There have been a number of times in human history when a newly created technology would forever change life thereafter. The knowledge and ability to utilize fire is one such development, the development of agriculture another, and the use of electricity can be seen as a more modern example of this kind of revolutionary leap. It's through these leaps forward in technological prowess that civilization is made possible. I tend to think it's important to also note how technology moves forward due to an ever increasing body of knowledge. For example it's not reasonable to think that the jet plane could have existed before the motor car, or the internet could have existed before the light bulb. So if modern life is the result of thousands of years of human progress then one tool stands out as a truly fundamental pillar of civilization and that is cutting blade. Archaeology claims that as early as 50,000 years ago our ancestors were using flint and obsidian blades. The incredible range of uses a sharp blade provides should be obvious and so it's no mystery why early humans would seek to develop better and better blades. Slowly over many thousands of years flint and obsidian would give way to copper, then to bronze, then to iron, and finally steel and modern alloys were developed. These developments were fundamental to our progress as a species. So much so that we name the some of the epoch's of human history after the technological level of the metallurgy being done at that time such as the Bronze Age, Iron Age etc. The advantage of a cutting blade would have been wholly revolutionary to an early humans and two main types of weapons would be created with these blades that would remain vital to humanity right up until modern times. They are the sword and the spear. Both weapons have been made in numerous styles and sizes throughout history and exist in virtually every society and civilization that has ever existed. Between the two weapons the thing makes the sword unique is that it is better suited to be an individual fighters weapon, whereas the spear is best utilized by groups of solders in rank and file. This has lead the sword to become synonymous with personal power and in the end it became an anchor in our collective unconscious as a symbol of both strength and justice. Truly no other weapon commands such an important place in both history and myth as the sword. From the legends of King Arthur's sword Excalibur to the incomparable Japanese Katana, from the Roman soldier's Gladius to the great sword Andúril in the Lord Of The Rings Trilogy. Swords are everywhere and play a fundamentally important role in both fiction and real life. This is an interesting phenomenon in that despite the glowing high place swords keep in life and ritual/symbolism the job they do is really quite gruesome. It begs the question of how a tool designed to hack people apart came to be a symbol of Justice. Originally I think it was spears that really changed our ancestors lives the most directly. A spear could allow a person to fend off an attacking wild animal and generally gave early humans a huge boost in establishing humanity at the top of the food chain. Swords really are built much more towards human on human violence. They are largely the ultimate individual weapon and as civilization grew so did the concepts of empire and conquest. This meant the idea of self defense took on a newly important role in the life of the average person. Its here that the doubled edged nature of technology presents itself. If someone was viciously attacking me with a bladed weapon then I would definitely prefer to have a similar weapon to use in my defense. If not then I would prioritize taking the attackers weapon away and using it against them if necessary to bring the attack to an end. So the sword can do great harm or it can prevent great harm from being done. But a world without the cutting blade is one where we could not have developed society very far. So this issue cannot be resolved by getting rid of blades. It's for this reason that a good martial arts school will devote some amount of time to training with blades both in the sense of how the blade is used and also how to disarm a bladed attacker. Of all the kinds of weapons that get used in assaults a bladed weapon is the most common. At this time in history such attacks are almost always one kind of knife or another. Anything from a pocket sized switch blade, to a hunting knife, or even a common kitchen knife can be a deadly weapon. However regardless of which one is being used they all must be wielded within limitations of what a human being with two arms and two legs can do with a cutting object. This means if you learn to deal with any kind of knife you will have developed a fighting chance to deal with any other bladed weapon as well. To be sure though any fight with a cutting blade is absolutely deadly serious and should be treated as such. There is an old saying in Japanese Kenjutsu/sword fighting schools that a person going into a sword fight only has a 33.3% chance of surviving. Not good odds and not something to be taken lightly. Much of martial art training is purposefully directed towards absolute worst case scenarios and this is a prime example of that. This means that standing and fighting someone with a blade is the last possible thing one should do. Get away, give them your wallet or whatever else, anything else than can be done to avoid a blade being swung towards you is priority. However that being said if there truly is no other option then one must