On Focus and Dedication

There is a small conversation going on over at Crazy Hobbit’s. The primary topic is on builds on a seemingly simple question: “Can one be truly dedicated to a martial art if one is not also in a state of war?” (Okay, the question wasn’t exactly phrased that way, but it was the question that came to my mind as I was reading.)

In one of my earlier posts, I pointed out that you cannot be a jack-of-all-trades in self-defense and, as a result, it is often ill-advised to practice more than one martial art. This is because we often dedicate only a few hours a week to our training; to divide that small amount of time up between several martial arts can greatly reduce the usefulness of that training.

But what if your focus was constant. In The Code of the Samurai, there is a common theme that everything one does, from menial daily tasks to fighting in a battle, depends on you presuming that you could die at any moment. When I came across this notion, my initial thought was that this was an incredibly negative way of living one’s life. Yet, as I read further, I found that nothing could be further from the truth. The sole point of keeping death in mind was to ensure that every moment you spent living had value, purpose, and focus, that not a single minute of the day was wasted frivolously. Through this mindset, you treated your friends and family respectfully, you worked hard, you had constant focus. The result? Your mind was always in a state of sharpening, your reflexes and awareness were continually honed.

In short, the samurai seemed to take each moment as an opportunity to improve their training. Their focus was constant.

Most of us do not live in a society in which war is a constant. However, that does not necessarily give us the right nor the excuse to allow our minds and bodies to degenerate into uselessness. For example, we often use the expression “wearing many hats” to denote someone who has multiple roles in a given organization or task. This expression seems to highlight the fact that we expect our minds to be fragmented; that we do not expect to work as a cohesive whole. Who we are at work is often not who we are at home; we sit behind a desk all week and become weekend warriors on Saturday. Unlike the samurai, our focus shifts from situation to situation; we rarely have a constant.

What if, instead, you were to spend a day in total focus? What would that day be like? Here is my opinion:

  1. You wake, and immediately get out of bed. You do not hit the snooze alarm; you do not spend 10 minutes groggily staring at the ceiling.
  2. You shower, and dress appropriately. You do not dress sloppily, even if your work has a lax dress code.
  3. You eat a good breakfast.
  4. You leave for work on time, accounting for traffic and other issues.
  5. You arrive at work, and you focus on your tasks. You do not spend hours surfing the Web, nor do you spend too much time talking with co-workers.
  6. You eat a good lunch.
  7. You leave for work at an appropriate time. That may mean exactly 9 hours later, if you have a family, or later, if you are single.
  8. You arrive home, and you take care of your family and your house.
  9. You train in Aikido, or study tea, or flower arrangements, or iaido.
  10. You eat a good dinner.
  11. You go to bed at a reasonable hour.

This is just a bare-bones, on-the-fly example. But you notice a common theme? Moderation, focus, a clear delineation, but not separation, of work and family life. It doesn’t seem that complicated, yet how many of us live life like this? What would happen if we did? Would our lives have more focus? More enjoyment? This certainly isn’t a hedonistic lifestyle. Yet I can’t help but wonder if our lives wouldn’t be better if we lived with this sort of simple focus and dedication.

And then, with a solid foundation of living, what would our Aikido technique be like?

3 thoughts on “On Focus and Dedication

  1. The samurai reputedly had developed the habit of “making friends with death”.Regarding the opening topic in your post, it’s interesting to note that when the warrior class ended in Japan, the martial arts began to flourish worldwide, not only as fighting arts, but as a course in philosophy.

  2. The basic point about mindfulness that is a central tenet of all martial arts is also reflected in the popular business guru David Allen’s writing. He makes the point of keeping your mind focussed, yet flexible, a “mind like water”. It is, it appears to me, a central pillar for success in all endeavors. If you don’t have focus or dedication, what can you possibly achieve?!!!

    Most of our aikido practice (and indeed martial arts practice) suffers from on-again-off-again mindfulness. We try to be mindful in our dojo or when we are practicing on our own, but forget mindfulness and focus once faced with the many distractions of life, like our spouses, children or jobs.

    There is an old Hindu story of the Sage Narada who considered himself to be the greatest disciple of the Lord Vishnu. One day, in a conversation with Lord Vishnu, he found out that Lord Vishnu considered a humble farmer to be his greatest disciple. Offended, Narada stated that he thinks about Lord Vishnu all the time; how could anyone else possibly be a greater disciple than him. Lord Vishnu then told Narada to carry a bucket of water on his head and go 500 yards without spilling it. Narada achieved this with some difficulty. Vishnu then asked him how many times Narada had thought of Vishnu while carrying the water. Narada was embarrassed to say he hadn’t a single time. Vishnu then pointed out that the farmer thinks about Lord Vishnu often even while working, but Narada could not even think of Him once while carrying the water. The point being, of course, that it is easy to practice focus and mindfulness in the quietude and peace of a dojo in the company of like-minded individuals, but being focused and mindful in the face of life is indeed challenging and a goal to strive for.

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