The spread of the new corona infection began in March last year, and in different parts of Japan today hospital beds continue to be filled to capacity. Within this reality, it’s difficult for most of us to feel satisfied because on one hand we need to keep up with our daily responsibilities but on the other many things that we used to be able to do are now difficult or impossible.
In my last blog post, I talked about letting things naturally flow, from the phrase “Ko-un Ryu-sui”. But even though I wrote about this, sometimes in the middle of doing my work or training, I can’t help feeling concerned about how I’ll be able to teach so that both students and teachers stay safe while also creating a fun and enjoyable practice during this current COVID-19 state of emergency. Even all the preventative measures we’ve put in place combined, including ventilation, the number of people who can practice together, washing our hands, using alcohol to disinfect everything, and developing practices where we don’t come in physical contact with others, there is not a 100% guarantee that someone won’t get infected with this virus. At the same time, our Gassyuku (intensive training camp) was cancelled last year and may be cancelled again this year, I haven’t been able to see or practice with my sensei in Niigata, meet other teachers or see those students who are living in other parts of Japan or overseas. But even with all these negatives, I keep remembering all the teachers who continue to support me and the many students who are waiting to restart practices and are looking forward to these future lessons. With all of these things in mind, I’ve decided to focus my attention on those things that I can do right now that I’ll be able to use for Chiseikan in the near future.
In Aikido, the first thing we learn is “Ukemi” which basically means to protect yourself from getting hurt when you fall. Of everything that we teach in the Martial Arts, “Ukemi" is most important, which is why we practice it at the beginning of every lesson. My teacher, Kinefuchi Shihan always says that “Ukemi is not the same as losing. Even if you’re unexpectedly attacked, with ukemi you can protect what most important to you (your head and your spine) and stand back up again.”
It’s possible for anyone to get hurt or to find themselves in an unbearable situation, not only because of this new coronavirus, but from the challenges and difficulties that we face in our daily lives. Within these emergencies, if we can find the way to protect our own life and the lives of those people who are most important to us, no matter how badly we fall, we will be able to stand up again. This is why it’s essential to regularly practice ukemi. We have to practice it thousands, or even tens of thousands of times so that it soaks into our core. Once this happens we’ll naturally be able to do ukemi even when hit with a completely unexpected attack. This new coronavirus is constantly changing and mutating. Because of this, we must also adapt to these constant changes by practicing many different ways of doing ukemi.
Saigo Takamori, who was one of the most famous samurai in Japanese history, and was one of the leaders of the Meiji Restoration said that "Hito wa onore ni katsu o motte nari mizukara aisuru o motte yabururu zo.” This saying means that those who master themselves will succeed, and those who spoil themselves will fail. Even if there is a problem, it is necessary to have the ability to flexibly accept it and stand up. Of course this takes effort. Similar to our practice inside of the dojo, this type of spirit training requires us to improve our abilities through many different difficult experiences. This “self mastery” which is more often called "resilience" today, will grow stronger and stronger by learning how to stand up again even if you are hurt.
Thanks to learning this attitude of "Onore ni Katsu" from Mochizuki Minoru-sensei and Kinefuchi Toru-sensei I have been able to stand up many times even though I had been deeply hurt. Around six years ago I lost all my hair and eyebrows after suffering from alopecia totalis. But I continued to teach Aikido, do muscle training and attend Zumba classes at the gym while wearing a wig so that I could keep my body strong and help my students continue to learn and improve. Of course losing all of my hair was incredibly difficult, and although I cried many times. But thanks to the steroid treatment and the positive attitude that I could develop from this “Onore ni Katsu” mindset, I could wipe away my tears and move forward and my beautiful black hair has now completely grown back. Today I am battling an autoimmune disease called polyarteritis nodosa (as of now, this is only affecting my skin and not my internal organs), and I undergo monthly medical examinations to deal with it. During these times when the coronavirus continues to spread rapidly, I know that many people are facing all kinds of terrible problems from losing their jobs, their loved ones, and suffering from all different kinds of stress. Even though I feel that my own difficulties are a big challenge for me, I also understand that these experiences can’t help me to completely understanding the suffering that many of these people are going through. But still, I would like everyone who is suffering with difficult challenges to do their best by practicing "Onore ni Katsu”. Slowly vaccinations have started and little rays of hope have started to appear. I want you to believe in your own abilities to be resilient and continue to do your best even during these very difficult times.
There are so many examples of people around us who are showing powerful examples of “Onore ni Katsu” as they fight against an overwhelmingly difficult situation. I’m sure you can also see these types of people around you too. Even though there is a risk of getting COVID-19 and they are surely suffering from increased stress from their work, there are day service caregivers who come to my home to pick up and drop off my mother who is suffering from dementia. I can’t even express how deeply grateful I am to them. And just last week a local doctor who we had unsuccessfully contacted to help get my parents vaccinated, sent an email to check in on them and offer a reservation for them in the future when vaccines became available in his clinic. My parents have never been to his clinic, and aren’t even his patients, but he still contacted us trying to help. Again, I’m full of feelings of respect and appreciation for these wonderfully kind and caring acts.
I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude and sincere appreciation to all the medical professionals and long-term care workers who are working so hard during these very difficult times, and hope that we can all do “Onore ni Katsu” to help us to power through whatever challenges and difficulties we are facing!