The first three parts of this series of articles presented the rationale at the core of the ‘budo for education’ concept as well as some concrete examples of such budo-derived tools and how these can be utilized as part of an educational system for our youth. In this fourth part we further present more key tools for life taken from budo’s ancient wisdom, to be applied within the proposed contemporary educational framework.
Allow mistakes – we need mistakes
Accepting the possibility of making mistakes – in a way even welcoming them - and allowing ourselves to step out of our comfort zone, is a major educational concept. ‘Allowing mistakes’ is the only path for true learning and growth. This does not imply that we should make mistakes intentionally, but rather we should not prevent spontaneous response or avoid attempting new practices out of fear of failure. This is true for everyone and particularly for the perfectionists, who are always trying to be perfect and avoid mistakes at all cost.
For many, the concept of ‘allow mistakes’ seems contradictory to the budo spirit of ‘always do your best, as if it’s the last chance of your life,’ but actually you can never do your best if you do not accept mistakes; you will always be inhibited, limited to your current comfort zone, will do things too carefully and will not be able to give your whole being into your current 'doing.' Only when we accept mistakes can we go into unknown areas, away from the habitual and convenient.
This relates directly to the concept of ho-shin, as by giving everything, letting go and accepting mistakes we create the ‘free space’ in our mind, enabling us to better perceive the next situation and respond more efficiently by showing mental flexibility and fully being here and now i.e. awareness.
Sensei Nishiyama used to say: "Once you go, only god knows win or lose,” "don’t worry about results." Meaning that once all ‘what if…’ considerations are done and a decision is made – let go, remove all inhibitions and fully be there, for a moment switching off the multitasking and constant hopping our brain is involved with.
Mistakes are our best opportunity for growing and developing, they allow us to be creative. Making mistakes allows you to experiment, to go beyond your boundaries and into the unknown, the discomfort zone and trying what feels risky, in order to become free to apply the basic principles in infinite ways and find what fits your body and personality, rather than just imitating your teachers.
In budo we say that the sensei is like a compass, he points the finger in the right direction, but the student has to walk that way, to experiment, to fall, make mistakes and if he gets off track the teacher will point him in the right direction again. If you are not going to allow mistakes then you will only be able to respond to situations you are familiar with and used to, but if a circumstance is not within your experience, you will get stuck and hesitate. If you do not accept mistakes, you will always be too careful and rigid and not be able to fully commit yourself.
Sensei Nishiyama noted that it is common for champions to become more rigid and tight, and that’s because they are expected to perform at a certain level and are afraid to make mistakes or fail to achieve what they or their environment expects of them. His advice to competing athletes was “don’t try too hard, just enjoy it and do your best” – by forgetting about winning or losing you don’t worry about mistakes and only then can you really do your best. There is a thin yet clear line between being irresponsible, not fully committed to doing your best to achieve your goals and letting go after preparations have been fully done and allowing yourself to do what feels right without the constraints and limitations imposed by the fear of mistakes.
On your journey for growth, changing habits and acquiring new skills, we must accept mistakes. The proposed program should provide a friendly environment where participants feel comfortable to experiment in new ways while making mistakes, knowing they have the support and constructive feedback of other participants and the session conductor or sensei.
When engaged in mindfulness exercises, where should we direct our attention – inward to our current thoughts, feelings and emotions or to the outside, being aware of the external world surrounding us? Well we want to be able to proactively do both at will, thus being able to control our in-out awareness switching.
Mindfulness is not about withdrawing into our ‘inner compartment’ of a narrow limited sense of self, centered around our thoughts and emotions. Rather while observing our inner state, we wish to also use our senses to direct attention to sounds, scents, touch, taste, movement and body use – interacting with the external. It is interesting to note that Buddhism recognizes six senses – the usual five plus our mind. Mindfulness brings an open moment-to-moment perception of our entire awareness, directed both inward to our emotions and thoughts as well as outward as a result of our interaction with the external world.
The skill to be developed is to take control over our attention so that we can direct it as needed at will, inward or outward. When the waves of our inner world are high and we find it hard to navigate our inner storm, we might wish to turn to the outside world as an anchor and an island of stability. Vice versa when the outside is unstable, threatening, or stressful, we can turn to our inner haven for peace, confidence and stability.
