The Art of Winning Blog

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Insanity: A Ninja Perspective

I'm super aware this Holiday season of all the projections and expectations and disappointments that arise around the holidays. And I'm totally jazzed by it and grateful for it. Sometimes the holidays are when it feels like we all really get real. We let our expectations be known. We strive to create something perfect. The perfect meal. The perfect gift. The perfect night. Each time we strive for perfection, to be perfect, it is because there's a deeper need--love, happiness, enlightenment, joy, etc. I'm so grateful for this craziness at the holidays because there's a vulnerability here. There's a willingness to say "this is what I'm looking for right now." There's a willingness to try and fail spectacularly, to see each other at our most raw, our wits end, our breaking point and to still be there for each other. In the past few years, I've developed an immense gratitude for the witnessing of the shadow side, in myself and others. What a gift when someone is willing to let you see past the veneer and into the heart of what they truly desire. Happy holidays everyone. I see you. 

For a bit of holiday cheer and my inspiration for this post, please watch this awesome video. The DropKick Murphy's capture the spirit of true gratitude for the insanity of reality.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Resiliency, Pigsties, and Choice

So here's something you probably already know about me: I'm brilliantly resilient. I'm the type of girl who could be thrown naked out of plane, land in a pigsty and sing Katy Perry songs on my way to the feeding trough. At the trough, I'd meet the farmer and her husband and they'd give me a shower and some clothes. Then I'd skip away looking for whoever threw me out of the plane. And every single bit of it would be fun because I'd insist on it. 

The thing is, that power has a dark side. It's the side where I don't notice I'm being kidnapped and put on plane, though I was probably enjoying myself up to that moment to. At times, I've allowed my ability to handle whatever comes my way as an excuse not to chose,to let circumstance unfold around me. I like to see what happens and then chose how to deal with it. 

As I was visioning this blog post, it suddenly occurred to me--what if I'd never gotten on the plane? I know I'm suppose to think that I'm grateful for the plane and everything that happened because it's made me who I am today and in truth, I am. I also want to stop getting on the same plane, to chose something different for myself and the people around me. What if I stayed and worked on the farm? What if I hijacked the plane and threw everyone else out? What if I flew First Class to Portugal and spent a month playing on the beach?

I also thought of a bunch of artificial rules I could make up for myself to trick myself into believing I wasn't getting on that plane again. Luckily, that made me so nauseous that I recognized the fallacy. Those rules would ensure I never got thrown out of plane, but off the back of a boat instead, bleeding, in shark infested waters. Though I'm also the girl who would be rescued by dolphins and ride one to safety. There's no rule I can follow. There's only total awareness in every precious moment.

Choice is about more than knowing what the choices are. It's knowing what's in alignment with the energy and space I be, not just what's expeditious or harmonious in any given moment. It's about harmony with myself first and others second.  It's about knowing the fullness of myself, including the dark side of my powers. 

What about you? What powers do you have that you can't even acknowledge because to notice them would encourage you to notice their dark side? Are you willing to step into choice and awareness, even when you don't like it? I choose to write my story, with choice and consciousness and to allow all aspects of my superpowers. I may still jump out of a few planes but I'll do it knowing how I got there. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Falling, Pain, and Getting Up

So last night I fell, hard, fast, and with witnesses which is pretty much the worst combination that doesn't end in maiming or dying. As I've thought about it, I've had two learnings running simultaneously but since I can't write multiple streams at once. Have patience. I'll get it all out eventually.

First was the physical experience. It's been a long time since I fell quite so spectacularly. Usually I can find my balance before I hit the ground and I've pulled off some amazing feats of athleticism simply to avoid falling. In the past, time skips when I fall. I'm standing and I come back to awareness having already fallen. Last night, I got to experience every moment of the fall. As I caught my foot, my body turned and I was heading head-long into the island. I tried to recover but my foot was still caught in the opposite direction of my momentum. So I twisted in the air like a alligator roll to move my head in another direction and slammed (seriously slammed) my lowermost ribs into the island. I kicked my foot free as I impacted and then finished rolling by sitting on the floor and breathing. "Yes I'm OK but it hurts a fuck lot so give me a moment." I wasn't sure I wasn't bleeding but I was sure I didn't break the rib so that was a plus. It took a few minutes before I could touch it to see if it was bleeding then a few more before I was willing to move. And even more before I was willing to talk to anyone. Now 12 hours later, it's in a weird state of swelling but not bruising. It'll develop over the next few days before it totally lets go.

So here's what I learned/remembered.

1. As a martial artist, I train so that I can respond when "bad" things happen. I can't always stop them from happening, though the control freak in me would love to. But we can respond when things happen. We can nudge the outcome. We can take the brunt in our side, not our head. Micro tweaks and awareness make all the difference.

