Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some Action Photos

Last Tuesday Mariah asked when the photos or video from groundwork night would get on the blog. Here you go Mariah...we just gotta teach you how to get on top. Verna's working you over.

In the first shots, Tyler has Rick stacked pretty good (thank goodness Rick is flexible) and then eventually arm bars him. Nice move.

Take Care,

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Do Dis

Last evening I was teaching a class on Self-Hypnosis for our Community Education Services and afterwards one of the ladies came up to me to discuss simplicity and meditation. She is a Quaker and has similar practices of quietude as Zen. We were discussing how too many words get in the way of real learning as it creates too much chatter for the mind to really experience reality directly.

This reminded me of how Shihan Dean used to teach us. He rarely would tell us what the name of the technique was, let alone tell us the Japanese translation. Rather than tell us we are going to practice defense against a rear bear hug or use a pre-emptive strike he would simply say, "Do Dis." And then we do, "Do Dis" for most of the training time.

Now, those of you who do not know Shihan Dean, he is originally from Chicago and has served the Rhinelander, Wisconsin community for almost 50 years as a police officer and now County Board member. So, his speech patterns were a combination of Chicago dialect and Fargo accent.

Well, to get back to the focus of this post. He rarely gave indepth explanations of what or why we were doing this. Mostly we got , "Do Dis" and then when were done with that, we had another 'Do Dis' to do, but only after he was convinced we had the first 'Do Dis' done.

As a beginning teacher I found myself talking way too much...and totally confusing the students...or you get the student who understands the explanation and think they now 'know' the technique...and then want a new one to do. I discovered 'Do Dis' works very well and allows the student to find there way through the technique....telling them they will only 'know' the techique until after 5000 repetitions.

While attending Sesshin at the Nebraska Zen Center, Nonin Roshi, would also be very non-descriptive or explanatory in what we were to do. During Samu, or work period, he would hand you a broom and say, 'Basement'...or a rag and bucket and say, 'Bathroom'. Then you just went and did what you thought you had to do. Often times, he would join you with his own broom or bucket and work beside you. No talking, just action.

Shihan Dean's 'Do Dis' is a very Zen-like way of teaching, pointing directly to the reality of what you are doing, without excessive chatter. You will find many of the older teachers teach this way. Any of you who have had the opportunity to work with Aikido Master Ken Purdy will see the same thing. He starts you off on a technique and that's what you do for an hour. He will correct you...but with little explanation of what or why. You must get the feel of the action...not the chatter.

So, that's all for now.

Be Well,


A side note...I might be a bit inactive blogging for awhile as I am making final revisions for my book...coming to you from Tuttle Publishing. My deadline is April. I will keep you posted on this as well.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sanchin Quickie: Defense against a right hook

Rick (on the left in blue t-shirt) is attacked by Tyler (in black gi).

Rick simply holds his Sanchin Crane Stance and absorbs Tyler's punch while simultaneously exploding into his neck (or other appropriate target).

It is swift and very effective, especially in close quarters where movement is limited. You can't see Rick's feet, but his right foot can be 'hooked' behind Tyler's left foot to execute a 'knee trip' and further off balance Tyler.

From here Rick can followup with whatever the situation calls for. It depends on where Tyler moves.

Take Care,


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Tao of Bazooka Joe

When I was a kid Bazooka Joe Bubble Gum was awesome! Not only did we get a great chewy bubble gum, but we got a comic strip featuring Bazooka Joe printed on the inside of the wrapper. Bazooka Joe was always getting into some kind of mischief and I always looked forward to his antics. After all these years though there is only one joke that I remembered because I thought it to be so hilarious and absurd...and little did I know that it was a great teaching as well.

It goes something like this:

It's dusk. Bazooka Joe is outside on his hands and knees under a street lamp. His buddy comes up to him and asks, "Bazooka Joe, what are you doing?" Bazooka Joe responds, "I am looking for a nickel I dropped."

His buddy then gets on his hands and knees and begins to help Bazooka Joe look for his nickel. After about ten minutes of fruitless looking his buddy asks, "Where exactly did you drop your nickel?" Bazooka Joe says, "I dropped it in the house." His buddy looks at him in astonishment and remarks, "Then why are you looking out here?" Bazooka Joe says, "Because the light is better."