In budo we practice three types or phases of proactively directing our attention in or out at will:
- Kihon – in a ‘self-discovery' process we learn to become aware, recruit and efficiently use our body to combinine intention, breath, muscle action, pressure and ground reaction, transmitting and accelerating energy from one part to the next along the kinetic chain.
- Kata – awareness of environment and surroundings, as we direct our intention and ki in different directions from one movement to the next according to a clearly envisioned application scenario.
- Kumi-te – we connect to our partner in the deepest sense of ‘two become one’ as implied by the term kumi-te which translates into ‘integrated hands.’ We practice awareness of our partner’s breath, inner movement preparation, intention, moment-to-moment changing of energy and strategy and trying to identify and later create skill-based opportunities while avoiding running into his superior power.
As an educational vehicle, budo knowledge and training methods facilitate the development of sharp, clear, sensitive and responsive moment-to-moment awareness.
Passions, desires, craving, urges and impulses are all part of our very human nature. We often struggle with temptations, addictions, distractions and procrastination – all part of our human existence. Willpower is our ability to control the above, including our attention, emotions and desires. As an educational framework, budo provides a way to enhance students’ will power so they can later reach their true goals in life by leveraging budo-derived tools.
A lack of willpower plays a major role in our failing to meet our set goals, often resulting in feelings of guilt, failure, shame, disappointment and frustration. People are different and consequently face different willpower challenges, yet all these challenges tend to play out in the same way for each of us – my craving for chocolate is similar to your craving for a cigarette, my procrastination toward completing my project is similar to your ‘not now’ decision to go running. Therefore, the budo-based strategies outlined in this article are helpful for any goal we choose.
This is a unique human quality and key to enhancing willpower. Self-awareness is our ability to realize what we do (as if observing or monitoring ourselves from outside or from a deeper domain of self) as we do it, to analyze why we do it and assess or predict what we are likely to do. To improve our self-control and willpower we should first realize and become aware of how we lose control so we can next turn our insights into applicable willpower enhancement and success strategies.
Most of our choices are made on autopilot, often not even realizing we are making a choice, let alone being able to influence or control the process. So to influence our choices we should first be aware when those are being made. There are many things we do out of repetitive habit, and with just some level of awareness we can realize how ineffective these are and whether they should probably be dropped or changed.
One brain two minds – inner struggle
Evolution added our self-control system on top of our ‘zebra-brain’ so all the urges and instincts, that once served us well during evolution yet often get us into trouble these days, are still there. For example, craving fat and sweets that served as life insurance for our ancestors have become a health or even a life risk in our present day. We are stuck with the impulses yet also equipped with impulse-control in our current dual-being. So we have one brain with two minds – our ‘zebra brain’ acts on impulses seeking immediate gratification, while our more recently developed higher hierarchy brain can control impulses and delay immediate gratification.
Human existence can be described as constant switching, interaction and often struggle between our two selves. The willpower challenge is the inner struggle between the two selves. Through budo training we learn to wisely leverage our primitive instincts while enhancing our self-control system, so these can cooperate in helping us to make good decisions. Every willpower challenge is a battle between different selves. For the ‘higher me’ to take control, we need to strengthen self-awareness and self-control.
To achieve success requires willpower enhanced through discipline. Lacking discipline, it is very difficult to completely devote ourself to a task for achieving a set goal, as the natural tendency is usually to favor the easy or most comfortable option. It is through dedication and persistence that one can overcome their weaknesses, possibly turning them into strengths on an educational path of building a strong and capable personality, as overcoming one’s weaknesses results in self-confidence.
Budo helps to prepare a child for life. In budo training, children know that more is expected from them, so with the right balance of discipline and encouragement from their sensei, they develop to their maximum potential.
In budo we strive to develop and acquire stable emotions, enabling us to perform well under pressure by keeping our mental state stable even within stressful situations. These situations, such as those encountered in budo, often diminish our performance, as there is a clear influence of mental state on physical symptoms and ability. When relaxed and calm, our sensitivity, responsiveness, creativity and flexibility are usually better than when stressed, anxious and pressured. Through training, we learn to keep a similar mental state - and thus good performance - even when environmental conditions change significantly, by creating an inner stable and quiet mental space less affected by outside fluctuations.
