Daily Dojo

When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.

When my father and I were on the road filming interviews for our video music magazine The Down Neck Gazette we had some strange things happen in front of our lens. One moment in particular that stands out for both of us was an interview with a famous banjo guru who, as it turned out, was not as good as the hype. To this day the footage makes me cringe. All that came out of this guy was gobbledygook.

We were baffled by the experience. How could people think random nonsense was the same as teaching?

Then we rented the movie Mystery Men and it all made sense.

In the film a bunch of inept would-be superheroes are trained by The Sphinx, a mysterious hero who rattles off meaningless proverbs that are so stupid that they could easily be mistaken for wisdom.

At one point The Sphinx tells a frustrated student who is struggling to balance a tack hammer on his head:

When you can balance a tack hammer on your head, you will head off your foes with a balanced attack.

To this day, this phrase will make my father and I laugh out loud. It takes us right back to that awkward interview with a famous teacher who could not teach.

Daily Dojo

Very little is needed to make a happy life.

It does not happen to everyone, but playing the banjo can sometimes have the unexpected side effect of covetousness. We start out happy just to have a banjo. Over time we are collecting instruments, parts, gadgets and more. A new banjo will make us sound better, play better, be better . . .

Every banjo player I have ever known, including myself. has gone through this to some degree. Some grow out of it and some do not.

If you find yourself thinking that buying something will take place of long hours of practice, remember this bit of stoic philosophy from Marcus Aurelius (and a gaggle of other stoic philosophers):

Very little is needed to make a happy life.

Marcus Aurelius

Daily Dojo

A beginner knows nothing about posture or position of the sword, so there is no dwelling on body or mind; if someone attacks him, he scrambles to deal with it mindlessly. As he learns various things, however —physical posture, how to wield the sword, where to place the mind —his mind dwells on various points; if he tries to strike someone, what with one thing and another, he is exceptionally handicapped.

When he has practiced daily for months and years, finally his posture and way of wielding the sword become mindless, like he was at first when he didn't know anything and there was nothing to it. This is the frame of mind in which the beginning and the end are the same. If you count from one to ten and over again, then one and ten are next to one another. In the musical scale too, when you go from A to G from one octave to the next, then A and G are next to one another; the lowest and the highest come to resemble each other.

Takuan Sōhō had a unique insight into how people learn.

A beginner knows nothing about posture or position of the sword, so there is no dwelling on body or mind; if someone attacks him, he scrambles to deal with it mindlessly. As he learns various things, however —physical posture, how to wield the sword, where to place the mind —his mind dwells on various points; if he tries to strike someone, what with one thing and another, he is exceptionally handicapped.

When he has practiced daily for months and years, finally his posture and way of wielding the sword become mindless, like he was at first when he didn’t know anything and there was nothing to it. This is the frame of mind in which the beginning and the end are the same. If you count from one to ten and over again, then one and ten are next to one another. In the musical scale too, when you go from A to G from one octave to the next, then A and G are next to one another; the lowest and the highest come to resemble each other.

Takuan Sōhō

While this is a long quote at first glance, Takuan manages to boil down a process that takes a lifetime into two paragraphs. According to Zen in the Martial Arts, Bruce Lee was a huge fan of this quote, and used it with his students.

Daily Dojo

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, "Pray, which leg moves after which?"
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

A centipede was happy – quite!
Until a toad in fun
Said, “Pray, which leg moves after which?”
This raised her doubts to such a pitch,
She fell exhausted in the ditch
Not knowing how to run.

Katherine Craster

Daily Dojo

Each and every master, regardless of the era or the place, heard the call and attained harmony with heaven and earth. There are many paths leading to the top of Mount Fuji, but there is only one summit — love.

Each and every master, regardless of the era or the place, heard the call and attained harmony with heaven and earth. There are many paths leading to the top of Mount Fuji, but there is only one summit — love.

Morihei Ueshiba

Without love, no amount of hard work will do. It’s love of the craft that makes you practice longer, study harder and continuously move forward.

Daily Dojo

Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.

Today we have a quote from Shunryu Suzuki. I have been reading and carrying a tattered copy of his book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind for close to forever..

Nothing we see or hear is perfect. But right there in the imperfection is perfect reality.

Shunryu Suzuki

When it comes to learning music, perfection is often overplayed or underplayed. We either get tense about being perfect and make ourselves too stiff to be effective, or get so mellow that we skip practice over and over again.

I think the trick to being able to recognize those small moments when everything clicks – and when that moment passes have the strength of character to continue practicing, learning and growing until the next moment happens along.

Daily Dojo

Once you pull the handle you don't get your goldfish back.

Since it is Dear old Dad’s birthday, I decided to use a quote I once blurted out in a long-forgotten argument that to this day makes my dad laugh.

Once you pull the handle you don’t get your goldfish back.

Patrick Costello

In music and in life, we often find ourselves flushing some opportunity or challenge away. Skip playing in a jam, put off practice, blow off the wrong person and . . . well, you get the idea.

When this happens, when we flush the proverbial goldfish, it does no good to stage a rescue attempt or ponder on how badly you messed up. Just learn from your mistakes, move on and get yourself a new goldfish.