The first part of this series of articles presented the rationale at the core of the 'budo for education' concept for leveraging budo wisdom, principles, knowledge and methods as relevant, applicable and effective tools within an educational framework for our youth. This part further provides concrete examples of such tools and how these can be utilized as part of an educational system for our youth, such that participants of the program shall be able to:
- perform well under pressure;
- reduce the influence of fluctuations in the external environment on one’s internal mental state;
- be sensitive and responsive to others, thus identifying opportunities early on and leveraging those in an effective way;
- able to assess people and set corresponding relevant strategies to connect and influence them;
- employ mental flexibility to instantaneously adjust to new circumstances;
- exercise will power and complete determination for best performance;
- ultimately take control over one’s life by utilizing a proactive approach based on self-confidence, optimism and sense of competence.
Budo-derived educational tools-for-life
KiAi and AiKi
One way to recruit all human faculties for a given task at a given moment, removing all doubt, hesitation or fear of mistake and acting with complete determination, is by using the concept of KiAi – fully projecting your Ki (mental energy) outwards.
Physically we breathe with a strong exhale from our center which allows air to flow through our vocal cords resulting in the familiar sound often associated with martial arts training, called KiAi. The KiAi sound is a physical expression of our intention, projecting our energy in a given direction and executed with full determination, which in turn helps to recruit all of our physical and mental faculties for a single purpose.
Executing KiAi with a clear image of our goal and giving our entire breath from our core has great influence on our mental state, resulting in enhanced determination and full focus on the task at hand. As an educational tool it is advisable to start developing this skill using a definite, strong sound, letting all air flow through your vocal cords to make a strong KiAi. Realizing that making such a sound might be problematic and at times unrealistic in many real-life situations, as you gain experience you should be able to execute KiAi with the same complete determination, yet only ‘inside’ and without the external sound.
I use KiAi very often in my life. Every time my energy is low, I feel hesitation, I am not fully connected to the situation or in general to “pull myself together” for a given task I use strong KiAi from my center. I commit all of my intention and breath to mentally switch to ‘Ho-Shin mode' enabling me to act with complete determination while staying aware, sensitive and responsive to my surroundings and the ever-changing circumstances.
Use of AiKi
While KiAi stands for complete determination and strong spirit, removing all doubt or hesitation, the same two Japanese words (Ki and Ai) used in the reverse order stand for the big and complementing concept of AiKi. AiKi (as in the well known martial art of aikido) stands for mental flexibility, adaptation, understanding and flowing with the other or external circumstances rather than resisting or acting against. As life is full of challenges, difficulties and at times failures, the AiKi way suggests adopting a proactive, flexible and creative approach of dealing with such challenges by flowing with circumstances and finding creative ways to leverage such difficulties to promote your goals, as finely worded by Vivian Greene:
Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass... It's about learning to dance in the rain.
KiAi and AiKi Summary
As an educational tool, the key point to understand and implement is that KiAi and AiKi and the mental attitudes they stand for are not exclusive, they can and in fact should co-exist and be jointly applied in our life and daily routine.
It is within our human ability to simultaneously be assertive, have a strong opinion and stand for it, while being sensitive to others, understand their views and positions, and try connecting to them, convincing, influencing and leading through cooperation. This (KiAi and AiKi) approach and attitude is particularly useful when implemented within situations of conflict when emotions get high and your ability to employ the winning combination of assertiveness with sensitivity and flexibility is of great value. One way of describing and imagining this winning combination and acquiring the corresponding skill is by associating the KiAi spirit with your center (so there is a ‘red fire of determination in your gut) and the AiKi approach with your brain (so your head is like a quiet ‘blue’ lake of still water). Both red and blue can, and should, co-exist within you as you handle each and every life situation.
Start exercising the winning KiAi and AiKi combination in your life and in every situation, enhancing your confidence and assertiveness with KiAi, while employing the concept of AiKi to be sensitive, read people, connect to them and seek creative ways to collaborate, without losing your way, belief or core values.