2. As I watch the movie in my brain, I realize how much it parallels all pains. It's just on a different scale. What takes a few days in the body, can take a few years in our soul. I don't need to judge that. It's just the way we heal. Wow.

Have a beautiful day Boulder and if you fall down 7 times, get up 8.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Change, Choice, and Vows

The other day a new friend was asking me about my business and I found myself unusually stuck. Not in talking about the business itself--that's easy. I can wax ad nauseum about To-Shin Do, actualization, choice, and change for hours. Though I'd rather you just got on the mat and saw for yourself. No, this stuckness was around the success of the business because she said it looked like I was pretty successful, and in my heart, I hedged. Whoa! Really? I've spent 9 years building a business that now has 158 students who are all exploring personal transformation and mastery. I've got incredible staff who thrives on sharing this art and our school. When I walk in the space, everyone is happy and eager. It's a blessing and a gift. 

Of course, my first instinct was to ask myself Why but Why is one of the most useless questions on the planet because it depends answers that are, at best, incomplete and at worst, completely wrong. Have you ever gotten attached to answer and spent time investing in that answer only to realize you'd misunderstood all along? That's my issue with Why. 

So I turned to feeling the energy instead. The first thing I noticed was that I felt closed (which is weird for me). As I opened up to all the energies and invited them to be nothing other than themselves, I expanded. I stopped holding. I let myself feel all the beauty and adventure that's been created and still has yet to created. I like this space. It's where I can create from. It makes me want to dance, or paint, or do the books, or tackle my To Do list. There's no hedging, fighting, or resisting. It's allowance. 

More than that, it's my inspiration for blind work. It's the expansion of training in enclosed spaces with the lights off. It's the freedom of doing races blindfolded. It's interacting with my world with all my senses open and available to receive.

So I made myself a promise. It's one I've made before and one I'll probably make again. Each time I renew this vow, it's a little deeper, more knowing then before. I promise to keep making my world bigger, to be the stardust in this vast universe and never confine myself to smallness. I vow to not hedge, to own my successes and my failures as information, not judgments, to explore change and choice. And if I forget, I give you each permission to remind me. 

Friday, October 31, 2014

Contribution: A Poem


I love you
In all your forms.
Even rumpled and dirty, 
So old that history 
has replaced your features
With smudge marks.
I love you
When you make a raucous. 
When you're so loud I can barely hear myself
And as we run to the ice cream truck
You make my palm sweaty.
I've loved you since the Tooth Fairy,
Since I learned you were magic,
Showing up in ways 
And places unexpected. 
I love you
For the freedoms you bring me,
The lacy undergarments,
The delicious food,
The powerful engine of my car.
I love you for being there,
Growing and letting go,
Contributing to the beingness in my world.
I love you
In all your forms.
I love you in paper, coin, credit, and just as numbers on my screens.
Thank you for all you be.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Nature of Change

When I first came to CO, it was for a Naropa Ecopsycology program. I was attracted to Ecopsychology because of the premise that answers are found in nature. One of my first experiences was a solo nature hike that I did on Flagstaff. I went into the wilderness with the question "what is the nature of change?" At the time, I didn't realize the second part of my question, "how do I consciously choose change?"  I expected the answer to pop into my head at some point (because that's how it works for me) but that didn't happen until just this morning. But to stay back in 2004 for a few more minutes, I did have 2 profound messages on that hike, though neither was verbal (and only one is relevant to this topic so I'm going to save the other story. Yes, I'm a tease, deal with it.)

So on this hike, I'm starting to get frustrated because the answers aren't coming to me. The answers always come to me. I'm doubting myself, thinking I must be doing it wrong. I'm not very good at this Ecopsychology stuff, maybe I shouldn't be here (Flagstaff, Naropa, CO, earth). Recognizing this futility, I take a deep breath and look up. As my gaze widens and refocuses, I'm looking out into a sea of evergreens, with a single yellow deciduous tree among hundreds of acres of green screaming "I am the answer." To which I say "ok. I don't know what you mean but I sense you. Thank you."

For the next 10 years, I've continually come back to this question "what is the nature of change and how can I choose it consciously?" Some days, I'm afraid to choose change. I'm much more comfortable when change is happening to me and I can ride it with aplomb. When I'm choosing change, it's scratchy and irritating. 

Fast forward to this morning. Butterflies are caterpillars who got rid of the stuff that wasn't a butterfly. Leaves don't change colors. The green leaves and the other colors become visible. When you change, you do not become something else. You become more of something which was always in you. If you don't consciously choose change, it'll choose you. 

One more thing, I can't control what the changes looks like but I can steer the direction. These pictures are are of a Black Swallowtail. I would never have guessed from that caterpillar, that butterfly would emerge. Holding the intention of the direction of change (to butterfly) allows me the emotional freedom to allow colors and beauty to simply emerge as fits the scheme of totality. Because what if I can be even more brilliant, do even more good work, shine ever more brightly than I have ever imagined? 

