Modern Day “Bushi” #261

In my last post I referenced the term Bushido which, has since occurred to me, deserves greater explanation. For those unfamiliar, the word “Bushi” represents samurai or one who was a member of a family community and who’s profession was a warrior. The word “dō” signifies “a way of life” hence the translation “the way of the warrior”. If you have a Martial Arts background you are likely familiar with this term and the concept behind the lifestyle of daily improvement and following a code.

While many understand Samurai to represent a sword-wielding fighter of military origin, the word actually stems from the verb “to serve” (Jisiru). Initially Samurai were civilian servants who served their community. The term would not be used towards military men skilled with the sword and bow until hundreds of years later. Being a samurai meant living your life according to a code mostly built around honor and discipline (the most highly regarded attributes within Japanese culture). Failure to meet these standards is what led to the disembowelment ritual know as Seppuku. These men quite literally lived a life of “death before dishonor”. The code by which a samurai lived and judged his actions was “bushido” which is made up by the characteristics below.

1. Justice – Decisions should be made quickly and decisively, always based on the right reasons.

2. Courage – Doing the right thing based on our beliefs rather than what people think we should do. Most noble acts involve a high level of courage.

3. Mercy – “With power comes great responsibility”. Having the power to kill and be dangerous is a necessary force, it was greatly important for the samurai to be balanced in their thinking. Killing, was only to be done for the right reasons and if there was no need to kill you should be merciful and sympathetic.

4. Respect – It is one of the most fundamental principles of Bushido and important in everything they believe. The way they lived their life meant being respectful and polite towards their elders and others’ beliefs.

5. Honesty – Honesty was very important in everything they believe. As they believe that being honest in everything you do gave you respect which meant you could be trusted.

6. Honor – To live and die with honor was paramount in samurai culture. This ties in with Seppuku or the act of disembowelment. It was better to die and regain honor than continue to live a life with none.

7. Loyalty – Another critically important virtue of the samurai culture. They lived and treated each other like family and would do anything to protect and serve the other warriors. This meant trust and knowing they could be loyal to whatever they needed to do without loosing the respect of the other samurai.

In essence, being a samurai meant a simple life of servitude and discipline. Days were spent preparing for combat, studying zen and being of service to your master and the community. The modern day equivalent is anyone who’s occupation is to serve from the police officer to the hospital nurse. You could even argue that everyone’s life involves some type of service to someone other than yourself. Why is this important? Because what separates the samurai from anyone wielding a sword was the service of something greater than themselves as well as a code meant to show them right from wrong.

The samurai were not the only class of warriors to exist. There existed yet another group who shared the same capacity for combat but lacked a master to serve or a code to follow. These fighters were known as rōnin.

A rōnin was the name given to any masterless samurai warrior aristocrats, during the late Muromachi (1138-1573) and Tokugawa (1603-1867) periods, who were often vagrant and disruptive and oftentimes actively rebellious. The differentiating factor between samurai and rōnin was that the latter did not live a life of service. Their decisions were based mostly around emotion and desire rather than adhering to the code of Bushido and were responsible for many of Japan’s assassinations before the Meiji Restoration period in 1868 which ended of the shogunate empire.

Imperfect Goals #260

Have you ever had your mind set on a goal? Shedding a few extra pounds? Perhaps a “personal best” for the gym goers? Or maybe something less measurable like better relationships? Given that we are only a week and a half into 2022, it’s not a stretch of the imagination that many of us have set our eyes on a goal that results in a personal change. Like some of you no doubt, I myself have committed to a more disciplined routine involving cold showers, daily reading, daily blogging, language practice and guitar.

Have I been perfect since starting out? Hardly.. There have been days where sleep supersedes my need to be obsessive about each and every detail. Is this ideal or acceptable? No, not by my standard, but I can say that my aim to meet these goals has resulted in overall positive improvement. So it is up to me to keep chugging along in the same direction. But why, you might ask. Why not set a more realistic, achievable goal? Because it’s not about achieving a goal, it’s about the process and how pursuit of perfection can mold us into better humans.

I suspect that the idea of “perfection” itself is what prevents many from continuing to pursue their goals. We all know someone who started a diet and quit a couple days later. But was it actually too hard for them or did they slip up a few times before throwing in the towel? My estimation is that if they had acknowledged our human tendency to err and pressed on, the result would be an overall positive improvement. In athletics an average athlete who is on the field for every game is far more impactful than the star athlete who misses half the games. In the long run, consistency always wins.

