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.

 
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. 

21 Feb

Faith And Training

" A jug fills drop by drop." Gautama Buddha
Many years ago I was brought by my Mother to a spiritual talk at a Dharma center in a small town on Vancouver Island called Duncan. My concerned and caring parent wanted to expose me to deep thinkers and sources of wisdom as I was a wee bit wayward as a teenager. Inexplicably this talk would set up a profoundly meaningful mindset inside me. The man speaking claimed to be a disciple of Gandhi himself and appeared to be at least 60-70+ years of age. He spoke mostly in a series of analogies and metaphors. One of which has always stuck with me and helps me remember why the effort is worth the price in experiencing the roller coaster of life
He said that your life is like a beautiful jewel found deep inside the Earth. So first you must dig deep inside the dark to find where it has been hidden. Once found it must be cleaned of the rocky debris it's encased in and then polished to allow the light to be reflected. And like a real jewel if the polishing and effort to keep it in top form are not consistent dust will form and it's radiance will diminish.
So the key was to be at peace with the endless work of polishing the jewel. He then explained, in order to actually cut and polish a precious stone in the external world you require tools. A pick ax to dig, a chisel to break off the large chunks attached to the stone, and the polishing material of course. These tools are symbolic of the discipline in any art we choose to develop. This process cannot be circumvented as it is somehow entwined into the very fabric of living.
This reflects very well the reality of the work required to achieving one fullest potential. First one must dig deep into the dark recesses of the unconscious (the Earth) as only then can the jewels of self-hood or enlightenment be found. Once found then only through great effort and diligence can the beauty and illumination of body, mind and spirit be uncovered. The consistent effort in which one works at polishing and refining their own life is generally called discipline and sustaining a disciplined ethic in relation to ones own life truly is the crux to the refinement of the soul.
However the initiation of that process is often perceived as extremely daunting. To look upon a quest that literally does not end and requires endless and herculean efforts can seem almost foolish to begin with. How can someone happily put in great strain and endure both discomfort and being force fed humility on a continual basis only to get the guarantee of the need to do it again on endless repeat.
It all comes down to perspective.
If you want a fresh apple and the only way you could get one was to cultivate your own apple tree then the years of fruitless autumns the tree requires to be able to produce would be easy to understand. It's similar to when someone wants the fruits of their own lives to produce. You cannot just make a sapling grow a full apple without the time needed for the tree to deepen it's roots and spread it's branches. With the apple tree you can see the growth season by season and year by year but with life there is often no obvious marker to measure growth. This is were faith in the process becomes paramount.
An authentic teacher/instructor is a good place to look for seeing first hand the results of disciplined training. A good instructor should ideally embody the desired result of having a sound healthy body, a calm compassionate mind, and a powerful yet contained spirit. After all Sensei/Sifu basically means one who has gone before, or one who has walked the path for a little longer and so can help others engage more mindfully with their own path. There is a trap however in seeking the path externally. The Sensei cannot walk the road for you, only point you in the right direction.
So the real cornerstone of staying disciplined in ones art is almost a mystical sense of knowing that the time put in is worth the price. All people, as Freud found out, follow the pleasure principle. The idea that all people, without fail, go towards experiencing pleasure and go away from pain. Not pleasure in a purely sensual way but instead the idea that eating and being full is more pleasurable than going hungry. It's absolutely a natural response system and one we are genetically programmed to use so it cannot be genuinely fought against. The art of being disciplined requires a deep faith in the idea that the result will be worth the discomfort and challenges of staying consistent with the training.
So where does the sense of meaning and purpose come from when beginning in a disciplined art. In this area the use of words becomes inadequate in describing the sense of knowing necessary to be consistent in an art. No one can impose meaning on another. All beliefs must be individually bought and paid for or they carry no worth. This means that the importance of perseverance and consistency in life and training are self developed. You simply must do the work without thinking or debating about it. For it's the act of disciplined efforts that cultivate the self. This then illuminates the idea that when one works on their art they are polishing the jewel of their own lives whereas when one chooses to neglect that sacred work then one is doing a disservice to themselves and the jewel of their life begins to lose it radiance.
In the end this is life. We are all here and nobody can claim with absolute certainty why or even how we got here. The only empirically definite truth we all seem to agree on is that we exist. The rest of the story is up to each of us individually. The path has been darkened and the steps obscured so we must have faith in those whom we follow in the footsteps of. Far more critically we must hold a deep trust in ourselves. In the Martial Arts context every punch and every kick is an act of faith, an action taken that demonstrates to the world and ourselves that we are willing to endure and persevere in our lives.
Drop by drop we fill ourselves, through discipline and time we polish our reflecting of inner light and in time become at peace with the endless aspects of our potential. Faith and training are reflections of each other. Take heart that your faith in yourself can be exercised anytime by doing simple things in simple ways. What is simple may not be easy but that is the gift of the process. Never give up, you are worth any amount of effort.
 
