The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Courage (Yu)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Rise above the masses of people who are afraid to act.  Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all.  A Samurai must have heroic courage.  It is absolutely risky.  It is dangerous. It is living life fully, completely, wonderfully.  Heroic courage is not blind.   It is intelligent and strong.”

As I mentioned in another article, living and acting with courage does not mean that one lives without fear. Fear, in fact, is quite necessary and a very valuable tool when used correctly. Author Gavin DeBecker, in his great book The Gift of Fear – and other Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence reminds us that we don’t want to eliminate fear from our lives , but the manufactured emotions of worry and panic.  The relationship between real fear and worry is analogous to the relationship between pain and suffering.  Pain and fear are necessary and valuable components of life. Suffering and worry are destructive and unnecessary components of life (Great humanitarians, remember, have worked to end suffering, not pain).

Therefore, courage is not trying to eliminate fear, but acting without letting fear overwhelm us.  This is easier than it sounds.  While sitting in the comfort of our homes, we say to ourselves “Sure, I won’t let fear overwhelm me, I will be courageous!”, but when we are truly faced with a life-threatening situation, our fear takes over our logic, and we “talk ourselves out of ” doing what we know we should.

The Aikido student, working on his courage, tries to place himself in scary situations during his training (such as testing, free-styles, or fall training) in order to become familiar with the feeling of fear and work on acting calmly.  Notice I said scary, not dangerous, since the two are not necessarily the same.  Needlessly injuring oneself does not address fear.

Like many things in life, courage seems to be a character trait, when actually it is a skill to be learned and practiced.  No one is born courageous, but we slowly learn to master our fear, and act and do what is right with courage.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Compassion (Jin)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Through intense training the Samurai becomes quick and strong.  He is not as other men.  He developes a power that must be used for the good of all.  He has compassion.  He helps his fellow man at every opportunity.  If an opportunity does not arise, he goes out of his way to find one.”

A vital requirement of the Aikido student is the developement of compassion, and one of the most difficult.  How can that be, you ask?  Most of us believe ourselves to be compassionate people.  After all, we love our wives and husbands, we love our children, and we care for our friends and colleagues. We are nice to people in general, but what about the people we don’t like? If we are honest with ourselves,  deep down there are always people we don’t like, for a thousand good reasons. Being compassionate to these people is the real test.

Here is my definition of compassion; the understanding that each and every person is doing the best that they can, given their temperament, environment, and experiences.

For example, many of us have turned up our nose at the rude, smelly, dirty, homeless alcoholic lying in the street and asking us for money.  Would it have made a difference how you felt, if you knew that his person grew up with alcoholic parents, was beaten and abused in childhood, and had never even seen a lifestyle that did not include alcohol?  For better or worse, people accept and live in the reality in which they are presented. If you or I had those parents, and grew up in that environment, would we be any different? Probably not.

There, but for the grace of God, go I . . .

So, finding compassion for our enemies as well as our friends allows us to live a life without hatred.  I’m sure you will agree that hatred has produced more undesirable consequences for society than compassion.  And because you are compassionate doesn’t mean we have to embrace our enemies, nor protect ourselves, we only need to understand that even our enemies are doing the best they can, given their temperament, and experiences.

In their studies of combat, the Samurai never took life indiscriminately; they valued life.  In studying killing, life became more precious, and all life had value; even your enemies.  This is compassion.

The 8 Tenets of the Aikido Student – Justice (Gi)

This article is part of a  8-part series  on the Samurai Code for Modern Times.

“Believe in Justice, not from other people, but from yourself.  To the true Samurai, there are no shades of grey in the question of honesty and justice, there is only right and wrong.”

When you are about to die on the battlefield, things become very simple.  There is no pondering, and agonizing over which choice to make; if you happen to choose wrong you never know it anyway.

Justice is actually a simple concept.  Justice is understanding the difference between right and wrong, and doing right.

However, in the modern world, things become more complicated.  We have developed into a society that decides justice in the courtroom. I recall a line from Tom Cruise in the wonderful movie A Few Good Men  “It doesn’t matter what I believe, it only matters what I can prove . . . “.  For better or worse, we have adopted this mentality, and justice in our society has become “fuzzy”. For many, they will only acknowledge that they have done something wrong if you can somehow prove it to them, and will continue to do morally questionable acts with no remorse.

It’s time to take justice back into our own lives, and make it personal again. Like the above quote says, you must first decide right and wrong in you own mind and own life.  Only then can you dispense your obligations with honor.  Justice is our moral compass that guides us through life.  Some decisions are not clear as to whether they are “right” or “wrong”.  We must weigh all the factors and alternatives, and choose the course that is the most “right”.

Finally, personal justice has no meaning if our actions ultimately create an injustice.  For example, the mafia and the Yakuza have very strict codes of conduct for its members.  They dispense their obligations, they take care of each other, they obey, support and protect their leaders.  This sounds honorable, until we recognize the central theme of the organizations; to raise money through crime.

Don’t allow justice to be decided by someone else; it is your moral compass, and the only means by which you can make good decisions in life.  Justice is too important to let your lawyer, the courts, or society decide for you.