Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Small Things Matter

In the Hagakure, by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, there is a passage that reads: 
Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige’s wall there was this one: “Matters of great concern should be treated lightly.” Master Ittei commented, “Matters of small concern should be treated seriously.” 
 This is interesting, because we tend to behave the opposite. 

For the martial artist, the dojo is the setting to pursue this wisdom. Let the dojo be a place of meticulous focus where every breath and footstep bear heavy significance, where every motion and intention dominate the mind. Our time is so limited in the confines of the training hall, restricted by countless obligations of the modern economic climate, that we must aspire to make the best of every moment we have. It is a difficult task to be continuously present, without lapse of attention or admittance of distraction, and it can only be achieved with determination. 

Begin with the fundamentals: Formalities and repetitions should never be mindless. Too habitually they are! It is easy to stare off into space or pick at the nails during stretches and warmups — not out of disrespect, but ennui. Begin by destroying that stultified detachment. Begin by occupying the body with the mind.

When stretching, seek comfort in flexibility. When striking or standing for uchikomi, be stentorian in count. During ukemi, focus on posture before, during and after the fall, and when uke, remember that the ability to receive technique is equally as crucial as the ability to effect it. During demonstration be attentive, when bowing, be sincere, and when instructed, yell “Hai!” or “Yes, Sir!” and take the lesson to heart. Everything — every little thing — should be considered with serious regard.

Envision the outcome were this always the case on the dojo floor — 100% engagement 100% of the time. Improvement would be continually notable. Skill level would skyrocket. And this of course is the the obvious reason for such conduct. It is the reason it became a maxim on a daimyo’s wall. 

Now envision the outcome were this always the case, period. To propagate principle analyzed in the dojo to everyday life is perhaps the most valuable element of martial arts training. If we can muster the mental and physical fortitude to be wholly engaged in the interval between bow in and bow out, and expand that awareness to the interval between waking and sleep, we can tap into one of the most powerful techniques for character development and personal growth. 

This is the way to treat matters of great concern lightly. What is the big but a concentrated buildup of the small? The big can be overwhelming with a backlog of minutiae trailing unattended in its wake, but when the small things are mastered, the big loses gravity. To analogize, a test is no problem when its material has been personalized through diligent study; a physical confrontation loses its edge when the mind and body are integrated through methodical practice. Most importantly, the daily challenges we face in life become surprisingly manageable when we eliminate clutter and execute matters of small concern with full attention and ambition. 

Unfortunately the effort to lead a life of happiness and success is monumental in nature. But it is easy to fix the small things one at a time. 

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