It's a classic.

It is also a great teaching that is contained in all major spiritual traditions, such as Taoism, Buddhism, Christianity, Sufism, etc. This teaching is that our nickel of truth, enlightenment, security and all that we seek is inside our house, not outside it. Look at the human condition today. We all seek a form of security by wanting more money, a nice car, a great relationship, family life, career, etc. We want all of these things...and you know what is interesting? It does not bring the contentment we sought.

Question: Why did you begin training in the Martial Arts?

You were seeking something weren't you? It could have been a sense of security through self-defense expertise, or improved health, or any number of things. When you look at it closely you began training in Budo to get something. I felt that when I got my Black Belt a lot of my inner insecurities would vanish. Well, they didn't! In fact, I still felt pretty much the same. I was stronger and felt more confident with a lot of kick-ass skills, but still that little nagging sense of something missing existed. It's because I hadn't found my nickel yet. I was looking in the wrong spot.

The Martial Arts was the light that I thought would help me find my nickel. I was wrong. There is one thing in the Martial Arts that you eventually wake up to...and that is there is always someone who can ring your bell. You can't defend yourself from everything and everyone. This reality then forces you to look inside your house...inside your spirit/mind/body. And this requires faith. The light isn't as great. At times, you can't see where you are going. You have to trust that you will find your nickel inside...and when the time is right, it will reveal itself. And when it does, boy is it bright!

The light is so bright you see things you've never seen before. It's like seeing or finding a 'hidden' bunkai (application) of a kata you have been practicing for over ten years, but never saw it before. You get so excited you can't sleep. Discover this for yourself. I encourage all martial artists to begin that journey inward. To look inside your house. After all, that is where you dropped your nickel.

Be Well,


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Kihon Waza

We have had a small influx of white belts lately at the Broken Bokken Dojo which is always exciting. It is a time to start at zero with fresh minds and bodies...and to stay connected to Kihon Waza. Kihon Waza means, 'Basic Techniques'. Shihan Dean called the basics, "Our Bread and Butter." He emphasized it continuously...and even today, after four decades in the arts it is what I continue to do in my personal workouts.

Without our Bread and Butter nothing else works...period. It is our foundation upon which we build our martial art house, and as we are all aware, a house with a crappy foundation will soon crumble, especially under pressure. Without a good base, both mentally and physically, you will get your butt whipped in a self-defense situation.

I am so thankful for Shihan Dean's teachings of the basics as they saved my ass quite a few times. In my profession as a counselor I can find myself in conflictual situations. This typically happens during a heated couples' counseling session that isn't going well or when I am running an anger management group for men who have committed domestic violence. (Hint: Never ask someone in anger management, 'How does that make you feel?'...and yes, I do purposely piss them off at times.)

Well, I digressed a bit. Sorry. Kihon Waza, for some can be very boring, but they need to be drilled until that point of no-thought and are 'forgotten'. Different styles have different Kihon Waza, but bottom-line, if you speak with any instructor, they will agree it is their bread and butter. If you are relatively new to the arts (or even old) please remember this lesson. The basics are your foundation and keys to your success both inside and outside the dojo. Yes, it takes time to build (in my mind about four-five years is good...with one kata), but your martial expertise and long-term joy in the arts is well worth the effort.

Regardless of your rank or years of experience, stick to your 'Bread and Butter.'

Be Well,

Shinzen Sensei

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Prairie Wind Zen

Reverend Nonin Chowaney of the Nebraska Zen Center has a wonderful website full of Zen stories and calligraphy. I have added his link on my blog on the left hand side. There are also pictures of the Heartland Temple where I sat and stared at the walls for hours on end wondering why.

I encourage my students and all Martial Artists to especially read the Prairie Wind newsletter dated Summer of 2004. It is about authentic Security and I feel very relevant to all of us walking the path of Budo. You don't need to be Buddhist to understand and apply Nonin's writing. He speaks straight and to the point...he's a Zen Master...what would you expect.

For those who want a direct address to this article it is:

For the complete index of his newsletters:

Happy reading and if you have any comments or questions, please post.

Hands palm to palm,

Shinzen Sensei

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What if everything you ever learned about Sanchin Kata was wrong?