fight such an assailant in a severe and deadly serious way in their defense. So by now we can see that cutting blades are an intrinsic part of the human world. And since people do not seem likely to stop attacking each other any time soon then it is distinctly advantageous to know how blades are used as weapons and how to defend against such attacks. This truth is exactly the kind of truth that martial arts are built upon. Seeing things as they are and working tirelessly towards the best possible result within the constraints reality presents. It's like the old head on the sand analogy, if your heads in the sand then you have no real chance of surviving a hurricane. However if you face the storm and do what you can to avoid getting killed then you at least have a chance. This is the truth of the blade. Things are as they are, so how are you going to respond, that is what matters. It is a very delicate truth. In the Aizu Clan of Japan from which the Takeda Family and the Daito Ryu comes from there is a old saying that the truth lies on the cutting edge of a blade. This makes the truth a precarious thing that must be treated with delicacy and great care just a real live blade is. If this can be understood then it can finally be understood how the blade can be seen as the perfect embodiment of the truth. Like the truth it cuts deeply and when used carelessly can do great harm but without it the world could not exist as it does. It is for this reason that the way of using a blade has been of enormous value to me. It has given me what I feel is a deep insight into life and so I am honestly grateful to have come to know the cutting blade and because of that to have gotten a glimpse of the truth it reveals. I hope you find the same for yourself someday.
Think of your opponents hands and feet as swords.
"Do or do not, there is no try."-Master Yoda from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
I was in my early twenties and new to living in the massive urban hub called Toronto. I had been training in Goju Ryu Karate for several years before moving to Toronto so I sought out a Dojo teaching the same style. This lead me to the Canada Goju Hombu Dojo headed by Hanshi William Hind. Classes at his Dojo were much more demanding than I was used to and the focus on Kumite (sparring) was far heavier than I previously experienced. I was not keeping up with my classmates and so my youthful male mind was getting frustrated. I decided to speak to Hanshi Hind about my struggles. He looked at me with smiling eyes and said, "time, you just need more time".
Time is weird. It is a reliable friend and a constant enemy. It limits our lives and also makes them manageable. Time provides one of the great paradoxes of life. That being how we have a finite amount of time in a world with infinite potentials.
We are all constantly losing time and cannot by any means get back any of it. On some scale everything that can be known is always creeping towards the end of it's time. Even the Sun will burn out one day and our solar system will no longer be a home able to sustain human life. This makes time extraordinarily valuable. Sensei Morltey often reminds me that time is the most valuable thing a person has.
For each us there can be three basic types of time that underlie our entire lives. Psychological time, physiological time, and clock/artificial time. Between these three is the space in which we live out our lives. Each has unique characteristics and can be engaged with differently. However all three are fundamentally tied to the finite limits of our lives.
Psychological time is the sense of difference between one moment and another. It is the kind time that can dilate from fast to slow depending on the type of experience a person is having at a given moment. It's how a dentist appointment can seem to drag on forever while an entire day can dissolve like a single breath when it's in the company of someone we are in love with. It is a direct and largely personal aspect of time. It is also an important part of what's meant by training to control the mind. If you can slow the mind more information can be processed. Karate, Tai Chi, and all other traditional martial arts utilize this aspect of time for that reason.
Physiological time is basically the measure of a persons heart rate along with the other regular occurring bodily cycles. There are of course a great number of various biochemical processes that are constantly going on in our bodies. When all these individual systems in our bodies are taken in to account they determine our physiological time. It is largely within this aspect of time that physical ageing takes place. So it is no accident that every form of meditation has the effect of slowing down not just the mind but also the heart rate. In the practice of Tai Chi Chuan, famous for being done at a very slow speed, this internal slowing of the heart rate is a main component of the many health benefits that result from the training. The Tai Chi Form and Karate Kata training both utilize this aspect of time.
Clock time or artificial time is made up by people. It was created it to make life easier to coordinate with others and works very well for that purpose. There is a great deal of practical use to having a clock to organize our lives around. But it is still made up. Animals don't follow a clock and neither do the seasons or the stars. Nature does have cycles which repeat and that can seem like a clock but they are always somewhat asymmetric in the way that no two waves in the ocean are exactly alike.
