Tag Archives: success

Give Yourself the Edge: Interview with James W. Heisig

I use kanji.koohii.com to share and use mnemonic stories to remember how to read, write, and understand the kanji. It’s great to work with others across the world but in the end you also have to make your learning your own. I am wandering beyond the standard kanji. Learning a lot of botanical kanji lately, like this kanji for “stamen.”

Samurai Mind Online is dedicated to helping people take on whatever they want to learn whether they think it’s impossible or not.   Last night I almost gave myself a concussion when I realized that I hadn’t taken the opportunity to share an interview that I did with James W. Heisig in 2006.    As you’ll see in the interview (it’s way longer than my typical post), Heisig came up with a system for how to remember kanji, the Chinese based system that is a key system of writing in Japan.  But regardless of whether you are reading this blog because you are interested in learning Japanese, I think there are a few take aways from this interview that any one wanting to learn anything in their life could take away from this story:

  • be bold and don’t be afraid to follow your own path
  • always be on the look out for smart short cuts or opportunities for deliberate practice.  Khatzumoto has some key questions in his article, “Practice Time, Game Time” that I think can apply to any field:  What don’t I know well? What doesn’t work?  What needs fixing?  What can be improved?  (Talent is Overrated is a great book to think about this whole idea of deliberate practice.)  Heisig realized that understanding kanji would really propel his Japanese fluency and invented a whole system around it.
  • don’t depend on others to tell you what is impossible or not
  • have fun.   Happy feelings bring happy learnings.  Heisig hightailed it from the language school as soon as he could and went to the mountains of Nagano and said he learned a lot of Japanese by playing with children and reading comic books.

Give yourself the edge.  Be bold and independent but also look at all the resources that are available and be persistent about evaluating them.  And above all have fun and enjoy the journey.

Another great tool is anki.ichi.net, which allows you to create flashcards for anything that you are learning. As you pass and fail cards, they come up in a spaced repetition system, so you are mostly reviewing things at the edge of forgetting and remembering. SRS systems are a great way to give yourself an edge.

This interview originally appeared in kanjiclinic.com, a great resource for learning more about kanji.

“Adventures in Kanji-Land: James W. Heisig and the Birth of Remembering the Kanji”
Based on an Interview with James W. Heisig
By Juan W. Rivera

Free download of the first 125 pages of Remembering the Kanji I.

Every now and then, someone confronts their own personal challenge, systematically overcomes it, and then shares that system with the world. This not only opens up their world, but also opens up the world for generations of people to come. James W. Heisig, author of the sometimes controversial book Remembering the Kanji I: A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters, is definitely one of those people. Many people refer to his approach to learning to write the complex Japanese characters as “revolutionary,” making Japanese and kanji study accessible to their lives and opening up a whole world of learning and possibilities for them. I conducted a telephone interview with Prof. Heisig from his office at the Nanzan University Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan.

Heisig’s kanji journey began while he was living in a commune of poets and artists identified as the “spiritual” side of the Sandanista revolution that would soon overthrow the Somoza government. Because of his familiarity with research centers, he was invited by Nanzan University to consult on the establishment of an academic institute devoted to dialogue among religions and philosophies East and West. Shortly after the consultation he was invited back to assist in the project, on condition that he would remain for five years and first attain fluency in spoken and written Japanese at an academic level.
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In a Learning State of Mind: Samurai Reading is Samurai Singing

Get in a Learning State of Mind

The time that you can wake up to what you can do is now.  As you follow your dreams and learn what you’ve always wanted to learn you need persistence.  You also need to bob and weave.  You can change your materials and your learning approaches like a time shifting ninja.

I’ve been taking photographs of pages from books that I find inspirational or interesting. This is from Kenichiro Mogi’s Japanese book, “Only Do Good Things With Your Brain.” This phrase here means that developing happiness helps your brain grow. Happiness, learning, happiness. A non-vicious cycle.

