Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Resolutions don't work...but the Tao knows How!

A New Year is upon us and I hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday season. This is the time of year we tend to sit back and reflect upon the past year and begin to set goals for next year. For a majority of people health is a major focal point and memberships in fitness centers and clubs increase along with the purchase of fitness equipment and diet books. The proverbial New Year's Resolutions are set and motivation is high for a new you.

To care about your health is a good thing and to have dreams of being healthier is definitely a worthwhile goal, however, did you know that only a small percentage of New Year's Resolutions are ever kept? I am sure you are aware of this, both from the news and probably personal experience.

Health and physical fitness experts tell us to start slow and set our long range goal and break it down into easily accomplished short term goals so we can feel successful. We are to write our goals down, say them to ourselves daily and visualize success. Again, good ideas, but very few people even succeed with this.

But why?

It is called the Law of Reversed Effect. An example of this is insomnia. The harder you try to sleep the more awake you stay. This law kicks in when you try too hard to accomplish a goal with your willpower and rational thought processes. Setting goals, counting calories, having a positive mental attitude, etc., are all good things, but it engages the part of your subconscious mind that actually causes resistance to any type of long term change. Eventually your willpower will weaken because willpower is a good short distance runner, but sucks at long distance.

To accomplish health, whether it is to lose weight, reduce blood pressure or manage pain, it is imperative to go with the flow of life. This flow of life is what the Taoists called The Tao. It means The Way and is likened to a huge river flowing constantly. You have the decision to either fight your way upstream hoping to accomplish your goals with hard work, willpower and determination...or just have faith in the Tao...and flow with the river downstream. As you let go and trust the Tao and just flow with life a funny thing happens. Health happens. Leanness happens. Peace of mind happens. Pain diminishes.

The Tao (or you can use the word Creative Source, Emptiness, God, Atman) is your source of health, happiness and inner peace. It is alway present. We just need to allow its energy to flow through us and accord ourselves to it. It is quite easy. Over the years I have discovered the things that came to me easy were the aspirations I had... but never set an actual goal. I had an intention of what I liked and then just went about my life and low and behold, my intentions became reality. When I set a long range goal and muscled my way to try and accomplish it I usually gave up in frustration.

For instance, for years I had wanted to obtain a PhD, but family life, career and cost kept me from achieving this. My goal to get a PhD was a strong drive in me, even at times, playing with my business card and putting a PhD behind my name to see what it would look like or feel like. I had at one time was going to enter graduate school when I lived in Lincoln, Nebraska and had spoken with an advisor, did all the paperwork, set my sights on my doctorate, but life events and finances didn't allow me to go. Plus, I had gotten a pretty good job at a hospital and was doing fine financially to take care of my family, but not graduate school too.

Well, I put my goal aside and just kept it an idle daydream and guess what? The Internet was born...and certified, quality, long-distance education became available. I could keep working and pursue my dream. I had saved my money and also my kids had grown older and I had more time to dedicate to studying. And it was easy. No goal setting. No sweating it out. I just allowed the Tao to take me to where I needed to be when the time was right for the PhD to come about.

This was also the road I took to Black Belt. I always knew I would be one (to digress a bit. I never even saw myself as a white my mind I was always a Black Belt). I never set a goal for a certain date or even my colored belt promotions. I just went to the dojo and practiced. The belts came and so did the Black Belt. Yes, I worked hard, but I didn't strive to accomplish a goal. I just went with the flow of where I was and had faith.

So, when you are thinking of the changes you would like to make for 2009 and you find yourself setting goals and how to accomplish them. Go ahead full bore...and when you get exhausted and give up...remember The Tao knows how...just keep your aspirations in mind and let go of how to do it or when it will happen. Align yourself with the feelings of contentment (zazen is good for this). When you feel discontent or frustrated you are trying too hard. Just let go and be in the moment. Trust the Tao of Now...It knows How. (Hey, a good mantra)

I have written enough today to cause sufficient confusion, but will probably talk about this again in the near future. If you have questions or comments please write.

Be Well,
Shinzen Sensei

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Shu, Ha, Ri and Ku

Traditionally, when a student is taught about the stages of development a martial artist goes through you will hear of Shu, Ha and Ri. These I will cover today along with a fourth stage not often mentioned or taught openly...and that is our friend Emptiness, or Ku. Ku, as you are aware by now, can be interchanged for Kara of Karate.

So, what are these stages and what relevance do they have for you as a martial artist? Shu, Ha and Ri are classically taught as a means to guide the student towards mastery. It is helpful for the teacher to be aware of what stage the student appears to be at. Each student advances through each stage as they practice and proceed at their own pace. You can't hurry the pace or try to get to the higher levels by practicing harder. They simply require Gyoji...daily practice with a dose of faith.

Also, dependent upon the teacher you have, you will get a slightly different interpretation of them, so please keep this in mind. Here is my interpretation of Shu, Ha and Ri....with Ku.

Shu (learning form): This is the stage at which the student learns the form of their art. For instance, in Zen Goshindo our principle Kata is Sanchin. During Shu, the student learns the physical aspects of the form. This includes the footwork, handwork, breathwork and mindwork. The training is focused on the physical and 'yang' aspects of self-defense and conditioning of the body. At Shu, the bunkai, or application of the kata is kept quite literal and true to form.

Ha (breaking form): At the second stage of training, the student learns to break from form and can see how a particular movement once described as a 'block' can now represent a myriad of possibilities. A block is now a punch, a turn is now a throw or a bow is now a wrist lock. Here the basics are mastered and can be applied in a variety of situations. Creativity with form begins to sprout as well as get a 'sense' of the inner movement of the form.

Ri (transcending form): Moving into the third stage of development the student begins to transcend form. The student is now released from the outer form and feels the inner essence of the form. No longer confined by the outer form the student is now moved by the internal movement of the kata or form. For instance, an internal movement of Sanchin will have me 'coil' and move in a manner or shape that does not even look like the traditional outer physical form of Sanchin...but it is just doesn't 'look' like Sanchin.

So, in a nutshell, these are the three developmental stages of a martial artist. Do a web search and learn other interpretations. Regardless of what interpretation makes more sense to you, Shu, Ha and Ri only come about through practice...then more practice. Reading about them and having an intellectual understanding about them is not really knowing them.

Ku (emptiness): This last stage is typically considered the highest of mastery and usually kept as a 'secret' or 'hidden' teaching until Ri was mastered. At Ku there is no trace of form or doer of form. The Martial Artist dances in total harmony and accordance with the presenting moment. No ego. No observer. Nothing observed. No form. No doer of form. Nothing to get rid of and nothing to attain. With nothing to release or attain, the Martial Artist is released from all suffering and fears, even the fear of death itself. You could say, at Ku, the Martial Artist is now invincible.

Thank You for reading.

Be Well,

Shinzen Sensei
(note I am now using my Dharma name of friend Dr. and Reverend Yozan Mosig, Zen Priest and Master of Zen Shuri-te Karate inspired me to begin using it more often)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Brain Food

As you practice Zazen it is important to give your brain some food to chew on. Just remember the food is to be chewed, swallowed, assimilated and then let go of. So it is with all that I write. Nonin, during his Dharma talks (Buddhist sermons), used to always remind us that it is not so much important that we understand all that he says, just that we hear it, let it settle into us and then let it go.

