Changes can be positive or negative, but that doesn’t matter. I generally enjoy changes when they happen in my life. I believe that each accepted change improves who we are. This is a chance to evolve. During those times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have the opportunity to develop our way of life and to earn new lessons for happiness. I acknowledge that, right now, things are not easy for everyone. Still, this planetary trial will eventually turn us into better human beings through the steps we are forced to take in changing our society as a whole.
On Mr 19
Before “Mr 19’s” arrival, I had two lives. In my first life, I worked and taught Budō in France; in the second one, I travelled the world, giving seminars and meeting friends. (1) For the past twenty-three years, I sincerely enjoyed spreading Sensei’s art over Europe, Asia, North America, Meso America, and South America. I loved to go twice a month to a new place, discover our planet, and meet new people. I appreciated having the chance to understand the cultural differences making humans so rich. For more than twenty years, it gave me a privileged position. It made me more tolerant than I was and more open to others. But that was before the pandemic.
Today, this life is gone. And I know it will never be back to the way it was. My Dōjō closed in March last year, my students are gone. Borders are closed, and we can’t go anywhere. This understanding of the situation is the reason to write this post today. If you hope that things will reverse soon, I think you are lying to yourself. We have to create a new environment for our practice. My wish is that this small text will help you to do the same. If I’m rethinking my life, you can do the same. But be assured that this new life will still be around Sensei’s Budō.
On The Black Swan
Some will tell you the Covid pandemic is a curse, and it is terrible for some. But I find this vast reshuffling quite interesting. Who could have thought that one day, it would be impossible to travel? That fact alone is a typical black swan in its own right. The black swan theory was expressed by Nicholas Taleb in his eponymous book. Here what it is:”The term is based on an ancient saying that presumed black swans did not exist. The saying became reinterpreted after Europeans encountered black swans in Australia.” (2)
Who would have bet that one day, a “black swan” would ground the world population? It was unpredictable, but it happened. And we have only one choice to adapt. But luckily, this is what Budō is about: persevere, adapt, and be resilient. Take this opportunity and change your life with a new set of rules. “Change” differs from “chance” by only one letter. Give it a chance, learn the lesson, and change your life.
On changing, Takamatsu sensei wrote: “By opening his eyes and his mind, the Ninja can follow the subtle seasons and reasons for heaven. Changing just as change is necessary. Adapting always so that in the end, there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.” (3)
The only possible survival path to follow is to adapt. There is no other left. Avoid surprises, be wise, and make a good choice. I notice a general tendency in the news and social media to be critical of governments, politicians, society, etc. But I don’t get it. By the way, it was the same reactions during the Spanish flu in 1918. The truth is that this is a black swan, so no one knows how to deal with the situation. It shouldn’t exist. But as it is happening, we have to accept it and keep a positive mind. Takamatsu sensei wrote that we have to be “changing just as change is necessary,” not too much, but enough to adapt our lives to the new reality.
By adjusting our expectations and our goals, we can embrace what cannot be avoided. Like in Budō, it is crucial to assume the correct Kamae. I wrote many times about Kamae, explaining that one meaning of this kanji is attitude. A positive attitude will welcome these changes with an open mind. This is the concept of the Asobi mind. People are often too serious or dramatic. Asobi means to put some playfulness in your life. (4)
During Honbu classes, Hatsumi Sensei has been teaching this concept a lot. When you put Asobi in your actions, you live better and happier than before. I observe that people tend to be too serious. They are tensed and forget to look for happiness. So they become miserable. Unhappiness happens when people resist changes. Even when they are inevitable.
The pandemic created a paradigm shift on the whole planet. Adjusting to the new paradigm (5) might prove hard or maybe impossible. But it will happen. Develop the Asobi attitude if you want to survive, stop crying, stop complaining, live the moment. This is common in Asian philosophies. This is the “Here and now” of Zen Buddhism, or the “Nakaima” from Shintō. If I prefer Nakaima, which represents the center of the moment, both have the same value. Stop living the past; live the present. And be happy to have this possibility. (6) When you criticize and refuse changes, you are not walking a successful path, on the contrary. Success comes with adaptability. Takamatsu sensei wrote that by “always adapting (…) there is no such thing as a surprise for the Ninja.”
So don’t be surprised. Increase your Asobi in life and embrace those changes that cannot be avoided. Adapt your actions to the permanent chaos of life and enjoy the moment. Do that now, and there will be no surprise and no black swans.
Side Note to black swans: In Eastern France this year, 16 swans developed the Aviary flu (H5N8), another coronavirus. Surprise! To my black swans’ friends, be careful; you should adapt too.
1 People often tell me that I am lucky to travel the world and visit Sensei 3 times a year. That is not true. Back in 1997, leaving a well-paid managerial position in an IT company, I took a decision and made changes in my life to get the life I wanted. This is different today. The difference is forced on us and concerns everyone on the planet. But the outcome will be positive in many aspects. The change is already in place. We just have to let it mature enough to benefit from it.
3 Those lines are from Takamatsu’s text on the “Essence of Ninjutsu.” The whole text is available online: https://archive.org/details/TakamatsuNinjutsuHiketsuBunEssenceOfNinjutsu
4 遊ぶ, asobi: to play (games, sports); to enjoy oneself; to have a good time
5 Paradigm: a typical example or pattern of something; a pattern or model. A paradigm shift is when a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions is happening. Here this shift will change profoundly how we live our lives on Earth for many generations.
6 中今, Nakaima: the present (esp. as a privileged moment in eternity). It is made of two kanji, “middle” + “now.”