It is said that a life lived at it's best is in harmony with all aspects of time and it's omnipresent partner change. In fact the foundational martial art text called the Bubishi states that being in harmony with time and change is a fundamental requisite for attainment of high level martial arts skills.
It should be obvious to anyone who has done any amount of training in any martial art that a self defense technique needs to be done with highly attuned timing to be successful. Timing is the control of the space between action and non-action and a persons ability to manage themselves in that way is critical to any combative situation. Most often this sense of when to move in or when to pull back in combat is not considered to be correlated to ones mental state or metabolic rate but they are entwined.
Martial Arts training is uniquely adept at cultivating a healthy balance between the many aspects of time and change. Kihon or basics teach how to best move the arms and legs in space. Kumite or sparring teaches how to respond to another person with correct speed and positioning. And Kata shows us how every action can be done perfectly in time and in harmony with change. The profundity of that realization is a hard endured but fantastically worthwhile one.
It is in the struggle to maintain a balance between the requirements of time and the desire to achieve results that Hanshi William Hind's words are so profound. We all need more time but the truth is our time is always running out. Whether our goals are simple or elaborate they are all limited by our mortality.
So often I hear people say they just don't have time to do the things they love. For the martial artist time spent training is of the highest priority. In fact training itself is suppose to be a constant reminder that our time is running out so not even one second of it should be treated with indifference or apathy. So whatever your doing remember your time is isn't coming back to you once it's gone so make of the most of it.
This makes the words of Hanshi William Hind correct, we all still need more time, but there's no guarantee we'll get it.
Best to go train right now.
The seminar was divided into three main parts.Friday night we went over the Two Person Tai Chi Form. The Two Person Form is very much like the single person form most often seen when people train Tai Chi in the parks. It is like a endless method of countering any kind of grab or strike. It was developed by the Yang Family but largely kept secret. I consider the Two Person Tai Chi Form a jewel in the study of Tai Chi. Saturday in the first part of the session Sensei Mortley taught a Tanto or Knife Kata. This form is taken from the Daito Ryu Tradition and it another fairly rare form. It covers all the fundamental concepts of knife fighting and self defense including blade positioning, cutting angles, drawing the blade, disarming techniques and more. The final session was on a Traditional Karate Kata called Hangetsu. This Kata to a large degree represents a halfway point between the Naha-Te and Shuri-Te traditions respectively. The Kata translates as Half/Crescent Moon which refers the the stance used in the form, called hangetsu dachi. Hangetsu stressed breath control and strongly rooted stances. It is related to the Kata Seisan and uses a few similar movements. After everyone had absorbed as much information as they could we all took a break for lunch. It was beautiful day and the walk outside refreshed our minds and allowed for some hearty conversations. Once the meal was finished we returned for the grading. Gradings are always worth watching as they show people in their truest form. When you step up in front of a panel of black belts and perform your Kata there's no way to hide. It's a very important part of a persons development to grade. Unlike the seminars they are open to the public so if your curious about viewing one feel free to contact the Dojo and we can arrange that. Then it was over. Sensei Mortley and Sensei Leahy left to catch a ferry back to the island and I cleaned up the Dojo. The experience left me feeling uplifted and reflective of the deep gratitude I have for being able to walk this path. It is in that spirit that the way continues. Domo arigatou gozaimashita to everyone who walks their path in the spirit of compassion and humility. See you on the Dojo floor 🙂
Wealth is lost, nothing is lost.
Health is lost, something is lost.
Morality/Character is lost, all is lost.