As you are aware, the term Karate is based on the Buddhist Heart Sutra which talks about 'Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness' ...and I have discussed this previously. For a quick reminder, Emptiness is the source of pure potential from which Form arises. Form arises from Emptiness and returns to Emptiness...and is always Emptiness, except it is now form.

This is witnessed in your breathing. How do you know someone is alive? They are breathing, but more specifically, they have an inhale, right? Without an inhale there is no life. The proverbial 'Breath of Life' is your inhale. This is when you take Form. Form comes not only in your physical body, but it is the state of mind you have along with all the stirring of emotions you feel. During Zazen, you are to be aware of this Form, as it is....then...

...let it go with the exhale. This is your return to Emptiness. Notice what happens to your body, mind and emotions when you exhale completely and just let go. It is usually very relaxed, is it not? Learning to be your exhale and letting go into relief is very important. For one it is very relaxing and why many bodyworkers and therapists teach a cleansing breath with a big exhale. For another and more important reason it connects you to Raw Pure Potential...Emptiness.

As you connect with your exhale you can feel the 'letting go' as well as the potential arising of the next inhale. My question for you is...'What Form are you going to take with your next inhale?' You have a choice as to the Form you assume. Are you going to use your inhale for compassion or hatred? Goodwill or vengeance? Tranquility or Anxiety? Your Intention sets your Form.

Each breath you take is a chance to 'reincarnate'. It is a chance to make changes. Just like your Empty Hand can shape-shift (reincarnate) and make a punch, spear hand or claw, your Empty Form can shape-shift (reincarnate) into Tranquility, Calmness, Peace and Goodwill. It can shape into good health, better relations, or even a deeper understanding of the human condition.

Thanks for reading,
Sensei Dave

Friday, December 12, 2008

Some Meditation Pointers

To practice Zazen, or seated zen meditation, is a cornerstone of Zen Goshindo Karate. Today's post will give you a couple of meditative practices to do. But before I give them to you, a few pointers are necessary.

First, be consistent with your practice of zazen. It is best done first thing in the morning and approximately the same time. Standard sitting meditation time is 40 minutes, but five minutes or twenty minutes is okay too, as long as you do it.

Second. Make sure you are sitting in a proper position at the right height. If you have not had formal zazen instruction, just search the web for how to sit in lotus, half-lotus or burmese posture. If you have back or knee problems, use a chair.

Third. Be gentle with yourself. It is normal for the mind to want to wander away from your focus point. Just be aware of the wandering and return to your focus.

Fourth. Don't try to achieve any special state of mind. Just be where you are. Change will happen...don't force it.

So, after you have set yourself down and connected to your breath you can practice counting your exhales from one to ten. As your counting, if you lose track of your count, return back to one and start again. When you reach ten, then start over again. This type of meditation is good if your mind is feeling very scattered or if you are just beginning meditation.

Another focus when sitting zen is simply to be aware of your breath coming in through your nostrils or going into your belly. Watch it come in and watch it go out. Keep the mind here. When it wanders, just gently return it to breath. This is the most basic of zen practices.

To guide you along, you can also just focus on your exhales. This gives your mind a little time to catch in some wandering on the inhale...just come back when you exhale. For an added adventure, especially if you want to connect with the energy that breaths you, is to be aware of the energy just before you exhale. Simply be aware of it...over and over. This is my preference.

If you feel frustrated doing zazen or find it useless it is because you are trying to use it to get something special. Life as it is right now is the special. It may be comfortable or uncomfortable, but the way of Zen is simply to be aware of it. The practice of Zazen is not an escape from reality, but a direct encounter with it. At times times times times tranquil. Reality is ever changing, as are you.

Practice is the only way. Recall Zen Master Bankei from the last post...'outside of the mind, there is no art of combat'. Your own mind is the battleground, and the number one rule when going into battle is to pay attention!

Take Care,
Sensei Dave

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Martial Lesson from Zen Master Bankei

Bankei was a Zen Master in the early 1600's. As a son of Ronin, he was also fiercely independent and challenged the overly ceremonial Zen of his time. Bankei was well known for simply telling people to trust in their innate Unborn Buddha Mind.

Today's post I am going to put in a response to a letter he received from a Martial Artist regarding the art of combat. Some of this will make total sense to you...other stuff you might be scratching your head and wondering what he is really saying. This is the stuff you are to explore.

Here's Bankei:

"In performing a movement, if you act with no-mind, the action will spring forth of itself. When your ki changes your physical form changes along with it. When you are carried away by force, that is relying on "self." To have ulterior thoughts is not in accordance with the natural.

When you act upon deliberation, you are tied to thought. The opponent can then tell the direction of your ki. If you try to steady yourself by deliberate effort, you ki becomes diffuse, and you may grow careless. When you act deliberately, your intuitive response is blocked; and if your intuitive response is blocked, how can the mirror mind appear?

When without thinking and without acting deliberately, you manifest the Unborn (my insert: Unborn can mean Emptiness) you won't have any fixed form. When you are without fixed form, no opponent will exist for you in the whole land. Not holding on to anything, there is no "you" and no "enemy." Whatever comes, you just respond, with no traces left behind.

Heaven and earth are vast, but outside mind there is nothing to seek. Become deluded, however, and instead this mind becomes your opponent. Apart from mind, there is no art of combat."

In Gassho,

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sanchin Basics

Attached is a picture of Master Uechi performing Sanchin Kata. This is the basic Sanchin Stance. What I want to point out today is the angle of the arms and absorbing a punch. Notice his arms are 45 degrees out from the body, elbows in and shoulders down. The only difference between how Master Uechi looks and what we do at the Broken Bokken is the hands. We practice with the palms turned out rather than in.

The purpose of palms turned out is that this becomes your self-defense posture that gives the body language of 'I am not here to fight'...but you are read to defend yourself. Also with the palms turned out the forearms are stronger for absorption of a punch without your own hands hitting you in the face.

In order to absorb a punch or elbow coming in a good 'root' is also valuable. Notice Master Uechi's back and legs. They are aligned physiologically for a great stable root. He would be very difficult to knock over.

Absorbing a punch to the head or torso with this stance is not a passive response. Your body and breath must be in align with your mind in an 'attack mode'. Absorbing a punch is not 'blocking' a punch. It is actively engaging it to disrupt the striker's purpose and restore harmony. Blocking and then responding is too slow. Absorbing a punch is part of a continuum of self-defense movement that must be experienced and practiced repetitively to get the feel of how to do it.

For an exercise at home...just stand in Sanchin and practice breathing (use your imagination) chi into your fingertips and into the bones of your fingers, right down to the marrow. Eventually breath chi into the bones of fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Just feel the chi move into the marrow and watch. Overtime your arms, hands and fingers will become very strong.

With practice you will be able to move chi all throughout your skeletal system.

Take Care...
Sensei Dave

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I finally realized I am not a Martial Artist!

Yes, I finally realized that I am not actually a Martial Artist. For decades I always thought of myself as a Martial Artist, but I was wrong. Of course, I practiced my Kata, kept in shape, studied philosophy, even dreamed of being a stealthy ninja in the the middle of the night. I now see how it is not me that truly practices Karate, but that it is Karate that expresses itself through me. I am the 'canvas', not the artist.

So, before you think I've gone totally bonkers, let me explain.

