Training Intensely

Good morning and good evening everyone. 


This morning let me begin by reading Shokushu #19, which is entitled “Willpower.”

“The focused willpower penetrates even stone. This naturally arising state of mind silences even the storm and thunder. 

From where does the state of mind come? The person who accomplishes important tasks understands this power from experience. When we calm the waves of our mind, from molecules to atoms to electrons, we experience our great willpower, which is universal willpower.”

Today I’m going to address Tohei Sensei’s phrase, 

“Practice is not about how long you train, but about how intensely you train.”

Some of you often suggest ideas of subjects that I might address during these classes, and I appreciate that. Please continue to do so. However, please notice that whether I pick a phrase of Koichi Tohei Sensei’s or something that Shinichi Sensei has taught, or something that I myself have addressed in the past, is not really the point. No matter what subject I present, or suggest, or quote from, I’m always teaching the same thing; shugyo practice. 

In other words, this shugyo practice is to be intensely present in the moment, no matter what. This is our practice, and whether we’re in the dojo or outside of the dojo doesn’t make any difference. This approach produces the kind of intensity that Tohei Sensei is talking about here. He’s talking about the intensity of how we use our mind, not the intensity of how we use our body. Mind leads body, so if the use of mind is intense, the use of body is intense. If the mind use is not intense, no matter how intense we try to make the body action, it only becomes stress, tension, and self-torture. This only leads to exhaustion, and not awakening. 

It has taken me many, many years, to even be able to understand this, let alone say it to anyone else. In the early days, we were all going for body intensity, and this was very competitive. We were all fighting with each other to see who could do the longest meditation, the most stress-filled misogi, yell for one hour, never mind if your throat bleeds, It was common to sit for an hour while the teacher taught and then be asked to dash up to attack him, even though you had no blood circulation or feeling in your legs. This is idiocy, folks, not intensity. 

I hear people say, “If we only had the kind of training you had in the old days, Sensei, then we’d be really developed.” But folks, my true development didn’t begin until quite recently, within the last 20 years. The first 30 years of my training was slogging dangerously through my physical abilities, destroying different aspects of my body as I went, (which now I suffer from) and not getting anywhere. But of course, I did stay with it. Somehow I did have the insight and willpower, well, maybe it was the stubbornness of the ego, but I stayed with it. And it is because I stayed with it that I was finally able to begin to understand. 

Sometimes people ask me, “How is it that you became Hachidan, and were given so much responsibility?” Well, I always tell them it’s because I was “the last man standing.” And in a sense, that’s true. Tohei Sensei didn’t have much choice but to give me this rank and responsibilities, because most everybody else gave up. Remember, I’m 10 years older than Kashiwaya Sensei, Shaner Sensei, or Tabata Sensei, The other guys that were my peers in age, you have never heard of, because they’re gone. They all quit, perhaps because that kind of training didn’t lead to any awakening for them, or perhaps just because they didn’t have the will to continue. 

I think it’s important to understand the nature of intensity. If it is true intensity, then it gives us insight into our practice and really develops us so that we can be better human beings, more altruistic, more loving, feeling equal with everyone, not superior, not inferior. 

When we talk about the practicality of intense training, the key to this is always showing up. As you know, the first of the four elements of practice is “always show up.” If we’re not present, then there’s nothing that we’re going to get to experience. Of course, showing up means coming to every class, every seminar, every workshop, and every Aikido activity that we can possibly attend, so that we’re always present for what might take place for us, within or without.

Of course, attending events or not is looking at this from a relative, dual world point of view. But on a more unified level, showing up means being present in every moment. This is shugyo practice. The real intensity of our practice is about showing up in this moment. That is the first of the four elements of practice.  Listening and being open is number two. Following everything without hesitation or distraction is number three, and number four is accepting whatever happens and moving on to the next moment. 

In other words, this is a practice that is not dwelling on the past, nor looking to the future. No matter how insignificant we think this moment might be, no matter how important we think the next moment might be, we still must develop the willpower and insight to remain present in this moment. It’s very difficult to do. This is following the way of the universe, which is never being somewhere else. 

