Thursday, December 31, 2009

Naihanchi on the Ground

About fourteen years ago I had published an article on Naihanchi Kata in "The World of Martial Arts" magazine. It showed how the principles of Naihanchi can relate to some ground self-defense when you have someone in your guard and they begin to punch you.

I have done my best to show you Naihanchi Shodan (Tekki/Naifuchin) standing and the ground comparison. If any questions...ask...and explore this for yourself. The concepts are more important than the exact technique. Hope this makes sense to you all.

One photo on the ground is is with the first 'wave kick'. This is a push on the attacker's hip to move him down so as to execute the second 'wave kick' which wraps around the head and pulls the attacker down into an arm bar.

In the white Gi is Chris Hadfield...he came to me with almost a decade of jujitsu and ninjutsu training. In the black Gi is Mike Mullin, or Iron Mike, as we call him. Tough as nails. He's the guy I mentioned who defended himself against three attackers in one of my other posts. The guy standing is me...with black hair even!

Take Care...and Have a Happy New Year!

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sky Mind

This morning, with coffee cup in hand, I was standing at my back patio door looking out at the sky. Clouds were rolling across rather quickly displaying the sky from time to time.

My mood when approaching the patio door was rather subdued and I was feeling a sense of sadness. I don't know why I felt this way. But when I watched the clouds roll across the face of the sky I remembered an old Zen saying: 'The Sky is not bothered by the passing clouds.' I began to feel better and ceased to be bothered by my own rolling clouds.

It's amazing how therapeutic it is to just be the sky.

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zen Koan Defense

Last evening I received a phone call from Andy, a martial artist who is currently out in Los Angeles. He is a Shorei Kempo student out of Green Bay and would come to study with us from time to time.

Andy is very inquisitive and loved discussing koans and using words as a self-defense tool to freeze the opponent's mind. It makes sense since he is a linguist and contracts with the military.

Well, Andy is around 28 years old and he stated he was out on a date and around 4 in the morning they were out and wanted some gum. They stopped at a gas station, which he sort of knew he shouldn't cause it wasn't in the best neighborhood, but he did. When he went in, four males confronted him on what he was doing and threw some racist and harassing words at him. One of them began approaching him asked what was he doing here...

Andy said his heart was beating and his mind was racing and all of a sudden he said, "I am coming from church." The fellow asking the question looked at him like, 'huh' and all of sudden they were his buddies. He got his gum and left.

Andy said they either couldn't figure out what he was talking about or they had a healthy respect for Jesus. He was just glad everything worked out and he and his date were able to leave without harm. He said he had to call me to tell me about his Zen Koan Defense and its effectiveness...and to thank me for the lesson. The real lesson learned is not to get gum in a bad part of LA at 4 am...unless you just came from church.

Hands palm to palm,

pic from Gahan Wilson


As a majority of the world enters into the holiday season, whether it be Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hannukah, Winter Solstice, etc., the Buddhist community finished its December 'holiday' earlier this month.

December 8th, or Rohatsu (8th day of 12th month) celebrates the day Gautama Buddha achieved complete and unsurpassed enlightenment.

Different Buddhist sects celebrate differently. In Soto Zen we honor the time with a 7 day Sesshin. Yep...we sit on our butts for seven days and stare at the wall! Now, I didn't do this myself this year, but I do honor the day with some extra time sitting zen and giving thanks. Typically, sitting begins December 1st and ends the 8th...although it can be held on different days.

Just had a few moments and this crossed my mind so I thought I would post it.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Discipline the Mind

Open your hand right now. How did that happen? Make a fist now...and now point with your index finger...and now make a claw. How do you do this? With intent. Your mind's intent shapes the nature of your hand.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Art of Karate...the Empty Hand...on one level means you have no weapon in your hand....on a deeper level, the Hand open symbolizes Pure Raw Potential of Ku/Kara, or Emptiness. When you have an intention it shapes the open hand into what you need as a Martial Artist.

It can be a club, a fist, a claw, a gripper, a pointer, a flesh tearer, a knife hand and the list goes on. Since Karate-do is a microcosm of life it is important to understand that your life, just like your hand, is shaped by your mind's intentions. In many ways your mind's intent shapes your life into either a life of bliss or living hell. It depends on how you want to shape it!

Just something to think about. Buddha taught basically three things: 1. Do good things. 2. Avoid doing bad things. 3. Discipline the mind.

I have always contended when you take care of number 3 the first two are no longer needed. Just something to think about.

Hands palm to palm,

photo: Greybolt/flikr

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ohhh's or Aha's...which do you prefer?

In my last post I put up a koan that has been spinning in my head for over 20 years. Now, I am not much of a koan guy nor classically trained in them. In Soto Zen our central practice is Shikantaza...just sitting zen. However, this one koan, 'Why is a mouse when it spins?' tickles my brain for some reason, so I dwell on it from time to time.

Now, I have a certain understanding of this koan, which I am sure a Rinzai Zen Master would not accept, but what the #@%^, I really don't care. For myself this koan has helped me see 'sideways'. This is all I can say about that, without sounding totally like I just flew in from Venus.

One thing I have come to know about koans, is that there are two experiences you can have with them. One is the , "Oh, I See" experience. This is when the koan is sort of explained to you. Your intellect grabs onto it and says it understands, but this is limited understanding.

What is more important, at least from my limited and extremely delusional perspective, is the 'Aha' experience. This occurs when you can 'see' the koan in its wholeness and get the 'feeling' behind it. Your whole body feels it. You may have the same answer as the person who gets the 'Oh, I see' experience, but your understanding is authentic as it comes from a deeper place within you.