Photos courtesy of Bored Panda. Check out the full article because it's awesome.

Friday, October 3, 2014

My Experience of Invisibility and the Student Creed

The past two years have been a new level of stress for me. For the first time since my teens, and maybe even more than my teens, my mind was more in command than I was. Previous to this stress, when I was under stress, I could retreat into my mind and it was a beautifully clear space. Now I was finding that I couldn't even focus long enough to take a breath. Seriously. It took multiple attempts to just focus for the entirety of a single breath. Thank goodness I have an amazing store of willpower that kept me coming back again and again to the discipline of focused breathing. One of my inquiries in these meditations was exploring how the mind can get so wrapped up and attached (and on the systematic detachment of attachments to allow my love and joy to be my guides).

During one of these meditations, I remembered one of the teachings about Marishi-Ten. In the particular teaching I remembered, Marishi's brilliance in hiding the sun in plain sight--so bright and beautiful that it was impossible to look directly at. This image became the focus of my meditation--how can I create an illuminating brilliance?

Then fear and doubt crept in. I've seen friends and family members devolve in a web of delusion and I am frankly terrified of this potential. If I was going to truly create brilliance--to trust in myself as an infinite being--how was I going to ensure I could believe in infinite potential without devolving in a mire of self-delusion?

A conversation in Tampa with Mark Sentoshi Russo kicked off my insights into the Student Creed. (Interestingly, I got awful food poisoning that trip but that exploration is for a different post.) Over the following months and years, I continued to pick at and mold this theory. What I came away with is the Student Creed as a tool for countering self delusion.

  1. I believe in myself. I know myself deeply with all levels of my being. I know what I stand for and I'm willing to make, and remake decisions, with every new moment. This foundation is a freeing relationship, rather than a limiting one. It's not a conscious listing of my beliefs, it's a subconscious, energetic understanding of my infinity.
  2. I believe in what I study. I keep coming back to the mat/cushion to honestly explore the lessons that excite and frustrate me. There were times when I forgot the basic movements and I had to go back to fundamental teachings. There were times I didn't want to. I just wanted to move forward, to be past it already. I could convince my mind I was all over it but getting on the mat was a way to measure exactly where I was. Whether it was exploring movement principles or looking at the mind practices, I just kept coming back to training.
  3. I believe in my teachers. I realized this was a resource I was under-utilizing. Certainly, I was drawing on my teachers for direct lessons, but I wasn't asking for support in being the person I really wanted to be. I mindfully picked 4 people that I trust to know my brightness. I gave them permission to call me on my bullshit (we all have it). These are the people whose feedback I'll trust, even if I don't want to. It was easy after the trauma to gravitate to the people who would reinforce my already held beliefs. I realized it was important for my growth to have people who would challenge me to grow.
How to Use It
Let's take an easy example. Say a friend asks you to keep a secret. Ask yourself: is it true to my being to keep this secret? How do I feel about being a keeper of this secret? Does it feel right to me?

Is it true to my beliefs and principles to keep this secret? Are there teachings I believe that have wisdom on the subject?

What would my role models do? Do they have any experience with this secret?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Five Reasons Why I am Excited for the Stephen Hayes Seminar on Cause, Effect, and Emptiness:
By Emily Lopez

1. I will be training with my peers in an intimate, more intensive setting.
2. I am excited to cultivate and to expand my mind body as well as my physical body.
3. As I feel my level of vulnerability increase, I am experiencing a shift in my awareness. I am wanting to further build upon this shift in awareness.
4. The opportunity to experience Mr. Hayes and his teachings, and to learn more about To-Shin Do.
5. I am excited to explore what is possible.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Dude Abides: Black belt essay: Bert Gehorsam

Bert Gehorsam – Black Belt Essay, June, 2014


“The Dude Abides”


Abide: transitive verb, Merriam-Webster

1:  to wait for :  await

2 a :  to endure without yielding :  withstand

  b :  to bear patiently :  tolerate 



I started my martial arts path when I was eighteen. Why? I wanted to be a badass. Up to that point I spent my life in inner city New York. I had seen violence and had been subjected to violence and as a result, I wanted no more of either and thought martial arts would help.. The problem was everyone else in my class wanted to be a badass too. And most of them were already waaaaay more badass than me - and willing to prove it. Not always a lot of fun, especially since like the Dude, played by Jeff Bridges in the 1998 film “The Big LebowskI, by nature I am a non-confrontational pacifist.


identify with much of the Dude’s outlook.  Known for the phrase “the Dude abides”  (also “…this aggression will not stand, man!.”), he is thoughtful and rarely reactive in a negative way, takes life as it comesand sees brightness in the future.


