Friday, May 15, 2015


(thanks for the inspiration JZ)

How much is enough?  Can we ever have ENOUGH?  Or is MORE always better?
Psychological studies show that beyond a certain point, more money is not necessarily better.
Many of the happiest countries in the world are materially poor (at least relative to the United States, for example).  In the study above, the US ranks a relatively disappointing 15th (lower than Costa Rica and Mexico, by the way).  The report strongly suggests that well-being, rather than just GDP/wealth, is at the heart of being happy.  We can take this to mean that no matter how much money we have, we cannot be happy if we are not healthy.  Shockingly, Japan (where I live) ranked 46th, behind Uzbekistan and Guatemala, and only one place above South Korea.

Many people I know seem gripped with fear - fear that they will never have enough; never have enough money, but also never enough time, enough love, enough respect or fame.  We run around so busy in our lives, as if frantic action (or more action) was the key to having more of the things we think we want.
By working harder and harder, we actually have less and less.  Maybe a bit more money, but less of everything else.  Subconsciously realizing we have less of the intangibles which we know really matter (time, love, energy, health, relaxation) we panic more, and the spiral spins faster...until something bad happens...

Somehow, we are led to believe that being successful is being BUSY, when maybe it should really be the opposite.  Maybe success is about having more free time to pursue the things we really feel passionate about. Maybe success is having the time and resources to learn and grow, rather than falling into bed exhausted at midnight every night, running to and from the airport on business trips to have meeting after meeting after meeting.

For many of us, the idea of contentment, being happy with what we have, is scary.  It suggests we will NEVER HAVE MORE, and TV, movies, and marketing gives us enormous social pressure to believe more is always better.  It's just NOT.

To Buddhists, desire/wanting ("Upadana" or "clinging") is one of the two the root causes of suffering. Particularly, this is the desire for things to be "as we want them" or for things to "stay the same" which, understanding impermanence, is impossible.  To want the impossible creates an inability to accept The Truth of what IS, and leads us to fear of loss - causing us instead to cling far too tightly and become unable to experience real happiness or contentment.  In short, the pain of loss is worse than the loss itself.

At the last Japan seminar, Guro Fred mentioned that we will be the first generation of people in history to have a shorter life expectancy than our parents...this is as profound as it is sad.  The stress is killing us.
The CDC reports that heart disease and cancer (both linked to stress) are the leading causes of death for people in the US.  More disturbing is the data showing that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-34.  This strongly suggests that the stress and pressure of trying to be "a successful adult" is more than many young people can handle.

In search of MORE, we do stupid things.  In search of more money, some people break ethical/moral rules they otherwise would not.  In search of more love, many people look outside their marriage or relationship rather than invest in the one they have.  In search of fame/respect, we become willing to give up our self-respect, pride or dignity in the hopes that others will like us.  In the search for more time, we stay up late and don't get enough sleep, indirectly causing health problems.  We eat more and more every year in the search to consume and experience more, putting additional stress on our fragile bodies. 

I am now almost 50 years old.  I have learned not to be afraid.  Martial arts taught me that.  The training taught not just to be unafraid of death, it has taught me that there will be enough:  I will have enough time to train; enough time to work and be productive; enough love; enough money; enough respect to feel good about myself; enough resources to help others; enough opportunities to learn and grow.  I don't have enough to be wasteful or foolish, but if I am careful and consistent I will have enough to have a comfortable and contented life.  Thinking about this makes me feel at peace.  It can make you feel at peace, too.

The mantra "I have enough" is one of my favorites for meditation - reminding myself again and again not to be in a panic to collect more of anything than what I need to be happy.

As I told a dear friend of mine the other day,

In life we will not be judged by how much money we have or how many bottles of champagne we drank, we will be judged on how much we loved and were loved by those who matter to us; by how much compassion we showed, and how much we were able to improve the lives of others. How much we inspired and were inspired. How much passion we had. How brightly we shone; how intensely we lived. What values we had and whether or not we stayed true to them when things got tough. 

Trust me, Enough in Enough.  More is not necessarily better.  Focus on the human things that matter most.
If you must seek more, SEEK MORE BALANCE.

See you at class.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Input - Output Model

(thanks for the inspiration GH)

There it is, the I/O model.  Many of you have heard of it, especially maths/computer science geeks, but it is perhaps a great deal more profound than most people realize.

The I/O model is a great way of understanding so many of the situations that we face in our lives.
We often struggle to get a different result, somehow naively believing that we could get a different output from the same input fed into the same process.  Of course, if we are detached, we can understand that the only way to get a different output is to change the inputs or use a different process.