It's similar to solving a word in a crossword puzzle you have struggled with without using a dictionary or asking for help. It pops into your head and you go, 'aha!' When you use the dictionary you get the 'oh, I see' is a bit unsatisfying.

My karate teacher, Mr. Paul Dean, was good at just letting us practice without a lot of criticism or critique (until you got to certain levels). He allowed you to explore the art's techniques and katas, especially when exploring a kata's bunkai, or hidden self-defense techniques.

Exploring bunkai on your own and getting the 'aha' is much more inspiring and exciting than having someone just tell you what a certain move means. When you can find it coming deep from within yourself, that 'aha' helps you grow and expands your mind larger than you know. (Right ZenHG?...check out his On the Dojo Floor blog). It is the road to mastery of your art.

So, as you go through life, what do you want? Do you want the "Oh, I see" or the "Aha!"...with a big 'Yes!' running behind it? I know what's more fun. How about you?

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why a Broken Bokken?

I am sometimes asked why we named our dojo, The Broken Bokken. The basic story is a simple one. Verna Micik (Shodan), a white belt then, broke a bokken during a training session. She felt so bad cause she thought she did something wrong. Verna has always trained vigorously (former military). From there, her son Rick (also now a Shodan), thought we should call the dojo, The Broken Bokken. I liked it and it stuck. Little did they know, or me, what the name would come to represent.

Now, looking back at the name of the dojo, it is so appropriate, but on a deeper level. This is one of those stories where there are 'no accidents'. When you think about it, the Bokken is a wooden Samurai Katana used for training prior to engaging in the practice with a live blade. It is safer, period. As most of my readers know, the Samurai's sword was considered his soul, his spirit and was held in very high regard. In Japan, this identification exists through today.

A broken bokken, to me, symbolizes the delusional state of humanity's perception. Their soul or spirit appears broken, fractured, split into the delusion of individuality, black and white, us and them. A broken bokken also symbolizes the wounds we have as we travel through life. It can be the loss of a loved one, someone yelling racist remarks at you or even as simple as slipping on the ice and feeling stupid. Emotional wounds that hurt us, and if not healed properly, alter and shape the way in which we go about our day. These wounds can make our life feel heavy and full of pain.

As a Karateka, a dojo is not only a place where we practice the martial arts, it is a place of transformation and healing. It also means 'hall of enlightenment' in some circles. So, those of us who have 'broken bokkens' come to the dojo to heal, to grow and to shape new lives. Here, the wounds of our lives can be healed as we gain new perspectives about ourselves and life in general.

Most importantly, it is to help us see past the illusion that we are even broken, because on a deep level we are perfect just as we are. Nothing is actually needed. It is just that we live in this delusion that we are broken, that our spirit is damaged and we need restoration, salvation, enlightenment.

It is through the vigorous physical, mental and spiritual training of a traditional dojo (those who still house a shrine) that we can begin to see this wholeness and that we were never broken in the first place. But there are those of us who are hard-headed, like me, who need to get bopped on the head a few times with a real bokken to see this!

So, this is what the Broken Bokken Dojo is about and how we came about.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yoko Geri taught me Gyoji

One neat thing about the martial arts is that it has ways of teaching us many lessons that carry over into other areas of life. For myself, Yoko Geri was the teacher. And by the way, Yoko Geri is not the sister of Yoko Ono, but means 'Side Kick.'

Going through the ranks of Karate, Yoko Geri was a thorn in my side. Not only did my training partners break a few of my ribs with it, I had a hell of time throwing a good one. For years it seemed my physical structure was not appropriate for a good side kick. Yet, I persevered...and here is where I learned Gyoji.

Gyoji is a term that has a few meanings, mostly based on it context. For Karate, it means 'continuous practice'. I would frustrate myself in trying to throw a perfect yoko geri and the harder I tried the worse I made it. So, I finally told myself to do just a little bit every day. Gyoji.

I would work on my flexibility, not only with basic leg stretches, but I bought a pulley and some rope and tied my ankle to one end of the rope, looped it through the pulley and pulled my leg up. I would try and go just a bit further higher every time. Even though we were not high kickers, Sensei Dean emphasized some high kicking, because if you can throw a good high side kick, the lower ones are more powerful.

Over the course of a few years and applying Gyoji, my Yoko Geri looked like the one you see in the photo. That is me 32 years ago. I came across the photo a few weeks ago...and surprised myself as to the height and form I had. This from Gyoji...a little bit every day.

Now, I apply this to my other arts, ie, zazen, qigong and, of course, Karate. One of my favorite sayings is "You can't swallow the ocean in one gulp". Same with Karate and other arts. It has also served me in my educational and writing pursuits. They take time, continuous practice and perserverance. The results will show up. Just have faith and enjoy the journey of Gyoji.

Hands palm to palm,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


When people hear I am lay ordained in Zen Buddhism they want to know what that means? People often ask if I am a Zen priest. My usual response is that I am a half-assed one. What Jukai, or lay-ordination is, in the Soto tradition is the ceremony of becoming a Buddhist. At the ordination you receive your rakusu, or mini-robe, you hang around your neck like a bib.

You also recieve your lineage sheet dating back to Buddha and you receive a Dharma name. Mine is Shinzen and it means to 'Trust Zen'. You also receive the precepts of conduct. It is like your oath to lead your life in a certain fashion, like doing good deeds, not getting drunk and having wild sex with sheep...stuff like that.

My time at the Nebraska Zen Center was a time I cherished deeply, even though I am not an overly religious person and have always been suspect of organized religion (my trust issues coming first wife ran off with a Catholic priest...I was sad at first, but in retrospect it was the best thing she ever did for me!)