However,   I’ve also come to realize lately is that you can also change your state of mind.  Yes, you can change your materials and your methods and you should always be awake to that.   But you can also change your mind, and that can make a world of difference.  Before I lose the thread of what I want to say in a jet-lag haze (just got back from Japan two days ago), here are some quick tips to help get you get in a learning state of mind:

  • Check your breathing and your posture.   Open up.  Breathe deep.
  • Smile towards towards your work and tell yourself, “I am going to look for what is fun in this.”
  • Be gentle with yourself.  Do you point and laugh at children that are learning how to walk?
  • On the other hand, don”t try to bliss out.   You don’t have to motivate yourself to do what is odious to you.  Put that Napalm for Idiots book in the trash.  You don”t have to know every fact or keep every flashcard.  Choice is a loving act.

The other day, I was looking at my Samurai notebook and really feeling resistant about looking at it.  I had been resisting looking at it for days.   Part of the reason I was feeling this resistance was because I had filled my journal with “obligatory” notes from online courses from my job, etc.  I realized this recently smiled, took  relaxed breath and a looked at one of the positive goals in my Samurai notebook and turned a chore into a joy and challenge.  I also made a decision to quickly skip over things that didn’t interest me at the moment.  My samurai reviews have been going better ever since.

“Don’t focus on being negative.  It won’t work anyway.”

In one of Khatzumoto’s emails as part of my Silverspoon (a Japanese immersion service) experience he writes something like, “don’t focus on being so negative.  It won’t work anyway.”  (Khatzumoto sends out emails containing both an inspirational quote—sometimes brutal, sometimes sublime, sometimes cheesy. )  In the daily “sprints,” Khatzumoto asks that you do what I would call an affirmation (though I think the youngster would probably choose a “hipper” phrase.)   “Why do I choose to touch Japanese every day” is just one example.

A sign for guitar classes in Numazu. I want to take guitar classes and study how to play guitar with Japanese materials. Use what you love to learn. Loving two birds with no stone!

Part of the reason I keep recommending Khatzumoto’s site, ajatt.com, is because he is constantly finding ways to challenge states of mind that get in the way of doing what seems impossible.  His site is about learning Japanese but just check out his site and replace learning Japanese with whatever “impossible” goal you have in mind.  Here’s a start.  I want to turn this into a bumper sticker.  (I just need a car first):

“Keeping the Game Alive: Self-Abuse Ruins Everything, So Be Nice To You


Take a look around you, inside of you.  What seems impossible?  What’s one little step you can take.  Breathe.  Smile.  Open a new page.  Samurai reading is samurai singing.  Samurai singing is samurai learning.

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Happy Feelings Bring Happy Learnings

Yes, I guess my mind is turning into a Japanese t-shirt.  That’s a good thing  While I’m at it, here is a whole string of truisms coming at ya:

  • Do what you love and love what you do.
  • Love what you learn and learn what you love.
  • Bored or frustrated with what you are learning?  Here are two options:  change what you are learning or change your mind.
  • Fun doesn’t mean easy.

The other day I was doing my Chinese exercises by the beach and was graced by both the sight Mount Fuji and a fleeting glimpse of a rainbow.  I caught it all on my iPhone.  In between Nei Kung sets, I did little flashcard reviews using my Midori app.   In these brief little sprints, I stop when a word repeats or when I get bored.  (AJATT and other immersion experts recommend studying sentences rather than single words but I enjoying having little bursts of vocabulary exercise.)


Sometimes the clouds just lift and you can see Mt. Fuji

As I went through the cards, I noticed that I was really  remembering the cards I had some fond, personal connection to rather than the cards I just collected by more formal ‘studying.’   I remembered that どじょう was loach fish (wth?) because it was a word I had collected while my daughter was singing karaoke with my father-in-law.   I could picture the cartoon face. Last night I looked up ひやひや (chilly or fearful) and can remember that it was a word a Japanese ping pong player used to describe her team’s close game.

Love what you learn and learn what you love.

It’s a non-vicious cycle.   Turn to the things that you want to learn and master (guitar, economics, starting your own business, the interwebs) and it makes it easier to learn.   Turn to the things that you love, and it will help you learn (and do) more.   My Japanese ‘studies’ improved when I decided to use it to read self-help books, my guilty pleasure.

Change what you are learning or change your mind.

Change it up.   AJATT has a hilarious post called,  ‘That Righteous Feeling, Or: If You’re Not Feeling Naughty, You’re Doing It Wrong.’  Khatzumoto basically argues that if you are reading a book in your target language out of duty or obligation instead of fun, you are actually hurting your learning efficiency.   I think this is true even if you aren’t learning a language.