Okay, so we practice this way, whether we’re attending a class like this, listening to the teacher give a lecture or doing Ki Breathing or Ki Meditation or Mind Body Meditation. Whether we’re cutting bokken or just picking up the bokken, whether we are opening the car door or driving the car, whether we’re greeting someone or listening and interacting with someone, bowing in at the mat or bowing out at the mat. It’s always this moment now. Because this is the only moment when life is. Everything else is merely imagined. The past is memory, and the future is a hope or worry. Those two, past and future, are “thinking about life” as opposed to “living life.”  This living life completely is just being in a state of attention, and this is the intensity of our training. 

Okay, let’s do some Ki Breathing:

Ki Breathing – 20 minutes
Ki Meditatizon – 12 minutes
Mind Body Mediation – 13 minutes 

Somewhere in my book “Ki Aikido on Maui,” our training manual, it says “your practice must reflect the intensity of a stalking tiger.” Have you ever watched a cat, maybe in your yard if you have cats, stalk a mouse or a bird or even a cockroach? They do this with 100% attention. So that’s the intensity of this stalking tiger. 

But let me just give you one other example that I think clarifies what I’m trying to say about the nature of true intensity. A mountain and valley exist as opposites in our world. One is very low and one is very high. Right? But in fact, one cannot exist without the other. A mountain is there because of the valley. Without the valley, the mountain isn’t a mountain, and vice versa. The valley cannot exist unless there’s a mountain. Otherwise, it’s a flat plane. So just like male and female, large and small, over here or over there, all opposites exist only because of each other. These completely depend upon the other for their existence.

Everything is interdependent in this way, and we are all this way as well. So, when we meet anything in this life in the moment, whether we prefer it or not, we must recognize this as necessary for our own existence. We must be completely aware and present and not defeated by apparent differences. Just like in meditation, our intensity is most when we’re not distracted by thoughts of comparisons, disturbances, negativity, worry, stress, etc. Intensity is very calm and very quiet. 

Okay, so please, if you have any comments about intensity that you’d like to share with us, or any questions, please speak up. [Because this is being recorded, I must keep it on “speaker view” which means that I can’t see most of you. So, it does not help to put your hand up. I can only see you when you begin talking. So, speak up, and I will see you.]

Student: Good morning, Sensei. Hello, everyone. Yeah, I have so many questions related to this particular topic. I think of intensity kind of like the sharpness of a blade, something like that. And so, there’s also the opposite, dullness, right? And it’s like the dullness doesn’t seem to just be there because of thought. It’s like there’s something else going on. It’s like my experience of life feels kind of lacking in intensity in the moment at times. And so. I was wondering, you know…it’s like you mentioned at the end the Four Principles of Practice. Just showing up and doing that over and over seems to have something to do with all this. Of course, with this intensity, and being here not only in case something happens, but the act of engaging, involving over and over and over, seems to have something to do with this kind of sharpening. intensifying the experience. So, you know, it’s not real clear to me, so I was wondering if you could say more about this.

Okay, yes. First, tell me precisely what is not clear.

Student: I mean, why there is darkness in my life. Like, why the experience of life goes like, you know, sometimes there is a degree of intensity, but then sometimes it’s just, you know, like “blaw.”

Tohei Sensei often said, “Let’s put only plus thoughts in our subconscious mind.” That’s a hard thing to really grasp. First, I think it’s important to recognize that we’re always practicing something in every moment, and whatever that something is that we’re practicing, we are getting better at it, and we will be doing more of that thing tomorrow. 