With that perspective in mind, I continued to experiment with a handful of martial arts styles over the years. Some were better than others, but none ever caught my full attention as a viable skill set with a good philosophy of application. Most dojos were just a place for tough guy contests –(although I have to admit that the windiness and spirit of aikido was a bright standout in the sea of bad martial arts offerings.)


Over the years, I began to understand that martial arts isn’t just learning a set of self defense techniquesbut also learning when and how to best use them andperhaps most importantly, learning how to potentially never use them. Thisperspective feels much more important than having a “let’s see who’s tougher competition that seems core to so many dojos. To me, the true essence of being a warrior is knowing when and how to use your power. Its being the one who can learn to live confidently with courage and compassion. In short, being a warrior is much more complex than being a tough guy.


Happily, a few years ago I found To Shin Do.  Having embraced this path I not only learned self defense techniques, I also learned the importance of the history, the real world techniques, mystic teachings and exercises that now  have become a deep passion for meA part of me. This path has led to the creation of a community offocused and aware people; peaceful warriors.


What I have gained by training in To Shin Do…is a basket full. Along with practical self-defense skills, body awareness, increased conditioning and agility, I have alsobecome Reiki 2 certified, developed a regular meditation practice, and heightened awareness and presence in the world. Time has slowed. I am able to process my surroundings and situations with more clarity and speed and respond in ways I feelare appropriate and lead to the right action.


Our dojo is not a place where we compete to see who is the biggest badass. It is ahome for our community to gather, to train, to share technique and to connect with like-minded people.  We help each other grow as martial artists and as members of the community at large. I have faced some trying personal experiences while a member of the Boulder Quest Center, and have always received support and compassion from our members. I have never felt judged. The dojo is truly one of my happy places.


So now my path has taken me to my Shodan test. Is it a milestone? Yes, but I have realized that like receiving my white belt, it is another step on my path. I am grateful and proud I took the first step, I am grateful and proud to have reached this level. Earning a black belt is on my bucket list but will soon be replaced with earning a second-degree black belt.


Somewhere along the path, being ninja has changed from something I study to something I am. One day being ninja walked out of the front door of the dojo with me and colored every part of my world. For this I am most grateful.


I want to thank my family, all my teachers, training partners and fellow students for their enthusiastic sharing of technique, knowledge, support and friendship on this journey. There are no bad days when training. Every kata and ukeme is a step on the path. Every step on the path brings me closer to my goals.


The Hagakure speaks of samurai always being prepared for their own death. My understanding of this requires one to be present enough to live every moment.Whenever this comes to mind, I cannot help but think of our friend Bradley. He lived every moment. And until that moment is my moment, I, like the Dude, will abide.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Now hiring: Office Ninja

Position Summary:
The Office Ninja is a demanding position that requires your best, not just in your job, but also in your life. The successful Office Ninja leads volunteers and staff with confidence, enthusiasm, and grace. The Office Ninja drives organization and looks for ways to improve processes and procedures. The Office Ninja leads a person from Prospect through to Student and shares Student responsibilities with the Head Instructor.

An Office Ninja:
   * Tunes the administrative engine so everything runs smoothly
   * Engages people in the art
   * Makes people feel welcome
   * Helps people commit to the path
   * Loves organizing
   * Believes in To-Shin Do, Stephen K. Hayes, and themselves
   * Wants to make a difference

Key Measures For Success:
   * 24-hour turnaround on Prospect processes, including follow-up calls and data entry
   * 24-hour turnaround on Student processes, including follow-up calls, initial paperwork, and billing.
   * Net gains in student counts monthly
   * 80% conversion from Prospect to Student
   * 100% calendar accuracy
   * All monthly events are on the website at least 1 week before they occur

   * Development and Execution of Prospect Processes
          Enrolls new students
          Follow-Up calls and emails
          Appointment scheduling
   * Database management
   * Development and Execution of Enrollment Process
   * Including cancellations and holds
   * Managing Monthly Tuition Billing
   * Marketing for Events
           Internal flyers
   * Event registrations
   * Scheduling
            Maintains paper and online calendar
            Liaison with students and staff for private lesson and special event scheduling
   * Retail
           Manages retail display 
           Suggests new items for ordering
   * Purchasing
           Budgets and buys office supplies
           Budgets and buys janitorial supplies
           Budgets and buys gi as needed

Required Knowledge/Skills/Abilities:
Business writing and etiquette
MS Word
MS Excel
MS Publisher
Database management
Customer Services skills
Excellent phone skills and manners

Required Education/Experience:
Some college preferred

Expected Hours:
30-40 hours per week
*Could have some of these hours as an Instructor for the right candidate*

Starts at $8-$10/hour plus bonuses (generally becomes $11-$14/hour)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Meditation and Healing

I was thinking today about my first experience of meditation and I can't remember if I've ever blogged about it. A quick version of the story is that I was 19 years old and had an anaphylactic reaction to an antibiotic. In the hospital, I kept hyperventilating so they wanted me to breathe into a paper bag. The problem was that I couldn't feel my face to know if I had a good seal so I'd slip and be hyperventilating and not know it. At some point, I realized I could hear the heart rate monitor and I realized that as long as it was beeping, then I was alive. Furthermore, if it was beeping steadily, then I wasn't hyperventilating. I used the rhythm of the beeping to know if I needed to adjust the bag. 