I think it’s also possible to change your mind about what you are learning and ask what’s the fun in this?  Sometimes I get a lot more out of just reading the table of contents of a Japanese book rather than boring myself by struggling through every page and killing my desire to read.  Everything is fair in love, reading, and learning.

Fun doesn’t mean easy.

Kenichiro Mogi, author of several books on the the brain ( 脳)  loves  to talk about the dopamine effect.  He explains that overcoming mental hurdles and challenges releases endorphins and dopamine that create feelings of happiness.  It’s why some people love video games, mountain climbing and even algebra.

A  lot of people idolize Jimi Hendrix as a rock god.  (Yes, I am not worthy.)  But what a lot of people don’t acknowledge is all the hours of work that he put in to play the guitar so well.  He walked around his apartment with his guitar strapped on.  And he didn’t forget the fun.  Hard work + love + fun= dope (dopamine)

Learn what you love and love what you learn.  Become the Jimi Hendrix of your life.  Climb the mountain!  Catch the rainbow!
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I ‘caught’ the rainbow!


Money Games: Samurai Time, pt. 4

Eighteen minutes left on my timer.  One more hour left in the manga cafe.  Day 440 of 595 of a paid Japanese immersion experience called Silverspoon.  (I’m listening to Japanese Youtube as I write.)  ¥900 to be in this booth.   I paid a heck of a lot more to get motivational emails and study sprint suggestions from Silverspoon.  I’m working and also having fun.  I am playing Samurai money games.

As my time in Japan approaches, I have to make financial decisions. I decided to go on an expensive trip to Hakuba in Nagano with Japanese seniors. Fun times included listening to the same enka recording for the eight hour commute.

In this series I have explored how you can turn time into a game to help you move towards your goals.   Even if you are extremely rich (did I tell you how great you look today?),  your money is limited.  You can either get depressed about that limit or have enjoy and respect the ‘energy’ of money and learn, do, create, and share in the most joyful, productive, artistic way possible.  Who knows?  You might even end up richer.  (You look mahvelous, dahling!)

Money is energy.  Respect it. Have fun with it.  Share it with love.   Here are some Samurai money games:

  • Get thousands of dollars of value from from your $1-15 ‘investments.’

  • Pay for a ‘coach’ to keep yourself on track.   

  • Honor the energy of money.  Use the fact that you have paid money for a service as a motivator to keep going.  Keep it fun. 

  • Release your death grip on money.  Give some away.

Get thousands of dollars of value from from your $1-15 ‘investments.’

Books are great “investments.” Half the fun/learning was just browsing at a bookstore. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized the book was Zen based. (I read everything but the biggest kanji on the cover!)

I’m talking about books, apps, gadgets, etc.  One well-used book or app can create thousands of dollars of value in learning.   For example, I play a little game with my Midori Japanese dictionary app.  I paid a mere $10 for this app but I try to get the most out of it.   I look at the history of the words that I have looked up and review what I studied one day, two days, four days, and a week ago.   (a rough form of spaced repetition)  I  play around with flashcards when I am on the bus, at appointments, etc.  I may have already learned more vocabulary by doing this than if I had spent hundreds of dollars in Japanese classes.

Squeeze the value out of books.   毎朝1分で人生は変わる:One Minute, One Action in the Morning Will Change Your Life suggests getting the most out of a book by reading it several times and reviewing it at night.  Another Japanese author suggests beating up your books (not library books), and even taking it to the bath with you. Move on when you don’t feel the life force in a book anymore.

Pay for a ‘coach’ to keep yourself on track.

You keep yourself on track, but it’s good to have someone pushing, prodding and creative alternatives.  You can go to the gym and you can also get a personal trainer.  A personal trainer costs more but it’s all part of putting your money where your mouth is.  I pay what some might consider a hefty sum to do Silverspoon (a Japanese coaching service from ajatt.com), but in part the money keeps me on track. If ajatt.com is the gym, then Silverspoon is like a personal trainer, switching it up like a ninja.  Sometimes the value you get from the extra push is worth a lot more than what you pay.

I passed on the vanilla icing covered potato chips.