Well, to get back on track. In my mind I was studying with Nonin Chowaney, head priest at the center and not so much studying Soto Zen as a religion. I trusted him. There was a sense of deep authenticity about him...mostly cause he scared me to death. I swear to this day he can read minds and I felt he could read mine impecably. I was not so much concerned with being a good Buddhist as I was in following the path he laid in front of me to follow. He leads his life with a deep sense of stability and rootedness. I wanted to be like him.

When he brought out the idea of Jukai to me I had to think about it for awhile. After a bit, I thought it would be a great experience and for me the temple felt like a second home, so I agreed. I had to sew my own rakusu...and it had to be done right or you had to redo it. Trust me, there is a lot of sewing of little scraps of cloth and the seams have to be just right....or it gets ripped out and you have to redo it. It is also a bloody experience. I am not so handy with a needle and would often prick my finger. With every stitch we were to say, "I take refuge in the Buddha". I wasn't too good with this cause when I stabbed myself it was "I take refuge in damn it".

During the week of ordination I lived at the temple and lived the life of a priest in training. Actually, I scrubbed a lot of floors, cleaned toilets, washed dishes, sewed and bled a lot. There were two others receiving Jukai with me and it formed a neat bond. Kido (Albert Likei) and I formed the Lincoln Zen Group in Lincoln, Nebraska around 1992....which is still going today. Kido eventually moved to Arizona. Eric (I forgot his Dharma name) went on and become fully ordained. He was from Des Moines, Iowa and was a Tae Kwon Do instructor.

I had plans on becoming a full priest, however, my family obligations brought me back to Wisconsin and I decided to stay a half-assed one instead. In my heart, I am a priest...whatever that really means. Over time, I realized I am drawn to the teachings of Bankei and the lifestyle of Han Shan. I realized I couldn't run a temple unless it was outside and I could wander my mind.

Well, that's all for Jukai. I wrote longer than I had intended. It is snowing quite hard outside and I didn't have Karate class tonight due the inclement weather. Oh...and the photo is the Reverend Nonin Chowaney, Head Priest at the Nebraska Zen Center. Take Care and thanks for reading my monkey droppings.

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rogue's Gallery

My sister-in-law sent this picture from last year's NCIBBF seminar. From left to right, starting in the white gi is Rob Shepard...he is a San Dan in Goshindo Karate under my original Sensei, Mr. Paul Dean. Then there is the gray haired guy who shall remain nameless because he learned there is no I. Then my younger brother, Bob. He is a GoDan in Shorei Kempo. Next to him is Scott Hermann, a San Dan in Shorin-ryu Karate. And last, but not least, is Sigung Bill Penca of Fu Chen Kung Fu.

A Rogue's Gallery of the North Central Instructor's Black Belt Federation. Our annual meeting is in May (Mother's Day weekend because we can get the Rhinelander High School to ourselves for a decent rate).

The NCIBBF is a consortium of martial artists from many different styles of arts. We break off our students by rank and then they get to go study a different art for an hour over a five hour day. It is extremely educational and most of all fun. We eat good and there is a fantastic after seminar party at the Fu Chen Kung Fu Academy (Rhinelander, Wis)

A sample of the arts are Goshindo Karate, Shorin-ryu Karate, Shotokan Karate, Pshi Kai Do, Fu Chen Kung Fu, Aikido (Sensei Ken Purdy), Tae Kwon Do, Gracie Ju-jitsu, Shorei Kempo...and whoever else shows up.

I encourage you to visit their website...not sure how updated it is, but it is worth a

Hands palm to palm,


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Where Have All The Zen Lunatics Gone?

Where have all the Zen Lunatics gone? I know you are out there. We need more raving lunatics poking fun and farting at the consensus reality that has the world stuck in conformity and mindless dronality (I think I just made up a word)

We need more Han Shans. He was a raving Zen Lunatic or Taoist Hermit, whichever you want him to be, in the Tang dynasty in China. With his wild hair, tattered clothing and head gear made from birch bark, he wandered the woods and mountains mumbling and talking to the wind. He would often visit Zen temples until they drove him out because of his unpredictable and irreverant behavior. He was a great poet as well.

We need more Han Shans. To me, Han Shan was a man of pure faith in the Dharma. Totally free like the wind...wandering from concern for himself. He was also a man of no means and yet had the whole universe at his disposal. Yes, we need more Zen Lunatics like Han Shan.

Yes, something to aspire to...or at least grow into...I know as I age I feel my inner Lunatic cracking through the surface from time to time. Soon, I know it will engulf me, but until then I will just buy new hats and smile. I am allergic to birch bark.

Hands palm to palm,


thanks to ZenHG for inspiring this post.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Death Poem of Kozan Ichikyo

Empty-handed I entered the world

Barefoot I leave it.

My coming, my going --

Two simple happenings

That got entangled.

I have always liked this death poem of Kozan Ichikyo. He died Feb 12, 1360. He was 77.

Hands palm to palm.

poem found at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Martial Artist's Secret

My last post...and Doug's comment... reminded me of a post I wrote a few months ago. For me this is an important topic worth repeating.

Why do you think in the practice of Budo we bow in and out, have rules of etiquette for respect and politeness and most importantly meditate before and after each Karate class? What does this have to do with defending ourselves?


Buddha spoke of how important our thoughts are...he spoke of how we create the world with our thoughts. All that is and will be has arisen with our thinking, manifested through our thoughts.

Look around you right now. You are most likely sitting in a chair...and reading this on a computer, which is either on your lap or on a desk. Your chair, desk and computer...and yes your lap too, are manifestations of a thought. Everything around you right now is created from thinking...from thoughts placed out into the vast realm of Ku: Our friend Emptiness.