01 Jan

New Years Re-Solution (Remember You Already Know The Solution)

janus

It can be reasoned that in our ancient past there were moments when our human sense of self-awareness was crystallized for the first time. It would have likely started with some sort concept of self and that which is not-self. From there it would have grown into other fundamental aspects of our experiential reality.  There would then be moments when the creature that is called human first became consciously aware of the cycles in nature such as night and day. These moments could rightly represent the very crystallization of humanity itself and they still can give us a framework of understanding what living on the Earth is all about. For instance all things can be seen to exist as a balance of polarities whose relationship is cyclic. Night to day to night and so on, what goes up must come down but only then can it be thrown up again, the song ends so another may begin and so if the song never ended you’d never hear a new song, as above so below but then what's below must be as it is above, the list could go on for pages. The point is these realizations constructed the very synaptic alignments that became what we now know of as our mind. There is an often spoken Buddhist parable that says “Mind is the Path”. The “Path” often called The Dao/Tao or Do, is a way of referring to the movement towards self realization or enlightenment. This path is often referred to in Martial Art philosophy with obvious examples being Aikido, Judo, or Karate Do. So the idea then is that in our own mind is everything we seek. In which case it might be worthwhile to look at some of the main realizations that constructed our minds. Of all the observable things in nature the sun is of such importance that it is an understatement to say it helped to give us our understanding of the world. The sun affects us in some very obviously cyclic ways but the yearly cycle is a very important one. It arguably begot all forms of the idea of renewing and rebirth. The observable fact that each year the sun goes through a period of intense long days and a period of short and dark days must have been a critical observation to early man. So it seems likely that early humans would have adopted the idea that they themselves can be renewed on a yearly basis. This concept seems to be universal within almost every culture in one way or another. Thus then this observation became deeply impressed into the mind of early man. The modern Christmas and New Years celebrations are direct results of this profound observation of nature. In Roman times a god called Janus was the one who was lord over transitions and new beginnings. Each year people would ask him for blessings in the New Year and in exchange would promise to live more humane and compassionate lives. This tradition has become what we now call the New Years Resolution. In fact Janus is the root word from which we get the month of January. So in a way when one declares a New Years Resolution it is a direct continuation of the old Roman practice. As is often said, there is nothing new under the sun. So the New Years resolution is a long-established and well-known phenomenon within the cultural and collective consciousness. According to Wikipedia common New Years resolutions are; Improve well-being, Improve career, Improve self, Take a trip, Get along better with people, and other similar type things. It’s all things we've heard before. It's also rather obvious that most resolutions are really very similar. Essentially they are aimed to improve the quality of ones life. More specifically, improve the quality of one’s life experience. And to be sure, the quality of one's experience in life is something that will matter on your deathbed. If you look at the resolution concept from the perspective that it has something to do with the creation and cultivation of the quality of your life it then can be seen as an important tool for observing more of your souls desire. So in this yearly tradition there might also be an opportunity to bear witness to a distinctly unique reflection of human life. Reflecting and contemplating are, of course, cornerstones of all self-development processes, from the aesthetic and philosophic to the arduous and obsessively religious. So what is the desire to declare a self-improvement resolution each year saying about us. Sensei Richard Kim has been quoted as saying that the one thing we as individuals can control is our own lives and environments therein. If that rings true then it seems to be alluding to the idea that many people are not satisfied with the state of their lives. So we may be trying to remind ourselves that we can change the experience we’re having