Honor the energy of money.  Use the fact that you have paid money for a service as a motivator to keep going.  Keep it fun. 

Paying money is a way to bookmark  is skills and knowledge you want to have.  I currently pay for three services to help me keep moving forward in my goal of learning Japanese:   Japanesepod101.com, Iknow.co.jp and Silverspoon.  They add to my palette of Japanese learning.   When I get bored with one system, I move on to another.  I’ve also donated to kanji.koohii.com and anki.ichi.net, which are free but invaluable systems that have helped me.  I also subscribe to jamplay.com, a guitar learning website but haven’t actually been playing.  However, I am keeping this service as a bookmark and motivator of where I want to go.

Release your death grip on money.  Give some away.  “Waste some.”

Money is like a samurai sword.  If you are too loose with it, you easily lose any advantage.  If you grip too tight, you lose your fluidity.  (BTW I have never held a samurai sword–too sharp and scary!)  Give some of your money away to good causes, frivolous games, friends in need.  I don’t know how and if this works, but I do it and I like it.

Sometimes you have to try something new and not be calculating about money. Give to a charity or buy Salty Watermelon Pepsi!

Money is energy.  Respect it. Have fun with it.  Share it with love.   Play samurai money games.

Use Time Limits: Samurai Time is On Your Side, Part 3

“Prepare yourself in the subject so well that it shall be always on tap: then…trust your spontaneity and fling away all further care.”” William James

“A man grows most tired while standing still” Chinese Proverb

‘Deadlines and things make you more creative…’  Jack White of the White Stripes

Check in slip from manga cafe. If you exceed your time, there are extra fees. Often I am most productive when my time is running out. That’s what time boxing is all about.

I am at a mangakissa in Japan and I have 45 more minutes left on a three hour package.  I am on day 439 of a 595 day Japanese immersion experience through Silverspoon.   I have fourteen more days in Japan.   I don’t know how many days I have on Earth, but as far as I know they are not limitless.   I have just enough time to tell you that Time Limits Work!  Here are some reasons why:

  • limits have the power to turn tasks, goals into a game
  • time limits can turn things into a Mission Impossible thriller …how much fun would it be if Tom Cruise had all the time in the world to defuse a bomb, jump on a couch, etc?
  • limits have a way of increasing rather than decreasing creativity . . . can you say haiku?
  • time limits are a way to work through fatigue, perfectionism, procrastination and a seeming lack of inspiration

Confession.  This post did not begin in inspiration.  I arrived exhausted at the manga kissa.  I decided to just take a nap and check my emails and not expect or push much.  I clicked on an article from brainpickings.org on Tchaikovsky, the work ethic and inspiration.  Mr. T basically explains that you can’t wait for inspiration.  You’ve also have to put in the work.

Brainpickings also includes a youtube vid of Jack White talking about not waiting for inspiration.  White also talks about how the and White Stripes make limitations part of their work, to force creativity.  Though White is very wealthy now, he limits the studio time that they purchase to record an album.  He also continues to use old guitars even though he could buy a thousand better ones.   White does this to force himself to work within limits.

White talks about how creativity can come about by working within the box.  Time is the ultimate box and as any two year old will tell you, boxes are for play.  Khatzumoto introduced me to the concept of timeboxing and led me to other people like Steve Pavlina who use it as a productivity tool.  Basically, timeboxing involves using timers to set small limits to start or finish tasks.   Time boxes as small as one or five minutes can be powerful little tools for smashing through procrastination and opening up creativity and competence.

Spending a shorter time at the manga cafe allowed me to have time to walk around and see Fuji fully revealed. A lot of the times it is hidden by clouds.

I once took a drawing class at the Art Students League.  The class began with little one minute timed sketches of a model.  (no clothes, whatever).  You had to draw fast and loosen up because the (nude!) model would change positions once the time was up.  Then the poses became longer.  However, having those little drawing sprints helped loosen me up and I began to draw better.

Are you stuck on any big project or idea?  Take out a timer and play around with timeboxes.   Work with your limits and let it be your inspiration. The fact that I had limited time at the manga kissa today actually made it easier to start and keep moving.   I didn’t finish but I probably got more done than if I had all the time/money/breath in the world.

