It's June 20, 2005 and I've lost too many fathers, teachers and
One of the sayings of the martial arts (and enlightenment practice) is
"practice as if your hair is on fire" or as I'm fond of saying "you
could be hit by a bus tomorrow". For the last 20 or 30 years I've been
living as if this might be my last day on earth.
It is stressful. It gives one the idea that you have to finish
everything now, today, which makes it sort of hard to enjoy life, and
those around you, in the rush to accomplish all that you need to
accomplish. It's been years since I've just sat around with a sci fi
book and wasted a day reading.
And then you die.
My father died at somewhere around 51, he was the oldest male in his
line to that date. I just turned 49.
My stepfather the letter carrier died not too long ago, for several
years he'd been thinking of retiring, he was working for very little,
compared to what he would have been making retired... a couple of
dollars a day. He died of a massive heart attack with letters in his
hand, on someone's lawn.
Haruna sensei, Kanai sensei, both teachers and teachers of teachers of
mine, both have died in the last couple of years.
A few weeks ago I discovered that my first sensei had died after a
battle with A.L.S. Peter Yodzis had been in a wheelchair for 4 years
and I didn't know, I'd lost touch. He started the aikido club at Guelph
and I was at the very first seminar. I've been in the martial arts ever
since. One day soon I hope to be able to write Peter's obituary for
EJMAS but I still can't do it.
And I just found out that Bill Mears died this morning from a heart
attack. Bill was one of the pioneers of iaido in Ontario, in Eastern
Canada, and in a chunk of the USA. He was my age... hell he was one of
my brothers, one of the two guys around that made my mother do double
takes when she saw him, to make sure it wasn't me she had just walked
past. Tall, bald, and a certain way of moving. There's another obituary
I won't be able to write for a while. A long while, but read this: http://ejmas.com/tin/tinart_mears_0503.htm
Fathers, mentors, colleagues and friends. A lot of lines seem to be
coming down to me lately. A lot of lineage with me popping up to the
top of the list.
What does it mean to be the "top"? What does it mean to be the "head of
the line"? It seems a lot of people want to be there, want to have that
authority, that legitimacy of being "the guy who is the inheritor".
Have I a lesson for you? Yes and I hope you're paying attention. You
want to be the top dog, the head, the soke? You're a fool. At the top
of the pile is a long chain of responsibility on one side, and on the
other is a big, gaping, empty hole. Nobody who knows you is still
around, everyone who could teach you something is gone, and everyone
else is looking at you as if you have some sort of answer for them.
And only a fool thinks they actually have an answer... beyond simply
carrying on as you've been doing for the last 20 years.
Being "on top" means that you've won the tontine, not the lottery. Look
So what can I advise? Well I know of one martial arts group that is
waiting on a teacher to die so they can claim they were named soke. I
know another group that has disowned their soke and have taken the term
on themselves. I know lots and lots of folks who jump
organizations to become bigger fish in smaller ponds. Hell I know
people who make up meetings with imaginary "masters" who impart special
knowledge of extinct koryu. All fools, all ego. All people who need to
get a life because too much of their self-image is made up of being a
big cheese at what is, ultimately, a silly hobby.
Think about what it is you're working on so hard, what it is you're so
desparate to accomplish, to the possible detriment of your family, your
friends, your own life. If you're working on being a better human
being, the cost may be worth it. If you're doing it to become a big
fish, even in a big pond, you're a fool. Not one of those martial arts
instructors listed up there gave a rat's rear end about titles and
honours and anything else that didn't involve being in the dojo
practicing or laughing over a beer afterward.
The closer I get to extinction from this life, (and I really do hope I
live to see my kids, kids, kids) the more I realize that we don't need
either Gods or lawyers to be good people. We simply need to realize
that we'll die one day and understand that the only thing that makes
sense is to be kind to strangers, to indulge our kids and to forgive
everyone who we ever thought treated us bad. Anything else is just a
waste of our time.
Now if you have to neglect the family to get to the dojo to get to that
point... well so be it. It's what kept my teachers in the dojo, and
what keeps me there.
In other words, what I've learned from losing so many masters and
mentors is that the martial arts is about being a better person, not
being the guy who's left. If you're not practicing to become a better
person, if you practice because you want to become a "big cheese",
you're wasting your life. Quit, go spend some time with your kids.