On the first day we grip the sword hard with all ten fingers.  Sensei says to do all the work with the last 2 fingers of the left hand, but just because we know what he said, convincing those other 8 fingers to relax and let the remaining 2 do all the work doesn’t happen on the first day.  Each day we get  a little better at relaxing 8 fingers and not putting all that excess energy into the technique.  This is good because that excess energy put into the sword at the wrong place throws the angle, speed and effectiveness of the cut out the window.

As a person, there are lots of places in life that I put energy and effort into that would undoubtedly be better if I would just relax and not work so hard at it.  My ego is a huge example.  It gets all worked up over whether I’m right or wrong on minor issues, and I can put a huge amount of energy into a discussion (I’m trying to convince myself that I’m above mere arguing) that doesn’t need to happen at all.  I can grip my opinion so hard that my knuckles turn white even though I’m not holding anything.  

Over the years I have run into many people who say “That’s just the way I am.  I can’t change it.”  I admit to being unable to understand this way of thinking.  Who we are is constantly changing.  Each day we are a tiny bit different from the day before, and when enough days and their changes have piled up, we are a very different person indeed.  I look back on myself and can’t believe some of the ways in which I have changed.  The question is, do we take an active part in shaping what we become, or do we passively let the world change us?  If we passively let the world change us, we may not like who we become.  We always have the option of choosing what changes we want to make in ourselves.

In an earlier post I wrote about adding to ourselves. For all that,one of the most important ways we refine ourselves, transform ourselves into more wonderful people is by removing parts of ourselves that hold us back or prevent us from improving.  In iaido practice, I am working to let go of some bad habits that prevent my budo from being as good as it could be.  I am trying to carry less with me in my budo so that I can be better.  Outside the dojo I have a host of habits that I would be better off without as well.  The trick is to continue refining myself as a person in the same way that I refine myself as a budo practitioner.  I want to let go of the unnecessary tension and effort and bad habits that color the way I live and act.  Many of these habits make me less of a person than I would like.  As a budoka, I know that I’m never finished practicing, that I can always be better.

This applies both within the dojo and outside of it.  The lesson is learned in the dojo, but the lesson has truly been learned only when it is applied in the world outside the dojo.  I am never finished becoming me.  I am responsible for who I become from here.  As we are are growing up we don’t always have a lot of input into what lessons we are exposed to.  As budoka though, once we have learned the lesson of continual practice and refinement, we aren’t truly treading the Way until we start applying the lesson to our lives.  

Many of the lessons we learn growing up are negative lessons.  Sometimes we learn to be rigid and always fight when challenged.  Sometimes we learn to protect our ego.  Sometimes we learn to be cynical or bitter.  Sometimes we learn to be angry.  There are any number of negative lessons we can learn and apply to our lives.  Just like learning to relax our grip on the sword so that only unnecessary fingers don’t get involved, we have to learn to take the energy out of these lessons and let go of the bad habits they engender.

This isn’t any easier than learning to do things properly in the dojo.  In fact, the training time frames for budo give a good perspective of how refining ourselves will work.  We have a point we know we need to work on, so we start working on it.  Over weeks and months we show improvement on that point.  Then we start working on some other point and slip back a little on the first point.  Eventually we come back around to working on the first point.  By now at least a year has gone by since we started the process, and we’re just in the middle of it.  We’ll keep coming back to the same point, refining how do it, removing some of the tension and relaxing into the technique more and more, until we do it in a relaxed, easy way every time.  This will take years.

Improving ourselves and getting rid of excess and wasteful energy in our day-to-day lives is similar.  We focus on some aspect of ourselves, a habit that we need to stop wasting energy with. Perhaps we want to stop treating everything as a challenge that must be fought.  We’re not going to fix that right away.  At first we’ll be doing well when we realize we got stiff and tense over something that didn’t deserve all the energy that getting stiff and tense took.  With a little effort, we’ll begin to notice when we are getting stiff and tense unnecessarily while we are doing it instead of after that fact.  With more time and effort we can learn to not tense up so much in those situations.  Gee, does this sound like budo practice?  We identify a problem, and the usual goal is to relax and not tense up during the technique.  We do this in a constant cycle.  Over time what was a good level of relaxation will become unacceptable and we target further improvement.

This is part of improving ourselves and treating our whole being as a work in process.  We’re unfinished.  Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we’ve stopped learning and growing and refining ourselves.  It’s really the opposite.  As children we are growing and being molded by those responsible for us, parents, teachers, religious leaders and others.  It’s only when we have learned enough to choose what sort of person that we want to be that we can really start developing ourselves.  Until then we are being developed.  Taking responsibility for who we are is a huge step, and perhaps more than a little scary.  If I say, I’m not the person I want to be, and I am responsible for becoming that person, from that point we have to accept the responsibility every time we do something that doesn’t live up to the person we want to be.  It’s a lot easier to say “That’s just the way I am.  I can’t change who I am.”  

The process of crafting ourselves is never ending.  It may be worse than budo practice in that sense.  At keiko, we can rely on teachers and fellow students to help us spot our issues and find ways to correct them.  Outside the dojo we rarely get that kind of feedback, especially if we’re doing something that really puts people off.  In life, we most often have to rely on our own evaluations, though if we are lucky we have some good friends who will help us be honest with ourselves about our shortcomings.

Every day I try to be a better person than I was yesterday.  I’m happy to report that the feedback from my family and friends is that over the years I have improved and that I’m a much nicer person to be around than I was.  Over the years I’ve had to let go of a lot of things that at some point I was proud of, but eventually realized made me less than wonderful to be around.  I’m still working on that.  The same stillness, the same sense of accepting the world as it is, the same relaxed confidence that my teachers display in the dojo is what I’m working on.  I would like to have that as the basic face that I show to the world, and let things go from there.  I’ve identified the goal, now I have to relax a lot of habits (I’m sure my friends can make quite a list as to which ones need to go).

Budo is a Do 道 because it challenges us to apply the lessons everywhere, not just in the dojo or in a conflict.  Part of the challenge is to learn the skills and practices that make us better.  The other half is to get rid of the things that inhibit good action in the world.  We’re both adding to ourselves and stripping things away at the same time.  The challenge is to put as much effort into being a finer, nobler, more wonderful person as we do into a swinging our sword correctly or making that throw effortless or the strike absolutely precise.  Only then do we begin to become a work of art of our own creation.