02 Jun

To Move in Time


"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.

18 May

May 2016 Seminar and Grading With Sensei Douglas Mortley

collage pic Twice a year my teacher, Sensei Douglas Mortley, travels to the Vancouver Dojo to teach a series of seminars and oversee a Karate grading. Sensei Mortley has been teaching Shorinji Ryu Karate, Old Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Okinawan and Japanese Kobudo, and Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu for over 30 years. His seminars are open to any interested Martial Artists. This time the Dojo was honoured to also have Sensei Tom Leahy join us along with Sensei A.J. Dowla of Usagi Jinja Yo-Shin. For information on upcoming seminars please contact vancouverdojo@gmail.com The class had been training for several hours. Every person had perspiration gleaming on their face, the Dojo was quiet expect for the sound of breathing. You know its a good class when all you hear is muffled breathing and the silence of concentration. Sensei Mortley was walking around watching people as they worked in pairs on the technique he had just demonstrated. Someone made a comment about how the technique seemed miraculous and almost like magic. Sensei turned and narrowed his eyes at the comment. It was time for a story...... It was years ago, Sensei Mortley was training directly under Sensei Richard Kim. He had been asked to pick Sensei Kim up from the airport and drive him to the seminar being held due to his visit.  On the way from the airport the two of them happened to drive by a park where a public Karate demonstration was in progress. This was in the 1970's and Karate was still quite obscure so Sensei Kim asked to stop and view the demonstration. The two of them mingled into the crowd and watched as a man in a Gi and wearing a black belt proceeded to chop the tops off wine bottles with his hand, punch downwards at bricks and break them, he had a volunteer lay in their back then placed a watermelon on their belly and cut through it with a sword without touching the skin of the volunteers belly, he performed several other feats of "Karate power". After some time watching this demonstration Sensei Kim looked at Sensei Mortley and said, "C'mon Doug let's go, tricks are for kids". I think it's in those words that one of the most important lessons Mortley Sensei teaches is perfectly spelled out. In so many ways it is the point of martial arts training. The skills Martial Arts develop are truly exceptional. A highly skilled practitioner can do things that might seem hard to believe by the individual who has no idea what rooting or the concept of Aiki means in the martial arts context. These skills are hard earned and developed directly out of a thorough understanding of human body mechanics, psychology, and other important studies like combat reality and instinct response programming. They are a form of knowledge, not magic, and they can be understood by those who earn their way to knowing them through sweat and time. It is in this sense that training with Sensei Mortley is always so worthwhile. I could watch as everyone in the Dojo took in more than they knew from the time they spent with him.

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 🙂    
12 May

The Dojo And Responsibilities Of The Heart


alex roy

Wealth is lost, nothing is lost. 

Health is lost, something is lost.

Morality/Character is lost, all is lost.