This might sound strange so I am going to try and keep it from getting too philosophical or mystical. Those of you who now practice the Martial Arts, if you are like me, have always been drawn to it. Remember the first time you ever saw a Karate or Judo demonstration and you told yourself you just had to do this? It was just so cool that nothing was going to get in your way of learning?

A few weeks ago while going through my personal library I came across the first Karate book I ever bought. I was 12 years old and I remembered mail-ordering it (no internet or back in the dark ages). It was called, "Super Karate". I read this book over and over. I was also fortunate our small public library in Rhinelander had a book on Kung Fu. I constantly renewed it and practice the techniques. The Martial Arts always intrigued me. It was as if it were calling out to me.

Fast forward forty plus years and I can see now how Karate actually was calling out to me. I can see now how Karate and/or Budo is actually the Artist...and I am the Canvas upon which Karate 'paints' its form. Yes, this does sound half-assed backwards, but if you reflect for a moment on how Karate or your respective art has changed you over the years, you will begin to understand what I am saying.

The typical understanding of an Artist is that they create, whether it be a painting, a statue, a piece of music or a book. Every artist has a medium for their art. We, as Martial Artists, tend to think that our medium is the style of Budo we practice, but this is not true. When you grasp 'Emptiness is form, form is emptiness', you begin to see how we are the medium by which Budo expresses itself! We are the canvas, the piece of granite, the musical instrument, the pen and paper. It is Budo that uses us for the expression of a side kick, hip throw, eye jab, or reverse punch, as well as the attributes of compassion, integrity, loyalty, honesty, etc.

Budo transforms us. Shapes us. Changes us into better people. We are the Art-form...not the Artist. Oh, well. Enough ramblings. Just chew on this for awhile. Keep up your 'practice' of the arts and soon you will realize you are not a martial artist either.

Be Well,
Sensei Dave

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Sanchin Testing: It's About Recovery

Karate styles that practice Sanchin Kata typically have 'testing'. Dependent on your teacher, testing has many lessons to teach us. On a physical level it conditions our bodies to take a punch or kick with less injury. For White Belts the slapping, punching and kicking is performed lightly and increases with intensity over time. By the time a student reaches Black Belt level it appears he or she is being beaten. Even though it looks brutal, it is very practical in terms of self-defense.

The testing of Sanchin Kata is also very important for the testing of the mind and it's ability to recover. People who are unaccustomed to being hit tend to 'freeze'' when hit and go into a panic mode. This type of pain is unfamiliar as they have never encountered it before and fear settles into their heart. At this point, their odds of escape are about zero.

Sanchin testing helps alleviate this fear. You learn how it feels to be punched...and you learn that you are okay. Your mind does not become unsettled. Overtime, the physical and mental recovery time is shorter and shorter. Your body and mind becomes accustomed to the contact and it ceases to be a struggle.

Being able to recover swiftly after receiving a blow is important, especially if you are surprised or blindsided with an attack. Quick recovery allows you to 'forget' about the body, stay calm and focus on your immediate purpose...defend (disrupt purpose) and escape (restore harmony).

One of my favorite stories about the effectiveness of Sanchin comes from a friend of mine, Mike Iott. Mike and I rose through the ranks together and he eventually became an MP (military police) in the Army. He related to me a time he had to arrest a soldier and upon trying to restrain him, the soldier punched Mike very hard. The soldier shouted proudly, "I got you!". Mike responded back, "Yes, you did, but the question you have to ask yourself is, 'Did you hurt me?'" After this the soldier went quietly.

So, even though Sanchin is usually taught as an exercise in physical conditioning, which it is also very important, if not more important, to your mental conditioning. The ability to mentally recover, in essence to regain your calm (the first battle) is more easily won by means of Testing.
Shihan Dean would also, during kumite, never allow us to stop fighting after we got hit. He would scream at us this is not a tournament and not point fighting. Never stop upon getting hit. Let it go and stay on your purpose. Same advice goes for life as well.

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Death, No Fear

A Thank You to Mr. Morales for his comment on my last post. He mentioned Fear as another enemy we face on a daily basis. These can be small fears, such as worry or anxiousness, or large fears, such as shear panic and fright. Regardless, it is an emotion, we as Martial Artists also need to know how to handle.

As we train in our respective arts, fear is usually what accompanies a self-defense situation. Mr. Morales' comment reminded me of one of Nonin's favorite Zen stories...and is also one of mine. I am not sure of the exact title, but I like to call it, 'The Samurai & the Monk.'

During the Feudal period of Japan, marauding Samurai would pillage villages and command allegiance from whomever they encountered. One village, upon hearing of an oncoming Samurai attack, fled as fast as they could, with one exception...a Zen Monk.

The General of the Samurai, upon entering the village and finding no-one to conquer and intimidate flew into a rage. Then he saw the Monk, sweeping the front of the temple's gate. Approaching the Monk he drew his sword and demanded the Monk to bow down to him in obedience. The Monk simply kept sweeping as if the General was not even there.

This angered the General intensely, and he screamed at the Monk, "Bow down to me. Aren't you aware that I am the kind of man who can cut off your head without blinking an eye!"

The Monk stopped sweeping, turned to the General and responded, "Aren't you aware that I am the kind of man whose head can be cut off without blinking an eye?"

With this the General was defeated. He withdrew his sword and left the village.

Wow, was all I could say when I first heard this story. To be so without that would be great! What was the Monk's secret that he had conquered Fear...the fear of death itself? He knew deep down within himself that there really is no death. Yes, of course this body we carry around fades away, but this is not our true self. Our true self is eternal. It is beyond this body and mind (remember 'form is emptiness, emptiness is form'...yes, that again).

The Monk's faith lead him to the realization that there is only life and life. Death is just a concept our ego has constructed to continue its drama inducing trance. Realizing our truer self, Death is no longer associated with Fear, for there is no death. Now, this must be a deep knowing. Use the idea of No Death, No Fear to help you rouse deep faith of your spiritual is eternal.
Zen Master Bankei (1622-1693) would tell people to simply trust in their Unborn Buddha nature. I recommend reading his work. Peter Haskel has a good translation entitled, "Bankei Zen".

Wayne Dyer, an author I quoted last post, often talks about how we are not human beings that possess a soul or spirit, but that we are spiritual beings having a human experience. It is our spirit that is eternal and can be realized through the practice of your Martial Art.

One more book to check out is Zen Master Hahn's book, "No Death, No Fear." Very enlightening and thought provoking.

Take Care...and again, if any question...please write or call.

Sensei Dave

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Remember Rule Number 6

The Bible of Karate, "The Bubishi", states that we are to let anger be our enemy. Not a knife carrying thug or foul-mouthed punk or someone who just wants to bash your head in for fun. Anger is to be what we need to defend against. Why?

Odds are most of us will never encounter a self-defense situation where we get to punch, kick or throw an assailant. So why practice?

Well, you see, Anger is a force that we meet daily. It comes in many forms, usually frustrations. I have a 12 year old son who doesn't like to get up in the morning. Very frustrating to get him going some days. Without awareness of this, my frustration can easily turn into a tyrade of yelling and screaming to get his butt moving. In short, anger has overtaken me. I have been attacked and it has won. I am out of control and operating from a place of self-centeredness and delusion.