As an educational tool, Ho-Shin is key to acquire skills for effective decision making in life’s often complex and challenging situations. In budo, as well as many real-life situations, the ability to give everything to a given task at a given moment is critical as it enables us to fully be within the situation, recruiting all human physical and mental resources for our best performance and resulting success. Furthermore, and surprising for many, through such complete determination removing doubt and hesitation we create space for mental flexibility and the efficient adaptation to varying situations. This is summarized in the beautiful budo concept called Ho-Shin.
Life calls upon us to constantly make decisions from relatively small everyday choices to bigger decisions, including a change of work place, making financial investments, choosing a career path, changing a place of residence or getting married. Ho-Shin stands for ‘give everything to remain full.’ In making important decisions, you should certainly give careful consideration, assess the situation (safeness versus risk), consult the wise and experienced and avoid unnecessary haste. Yet, once decided, for that moment give everything with no doubt, no hesitation or fear of failure. In other words, once decided, ‘give your heart to it:’ as by doing things half-heartedly you are always half in the past and half in the future – never fully here and now.
Now you might ask “don’t I lose my flexibility and ability to adapt and adjust if I do things with such complete determination?” It seems like we are discussing two different approaches:
- Giving everything to something you do: mentally and physically, with no hesitation, no doubt and no unnecessary control, while allowing yourself to make mistakes.
- Keeping your options open: being flexible, able to change, adapt and adjust to new situations and circumstances.
Many people feel that the above two attitudes are exclusive and cannot co-exist. Well, when using your conscious, aware and analytical mind there seems to exist a paradox and that is why most people would go only half way, doing things cautiously and half-heartedly, presumably keeping their options open should conditions change calling for a new direction, decision and action. So it seems there exists an internal duality or conflict – I do it, yet not fully as I am keeping my options open.
Ho-Shin stands for the opposite: it suggests that by doing something fully and being completely at one with your action – with no doubt, hesitation, fear of mistake or failure – you create space and free mental resources, enabling you to actually be more flexible to instantaneously and spontaneously adjust to new situations with no gap or recalculation, by simply fully being there with a single mind.
Ho-Shin for adaptation and mental flexibility
While it is important to plan ahead, assess situations and have a strategy, it is equally safe to assume that actual events shall not unfold exactly as planned, hence it is critical to acquire the skill of (instantly) adjusting to unplanned and at times unfamiliar scenarios, avoiding rigid emotional attachment to our original plans. The great master Nishiyama Sensei used to give the analogy of a glass full of water and the two ways you have to turn it upside down and back again. The first option is to do it slowly, keeping your options open so you can change your mind during the act, thus turning the glass step-by-step, assessing the situation and making decisions along the way. Option one results in all of the water spilling onto the floor and the glass remaining empty. Option two, which symbolizes the Ho-Shin spirit, suggests swiftly turning the glass upside down and promptly back again with no hesitation and without keeping your options open, thus resulting in much of the water remaining in the glass; hence the budo saying ‘give everything to remain full.’
In budo as well as in real-life situations, we assess others and set corresponding strategies, yet often the situation evolves in different ways and we must have the mental flexibility to adjust in real-time to new conditions and spontaneously act accordingly. This translates into and requires being ‘here and now’ within the situation rather than acting as an outside observer doing strategy recalculations. The big concept of Ho-Shin is key here, as it appears (surprisingly to many) that it is by giving everything to a current task and removing all doubt, hesitation and concerns about mistakes that we can not only act with determination according to our decision, but create the mental space to efficiently adjust to new unexpected situations.
Ho-Shin versus aggressiveness
In many sports the term ‘aggressiveness’ is frequently used, usually as a desirable mental approach or acquired ability, especially in the context of effective functioning in stressful situations or facing danger, to avoid hesitation and mental and physical ‘freezing.’ Budo has a fundamentally different approach represented by the Ho-Shin concept that can be characterized by the saying ‘give everything to remain full.’ Aggressiveness is commonly associated with concentration: locking on a target, often sacrificing sensitivity, mental flexibility and the ability to identify opportunities and adapt to changing situations. Furthermore, aggression often leads to physical stiffness that results in the isolated use of body parts. On the other hand, Ho-Shin is characterized by complete determination combined with stable emotions that enable the perception of the whole or the bigger picture and mental flexibility, allowing an instant adaptation and flow of energy from the base and through the center to the extremities.
