action, not reaction

Think of how a thought emanates. I know it’s a shocker that I’m not an expert at this, but from what I’ve noticed, a thought starts off as something, and that something is usually an intention. That intention, from what I’ve observed in my life, is either born from love or fear. Those seem to be the 2 main drivers of the thoughts we have. Obviously, the more our intention stems from love, the more creative and productive we usually are. Most fear based thoughts are reactions. When something excites fear into us, we react and usually say or do something stupid, hurtful, etc., which we later regret (or not).

When we come from a place of love, it seems to come from a place of action and is more creative. Coming from a place of love takes initiative. To do or say something positive, encouraging, supportive, etc., takes action. During the most profound times in which we say or do something positive, we realize at the time that it’s usually easier to just hang back and not say or do anything. It takes some courage to offer someone a compliment, for example, or to help the old lady out with the groceries (I’ve yet to do that).

Just the other day I went to this coffee shop that I really love going to, and as I was sitting there, I thought to myself just how many people actually compliment the owner. This place has a pretty good local following and people clearly love it. The owner put her heart and sould into creating this wonderful atmosphere. How many people take five minutes out of their day and tell her how much they appreciate the risks she’s taken and the time and effort she’s put into creating this little world of hers? I’m guessing not many (hopefully I’m wrong). I’ve done it myself and I do it all the time. Every time I go in there, I tell myself that I should email her and thank her for doing all she’s done to enable me to have this experience. I never did it.

When we look at the flip side, how many people have complained that their sandwich was a bit dry or the coffee was a little too strong, or it was too hot or cold in the building? My guess is quite a few. Complaints are a lot easier because they’re usually knee-jerk reactions to outside stimuli. The ‘lizard brain’ assists us with these. With creativeness, we have to access a higher part of ourselves. So, I finally did it. It took me, literally, five minutes to sit down and write the owner of the coffee shop an email saying how much I appreciate what she’s done. I hope she reads it and it negates all of the negative b.s. that fills up her inbox. This came from a place of action. It took a certain amount of fortitude to do it. After I did it, it was like a rush, I gotta say. Spreading positiveness and constructive compliments are how things grow, and I hope by my compliment, I played a small part in that. Acting from love as opposed to reacting from fear is an exercise that takes time to condition for, but the effects it has are very powerful and is where true positive change is born from. Be part of the movement and act.

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What Does it Mean?

So, I was doing some research on Aikido the other day, and I discovered something that totally changed my perspective on the art. I hate getting too caught up in terms, but this was really eye-opening for me, so please bear with me. Most definitions of Aikido out there claim that the “Ai” in Aikido means “Harmony”. This is what I’ve read and heard for a while. However, after checking out the wikipedia definition, I learned that it actually means “joining, unifying, combining, or fit”. This is different than “harmony” in some ways. Harmony implies duality. Being in harmony with something, we have that thing, and then we have us, who is in harmony with that. This is a powerful concept, but at a certain point, limited. When we start looking at the meaning of “ai” being “joining, unifying, or fitting”, we see how this implies a “unifying with” as opposed to a “going along with”. Now, please understand, I realize my search for the meaning of this term will probably take a lifetime. I’m not claiming to have figured it out, and really, I’m not quite sure if there is a solid ‘meaning’ or ‘definition’ of it. Constantly striving to define things can be futile, but when we experience awakenings of certain conceptual things like this, I believe they should be reflected on and used as tools for growth.

In clarifying the definition (I understand that a lot gets lost in the translation from Japanese to English and vice-versa), we move from a relative or dualistic perspective to a oneness or absolute perspective. This is, from what I’ve read and heard, where O’Sensei was. He was dealing with the absolute when working on Aikido.

Now the concept of Irimi (entering), which is a huge concept in Aikido, makes way more sense to me. To fully meet, join with, combine with, and unify with the energy is a much more powerful intention than merely going along with it (although going along with things is an important principle). It implies much more power as well.

