For a long time, I’ve had a love affair with the martial arts. By nature, I’m a fairly undisciplined person with a very laid back personality but my studies in martial arts have seemingly cultivated a part of my personality that is disciplined, focused and ferocious. I haven’t always been the most assertive person and that ferocity has helped me cultivate a firmness in dealing with people that wasn’t always there. Well that, and being a husband. 😉 Anywho, recently I took some photos for a friend who is building her portfolio and it got me to thinking about how much swordsmanship and becoming a father are alike. What do photos have to do with swordsmanship? Well, she’d seen a picture of me in my kendo gi (uniform) that I wore to work one Halloween and asked if I’d be inclined to take some photos in that attire for her. Looking at how awesome the rest of her photos she’d been taking were, I jumped at the chance! Which brings me to this post… the sword and the dad with a little help from some old masters.
One of my favorite reads as a martial artist, and specifically one training in edged weaponry was Musashi Miyamoto’s “A Book of Five Rings” (Go Rin No Sho) and “The Last Samurai, The Life and Times of Saigo Takamori.” There have been others like Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” “Hagakure” and of course, Bruce Lee’s “The Tao of Jeet Kun Do” but for this post I’ll be focusing on the former two. Let’s begin with some words from one of Japan’s greatest swordsmen in recorded history, Musashi Miyamoto:
1. Do not think dishonestly.
2. The Way is in training.
3. Become acquainted with every art.
4. Know the Ways of all professions.
5. Distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.
6. Develop intuitive judgment and understanding for everything
7. Percieve those things which cannot be seen.
8. Pay attention even to trifles.
9. Do nothing which is of no use.
– Musashi Miyamoto, A Book Of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho)
When we are young, many of us guys are wild and untamed. We’re ready to conquer the world and make our mark and though fatherhood requires just as much energy (I’d argue more) it requires that energy to be focused in different ways than when you were single, or married without children. One of the first things I learned as a dad was that if I wanted my children to be the best people that each of them could be, I first had to work toward that. This means that personal “baggage” needed to be exposed and dealt with. “Do not think dishonestly, The Way is in training.” You must be honest with yourself about your strengths AND your shortcomings. You don’t want your children to grow up to be alcoholics… you’re the best example. Don’t want your sons to grow up and have issues with relationships and connecting with others? Learn to love your wife selflessly and with commitment, not convenience. I think you get the point. Once though, you’ve taken stock of who you are it’s time to train because the way to be the dad you want to be is in consistent training. No one changes overnight, so all those wonderful character defects will require daily attention. That is your training. Say you’re not the effectionate type of guy. Maybe your own father never openly expressed his love for you and now you have your own sons to raise. Chances are that you probably haven’t been that openly affectionate with the Mrs. Start there and you will show your sons what love looks like. Then, make sure you hug and kiss and tell your sons you love them. Often. This may not come natural, but that is your training. You must take that which doesn’t come naturally and train yourself until it does.
“Know the Ways of all professions and then distinguish between gain and losss in worldly matters.” Raising children isn’t just for mom. Read some books, talk to some other dads, listen to your wife. Know the ways of parenting. There are many things about being a dad which just aren’t intuitive for many dads and that’s ok! But the knowledge is out there. The info is yours for the taking. Learn about the different types of sicknesses your kids may endure. What is colick or croopy cough? How about chicken pox? What do you do if your baby’s temperature hits 100*? Do you immediately rush out to the ER? How do you calm a fussy teether. I know, I know, that’s a lot of information to digest but that is why you will have to “distinguish between gain and loss in worldly matters.” We’ll consider those worldly matters everything that happens outside of your home. As a dad, you might still have a job working outside the home to contend with during the rush to acquire the knowlege needed to parent effectively. Maybe you have a favorite hobby you spend hours enjoying on the weekends or after work. Well, you have children now and priorities must change. Don’t leave mom to do all the work ( your sex life will thank me for that little tip if you take it to heart). You’ll have to come to the point where you figure out which activities or pursuits truly enrich your life and the lives of your family/children and those which will lead to loss.
