25 Jul

The Sharpend Blade And The Truth

Ronim

Think of your opponents hands and feet as swords.

-Gichin Funakoshi

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.          
21 Jun

Milestones And The Endless Path

  infin     One of the most important and daunting aspects of training in the Martial Arts is the realization of how there is no conceivable end to the study. Once  the depth and breadth of knowledge that any single art possesses is perceived, even to a small degree, it becomes clear that one lifetime is nowhere near enough time to truly grasp the knowledge in every way and in every detail. My teacher, Sensei Douglas Mortley, often uses the analogy of a ladder that one climbs where when you look up you simply see infinity and when you look down you also only see infinity. The only thing that matters is that you keep climbing. I began my Karate training around 1997 at a Goju Ryu Karate Dojo in Duncan BC. I had been previously training in boxing and kickboxing and found the Karate to be a fantastic next step from those studies. And as anyone who has ever trained in any Traditional Dojo knows Kata is the heart of the learning in Traditional Karate. A Kata is a prearranged set of movements that can be thought of as a living textbook from which a student learns and develops the principals and techniques which make Karate what it is both as a self defense system and life path. In the Goju Ryu System there are 12 Kata usually taught. Two of them, Gekisai Ichi and Gekisai Ni, are considered basic Kata for beginners and are used to introduce the the fundamentals of the art. In Shotokan and other Shuri-Te influenced styles the Pinan/Heian Kata serve the same purpose. Goju Ryu also has two Kata developed as a sort of Qi Gong exercises. These are the Sanchin Kata and the Tensho Kata. These two Kata teach the core essence of the Go or hard/external elements of the system and the Ju or soft/internal essence of the system. Sanchin being the Go Kata and Tensho being the Ju Kata. So that leaves eight other Kata in the system. They are Saifa, Shisōchin, Seiyunchin, Sanseirū, Seisan, Seipai, Kururunfa, and Suparimpei. When I switched over to train Karate exclusively with Sensei Mortley and the Shorinji Ryu Style he teaches I knew 5 or 6  of the Traditional Goju Kata as they were taught at the first Dojo I was attending. In so many ways though I was starting from the beginning again. The Shorinji Ryu system that Sensei Mortley teaches includes all the Goju Kata but I quickly learnt that the Goju Kata in the Shorinji Style were practiced significantly differently that I had been training them. So I began learning the system all over again. That was just over 12 years ago. Sensei Mortley often teaches Kata that are outside of the main Shorinji Ryu curriculum at his monthly seminars on Vancouver Island at the Mill Bay Traditional Martial Arts Dojo. Slowly and steadily he has been teaching the entire Goju Ryu Kata syllabus and I've been getting closer and closer to accomplishing a very old goal of learning the entire Kata list from Goju Ryu Karate. The process kept moving forward until the last seminar in May 2016 when I Sensei Mortley taught Seiyunchin Kata. At last I had learnt the entire Goju Ryu Kata list. It was and is a milestone and something that I have been reflecting on since then. Seiyunchin itself is a strong, low stance based Kata that emphasizes grabbing and pulling techniques. It has an opening sequence that looks very stoic and powerful. Various schools translate it as, marching far quietly, to control and pull in battle, and my favorite, the storm within the calm. Its origins are thought by some to be in the Xingyi internal system while others think it is from the Tiger Shaolin system (it is known in some schools as "the Tiger Kata").  However as good as it is to have hit such a milestone and have learnt an entire system, especially being as that system was the first one I began with, it was really quite anticlimactic. My Kata list is currently running at around 67 Kata in total these days but there isn't one of them that I feel I've even sort of mastered. So my ego can't really claim much from this. Yes I've achieved a significant accomplishment by having gotten to this point but in martial arts there is no end point so it doesn't really change anything. I still need to train everyday just like I always have. I also still need to be vigilant with myself on not just stances and techniques but also with my character and perspective on life, as I always have. Karate and other Traditional Martial Arts are like that. They really don't let a person ever gloat or feel as if they've every gotten to a finish line. Instead they simply ask you to continuously and ceaselessly work on yourself. No matter how many Kata you know or how many applications you can demonstrate those things are not relevant to what you are doing in the present moment. It's in the present moment that you exist and unless your training while reading this (bravo if you are) then your not progressing. The number of Kata you know does not change the endless path, it only makes it more endless. Happy Training  