-O'Sensei Richard Kim

    A 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.            
05 Apr

The Forms: Kata Sanchin

  group sanchin   I was 17 years old, the fire in my mind was burning strong but the demands of school and time had been creating a lot of conflict in my life. I was generally in open defiance of authority and much of my life wasn't going in what would be considered a positive direction. Most of my leisure time was spent learning Slayer riffs on guitar and I had given up on finding anything interesting within the public school system. It was at this turbulent time that I walked into a Dojo for the first time. I had been training at a local kickboxing gym for about a year but it had gone out of business. A good friend recommenced a Karate Dojo he had been training at and it turned out that my brother had also trained there as a child. I recalled the little bit of Karate my brother had done years before when we were kids. It seemed like it involved kicks and punches and loud shouts, all things I was eager to do. So I went and I was deeply impressed with what I saw from my first class. The Sensei at the Dojo seemed to know endless techniques and I wanted to learn them all. I took to the training eagerly. The Dojo was teaching the Karate style called Goju Ryu and so the first Kata I ever learnt was Sanchin. Kata is of course the main vehicle upon which the knowledge of the Karate is transmitted. Each one profoundly combines the of most ideal body mechanics and breath control with proven combat principals. This makes each Kata is a treasure trove of information and a serious student of martial arts must cultivate them with care and purpose. Sanchin however is quite unique in that is doesn't focus so much on fighting techniques as it does on the perfection of the most minuscule aspects of muscle and breath control. In the style of Karate I originally learnt Sanchin was practiced as the founder of Goju Ryu Karate, Chojun Miyagi, had taught it. Miyagi Sensei is said to have spend many years training in Southern China and learnt everything from Tai Chi Chuan and Bagwa to White Crane Kung Fu and Qi Gong. What he exactly learnt or not is a subject of some debate but it can be assumed with a high degree of certainty that he learned a version of Sanchin most often practiced by White Crane Kung Fu schools. White Crane's Sanchin doesn't look much like the Karate Kata Sanchin.  White Crane's Sanchin is most often done in the low horse riding stance and uses quick open hand movements that somewhat resemble a crane opening it's wings and then striking with lighting speed.  I was taught a White Crane Sanchin Form once but didn't see the resemblance to the Karate Kata I had been practicing. It would be years before I came to understand how the two Kata were teaching the same thing. Other styles, notably Uechi Ryu, perform Sanchin with open hands but in a more upright stance than the White Crane Form. It is said that Miyagi Sensei was the one who changed the open hand movements to closed fist movements and added the upright stance of sanchin dachi. This might seem like a totally different technique but the key is that regardless of the shape of the hand the mechanics of how strength and kinetic energy are transferred through body is a constant. Having only two arms and two legs means that the only way to achieve maximum efficiency in a movement is to coordinate the whole body as one. It is in this regard that Sanchin is a supremely brilliant form. In the writings of the internal Chinese martial arts, particularly Chen Style Tai Chi Chuan,  there are references to the the idea of weaving a fine golden silk thread, often times simply called silk reeling. This spiraling flow of energy can be visualized as a string that coils up from the feet around the legs, through the torso and out around the arms, ending at the hands.

silk 1

All movements in martial arts are designed to utilize this flow of power through the body. The illustration above also shows that the spiraling thread passes through the lower abdomen, an area called the Hara in Japanese and the Dandien in Chinese. This specific place is of critical importance and is discussed in greater detail in the Blog article called "Center Point" at the link below.


By tying the silk reeling and breath from the Dandien together in the Sanchin Kata the KarateKa (Karate practitioner) is putting all of their being into every inch of the Kata. Watching a skilled practitioner perform Sanchin is an awesome thing to see. All the muscles of the body ripple with  controlled and coordinated tension and the fighting spirit of the warrior is displayed at their fullest ferocity. There are times when I practice Sanchin that I get the sense of my body being like a great gnarled tree root that has the strength to drive right through stone.

It is in this sense that all versions of Sanchin are singing the same tune. Whether the White Crane Form or the Karate Kata both are designed to teach the student of the martial arts to synchronize every millimeter of movement and breath in their body. Often when a student is being drilled on this form they are slapped along the arms and legs as well as being (lightly) kicked and punched to help them learn to remain stable and rooted even when being attacked.

Sanchin is considered to mean the three powers or lessons. Each one is part of the fabric that all martial arts are woven from. They are, mind and body as one, sight with perception, and breath with spirit. Each one is a lesson that is really only learnt through endless practice of the form. The general consensus within the Goju Ryu schools I've trained with is that to truly master Sanchin it should be practiced seven times a day for seven years.

I've often heard it said that martial arts are like a great web and you can't pull on one strand without effecting all the other strands. In this way Sanchin is a cornerstone Kata. It develops the basis of all other movements and directly cultivates the shift of brainwave function to the meditative awareness that makes the martial arts what they are. It is a work of genius and of sublime insight. It is not a surprise then that the Kata has been adopted by many styles of Karate. I would recommend all KarateKa learn this Kata in whatever style they can.

And so even though it has been many years since I was a teenager Sanchin has remained a steady companion for me. It reminds me that no matter what might come my way if I coordinate my mind, body and spirit into the task at hand I can overcome even the greatest obstacles on my path.