As I have written in previous posts, Ku is Pure Raw Potential waiting to materialize. All it needs is a thought. Remember Ku and Kara have the same root. An Empty Hand (Karate) when given the thought of 'fist' shapes into a fist. Think or intend 'knife hand' it takes the shape of a knife hand, think eagle claw it takes the shape of an eagle claw and so on. It takes the shape of your intentions or thought.

Well, your life is like this as well. A Dojo is a place where we practice our Martial Art, but it is sandwiched and infused with politeness and respect. This is to counterbalance any negative energy put out into Ku. Classes begin and end with Zazen to cultivate Peace...and to send out those 'vibes' so peace will reign in our lives and we never have to use the techniques of violence. These positive vibes are stronger than any of the 'violent vibes' created during class.

Zazen is the cultivation, practice and manifestation of Peace. The ultimate in self-defense! The Ultimate Kata!!!

An important concept to understand when working with thoughts is that a thought placed out into Ku, whether it is something you want or don't want...will manifest. Even if you don't want to be attacked, if this is on your mind all the time, you will eventually invite an have manifested it into your life.

So, when all you focus on is self-defense you are manifesting a need to defend yourself. You are invoking violence, although inadvertently. The opposite of self-defense, I guess, would be 'other offense'. The best defense is a good offense. This is why Zazen is so important. Zazen is such an offense. It sends out the vibe of peace to the whole world. Nonin often told us that when we sit zen we sit with the whole world and the whole world benefits.

This is why I conduct a Zen and Healing Arts Seminar every year. This year we are raising money for our local Domestic Violence Shelter...Safe Haven. We sit Zen to create peace. The women at the shelter have been violently abused and lives turned upside down. As martial artists, sitting zen, is the best way we can help them...we are also raising money as well...but this is not so important as the manifestation of peace.This is again the One Secret every martial artist should know.

The practice of Zazen and the cultivation of peace via our practices of respect, politeness, integrity, loyalty, honor create the ultimate in self-defense. A society where hopefully we will no longer need Safe Havens or even Police. A big thought...but I put it out there.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Brain Freeze

Did you ever eat ice cream too fast and get a brain freeze? I love root beer floats and devoured mine quickly while on vacation. For a moment I almost felt incapacitated, unable to think or move. My daughter caught me going, 'damn this hurts'.

Now my wife, during my brain freeze was tremendously empathetic...ha ha. She usually tells me to just suck it up. Well, by now you are probably wondering what does all this have to do with karate, zen and what I usually blog about.

About 13 years ago, one of my karate students, Mike, was accosted by three guys. Now, Mike is a tough black belt and a very dedicated zen-head. In relaying his story to me about the attack, Mike stated one of the guys put him in a headlock and began to smack Mike's face. Mike said that his thoughts were racing and he was thinking, "I can't believe this is happening".

Brain freeze. Mike was in the middle of an assault and his brain had froze. He was caught in between fight or flight. His analytical mind was too engaged in judging the experience. To make a long story short, Mike's training took over and he successfully defended himself from these three guys. Mike stopped using his discursive analytical mind that wanted to figure out what to do and trusted his protective mind that had been trained to kick butt.

Our analytical mind basically houses our ego...our judger of experiences... and is always one step behind the actual reality of the flow of Now. It wants to be in charge, but it really can't because it is so limited in it's ability. You see the analytical mind operates in a linear step by step fashion and typically sees life as on/off or black/white...and as I said is judging what is happening which is always one step behind the action of the actual happening Now.

The protective mind works more holographically and is in tune with what is really happening as it is happening. This is the part of the mind that can be trained with high repetition of simple self-defense movements and will protect you, if you let it. Trust is involved here...and no brain freeze can happen. Only flow exists.

Self-defense involves training your protective mind to move your body in a well-coordinated fashion for survival, if you let it. When you let your ego take over you are going to be one step behind the action and more apt to get lost in analysis....and brain freeze can happen, plus get your ass kicked.

So, using self-defense as a microcosm of our daily life experience, ponder how this can relate to your every day activities as well. Be aware of your brain well as those opportunities to enter into the bubbling of the now...then notice how your ego wants to take over. In many ways it is like a battle. So just watch.

What do Zen koans do to your mind?

Hands palm to palm,

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Self-defense tip of the day.

Back from vacation...and while I was relaxing many thoughts ran through my head and so here is one of them.

Think about this for a moment. In the Mixed Martial Art's world there are rules the fighters must abide by, for instance, no head butts, no eye gouges or direct throat strikes. Well, gee, so what do you think you should do in a fight outside the ring?

Yeah....head butts, eye gouges and direct throat strikes. Here's a list of other prohibitive techniques in the ring, but perfectly okay on the street when your life or the life of loved one is in grave danger.

Head butts, eye gouges, throat strikes, biting, hair pulling, clawing, fish hooking, groin strikes, strike to spine, downward elbow strikes (especially to back of head or spine), spitting and my favorite....fingers in any orifice of the body. It is amazing how fast a guy will let go of you when you put your thumb up his butt.

It feels great to be back from vacation...I might post some pictures when my daughter downloads them to me.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, November 20, 2009

Taking a Break.

I am taking a short sabbatical till Thanksgiving Day. Off on a well deserved family vacation. My laptop is staying home to keep an eye on the cats.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Hands palm to palm,

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bring Out Your Dead!

Remember in Monty Python's 'Search for the Holy Grail' the scene of 'Bring out your Dead'? Damn hilarious. First time I saw it I laughed so hard my ribs ached.

