Hachiman’s… brother

Death! Undoubtedly, the one true immortal…
The following writings are only for those who can handle certainties. Certainties that are devoid and above illusions like: assumptions, beliefs, points of view, hopes…

Wait a minute! I would like to take this last one back! I mean the one with this being only for those who can handle certainties!
Because since death makes no exceptions on any of us, how can I?!

When the time comes to write about the one in the black robe, I always start as I just did above (with variations of course). I cannot help proposing, at each beginning, that the issue of death is more about people with an intellect that is able to “handle” this. Only to remember shortly after the deep dark end, that is gonna suck everybody else, too…

It is by now a common agreement (for logical beings, as Mr. Spock would say) that the ultimate power of the universe is change. Nothing is more solid, everlasting and endurable, than change. The only one who has a ticket for a free ride on this, the only one with immunity to change, is death. He never changes…

We go into life with a vision of what we would like to do, what we would like to become and mostly, and most commonly, what we would like to have. We prepare ourselves for all these, we target out our vision and go after them, but when it comes on dying, we have no preparation at all.
Of course they are those who “promise to prepare” us for death, but all of them remind me of the lady in the plane, which smilingly instructs me to wear a… swimsuit, for the case of a crash-landing. Once as a boy asked my mother why they don’t hand out parachutes in flights, but year in year out (that have become decades) a nice lady with a smile still exercises my patience on an answer that stayed unfulfilled…     
Now if I die in a plane crash, and have a few seconds to think, I will definitely remember this text and say the famous phrase: “I said so, doesn’t quite cover this”

Man’s actions differ, according to a great number of things. So, when his time comes to die there are differences in how he will go, according exactly to this. Some might say that a great number of people are “lucky” enough to die without being able to realize that, like in their sleep or an extremely sudden death.
No matter, because our point here is not only about the moment of death, but also on how death affects us, throwing his shadow at us while we live.
Man’s actions might differ, but death’s action is one and only. He has a poor repertoire, a very single minded play, which he puts up through the ages.
He comes, takes us, and that’s the end of it.

We cannot change death’s act, in spite of the efforts we make. But we certainly can change our act, which is not one, but differs, as I earlier said. Our positioning towards death can improve a great deal, if we are willing it. A man who prepares himself for death will, in effect, lead a different life.
An academic approach on this has no value here. One can for example read a thousand books on acrophobia, but when the time comes to stand at the edge of the cliff all academic knowledge, all verbal advice, is swept away in an instance by terror and fear.
One will need technical know-how and practical application, which is gained by a step by step approach on the field, in order to come up with results and get to the magic word: Experience!

Same is with death. Keeping near death as possible (like keeping at the edge of the cliff without fear) using a tangible Art, is necessary in order to fight back fear, expose and eliminate character weaknesses, and be able to look into the deep dark void, when it opens its mouth, calmly whispering “hey you, I’m right here!”

If I wanted a cuckoo clock my destination would be Switzerland, but in order to find those who were fearless in facing death I would look under the term Samurai. The Samurai (and the Spartans as well) did not create the Martial Arts only for war practices. They founded a way of life through being a Martial Artist also in times of peace. Facing death has a practical application in times of war, but is effective in leading a life that is above all conscious to given realities.     
One understandable argument goes like this: isn’t it a bit strange to practice an “ancient” Art in order to conquer fears, being a modern man?! Well, from a Martial Artist’s point of view, buying a cuckoo clock is even stranger… 
But please consider the following:
Death remained unchanged through the ages, through cultures, through anything we might have thrown against him. He just waits in the shadows for his time to come and greet us all.   

