25 Jul

The Sharpend Blade And The Truth


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.          
13 Aug

Center Point


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 Apr

Tai Chi And The Way Of The Fist

“It is a self defense exercise that can make your body strong. In the use of this exercise, there are a hundred benefits without one harm. 

-Ts’ai Chueh-ming

It is common these days to see pictures of people doing Tai Chi or Tai Chi inspired postures alongside advertisements and newsletters in various health publications. Tai Chi has been slowly entrenching itself into the alternative medicine world as a profound practice with many similarities to Yoga. It has also been receiving some attention by mainstream medicine as many of it's physical health benefits are easily documented within the requirements of scientific study. These things are great for both the world and the art itself and I hope the awareness of Tai Chi's many benefits become even more understood and accepted by society in general. However as a traditional practitioner I am also concerned that the art does not become watered down as an excuse to make it more palatable for the general public.

Tai Chi is a term that stems form China's very old and very profound system of knowledge known as Taoism. One of the basic premises of the Taoist world view is an understanding of how all phenomenon that exist, exist within a balance of polarities. There is light so there must be dark, up-down, left-right, masculine-feminine, and so on. It is understood that when you have one you by necessity must have the other.

In the case of Doaist philosophy the two core polarities are called Yin and Yang. All things are considered to be a balance between these two fundamental energies and the goal of human life is to attain a perfect balance of Yin and Yang within yourself. This idea of perfected inner balance is similar to what many people think of as enlightenment.  It is in this sense that any gifted artist can attain a kind of tai chi level of skill in the context of their art. It can also mean in a more general sense that one can achieve tai chi in their own life. .

It is here that the misunderstandings often stem from. The graceful and meditative movement art practiced as Tai Chi requires the term Chuan added on to make it an accurate description of what the practice was originally developed to be.

Chuan simply means fist. Anyone familiar with martial art history or even it's movie history will be familiar with hearing about the fist, way of the fist, fists of fury, seven star fist etc. This is an obvious acknowledged of the critical importance of the clenched fist in any Martial Art.

The fist not only allows the strongest martial way of holding the hand but it also can be seen as the aligning of the elemental energies of fire and metal in the body. More than that the fist is completely unique human ability. Our great ape relatives cannot make fists. The fist truly does hold a unique and special place in our evolution. Without it we could never had made tools, tamed fire, or created anything really.

Now it was during the time of Yang Lu Ch'an (1799-1872) that the term Tai Chi Chuan became distinctly applied to the art now practiced the world over. Before that time there was no specific art called tai chi. But there was something sometimes known as  "Cotton Fist" practiced by the Chen Family of the Chen Village. But that art was largely unknown due to the secrecy of the Chen family who had maintained their version of the art for many previous generations.

I have read a number of accounts that it was after a demonstration by Yang Lu Ch'an that a well known Chinese poet first used the term Tai Chi to describe master Yang's art. Master Yang was proving that his "soft' art was a viable and effective martial art by a willingness to face any and all fighters in hand to hand combat, something he spend around ten years doing. He was never beaten, nor as accounts go even reasonably well challenged.

This is why the word Chuan is used in the title.  Tai Chi can be many things but Tai Chi Chuan is specifically a martial art study. This also reflects why the deepest and most profound benefits of the art are embedded in the learning of it's martial applications. I often use the analogy that Tai Chi is like a great mansion with endless rooms and passageways. When you begin training its like being offered keys to the front door but if you don't learn the martial applications it is like living in a tent in the yard.

This idea may seem hard to understand initially but if one spends some time reflecting on what the knowledge of self defense offers it will begin to make sense. Compassion, humility, and honor are the fruits of spiritual labor and to develop them one must have confidence. A lack of self valuation is like poison to any personal progress and must be addressed if one is to gain inner clarity and know peace. In learning an effective self defense a person can literally embody the principles that will allow them to take care of themselves regardless of what may come their way. This is crucial to health both physically and mentally.

The grace of the movements and the strength of the fist are simply aspects of the yin and yang. They nourish and strengthen each other. There are countless examples. Stability and core strength improve memory and mental clarity, fluid movement improves oxygenation of the blood, visualization and intention harmonizes hormonal balances, and self defense abilities calm social anxieties.  

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)


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.  

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