The obvious (omote) lesson here is that you can consciously control your breathing. A little more subtle lesson is that you can effect your entire body, including your mind, with your breathing. But I think the hidden (ura) lesson is the healing symbiosis of mind and breath. You can use your breath to feed your healing. It's obvious when we think about how our autonomic breathing is effected when we are injured but it's so instinctual that we take it for granted. Consider the possibility that the breathing is a healing response. What then does that mean for emotional healing? We have different breathing patterns as part of the elemental teachings. What if we thought of these as different healing methods. What would it possible for us to unlock?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Doing the Bolder Boulder Wrong (and Right)

I did a lot of things wrong at the Bolder Boulder. I didn't train. I wore brand new sneakers. I drank wine the night before. I missed early registration. 

I did a lot of things right too. I went with friends. I had a really fun time. I was blindfolded (yes, in my book that's right). I danced and high fived my way to the finish line. 

I could've let all my 'wrongs' stop me. I could've decided that I needed to be faster, stronger, thinner, more trained, or let any excuse stand in my way. But letting fear and smallness stand in my way isn't the ninja way. Our motto is Unleash Your Potential and that's just how I feel today. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Great Loss

The dojo has lost one of its own as Bradley Holcmb passed away last night. A dedicated student of the art and of life, Brad had one of my favorite smiles. He brought with him a joy and thoughtfulness to the mystery that is life. Over the coming days, we'll have more information about how to support Lucretia, John, and Lena as they adjust. For now, please keep the family in your prayers in whatever way feels good for you to do so. Take a moment today to be grateful for all the joy and beauty in your life. Be present with your grief and your memories of Brad. 

To- Shin!
Mary Aitoshi

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Momma Taught Me

I called my momma first thing this morning. Then I put on my fancy feather earrings and drove through the snow to dance class. It was a special Yin inspired class to honor our mothers and all the people and things we are mothering in our lives. As I reflect on my mom and mothering, I wanted to share the most important thing my momma taught me: be happy. 

My mom hasn't had it easy. Born in 1932, widowed in the early 50s, divorced in the 70s, and again in the 80s, and widowed again a couple years ago. She's got 4 children and she's lost just as many. Her 7 year old son died on the same day as her father, in unrelated incidents. Some days she struggles; some days she's annoyed that she's had to be so strong, endured so much. But even in those times, her spirit strives for happiness. 

Talking today, she reminded me: "You can't pick what happens to you. The circumstances of life happen. But you get to choose how you'll be in it. You can be happy or you can bring everyone down with you. Bring people into your life who support your happy." 

So today, whatever you are doing, do it in a way that supports your happy. You're worth it. We all are. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Saying Yes!

It seems everywhere I look there's another article about making sure you say no, setting boundaries, and not being a people-pleaser. But rarely to I see the counter-point. What happened to saying Yes? Dive into your life with a sense of freedom, of love, of passion. Let your Yes shine through and light up the world. And while you're at it, let your funk and your inspiration come out too. 

But with all this external imbalance, how can we determine if we are really embracing all our facets? Are we clear on what we want to say yes and no to? How about our groove vs our vision? I came up with a simple muscle test for myself. Try it and see what happens for you. 

First, a caveat: I made this up. The inspiration came to me in dance class, then I meditated on it, and now I'm sharing it. I hope it brings you insight. 

I've identified four basic head movements: the nod, the shake, the funk, and the flight. 

The Nod: face stays forward while chin and eyes move up and down. The classic Yes movement. 

The Shake: chin stays level while turning side to side. The classic No movement. 

The Funk: the ear comes towards the shoulder and the chin makes a smile movement while switching side to side. For me, it's a classic Song with a Funky Beat movement. 

The Flight: the ear comes to the shoulder and there's a nod at the shoulder (typically 2-3 beats), then on an up beat, the chin lifts to the opposite side moving in a rainbow arc. When I do this movement, I feel like I'm listening to the song of the universe. 

Exercise 1: Perform each of the head movements described above. Notice which feel natural and which feel stuck or unoiled. Note where else you feel the movement in your body and whether it activates a particular emotion. 

Exercise 2: Ask yourself a question and answer it with these head movements. Start with Yes/No questions to get a strong baseline. I started with inane questions, like "Do I want pizza for breakfast?"