We are constantly inputting stuff into our subconscious mind. No matter what judgments or assumptions about an event in time that we are allowing ourselves to make, what we are hanging on to is not just the event itself,  but what we have encapsulated into a story about that event. This is what we make our own and carry on in our subconscious memory. That’s really what we’re doing with our life, moment to moment. As we react to life, we build a story, a drama about it. And that drama is what we remember. It’s not the actual experience, but the story that we tell ourselves about that experience. So then, when we tell someone else about how someone treated us in that past moment, for instance, we tell them the story that we concocted about it, never the thing itself.  Otherwise, we would have no reason to tell others about it. And we might be exhibiting emotion while we tell about this past event. But it very well may not be the emotion that we felt at that moment. For instance, we may have felt shame, but now as we tell the story we exhibit anger. We build the story around our judgment of, and reaction to the emotion we felt at the time. 

Okay, so what this means is that we are not practicing intensity in that way, but instead we’re living in the past.  And as we are dwelling on the past, that means we will be doing more of the same tomorrow.  So, where is our life gone in the meantime?  Practicing correct use of mind in the moment, with intensity, means confronting the emptiness of now. It means completely listening to whatever is happening, not necessarily to a person, or to music, but to the ocean or to the birds or to just seeing the bookshelf here in front of you for the first time, seeing it for what it actually means, not just in terms of the idea, but more importantly the feeling. What is that?

So, if we’re paying attention this, we have a clarity and calmness in our life, moment to moment. Of course, we all find ourselves sometimes momentarily nonplussed, you know, kind of in a in another world like what you called dullness, or boring. This happens to us in meditation. We suddenly wake up and wonder, “What am I doing? I’m supposed to be meditating here, I want to be meditating.” 

So, what is meditating then? What is intensity? It’s simply none of the “other.” It’s just accepting this for what it already is. So that is our practice, show up, open, follow, and accept. And then, boom, we are right in it, completely and intensely!  This is just practice. It’s not a talking about practice. Listen carefully please. Of course, I do my best to explain but it’s that we have to do it in every moment and that means this moment. It’s not just words about practice, but the practice itself. 

We think, “Intensity is about when I go to the dojo. I will practice intensely.” That is good. Go to the dojo and practice. Yes, please do. But that’s not what it comes down to when you’re at the end of your life, let me tell you. What it comes down to is you better be doing it every moment. We might go to the dojo for an hour or two out of 24. But then what are we doing the other 22 hours? We’re building tomorrow! And if we’re not building tomorrow with today but instead we’re building tomorrow with a story of yesterday, or a hope of tomorrow, then we’re just going to completely bore ourself to tears at some point.

So that’s what I have to say about that. Thank you for asking. 

Okay, someone else please.

Student: Sensei, I find that when we’re constantly looking for this relative, like you’re saying about all these relativities of the valleys and mountains, etc. in so doing we are building our subconscious mind that way. Awareness is not thinking about it, but just doing that in the present moment, I guess the practice is hard to explain as we go through the steps. And I mean not the thinking about it, but just being here and aware of every single reaction that we have in our subconscious mind.

This is the kind of thing that is impossible to explain or point to because there is nothing here to point to. It’s the opposite of everything else. Or we might that it’s the absence of everything else. It’s what everything else isn’t. This is what practice is. Practice is not everything – no, it’s this, which is only this. It’s not a something that we can say, like looking at Vernon’s face, or holding my hands on my towel, or scratching my ear, or even, and especially, it’s not thinking pure thoughts. In other words, no matter how “spiritual” we get, we’re still not there yet. 

A word like “intensity,” has a great variety of meanings to people, all depending upon their current level of development, and what they depend upon for a sense of success and satisfaction in their life. If we need to climb a mountain physically to feel we have achieved something, then we’re probably not going to understand what practice is. But if we can understand that nothing is what is required to be completely intense in our practice in this moment, then I say “okay, maybe.” Thank you. 

Yeah, I know it’s a lot. So just keep going to the dojo everybody. Keep coming to this class. Find every opportunity you are given. Have you signed up to share your practice with me yet this time? You’re not too expert to do it and you’re not too much of a beginner to do it. A true expert has beginner’s mind. And a true beginner sees nothing but opportunity. So, let’s train together intensely. 

Domo arigato gozaimashita.

Thank you very much.