The reality is that in Jiu Jitsu, just as in life, there are times when ugly gets it done. Sometimes you sink a choke that is less than ideal but you give it your all in order to achieve the win. Does it have to be pretty? Not at all. “A win is a win as the saying goes”. On the same note, while in competition success is often viewed as your hand being raised, improvement over time can also be a success. This way of thinking stems from what the Japanese refer to as“Kaizen”. A model for “continuous improvement over time” used widely in large organizations for its notable effectiveness.

Success is often seen as a destination rather than a process. Everyone wants to win the trophy or get their black belt. What can be overlooked by many, is that the most defining aspect of this process is the journey to becoming great. The process is what builds your character, the struggle of developing good habits, the ever present challenge of developing one’s discipline. In Martial Arts this is referred to as Bushido “the way of the warrior”. What I find important to discern is that “the path” is the path for each individual and there is no road alike although they all lead to the same place “self improvement”.

“The Prodigal Blogger” #259

It seems like forever ago when I chose to step away from this page due to family/life crises that befell me in April of 2021. Unbeknownst to me, these challenges would catapult me further in life and work than I could ever imagine. Fast forward to now, I am eager to jump back into the blog space accompanied by greater clarity and intention, or so I make up.

Who can know that the most turbulent of circumstances are but a necessary catalyst to move you in the right direction. At the beginning of my hiatus, I was stressed, heartbroken and afraid of the unknown. Little did I know, these changes that had affected me and others in my circle would be responsible for the tremendous impact of our Jiu Jitsu academy in the community, not to mention our most successful financial years to date.

My point in this is not hubristic in nature but an effort to acknowledge the almost poetic beauty found in every struggle. My observation is that such perspective can only be achieved through adversity. After all, if Viktor Frankl could will his mind to survival in the internment camps in the freezing winter, we should all be able to handle some difficulty. Such tests of character might even be necessary to reveal one’s greatness. I find this to be evident in Viktor’s work “Man’s Search for Meaning”. A book I highly recommend if it’s not already in your collection.

When I started this channel my goal was to complete 100 days straight of blog posts, per the influence of Seth Godin, with no clear direction but the challenge alone. Since then, it has not only become something to organize my wandering thoughts but also a means of giving back for all that this life has given and taught me. My hope is that my past experiences and what I make of them will provide you with enrichment, albeit small, by means of information, inspiration or even entertainment.

I settled on the name “The Jiu Jitsu Way” not just in an attempt to sound cool but with the goal of imparting the physical, intellectual, emotional and moral lessons achieved through a life of studying, training and disciplining the mind and body. The root of Jiu Jitsu is, after all, turning any situation into a positive for oneself by use of technique, leverage and timing. It is my feeling that such a concept can and should be applied into one’s daily life and mindset.

While it is easy to look at the superficial nature of Jiu-Jitsu rife with beasts attempting to rip eachothers limbs off and strangle each other, underneath is a true personal conquest of intelligence, will, grit and many other human necessities for survival. At its core, fighting is in our DNA, we learn to compete for attention even before we could walk. As we evolve and mature, greater understanding of the principles that make a good martial artist (discipline, focus, open mindedness, compassion, etc) are necessary not only for survival but for leading a rich and fulfilling life.

#258 Struggle of Life

“Do not pray for an easy life but the strength to endure a difficult one…”

Those of us fortunate to spend enough time on this earth can recognize that life is about hardship and overcoming adversity whether we like it or not. Every day is a chance to develop our resistance to life circumstances so that when our will is tested we will not find ourselves victim to life itself.

#256 The Greatest Instructor

In Jiu Jitsu, as in life, every practitioner will eventually face the inevitable. Injury. While it is only natural to want to retreat into isolation and “lick your wounds” these are one of the art’s greatest learning experiences that will ultimately define you as a Martial Artist. While the severity of the injury may prevent you from live sparring or intense practice, keeping your mind active by studying and observing the sport is essential for growth. After all, if fighting was purely physical, there would be no need for practicing technique or improving strategic understanding.

The warrior’s next step after victory or defeat is the same.

#255 The Way

After watching some episodes of current Disney hit The Mandalorian, the phrase used by the Mandalorians “this is the way” stuck with me. In Martial Arts “do” or “tao” often describes the path or the way, this is evident in words/phrases like Bushido or the Tao of Jeet Kun Do. While “the path” is meant to be reflective of self discovery based on principles, it can easily be confused as a concrete and already defined way that one should follow. This differentiation was understood by the likes of Bruce Lee who preached abstinence of dogmatic confines such as Karate or Tae Kwon Do which limited a fighter to one discipline and one train of thought. In order to break this mold of thinking, one must clarify the difference between what is fundamentally regarded as “the way” such as improving one’s discipline daily and the interpretation that one must rise early to improve discipline. While there may be truth in the last statement they are fundamentally different as one is open to individuality and one is concrete. As Yoda would say, “The path, for yourself you must find.” or something to that affect 🙂

#254 Self Care

Oftentimes we tend to associate caring for ourselves with good feelings when in fact it can be far from it! Making good choices for ourselves is never easy, like eating healthy, exercising and being kind to others. While it is important to have some R&R and “treat yo self”, one must learn to come to terms with the fact that self care most often comes in the form of difficult decisions that will ultimately improve our well being.