The Martial Arts teaches us about awareness. There is the outer awareness of danger, but also the inner awareness of danger. Authentic Budo is about learning how to non-violently defend yourself as possible, but also to defend yourself against the inner attack of negative emotions that harm us. Anger, or any negative emotion, left unchecked for a period of time can cause physical distress and in some cases, even death. It raises your blood pressure, causes relational problems, legal problems and causes intense guilt for those who can't seem to control themselves. The writers of the Bubishi knew this.

At work recently, an incident happened that offended me and I could feel my frustration and anger starting to rise. This is when I remembered Rule Number 6. And I want to share it with it helped me to calm down and gently let anger go. I first read of Rule Number 6 from Wayne Dyer's book, "The Power of Intention". Rule Number 6 is explained with this story:

Two prime ministers are sitting in a room discussing affairs of state. Suddenly a man bursts in, apoplectic with fury, shouting and stamping and banging his fist on the desk. The resident prime minister admonishes him: "Peter," he says, "kindly remember Rule Number 6," whereupon Peter is instantly restored to complete calm, apologizes, and withdraws.

The politicians return to their conversation, only to be interrupted yet again twenty minutes later by an hysterical woman gesticulating wildly, her hair flying. Again, the intruder is greeted with words, "Marie, remember Rule Number 6." Complete calm descends once more, and she too withdraws with a bow and an apology.

When the scene is repeated a third time, the visiting prime minister addresses his colleague: "My dear friend, I've seen many things in my life, but never anything as remarkable as this. Would you share with me the secret of Rule Number 6?" "Very simple," replies the resident prime minister. "Rule Number 6 is 'Don't take yourself so goddamn seriously.'" "Ah," says his visitor, "that is a fine rule." After a moment of pondering, he inquires, "And what may I ask, are the other rules?"

"There aren't any."

What I love about this is so often, at times daily, our ego get bruised or feels offended because it can't get what it wants. It can take the form of feeling your reputation was harmed or someone simply cutting you off in traffic. Ego, in order to feel real, loves to create drama. Anger is one of its tricks to keep the drama going.

Rule Number 6 reminds me not to take myself, especially my small ego-self, too seriously. It help me to reconnect with the Peace of Sky (Kara) Mind. I can then just step back, watch and let go of the clouds of frustration, anger and revenge. Then peace prevails. Self-defense at its best.

Practice as if it is an internal Kata. You will have many opportunities to practice.

Hands palm to palm,

Sensei Dave

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Oops! Tensho Link didn't work so here is a book list.

Sorry the Tensho link didn't work on yesterday's post.

Do a search for 'Zen Shorindo' with Nathan Johnson. He has four video clips and go to the third of four. This is Tensho in action. Again, I highly recommend his book, "Barefoot Zen".

Since I am recommending a book, here are a few more that have influenced my thinking and approach to the Martial Arts.

"Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind." by Shunryu Suzuki

"The Tao of Jeet Kune Do" by Bruce Lee

"Small Circle Ju-jitsu" by Wally Jay

"Returning to Silence" by Dainin Katagiri

"Constructive Living"..."Playing Ball on Running Water"..."Pools of Lodging for the Moon" by David K. Reynolds, PhD

"Book of Five Rings" by Miyamoto Musashi (Thomas Cleary translation)

"Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu

Take Care,

Sensei Dave

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tensho Kata link

Tensho, or Turning Palms, Kata is a staple among many styles. It is very similar to Sanchin in that it is simple.

I have linked to a web site where you can see the application of Tensho for wrist grabs. I highly encourage all my students to get a copy of Nathan Johnson's "Barefoot Zen". It has some very good points about Kata practice and has been very influential to my thinking and interpretation of Kata as well.

The Link to the you tube is

If you have any questions just let me know. Enjoy the link and follow it to their website. Very interesting stuff.

Sensei Dave

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Karate: Pure Raw Potential

A few posts ago I discussed the meaning of Kara in Karate and the Zen concept of 'Emptiness is Form and Form is Emptiness'. I would like to add one more thought to this for you to chew on. I am going to try and keep this plain and simple, because it is one of those concepts where the more you say the more you sound like a raving lunatic. So, if you have questions about the following just send me an email or call.

Here goes:

Emptiness in the Japanese psyche can also represent 'Pure Creative Energy'. It can be thought of as a source of pure energy that creates form. When a thought is present within emptiness, emptiness then begins the process of creating form based on that thought. You and I are the result of a thought. If you just look at yourself or another all you tend to see is form. But because their is form, there is emptiness, because without emptiness there can be no form.

An example: When we say a gun is empty of bullets the common thought is that there are no more bullets. To use the 'Ku' or 'Kara' meaning of emptiness is to say that the gun never runs out of bullets. Because of Kara there is always the pure potential for more.

To think of Karate as Empty Hand, is to see that the Hand is empty of a true form and has the raw potential to take any shape it needs. The Hand is Pure Raw Potential (emptiness) to take the shape of the situation, whether you need to shape a fist, a palm heel strike, a knife hand, a spear hand, a one finger poke, a grab, etc. Emptiness is form, form is emptiness is to understand that the hand can be like a 'shapeshifter'. All you have to do is 'intend it' and the hand takes the form you desire...this comes from thought placed into emptiness. It becomes form, yet it is still emptiness.

Now ponder how this applies to your greater life other than just Karate and why it is so important to discipline your mind.

You are form and emptiness...your are emptiness and form. You are Pure Raw Potential.

Take Care,

Sensei Dave

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Battlefield, The Ring, The Street

At the Broken Bokken Dojo our primary focus is on street safe self-defense. Our lineage of Karate is traced all the way back to the Shaolin temples of China. Here the monks developed non-aggressive methods of defending themselves from thieves and marauders. Buddhist monks take a vow of not-killing, so their self-defense strategy had to be effective for their survival and the survival of the attacker. To kill someone would bring about bad karma and violate their vows of non-violence.

Even today we need to be able to defend ourselves reasonably and without excessive force. We also do not want to build bad karma and also we do not want to open ourselves to lawsuits and charges of disorderly conduct or manslaughter. So, our self-defense must not be about killing the opponent, but simply causing them enough discomfort so we can run away or maintain control until help arrives. Makes sense, right?

At the BBD, even though our primary 'arena' is the Street and not the Ring of professional fighting or the Battlefield, it does not mean we do not train in these 'arenas'.

In the Ring there are rules of engagement and intense training is needed to develop cardiovascular as well as physical strength. You are also fighting a trained fighter. Your intent is to knock them out or make them 'tap out' from pain. This type of training, even though most us will never fight in a ring, is still important for us. This type of practice helps with rounding us out and can help with our street survival skills. What I always appreciated about my kickboxing days was that it helped me to develop an eye and reflexes for 'fight speed' and increase confidence in my skills.

Battlefield training is about killing. Pure and simple. It is developed for the complete and total annihilation of your opponent. Another difference between Battlefield training and the ring and street is that on the Battlefield you are typically armed with a weapon...and so is your foe. For the Samurai it was the Sword and for our modern military, guns, bombs, tanks, planes, etc. This is a whole different mentality than street survival based on humanistic ethics. There are some dojo's where street survival skills are taught with a kill or be killed mentality, but this type of mentality, as I mentioned, could put you in jail. Realistically, for most of us, we will never be in a life and death struggle with a crazed assailant. To have this mentality with someone simply trying to steal your purse or wallet can set you up for a life of misery.