The scene also reminds me of the old Zen koan of "Who is it that is dragging this corpse?" This koan has stuck in my head for decades...and cause I associate it with Monty Python I laugh when I hear it swirling in my head.

So, Who is it that is really animating us? Who is this 'I' we say moves this corpse? Who is dragging this bag of bones and flesh around?

It is well documented that the the Samurai studied Zen to examine death. They feared death like most people. There are many stories of Samurai being referred to the local Zen priest to face this subject. So, as good warriors, let's do a Death Meditation....and maybe we can find out who is behind this dragging corpse stuff.

For some, when I speak of doing a death meditation, begin to think I am morbid. There is nothing morbid about it. In fact, it is most liberating and eye-opening when approached in the proper manner. *

So give this a go...

Get yourself relaxed, either sitting in a meditative pose or slightly reclined. (You can lie down, but you could drift off to sleep.) Once you feel relaxed imagine yourself in your final moments of life...whatever age you desire...imagine a peaceful death where you have said all of your goodbyes, perhaps even written a death poem capsulizing your life or current level of liberation.

Now, feeeeeel (extra e's intentional) the feelings of letting go and of peace, especially as you see your spirit or soul or consciousness rise above your body. It is important to feel the release and to feel the love and joy of this moment as you merge into oneness with the original source of creation...

Now, anchor this feeling with a physical gesture, ie, touching your thumb and middle finger together on your right hand. Continue to feel the liberation and love as you rediscover your original self. Hold this imagery and emotionalizing for a few moments, then open your eyes and give thanks.

This meditation is to help see how 'death' is not to be feared but to be accepted as an opportunity for liberation and 'knowing' who is dragging this corpse around. Now, the key behind this is to be able to recall the feelings of liberation during your normal waking feeeeel the calmness and joy of being free. This can be done by simpling squeezing your thumb and middle finger together. It should trigger the feelings you desire through the training and association. Just think Pavlov's dogs.

As you do this form of meditation your life begins to unfold in a more peaceful manner as you begin to flow and harmonize more and more with the bouyant and creative force that lives within you. Your life will begin to feel lighter and above all, more joyous. You might even see yourself and the world differently. Your problems might even seem trivial and a smile might begin to radiate from deep within. Who knows.

So, bring out your dead. Perhaps you might even find out who is dragging this corpse around.

Hands palm to palm,

*my psychological/medical disclaimer...if you are experiencing severe depression with suicidal thoughts, please refrain from this meditation and seek professional help...this blog is for educational purposes only.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Chi Sao of Joseph Campbell

Joseph Campbell is well known as a theologian and writer...and most noteably known for his saying, "Follow your Bliss." I am paraphrasing now, but he also spoke that when you follow your bliss, where you once saw walls, doors will open. He desired for us all to find our bliss and follow it with courage and faith. It will lead us on wonderful adventures and a life full of, well, bliss.

In a lot of ways this pertains to the martial arts and sticky hands practice...or Chi Sao. Chi Sao is a mainstay of many martial art systems and great for developing close quarter combat skills. In a nutshell, Chi Sao is about sticking with your partner's movement and getting a feel for movement's ebb and flow. It can look like a big dance from the outside.

While practicing and following your opponent's movement where you once felt a "wall" will eventually open up into a "door" of opportunity to enter. In terms of self-defense this is a great way to locate your opponent's weakness and capitalize upon it. By following your opponent's movement you can easily defend yourself.

It terms of living and can teach us how to follow our partner, 'bliss'. Learn how to achieve it...get sticky with it...then follow its ebb and flow. Where you once saw doors slam in your face, doors of opportunity will open. You just need to stick to your bliss.

How to find bliss in your life can be achieved in many ways...such as meditation, hypnosis, qigong practices, etc. Their are many ways to bring up feelings of bliss...however you interpret bliss to be. Practice bringing yourself into a blissful state on a daily basis and it will grow...then learn to follow it, like you would your Chi Sao partner.

As you follow your Bliss your life will unfold in many wonderful ways. Joseph Campbell is right. Learn how to practice Chi Sao with your Bliss. Try it for a day or so and just watch and feel. Just like in Chi Sao, suspend judgement and pre-thought. Just follow and flow.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, November 6, 2009

Shamans at Work?

Did you ever have a series of events that were so synchronistic that you knew it was not pure coincidence or chance? Last week I had three events occur over a three day period that blew my mind away! If you want to know what those are keep reading...

About two weeks ago I had asked in my 'prayers' to have new seeds for my next book. I have had a lot of ideas, but nothing really was coming through that struck me as inspired thought, so I just let it go. Well, I had a two day conference to attend in Appleton, Wisconsin and was staying at a downtown conference center. Across the street from the center is a Bookstore full of used and new books as well as crystals, alternative healing paraphernalia, incense and various religious icons. Cool store.

While I was browsing the used book section, I 'chanced' across the book, "Mending the Past and Healing the Future with Soul Retrieval" by Alberto Villoldo, PhD. Dr. Villoldo has studied with the Peruvian Shamans and learned their healing practices. Now, the Shamans of Peru never interested me much before, but for some reason I bought the book. I took it back to my room and read it over the course of the evening. I liked it and noticed he had a previous book, called, "Shaman, Healer and Sage."

The next day after the conference I stopped at another used bookstore on the way of out town. (Yes, I am a book junkie) Now, to be honest with you, Dr. Villoldo's other book was not on my mind at this time. As I was wandering the bookstore, I stopped and then the thought came to me, "I wonder if his other book is here?" As soon as I asked, the book literally 'popped' into my sight. It was the only book I could see. This was a very weird experience. Of course I bought the book.