-O'Sensei Richard KimA few years ago my brother got married. He had moved out of province almost as soon as he finished High School. Setting his sights on the ample opportunities available at that time in Alberta. Both of us were raised to be hard workers and our father taught us many useful skills. Because of these skills and his own natural fortitude he did well in The Wild Rose Country, eventually finding himself working for a big company in the oil industry and buying his first house. By the time his special day had come I had written out a speech in his honour for the reception dinner. I found it quite cathartic to muse over the many memories we both had shared. I am two years older than him but I have no memory of life before he came into this world. However one thing stood out above all else, something else our father had done his best to teach us, that blood, love, and honour are ties that bind and need to be matched with heartfelt words and actions. There are many Zen Koans which are suppose to ask the seemingly impossible of someone. One of my favorites is to ask for someone to pull the four corners of Tokyo from their sleeves. These weird little questions and stories are partly designed to get a person to act spontaneously by seeming to lack any sensibility or continuity. It is hoped that in such moments of perplexity and confusion clarity and peace might be found, allowing for Satori to be reached. My Sensei teaches six words that are suppose to lead to peace, they are Compassion, Humility, Honour, Gratitude, Loyalty, and Patience. Over many years I have found these words to be like a well that never runs dry. Every time I pull from that well I get the nourishment and refreshment I seek on all levels, body, mind, and spirit. They are such good words. Words worth listening to at anytime fear or anxiety creep up to the door of our minds, or just as importantly, anytime the question of what might be right and true is confronted. When I wrote the speech for my brothers wedding celebration I came to clearly see the right and true of my responsibilities to him. The love and blood we share dictates that I will always make myself available to aid or support him. At a time in history when narcissism and self indulgence guide society towards an ever darkening abyss remembering our responsibilities and accountability to ourselves, and each other, would go far towards a better world. If I claim that exercising everyday honors your body and will reward you with a better chance at finding your peace in the world that may not be hard to grasp. The understanding that our physical health requires regular exercise, healthy food, and a consistent sleep pattern it well known. But what about our mental and spiritual health, those things are very important to everyone's life and unfortunately they are not as well understood by the majority of people it would seem. The quote at the beginning of this article is the answer to the question of what leads to a healthy mind. It is a truly fascinating thing but if you still your mind and sit quietly with any situation you might be facing you will find within yourself the answer(s) you seek. Deep in the quiet parts of the unconscious is a knowing we all have as to what is right for us, not necessarily right for anyone else. In the Dojo this is cultivated largely by the fellowship of the Dojo itself. A Dojo is a very special place, it is a sacred space, built for developing individuals and growing communities. There's very few things like it in the world. Lifelong friendships are developed, rivalries are born and forgotten, and in the end it becomes like a second family. Slowly over time a person who's eyes and heart are open will see their fellow Martial Artists having meaningful influence in their lives, and that they themselves are influencing the other members of the Dojo. Once this becomes apparent the responsibilities that must be carried by the Martial Artists becomes clear. Gichin Funakoshi famously said that Karate wasn't just for the inside the Dojo. Part of what he was getting at was this idea of caring how you influence and are influenced by others. My brother, like the rest of my family, makes me who I am and so I need to honour that connection to sustain my mental health. To ignore these responsibilities is to cultivate guilt and resentment which then lead to narcissism and further illness. It is in heartfelt words and actions, born out of loyalty and honour, that we can build a world worth living in and leaving to the next generation. This might mean helping your Sensei clean up after class, or it might mean taking some time to help your sister move apartments, or it could just be smiling kindly at a stranger when they pass you buy. When added up it just means that mental health and a better world are the result of knowing the responsibilities of the heart both in and out of the Dojo.
Soldiers of Humanity.
Once a division of the Japanese army was engaged in a sham battle, and some of the officers found it necessary to make their headquarters in Gasan's temple.
Gasan told his cook: 'Let the officers have only the same simple fare we eat.’ This made the army men angry, as they were used to very differential treatment. One came to Gasan and said: 'Who do you think we are? We are soldiers, sacrificing our lives for our country. Why don't you treat us accordingly?'
Gasan answered sternly: 'Who do you think we are? We are soldiers of humanity aiming to save all sentient beings.'
This story is from the collection of Zen writings titled "Zen Flesh-Zen Bones" which is highly recommended reading for any Martial Artist or simply any person who might seek some wisdom.
Sensei Douglas Mortley once remarked that the life force energy within a single blade of grass is equal to that of any person. Such intangible things as life force energy cannot be measured nor can it be owned. It simply is and the way of Zen is built upon seeing it as being equal amongst all living beings.
Zen can be many things and at times it can even be fiery and fierce. That is when one remembers what they are fighting for.