When it comes to being a father, one of the most powerful things you can do is become a student of your children. “Develop intuitive judgement and understanding…” and “perceive those things which cannot be seen.” Watch them. Learn their little personalities, what makes each one tick. Is one bubbly and happy-go-lucky, while the other is pessimistic and a little bit of a complainer? Maybe a little of both at different times. These aren’t just children, they’re human beings with their own personalities and quirks and strengths and weaknesses. If you’ll watch and study them, when they being to explore life and get into conflict at school, or maybe have some homework challenges, or issues with inter-personal relationship, making friends ou will have developed a greater intuition for what’s going on inside their little hearts and perceive those things which cannot be seen. In the midst of all of this, “pay attention even to trifles.” They’re still learning who they are and sometimes, the little things can tell you a lot. You may find that in the little things you get a greater sense of when they’re crying wolf and when something is really wrong. Your daughter comes home weepy. She was really snappy yesterday with her brothers. She’s a teen now and watching the little things will help you determine if she’s on her cycle or something more serious which requires your ear and maybe your advice. If it’s just the cycle, she may just need space, if it’s something more serious it may be time for you to spring into action. I know that often we talk about “women’s intuition” but you, dad, can cultivate an intuition about your children as well. “Perception is strong, sight is weak.” Don’t be the parent who thinks your kids can do no wrong but accept them for who they are and are not and love them unconditionally!
“Do nothing which is of no use.” There are so many things we put on ourselves and on our children which, at the end of the day, served little positive purpose. Do your children really need to be in so many after school activities that you miss the point and never spent any quality time with them getting to know their little selves? Sometimes our busy-ness can be like taking a date to the movies. You feel like you’ve had a good time but at the end of the evening you’ve learned little about each other because you went somewhere for two hours and were connected to something other than each other. The grow up so fast and we don’t get that time back. You may think some pursuits are useful but take a step back, out of yourself and really ask yourself if what you’re planning is really going to enrich you, your relationship with the children, or the children’s emotional/physical/mental health. Your children having what you never had isn’t always a good thing!
The Satsuma Rebellion: Tough Decisions
Saigo Takamori saw the signs of the imperialist expansion of the western world and helped his country centralize power, becoming a force for restoring Japan’s Emperor to power, ultimately taking it away from the Shogunate. He then turned around and had to help fight against that same Emperor for his way of life. Takamori’s story is the same one that the Tom Cruise movie, “The Last Samurai” was based on with Ken Watanabe playing the part of Takamori. This is a man who spent his whole life fighting for a country, then turned his back on many of his contemporaries for the greater good, then had those he fought for turn their backs and declare him and his way of life obsolete to the point of legislating that obsolescence. I think his story is like fatherhood in that sometimes you’re going to have to make some tough decisions. These decisions may cause you to loose sleep, but ultimately may need to be made, with your wife, for the good of your family. Heck, even with your own parents! In some cases, there are dads who are going to have to set strong boundaries with the very people who loved and nurtured them to adulthood, only to have to turn around and establish boundaries with how they interact with your their own children. Not because they’re bad or want to harm your kids but because of how you and your wife have decided to raise your own. Being a great father may cause you to have to turn your back on some of your “guy” friends who aren’t the best influence for where you are in this stage of your life but you know it’s the best decision for you and your family.
I leave you with these thoughts:
Being a father is like wielding a sword because it requires discipline, patience, strategy, technique and great focus. Lose your concentration, take your mind off of what you’re doing and injury may follow.
It was said that in order to be a great bushi, or samurai (at least the romanticized version), you must go into every battle accepting that you are going to die. No warrior who wants to keep his life fights with all of his heart. It was only in the realization that your life was already forfeit that you could hope to achieve victory. In the same vein, to be a successful dad, go into it with the same seemingly “wreckless” abandon. Go into it accepting that the previous stage of your life is over. In doing so, you may again find time at some point for previous pursuits but if you hold too tightly to those, your time with your children may suffer. Be present and give to them (and your wife and not in that order) everything you’ve got… they didn’t ask to be born. You can still take time to yourself and you should, but just like the samurai took time away from his training to meditate and clear his mind so he could return to his duties in life and be the best he could be, your recreational/recuperative time should be so that you are able to return to your family and other duties and be the best you, you can be.