Perceive and capture

At a recent seminar at the Boston Martial Arts Center, my teacher Mark Davis was talking about one of the oldest and most valuable skills that the ninja had, the ability to perceive and capture information rapidly and accurately.

Boston Martial Arts class

Contrary to popular belief, the ninja were not assassins so much as information gatherers. Much more of their job revolved around getting information that could be useful to avert danger and prevent problems, rather than tactics like assassination which tried to solve problem after it had occurred.

Old though it may be, the problem of information gathering is one that we still face in today’s society and is arguably more valuable than ever. We have, in some ways, become so over reliant on technology that our skills for perceiving and capturing information have atrophied significantly.

Think about how many people you know who have said, “I don’t need to remember that, I’ll just Google it”… and then never do, asking you what they said a minute, an hour, or a day later.

Thanks to digital and social media, people have become accustomed to (over)sharing information liberally, which means that more information is available than ever before for you to perceive and capture. Everything from competitive information, to industry trends, to important points during a conference keynote, to snippets of information overheard are floating around and could make a huge difference in your business. Even just perceiving and capturing your own information has value – how many times have you had a great idea for a blog post or a project at work and forgotten it moments later, instead of capturing it and reaping its value?

The good news is that perceive and capture is a trainable skill, something that you can teach yourself to do, rather than something you’re born with or raised with. The way you learn how to proceed and capture is fairly straightforward: do it a lot, do it as often as you can. Get in the habit of practicing remembering things:

  • Memorize license plates on the fly and try to write them down an hour later.
  • Go to a relatively unfamiliar place like a restaurant and look for the restroom, then try to navigate there as best as you can without using your eyes, relying on your memory. (to avoid looking like you’re crazy, just hold your phone very close to your face and you’ll appear just as another device addict)
  • Set a timer on your mobile phone for 3 minutes and then watch a lecture on YouTube; when the timer goes off, memorize every word the speaker is saying for the next 5, 30, or 60 seconds, then wait for 10 minutes and see how well you recall it.
  • Visit a coworker’s desk, take a mental snapshot, then go back to your desk and see how many of the items on the surface of their desk you can remember.

Perceive and capture is something you can practice, and depending on your line of work, could add significant value to your career. Train yourself to observe with exercises like the ones above, then practice, practice, practice!


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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.

IMG_5085
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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