24 Mar

Spring Seminar-March 20th 2016

tambo   Each month I travel to the small town of Mill Bay on Vancouver Island to train with my teacher Sensei Douglas Mortley. Sensei Mortley has been teaching Shorinji Ryu Karate, Old Yang Style Tai Chi Chuan, Okinawan and Japanese Kobudo, and Daito Ryu AikiJujutsu for over 30 years. His seminars are open to any interested Martial Artists. For information on upcoming seminars please contact vancouverdojo@gmail.com   The weather was perfectly appropriate for being the spring equinox. It was mostly cloudy with irregular showers but the grey skies were punctuated by an occasional glimpse of the sun. In those few moments of direct sunlight you could feel a small amount of warmth creeping in. Winters cold stillness was giving way to Spring's new growth and the reemergence of color in the leaves and flowers of the forest and gardens stood testament to this new season's beginning. It seems obvious to me that this also tends to improve many peoples moods and outlooks. We are after all a part of nature and like nature we all go through times of stillness and growth much like winter and summer. The Dojo was a little chilly when the class began but that was soon alleviated by the warm up. After some simple cardio exercises Sensei had us follow through a new warm up routine he has been doing with his Tai Chi students. This warm-up consists of using a Jo Staff as a hand weight. The Jo Staff, which is a wooden staff around 4 feet long, provides an effective tool for developing strength in the upper body. After this simple yet surprisingly effective warm-up came the usual stretch. Once we had gotten the important preliminary warm-up and stretch finished the seminar really began. Sensei started by having us work on a Tai Chi Push Hands exercise with a particular focus on shifting the feet in and out. This led into a series of applications based on the Push Hands exercise we had been doing. Training with Sensei Mortley in this way often feels like a roller coaster. The information comes at you so quickly it's both incredible and breath taking. Sensei is able to seamlessly apply joint locks, various strikes, throws, kicks, sweeps and numerous other techniques into basic Push Hands movements in a way that is nothing short of masterful. After the Push Hands applications were brought to an end we spent some time reviewing a few of the main Kata of the Shorinji Ryu system. Sensei led us through the 3 Naihanchi or Tekki Kata, Patsai Dai, Jion and Hangetsu. A special focus went into the Naihanchi series. These Kata have become a personal favorite of mine as they brilliantly covey a huge amount of information into a relatively small set of movements. And they do so in a way that can seem somewhat simplistic on first glance. It is said that these 3 short Kata contain a complete fighting and grappling/wrestling system within them and were the foundation of Karate training on Okinawa prior to the 20th century. Finally we ended the seminar with a a two person Tambo exercise sometimes called a Waza. A Tambo is a basically a club. Its a single stick about 2 feet long which is held in one hand. It can be a exceptionally effective weapon when used by a skilled martial artist. Okinawan Kobudo, Aikido, Hapkido and many Traditional Japanese weapon systems all use the Tambo. A fact that demonstrates it's versatility and deadly effectiveness as a weapon. After the two person form we reviewed the single person Kata that the Waza was taken from called Seikun No Tambo and that brought the seminar to an end. It is nearly impossible to adequately covey the information that was covered by such a seminar as martial arts are not something words alone can do justice to. In the span of a few hours Sensei Mortley covered an enormous range of information from the fluid movements of Traditional Tai Chi Chuan to the devastating power generated when properly using a Tambo. Yet despite these varying techniques and concepts Sensei Mortley has an amazing ability to make it feel all like they are different threads upon one great web. As he often says "there is no such thing as an advanced movement in martial arts, rather there is only advanced understanding of basic movements". In between the myriad of techniques being taught at this, or any other seminar, Sensei often takes a moment to address important concepts that are also deeply interwoven into the training. In this seminar the one thing he spoke of that really stuck in my mind was the responsibility that every individual must take to learn about a given subject before drawing up any sort of conclusion. In martial art terms this can mean being careful to not underestimate your opponent. Understanding that combat is far to serious of a thing to allow anything to be taken for granted. As many individuals and armies have learnt, usually too late, over confidence can be like sticking ones neck out against a sword cut. One often loses their head when doing so. It is no different in life. Humanity bleeds everyday due to one person or another holding unreasonable and/or uneducated beliefs. Sensei made it clear that to be a true student of Karate, Tai Chi Chuan, or any other traditional art it was imperative to separate the truth from the nonsense, wishful thinking from viable techniques, and reality from fantasy. Peace came from accepting things for what they are and personal empowerment came from working with reality as it is. A simple task that is far from easy but one worth striving for each and every day for ones entire life.                    
15 Mar

