05 Apr

The Forms: Kata Sanchin

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

silk 1

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

 https://vancouverdojo.com/center/  

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

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

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

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

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

       
13 Aug

Center Point

the-hara-center

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HARA breath

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

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

 
24 Jun

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

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

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

 

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

 

                                                                       First the word Karate.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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

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

Then the term Shorinji Ryu. 

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

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

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

Finally the meaning of Do

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

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

 

 

19 May

Teaching Kids Karate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.  

11 Apr

Martial Arts One Absolute Rule

"Do not strike others, and do not allow others to strike you. The goal is peace without incident.

- Chojun Miyagi

In martial art training the question inevitably comes up of how teaching people to be so skilled at combat can be a method of instilling compassion and mindfulness. The idea can seem almost counter intuitive.  The key to this apparent contradiction is found within the concept that each technique is solely an expression of defense. This can be understood by an imaginary scenario in which two people are involved in a conflict. Unless one of them physically attacks the other no martial art techniques are necessary. It is only in the moment of being attacked that the trained person will use their skills and knowledge.

This moment of actual defense can be likened to an attempted sale. Whenever someone desires to sell something an offer is first presented and then the individual must decide if they want to purchase the offered item or not. We all can agree that if you don't want to buy something then no one has the right to force you to buy it. The problem that many face is the issue of knowing how to say no to certain kinds of offers. Almost everyone has at certain points in their lives bought into some idea that doesn't pan out very well. So of course a physical attack is an obvious one not to accept. This then is the one absolute rule of martial art training, that no one has the right to lay a single finger on another without consent, and conversely, that every individual person has the right to refuse any unwanted offer.  Once this fundamental issue is understood then the next thing to comprehend is the absolute consequences of physical encounters. Unlike a nasty argument when one person physically attacks another the damage can be, and often is, permanent. A broken knee never fully heals, a punctured eye won't see again and then the worst case scenario being an attack ending with a death. These things cannot be repaired and so must be dealt with accordingly. This leads us to an idea, self defense is really a kind of mirroring. If one person offers or expresses a violent attack on another the energy created must be dealt with. So the most logical and compassionate solution is to give the attacking energy back to the person who created it. Thus the idea that one mirrors the attack. So if the attack is vicious then the mirroring will need to reflect that reality. It is constantly stressed in every class that martial arts begin and end with defense. Then that the defense necessary is to only bring the violence to it's end as quickly and safely as possible. Even if a martial artist uses their knowledge to achieve a successful resolution to an attack the result is still tragic. It is always a grievous and unfortunate thing when one person attacks another. The sole purpose and one absolute rule of martial arts can only be upheld when this understanding is taken into one's heart. This is the morality of martial arts and whenever I think about the relationship between fighting skill and morality I always think of the words of Richard Kim, my Sensei's Sensei. Sensei Kim addressed this issue in his book The Weaponless Warriors when he said "Where the morality of Karate is missing, there is no Karate." Karate in this sense can be likened to any traditional martial art. The following story is from that book and it's one which I have always thought of as being a perfect example of how this sense of morality is absolutely crucial to understanding the value of traditional martial arts.

After Word War Two, during the occupation of Japan, residents of a quiet street in Osaka were startled to hear cries of men in anger, and the anguish of a man in pain. It was the early morning. 

The people streamed out of their homes to find the source of the commotion. They stopped as they saw seven foreigners beating up a native Japanese. The native was on the ground bleeding.

"Please help me!" the beaten one yelled.

No one made a move. Japan had just lost the war, and the Osakans were afraid of retaliation from the occupying authorities. They watched helplessly as the drunks continued the beating.

Suddenly, someone pushed the drunks aside, lifted the badly beaten man, took him to the edge of the crowd and said, "Take this man to a hospital, quickly." Then he turned to face the drunks.

The drunks exploded in anger and attacked the lone samaritan. They punched and pushed the man around, venting their hostility and outrage on the man they considered spoilsport. They tried their best to knock the man to the ground in order to kick him, but the man did not go down. He bled from his nose, and a small trickle of blood came out of his mouth. Otherwise he was unhurt. He stood calmly and watched the seven men pound his body.

"Why doesn't he fight back? It is obvious he can take their blows. They may as well punch an Oak tree for all the damage they are doing. They are like small children milling around a grown man," the people muttered among themselves. 

One by one, the drunks realized that they were not making any headway against this man. They suddenly realized their fun was gone. The man was smiling as if to say, "Now little boys, don't you think the game is over? Go on home." The seven stopped punching and slowly backed away from the man. They could not take their eyes off him. Fear set in. They looked at the crowd, suddenly panicked and fled. 

The man, who was the recipient of the unprovoked beating by the seven, calmly wiped the trickle of blood from his nose and turned to the crowd. He bowed and calmly left. 

In the crowd, a young man who had watched the whole scene, tuned to an elderly man who was standing next to him and said, Sensei, I recognize him. He is a Karate Sensei. He could have finished up the seven. I wonder why he let them beat on him like that?" "You saw and example of the morality of Karate. He knew the seven would have killed the poor man they were attacking, and he let them beat on him and vent their rage because he could take their blows."

So true martial arts can never be used as an expression of anger or domination, it can only serve to empower individuals to do what is truly right, from a place of compassion and a recognition of martial arts one absolute rule.

   
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

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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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