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

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