Receiving And The Martial Arts.

  pic 1   Ann joined the Dojo roughly two years ago. She had done two Tai Chi Chuan sessions at the local university and wanted to take her training further so she joined the Karate classes that are a main component in my teaching schedule. In the past two years it has been obvious that the training has benefited her greatly. The usual benefits like better health and a sense of centered and peaceful confidence have been apparent. On top of that I have started seeing her getting more and more capable of using the techniques of Karate to the point of being able to throw around some of the physically larger male members of the Dojo. Being able to actually defend yourself against a larger and stronger opponent is always an empowering experience and when the student is a petite women it tends to make the achievement that much more empowering. However as exciting as it is to be able to help women develop the skills necessary to be able to honestly defend themselves it is only the beginning of what the martial arts are designed to do for the individual. The real test is to overcome the self. And that is something Ann, along with every other person who trains in these arts, can only achieve with long term disciplined efforts and tremendous personal strength. It is often said in martial art circles that the real goal of training isn't to defeat another to but to overcome the shadows and fears harbored deep in the psyche. Self-defense serves as a key component of that process however it is only one step along a life long path, albeit and without a doubt, it is a very important step. This then begs the question of what kind of strength does it take to walk the path and overcome yourself as it should be obvious by now that I'm saying physical strength by itself is not enough. Dave Lowery has a great article (uke article) on the meaning of the term "uke" which points out that the ability to receive an attack is the superior method of measuring strength in martial arts. This might seem contradictory as most people tend to think of strength as being measured by how much weight a person can lift or how many boards they can break.  In stark contrast to this notion is what traditional arts have to say about strength both in technique and philosophy. In every traditional art the highest level of technique is to turn the energy of the attacker back against the attacker. If you ever get a chance to to see a truly skillful Sensei or Sifu demonstrate it can look like it takes no effort at all to throw a 200lb man clear across the room. This is the strength of receiving in action and to receive an attack is a yin energy concept. It is said in Daoist philosophy that all things come from the void and that all things return back to the void. Lao Tzu called this idea the "mother of the world" and so gave it a feminine connotation. Yang energy then comes forth from this void and in the end returns to it once it's energy is spent. This idea obviously parallels with the Gaia concept as we all are born of the earth and in the end return to it as dust and bone. So if the highest from of strength is to receive then the void is essentially infinitely strong because it receives all equally and nothing can truly harm it. It is why Tai Chi Chuan is the 'grand ultimate" and the "aiki' in Aiki-Jujutsu and Aikido means to blend or be in harmony, and for the KarateKa is holds a deeper meaning of the term Kara-Te as the open hand art. Kara can mean void making Karate the "void hand way". All of this then points to the idea that the way is one of softness and harmony. So how does that make sense in terms of the core purpose of the martial arts, that being to conquer oneself. Well just as when a larger opponent attacks a physically weaker one using strength against strength is not going to work. So it is when one faces themselves and their internal shadows. It simply won't work to be aggressive and forceful during an internal battle. In fact it can only cause more harm. Instead, whether male or female, the individual must receive what is being thrown at them. Only by doing this can the internal battle be won. Time will tell if Ann can find the courage to face her demons as we all must. I hope she does, as I hope we all will.  
  • Ann is not a real person but rather a composite of several students used to illustrate this idea
24 Feb

The Purpose Of Training.

