The above quote is a Samurai quote. The Samurai were feudal warriors of nobility in Japan who lived by bushido (“the way of the warrior”). Bushido embodied concepts such as loyalty, self-discipline, respect, martial arts mastery and honor unto death. These were the precepts of the Samurai warrior. Samurai did not worry about success or failure. Samurai lived only to accomplish their aim. They would have rather chosen death than to live life without accomplishing that aim. Committed to their values a Samurai would not waiver lest he be a coward. A Samurai would choose death over life because it was thought that Bushido was to die. Wait what?
Okay no one really wants to die so what are the parallels here to training and being the best that a person can be?
Samurai aimed to live life facing and overcoming their fears. When the choice was presented they would overcome fear even if it meant certain death. It was for their honor that they would promptly act. They prepared for this through daily meditation to set right their hearts.
Fear can be crippling. Fear can come to us in many forms. It will cause us to not take risks, to not work hard and to not do our best. Every morning that we wake up we face death, fear and uncertainty and it is up to us to determine how we face the day. There is a lot that can be learned from the Samurai. The Samurai would face death and embrace their death before stepping foot into the outside world. They would achieve a level of focus through meditation to where the consequences of death were inconsequential to them as they set out to achieve their aim. It is this that we can learn from with our own lives and training.
Training Jiu Jitsu brings together body, mind and spirit if you allow it. Rolling can grow into a form of active meditation if you can open your mind. Learning from the philosophies of the Samurai warriors of old we can apply bushido to our training. How can we do this? First we define what our “aim” is.
Throughout your life advance daily, becoming more skillful than yesterday, more skillful than today. This is never-ending.
Very simply our “aim” in training could just be to become more skillful and apt today than we were yesterday. This ideology can apply to all areas of each of our lives and in any endeavor that we pursue. In Jiu Jitsu, this simply means showing up to class as much as possible, and learning. We all come from different athletic backgrounds and have different physical aptitudes. Some will progress at a greater rate than others (the 5 year white belt and the person who made purple in 5 years).
That is just simply life though if we can dedicate ourselves to becoming better than we were yesterday, we can make progress today and continue to move forward. To become truly skilled in anything takes time, commitment and dedication. A person has to be willing to make attaining that skill a priority because there will certainly be times when it is not easy. Why? Life shows up. We get married, divorced, have kids, get new careers, get laid off, get injured, get sick, go on vacation, lose motivation, experience a loss etc etc. Even in times such as these we need not lose sight of our aim, improving ourselves.
For me there have been times where I have questioned myself as to what am I doing and why am I pushing myself through this? Then it simply comes back to my aim which is to become a better version of myself and through training at Neutral Ground I am finding myself evolving into that better person.
I am just starting on my journey and have only travelled a few steps and in this brief period of time it seems as if I have made a tremendous improvement in the overall quality of my life. Plus I also feel that I am becoming for skillful on the mat. The small little improvements that I am seeing in my training have bled over into my life. It is easy to lose focus and compare myself with that of someone who is more experienced and then think less of myself. This is a mindset that needs to be avoided. If I look to another person it is because they have a level of proficiency that I wish to attain and it does not mean that I am less than that person. It means that they have achieved more than I have. Their level of proficiency can become my goal because they are human just like me.
“The Way of the Samurai is found in death… It is not particularly difficult. Be determined and advance.”
It starts with determination. The determination to show up to class on time and to do your best, ask questions, gain understand and improve. That is all we can do isn’t it? All we can do is our best in this moment as that is all life is, this moment. There is never a tomorrow or a yesterday because we are always alive right now in this moment. The Samurai believed this as well and strived to do their best in every moment. When I first started, my best was pretty pathetic. Hell, before I came to Neutral Ground I had to hold my breath just to bend over and tie my shoes. My cardio was non-existent and horrible and my back hurt all the time. Sometimes the best I could do was to show up to class and not throw up. I keep showing up and little by little I am finding myself improving.
In anything, doing our best is the key. That is how we learn and advance. As a white belt my best in Jiu Jitsu in comparison to the higher belts is not that good nor is it expected to be that good. What is expected of me at this level is to keep showing up and to keep trying my best. Eventually colors change when you earn that achievement and not a moment sooner. Though if I show up and do not give it my best shot then I will certainly not advance.
“Every morning a warrior should recommit himself to death. In morning meditation, see yourself killed in various ways, such as being shredded by arrows, bullets, swords, and spears, being swept away by a tidal wave, burned by fire, struck by lightening, dieing in a earthquake, falling from a great height, or succumbing to overwhelming sickness. An elder warrior said, “Once out of your front door you are surrounded by death. Once you leave your gate you are surrounded by enemies.” This saying is not merely a parable, but a way to prepare for your fate.”
Okay so for most of us training is a hobby to help us to stay in shape and have fun. So the idea of dying in class is not necessarily a very welcoming idea. What I have been doing recently is taking the concept behind preparing for death as a way to prepare for class. Many people have said that sparring in Jiu Jitsu is a way to “kill” each other respectfully. So we train to fight to “kill” our opponent. Though the death in this scenario is a submission be it an arm-bar, knee lock, ankle lock, choke etc etc.
When I first started training I was afraid to get choked for submitted. It was not something that I was used to nor was it something that I was prepared for. I was a powerlifter and I work as an engineer. There is no choking or submissions involved in either of those. This negatively impacted my training. Many times because of my size and strength I would just stalemate with my opponent. I was afraid to move because I was afraid to be beaten. This is not a way to learn or to be. So I have been preparing myself before class to accept the fact that I will be submitted and I have visualized those submissions. Now when I step on the mat, being submitted does not bother me as much. I focus now on trying to move and transition. I no longer fear being submitted. This is allowing me to take more risks and allow me learn what to do, what works, what not to do and what doesn’t work.
The biggest take away that I get from the Samurai is to live within this moment and give this moment everything that I have without fear. Setting my heart towards my aim I believe that I can accomplish anything.