It gets better now. So the next day, I had to speak at a conference. A colleague of mine had asked me to fill in for him as he couldn't accept the speaking engagement. So, I did. I was on a panel with two other counselors from tribal clinics explaining how substance abuse effects the elderly. As we were introducing ourselves, one of my fellow panelists, began to explain how she is a counselor but also does energy work. She went on to explain how she had traveled to Peru and studied, with, you guessed it, Dr. Villoldi's people. I was blown away!

Afterwards I had to share my story with her and pulled the two books from my bookbag. We both got those 'chills' from this extraordinary moment. We talked about our experiences and our different healing practices...she is also a Reiki Master like myself and I shared with her my 'Mind-Sword' healing practices.

The events all flowed so seamlessly. Where it is going from here I do not know. All I know is I have had some great ideas for my next book that feel like the 'right path' I just have to put it to paper.

In Gassho,

picture from powell...thanks

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ahh..the Mystery of the Tao.

Sunday morning and looks like a beautiful fall day ahead of us. I have my cup of coffee and usual wandering mind as my companions. This morning it has wandered to a conversation (facebook) I had with Miles Coleman, my Kung Fu friend and Herbalist.

I had made an observation that he is a Taoist with a bald head and I am a Buddhist with long hair...and had asked him, what's up that? He responded in his usual way..."ahh, the mystery of the Tao". So true.

The Tao is totally mysterious. Life is mysterious. None of us really know why we are here or what life is all about. On many levels, life is one big Zen riddle or Koan. The Tao is definitely a paradoxical enigma...and I am glad it is.

What if we did know the Secret of Life and were able to totally figure out every life's problems and boil it down to a formula? In my mind it would be boring. If it weren't for the the search for the holy grail (monty python style is the best) would just be almost too regimented, rigid and stale. Or at least I think it would be. I can't imagine always knowing what is going to happen. Where's the fun in that? Where's the mystery?

What is more fun...not knowing what is going to happen? Or knowing what is going to happen? The Packers play the Vikings today...what is more fun and pulsating with life...not knowing the outcome or knowing the outcome?

When facing a fierce opponent in kumite or with a sword...the not-knowing is what makes you alive! It is the mystery of the unknown that gives us life!

It is the not-knowing that makes this journey here on earth interesting. Yes, at times it is hard and cruel...but this allows us to see the beauty and the ease by which life can be as well. The not-knowing sends us on searches, holy quests, hermitages into the mountains or even dabbling with multiple martial arts to find the ultimate in self-defense. coffee is getting cold and my wandering mind has drifted onto my list of things to get done before the football game. I better get going on it...I wonder where it will lead me today? Go Packers!

Ahh...the Mystery of the Tao.

Hands palm to palm,

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Does It Really Mean?

Growing up with Karate during the 70's I have seen a lot of 'fads' come and go. Right now MMA is a big thing and all the dojo's are adding grappling to their repertoire. During the decades Karate was the fad, then Kung Fu, then Ninjitsu, Aikido would pop in from time to time, then Brazilian Ju Jitsu, now MMA.

Now, I don't see these as bad things...they are all just another 'moon' for the monkey to be reaching for in the water.

The picture on the left depicts an old Zen story about how the monkey is always trying to reach into the water and grab the moon's reflection. This is symbolic of humans (with their monkey mind chattering away) of trying to achieve happiness by grabbing onto material things, etc. The Law of Impermanence shows us that whatever satisfaction we do get, fades, like water running through our fingers.

Martial Artists do this too (yes, we are human). We are always, or at least I was, seeking the ultimate in self-defense. The quickest fastest way to take care of myself without a weapon in my hand. So, we go off to study all the arts we can find, hoping to pull the moon from the water....but we can't. Look at all of us who have studied multiple arts...what were we really looking for? Learning a variety of arts and integrating them into a mix is wonderful thing and does help us grow...but we need to ask, "What are we really looking for?"

It is like the monkey reaching for the moon in the water...satisfaction just always seems to never be there. The moon is a reflection of what we want, but it is not the real deal. Karate, Kung Fu, Aikido, etc are all reflections in the water.

According to the Zen teaching the monkey needs to let go of the branch and join in the flow of the water...become one with all that it is. Perhaps,we as martial artists need to let go of the branch and jump into the water as well. But what does it really mean? How do we really do this?

In Gassho,

photo courtesy of

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Embrace the Fight!

If you have ever sparred with Samurai Swords (padded ones) you will notice that the Samurai who manages the Gap in between typically wins. One key component of this is to have a mind set of no retreat. Never, ever back up. If you back up you will be receiving the strongest part of his attack and in the case of a real sword, the sharpest and deadliest portion...the tip.

If your opponent strikes at you, enter in or move to the side while entering...but do not back up. This takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes more natural...and easier to counter any attack. You learn to embrace the fight and you love the challenge.

Moving back in fear will get you hurt....heck, it is just like life. If you retreat from life and life's challenges your life will feel burdensome and unsafe. Your self-esteem will lag and life will feel like one big bag of crap dumped on your head. I speak from a young man in my late teens and early twenties, life sort of scared me. I was clueless and just wandering directionless.

When you adopt the mindset of moving it your all...taking on challenges with passion and fervor, your life becomes more rewarding. Good things begin to happen. You find life becoming easier and more joyful. And again, I speak from my own experience. I had gone through a tough divorce many years ago and this challenge opened my eyes to how I was retreating and not entering in and embracing the challenge.

There is an old Zen saying that you should practice Zen as if your hair is on fire. What this means to me is that you should have single-minded focus and do it with a sense of urgency...after all your hair is on fire! I encourage you to take this mindset in your Kumite or other types of sparring. Be aware of the difference. Embrace the challenges in your life outside the dojo as well. Notice where you are retreating and vow to change it. See what happens...take on the challenge. Embrace it!