It is important to understand the essential difference between aggression and determination, where the former is often related to unstable emotions such as fear, arrogance or hatred. A skilled opponent can take advantage of my aggressiveness, being locked on a specific line of action. Furthermore, aggression often causes a separation from the opponent, competitor or source of danger, as opposed to the budo concept of KumiTe (integrated hands) which stands for oneness in connecting to the opponent, so we can become aware of his intention, anticipate his next move early, identify and leverage the Qyo (momentary opportunity) he unintentionally exposes Oji-Waza (response) and moreover, be able to proactively create a Qyo - setting up the opponent Shikak-Waza and applying opponent-correlated strategy while managing risks.
In line with the above, in budo we actually do not use the concept of ‘attack,’ as it represents mental fixation such as aggression, so instead of attacking we setup or create an opportunity (Shikak-Waza) which is possible only with stable emotions, sensitivity, mental flexibility and full determination that allows us to seize and fully leverage the Qyo created in the very short time it usually exists. In this context it is important to understand the fundamental difference between concentration and general awareness, which are two different modes of perception associated with different areas of the brain. In concentration, we narrow down our ‘mental lens,’ focusing on specific input, such that any other input is considered a distraction, therefore is filtered and rejected. For example, when I concentrate on writing an email, the announcer on television or the neighbor playing the piano are interpreted as a distraction from my main task and consequently rejected. As our 21st century lifestyle often requires attention or the handling of multiple tasks at a given time interval, we multi-task (similar to a computer), switching or diverting concentration on a time-sharing basis between relevant tasks. This amazing human ability enables us to achieve a lot but often causes an uncontrolled mental race (e.g. at four o’clock in the morning when we want to relax and sleep) and suffering.
In budo, and especially when facing an aggressive opponent in a dangerous situation, we do not want to concentrate on any detail (such as his scary eyes, threatening muscles, being a champion) but rather be aware of the totality of the situation. The accumulated knowledge of budo, as well as contemporary scientific research, indicates that the response time is shorter and therefore more effective when in ‘general awareness’ mode, not concentrating on any specific input. In this mode I do not concentrate on any specific detail or task, so the common mental race or hopping is stopped or at least significantly reduced.
The great master Nishayama Sensei used to give the example of a mountain covered with a forest of trees and ‘eyes back’ in this case implies being aware of the big picture, perceiving the essence of the whole forest without concentrating on any specific tree. This ability is related to another central budo concept of Mu-Shin (empty mind) that enables full presence, eliminating the common ‘I-world’ duality or separation. With Mu-Shin I stop being a side observer so I can symbolically get off the fence to become part of reality. In budo this is nicely illustrated in Kumite where I become one with my opponent in an on-going flux of mutual influence.
So while aggressiveness promotes separation, isolation and rigidity Ho-Shin stands for determination, with agility through connecting, influencing and adjusting. In order to develop Ho-Shin ability with full determination (non-aggressiveness) combined with mental flexibility that allows immediate adaptation along with technical efficiency (flow and energy transfer without stiffness and isolation), one must acquire the skill of switching to ‘general awareness’ mode: maintaining stable emotions in stressful situations, taking control of our mental race and being completely present and connected as in Kumite with Mu-Shin.
In budo training we acquire mental and physical skills that allow us to maintain stable emotions, enabling the combination of full determination on the one hand with mental flexibility and adaptability on the other, within stressful situations and in facing real danger. This concept is represented in many ways by the budo concept of Ho-Shin which is very different from the commonly used term of ‘aggressiveness.’
In this part of the article we started to present some of the budo tools-for-life that can be of great benefit for our youth and future society, once provided globally within an educational framework. The next part shall further provide more budo-based tools, explaining their benefits as well as the delivery methodology.