if we want to. I often see what appears to be hints to philosophical questions within language itself. A New Years Resolution is demonstrating in it’s very lettering that the solution to life improvements are already known. This is why it’s called a re-solution or you could say it’s to remember you already know the solution. As Buddha said the Path is the Mind so we already know what we need to do as it is within our mind inherently. If it is true then that we already know what to do then why do so few keep their resolutions. This is the crux of the issue as it mirrors all problems humanity both collectively and individually is being challenged by. A good example is the terrible diets that many western people live with. Having obesity “epidemics” is an absurdity yet it is also a reality for many. Many people’s New Years Resolutions are then to either lose weight or to simply eat healthier. It’s a simple thing to decide but the commitment to doing it seems all too difficult for most who attempt this task. What blocks them, could it be poking into something far deeper than just simply adjusting one’s diet. As a Martial Arts instructor I see first hand how rare it is to find an individual with the inner discipline to really change their lives. It is why Martial Arts training is so profound. It perfectly mirrors back to individuals how they actually deal with their own lives. The first issue often being that one must accept their own shortcomings. People often spend so much time and energy decorating the outward appearance of their lives while often completely neglecting their own true feelings and beliefs. This is really the root of why so few can achieve the results they desire within their resolutions. When a truly disciplined practice is undertaken is always comes into conflict with these deeper personal issues. The key to overcoming these challenges then is to see the blocks that come up as the gifts of knowing what’s really blocking you from living your preferred life. My Sensei/teacher has said to me that your beliefs are your partner throughout life. So if your beliefs run counter to your desire for a healthier diet or better relationships then no amount of hyped up positive thinking can change them. Traditional Martial Arts offer a profound approach to this challenge as they are designed for the long-term and consistent reforming of one's internal beliefs. They do this while simultaneously improving both physical and mental well-being. Every individual who enters a Dojo is working on themselves and a good Dojo offers lessons for entirety of one life. There is no finishing point but rather an ongoing effort of developing a passionate and humble engagement in the experience of life. No magic instant ascension or enlightenment, just a chance to continue the endless path of knowing and experiencing life. So rather than getting inflated with ideas of instant fixes or worse, that some guru or healer will instantly fix our lives I say it’s far more realistic to just start chipping away at our own beliefs and undesired habits. And to do so with the concept of it being a never-ending process. After all life is all about the journey, because the destination is death why run towards that. Instead walk with deep roots and a deeper sense of mindfulness daily. So I wish to all that they may experience more of what they prefer. I would also would like to remind all who may be reading this that they already know what they need to do. As well I would like to remind all who are reading this that though many of the ideas they wish to experience feel good to imagine the blocks that keep us from getting there are coming from within. It is in that context that I encourage all to engage with a humble and disciplined practice of some sort. It is good to strive to live your dreams but without waking up to the reality of your own beliefs and circumstances then there is no way to travel towards your those dreams. Never give up and never be unwilling to be renewed and then you will most truly live. Right now the sun is showing us all that we can be renewed, that the light may diminish but it always returns. However its process is not instant or dramatic but rather it slowly reasserts its reign in the sky only to once more to be diminished again. What goes up must come down or it cannot be thrown up again. From our ancient past to our modern cities the opportunity for growing anew can be likened to a threat that connects us to ourselves and the universe itself. All that matters, all that creates the quality of our life experience is just to keep pulling on that thread without expectation or the desire of reaching a final point. May you keep pulling at it 🙂 Happy New Year to all.
07 Dec