In Gassho...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Once There Was a Monk...

Once there was a monk who was an expert on the Diamond Sutra, and as books were very valuable in his day, he carried the only copy in his part of the world on his back. He was widely sought after for his readings and insight into the Diamond Sutra, and very successful at propounding its profundities to not only monks and masters but to the lay people as well.

Thus the people of that region came to know of the Diamond Sutra, and as the monk was traveling on a mountain road, he came upon an old woman selling tea and cakes. The hungry monk would have loved to refresh himself, but alas, he had no money. He told the old woman, "I have upon my back a treasure beyond knowing -- the Diamond Sutra. If you will give me some tea and cakes, I will tell you of this great treasure of knowledge."

The old woman knew something of the Diamond Sutra herself, and proposed her own bargain. She said, "Oh learned monk, if you will answer a simple question, I will give you tea and cakes." To this the monk readily agreed. The woman then said, "When you eat these cakes, are you eating with the mind of the past, the mind of the present or the mind of the future?"

No answer occurred to the monk, so he took the pack from his back and got out the text of the Diamond Sutra, hoping he could find the answer. As he studied and pondered, the day grew late and the old woman packed up her things to go home for the day.

"You are a foolish monk indeed," said the old woman as she left the hungry monk in his quandary. "You eat the tea and cakes with your mouth."

In Gassho...


Letting Go

Previously I wrote about how our mind's intentions are like setting an arrow off into the air towards its target. Our intentions as martial artists can be to become a black belt, master the tonfa or improve our grappling.

In other past posts I have written about Ku/Kara as the Emptiness of Pure Raw Potential. Whatever arrows of intentions are shot into Ku/Kara it will begin to manifest those intentions from the potential latent in the void (Ku/Kara). The arrows will hit their target. (if this is a 'what is he talking about?'...go find "pure raw potential' post)

So, whatever the intention we set out into the void (Ku/Kara), one thing we must do is 'let go' and have faith. Faith that our intentions will come other words hit the target.

The arrow cannot fly through the air unless you let go of it and simply have faith it will hit the target. You cannot guide the arrow in its aim and then have to just let go. Notice the letting go in the picture...after the Kyodo-ka shoots the arrow he opens his arms wide...letting go physically in a state of remaining mind or zanshin. This exemplifies the type of faith we and wide...then the black belt, grappling skills or mastery of a kata you are seeking begins to manifest from the void.

You will then find your actions after letting go, moving in the direction of your arrow...sort of like having to walk up to the target and retrieve your arrow. You have to follow its flight with some action, but only after having let go in faith.

This is sort of a rough outline of the process of actualizing your potential as a martial artist and as a person. We, like nature, are ever expanding and desiring to grow. As humans we have the ability to choose our growth...this, I believe, is part of enlightened behavior. We are now awake to what we are doing, consciously and unconsciously...then we are getting closer to freedom and seeing our truest nature.

I don't like to write real long posts...I have a short attention span, plus I tend to ramble a bit. So, once again, I hope my 'monkey-droppings' make some sense. I could write more but then you might get more confused than I am. If any questions or comments, please provide them.

Hands palm to palm,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Kyudo, the Art of the Bow, can give us many lessons from which to guide our life and to discipline our minds. As Budoka, the real target we are aiming at is self-knowledge and mindful behavior...and it all begins with our mind's intentions.

As in Kyudo, we set the arrow in the bow and aim at the target. Let's ponder this for a moment. What are we really setting in the bow? I contend the arrow we are getting ready to set sail is our mind's intentions...and it carries our wishes, dreams and hopes. I have to ask myself, "What type of arrows am I sending out into the world?" "Am I sending out intentions of joy, hope, faith, compassion or am I sending out intentions of greed, anger, delusion, distrust?"

As you become more mindful of your mind and your thoughts/feelings, I encourage you to be aware of your intentions...your desires....your cravings. What are you sending forth out into space? Are you aiming at anything specifically or are you just randomly shooting arrows?

These are important questions, we as Budoka, need to ask ourselves. Just as important for us to manage our mind-swords of imagination, emotions and is equally important to manage our mind's intentions....our mind-arrows.

What are you setting in your bow right now?

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Bubbler of Now: Part II

Previously I wrote about how it is important for us as Martial Artist's to discipline our minds and to understand how it is important to meditate upon the flow of the ever-present bubbling of Now.

You see, the Universe is always "bubbling" like a bubbler that is always on and never runs out of water. It is a constant flow of water or energy. Even, static or solid objects to us are in reality a flow of energy, a bubbling of cosmic water flowing from the great 'source', whatever you want to call 'the source'...or if even there is a source.

Bubbling to us is experienced through our six senses of touch, smell, sight, taste, hearing and consciousness. Just as water bubbles from a water fountain the entire universe bubbles forth and flows.

As you bubble forth with the great bubbling that is occurring all around you, you have a choice as to the content of your 'water' and how your 'water' tastes. Is the water you are experiencing full of sewage or sweetness?

Do you put forth clean or polluted bubbling? It is up to you how your water tastes. It depends on your thoughts...your mind's intent. If you see life's bubblings as horrible, awful, violent your water is going to bubble with negativity and taste like crap! Noone will want to drink your water.

If you see life's bubblings as wonderful, full of awe, peaceful.. your water is going to bubble with sweetness. Life will seem easier and more pleasant and people will want to drink your water.

You are going to bubble. You can't stop it. What you determine is the quality of water that bubbles forth from what you call you. That is our gift...the gift of the mind's intent. As Budoka, I believe this is an important thing to know and to develop. The best form of self-defense is the development and practice of peace.