Did you ever stop and think...What if everything I ever learned about my Martial Art was totally wrong? What if all the teachings you have had about karate, kata, zen, tao, etc was a lie? Where would you start? What would you do?

Next time you do your Sanchin or any Kata for that matter...ask yourself this question. When you get the sense of "I don't know". Do the Kata....and listen.

Be Well,

Shinzen Sensei

Calling all Sanchin-holics!

"Hi, I am Dave Nelson, and I am a Sanchin-holic."

Most of you who know me know I am fanatical about this Kata. If there is a version of it, no matter from what style, I want to see it and do it. So far I have studied versions from Goju-ryu, Isshin-ryu, Goshindo, Uechi-ryu, Kyokushinkai, Ngo Cho Kun Kung Fu and Feeding Crane Kung Fu. They are all great!

I am always on the hunt for versions and interpretations of Sanchin and I am looking for other Sanchin-holics as well. I know you are out there.

If you know of or have a post or comment about how you interpret the 'Three Battles' , or know of others, I would love to hear from you. Whether it is straightline traditional or so far out there people question your sanity, I want to read it. Nothing is too far out there.

Hope to hear from you,


Monday, January 12, 2009

Playing Dead...Part 4...Karmic Cleansing

Before I get into Part 4...and the last one on Playing Dead for awhile...yesterday I attended a Shodan testing in Neenah. Congratulations to Diane for her 14 years of dedicated study has turned into a Shodan in Shorei Kempo Karate!

Also, I met two Shorei Kempo students who came up to me and thanked me for 'The Bears'. Larry remarked after I spoke about the bears seven years ago it has made his job more tolerable. He was able to retire and reported to me that applying The Grizzly Bear Principle to his anger and frustration helped immensely. All I can say is good job Larry. I may have taught the principles but you applied them. You did the work!

Another Shorei Kempo student, who is a true warrior, successfully applied the principles in a very tough work situation which triggered a traumatic flashback from the past. She spoke to the bears and was able to stay on purpose and poised. She said after the incident, when she got home, she came to this blog...and lo and behold I was talking about the bears! Again, great job! I only applied.

So, what is Karmic Cleansing and how does it help us not feed the bears?

I am going to assume the reader is familiar with the concept of Karma. In Zen, on the full moon, we do a simple ceremony called Ryaku Fusatsu. (go to for an article written by Nonin, my Zen teacher) It is a ceremony of reflection and repentance of the karma we have created. It is our Karma that can hinder us in playing dead and going with the flow of life...or the Tao. Karma is more easily noticed in our memories or belief systems as we go about life. It is the filter or dirty lens with which we look at life and make choices. As you are aware, much of our reality is our perception of it. If our perception is not clear, our decisions are based on inaccurate information...and we struggle and suffer.

Ryaku Fusatsu helps us wash the filter or lens clean so we can see life more clearly. Like most Spiritual traditions, there are forms of repentance, contrition, gratitude and compassion. Zen has these too, however, it is a bit different. There is no God or Higher Power you are asking forgiveness to or from. You are saying this to yourself...or to your bears actually. The bears are your Karma coming into your consciousness replaying as memories or pain.

Ryaku Fusatsu is typically conducted only once per month. For managing pain you are going to do an extremely simplified version of Ryaku Fusatsu and use it like a mantra. In keeping with the Zen spirit it is very simple and non-denominational.

It comes from Hawaii and it is called Ho'oponopono. (Read Joe Vitale's Zero Limits) It is a healing system developed by their Kahunas, or spiritual leaders. It involves constant repetition of four simple statements. These are: I am sorry. Forgive me. Thank you. I Love You. They can be said in any order.

When your bears of pain come up, embrace them with these four statements. Continue repeating like a mantra. I have found it to be very successful at managing some of the arthritis I have in my right hand. For some of you, your Ego is starting to talk already and saying 'what the #@#@". This is too weird. All I can say is do it for awhile, but you must truly embrace your pain and feel the emotion of the statements...and as always, don't try to force a healing. Just allow the bears to hang out. They will move on their own.

Remember, it takes two to have a fight. When you embrace your pain only one is attacking. When you embrace the pain there is no fight...only a dance of healing. Your struggles ceases.

