Saturday, January 29, 2011

Walking with Musashi

I have spent the last week re-reading The Book of Five Rings (五輪書, Go Rin No Sho) as well as looking over The Way of Self Reliance, both by Miyamoto Musashi, a Japanese swordsman from the Late Warring Period and the early Tokugawa period (15th-16th centuries).  He is most famous for his duel on April 13, 1612 on the island of Funajima. Musashi faced an opponent wielding an impressive long sword known as a nodachi.  Legend has it that on the ride to the island, he carved a bokken (wooden sword) from a boat oar that was longer than his opponent’s weapon.  The duel was short and Musashi walked away the victor.  It would be in his later years of life that he would collect his knowledge into the works we now call The Book of Five Rings.
The book is a work devoted to his style of martial art and the philosophies from a lifetime of combat and study.  Musashi was a master of making the other opponent out think himself.  He would show up late or early to duels, used bokken to duel instead of blade, and generally changed his approach to each confrontation or conflict as needed based on the situation.  The mental skills and his application of knowing the thoughts of others must have been truly impressive.  There are lessons to be had by studying his work.
Let me be clear before we go any further; I am no Musashi.  In my line of work, I must look into grievances in the workplace and attempt to informally resolve these conflicts before they can escalate into serious matters.  It requires a lot of mental focus and knowing the habits and cultural backgrounds of a diverse group of employees.  I put aside quiet periods of the day for mental focus, whether it is at 4 am when I rise, on the bus ride home, moving meditation as I run my few miles a day to work or the Go-Gyo forms that form the basis of the martial art I now study.  Everyone should do some mental training daily.  I am sure Musashi, and history recounts this, spent hours refining his mental prowess.  We should continue his example in our daily lives, whether it is a devoted block of meditation, a quiet moment to settle the thought process, a pause before replying to a question, or a moving meditation during exercise.  These moments assist in the clarity of the heart and ensure we are proceeding as we should when faced with the sword.   Just as we stretch our bodies to develop fluidity and flexibility, we should stretch our minds to develop the ability to adapt to any situation that confronts us.  Strive to keep an open mind and understanding of your surroundings; how your actions, reactions and no actions will affect the environment you find yourself in the here and now.  Miyamoto Musashi did.  We should strive to walk along side him.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Setting goals and sticking with them!

First off, let me say thanks for stopping by.  I guess I can add some credentials to this writing so you understand where I am coming from.  I have been an avid fitness enthusiast for all of my adult life, graduated the US Army Physical Fitness School in 1994 as a Master Fitness Trainer, held certifications from the American Council of Exercise (LWMS), National Strength and Conditioning Association (TSAC-Coach) and am a 27-year veteran of the martial arts (Korean and Japanese influences) where I am now studying the classic kihon of To Shin Do Kasumi-An over the last year.  I believe that physical exercise is a key part of the three legged stool that makes up an individual (the others being the mental and spiritual aspects, but those are for another blog.)
I wanted to address goal settings and give you some food for thought as to your target for the coming year.  Every year those of us who are “gym rats” see the seasonal January crowds come and go.  We see the “oh, summer is here I have to spend two hours a day in the gym” crowds in May, and the inevitable November guilt crowds.  Maybe you are one of those who are considering stopping your exercise routine you started three weeks ago because you are not ‘shredded’ yet, can’t run that marathon, or hurt too much. We need to push through this moment and continue to the path of a healthier, fuller life.  Here is some food for thought:
1.  Obstacles.  They will drop right in front of you and try to throw you from your chosen path.  Learn to flow around them or, better yet, pierce through them.  Look and think outside the box.
2.  Set measurable goals, both mini- and long-term.  Start small “I want to lose 5 pounds” and strive towards it with determined focus.  Don’t start with “I want to lose 100 pounds” and then be discouraged in two weeks.  Start small, but look to the big.  A journey of a thousand miles begins with that first step.
3.  Keep it mixing it up.  Your body is an adaptable piece of machinery.  It will settle into a routine pretty quick, usually within two to four weeks.  This is the time when it is recommended to change it up.  Change your tempo, your resistance, your time.  Challenge yourself.  I have an advanced five week routine that changes focus every week; what is called microcosms and macrocosms.  You wouldn’t drive to an unknown destination without a map, would you?  Chart those workouts and increase as needed using Progression, Regularity, Overload, Variety, Recovery, Balance and Specificity.  I will discuss the PROVRBS acronym in a future blog.
4.  Build your support team, both mentors and travelers.  There will be a day when you are “dun” as I like to call it.  That is the time to reach out and within to gather your forces.  Friends and mentors can provide that little bit of encouragement needed to get cranking on your planned workout. 
5.  But, I don’t have the time.  Analyze what you really do in a day.  Keep an hourly log for a week, then go back and look at it.  There is a good bet that your daily hour of exercise is staring you in the face.  Renowned weight lifter Bill Pearl used to get up at 4 am everyday to get in his workout before he started his day.  Yeah, he probably missed his favorite TV show at 9 pm every night, but that show eventually ended and he still drives on.  It is all about priorities.
6.  Reward yourself.  I cannot lie.  I love chocolate covered honey buns.  They are evil incarnate.  But, I know that if I push myself hard Monday through Saturday, mile after mile, rep after rep, workout after workout, if I want a chocolate covered honey bun on Sunday, I can get away with it.  A friend of mine recently wanted some cake instead of working out.  I challenged her to have a small piece after her workout.  She went out and trained.  The urge for cake passed.  She is healthier and stronger because of her workout.
7.  Understand you will have slips.  Falling is natural.  The challenge is how to absorb the “fall” and spring back to your feet.  Don’t beat yourself up over it.  Right here is right now.  That slip happened in the past.  What are we going to do right now to make the future better?
Remember, keep training!  The best time to start is right here, right now.
Now, get off the internet and go get ‘em!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Live every day to its fullest potential!