No training for this
It is relatively easy for us to understand life as we have it now, along with the global culture that goes with it. Today we hear the same music, see the same movies, drive the same cars, speak through the same mobiles… We also share the same thoughts and worries about the environment, about politics and if we add the World Wide Web to that, the package is complete. It comes easy to think “this is the world”.
My point here is, that it is difficult to fully understand the absence of certain issues, like the total neglect of any training that would prepare us to face death. Consider that please for a moment, let it sink in. In our modern world, we enter and go through life totally unprepared, for one of life’s most important issues. The last of issues that, nevertheless, defines and affects our entire life!  
And we learn about it “as we go along” when, every now and then, someone we care about dies “unexpectedly” (if we are lucky!). Every death of that sort, every terminal illness that can be measured in days by our fingers, leaves behind fear, grief, shock and, sometimes, trauma.
Our modern, civilized, technological world (that I nevertheless admire!) is totally unable to cope with that. All it offers on the matter is psychological jabber that is supposed to “talk us through” in… sessions. Not to mention the promises of religion (any religion) that all agree on one point. That the deceased will have a… promising future, of some sort.
In the first case I would rather kill myself, but not before having first killed… the jabber man. And in the second case I simply rest my case (one more time) since I can not see anything more tangible and certain, than the man with the black robe who waits to take a swing at me with his reaping hook.
By totally “ignoring” death and its importance, we lead a life with a wrong pulse. Conditions like boredom and stress, for example, are totally ruining our sense of time and rhythm in daily life. Both are the side effects from an inability to balance out time, time that is in our hands, like in “given time before we die”. And above this, how we master it.  Blaming the “modern technological way of life” has little to do with this. But it has much to do with our basic training when entering to life.
Martial societies clearly have no place in our era, but their useful heritage of Martial Arts is timeless and too important to be ignored in basic human training.
Unlike today, martial societies, like those of the Samurai and the Spartans, did cultivate their lives in a manner that would invite more often the realization of death into their lives. Today, this same approach can be applied only as a personal choice, since societies no longer “invest” in any kind of training that does not have show an immediate profit, of any kind. Against death no one can be “modern”, “meta-modern”, have “new ideas” or have an exciting term that is not yet invented! Death is old as time, and the approach of the Samurai way can never be “anachronistic”.

Does man’s plan to prolong life include the simple thought that by doing so we extend and prolong the shadow of our death too? We usually find out that in many of our discoveries tag along deterioration, pollution, side effects and decadence. But we do so rather late…  

No old ways no new ways
Classical Martial Arts where on most of their part born on the battlefield and they include row applications of “destructive death” as applied in war… Thus, death is the very cornerstone that shapes a Martial Art. Practicing a “deadly” Art includes using as much control needed in order to distant yourself from killing each other and stay alive in practice… That is the main reason why in Martial Arts there cannot be any competing. If you push your abilities, the danger zone in Martial Arts, becomes a “near death” zone. This is not an “adrenalin” thing, this is not being “mucho” this is clearly about control over fear of death.  And it can be used, in order to “balance” out the day. By doing so, how can one “have stress” or “be bored”?

One of the most common misconceptions on the matter is as follows: If I think every morning of death and “meditate” on him, I will learn how to have no fear of him.
No! You will probably become depressed (and if you live near by, give me headache).
Death is no sunshine! In… his case what we “think” and what we “feel” and what we “believe” becomes a great disappointment, sooner or later. As always, it is what we are prepared to act, that counts.         

In the shadow of death
The common un-trained man walks into life making sure to position himself in a manner that leaves death’s shadow fall at his rear, at all times and out of his view. This man lives “happily” and runs into his life giving no value in death, and thus, no correct value in life.
Every time death decides to drop his shadow in front of him, he loses the world and is unable to confine himself turning “happy” to “greave”. Again, losing both values.
The trained man walks into life making sure to position himself in a manner that leaves death’s shadow fall at his side, at all times. Thus, he keeps an eye on it, acts not surprised when death pays visits, and values life with a right portion of death in it, making the best out of them both.
He practices the technique of breathing, without excluding his last exhale…
Martial wisdom is not merely about lack of fear due to training. It includes an understanding of life that goes to the point where you detach yourself from it, and live with a “who wants to live forever” kind of freedom. To be realized and awake on that matter, makes living a passing from one day to another, as if each day is that last one to come. Thus, you waste non, no more.

“Tomorrow is promised to no-one”

May 19, 2008