Working backward, we can use this principle to examine and adjust almost any aspect of our lives, from our work situation to our relationship status.  We spend far too much time worrying about the results we get - financial, physical, emotional, spiritual.  All too often, we are stressed out because we don't like the results (outputs).  I would content that we spend far too little time examining the inputs and processes which yield these results.  Time and again we repeat the same negative behaviors or use the same ineffective inputs - only to be shocked when the outputs are the same every time (or worse).  How could they be better if the inputs are not improved or the process changed??

As we look at the areas of our lives we feel need improvement, we can work backward to examine the processes and inputs which created the outputs.  In almost every case, the inputs can be changed or a different process used.  Sometimes this will yield a worse result, but more often than not mixing things up will yield an improvement - sometimes a significant one.

If nothing else, adjusting the inputs and using different processes allows us to leverage feedback loop and explore the relationships between variables, sometimes seemingly unrelated variables.  It reminds us that we are not victims of circumstance or subject to simple fate, dumb luck or bad habits.  WE HAVE CONTROL -  we always did.  We can determine how good or bad our lives will be.  We have the power to change the things we don't like, if we can have the courage to change the inputs and processes we don't like.  This is complete empowerment.

Even in our training, we are always free to change the inputs and processes of the training.
Doing so gives a fresh, new perspective that can give additional insights or develop new skills.
Our diet routine, our sleep patterns, our exercise habits, our drills --- all of these create the output of who we are as martial artists.  All are within our control to change.  Different inputs of focus, time, discipline, energy added to different/better training processes are what really take our skills to the next level and keep us moving forward.  FMA are unique (I think) in continuing this evolution at a rapid pace, while still trying to preserve the martial traditions which underpin our knowledge.

Changes take time and are often scary or uncomfortable.  Martial arts is a great way to develop the confidence we need to change, and keep changing, the things in our lives we want to make better.  Experts say it takes 21 days to form a new habit - sometimes that can feel like a very, very long time.  Martial arts training gives us the discipline and patience to see the changes through to new habits, and create an environment of continuous improvement for ourselves.

Knowing this, we must accept responsibility, total responsibility, for our circumstances.
If we don't like something - CHANGE IT.

Make your life what you want it to be.  I KNOW YOU CAN.

See you at class.


Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Fight Night

Well, it's over.  The "Fight of the Century" did not end with a BANG, the sound many predicted Pacman's glove would make on Money's jaw, but with a whimper as Floyd Mayweather played it safe and defended his title with very little risk, negating Manny Pacquiao's offense for the full 12 rounds to a unanimous decision from the judges and unanimous dissatisfaction from boxing fans.

There are a lot of differences between sports and martial arts, and it is important to understand them - each one can have its' place,  but they are rarely interchangeable.

In sports, we can separate the individual from his/her athletic prowess.  We can focus on the measurement, the numbers, the points or seconds and forget who they are as a human being. This could be true for legendary sporting "bad boys" like Mike Tyson, Tiger Woods, Michael Vick, even George Best, just to name a few.  Even supposed sporting "nice guys" like Pete Rose and Michael Jordan do not have spotless records of conduct - nearly every sports legend has personal character flaws that are distasteful, if not blatantly illegal or immoral.

We can allow ourselves to forgive, or at least ignore, their failings as human beings in light of the excitement they make us feel when we see their sporting feats and share in their victories.

As martial artists, this is not enough.

Our goal is to make great martial artists, and that means great fighters with a deep understanding of the context, history and background of the traditions we teach.  More than this, our goal is to make GREAT HUMAN BEINGS - human beings with compassion; human beings who can positively impact the world by going forth to achieve their personal and professional goals using the confidence and self-esteem they develop and polish in the dojo.  We want to inspire the next generation of people who will take control of their own lives, take responsibility for their own actions and make a change in the world because they know they can.

At the end of it all, a punch is just a punch and a kick is just a kick.
What really matters is the person you choose to become, and "points" are no substitute for being a bad person just as having money does not forgive transgression.

I wanted Pacquiao to win just like all of you probably did.  He seems like a better person, and I wanted him to be the better boxer, too.  In sports, it is hard to find the right combination of athletic prowess and upstanding character.  In martial arts, we must settle for nothing less.  We must expect this of our teachers and training partners, and we must demand it of ourselves.

Becoming the best fighter in the world is worth nothing if it costs us our humility, our respectfulness, or our compassion.

See you at training.