The Art of Peace is medicine for a sick world. -Morihei Ueshiba 

The world today has so many options for people looking for better health both physically and mentally it's bewildering. We are at a time in history when ancient traditions are advertised like soap commercials along with the newest fashion trends. On any given day I will see ads for Shamanic workshops, miraculous Energy healing methods, and even "secret inner teachings" of various arts advertised on my newsfeed on social media. It's a stunning time to be alive as many of these practices (if they are honestly a traditional practice) have come out of the far corners of the world to be available for us to simply click and try. It is in many ways something to be grateful for. However there is a downside to the commercialization of these traditional arts and medicines. And it is not that money itself is the problem. Teachers need to eat and expenses need to be covered. Most Sensei, Sifu, Shamans, or Medicine Men/Women need to ask for monetary payment for the service but most of them will tell you it's not the money that has gotten them to commit themselves to their chosen art. They have sacrificed a huge part of their lives in both practicing and teaching their arts because they feel it is important for the world. They know that they're taking part in a massive and profound effort to help humanity find a better way of living than the one which has wrought such destruction and suffering in the world as exists today. The famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi reminds us to be the change in the world that we wish to see because that is the way forward. This is well understood by the truly qualified teachers of various arts like KarateDo, Tai Chi Chuan, and other various Bujutsu. It is why these arts focus on teaching individuals to achieve their own best results. The idea being that the external world is not the source of the problem. The issue lies within the human mind. Nature doesn't need us, the solar system doesn't need us, but we need it. It is humanity that must forge a better way forward, not the animals, or the natural world. The problem in the human mind can be described as what might be called the mentality of the consumer culture. We're used to buying products that are designed to need to be upgraded every few months or years. There's always a new movie to go see or new band to listen to. You can do a retreat for a weekend to unleash some primal and intense energies but then go back to hanging out a Starbucks and feeling anxiety about whether or not your socks are fashionably correct. In the end very little, or just as often, nothing actually changes. Treating the idea of internal transformation like a TV show you can turn on or off without consequence is a fundamentally flawed and even dangerous idea. Even when the idea of personal transformation is regarded as a positive direction to take it often gets completely derailed by the desire for everything to be experienced as only bright and sunny and personally pleasurable. The quaint saying that growth occurs outside ones comfort zone is an absolute rule and cannot be any other way. Very often people will use the difficulty that developing these arts present to justify excuses and quit. Not only does this change nothing for the better it actually can push a person further into disharmony and regression. I cannot count how often I've listened to someone say things like, it's to hard, I'm just not that good, or you don't understand how tough this is for me. Then use those ideas to quit training. It's something that has caused me a fair amount of frustration as they are exactly right. It is a very hard to learn Karate or Tai Chi, and you are not good at it, especially at first, and nobody can possibly know the depths of any other individuals personal challenges. These are all very true statements but they are also precisely why training is so important. It works like this. Training is designed to truly change the habits and patterns that hold us back in our own lives and as collective species. It has been well documented that there are several measurable brain wave patterns that are the foundation of all brain activity. The most important one for this discussion is called alpha wave pattern. This wave pattern (which is steady fluctuations of electrical activity in the brain between 8-13 cycles per second) can be associated with feelings of inner peace and the clarity. High level Yoga practitioners, mediators, and martial artists have displayed this pattern during their practice. This aspect of brain function can be tied in to high level athletes, dancers, and many other practices as well. What makes Karate, Tai Chi and things like Yoga unique is that they are designed to teach a person to consciously connect to that brain wave state whenever they wish to. In the terms of psychology this is known as the id or unconscious. This part of the brain is responsible for more than just us feeling at peace and content. It also regulates and monitors all the bodily systems like the heart rate and digestion. An enormous task but one it is perfectly suited to managing. What gets in the way is largely things like anxiety and guilt. These feeling take much needed energy from the unconscious and reallocate them to the frontal lobes where abstract thoughts of doubt and fear can hamper every aspect of a persons life. This throws the entire system out of balance and is what eventually leads to disease in the body. More than that this is also where the roots of the problems that we face as humanity stem from. So the way forward is to keep our minds at peace and allow ourselves to think and respond from that state as deeply as we can. This is the real value in training. By practicing a Kata or the Tai Chi form we reconnect ourselves to that all important mental state. This in turn acts like a fueling up for all the other aspects of ones life. A teachers job is to guide a person to ever evolving and deeper understanding of that process. By combining the personal home practice with regular class training you can literally keep yourself always connected to that profoundly important task of staying centered and living in peace. And by doing that you are doing the most important thing in the world, you are being the medicine the world needs.  
03 Nov