Having said this, we still simulate the battlefield mentality with our swordsmanship and weapons training. This also helps sharpen our eyes and skills, especially if our opponent is carrying a knife or a gun. We must be prepared for this scenario on the street....because in a kill or be killed do have the right to use reasonable force to survive.

So, even though we are primarily concerned with street-wise self-defense, our training must also include the Ring and The Battlefield. This helps round us out and gives us an appreciation of the variety and diversity of martial arts. It also helps us realize the sanctity of human life so we can take all the precautions to master our art-form to be able to defend ourselves as non-violently as possible. This is the Shaolin Way...and the Way of Karate as well.

Be Well,

Sensei Dave

Friday, November 7, 2008

Healers Among Us

I just posted a picture of our two new Black Belts and the November Board of Review (plus Tia). As I was looking at the picture I noticed something. Most of us make our living in the healing professions or are associated with a healing institution. As you are most likely aware, many Martial Artists have made their living as healers, mostly be default. We have a wonderful knowledge of the human body and are aware of its strengths and weakenesses. Over the years we will also sustain more injuries than the average person and must know how to heal and self-manage pain.

Many of the old masters in the martial arts made their living as bonesetters, herbalists, acupuncturists, etc. They were well-versed in Traditional Chinese Medicine and many of its modalities. The same applies today. Let's look at who is in the picture and their healing arts.

I will start at the top row with Tyler Albertson, Sr. Although he does not make his living as a healer, he is well versed in Jin Shin Do and if you have ever received a session from him you know his Qi is strong. He also has great intuition.

Then there is me. I am one of those Psycho-therapists and use a variety of Qi-based and Meditative Arts in my practice.

Next is Dan Lutsey. He is a Massage Therapist and Reiki Practitioner out of Green Bay. He also has great Qi. He almost put me to sleep with a great neck and shoulder routine at the Fu Chen get-together last May.

His better half, Jen, works at ThedaCare...I believe in Telecommunications. (Jen...If I am wrong just let me know). ThedaCare is one of Wisconsin's largest health care providers.

Kristy (Schilling) Yee is an MD. She is in General Practice and also delivers a lot of babies in Decorah, Iowa. Kneeling in front of her is Phil Yee, her husband, also an MD and a surgeon. (We won't let him handle knives in the dojo...too scary).

Next to Phil's right is Verna Micik. She is a Surgical Tech at Shawano Medical Center...and the proud owner of a new Black Belt! Next to Verna is her son, Rick, who is a freshman at UW-Stevens Point. He is planning on becoming a teacher...which I include as healers.

Not to forget Tyler, Jr. He is a junior in High School and a new Black Belt as well. Tia is an 8th grader in Middle School. They have a great future ahead of them and are also learning healing and meditative arts.

Well, that's it. Just wanted to point this out as an observation that there are healers among us...and that the traditions of Healing and Martial Arts continue to travel together.

Be Well,
Sensei Dave

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Getting Bored?

A beginning Zen student complained to his master that the meditation practice of following the breath was boring. The Zen master unexpectedly grabbed the student and held his head under water for quite a long time while the student struggled to come up. Finally, he let the student go.

"Now how boring is your breath?" he asked.

I love this story, especially when I find my own zazen practice going 'stale' or I am finding it harder and harder to get out of bed in the morning to go and sit. It is very important for all of us to be aware of when we are getting bored with our practice of the martial arts or meditative arts. The simple things, like breathing, are essential. Without our breath, we would die.

To meditate upon our inhales and exhales is to study the very nature of our life and death. It is to see life and death with each breath, with each step we take, with each time we practice Sanchin. To see the ebb and flow of life and death in our daily lives and practice of the arts is the very essence of Zen...and freedom from suffering.

And, yes, at times Zen and Sanchin Kata is very boring. Our 'ego' or 'small mind' loves drama and wants us to have lots of excitement to feel alive. Without drama the ego feels threatened. Zen practice is also about seeing through this delusion and deception. To study the simple, basic and rudimentary levels of life, such as the breath, is to connect with the very essence of being alive and realizing true inner freedom. The same goes for the practice of the very rudimentary aspects of Karate, such as Sanchin. Sanchin is simply a moving Zen practice. Simple, plain and ordinary.

Shunryu Suzuki, a famous Zen Master, once stated that Zen is not some special excitement about life, but simply the concentration on the basics of life itself. Yes, not too exciting, but with daily practice, very liberating. So, I encourage you to perservere in the face of boredom. See boredom as an adversary that needs to be vanquished...and the best way to destroy boredom is to enter into it...accept it...and stay the course of your daily practice of sitting or martial arts. Boredom, like all things, are transitory like floating clouds. Remember, this too shall pass.

Take Care,

Sensei Dave

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Sword That Can Take or Give Life.

Many of you who know me, hear me often speak about how our Mind is a Dojo...and how it contains 'Mind-Swords'. These Mind-Swords, just like the Katana, Wakazashi and Tanto, are just as sharp and capable of either protecting you or harming you. It depends on how you use them and how you train yourself in their use.

Let's say, for example, that you come into the Broken Bokken Dojo and the very first day I hand you a razor-sharp Katana, give you some rudimentary idea of how to sheath the sword and let you practice. Odds are, in a few moments, you are going to be heading to the ER hoping they can reattach your thumb. Without proper training in the use of this sword damage will happen.

The same goes for your Mind. Your Imagination is perhaps one of the most powerful weapons your mind has...and I correlate it with the Katana. Remember a moment, perhaps in school, or at work, you are called to the principal's office or to your boss' office. What's the first thought you have? I am guessing it goes something like this, "What did I do wrong" or "I hope I am not in trouble".

You are allowing your Imagination to run away with you and it is causing you harm...perhaps a headache, nervous anxiety or upset stomach. Your Mind-Sword is 'cutting you' because you have not trained it properly. Just like a real sword, if you allow this Mind-Sword to run wild, it can kill you. I work with people who have allowed their Imagination to run wild and it has effected their life causing severe anxiety and depression to the point of attempting suicide. It is imperative, especially for Martial Artists, to understand how powerful your mind is.

Just as there are proper techniques and procedures to train yourself in the use of a Katana, there are proper techniques and procedures to train your Imagination. Remember, the Katana is the Sword that can either take life or give it. The same goes for your Imagination. Are you letting it cause you disease or health? Anxiety or Peace? Worry or Confidence? It is up to you to train and use your Mind-Swords properly. This is what Zazen, Hypnosis, Qigong and your Kata are all about. These are training procedures to sharpen and help you maintain control of your most lethal mind-sword, the Imagination. When coupled with the proper use of your Emotions and Faith a whole new world can open up for you.

In future posts, I will do my best to give you tips so you can train your Mind-Swords and to understand why Budo is about 'Ceasing the Struggle'. In other words, how to keep your Mind-Swords sheathed and at rest, and what that can mean for you on a deep and personal level. Until then, if you have any questions, please let me know.

Hands palm to palm,

Sensei Dave

Monday, November 3, 2008

Congratulations to Verna & Tyler!

Verna Micik and Tyler Albertson, Jr are now Yudansha in the Broken Bokken Dojo! They passed their Black Belt (Shodan) testing with flying colors (mostly black & blue) on November 1st.

I want to extend my Thank You to the Review Board of Zen Goshindo Black Belts...Phil Yee, Kristy Yee, Tyler Albertson and Rick Micik. Also in attendance, two dear friends and Shorei Kempo Black Belts, Jen and Dan Lutsey. Thanks for your support.