The skill for life to be acquired can be described as the ability to create your inner quiet space within ‘noisy’ surroundings, which is of great value in many real-life situations. Such stressful situations include taking a test, competing, presenting in front of an audience and common situations of human conflict. Since our mental state at any given moment significantly affects our response and ability to successfully handle external events, our ability to proactively control our emotional state and achieve stable emotions is a life modifying and success enabler skill.
Adaptation and Mental Flexibility
In budo self-defense situations we must have the mental flexibility to instantly adjust to new conditions and spontaneously act accordingly. The Japanese term AiKi (aiki-do) represents the ability to flow with, not resisting but rather adjusting as needed, while demonstrating sensitivity and mental flexibility. It is safe to assume that actual life events shall not unfold exactly as planned, hence it is critical to acquire the skill of (instantly) adjusting to at times unplanned and unfamiliar scenarios, avoiding rigid emotional attachment to our original plans.
So the skill being acquired is relevant and applicable in many life situations where being sensitive, agile, responsive and flexible are of great value. Like water instantly adjusts, with no gap or delay, to any curve in the river, so should we flow and keep up with ever changing situations.
- Shadow exercise in pairs – no gap between our partner’s movement and our own, as we become their shadow (no gap - never late to adapt and adjust);
- AiKi with KiAi – learn to concurrently be very determined and persistent, while still being sensitive to others and flexible in adjusting to new circumstances;
- change direction – by breath, from center. Exercise ‘allow mistakes’ and not search for perfection in life situations, trusting your ability to adjust and respond wisely rather than constantly being anxious about what is coming next.
Often used by the Samurai, in budo and in many other fields. In budo we visualize our actions in our mind first. The basic sequence of any action is:
- mental image;
- intention, giving direction with Ki (mental energy) already flowing and projected;
- breathing translates intention into actual muscle action;
- physical action.
We use our imagination as a tool for growth and change. Our brain responds similarly to reality and imagination; the key point making this concept so useful is our ability to ‘fool’ our subconscious, as it does not distinguish between what we consider reality and what we vividly create with our imagination. For example, imagine you are happy, laughing and feeling good and the same endorphins shall be released in your brain as if this is actually happening.
We can create our reality by vividly imagining it, so our brain starts working automatically 24/7 and subconsciously, seeking relevant opportunities that serve and promote our set goals, making us aware of those so we can actually exploit the many opportunities us that we might have been blind to, if it wasn’t for the imagination training we went through.
Use imagination exercises to acquire the ability to cope with difficult, scary or intimidating situations, rediscover our body and acquire new enhanced movement patterns and develop intuition.
Kime is at the heart of budo, representing complete mental-physical focus and energy acceleration at the moment of impact or delivery, coupled with KiAi. Linked to the concept of ho-shin, it is by giving everything at kime time that we are able to create potential and be ready for the next action, implementing zan-shin (keep mind) continuation. It is the complete focus of mental-physical energy at a given moment and point in space.
Kime is a spirit and an attitude for life, representing complete determination, giving everything with no doubt or hesitation. Kime as an abbreviation of kimeru means to decide, and indeed as a tool for life we use the Kime spirit to make decisions with complete determination, removing any unnecessary doubt, hesitation or fear of failure. Exercising budo techniques coupled with KiAi, students acquire the ability to summon all physical-mental faculties in a given moment with complete determination.
In this part of the article we further presented some of the budo tools for life that can be of great benefit for our youth and future society, once provided within an educational framework globally. These tools include:
- allowing mistakes – for discovery and growth beyond our current comfort zone;
- budo mindfulness – become aware and thus able to switch at-will and as needed between inner and outer awareness as per the given life situation;
- budo willpower – develop the ability to make wise decisions, overcoming the reptilian part of our mind;
- peaceful mind – develop an inner quiet anchor, maintaining stable emotions during stressful situations;
- adaptation and mental flexibility – instantly adapt to changing circumstances.
Budo as an educational framework provides an effective way for achieving a better life for the individual and a better society for all. In this series of articles, I have presented concrete and applicable budo-derived concepts and tools that can be implemented globally within a ‘Budo for Life' educational program, fulfilling master Funakoshi’s vision of leveraging budo wisdom for the individual’s perfection of character.