Mastery occurs in the lifelong journey, in which no one ever becomes the Master. Maybe, dedicating to mastery is ironic, even paradoxical. Yet, mastery is about the journey, after all.
Mastery isn’t about being the greatest. Mastery isn’t about being the GOAT (greatest of all time). I think Mastery lies in becoming greater than you know yourself to be, becoming the greater version of yourself. I really don’t know for sure. So, really I’m just saying.
On the Mastery Path, O-Sensei’s “Way of the Warrior”, I’m constantly learning, continuingly re-inventing. I get: That what I don’t know approaches the infinite. I practice letting go of what’s not useful, of what’s in the past. I create value wherever and whenever possible.
Years ago, Sensei Dan taught me the koan: “Mushin. Mushin.” In Japanese mushin means “empty mind” or “no mind”. The saying means: If you think about having an ‘empty mind’, you don’t. Mushin might be one of the essential distinctions of Mastery.
I’ve experienced mushin, albeit fleeting, in Aikido training particularly in jyuwaza, where others come with varying attacks, and I have to dispatch them – end the attack. Sensei would remind me, “Have no preconceived notions…” “Wait it out. Take a glancing blow if you have to.”
Mushin is being: As present as I possibly can. I don’t think about what I have to do in the moment. I wait for the attack to come to me. I match up with the attacker. I finish the attack with a joint lock or body throw. It’s like being “in the zone”.
Mushin distinguishes mastery. One can only truly create from nothing. Really, Mastery is about invention, about creation in the moment, when “it’s on”.
Although, when Sensei said, “Have no preconceived notions.” – he was talking about Aikido. Yet, in the bigger picture, he was talking about who I can be outside the Dojo, where it counts. He was talking about mastery in life, too. Ultimately, Mastery makes a difference in life. And that demands dedication and on-going practice on my part. “Just train.”
Our individual journeys shall all end the same. So getting somewhere is truly irrelevant. Rather, getting somewhere is not really all that meaningful. Mastery makes a difference in that our journey becomes meaningful, it has a purpose. Through Mastery, I really get: It ain’t all about me.
We all have our origins. We all have our ‘zeroes’, our starting points. Everyone’s zero is different. Yet, one only has a lifetime to develop, to evolve, and hopefully pass on something that others may use, to reinvent their art, their lives.
Over the years in my Aikido training with Sensei Dan, and now Sensei Bobby, I unconcealed my weaknesses, my imperfection, and my humanity through the rigorous training. I finally got that the revelation of my imperfection really ain’t a bad thing. I’m ironically grateful for that.
Imperfection is just something to work on, and possibly make work. Or imperfection might be something to accept, to embrace as is. Sensei instructed, “Just train.” He constantly reminded me, “Make it work.” Sometimes making it work, might be just letting it go. Werner Erhard said, “Anything you can let be, lets you be.” Amen.
At least for me, Sensei was perhaps the humblest Man on Planet Earth. “Just train” was his eternal lesson in humility for me. No matter what I achieve or what I attain, I still have to “go back to school”. Start inventing from my “new zero”. Practice the basics. There’s always something to work on, whether it’s timing, distance or waiting it out until the attacker is committed. Sensei inspired me to work on my next greater-than version of myself.
Sensei didn’t simply want me to imitate him. No, I had to make it work for me. I had to make the Aikido technique my own, my art. He wanted me to create my own greater-than version of myself, whatever that may be.
In the bigger picture, Sensei wanted me to be more than a good martial artist. He wanted me to be a good man. For his faith and belief, I’m forever grateful. I have nothing but mad love and profound respect for Sensei, who is no longer with us.
Another distinction of Mastery: Be of service to others. Make a difference for them. Mastery doesn’t arise from training in a vacuum, training in isolation. Mastery emerges from the communities that perceive the greater-than versions of ourselves that we have not distinguished, yet. Our Mastery communities see far beyond our blind spots. Sensei was part of that Community for me. Now, I return the favor to others. Just saying.
Perhaps, in my evolving life, I have discovered in Aikido—and sometimes in writing–that I can create my art, re-invent myself. That might occur as some dude comes to take my head off with a punch. Or that could be remembering Mom saying to me, “Take care of yourself.” When life all comes full-circle: Mastery is creation, creating what I love. That does make a difference for others and for me. Amen.
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