Karate and the Martial Arts are truly a family event. Verna's son, Rick achieved Shodan last year, along with Tyler Albertson, Sr. And now 'Little Tyler' (even tho he's taller than all of us) is Shodan as well. These two families have been with me since Day One, nine years ago. The Albertson's also have one more member of the family coming swiftly up the ranks...Tia. Watch out for her. She's getting good!

The Yee's from Decorah, Iowa and the Lutsey's from Omro, Wisconsin are two married couples who share the love of Budo as well. I'm fortunate to have a brother in the martial arts, Shorei Kempo Master, Robert Nelson. Bob couldn't be at the testing because he was soaking up some sun in Orlando with his family, who also practice the arts. It's great to have close family members in the arts...and then also our Budo family.

Martial Artists share a great common bond and friendship that is hard to describe, but once you become a Martial Artists you have 'family' where ever you go. It's great!

I also want to thank Andy Johnson and Tia Albertson for assisting in the Testing as well. Their help is appreciated.

As soon as I figure out the technology for getting my pictures on this blog I will do so. I wasn't successful last evening, so I will try again. I am still a White Belt at this stuff!

One last comment. During the padded sword play were defining moments for both. Tyler made sure I didn't have any more hands left as he swiftly and adeptly made cuts to my wrists (now bruises). Verna simply made sure I wasn't coming after her any more. During a clash she kicked me in the bladder and when I bent over all I could feel was the sword against the back of my neck! Great job to both!

Take Care....and again, Congratulations Verna and Tyler!

Sensei Dave

ps. Anyone with pictures from the event, please send them to me as I want to post some of the photos.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Two Teachers: Same Lesson

I have been blessed to have two great teachers in my life. Karate Master Paul Dean and Zen Master Nonin Chowaney. Their insights have been woven into my personal experiences and as I teach I can 'hear' their voices in my head telling me what to do. I have found it interesting that both teachers taught me a very important and same lesson. Both of them preferred depth of knowledge and simplicity.

Shihan Dean always emphasized keeping self-defense very simple and very direct...and more importantly to practice it until you no longer have to think it. It always was more important to stick to what he called the 'bread and butter' of the art, and that is straight and simple techniques, without a lot of fluff. We kept doing the same stuff over and over and over.

At times, as I was advancing in rank, I often thought our style must not be too much because we didn't have a lot of techniques as other styles, especially the flashy stuff. I sort of had an inferiority complex going on. I had the mistaken belief that knowing lots of techniques means your good. This is not the case. Now that I have a few decades under my belt I now know it is better to be really good at one thing or technique than moderately good at a hundred. From this one you can know the others much more intimately and can flow into them without even thinking. They just 'happen'.

This leads me to Zen Master Nonin Chowaney. In Zen, especially Soto Zen, we emphasize Zazen, or Sitting Meditation. This is pretty much all we do. Sit, sit then sit some more. Zen is about simplicity and keeping your life basic and ordinary. Nonin, just like Shihan Dean, emphasized a simple practice of the basics, in this case zazen. It is to be done over and over until non-thinking occurs. Dogen Zenji, the founder of Soto Zen, when asked what is Zen, he answered, "Not thinking." This happens only through repetition. Now, don't go chasing after 'not-thinking'. If you've read the post Kata is Useless you will understand, if not, go and reread it.

Not-thinking is not a mindless activity, but a mindful activity. Tying your shoes, for many of us, is a mindless activity. We've done it so many times we don't think about, in fact, many aren't even aware they tie their shoes.

Karate and Zen are about being Mindful of what you do, but without 'thinking' or 'judgement'. It is about being here in the moment with full attention of mind and body. This lesson from both of my teachers in life has helped me grow in the martial arts and in my personal life. However, it has come only by doing the simple things in the martial arts, like Sanchin Kata....over and over and over and over, and Zazen...over and over and over and over.

By teaching me to have a real 'depth' to my activities, as opposed to being seduced by 'breadth', I am less prone to being 'uprooted' from my center. It makes my life...and karate....very simple, yet very, very full. I can't explain it in words. All I can do is encourage you to keep practicing day after day...and then you start getting some aha's. And when you do, keep practicing...they just keep coming as you go deeper and deeper with simplicity and repetition. Just have some faith.

Take Care,

Sensei Dave

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Let's Talk Sanchin

This is a recycled post from 2007.  I hope you enjoy...then I will be back with more chakra-bushido info.

Today I want to cover some nuts and bolts about Sanchin Kata...or 'Three Battles' Kata. As most of you are aware there are many interpretations of what these three battles are. The one I am going to discuss today are the Three Battles of:
1. Keeping Calm
2. Disrupting Your Opponent's Purpose.
3. Restoring Harmony.

In any confrontation, whether you are facing an armed or unarmed assailant, keeping your mind, body and spirit calm and collect is the first major battle you face. Your adrenalin begins to rush, thoughts become invasive, especially the fearful ones and your knees might even begin to shake a bit. These are normal sensations you experience under stress as your body prepares to either fight or run.

Your second battle is disrupting your opponent's purpose. Usually his purpose is to hurt you to get something, whether it is money, valuables or revenge. Sanchin Kata prepares your body to respond intelligently to whatever your opponents does. He might grab you, punch at you, try to stab you...your job is to respond and make his mind go "oops". When his mind goes "oops" he is off balance. The Japanese term for unbalancing your opponent is 'kuzushi'.

After kuzushi you are now facing your third battle and that is to restore harmony. Restoring harmony can mean you run away, control him or slam his stupid head into the pavement. Whatever you need to do. Running away is always the preferred third tends to keep you out of court for disorderly conduct or battery charges. Yes, even if you are defending yourself you can be charged. We'll talk about this subject soon as well.

A Gyoji, or Daily Exercise, for you today is related to the First Battle of Sanchin, keeping calm. Practice standing in Sanchin Stance with hands up for five minutes minimum and 'root'. Rooting is simply using your imagination (your mind-sword's katana) and imagine growing roots out of the bottom of your feet, like a tree, and allowing these roots to dig deep and and wide. Send those roots down into the earth and practice feeling the calmness of just 'being here' standing with hands up and rooting. This is to get your subconscious mind to associate calmness and groundeness with yourself in Sanchin position.

After this, get yourself a circular rug or a hula hoop or a rope and make a circle on the floor. This is your 'circle of power'. What you do next is step into your circle and assume Sanchin Dachi (stance) and root. Then with your eyes, focus over your fingertips. Stand in the circle for about 30 seconds and really feel the root and calm. Then step out of the circle and shake off the stance and feeling. Maybe do three jumping jacks or squats. Then step back into the circle and repeat the Sanchin Dachi and root. Stand for 30 seconds and then step out and shake off the experience. Do this on and off for about 5 -7 minutes. Then periodically throughout the day, assume a Sanchin Stance and if you are doing this well, calmness and focus happen automatically.

What you are doing is training your mind, body and spirit to get centered, calm and ready for action instantaneously as soon as you get into Sanchin Dachi. Sanchin Dachi is your trigger for an automatic relaxed, yet focused and centered state of being. Practice as often as you can. The results are worth the effort. It is important to have this First Battle on auto-pilot so you don't have to think about it...because in a real-life altercation, rational thinking is too slow and by the time you tell yourself to calm down his fist has connected to your temple.