An email goes across the workforce to inform us of the loss of a fellow employee.  For most of the workforce, this leads to a comment or two, some condolences offered and back to work.  For some of us, who knew... well, let’s just call him <*P*> to protect his identity at this point, this hits a little closer.  <*P*> was a gym rat, like myself.  Every day we would run into each other at the building fitness center.  He was 47 and married, at the point in his life where fitness means something different that the single 20 year old who thinks the gym is a social engagement.  We would pass through the strutting roosters, our headphones on, towel in hand, from station to station, bench to bench, mat to mat, grinding out the iron and reps to make sure we enjoyed the other 23 hours of the day to the fullest potential.   We were like quiet sharks, circling a cross cable machine with presence while the young’uns decided they were finished and would let the “old men” have at it.  He would always strike up a conversation while I did some of those ‘crazy routines’ I am known for from my martial and military past -plyometrics, bench drops, rolls into explosive strikes on the bags.  We would share a chuckle at the seasonal crowd; you know the group – the January surge, May “summer is here” procrastinators, guilty November groupies, etcetera, etcetera.  I would have my last conversation with <*P*> on the afternoon before he departed this earth.  He was in a point in his life like me, had not drank alcohol in over a decade and a half, watched what he ate, kept in great physical, mental and spiritual health, loved what he did for a living and lived every day to its fullest potential.  The next morning he did not show up for work.  It would be a few hours later that word reached us of the cause of death – aortic dissection caused by a previously undiagnosed congenital heart defect.  In the end, genetics got him.
So, what is the lesson here?  Our time here is short in the grand scheme.  Live every day to its fullest potential.  Enjoy your time here; make a difference in your community, your family and yourself.  Fill your cup to the rim every day and empty it every night before bed.  You will be missed, my friend, but the lessons of quiet perseverance and indomitable spirit live on.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A warrior's path

The warrior class is a unique and rare group.  True warriors do not concern themselves with being warriors.  They just are.  Truth, honor, loyalty and integrity are the cornerstone virtues of a true warrior.  The defining characteristic of a warrior is the willingness to close with the enemy even when that may be walking away to live another day.

Some people are born warriors; others are born to be warriors.  Both groups must strive to embody these virtues through right action, courage, tenacity and iron will in the face of temptation, especially in a society such as the one we live in today.  True warriors are protectors, to those in need, to those in distress, to those who have been overpowered.  A warrior protects the community, the family and themselves against those forces who would seek to do harm.  The application of mushin no shin, no mind yet mindfulness, guides the journey every minute of every hour of every day.  

It is said that when the student is ready the teacher appears.  Always consider yourself a student and embrace change – be willing to give up who you are today for whom you could become tomorrow.  Believe in yourself.  Believe in change.  Believe in your teachers, your mentors and fellow travellers.  Choose the path carefully. Remember, if you are facing in the right direction, all you have to do is keep on walking.