 
02 Jun

To Move in Time

IMG_2736

"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.            
03 May

Tournaments And Paths To Follow: Part 2-Different Reasons

gate   "Whom do you serve?" asks the hero in the epic fantasy novel as they confront a stranger on their hero's quest. The stranger's face pales and the tension between the two increases dramatically. Such a question is not lightly answered.  It might as well be, what do you truly want? or what are your ultimate intentions? All these questions end up basically meaning the same thing. They ask what are the core beliefs motivating an individual to do the things they do. Not a small question at all. Like the hero in the story we all would be benefited to ask the same question but instead of asking it of others we should take the time to ask ourselves who or what we are serving. Does anxiety rule your mind, or does peace and passion? Years ago Sensei Mortley first told me that I must be able to look in the mirror and feel good about what I saw. A person might be able to put on a nice smile for their boss or partner but there is no way to truly be dishonest with themselves. What's more any attempt at doing so does great damage to the person in the end. . In the previous article I painted a picture of the two basic camps in the ongoing debate within martial artist community about the role competitions play within training. I admittedly used very broad brush strokes so as to more easily differentiate the two camps. Despite that I certainly don't mean to say that all practitioners of the numerous martial arts in the world are wholly committed to one side of the debate or the other. I personally find watching highly skilled competitors in the UFC octagon fighting with passionate and fury a fascinating display of human capability. But as intense and dramatic as such fights might be, for me, there is always a shadow underneath it all. That being a very strong personal dislike for violence. So even my personal position on this issue is heavily nuanced and hard to pinpoint. It would also be foolish to say that combat sports are anything less than written into the DNA of society. The Romans had the Gladiators and most other cultures throughout time had their own equivalent spectacles. I would imagine that even back in the early Stone Age humans would gather around and watch people argue and fight using their hands and feet and other weapons. In fact it can be said that all sports are to some degree based off either fighting or hunting. Both fighting and hunting in the early Stone Age would require a great deal of skill and precision. There was also great risks as the hunts and fights would likely often end with the death of the participants. Today there is still lethal consequences to many sports. NFL Football and NHL Hockey are plagued by concussions and other similar injuries. Just recently a UFC fighter named Joao Carvalho died after a bout from what seems to be the head injuries he received in the fight. Professional Boxing has it's deaths as well. These fighters don't go into the ring planning on being killed but it does happen and it's considered one of the costs of such activities. The question then is why are the participants engaging in these activities.  Well for the most part it seems to be for rewards of wealth and personal glory. Now I know there are many people who have gained tremendously from training in all the combat sport arts and that is a great thing. However at the highest levels of achievement in these systems winning is the main goal and what you win is personal glory and cash. Of course money is a necessity in our society and few people have enough of it to live comfortable lives. I can easily understand the desire to make the heaps of money world champions seem to do. Years ago I toyed with the idea of entering into some local competitions for just that reason. Then there is the glory of being known as a champion. This is also an easily understandable desire. All people are driven to some extent to receive recognition from their fellow humans. Becoming the "best" at something is the human equivalent of becoming the alpha of the pack. And to be sure becoming highly skilled at any activity is a noble goal and one I highly recommend. My Sensei has often reminded me that one should become world class at something they love. Whatever that may be it will serve you well to truly seek out becoming as good as anyone can be at whatever skill/art/craft you wish to pursue. So it is with world champion combat sport fighters. These men and women has worked endless hours honing their skills and have paid a heavy price for their achievements. They have sweated buckets and even bled on the training floor and I definitely respect them for it. Far to often people mistake differences for value, especially on this point. If one person happens to find their path in life leads into the triumphs and defeats of the professional fighting world and another person's path leads into a Traditional Martial Art practice, avoiding violence at all costs and never making a public spectacle of their skills, then who is really following the true path?  Neither, both, in reality such comparisons diminish both Sport Fighting and Traditional Martial Arts. Having totally different reasons to do a thing fundamentally changes the thing you do. In the Traditional Martial Arts the goals are completely different than are the goals of the sport fighter. A Traditional Martial Artist will go to great lengths to avoid any violent encounters. Even if forced to defend themselves they never do more than is necessary to avoid harm. Seeking to "win" against another is an act of the ego and pride no matter how you look at it. Most Traditional Dojo's speak out against the dangers of pride and are adamant that it is never acceptable to use the skills they develop to intentionally harm another.  This means in Traditional Martial Arts there is no rewards of glory to be found, only endless effort. The true goal of the Traditional Martial Artists is to live a long, healthy, and honourable life. It is a simple goal but one far from easy. My Sensei has asked the question of how compassion and humility can coexist with competitions that make people either winners or losers. If the six words of compassion, humility, honour, loyalty, gratitude, and patience are truly observed then one cannot claim superiority over any other person, or animal, or plant, or anything else that exists. So in the end the questions is what do you want, or to put it more poetically, what do you wish to serve. Does the idea of defeating other people for cash and glory excite you, then a Sport Based Competitive Dojo is where you ought to go. If the pursuit of personal self defense and individual/spiritual growth is what you seek then a Traditional Dojo is where you will want to be. Both are valid choices but both travel utterly different paths. I wish you well no matter what path you take.            
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.

 https://vancouverdojo.com/center/  

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.