One last question...what if you just watched the bubbling of water with no intent...positive or negative? What would happen?

My random bubblings for the day.

In Gassho,

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Zhen Wren

Just a quick post to let you know about a new blog by one of my good friends, Master Miles Coleman. His new blog is in my registry at

Check it out. Miles is a Kung Fu Master and Master Herbalist. His herbs have helped me for years and his teachings are always insightful. His Chi for healing is he has one helluva a great sense of humor...of course he is Taoist! Those guys are nuts!

He moved to the Omaha, Nebraska area about a year or so ago. We miss him here in Wisconsin....

I highly recommend reading his blog and following his advice.

Take Care,

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Seek not...

Over on ZenHG's Dojo Floor blog he had been discussing how complicated we tend to make things and how complicated classifications of jin were. It got me to thinking and during the evening last night I had a bit of insomnia, which you know stimulates a stream of thinking, an old quote came to visit: "Seek not to walk in the shoes of the ancients, seek what they sought."

Are you simply going through the motions of your martial art...or are you, like ZenHG is doing, questioning, examining, tearing apart, rebuilding your artform. Are you making it your own?

There is another old Zen quote: "Don't mistake the finger for the moon". The footprints, or forms, the ancients gave us are just fingers pointing to the moon of truth. Don't mistake the footprints for the truth.

My hope for my Karate students is that they take what I have taught them and question it...tear it apart...burn it down...rebuild it. Heck, I do this on a continuous basis for what I teach. I can drive some of students nuts because I am always playing with form...but this where I am at. I am seeking what the ancients sought...I am not so concerned with their footprints...or forms.

Now this doesn't mean we disrespect their footprints. They give us direction and puts us on our own course of self-discovery and mastery. To try and stay within the form of the ancients will not lead us to the growth and inner freedom that the ancients sought. Transformation requires us to question, doubt, burn down (with respect) and then rebuild our own expression of the martial arts.

Hope this makes some sense...I never know somedays, especially since I have had only one cup of coffee this a.m. I have to go now, because my wife has a 'honey-do' list for me to tackle...and if momma ain't happy, nobody is happy :)

Hands palm to palm,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Bubbler of Now

Here in the Midwest, we call a drinking fountain, a Bubbler. Those wonderful thirst quenching contraptions we find at city parks, libraries and public buildings.

To meditate upon the Bubbler is a wonderful way to view the ever-present stream of Now. The Now is always moving like the stream of water through the air. You can drink from it, splash in it and it is always just streaming. No matter how hard you try you can't touch the same stream twice....just like the Now.

A meditation for us is to just see the bubbler streaming water...and get a feel for the movement. Perhaps just close your eyes and visualize the water flowing from the Bubbler for a few moments...then open your eyes and look around. Can you now see the stream of Now as it unfolds in your everyday life? Where and what are your Bubblers?

For me right now I have a 12 pound orange cat snuggled to my left, the kitchen clock above the sink is ticking, the cat (or liquid fur) just moved onto the floor and my fingers are typing, hearing the clicking of the keys on the keyboard...and so on. There is also so much more that we miss as well. How about the beating of your heart, the sound of wind through the shaking my window in the living room...just unfolding, just streaming on and not gone...

Everyday life...even non-everyday life...flows and unfolds....always in the present just like a stream of water. Did you know you are always in the present moment even when your thoughts are lost in the past and future? You are doing this in the present Now...the stream of the Bubbler.

As Budoka, disciplining the mind and body to experience and get a sense of this stream from the Bubbler is critical for is the development of awareness. This is one reason for kata, for hojo undo, for kumite, for zazen, etc. Learning how to see the stream in your artform will carry on into your daily life...this is the practice of practicing Budo all day long. If you think your practice of Budo is only relegated to the Dojo you miss the point of Budo altogether.

Just get a feel for the stream of the Bubbler you call your life. Take a deep breath and go with the, all of a sudden I'm thirsty...

Hands palm to palm,

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Did you ever notice?

Did you ever notice how your mind cuts like a sword? Think about it for a moment. A Samurai sword's razor edge cuts. It cuts up stuff into separate pieces, cleaving whatever it touches into two sides...or more.

Your mind does the same thing. At least a part of your mind does. When you label, judge, sort or analyze whatever you encounter you are in essence 'cutting' up your experience into pieces. Now there is nothing inherently wrong with this unless you have not trained your sword...or in this case your mind.

Have you ever been around someone who is hyper-critical? They are always judging and 'cutting' someone or something down. The only thing that comes out of their mouth is full of criticism and severe judgements. It actually hurts, emotionally and physically, to be around such negative people. They are just swinging their mind-sword and cutting up everyone and everything in its place...they are 'taking life'. Their swordsmanship is undisciplined...they have not disciplined their mind.

On the other hand, how does it feel to be around someone who is open and non-judgemental, who accepts you as you are? Feels good doesn't it? A person who uses their mind-sword judiciously and 'cuts' only when necessary is actually more fun to be with and more 'life-giving'.

This person gives off a greater sense of confidence and you just want to be around them more. Their swordsmanship is trained and disciplined.

When you keep your mind from over-cutting and seeing the world as good/bad, black/white, up/ is actually more pleasant. You can see the world in its greater totality and organic wholeness. You get a sense of the interconnectedness of the universe. I know I am rambling a bit, but it is very important, at least in my mind (and here comes a cut) that Martial Artist's discipline their mind-swords as much as they discipline their samurai swords.

Can you see the world without cutting it? When you do it to give life or take it? Are you even aware of how you cut? Just some thoughts for the day...I hope they don't hurt.

In Gassho,