Going within, we can take it to another level of meeting the energy of our higher selves, or best ability, rather than just going along with the whims of our ego. This can be done via meditation, contemplation, or perhaps while doing an activity where we can really focus on what we’re doing. Some people can achieve this through playing a musical instrument, others by writing, playing a sport, hiking, whatever. I do, however, think meditation is the best route to take in order to achieve this because you’re forced to sit with…yourself. No activity to get distracted by (our wandering thoughts are enough distraction). But that’s just it, in meditation, we’re forced to let go of those distractions and push through in order to achieve this inner unity. Way easier said than done, but well worth it. Anyways, I’m definitely looking forward to applying this new perspective both on and off the mat. Trying to go into things and achieve unity with them as opposed to just going with them, I believe, opens up the door to many opportunities.


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Life in the Rafters

So, some of you who know me have noticed I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dojo these days. Well, that’s because I moved in. Being uchi-deshi (live-in student) at the dojo has been something I’ve wanted to experience since day 1, but my life hasn’t allowed for the commitment. A few months back, my wife was presented the opportunity to teach in Austria for 8 months through the Fulbright foundation. Being an opportunity we both knew she couldn’t pass up, we decided it was best for her to accept and take advantage of it. So, with her doing that, I decided that I could use all of the free time I’ll now have (love you, babes) to immerse myself in the art of Aikido.

A lot of you know what the uchi-deshi program is, but for those of you who may not, it’s basically an Aikido apprenticeship. For those of us who really want to take our Aikido to the next level, the program is a great way to do that. The reason I gave this post the title that I did is because I sleep, literally, up in the rafters (see above photo for a view out from the sleeping quarters). Living at the dojo requires upkeep and administrative duties which are all part of Aikido training. Not only is an uchi-deshi to train with ki, but also to clean and assist other members of the dojo putting forth the same energy. I will say, coming from a place of complete service to the dojo is definitely a different perspective in which to train. Before, I would come in, focus on what the teacher was showing, train, get a great workout in, bow out, and go home. Now, not only are the uchi-deshi expected to train A LOT, and take falls A LOT, but also to keep an eye out for things such as greeting guests to the dojo, making sure people remove their shoes upon entering, answering phones, helping out with newer students, addressing injuries of others on the mat, assisting with kids classes, etc. After training ends and everyone else goes home, the uchi-deshi are expected to clean up and get the dojo prepared for the next day’s training. Having this constant focus of always thinking where to help is very beneficial to awareness during training and off the mat as well.

So, I’m very excited to have the opportunity to do this. I’m also very fortunate to have a great teacher like Vince Salvatore Sensei to train under. Along with that, I’ve been in a lot of dojo’s, and I must say, we have an incredible student body here in Reno.

The dojo is a very unique place. It’s a safe haven for many. It can be a place to go within or a place to commune with others, whatever we make of it. One thing I believe it is for almost all of us is a place of cleansing and vibrant energy. We know we can come here and leave our hectic lives outside, if even for a short while, and just train. People who come in and watch a class see us bow and clap twice and some are kinda weirded out by the ritual. Obviously, some may see it as a religious thing or an occult ritual. What it really is, as Sensei has said, is on the first clap, we’re leaving our mental baggage outside the dojo, and the second clap brings us into the present moment where we focus on the class.

One can feel the energy of the dojo right away upon entering, I know I did. Let me just say that being in a dojo by yourself when nobody else is around is an incredible experience. Maybe it’s just me, but I enjoy being in churches and places like that well before and after the service when no one else is around. The dojo is kind of like this for me. It takes on a life of it’s own after hours. The walls, the mat, the shomen seem to speak to you. Just the other night before going to bed I stopped and contemplated for a brief while all that I’d gone through in this building. All the times I felt like a complete failure, all the times I’ve felt like I’ve conquered huge inner blocks, all the times I worked until I felt as if I was sweating blood on test preparation and ukemi, all the times of complete stillness in motion, all the times of laughter with great people, the cleansing of my soul and purification that comes from training and insights that have come to me and left in a flash before I could write them down but are still part of my DNA although I don’t consciously know it. Kinda heavy, I know, but it’s true. Pretty sure this experience will bring forth some great inspiration for AikiLiving. It’s great to be here.

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chase jarvis

Chase Jarvis is a world renown photographer from the great city of Seattle, and I stumbled onto his blog a few weeks ago. He’s really big into social media and has a live show where he interviews other artists, mostly photographers, but different kinds as well. He’s an incredible artist who lives and breathes his art with absolute authenticity and sincerity, and you can tell he loves what he’s doing by watching his shows. People in the industry know he’s one of the best out there, but he remains very humble (without being annoyingly so) and lets his guests have the spotlight. You can tell that he really is interested in what they have to say, and seeing the inspiration going back and forth between host and guest is really a powerful thing to watch.