If any questions please ask.

Be Well,
Shinzen Sensei

Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to Play Dead...Part 3...Wu Wei

I was first introduced to the Taoist concept of Wu Wei back in the early 70's by author Alan Watts. I recommend his writing as he was very influential in bringing and translating Eastern concepts to the West. He also led a very colorful life.

To get back to topic. Wu Wei (woo way)...and how does this help us manage pain and suffering in our lives. Wu Wei is one of those concepts that is tough to put into words, but in my mind it is 'Doing by not-doing'. It is a letting go and being with the flow of life or the Tao. It is non-ego living.

Taoists often used the analogy that the Tao is like a river. It moves constantly and is a very strong current. We can either fight against it or go with it. In the West we tend to have an attitude that anything worth having or achieving must be hard and you need to 'buck it up' and 'grit your teeth'...or as Larry the Cable Guy says, "Git er dun". It is a very Yang approach to life and as you are aware by now after reading my previous posts, this doesn't work well when needing to manage pain...or life in general.

Wu Wei is learning how to flow downstream with the river rather than trying to swim upstream. Most of are swimming upstream thinking everything we need or want is there. What we fail to realize is that our desires and wishes is what causes the river to flow. So setting goals, planning to the nth degree and believing the world is a 'dog eat dog' world and swimming upstream you are actually setting yourself up for failure. You are going in the opposite direction of your goals. This is the feeding of your bears! Your swimming upstream causes the sensation of the stream to move and feel faster and stronger. (It is also the sensation for those in mid-life crisis that life is passing them by!)

Did you ever have a moment perhaps during kumite when you had a 'magic moment' and techniques flowing effortlessly? Most of us have. This is called 'being in the flow' or 'mushin'.
It is a result of Wu Wei...of doing by not doing. It is not you doing the is the art transforming you. Remember, you are not the artist. You are the canvas...or the chunk of stone being shaped by the artist.

Wu Wei is just letting go and allowing yourself to go with the flow of where you are right now. Of surrendering to this very moment and aligning yourself with your this case managing pain. You then align yourself with the energy flow of healing and health. So, how do we do really let go and do by not-doing?

You already have what you need. Your Kata. The secrets are in there.

Mindfulness is also a wonderful practice to surrender to the flow of the Tao. Reread part 2. It keeps us open throughout the day.

One of the quickest and easiest ways to accord with the Way I will write about it in the next post. I have to go and cook breakfast now.

Floating downstream,
Shinzen Sensei

Thursday, January 8, 2009

How to Play Dead...Part 2...Mindfulness

In learning how to not feed the bears of pain, 'playing dead' or offering no resistance is important in being able to cope better. As Martial Artists pain can be our constant companion, especially as we get older. Many older Martial Artists begin to feel the cumulative effects of their early training years.

Zazen, as I mentioned earlier, is a great way to offer non-resistance to pain...and eliminate suffering. It is best to practice at least 30 minutes a day...twice a day if you have a lot of chronic pain. But what about the rest of the day when you are not sitting on your cushion watching your breath? This is when you practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is an active engagement of your mind in whatever activity you are engaged in. In Zazen your focus point is the breath. In Mindfulness it is what you are doing right now in the moment. It could be washing dishes, doing your homework, talking to your boss, sitting on the toilet or changing a diaper. Whatever it is, give your undivided attention to it.

Mindfulness practices have been scientifically proven to increase a sense of calmness and inner control, as well as decrease the psychological and physical aspects of chronic pain. It is also a core practice in Zen temples across the world and part of a Samurai's training. So here is a Mindfulness exercise that I teach people to use. I call it, "Talking to your Bears".

Let's say you are getting your Gi on to practice Karate. Your lower back throbs from a break fall that didn't go well two weeks ago and you can feel a burning sensation running down your right sciatic nerve. Your bears are here. So here is how to talk to them and play dead.

"Hi, lower back and leg discomfort, come watch me put on my Gi top." And then refocus your attention on the feel of the Gi and your arm sliding down the sleeve. Now this might sound a bit weird, but give it a try for a 21 day period and see what happens. Don't push for a result...just let the pain (bears) be there. Allow them room. As you do this your suffering will decrease as well as the actual pain. Couple this with Zazen practice and you are well on your way to being able to manage pain.