What Martial Arts Can Mean For You

zen art It was Aldous Huxley who once said “After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” A quote often referred to when talking about music but really it is talking about something else. It is the idea of the silent and inexpressible. As Mr. Huxley cannot describe just what that indescribable thing is, he like the rest of us, can only imply that it is by sort of talking around it. What is most intriguing however is that despite being inexpressible he seems to be inferring that it is also a deeply important thing. The mystery of just what the experience Mr Huxley described as inexpressible is bares heavy thought. It is a reflection that one has to know through direct experience as no other means is possible. In almost every tradition, ritual and spiritual indoctrination there is an element of this direct individual experience that words cannot adequately describe. In both martial arts and Zen this attainment, at it's highest levels, is called enlightenment. It is at the root of all the exercises of traditional martial arts as they are a method to attain complete self realization and illumination. This is also known as achieving a connection with the Void. This describes a meaningful personal connecting to the quintessential creative energy of the world. A warrior properly attuned to the Void can sense their surroundings and respond without thinking. So what martial arts can do for those who practice them is to have an exercise in which they can continuously, and in an ever deepening way, know the experience of personally touching the void. The ultimate aim of this is being able to perfectly balance the idea of being (non action) and the act of doing so that one comes into harmony not only an attacker but with ones total environment itself. Whether it is called enlightenment, supreme realization of perception, illumination, ascension, or anything else is all represents the same idea. It is only in martial arts however that this achievement is done while directly dealing with aggressive and even malicious attacks. Karate, Tai Chi Chuan, Aikijujutsu and other martial arts provide a powerful way to achieve this goal through the core element of Kata or Forms. Kata or Forms are specific patterns of movement somewhat similar to the ritual dances of the indigenous peoples throughout the world. This is because they convey information far beyond the actual movements themselves. What these movements do is instill in a person the dynamics and principles that all energies in the universe work with. Shinto Priests have been quoted as saying that their religion is the act of dancing with the universe. Kata or Forms then become that dance. Arts that come from Japan usually call their patterns Kata, while in Chinese Arts the movements are often called Forms. So with use of these patterns and through the act of numerous repetitions the movements become as natural breathing. This allows the mind to develop a deep sense of peace while simultaneously performing the dynamic, precise, and critical movements required to defend yourself in a life and death situation.This is the power of paradox that is utilized by these great arts. If one can have peace of mind while being attacked in a serious way then nothing else can reasonably happen outside that situation which could have the slightest chance of unbalancing the practitioner, either physically or mentally. It is here though that the actual martial techniques must be impeccable. Without solid and unarguably effective techniques all the inner philosophical concepts would lose their merit. To attain peace of mind and respond perfectly without conscious thought to life threatening situations requires precise movements and timing.  You can only know that your response will be appropriate if you know your techniques are going to work. A profound balance between body alignment, dynamic movement and inner mindfulness must be cultivated. The physical exercise of these arts strengthens the body to its highest potentials. Regular practice allows the flexing, stretching, and rotation of all muscles in the body, while developing high levels of core strength. Entwined with deep diagram breathing and skeletal alignment one truly becomes strong inside and out. The benefits of a strong limber body, the ability to channel mental energies with a laser like precision, the self confidence of knowing with certainty that one can defend themselves in any situation, and  critically, the inner peace and strength necessary to take part in the world passionately and without fear. All these things are developed by training. So Martial Arts are a way in which life itself can be brought into it’s highest potential. By literally exercising it’s value daily. From the gritty absolute truth of life and death struggles to the knowing of the void and inner peace, Martial Arts can bring out the highest potentials to the entire spectrum of life.  
06 Jul

Death and Life

Image

A warrior must cultivate the feeling that he has everything needed for the extravagant journey that is his life. What counts for a warrior is being alive. Life in itself is sufficient, self-explanatory and complete.

