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.