So, to repeat the process. First, know your purpose of the moment. Then, acknowledge the pain, whether it be physical, emotional or mental by welcoming them in. Then refocus on your purpose and give your full attention to it. Repeat throughout the day.

An important point to remember is that Mindfulness gives you a sense of inner control. How? Think about this. Can you control a Grizzly Bear with your bare hands? Obviously not. And you can't control pain by willpower. Willpower works for short term results but as I expressed earlier it does not work well in long distance work. So, when you focus your mind only on what you don't control you will feel out of control...but if you focus your mind on what you do control you will feel in control. Makes sense right?

So, give it spin around the block. Give it some time and I can't say this enough...don't try to get any results...allow the healing to happen. When you relax and offer no resistance your body/mind's inner wisdom takes over and will take care of you. You just have to have faith. But if you push for a result you will activate the Bears and the Law of Reversed Effect. You will get the exact opposite of what you want.

Be Well,

Shinzen Sensei

ps: One point to make...if you are experiencing pain and it is not getting better always seek the advice of a medical doctor to rule out serious injury. Pain is a sign something is wrong and you need to see if it can be fixed.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to "Play Dead" to the Bears! Part One

In my previous post I spoke of the dangers of trying to run or fight from Pain, whether it be physical, mental or emotional. If you resist in any form you actually make your situation worse. The most common advice when you meet a Grizzly Bear is to 'play dead'. The Bear will still cause some damage, but once the bear is convinced you are dead, a Grizzlies tendency is to leave and come back when you are a bit more 'marinated'.

Pain is the same. When you learn how to not offer any form of resistance, first your Suffering decreases, then the Pain itself will shift. For some people, the Pain disappears eventually altogether. For others, it helps them simply manage more constructively a difficult situation.

So, your first 'Play Dead' exercise is one you are most likely aware of if you are a student of Zen Goshindo Karate or Zen in particular. It is Zazen. More importantly, Shikantaza Zazen. Shikantaza roughly means, 'Just this'. So Shikantaza Zazen is 'Just Sitting Zen'. A daily 10-30 minute practice of Zazen can change your entire perspective about physical pain, stress, anxiety, depression, worries, etc.

Shikantaza Zazen employs your 'Sky Mind' that I spoke of earlier. It is just watching what passes in front of you like the sky watches the clouds. Everything passes and is temporary. One thing I learned from practice is that all things are truly transient and temporary. The old saying, "And this too shall pass" is so true. You get a concrete grasp of this reality of constant change. Just wait...the snow melts and the grass will grow.

For Karate students, Sky Mind, has the same root word of Ku or Kara that is in Karate. It is the Emptiness that all things flow from and return. To practice Zazen is to practice your Karate. It will allow your "Bears" not to be fed. You will begin to feel more in control of your life and not be bothered by the 'passing clouds' of your life.

Scientific research has shown that meditation exercises the part of the brain that we make choices from and it makes us feel more in well as calm. I can attest to this from personal experience.

A quick review of Zazen. Simply find a quiet space. Sit on the floor cross-legged using a cushion that raises your hips above your knees...or if you choose to use a chair. Same advice. Make sure your hips are above your knees. Then sit straight with chin tucked in a bit, tongue at roof of mouth and eyes half open. Put hands in lap with left hand resting on top of right hand and thumbs touching. (see my Profile pic for hand position). Then, watch your breathing come and go. When the mind wanders just return it to breath. Practice daily if you can for at least 10 minutes a day, working your way up to 30 or 40 minutes.

That's it. I encourage you to read my post about how Kata is useless. It will help with some perspectives and practice.

I will post some more "Play Dead" exercises later...but Zazen is the Grandaddy of them all.

Be Well,
Shinzen Sensei

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Please...Don't Feed The Bears!

Two years ago at the North Central Instructor's Black Belt Federation's seminar in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, one of the Pshi Kai Do Black Belts approached me and thanked me for teaching him on how 'not to feed the bears' a few years prior. This seasoned Black Belt had just had, I believe, his right ring finger amputated at the first knuckle the day prior to the seminar. He had badly injured it weeks earlier on-the-job and rehabilitation did not help it, so he decided to have this portion of his finger amputated.