Exercise 3: Choose one movement to practice today. Set a reminder on your phone for a regular interval that will remind you of your intention. 

Exercise 4: Share your experiences with me and other friends. If there's interest, I'll post more exercises and evolutions in the practice. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Elements

I was reflecting today on how lucky I am to be studying a martial art based on the elements. When I was a white belt, the idea of the elements intrigued me. At the time, I was simply grateful for the implication of choice when responding to conflict. Today it is just as simple, but not any easier than that first day. I choose to live and interact with the whole of my being, whether it's my daily practice or resolving a conflict. The elements aren't just inside me and they aren't just a part of the world. They a more than building blocks, psychological constructs, or kamae.  They are reflections of my connections with everything.

The Elements: A Poem
In the moments of realization and recognition
That everything is just as perfect as can be,
the world gets brighter.
Perhaps this is what they mean
When they say en-lighten-ment.
The sun is my fire. 
It's rays heat my darkening skin, 
casting lights and shadows across the hills.
The wind, my messenger of peace, 
and change. 
The birds' song sounds of longing
and searching
then quiets in discovery.
The legs of the cricket
buzz in the sparse grasses
And the dog's low-throated growl sends the deer prancing
into the trees.
Slipping deeper into the water,
I breathe in the freshness,
Aware that this moment is everything. 
The computer buzzes with alerts of emails and comments 
And things to do.
My mind dreams of what I will do today,
Next year. 
My heart cherishes the precious,
the breaths that bring awareness
Of the gift of
and every 
The earth is my champion. 
My spirit lifts in gratitude
To this moment,
To this opportunity,
To this reality.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Boys Hitting Girls

Boys Hitting Girls

By Nami Bhasin

For those of you who haven’t yet met me in person, I stand at a staggering 5’ tall and am certainly not the strongest woman you’ll ever meet.  Not surprisingly, I was just a bit afraid of entering the Dojo, where men and women of different shapes, sizes, and skill levels all train together. On my first day, I had hoped beyond hope that my training partners would take a little pity and be gentle with me.

Then I got paired with my very own Goliath (suffice it to say, allnames have been changed to protect the identities of actual people. Also, he isn’t really a giant, but he is very tall).

Goliath was assigned with grabbing my lapel while I found a way to get out of the grab and move to a safe distance. Not once in that 1-hour class did my giant opponent, “take it easy,” with his grabs. Each time he tugged at my Gi, I grew slightly more furious with him. Doesn’t he realize this is my first class? Doesn’t he see that I’m just a little girl?

I spent myself on frustration until somewhere in the middle of class, while I was catching my breath with my back on the mat,when I realized the only thing I was mad at was his insistence on treating me as I might be treated in a real-life scenario. He wasn’t a bullying goon, but he was acting like one on purpose—and it was to help me learn! I soon felt gratitude for my training partner, who saw in me what I did not see in myself- a woman who is strong and capable of defending herself.  There was amindful practicality to Goliath’s toughness, and I saw in him a type of masculinity that was new to me. He was compassionate, but tough. Fair, but practical.

I recently read an article about the push in New York to ban Mixed Martial Arts, and the subsequent backlash by UFC President Dana White, who describes the ban as, “thepussification of America.” Some of MMA’s defenders have castDavid (as in, “…and Goliath”) as the model for today’s young males. The disturbing dissonance here is that David was completely aware of his own body, size, and ability. He leveraged what he had to kill the giant Goliath. In order to fight MMA style (or any other ring sport, for that matter), one must change his body to match that of his opponent. Where David acted mindfully, many fighters are being asked to conform to a specific and narrow definition of masculinity that says, “Men win fights. Period.”

To the men of the Dojo, I offer my humble thanks for practicing martial arts with a purpose.  Since that first class, I’ve been paired with many a Goliath (it turns out a lot of men at the Dojo are quite tall), and I never again prayed for special treatment. Their best shot at me is my best shot at learning how to defend myself.








Sunday, February 23, 2014

5 Things Zippy Likes about being a Ninja

Five Things I like about Being a Ninja
By: Zipporah (Zippy) Abraham Paiss

1. Creative Expression
Life as a ninja is unexpected and wonderful. As a person goes throughout life, they are learning and adapting to the things they love and the individual they want to be. Yet, how we learn is up to us. Creative expression is a way of studying that is fun, makes concepts stick, adapts to each distinctive personality, and applies to our emotions as well as our intellect. Being a ninja has taught me how to reveal emotions and feelings through works of art. Specifically, through a martial art.

2. Cultivating intuition
When someone is hurling themselves at you at full speed and you have half a second to choose your next move, it takes complete mental clarity and focus to be the dividing force between yourself and another. Ninjahood has armed me with a strong shield of self-confidence; I can stand up to an attacker because I believe in my capability to defend myself. I know when and where to move to, and the situations when it is best to run for the nearest phone. 

