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