So, take the time to practice this very important part of your art. You will be glad you did.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Musashi's Fifth Ring: Ku No Maki

In his book, The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi lays out his treatise on warfare and life. His fifth Ring, or Scroll, is entitled "Ku No Maki" or "The Book of Emptiness". Why is the important to us in Karate? Because the word Ku, or Emptiness, is also pronounced Kara, as in Karate. Kara also means Empty or Emptiness.

If you have been following my other posts you will have learned that Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Karate, named the art, "Karate or The Empty Hand" based on the Zen saying, "Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form". Musashi states in his Fifth Scroll. "The meaning of ku is emptiness; that which cannot be known is ku. Of course, ku is emptiness. By knowing form, one knows emptiness. This, in short, is ku."

Ku is what ties our Zen Goshindo together when we speak of Five Rings, Three Battles, One Path. Ku (Kara) is highly valued by Musashi, Funakoshi and Zen traditions. As I wrote earlier Ku is difficult to grasp conceptually, but it does not mean you can't understand it. I encourage you to read my earlier posts again.

Musashi speaks of ku as very important to a martial artist, or bushi. "For a bushi, knowing the path of Military Science with certainty, acquiring skill in the other martial arts, understanding clearly the road to be followed by the bushi, having no illusions in your heart, honing your wisdom and willpower, sharpening your intuitive sense and your powers of observation day and night; when the clouds of illusion have cleared away, this is to be understood as the true ku."

He also, like my Zen teacher would say, "Make your mind like the sky. Let the clouds come and go. Just watch and your illusions will vanish." This is also key to any martial artist, whether they practice Karate, Aikido or Kempo. Musashi also goes on to say, "...with a straighforward spirit as your foundation, and an honest heart as your path, practice your martial art broadly. It is important to judge life clearly and correctly. Make ku your path, and your path as ku. In ku there is good, and there is no evil. When there is wisdom, reason and the Way, there is ku."

Within our Karate, Swordsmanship and Zen practice is the opportunity to experience ku. It is not some other worldly concept, but the simple practice of being mindful of what you do. Form (what you do) is ku. Ku is form. Just watch. Just do.

Hands palm to palm,


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Kata is Useless!

Yes, Kata is useless...but let me explain.

After posting yesterday about Bowing in I began to have more thoughts about Karate practice as Zen practice. My post today is to help you understand how to keep your Karate practice a Pure Zen Art and not just a means to defend yourself, get in shape or develop inner discipline. Zen practice is not about those things.

Zen Master Dainin Katagiri would often talk about how useless Zen is. Whenever I heard or read this I would ask myself, "Then why do it?" After practicing Zen and Karate for some time now I sort of understand what he is talking about...and he is right! I then could also see how Karate's Kata are also useless.

For most of us, we come to Karate to improve ourselves. We want to develop a set of self-defense skills or we are seeking inner peace. We then end up using Karate and Kata as a means to an end. For instance, most styles of Karate have many kata, and to get your next color belt you have to learn a kata. So, the kata is a means to get your next belt. It is a means to an end. Same goes for Zazen, or Zen meditation. People who meditate are using Zazen in hopes of obtaining 'enlightenment' or lowering blood pressure or just seeking some inner peace.

To practice these forms as a means to an end is impure practice of your -Do. If you practice Goshindo, Karate-do, Judo or even TaeKwonDo, with the purpose of getting something, like your Black Belt, your practice of these arts is actually impure and not in line with ancient wisdom. Ancient Wisdom is about realizing inner peace...relief from suffering. It cannot be done with a split mind. I want to point out I did not say 'obtain' inner peace. It is not something you go and get like milk at the grocery store. I used the word 'realize'. It is an unfolding of what already is.

Pure Zen practice is to be aware and mindful of whatever you are doing with full undivided attention! That is it.

Zen and Kata are to be practiced this way. To practice Zazen is to just sit with full attention of your breath. That is it. Whatever happens happens. You then take care of what happens next, until the next happening and so on. Same with Kata. Practice Kata with full attention here and now. Your next belt happens...or not. But to practice with one eye on your kata and the other looking for your result is not pure Zen practice. Your mind is divided and your practice is impure. When your mind is divided your life actually becomes complicated and you suffer. Why? Because it creates the illusion that achieving your future goal is better than where you are now.

For instance, what happens when a football player turns his head to look up field to the end zone just before the thrown football reaches his hands? He misses the ball and doesn't score, right?
He now suffers (and so do the fans). His mind was divided between catching the ball and scoring a touchdown. The proper way is to keep the eyes on the ball, catch it, then run. Maybe a touchdown happens. How many times have you heard football coaches say, "Just take care of the ball". Very Zen.

Remember the 'Kara' of Karate from my earlier blog? Kara or Emptiness is to have the 'Sky Mind' of just watching. The Sky is not bothered by the passing clouds. We pay attention to what is here and now and take responsibility for what is in front of us, whether it is comfortable or uncomfortable. We are just here. Looking to 'get' something from your Zen or Kata practice is to miss the point of your -Do. And you will suffer.

Just be here. Now. Make your Kata useless for 'getting' something in the future. Do not make it a means to an end. Your Kata is it! It is the gateway to realizing all that you have been seeking. But don't seek it. Just do it.

Hands palm to palm,

Sensei Dave

ps...for my direct students. Why have I centered you on Sanchin Kata all these years? Maybe a good Black Belt test question.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bowing In and Out Ceremony

At the Broken Bokken Dojo we have a bowing in ceremony which is part of our Reishiki, or Etiquette. As most of you are aware, bowing is not a form of worship, but a sign of respect for each other. It is a recognition of our unity in the Dojo and as part of our collective humanity.

Many of you have asked what is the meaning of the Bowing In Ceremony and why do we do it this way. Dependent upon the dojo or style of martial art, you will find different bowing in ceremonies. Some very formal and others not so formal. At the Broken Bokken Dojo we are a bit more formal in line with my Zen training.

So here is the Bowing In Ceremony with the Japanese first, then the English translation. Starting from all students lined up properly, Sensei shouts,

Claps three times....Signifies beginning of meditation

"Mokuso"................Meditation (begin meditation)
Claps two times....Ends meditation...signals beginning of bowing in and workout.

"Shomen ni taishite ni rei".......Expressing our gratitude to the Front which symbolizes all the masters who have gone before us.

"Sensei ni taishite ni rei".....Expressing gratitude to Sensei

"Yudansha ni taishite ni rei"....Expressing gratitude to Black Belts

"Dojo ni taishite ni rei"......Expressing gratitude to Dojo and Students


The Bowing Out Ceremony

"Mokuso".........Begin meditation

Clap Once to end meditation and class

"Zarei"..............Seated bow

"Domo Arigato Gozamasu Mini-san" .............Thank you very much Students
(usually I do this in English)

"Domo Arigato Gozamasu Sensei"............Thank you very much Sensei

And that's it.

In terms of the clapping and number of times...Clap three times corresponds with beginning three bells in a Zen temple for beginning meditation.

Two claps ends meditation to do an active Zen practice, such as the workout.

One clap ends meditation and/or workout.

Hands Palm to Palm,

Sensei Dave

Friday, October 10, 2008

Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness. The Meaning of Karate.