Get your timers and continue to let samurai time be on your side!

Structured and limited “push” time allows you to have more unstructured activity that can also help you learn and grow. I spent some time at a Book-off and found this cool book about angels, demons, etc.

Review Your Notebook, Change Your Mind: Samurai Mind Shift

Little pieces floating back to the edge of consciousness.  Samurai reviews old pages.  Review your notebook, change your mind. Continue reading

Furuichi’s Learning Success Formula: Samurai Mind Power Activate!


I don't know if there is or should be a formula, but Furichi's formula helped kicked me into a learning renaissance.

I don’t know if there is or should be a formula, but Furichi’s formula helped kicked me into a learning renaissance.

I normally don’t like formulas but Furuichi-san drew me in with this one.  Drum roll please:

Y= A x B x X² + C

Did you feel the earth shaking?

Y is the results of your studies.  A is the quality of materials and service if you are attending a school or program.  B is your power of concentration and focus.   X is the amount of time spent studying.  C is the previous learning you have done.  In other words, the results of your studying is the result of the quality of your materials, times the quality of your concentration, times the time spent studying squared, plus previous education.

I especially like how previous education is factored in.   Previous education doesn’t seem to have the multiplier effect that quality, concentration, and time have.  Furuichi, in part, is seeking to debunk the belief in Japan that if you go to a top university, you have it made for life. Continue reading

Listening to Samurai Echo: How to Turn “Failures” into Successes

Every effort creates an echo or even a dissonance to be listened to, to build on.  Even a “failed” effort creates a lingering question.  The question is, can you persist and grow from it? Continue reading

Samurai Mind Goes Bowling

Happiness, breathing, bowling. It worked for me one amazing night. Photo from Jim at http://www.unprofound.com/viewpic.php?pic=bowler.jpg&photographer=jim#

I haven’t gone bowling in years, but three weeks ago I was back at it, funny shoes and all.  I think I’ve played mini-golf more times than I’ve gone bowling, and that isn’t saying much.

I only played two games.  The first game, I was getting used to bowling again.   I kept experimenting with different balls.   I went for the pink gum light gum balls and tried bowling with that.   I kept noticing my buddies next to me getting strikes and having a great old time.   I hung my head in shame and then just kept trying.  I kept trying different balls and adjusting my technique.  I got a heavier ball and got a strike towards the end of the game.  I think I got an 85–not an impressive score.

However, towards the end of the game, I made a few interesting choices in addition to getting the heavier ball.   I modeled the form that the more successful players were using–something like my foot ending up on the other side of my body.  I also made the decision to breathe and, as hokey as this is going to sound, I made the decision to love the moment.   I made the decision to be happy holding the ball, seeing where the pins were, releasing the ball, and staying connected even after I released the ball.

The results were shockingly fun.  Almost every frame I played a spare or a strike.   At one point, I got three strikes in a row.   I surprised myself by being able to pick off single pins.  Each time it was my turn, I made the decision again:  have fun with this moment, connect, love.  I ended up the game with 200.

Maybe creativity flow can happen like this, a balance between concentration, focus on technique, while breathing and letting go. Photograph from Jim at http://bit.ly/UChtLh

I didn’t know that this was a big deal, except for the big video display.   Then guys came up and said, “Wow, how did you do that?”  A couple guys explained that they have been bowling regularly and have never gotten to 200.

I could end this little post with some big lesson.  In fact, as I wrote this, Steve Chandler’s 100 Ways to Create Wealth came up on my samurai shuffle.   His wealth tip #29 is:  “Learn to Keep Breathing.”

However, for now, I’m not going to further dissect that moment.  My only hope is that I can have more of those moments, and that others can have more of those moments in bowling, serving others, the earth and all other sorts of silly games.

Why I Don’t (Samurai) Mind Paying Library Fines

Okay, not completely true.   When I forget to turn in my daughter’s DVD of, let’s say, Barbie:  A Fairy Secret (a cinematic tour de force-harrumph!) and am asked to fork over six bucks, my heart doesn’t sing.    But then I remember that it is a forced donation to an organization that I have voluntarily given money to in the past and that I will willingly give to again.

Libraries have helped me shape my life, maybe even saved my life. Continue reading