Holding his bandaged hand in the air, he informed me that during the evening his pain medication had worn off and his pain was beginning to escalate. He then remembered "Please, Don't Feed the Bears!"....applied the principles and fell asleep. No further pain medication was needed that evening. He was so elated with this, he couldn't wait to tell me.

So, what is 'Please Don't Feed the Bears?'

It is very simple actually. Pain, whether it be physical, mental or emotional has the same nature as a Grizzly Bear. No matter if your back aches, you're depressed and anxious worrying about the future you can deal with all three in the same manner.

When faced with a Grizzly Bear there are two things you are typically told not to do. One is to fight. The other is to run. Both of these reactions entices the bear to attack and eat you... and the bear gets fat! Both of these reactions are natural for us but they will actually make matters worse for will increase your pain and suffering.

Take insomnia for an example. Did you ever notice that the harder you try to go to sleep the more awake you get? I see similar examples on daily basis with my clients. They are trying to fight or run from their problems...but are only making matters worse. Carl Jung, a famous psychoanlayst and student of Freud, is quoted as saying, "What the mind focuses on, expands."

Shinzen Young, another Buddhist practitioner and pain management specialist, has a formula he uses to illustrate the Grizzly Bear principle. It is P x R = S. P stands for pain. R is resistance. S is suffering. If you use the normal pain scale of 0-10 with 10 being the most pain and plug in some numbers, watch what happens.

If P is 5 and R is 5, you have 5x5= 25. Your S, or suffering, is off the scale. With moderate pain and moderate resistance you have extreme suffering. If you 'play dead' to the 'bears' and do not resist and make your R = 0 you have the formula of 5x0=0. You can have pain, but no suffering! The bears do not get fed!

There is an old Zen saying that goes like this. "Pain is inevitable, but Suffering is optional." This mathematical formula proves it...and so was the Pshi Kai Do expert able to put it into action. He is a true warrior.

So, how do we 'play dead'?

Well, maybe I will leave that for the next post. I will just let you know, it involves Karate's 'Kara' (emptiness), Zen meditative and Karmic clearing practices and Taoist principles of managing the mind...some you are already familiar with, others a tad bit esoteric you will probably think I have gone a bit too far out on the edge. Hey, that's what several concussions will do for you...everything has its benefits you know!

Till next time...Be Well.

Shinzen Sensei

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Sanchin Bunkai: Double Lapel Grab

Happy New Year!

Let's start the New Year with some Sanchin Self-defense techniques. Sanchin is a wonderful kata for close quarter's combat as it gives us a good root to maintain both mental and physical stability as well as the movements to defend ourselves.

In the photos we have Tyler Albertson Senior and Tyler Albertson, Junior. Tyler, Sr is being attacked by Tyler, Jr with a double lapel grab and beginning to pull him in.

Tyler, Sr as set his root and brings his arms up in Sanchin 'Crane' posture. He then 'sinks' Tyler, Jr.

After sinking, dependent on Tyler, Jr's position, Tyler Sr can choose his response. In this situation, Tyler, Jr has leaned to his Dad's right, which sets him up for Tyler Sr's right elbow across the temple.

If Tyler, Jr would have sank straight down in front of his Dad, Tyler Sr could shoot out both hands to his face or thumbs in the eyes. This would stay 'truer' to the outer form of Sanchin, however, here Tyler, Sr is using the inner 'form' of Sanchin by exploding into his attacker.

Notice Tyler Sr stays in his spot. He neither moves forward or backward. Getting back to photo two, you can notice Tyler Sr's right forearm tucked in his son's left elbow area. As he slides his arms back this draws Tyler Jr down...and if done swiftly with good root and breathwork, it also snaps the attacker's neck back a bit giving him a surprise.

Practice and get a feel for how this works. Nothing fancy. This technique also works well in our winter wonderland when the attacker is wearing a heavy jacket and boots and the footing is slippery or uneven due to the snow and ice. No need to do anything fancy and worry about slipping. Just stay calm with your root, disrupt his purpose and restore harmony.

May your 2009 be full of Health and Happiness!
Shinzen Sensei