       
13 Aug

Center Point

the-hara-center

Whenever someone new comes in the Dojo it is usual to have the first part of the class focus on learning about their center. Without knowing your center it can be very difficult to know where to begin with any of the movements or breathing concepts in traditional martial arts. This center point is just a couple inches below the navel or belly button. Called the Dantien in Chinese, Hara in Japanese, and in Yogic Traditions it is known as the sacral chakra. This specific spot on the body is of supreme importance to Karate, Tai Chi Chuan, Jujutsu, Aikido, and every other traditional martial art. So why is this spot of such importance, well first it's best to establish just what all these arts and exercises are designed to achieve.

The basic premise from a purely physical standpoint is to focus on the idea of achieving the maximum potential the human body is capable of. This can be in terms of balance, overall strength and endurance, as well as feats of awareness. The pursuit of achieving the perfection of the possibilities of the body is where Yoga, Tai Chi Chuan, and Karate all begin from.  It is also why the Hara/Dantien/sacral chakra is of such importance.

It sounds logical then to say that in order to achieve the highest potentials of the human body a person must develop all the movements and expressions of their body to it's maximum levels. To do that all the movements must be coordinated to work together as one powerful and fluid whole.  This is why the martial artist is constantly striving to connect the turning of their ankles with the twisting of their torso and to carry the movement through into the rotation of their forearm, and finally ending with the clenching/snapping/twisting/pushing/punching of their hand. It is an old saying that to have a strong punch you need a strong leg. What connects the legs to the arms is the torso and the Hara is the center of exchange point between the two.

Throughout history there has been numerous warrior castes. The Sparta, Maori, Inca, and Norse peoples all had powerful warriors in a variety of expressions and fighting skills. Yet they all had the same basic body movements to work with. They all had to obey the limitations and dynamics of having two arms and two legs connected by a torso with a head on top. No other way is possible. This knowledge of how to properly transfer kinetic energy through the entire body via the Hara must have been known by all highly trained warriors throughout time to varying degrees. It is simply the product of seeing things as they are. You can see this when a baseball pitcher throws their pitch, or a hockey player shoots a slapshot. They have to use the torquing of their hips in perfect coordination with their arms and legs. And whether they are aware of it or not they also have to coordinate those motions through their hara.

In Karate and other traditional martial arts this observation of the Hara being the center of all powerful physical movements is only one facet of the importance of that spot. The Hara is also considered to be the center of ones qi flow and therefore the center of ones entire being.

In all traditional martial arts the idea of qi, or chi or in Sanskrit prana all refer to a kind of energy that has numerous characteristics and descriptions. The most common theme however is to call it "life force energy" as it tries to identify the very energy of life itself.  A person with great qi is healthy and full of vitality while a person who's ki is low is likely ill or at risk of disease. The masters of old recognized the relationship between physical health and ki and so designed their arts to also increase a persons level of ki as it flows throughout the body. This increase of ki flow was found to also dramatically increased the power and abilities of the the person's self defense. Something anyone can come to know personally but only as a result of ones own training and effort.

The increasing of ki as it flows through the body is done by a specific kind of breathing technique. In the total scope of what's available there are dozens of various breathing techniques that all claim to increase vital energy but they all start with, and are based on, deep diaphragm breathing.

If you take your hands and connect the thumbs then align the fingers to cross over each other sort of triangle, then place yours thumbs in your belly button the spot where the fingers cross (it should be a couple inches below the navel) is your Hara. Sit or stand in a comfortable position then breathe into this spot. Focus on keeping a straight spine in whatever position your in and breathe deeply into your belly or Hara. Feel the incoming air expanding that area like a balloon while your exhalation contracts the stomach inwards with mindful and subtle flexing of the abdominal muscles. Breath in through your nose and out through the mouth allowing the tongue to rise to the roof of your mouth on the inhalation and then lower to the floor of your mouth on the exhalation. Do this while releasing all tension in the body and you will begin to cultivate ki. This kind breathing is the starting point for all physical body-mind meditations like Karate or Yoga but also the beginning point for the sitting meditations of Zen and Taoism.  All the masters of these arts say to aim at breathing like this all the time.