Shaolin, Shorinji and the Zen Way of the Fist

The name of a thing is merely a word”. -Shakyamuni Buddha

  If you were to ask any random person on the street what the word Shorinji meant they'd likely have no idea. The word Shaolin however might get some recognition. Thanks to TV and movies the term Shaolin has gotten some general public attention. And of course there are the modern, traveling, Shaolin Monks that can perform quite amazing feats of physical skills and mental focus. However the performing acrobatics that are called the Shaolin today are not really what the term had come to represent in the history of martial arts in China. The real history of what is being referred to as the Shaolin is not very well known. However it is one of the most important elements that make Asian Martial Arts so unique. Through the philosophy of the Shaolin Ch'an or Shaolin Way a complete spiritual mind-body way of life was developed. One in which expert self defense abilities became perfectly entwined with the path of self development that in a Zen context would be called enlightenment/Satori, or in a Daoist context the Dao/Tao realization. Shaolin is a Chinese word and Shorinji is simply the Japanese translation of Shaolin. This is not a coincidence. In terms of purpose, spirit, and focus the Shaolin is one and the same as the Shorinji. Any differences of expression are incidental and misses the point. There's an old Zen saying refers to this kind of misunderstanding that goes,”As soon as you ask about a difference you've already stuck your head into a bowl full of glue.” If you were to translate the Chinese word Shaolin/Si Lum directly you would find it means something along the lines of a small or young forest. The stories handed down from the past say that in around 496 AD a temple was build in the Honan province of China that was situated in a small forest grove hence why the name Shorinji/Shaolin was chosen. The temple might have been just one more temple build in the very long history of Chinese temples except that it would receive a visitor from India, and he would forever alter Asian Martial Arts and philosophy. He is often called Bodidharma but also can be written as Tamo. He is said to have traveled alone from India to China and possibly passed through Tibet. Considered by historians to be the first Ch'an or Zen Buddhist teacher in China he is often depicted as swarthy, bearded man with a balding head and wild eyes. There are many legends about his accomplishments and teachings. Some tales are quite fanciful while others more believable. However story one stands out as most relevant to the relationship Tamo had to the history of the Shorinji. After a poorly received audience with the Emperor of the time (Emperor Wu-ti 502-549 AD) Tamo approached the monks at the Shaolin Temple as a teacher and was refused. The kind of Buddhism Tamo lived and taught was not what was usually practiced by the other Buddhists in China at the time. Undaunted he set about to demonstrate his knowledge and abilities. After some time the monks became convinced that he was an authentic master and began to study under his guidance. Tamo had brought Zen with him and Zen has never been an exactly easy thing to study. Called Ch'an in Chinese and Dhyana in Sanskrit, Zen is a very distinctly direct and pragmatic form of Buddhism. It's worthwhile to note that many scholars have speculated that Zen is the nearest existing practice to the one the original (Gautama) Buddha taught, and I am inclined to agree with that. The words of O'Sensei Richard Kim come to mind as he would often say, “do you see what your eyes see?” This seems to well describe what Zen's purpose is, seeing things as they truly are. The core of the practice is to essentially maintain a deeply cognizant and highly attuned meditative awareness in every moment. Tamo taught that to achieve this state one had to find balance in the body and the mind. He quickly found the monks at the Temple to be unfit for the meditations he was showing them. So to help them gain the strength and stamina necessary for the study he began teaching them in various exercises. Tamo was raised in an upper class of the ancient Indian caste society and so would have been instructed in many Yoga's systems as well as the related Indian Martial Arts systems befitting someone of his birth at that time.Tamo obviously chose a life of meditative study and must have learned many things from many teachers. This along with traveling a long and dangerous path to arrive in China would have given him ample time to develop a thorough sense of health and balance both physically and mentally. So began the Shaolin as a place where physical exercise became an important part of the meditative studies taught therein. Of course China has another, older, and equally relevant spiritual philosophy that would have been well known to the monks of the Temple called Daoism/Taoism. Daoism has no known beginning dates. It seems to have evolved from earlier ambiguous Shamanistic type beliefs coming out of the late stone age. The Daoist tradition has always been interested in using the physical body as a vehicle or tool in personal and spiritual development. It has laid much of the foundation for Qi Gong and Chinese medicine. Both of which are as old as anything in China's history and have many important similarities to Yoga practices. Both seek to find a unity with the flow of energy in the universe, both utilize the idea of the body being the main vehicle for developing insight and ultimately enlightenment itself, and both strive to see the world as it truly is without judgment. There are many more similarities but from those alone it can be easily understood how Zen and Daoism became so deeply entwined in the development of the Martial Arts of the Shaolin/Shorinji. So from these two great traditions the monks at the Shaolin Temple developed their arts. According to most accounts the exercises taught by Tamo were not specifically martial. They were more like a flowing Yoga or Qi Gong practice. Over time the exercises would take on more and more martial art aspects. It is reasonable to assume that the practical advantages of learning self defense were not hard for the monks to see. It is also worth noting that many Daoist masters throughout history have been noted for being extremely effective at hand to hand combat. The reason for incorporating more and more martial and self defense movements can be understood best when one imagines the world the monks at the time lived in. At that time in history there was no police force as we have today. A group of monks living in a temple in the forest would have had no choice but to deal with the myriad of dangers that existed by themselves. What might be called