3. Physical activity
A ninja, by definition, is a person skilled in ninjutsu. Yes, we get to punch, kick, run, hip chuck, and choke our training partners, and through all the huffing and puffing fun, we are training every part of our body. In addition to training the mind, ninjahood keeps you physically fit. There are always days when it’s too cold, hot, wet, etc. to be motivated to exercise, but I don't think of To-Shin Do as work; staying fit just happens to be a benefit.

4. All-inclusive
Contrary to popular belief, a ninja is not limited to an old Japanese man who can jump in the air and kick five times before landing on one toe. In To-Shin Do, anyone can be a ninja. My mother, sister and best friends have all trained/are currently training. I can officially say I lead a “ninja” life for I practice To-Shin-Do principles outside the dojo, my family supports my training and I see myself continuing to train for many years ahead. Being a ninja is a path for life open to anyone and everyone. Ninjahood is not a private club, rather it’s an universal invitation to a better life.

5. Unique occupation
Person: “What do you do in you’re free time?” 
Me: “You know, I use martial arts to expand my understanding of the world, believe in myself and the consequences of my actions, enlarge my own personal potential as well as that of others, and make the world a better place.”

Plenty of people practice sports and participate in clubs. In comparison, demographically, being a ninja is a rare occupation. To-Shin Do doesn’t just foster ninjas; it cultivates better people and an enhanced world as a result. I love being a ninja!

Join the family.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Path to Black: Antonio Dixon

My Path and the Lessons Along the Way

By Antonio Dixon

My first encounter that I remember of the Ninja was ananimated character from my youth named Snake Eyes. The G.I.Joe figurine was a big deal among my friends. Everyone wanted to be him. Why not! He was cooler than the rest of them because there was nothing he couldn’t do. At some point I started making may own ninja weapons such as wooded shuriken and trying mind control on my friends. Although I didn’t knowNinjutsu existed as something I could learn, the path was calling out to me.

Twenty years went by and I checked out some dojos here and there with nothing taking root. I found myself working at an outdoor experiential education center and making friends with two co-workers Ian Sanderson and Randle Charles. They were great teachers and were always looking for the truth on how lifereally works. This is still true today of my friends.

One day during lunch at work Ian had just gotten back froa week-long training in Boulder. He stated talking to me about themartial art he had been doing and invited me to join him in training. I told him I would think about it. Not really sure about the whole thing, I did not go.

A month went by and Ian asked again. This time I said yes. I could always just check it out, right?

To my surprise when I showed up for training I saw three other co-workers training. They were already doing rolls and break falls. These were people I worked closely with and I had no idea that they were a part of what was now starting to look like a secret ninja group that I was invited to join. I was sold before the first lesson.

The trainings that first summer were often intense, long, and consisted of kata and ninja philosophy. At times ourconversations were about the lineage and how this art came to us at that moment. These conversations would take me far into my imagination and at that time I was starting to understanding that this art is infinite and deep with meaningWe found ourselves training in after-hours office spaces, empty homes being renovated and outdoor parks. Anywhere and everywhere was our dojo.

That same summer there was news of a seminar happening in Boulder Colorado with Stephen K. Hayes at the dojo that my friends, and now training partners, were planning to go to. They said that this would be a good way to be introduced to To-Shin Do formally.  I decided to go and in the process I ended upmeeting the owners of the Boulder Quest Center who would later become my teachers. As the seminar was about to begin I stood in line to bow in. It was me at the end of the line with my first time tying on my white belt. Some colored belts werebefore me and then a long line of black belts that never seemed to end. I was nervous and excitedAn-shu came out and with a smile asked everyone to sit down. The person holding the space of the linage for me, my friends, and our secret ninja group in Santa Fe was right in front of me. I felt a direcconnection to something bigger, a connection to the lineage and community ofNinjutsu. An-shu said if you are in seiza please feel free to sit in a way that makes you comfortable.  He continued to say that in our western culture we are not as accustom to sitting in this posture for a long time. I immediately felt understood. The training went on that weekend and I trained with many black belts and never did one of them seem too big in ego, or that they don’t train with white belts, or that they were not willing to help me. This felt good. It crossed my mind if I would ever be like those black belts that helped me and what this path will look like for me.

Since that seminar I have learned that To-Shin Do is a journey ofsmall transformations that have led me to having a full sense of being a well-rounded human. The most noticeable growth I saw in myself is how I receive feedback, which is funny because I work at a place that is always giving and receiving feedback. I thought I was good at this. Being told I was not ready to advance to the next belt was challenging at times because as a long distance student the next time I could test would be 3 months or 6 months away, or sometimes moreThis made me take a close look at my ego and need to feel accomplished. Why do I feel this way? What is the truth about how I see myself? Do I trust how my teacher sees me? How will I know I’m ready without letting my ego in the way? This is where believing in yourself, in what you do, and your teacher(s) is key. Applying the student creed to all aspects of training and life allows me to recognize and overcome self-doubt while working on accurately assessing myself and remaining humbly confidentTo me now any training is a form of advancement, not just getting a belt. It is all about the small transformations that lead to growth and reachingmy goals.

