Impermanence

For the last 15 years, I have been packing up and taking off early from work on the first Friday of October to head out to the woods of Sudbury, Massachusetts for New England Warrior Camp (NEWC). This year, I’m not. Why? New England Warrior Camp retired last year, after an amazing 15 year run.

11 years on the path

When NEWC first started, for a sense of perspective, Amazon.com was still selling just books and had just gone public. Google.com had been registered by Sergey Brin and Larry Page, but was still an experimental project hosted by Stanford University. There were a whopping 70 million people on the entire planet that had Internet access of any kind. There were questions about whether Dell would buy the tattered remains of a company called Apple Computer, Inc. and the company had just brought back its founder, Steve Jobs, to try to revive its flagging fortunes.

When something runs for 15 years, you tend to think of it as permanent, as something that will always be there. That leads to a dangerous sense of complacency. You start to take things for granted that shouldn’t be. “Oh, I can put things off, it’ll be there next year.” The reality is that impermanence pervades everything, even the things that seem like permanent, fixed institutions.

When life reminds you, via smaller things like favorite events coming to an end, that everything is impermanent, use it as a reminder to take advantage of the bigger things rather than a source of disappointment. Don’t skip that child’s event, that family dinner, that opportunity to give a hug or tell a loved one how you feel. In the end, all that shall pass, too. Our martial tradition has the phrase shikin haramitsu daikomyo – every moment is an opportunity to reach enlightenment. It’s also a cautionary warning that wasting any moment on the things that don’t matter or things you’d prefer not to be doing deprives you of priceless time to take advantage of the opportunities while they last.


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Celebrating the master teacher

A master practitioner is someone who can practice and demonstrate their abilities at the highest levels, from martial artists who can handle multiple armed attackers to Olympians who can defy world records and our imaginations at their feats of strength and speed. We admire these master practitioners for their skills that transcend technical competence to be true artistry.

Frequently, however, master practitioners are at a loss to explain their skills, to explain to someone not at their level how something works, how to learn something, how to improve. I once had a teacher of statistics in college who was an outstanding practitioner with many papers and publications to his name, but statistically, 90% of his class failed his course. Only grading on a curve saved the class from total defeat. Why? He was a master practitioner, but he couldn’t speak or teach to his 101-level students in the simplistic language they needed to acquire skills.

Conversely, there are plenty of teachers in the world who are proficient at the craft of teaching. We’ve encountered them throughout our lives occasionally, especially in our formative years. We look back with nostalgia at those teachers who succeeded at imparting the skills and knowledge we needed to progress, but realize that many can teach but not necessarily do. Some have out of date knowledge; others simply lack practical experience and can teach theory but not help us achieve our potential by putting that theory into action.

What is exceptionally rare is the master teacher who is also a master practitioner. I am fortunate to have met several in my life, two of whom I study with now, and one whose birthday I share in celebrating today.

The sign I have come to know as an indicator of a true master teacher is one who can present and demonstrate battle-tested information so that every student, regardless of skill level, walks away having learned their fill. So expansive is the teacher’s training that there’s something for everyone. Practitioners from the whitest of white belts to the eldest of senior master practitioners walk away with new insights, new ideas, and new things to work on.

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Training at Stephen K. Hayes’ Fall Festival, 1998

It’s with that sense of tremendous gratitude and acknowledgement that I celebrate master teacher An-Shu Stephen K. Hayes‘ 65th birthday and wish him many more years of success in teaching, sharing, and guiding all of his students and his greater community. If you haven’t had the opportunity to train with An-Shu Hayes in his martial or meditation practices, I strongly encourage you to do so. Many of his meditation and mind science teachings have profoundly influenced my life for the better, and much of what I have to share is built on the bedrock of his material or sources he’s guided me to. He’s also teacher to my martial arts teacher, Mark Davis of the Boston Martial Arts Center, an equally important source of guidance for me in my life.

May you find as many master teachers in your life as I have found in mine, and may you have even greater opportunities to learn from them.

Happy birthday, An-Shu Hayes!


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ABCDEFG Basics of Staying Safe

An evening at the dojo

A few people have, in the wake of the unfortunate events recently, asked for some general advice about keeping safe in unsafe and uncertain times and places. I’m going to assume that you haven’t clocked 20+ years in a dojo with these ABCDEFG basics.

Avoid being alone. Travel with a friend in potentially dangerous areas because criminals are predators and opportunists, and a pack is harder to deal with than someone solo.

Be ready. When you leave work or home, is your phone charged? Do you have your keys in an easily accessible place, and have you practiced unlocking car and house doors with one hand?

Communicate frequently. Do your friends know where you are? If you’re going to be going into questionable areas or traveling at quiet times of the day, maybe consider posting a little more frequently to Facebook, checking in a little more often, just to let others know about you – and have your friends let you know about them.

Distraction makes you a mark. The person who has their face buried in their phone, earbuds in, or is obviously not paying the slightest bit of attention to the world around them is the easiest target.

Expect trouble. Paradoxically, this is the best way NOT to be paranoid.

  • When you walk somewhere, look for the places which would be a good place to hide, like stairwells or behind blind corners.
  • If you own and have trained in the use of pepper spray or other defensive tools, get them out and practice walking and moving through life with them so that you don’t have to pull them out at the last second, after an attack has begun.
  • When you walk into a place, immediately know where all of the exits are.
  • If you’re looking to go somewhere, take the extra minute or two to check the local news and see if there’s trouble brewing.

Fight. If you read recent crime reports, waiting and hoping to be rescued doesn’t work very well any more. Commit to fighting your way out by any means possible and not giving up.

And last but certainly most important, Get Away. At the earliest possible opportunity, get away from danger and speed dial the police (and if you’re in America, your lawyer) as soon you’re safe.

Bear in mind, these are just the basic of the basics, and I’d strongly encourage you, if you’re concerned, to go find and take a self protection class on an ongoing basis.


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