outlaws and bandits were commonplace. Rouge soldiers from various armies would often join such groups and they would be quite skilled in military fighting arts. There was also many wild animals that could have been problematic for any people living in that time. In most of China there was 3 species of Leopard, Tigers, in some area's poisonous snakes, large constrictor snakes and a dense population of large apes. All of these things would make knowledge of self defense very useful and practical. So the combining of the Yoga/Daoist meditative health practices with self defense applications would have been a fairly natural one. This idea was brought to it's zenith as it was seen that the skills a martial artist required served amazingly well as maintaining health physically and mentally. According to my research the third Abbot of the Shaolin Temple after Tamo began the training with weapons in the Temple and made the martial studies a core component of the teachings. Once the realization that learning self defense was uniquely beneficial to the aims of Zen practice an apotheosis seems to have occurred. Some accounts of a dialogue between the third Abbot of the Temple and other Buddhist sects shows the core perception and misunderstanding that still occurs to this day about how a peaceful and nonviolent art can be so profoundly well versed in deadly techniques. The answer to the apparent conundrum is in the unavoidable reality of violence in the world. Mankind has always been violent both to itself and the world in which it has existed in. Seeing this as unquestionably true a person who wishes to avoid taking part in violence can only hope to achieve that goal by learning how violence works so as to not get caught up in it's machinations. Anybody who remains ignorant of the violence of the world will have no option other than victim-hood when they are confronted with a violent situation. And being a victim of violence is not at all congruent with the teachings of either Zen or Daoism. It means one has lost one of the most important things they have, their ability to chose how they respond to the world. This then is the most important core ethic of Shaolin/Shorinji martial teachings. That in order to remain a compassionate sovereign individual one must be able to deal with anything that may come their way and still remain grounded in compassion and humility. The monks at the Temple achieved this by becoming exceptional martial artists as well as deeply conscious and compassionate individuals. The monks would take lessons from wherever they could. In this way the core animals styles like dragon, tiger and snake were developed. Watching nature has always been an important method of learning in the Shaolin and such animals proved to know very well how to defend themselves. Over several centuries the arts at the Temple became as skilled as anything that has existed in mankind's history. In many ways this marriage of martial skills with Buddhist morality was truly exceptional and is unlike the way martial skills were developed in any other society at any time. Many types of warrior classes have played important roles in almost every culture that has ever existed but it was with the Shaolin that such skills were fundamentally attached to a sense of timeless pacifism. The Temple would actually be put to the torch several times for refusing to take part in the various political struggles but the monks would simply rebuild without nursing any grievances and so their teachings have continued to this day. The history of the Temple is of course deeply woven into much of Chinese history. The Shaolin became known as Shaolin Ch'an/Way it's teachings became the root of all martial arts that teach honor and respect are paramount to how many punches one can throw or how high one can kick. If course in many places in the word the idea of a skilled warrior that upheld the common good was well known but the Shaolin style of balancing compassion with deadly skill took the way of the peaceful warrior to new levels both in and outside of China. Most notably this way of being seems to have taken a firm root in Okinawa. The Okinawan (Okinawa being a small group of islands south of mainland Japan) people had deep ties to China from as early as the mid 1400's. The legends of that time state that though there was an indigenous fighting art on the island before then it was only after a trade partnership with China had begun that the Okinawan people started to learn the elements of the Shaolin way. This way of maintaining both skilled martial abilities with an absolute sense of seeking non violence suited the Okinawan situation very well. This is because Okinawa had accepted a ban on weapons to facilitate it's trade ties to China. History is vague as to exactly how and when the deeper aspects of the Shaolin teaching penetrated the Islands but a few notable people who obviously learned such skills were Chatan Yara, and Takahara Peichin. These men fostered and developed the concepts of the Shaolin into the needs of the Okinawan people at that time and found a profoundly harmonious match. At later years other Okinawan practitioners of these arts would use the term Shorinji to describe their art, which became known as Karate. This was not because they practiced exactly the same movements that were studied in the Chinese Shaolin Temples but rather because they studied their Karate in the same spirit as their comrades in mainland China. Of course the core principals of movement can't change that much from style to style if the main goal of maximum efficiency and effectiveness are sought in the training. However a comparison of old Shaolin techniques with modern day Karate is not the purpose of this essay despite being quite interesting. So when Karate masters like Bushi Matsummura and O'Sensei Richard Kim called what they taught Shorinji it was to honor the history of the Shaolin Temple system of thought and intent. My teacher, Sensei Douglas Mortley, has often told me that Karate and martial arts in general are simply a way of using physical exercise to achieve enlightenment. And so in this endeavor we can look to the history of the Shaolin Temple as a great source of inspiration. The Shorinji represents a history that resonates with anyone who seeks to find a sense of peace and passion for living in this world. The history of the Shaolin is far from being described in it's totality by this essay but the essence of it can be felt in the words of Karate Master Chojun Miyagi when he said, “My conviction is that the way of the fist and Zen are one and the same.” This is the real history of the Shaolin, the balance of self empowerment and compassion as it was cultivated over centuries throughout Asia and other places.
30 Sep