Another way I have grown as a result of training in To-Shin Do is studying the elements. It has given me a bigger picture on how we operate as humans. As I enjoyed experiencing each element in the movements and how it relates in our lives, Ialways found myself saying “I’m kind of Earthy, Watery, etc…” with all the elements. Somewhere in the Wind element it all started to not matter as much if I felt them and I started seeing the qualities of the elements playing out in my training, life, and in others. An example of this is I had an experience where someone was speaking aggressively to me and I become earthy. Not immovable, but confident. Not necessarily letting them talk to me that way, but in control of the situation. I also started feel compassion for this individual. This allowed me to make the right choices on how to defuse the situation. I believe this is a result of my training in To-Shin Do. Prior to my training verbal confrontation often resulted in me feeling like I had no control of what is going on and an overwhelming sea of emotions that where challenging to navigate.

Five years have gone by since I started training in To-Shin Do. I now have the opportunity to share this with others in a To-Shin Do Club that I formed with my studentsThis has given me the opportunity to help others on the path and give back to the lineage. I have been teaching the foundations of To-Shin Do and have found twice as much in the lessons. The beauty of To-Shin Do is that there is an endless amount to learn.

Finally, this has been a long and fulfilling journey and I would like to give a heartfelt thank you to all who have helped me along the way.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

World Politics and To-Shin Do

I've been contemplating the state of the world and how my experience on the mat and with the teaching is so often reflective and reflected. Today, I was thinking about the corruptability of systems and how hosed our economic and justice systems appear to me. It's hard to think about something so big, so I thought about our TSD testing procedure. First let me say I really admire our testing system and today I finally realized why.

First assumption: all quantifiable systems are corruptable. That's why we maintain both qualitative and quantative measures for advancement. If a system is fully quantifiable, you can game the system. Take standardized testing for example. When I took he SAT practice course, it wasn't teaching me the material on the test. It told me how to deduce the answer, even when I had no clue. Don't know the word or any synonyms/antonyms? No worries, just look for a suffix or prefix that's ou do know. Truthfully, it was a. Better life skill than algebra and worked well for me, but it certainly skews the SAT to people who can afford the practice classes so they can properly game the system. It's why it's so hard to tell you what you need to DO to pass your next test, whether for a belt or kihon ranking. I'm more interested in who you are becoming and how that is reflected in what you do. 

Second assumption: systems are important. That may seem odd since they are corruptable but if we didn't have systems, we'd create them. Imagine a society where no one had a name. Would you create a label for them anyway? Of course. So if we try to pretend there are no rules, then we are denying reality. Personally, denying reality is one of my fears and I strive every day to be more clear than the day before. 

So the truth is, there are standards you need to meet for each rank. And you need to change and grow as a human being and that's absolutely subjective. When I look at he world around me, it's hard to believe that To-Shin Do exists. It's a study in emotional intelligence (founded decades before that became a buzz word), in Praise coaching, in the reality of inter and intra personal conflict. It's frankly brilliant. It makes me wonder, what else are we doing right now, how are we changing in this very instant, that in 10 years will finally be mainstream cutting edge? (I do recognize the oxymoron). I'm so grateful to be part of a living art. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hannya Shingyo

Most Sunday mornings, I'm either dancing or skiing. Both activities are a way for me to rest and rejuvenate and connect even more with my martial path. My martial path has long been a spiritual path as well. It is my laboratory, my sacred space, and my path. 

Today I danced. It was the instructor's birthday and I was looking forward to dancing the sacred as every class with her begins and ends with intention--much like we start with our codes too. I danced my heart out and it was wonderful. As we came into our centers and our space, the words "Hannya Shingyo" followed by "gyatei gyatei para gyatei...Hannya Shingyo" flowed through my mind. I love these moments when mantra present themselves to me, as if the universe is whispering or maybe I'm just so quiet, I can hear my mind. It is at once comforting and intriguing. 

A part of me wanted to quickly dissect the meaning, to know in my brain why I was hearing these words now, but I knew from experience that chasing the words wouldn't get me there, not in that state of mind. So I held the words and the space and I allowed time and myself to simply be. And words from another teaching, this time in English, sang the meaning for me: "this moment, in this space, is the brith of my opportunity to create the reality I experience". 

Every time we step on the mat, every time we release ourselves to the practice, we have the opportunity to get a little brighter, a little bigger, for our song to come into tune. We are so lucky to have this choice. I look forward to training with you this week. Let us all discover more about our path to peace, mindfulness, and release. 
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