“Whatever happened to self-discipline?,” by Sean Ashby

“It’s almost a cliché, really. Whenever you ask someone why they want to study a particular martial art, they typically give you the same handful of reasons: self-defense, to get in better shape and self-discipline.”

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  1. Discipline or the lack thereof begins in the family for most of us. Three major styles of parenting include authoritarian (do this because I said so), the optimal authoritative (do this and let me tell you why), and rejecting-neglecting (do whatever you want). An American who wants to substantially increase his or her discipline once college age, should go to USMA, USAFA, USNA, USCGA, or USMMA. Other military schools include The Citadel and Valley Forge. If not wanting to go the college route yet still wants discipline, a person should enlist in the armed forces.

    Aikido discipline can be a healthy form; most sensei I have seen are able to provide a place for improvement of person’s self discipline. However, a student has to get on board with the sensei’s guidance and want the discipline, or the attainment of such may not happen to a substantial degree, if at all. Unless a student has been active with self-discipline before ever stepping on the mat, the student may not learn hardly any, even over years.

  2. “Discipline, honor, duty, loyalty, courage…? It won’t pay for my Lexus!” someone once said . “And look, it’s what led to the Holocaust, the Nanking massacre, right?” –That’s what students say when they prepare to quit or jump ship.

    To the majority, discipline is a form of obligation which consists in doing the things that are required from oneself in order to avoid punishment or get a reward. It has nothing to do with life which has to be enjoyed as long as the punishment can be avoided and the reward is coming.

    To most budo students led by greedy or ignorant teachers (and I do not deny having been fooled by such students), it’s the stuff that one has to do to get Sensei’s attention, get promoted up to one’s level of incompetence then use one’s seniority in order to maintain that position and make sure that no one gets there.

    In one of his articles, Mr. Pranin stated that to most aikido practitioners, aikido was just a pastime activity. I believe it’s true. Unfortunately due to that apathy, many sincere teachers have lost their vision and –pressed by the need to justify their involvement or make an income, have given up on living according to their former teachings.

    Talk about discipline and people’s eyes become foggy. Talk about belts and they light up! Isn’t that the secret of students’ retention according to those unsolicited so-called professional martial arts magazines sent to dojos all over North America?

    Why doesn’t discipline sell? Why don’t school boards encourage it? Is it in the best interest of politicians, businesses, special interest groups? What would happen if people were able to think for themselves, live a simple life, question those they appointed to represent them and fire them when they forget that?

    The masters of the past spent many hours doing solo-training. That is where they learned how to deal with distractions, manage their emotions, and strengthen their concentration. Today, very few martial arts practitioners do that. But some do and they will be tomorrow’s masters. In today’s confusion between mastery and celebrity, it’s only after a teacher’s death that one will be able to tell if he was a true teacher.

    During the Japanese bubble economy the general lack of involvement in budo was quite noticeable. I asked Mochizuki Sensei if in his opinion true teachers could be born into such a mediocre society. “Sure, and they will few but they will be genuine!” was his answer.

    At that time I didn’t get it but now it makes sense: if someone can continue to do his shugyo in spite of the absence of a favorable environment, one will stay a true student. Discipline and concentration go together. Boredom is the indication of lack of concentration. We yawn, we get distracted during repetitions… we notice it, we go back to the repetition. It’s the training. Then distractions get deflected when they arise –before they take momentum, and they evaporate right away.

    Thus we do sets of one hundred suburi fully focused, each repetition being the most important one… twenty, thirty minutes have passed and our concentration is at its best… nobody knows but us.

    Can we apply that to other areas of our life? Is that discipline?

    Patrick Augé

  3. I will include this hyperbole about total focus:

    There are not many people who would be able to focus every second of a four-hour Aikido class. Such person would in fact be abnormal, and while fighting his natural mental exhaustion, he might try on every technique but his true concentration on each would be less and less each hour.

    I have been speaking about an activity that is both mentally and physically draining. Walking an 18 hole golf course with a caddy carrying the bag would not be as cardiovascularly demanding. Arguably the best golfer of all time, at least record-wise, Jack Nicholaus, spoke about focus and concentration. He said that as he walks toward his ball after a shot, he doesn’t solely focus on his next shot the whole time. He said, “[It is impossible to keep a focused mind for the duration of eighteen holes.]” When I played a 9-hole match or 18-hole tournament in high school, carrying my own bag of clubs all the way, I had taken the Golden Bear’s words to heart as I thought about all sorts of things but golf. Then, when I arrived at my ball, my focus toward golf would return.

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