HARA breath

By breathing like this a person can develop the ability to alter their state of consciousness. Past studies have shown practitioners of Zen and Yoga display an alpha wave activity during periods of meditation. A martial artist develops the alpha wave state in the practice of Kata but all are linked to breathing with the Hara. So we come full circle and see that this center point has many layers of purpose and meaning. It really is a critical concept for anyone seeking to develop themselves physically or spiritually.

By simply being aware of your center you gain a position to grasp the power of your total being and you then will have seen the goal of the martial arts practitioner. To seek for total perfection of their entire being is is an infinite path to follow as perfection cannot be achieved but only sought after.  So Like the beautiful mandala art of Buddhism it all begins with the center point and spirals out to infinity suggesting that to develop a relationship with your center allows the universe to follow.

 
24 Jun

What’s In A Name; What Shorinji Ryu Karate Do Means

In this article I will explain the full title of Shorinji Ryu Karate Do in it's meaning and purpose. 

First a brief mention of how important the use of traditional calligraphy writing is when the names of martial arts are considered. Unlike western writing systems which have little room for interpretation in single words or phrases (because they are derived in order  to phonetically sound out each word) old Chinese and Japanese calligraphy writing is a deeply artistic and interpretive form of writing. Each calligraphy character acts as a symbol for a complete idea and the same character can have different meanings in different contexts. Calligraphy writing is considered a highly aesthetic and cultured practice in and of itself and has been for centuries in both Japan and China. This is relevant to describing the what and why of the names of Traditional Martial  Arts because the those names are translations of multiple Kanji (Japanese) or Hanzi (Chinese) logograms or calligraphy characters. 

 

Of all martial art systems throughout the world Karate is definitely one of the most well known by name. There are dozens of styles with thousands of schools all over the planet. Despite this multitude of names they all can be traced to a group of small islands south of mainland Japan called the Ryukyu islands (that is if they genuinely are Karate styles). The largest of these islands being Okinawa island itself. The history of Karate and Okinawa are deeply tied. To fully explain that history would require volumes of material to cover and many other authors have done a great job of recording it. Richard Kim's "The Weaponless Warriors" is an excellent example. For now however we are simply looking at what the name implies. 

 

                                                                       First the word Karate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Karate is a combination of two Kanji characters, Kara and Te. The meaning of the term Kara has changed and been debated in it's own history however it has now come to mean open, whereas Te has always meant hand. This idea of an "open hand" has many reasons but most directly it signifies the idea that the natives of Okinawa lived under a strict ban on weapons for a great deal of their history. So as a consequence they had to defend themselves with "open hands" or without the aid of any weapons. Other important but less direct meanings are, developing an open heart and mind, and the sort of paradoxical truth that when one develops a powerful punch with a closed fist they can more confidently open those same hands to others knowing that they can handle whatever may come at them. This last meaning relates to a common theme in Martial Arts, that of the paradox of how by learning powerful and potentially deadly combat techniques one can become immune to violence and attack on all levels. 

Karate then represents the profound and complex truth that when one becomes empowered by learning to develop devastating hands they then can then become more compassionate and open to life. This idea cannot be adequately explained in words. One must seek the guidance of a qualified Sensei or teacher and spend many years studying with them to grasp the deeply profound truth that the art of Karate teaches on this level. 

Then the term Shorinji Ryu. 

Firstly the term Ryu simply means style or school. The term Shorinji however has a much more interesting and layered meaning as it is the Japanese spelling of the Chinese word Shaolin. The Shaolin temple schools in China are more or less the most famous Martial Art schools in history. Similar to the history of Okinawa the history of Shaolin is far to much for this article to do justice to, so again we will be focusing on why the Vancouver Traditional Martial Arts Dojo uses the name. Shaolin/Shorinji itself simply means small forest temple. This is because the first temples in China dedicated to self development through martial arts were located in a small forest setting but also because nature itself was considered the original teacher of all Zen realization. 

The title Shorinji was given to us most directly from the great teacher Sensei Richard Kim. Sensei Kim seems to have chosen the name in part due to another very important and famous Karateka (meaning person who training in Karate), a man named Bushi Matsumura. Matsumura lived up until the late 19th century and is regarded as the father of almost all Okinawan Karate schools. Both of these men called the arts they lived by and taught Shorinji or Shaolin as a way to honour the idea that their Karate was not just a method of self defense techniques but a complete way of life. 

This then is the core idea behind using this term, that the real purpose of the training was to teach how to attain Zen or self realization through developing the various movements and exercises.  My teacher Sensei Douglas  Mortley has often said to me that Martial Arts are really a way of using physical exercise to achieve enlightenment.  That is the reason the term Shorinji is used. We teach Karate, Tai Chi, Jujutsu and Kobudo not to allow people to become walking lethal weapons but because these arts develop inner peace through compassion and humility via the alignment of body and mind, breath and spirit. 