Carlos Castenada from the Teachings of Don Juan

     In Japanese Zen tradition there is a term called satori which loosely means a moment of realization. It can be thought of as both the moment of supreme awakening or enlightenment and it can be thought of as applying to all the so called ah ha moments of deepening insight which occur when a person walks the path of self realization. These moments of satori usually indicate a (sometimes brief) piercing or deepening of ones perspective into a much more profound and mindful inner stillness and radical awareness. It is in this state of mind that one penetrates deeply into life and the universe and allows the highest possibilities of human expression to spontaneously manifest. When a martial artist was able to attain satori to the extent that they transcended normal day to day thinking it was called the achievement of mushin or no mind. There is a famous story of a great Karate master called Bushi Matsumura who upon reaching a moment of satori famously stated that all was vanity. A seemingly harsh statement but it must be understood that Matsumura was a student of philosophy as well as Karate and so would have been well aware of the Buddhist concept of attachment causing suffering. He saw in that moment the connection between desire and downfall and realized how by seeking to win a warrior was doomed to fall.  Ultimate it seems Matsumura saw how everything we think, say, and do, is bound to perish and so it's all an act of vanity to live a life in deep concern about things that are meant to pass away. It may sound like a description of a depressive mindset but as the story of Matsumura shows it actually is profoundly liberating. This realization or attainment of mushin allows a person to let go of all futile anxiety and worry. A great deal of training and intent usually is required for this moment of satori to allow a person to achieve mushin.  There are few ways to achieve this result without extensive training and dedication but any brushes close to death can have the necessary impact to achieve a certain amount of it. The nature of deaths ultimate reality is like no other. Coming close to the limits of ones own mortality tends to be one of the only experiences that is virtually guaranteed to shake up a person enough for them want to look deeper into themselves. And awareness of the unshakable reality of death is one of the most crucial facets of all warriors traditions throughout the world. So death often becomes the critical element that motivates people to pursue satori or their own awakening. That being because achieving and sustaining these esoteric notions of satori and mushin is also the best possible way to sustain and cultivate life.  A warrior that achieves mushin is said to have become unbeatable in combat but that also means they have become able to be untouched by the constraints of inner anxiety and self defeating behavior. It appears very paradoxical but the idea is that by really focusing on death life can become brought into a much clearer focus. Things that don't matter are obviously unimportant and a powerful emancipating freedom ensues. Without attachment to outcome the warrior can be free to simply act. It is this letting go that focuses the appropriate attention on the significance of life itself and simultaneously gives the martial artist the presence needed to respond according to what the situation requires. But the motivation comes from death, which is of course the direct opposite of life.  This is a strange phenomenology if one simply takes a moment to think about it. That death would be such a powerful means by which a person might acknowledge life is itself is a fascinating concept. But why then is the realization of the sacredness of life so distant to most people. So much so that life's own opposite must personally visit before a recognition of life's value  can be made. It seems to indicate that on the majority we are not fully cognizant of just what we are. That is, we are beings destined to die. Now no one can argue with the finality of death. But so often we live as though that fact has never crossed our minds. It fact for many it might only summon feelings of fear and pain. So much so that we tend to avoid any serious thought of it. As if that might change the outcome.   The finality of death cannot be denied for if we were not to die we could not be alive at this moment. It is not unlike the classic Yin-Yang symbol of Daoist Tradition. (Which of course can be brilliantly used as a pictograph for many kinds of energy dynamics.) However in this case it can be said to show the two basic polarities  of life and death. It shows that life and death are always emerging and merging, into and from one another. More poetically it also shows that in the deepest dark there is a spark of light, while in the brightest light there is the start of night.  Now a great deal of my life has been focused on studying the so called "warrior traditions" of our planet. For in virtually every culture I've ever looked at there has been a group of people dedicated to what in feudal Japan was called Bushido, which means the way the of the spiritual warrior. The concept of war as in war-rior in this context is very different from the commonly thought of idea of modern warfare. As the warrior is in pursuit of the deepest and most authentic kind of personal freedom, full self-hood. Such a goal is entirely spiritual and has little or nothing to do with patriotic fervor or religious zealotry.   This warriors path was almost always tightly woven into the spiritual and mythological motifs of any given culture. So it then becomes an archetype and something very important falls into place. If denial of death is a problem, and it is for the people who live in denial of it, then the more or less universal motto of our worlds warrior traditions says something very meaningful. Do not avoid death at all, rather face it constantly, consciously and in every moment and in every breath.  After all death is the one thing that is yours to experience exclusively by you alone. In the words of the great wisdom traditions of North America. "When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home." It all starts by being mindful about life. In fact the deeper and wider one can expand their vision of life the more empowered they become to accept death and life more fully. Death leads right back to life, and life is heading unavoidably towards death. Like a dog chasing it's tail all these concepts lead around and around to the same point. That by embracing the finality of death life becomes more vivid. This dance of light and shadow, male and female, night and day, death and life, it goes on and it will go on when you and I pass. So make the most of every moment and every breath as is prescribed by our planets great warrior traditions.

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