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.

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.            

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