Finally the meaning of Do

The term Do simply means path or way. It is the same term used in almost all traditional Japanese or Japanese influenced arts like Aikido, Judo, Hapkido and Kendo. The path or way all these arts are speaking about is the path to Zen realization. This idea is very similar, or even identical, to the Chinese term Tao or Dao which also means the path to enlightenment. The idea being that when one begins training in a Dojo they are beginning to move towards their own highest potential.  In fact the word Dojo means the place where the way is taught. This idea of a path one must travel to achieve enlightenment is mirrored by almost every other self development system in the world from Yoga to Shamanism. In fact it is often said that though there may be many paths there is only one mountain. 

So to summarize, Shorinji Ryu Karate Do basically means the art of the open hand warrior school of Zen from the islands of Okinawa.  Of course it should be obvious by this article that the name cannot fully illustrate what is being signified by the title the art is given. Martial Arts must be experienced directly for anyone to gain a true understanding of their inner knowledge and even then many years of consistent training are required before these deeper truths can be seen.  In many ways these arts mirror life itself as they both are based on an ongoing process and neither can be fully experienced without developing both strength and openness.  

 

 

19 May

Teaching Kids Karate

When the modern belt system was introduced to Martial Arts in the early 20th century two belt categories were developed. One was the colored belts from white to brown (called Kyu Belt ranks) and the other was the various levels of black belts (called Dan ranks). These terms in a basic sense simply refer to rank or level of attainment in training, but they also carry the meaning the maturation process one goes through after many years of training. 

We live at a time when many of the aspects of maturation necessary for the development of a complete individual are not well cultivated.  Many great teachers and researchers have discovered that almost every other culture has a set of intense and often somewhat dangerous rituals for allowing the youth to know they are now an adult. These rites and ceremonies usually have the theme of demonstrating to the youth that their childhood dependency on others is over and they they need to recreate themselves as responsible individual members of their society. 

One of my favorite stories on this theme comes from an inspiring book called "Daughters Of Copper Women" by  Anne Cameron, which tells the legends and history of the Nuu-chah-nulth Nation living on Vancouver Island (near Nootka Sound). This group of people had a very important place in their culture for female warriors. The young girls who were destined to become warriors would be taught to preform many difficult tasks including, long distance open ocean swimming, running, fighting skills, survival knowledge and much more. 

When the young girl had come of age she would be taken by her father or male clan leader out in a canoe far from shore. On shore would be her family and friends singing songs meant to guide her home. When the proper distance from shore was reached the girl would strip down and jump into the cold water. At this point she would be on her own. No more help was given. She needed to find her way to shore herself. This was a moment when her training and her own determination would solely determine her fate.  Apparently these swims would be many miles and take most of a day. 

When she finally reached the shore she was greeted with feast and celebration. Everyone would say to her that they all saw a girl leave on a canoe but it was a women who swam to shore. The festivities both mourned the loss of the girl but also celebrated the arrival of a new adult woman to the tribe. 

This is the deeper meaning behind the belt ranking system in Karate. To receive a black belt is suppose to mean that the individual has reached a point in their training and development that they can take full responsibility for themselves and their actions. This is why in our Dojo black belts are only awarded once a person is 18. Until then they are still rightfully developing the adult they will become. 

So developing empowered and fully self aware adults is the core purpose behind teaching kids Karate. Really that's the purpose in teaching anyone Karate. In many ways Karate aids this kind of inner strength development more than any other art as it makes crystal clear the reality of consequences. When anyone, but especially a child, learns they can be powerful enough to harm another they take to heart the importance of their actions much more vividly. 

Compassion, humility, loyalty, patience, honor and gratitude are like seeds that require care and attention to take root. Planting these concepts in the mind of a child can be valuable beyond measure towards the kind of adult they will become. So in every Karate class the importance of these ideas gets more and more developed. The Sensei carefully watching looks for opportunities to impress these ideas more and more into the child's mind. In time both the physical movement skills as well as the mindfulness of living these concepts becomes second nature to the child. 

We live in a world of polarity which requires balance to be navigated with any degree of success. Children know so well how to be in the moment and laugh from their cores and we all need to remember to live like that once in a while. However we also live in a world were emotional and impulsive reactions cost lives. The spontaneity of a child is a wonderful thing but without the tempering of experience priorities can get tragically misaligned.  

As every kid who enters the Dojo learns their behavior towards others is more important than the height of their kicks or the number of Kata they know. It is said Karate begins and ends with respect but it is also said that Karate is life. So life then should begin and end with respect. This way of living is what teaching kids Karate is all about. 

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