The Struggle of Knowing Oneself #265

“The world, Govinda, is not imperfect or slowly evolving along a long path to perfection. No, it is perfect at every moment; every sin already carries grace within it, all small children are potential old men, all sucklings have death within them, all dying people — eternal life.” – Herman Hesse (Siddhartha)

Despite our ambitions, we all arrive at moments of realization in regards to ourselves. It could be discovering three hours of sleep is counter productive and your quality of work could benefit from more sleep. You may find the opposite to be true, where sacrificing an hour or two of sleep may result in the extra time needed to get more done, resulting in overall less stress.. Maybe you find that despite your best intentions you have a propensity to offend others. In contrast, you allow others to walk all over you which leads to resentment due to the fact that you failed to spine up and say what you have to say which led to harboring feelings that are hateful in nature.

Regardless, we all encounter times in our life where we must look deeply within the reality of who we are, “the good, the bad and the ugly” so to speak. It’s uncomfortable, yet human and despite the fighting urge to leave things the way they are and cope, the only guarantee in life is change. To paraphrase Ari Weinzweig from A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach To Building A Great Business “we always have problems but we can choose to have better problems”. The problem for many is that in order to have better problems, this usually means going out of the frying pan and into the fire. Meaning that in order to make any sort of meaningful or significant change there’s a good chance things are going to get worse before they get better. Take the story of Yeonmi Park, for example, who endured incomprehensible acts of brutality to escape North Korea’s communist and totalitarian regime. There are plenty of other battered women who are faced with the decision to leave their abusive husbands and go out into the unknown. While the solution is simple, it’s not at all easy to carry out. As the saying goes, if it were easy everyone would do it.

Without acceptance of “what is” it becomes impossible to move forward and grow. This is a known benefit of competition in sports for example, your inherent qualities or lack thereof, are on full display. Your truth will be known and not just to you. This is something that is hard to accept (hardly anyone will revel when it comes to losing in front of their friends and family) yet this humbling experience is for many a necessary outcome for the sake of learning to overcome our weaknesses through the process of trial and error. Those with the right mentality can over time learn to acknowledge their shortcomings or errors and seek definite and deliberate improvement. If they do desire, that is. This is what Carol Dweck refers to as a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. I will do my best to crudely describe her genius work.

Growth mindset can be described as “I lost because I must not have given enough effort” while a fixed mindset on the other hand sounds like “I lost because I’m not fast” or whatever adjective you so choose. Unfortunately this fixed mindset is far too prevalent in today’s society, where people believe that if they lost they must be bad, rather than understanding that the lessons from sports or competition for that matter have more to do the process of improvement versus a trophy. This exposure to “failure”, as those outside the veil of Martial Arts would know it, is the quintessential purpose of the trial and error a Martial Artist endeavors to overcome. At our Jiu Jitsu academy we position true failure to our students as quitting or giving up rather than surrendering to the vehicle of improvement that is constant evolution of oneself physically, emotionally, intelligently and spiritually through Jiu Jitsu or Martial Arts.

#252 Make BJJ Your Own

One of the most interesting things about Jiu Jitsu is the way that beyond the fundamentals one must know (front shoulder rolls, back shoulder rolls, break falls, hip escapes, etc) every individual must discover for themselves, their own unique style. As a thought experiment for a beginner practitioner, ask yourself what you want to be known for in 10 years. Do you want it to be armlocks, impressive takedowns, positional dominance, leg locks or being a well rounded fighter. Ultimately it’s up to you to decide, and I urge you to allow your Jiu Jitsu to take form in the way that best fits you as a person. Below are some athletes who are known for creating their own style that they would go on to be known for.

Marcelo Garcia – X-guard, guillotines, butterfly guard and rear naked chokes.

Xande Ribeiro – Known for an impassable guard and “Classical Jiu Jitsu”.

Rafael and Gui Mendes – The birth of the mainstream use of the berimbolo and leg drag.

Gordon Ryan – One of the most well rounded styles of Jiu Jitsu with a complete standing, bottom and top game that earns him one of the highest submission percentages of any current fighter.

Keenan Cornelius – One of the most decorated Americans out there known for his “Worm Guard” and other lapel variations.