Points of Pressure

As famous as anything in Martial Arts is the idea of pressure points. Often blown out of proportion and taken out of context these small areas of the body are the cause of a great amount of misunderstandings by both the general public and many martial artists themselves.

These specific spots throughout the body are known as many different terms in the various medicine traditions throughout the world. Acupressure spots, marma points, and many other names are all referring to the same thing, although, sometimes in different ways. So what are they and why are they important? One of the best explanations I've heard came from my Sensei many years ago. He said that pressure points are like windows to your inside. If eyes are the windows to the soul then pressure points are windows to your internal organs. This is because they are physically places where nerve endings become very highly packed and these nerves are all linked to various organs other vital body parts. So to affect the nerves where they surface then affects the functioning of the body on a deeper level. There is a constant exchange of information going on between all parts of the body. The varying circumstances of life require this feedback loop for the body to respond to it's surroundings in order to avoid harm and seek balance. The electromagnetic energy that travels along the nervous system is that information. As the Daoist traditional has often said, keeping a harmonious chi (energy) flow is the most important component of maintaining good health. This is how things like acupuncture can have beneficial results for maintaining good health. By smoothing and sometimes increasing the flow of energy throughout the body a higher level of health can be cultivated. I have often said that this system is like plumbing, it works best when everything is flowing without any blockages. The martial artist uses this knowledge as a means to achieve the most efficient results when the necessity of defending ones self is required. Focusing on strikes or other applications to pressure points allows a greater effect in bringing the attack to an end. By striking or pressing on these points, which are roughly the size of a dime, the attackers mobility and ability to maintain focus are dramatically altered. Unconsciousness and even death are possible with correct techniques if a person is well trained in knowledge of these spots and how to use best affect them. Like many other things in life the most effective results often come from knowing the most direct way to affect the situation. By directly affecting the nervous system for health or for self defense you can powerfully change the very state a body is in, and that is a most useful point to learn. I have attached a diagram of the basic pressure points that every martial artist should be aware of. My advice is to simple look at the picture and let the image burn itself into your mind. Eventually these spots will be easily seen in your training and you'll find yourself naturally aligning your techniques to them in both Kata (forms training) and when working with partners. cheers and good training Sensei Lucas Cheers  


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