Flexible Focus #74: Ritual Empowerment

by William Reed on October 20, 2011

One of the purposes of ritual is to develop personal power, to make yourself strong first, so that you can then go out and help others become strong.

People often confuse ritual with routine, when in fact they are nearly opposite. Routines dull your senses and crush your spirit, whereas when practiced properly rituals can renew your mind and body.

An essential way to discover something new is to visit the same place.

This was known by Confucius (206 BC~220 AD), and immortalized in his proverb,

Discover something new in the old (温故知新 onko chishin).

It was also known by Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who lived around 500 BC, and who famously wrote,

You can not step into the same river twice.

People who don’t have a personal power ritual often ask, how can you keep doing the same thing, over and over again? But is a game of golf ever the same? Doesn’t the artist see ordinary things with a fresh eye?

Similarly, training in martial arts or calligraphy is never boring, or you are there for the wrong reasons.

Real Remembering

Have you ever heard something that made great sense when you heard it, only to forget later what it was or how to apply it?

If you think too much about a decision you may suffer paralysis by analysis. There is so much information available today that it is easier than ever to overload your circuits.

To prevent this, it is a good idea to form the ritual of leaving each experience with a good takeaway.

These are not always part of an information package, and the best takeaways are those which you create yourself. Here are a few things you can do to ensure that you walk away with real learning, rather than leaving empty handed.

When you hear or read something you consider to be useful:

  • Take notes to capture it: Make a habit of carrying a small notebook wherever you go, preferably something that fits in your day planner. Make a habit of taking notes in the context of your daily activities.
  • Paraphrase to check itIf you are in a position to dialog or ask questions about the information, form the habit of paraphrasing what you have heard to make sure you got it right. This will clarify and magnify the message.
  • Summarize to secure it: If you’ve ever tried to read notes that you took some months ago, you realize how helpful a good summary can be in saving time and reinforcing understanding. Make your summary while it is still fresh in mind.
  • Take action to apply it: The best retention comes from the reinforcement in action. Applying what you learn heightens relevance and retention.

After you have captured and secured something of value for yourself, you can do even better by sharing your knowledge with others.

Blog about it on your platform. Share it on Social Media. It has never been easier.

The important thing to remember is that understanding does not equal recall. Remind yourself that “I understand means I can do!”

A takeaway is a breakaway from the habit of forgetting to apply what you have learned.

What happens to this knowledge if you don’t capture or share it? Try writing on water and see how long the impression lasts.

From Method to Mastery


One of the wonderful things about learning Aikido is that it takes you step by step into a world that is beyond steps. Training takes you from the world of technique to the realm of art, from method to mastery.

My teacher Maruyama Koretoshi, founder of the Aikido Yuishinkai, is a Master of this process, and has captured its essence in a way that rewards perseverance and practice. Anyone, regardless of age or experience, can reach a level of mastery if they persist on the path. Genius and talent may give you a head start, but like the hare in Aesop’s fable, it is more often the tortoise that wins the race.

A Japanese proverb says that Perseverance brings Power (keizoku ha chikara nari, 継続は力なり). Many assume that perseverance requires power, yet the source of this power is actually training, the mastery of forms which with practice become an integral part of you.

Mastery is a kinesthetic process, learning with your body. Such learning does not abandon you over time. Once you learn how to swim, how to ride a bicycle, or how to speak your native tongue, it sticks with you for a lifetime, even if you are away from it for a while. By contrast, how much do you remember of the subjects you studied in school? Could you still pass the tests now that you once passed years ago to graduate?

Did you see that?

For those who have not experienced the magic of training over time, the martial arts may seem to be more about mystery than mastery.

How is it possible to detect the movements and intentions of an opponent before they actually occur?

How can you successfully subdue a person who is much larger or stronger than you?

How can you keep your center and remain calm when those about you are losing it under pressure?

How can a small turn of the wrist result in such a dynamic throw?

Aikido training may begin with the mechanics of movement, but it quickly progresses from method to magic, as the dynamics become more subtle and sophisticated. The untrained eye may altogether miss  what is happening, because beginners focus on following the obvious rather than attuning to the opportunity.

A real Master of Aikido can do both the mechanics and the magic, and will adjust their teaching in such a way that anyone, starting from any level, can move quickly from where they are to where they can be.

To see Aikido in action, to feel its power, is still magic despite decades of practice. There is certainly more to it than meets the eye, which is why when you see an amazing throw in the dojo, all you can say is, “Wow! Did you see that?”

Power of Ritual

Without practice you will end up with more froth than finish. This applies as much in life as it does in the dojo. In fact whatever you do, even not doing something, is actually practice leading to habits, good or bad. The key is to find the best practices which enable you to leverage the power of ritual to a favorable result.

What happens if you drift along without discipline? You end up becoming a victim of your own bad habits, or as some would say, stewing in your own juices.

If you want to start now forming good habits that will serve you for a lifetime, I can think of no better place to start than Aikido.

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