I don’t know much at all about photography, but I’ve gotten so much out of watching his show just because of the creative discussion going on. Creative people speak the same language no matter what their medium of creativity may be. So, not only is his blog and show awesome, but what really inspired me was that Chase Jarvis ignored the doomsdayers who were saying the digital photography industry was coming to an end at the hands of digitally produced images, managed digital workflow, and electronic distribution. On the contrary, Chase argues that for the savvy individual who understands the evolving photography profession, the times are full of wonderful change and boundless opportunity. He’s totally embraced the change, worked like crazy, and you can witness what he’s done with his career and his art from his website and looking at his work all over the web.

Photography has endured a lot of changes over the years and a lot of photographers, from what I’ve read, have thrown in the towel and gave it up. As is typical with things that are changing and evolving at a rapid pace, this makes things a lot harder for the people who are used to the old way of doing things. If you’re innovative and willing to put in the work to stay up with the change and ride that new wave, chances are you’ll end up doing fine. I just want to give props to the guy for giving the finger to the critics and embracing the change of the industry instead of resisting it and giving up.

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declaration (revised)

This started as my ‘Mission’ page and has been an evolving idea. Now, you can see, I have changed the name of that page to ‘Declaration’ (I like the sound of it better). What started off as a personal Aikido journal has morphed into more than just that, and I thought it was important to take some time to update my intention with AikiLiving for whatever it’s worth.

In today’s world we all need to be artists at what we do, whether it’s bussing tables, driving a cab, being a parent, being a friend, doing road work, or running a business of our own. When I talk about art, I mean the act of affecting others in a positive way, in our own authentic way, if even a little bit.

Merely doing what we’re told and being replaceable parts in a machine isn’t enough these days, nor is it rewarding or fulfilling in any way. There is no safety in mediocrity anymore. We have to put ourselves into what we do, as well as in our daily lives, meeting each challenge in our very own, unique way. Doing this takes courage and insight. It’s definitely not the easy path. There is no instruction manual for art. If there was, it wouldn’t really be art.

We’re living through the death of the factory. Not just the blue collar factory, but the white collar factory as well. As useful as it may have been at one time in our history, we seem to be growing out of that stage of our unfoldment. Paradigm shifts such as these are usually not transitioned to easily and these times can seem downright scary and unpredictable if viewed from the old paradigm. As always in history, there is much opportunity among the chaos if we can keep our center and adapt.

What does this have to do with AikiLiving? ‘Aiki’ is a Japanese term which, loosely translated, means ‘engaging the energy (without clashing)’. This is a very powerful and practical concept and Aiki can be effectively utilised anywhere, really. I do study Aikido, and have for several years, and Aikido is where I draw a lot of my inspiration from. I will say that this is not, per se, an Aikido site. One doesn’t have to know Aikido to apply Aiki principles (although it can help). I am inspired every day by these artists who do this on a daily basis (whether they know they’re artists or not). I’m not necessarily just talking about the painter or writer, but anyone who connects with others in an authentic, meaningful way. People who act on things, start things, and engage life. I don’t claim to be an expert on this. I have my moments, like anybody, but mostly I’m just an observer and am happy to have an outlet to express this inspiration to others and at times hear their stories as well.

AikiLiving is a place where I, and others who may want to join the conversation, can express observations, experiences and stories about all things Aiki. This is pretty vague and open-ended for a reason. Common posts are typically general musings about art, conscious business, relationships, entrepreneurship, conflict resolution, personal growth, Aikido / martial arts training, books, movies, lifestyle, culture, etc. Some posts are just random thoughts about this general subject matter. Negativity is being mass-marketed and my intention is to create a space that highlights growth, improvement, art, and positive interactions and insights.

People are more intimately connected now than they ever have been before. Connecting with others in a positive way is what matters most now. No one is going to give us permission to do this. We need to take initiative now and start changing our world(s) – careers, businesses, environment, families, relationships, etc. – for the better, and we can’t wait for anyone else to tell us it’s okay to do so. Through the experiences expressed here, I hope AikiLiving can help others find their own true potential and enable them to spread their art in their own world.

-Jonas Ellison

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