Karate Master Gichin Funakoshi, to set apart his Martial Art from Chinese Boxing and Okinawan 'Te', called it Karate. In his book, Karate-do Kyohan, he writes, "because of the frequent confusion with Chinese Boxing, and the fact that the Okinawan martial art may now be considered a Japanese martial art, it is inappropriate, and in a sense degrading, to continue the use of 'Chinese' in the name. For this reason, in spite of many protests, we have abandoned the use of 'Chinese' to replace it with 'Kara'."

Master Funakoshi goes on to write, "The first connotation of 'kara' indicates that karate is a technique that permits one to defend himself with his bare hands and fists without weapons. Second, just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, or the quiet valley that echoes a sound, so must one who would study Karate-do purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can he understand that which he recieves. This is another meaning of the element 'kara' in Karate-do."

And finally, he states, " a fundamental way, the form of the universe is emptiness (kara), and, thus, emptiness is form itself. There are many kinds of martial arts....but at a fundamental level all these arts rest on the same basis as Karate-do. It is no exaggeration to say that the original sense of Karate-do is at one with the basis of all martial arts. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself. The 'kara' of Karate-do has this meaning."

Wow! Lots there. Master Funakoshi in using 'kara' helped the Japanese accept Karate-do as their own. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form is a central concept and part of the Japanese psyche as it comes from Zen Buddhism, more specifically "The Heart Sutra" that is chanted in Zen Buddhist temples every morning.

Dainin Katagiri, my Zen teacher's master, would often state that the teaching of 'emptiness' is quite difficult to understand, but the teaching is very important for us. Katagiri Roshi states that "Emptiness is that which enables us to open our eyes to see directly what being is. If after careful consideration we decide to do something that we believe is the best way, from the beginning to the end we should do our best....We should take full responsibility for the results of what we have done, but the final goal is that we shouldn't be obsessed with the result, whether good or evil or neutral. This is called emptiness. This is the most important meaning of emptiness."

So, Karate-do is about defending yourself with no weapons, but it also about being 'here and now' and giving your full and undivided attention to your tasks...and not be attached to the results, but be responsible. As Nonin Roshi, my teacher, would teach us, our Big Mind is like the sky. It is not bothered by the clouds. It is just sky. It watches.

The kanji for 'kara' and 'ku', another way to say emptiness, are the same. Ku is likened to the sky and often translated as such. Sky is big and reflective. It sees everything, but stays non-attached. It is not bothered by the passing clouds (which is symbolic of our thoughts, emotions and actions).

So, to practice Karate-do for defense of the body is one level of training. The deeper level is to practice it as a form of enlightened action. It is a Zen practice liberating the practitioner from inner suffering, the highest form of self-defense. Master Funakoshi surely knew what he was doing when he used the term 'kara' to name his art form.

If you questions, or want more info, just leave a comment or email me.

Take Care,
Sensei Dave

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Classical versus Traditional Martial Arts

A few months ago, one of my students felt bad because someone told her Zen Goshindo was not a 'real' karate system. That it was just made up. Well, here is some good news that I hope will help.

I always get a good laugh when martial artists begin to talk about how traditional their style is and how it has stayed true to the founding artist of the style. I also chuckle when they say Zen Goshindo is not a traditional style of karate because it is eclectic and borrows from other systems.

Let's take a journey back into time and take a quick look at the formation of Karate, more specifically Shotokan. It is the first Japanese Karate system and its founder, Gichin Funakoshi, coined the term 'karate'. Prior to that, karate in Okinawa was known as 'te' or simply 'hand'. It was also known as "Chinese Hand" referencing influences from Chinese Kung fu. In fact, Shotokan is an eclectic formation of Kung fu, Okinawan 'te' and Japanese culture. It was formed shortly after WWII.

You see, modern day Karate was formed and developed into 'systems' after WWII, mostly because martial artists recognized an economic value in developing systems they could sell. So, what I call Classical Systems, were formed during this time. It was a time of economic hardship in Japan and to make a living many of the old Masters taught US Serviceman. To be competitive they needed to have a 'system' that could be reproduced.

Some of these systems were Shotokan, Goju-ryu, Shorin-ryu and Uechi-ryu. Other smaller systems existed, but these are the major players, or I should say, the ones that survived economically. These are the ones I also call, 'frozen in time', as they try to maintain the original teachings of the founder. These systems also competed for students and didn't always get along.

Zen Goshindo Karate is not a Classical Style frozen in time. It is a living, breathing Traditional Style based on Eclectism, just like Karate was prior to WWII! (Note: I am not slamming Classical Styles for sticking to original formats or having economic success...for without them we would not be where we are today)

All systems of Karate are mixed or eclectic in nature. Take Isshin-ryu for an example. Isshin-ryu Karate, which Zen Goshindo evolved from, is an eclectic form of Goju and Shorin-ryu, developed by Shimabuku Sensei. It is now considered Classical as well, but took many years for the Japanese to accept it.

It is Traditional to be Eclectic. Many of the old masters, such as Funakoshi, Shimabuku, Miyagi (Goju), Oyama (KyokushinKai), studied with different teachers and systems until forming their own. Zen Goshindo Karate is such a style.

One of my teacher's teachers was Tadashi Yamashita of Shorin-ryu fame. He told Master Dean, "We are in America now. Go steal all the techniques you can." He was returning us to the pre-WWII days when it was acceptable to go and learn all you could from whom you could find. And this is what Master Dean told me to do. Which I did.

What many of the Japanese Master's loved about coming to America was the openess and freshness of students. Even the Zen masters who came to the states would comment on how Zen is fresher and in line with the Zen spirit than in Japan where it had gotten stylized and rigid.

Zen Goshindo Karate is proudly a Traditional, and yes, Eclectic system of Karate that traces its lineage through the Classical Systems all the way back to the Shaolin Temple of China. So, when anyone says Zen Goshindo Karate is not "real" or Traditional, just say 'Thank You' and perhaps they will allow you to enlighten them.

Take Care,

Sensei Dave

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Five Rings. Three Battles. One Path.

Last night while thinking about adding a blog for the BBD, I got to wondering about a caption or motto for the dojo. As I was brainstorming, 5 Rings, 3 Battles, 1 Path popped into my head. So, I am throwing it out there for my students...and non-students if it makes sense to them and if we need to adopt it as our 'motto'...and put it on a patch. So, what are the five rings, three battles and one path?

The famous Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, wrote in 1645, the book, "Gorin No Sho", or "The Book of Five Rings." It is his written treatise on swordsmanship as well as how to handle your life. It is derived from his personal experience mixed with deep philosophical and pscyhological underpinnings. In future blogs, I will go over the Five Rings and discuss their relevance to today's martial artists.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a Sanchin Kata fanatic, perhaps bordering lunacy. Sanchin, for those who are not aware, is Karate's oldest kata. Sanchin translates as "Three Battles." The interpretation of what those three battles are have been lost in time. Dependent upon the instructor you speak with, you will get a different interpretation of those three battles. Future blogs will go over how it is interpretated in Zen Goshindo Karate.

The One Path. This is Zen. Zen practice to be exact. This is the path beyond concepts, words and images. It is the path of directly encountering reality in its exact 'suchness'. Also, future blogs will address Zen practice and its relevance to the practice of Budo.

So, the Blog begins.

Hope to hear from you.

Sensei David Nelson
Chief Instructor
Zen Goshindo Karate
The Broken Bokken Dojo