December 23rd, 2004
Dear Colleagues, dear Friends, dear Students:
This is the time of the year to reflect on life and its purpose. Last year I talked about the importance of exposing children to those who may cause disturbances in order to help them develop the skills to deal with all kinds of people later in life. This all relates to Budo training. Most of us see only the physical aspect of Budo and our understanding doesn't go much further than this surface perception. That explains why so few students persevere beyond the technical aspect.
Most students are attracted to Budo training through its physical aspect only. When someone asks us why we have been studying Budo, we are often incapable of coming up with a clear answer: "I like it." "It's fun." "It's good for the soul." We hear vague statements such as these but nothing that reflects a deep understanding. That means that we really do not know what we are looking for; we keep repeating the same patterns over and over again yet continue to expect a peace of mind that never comes. That is not a phenomenon particular to Western societies; I have made the same observation in Japan.
Our teacher, Mochizuki Sensei - we call him Kancho Sensei - insisted on the importance of mindfulness in whatever we are doing. It means that we must have a clear idea of what we are doing and what it means. Often Kancho Sensei would say that Budo was education, not sport. During my thirty years of exposure to Kancho Sensei's teachings, other students and I asked him many questions. His replies were often very simple, and their simplicity would take us by surprise. But as we would think about it, it would lead to a deeper understanding of our ongoing experience. That came from his teaching philosophy:
If one has a solid foundation, one can discover everything that follows by oneself.
So one day I asked him: "What is the purpose of Budo?"
He answered, "Dealing with life difficulties, isn't it?"
His eyes seemed to be seeing right through me. He knew that I was struggling with many things and that that kind of reply would be appropriate for my frame of mind at the time. After over twenty years of pondering my question and his answer, I came up with my own working definition of budo:
Budo is the way to deal with life's difficulties. First by learning how to deal with physical difficulties, we develop the skills to overcome physical discomfort. The next step consists in applying the same approach in dealing with mental discomfort. The mind-body connection occurs there.
Not understanding this mind-body connection is where most students get stuck. Students get stuck partly because of insecurity. Many people are not comfortable with trying to navigate through the unknown, and this path to understanding the mind-body connection does not offer many lights or sign posts. We are comfortable only with the truths offered to us by our senses, truths that are concrete and easily visible.
This reminds me of a story. A teacher asked his students what colors apples came in, and the students of course offered the conventional answers: "Red," "Green," "Yellow." One student, however, answered, "White." The teacher tried to change that student's mind about her answer, but the young student insisted that apples were white. When challenged by the teacher, the student replied, "Cut open an apple - it's white inside, isn't it?"
We can understand the mind-body connection the same way. We have to cut through our preconceived ideas and explore new possibilities. But most people are afraid to do this because they fear challenging old, traditional beliefs. Yet we must take this step if we are to fully advance as students of Budo.
Not understanding the mind-body connection is also due partly to the absence of someone who can lead them to understanding. Not only must students have a path and a community of travellers exploring that path, but they also must have a teacher who will show them the way. However, for a teacher to be able to guide and lead his students, he must prepare himself first and develop certain qualities in himself. After all, we can share only what we have.
Please consider some of these thoughts for your new year of training. Here is also an announcement for the coming year:
The next AikiExpo will be held in Los Angeles at Cal State in Dominguez Hills, May 27th - 29th 2005. It is a world level event bringing top teachers from Japan, North America, and Europe. I was invited to participate and teach as one of the main teachers. This time, since it will be here, I want to involve the children in the demonstration. They seem to be very enthusiastic about that idea. It will also give them a short term goal and an opportunity to develop concentration. I haven't selected those who will demonstrate, but I want all of them to be involved in the preparation. Selection will be based on skill progress, attendance, and proper attitude. We represent the Yoseikan of Japan, and we must reflect Mochizuki Sensei's teachings.
The demonstrations will be filmed and distributed all over the world through Aikido Journal. I believe that some of the children will stick with this Budo, and those films will become historical records later on. More details will follow later. Presently, please go to "aikidojournal.com" for information. It's a wonderful site.
I would like to express my gratitude for your continuous trust and support. May you have happy and safe holidays with those you love and a happy and healthy new year. I am looking forward to teaching you in 2005.
Patrick Augé Sensei