Friday, February 27, 2009

Radical Zen

I am at work today...slow day. We had a big snowstorm last evening so many of my clients hadn't been plowed out yet and aren't coming in. This gives me some time to write about my favorite historical Zen Master, Bankei Yotaku (1622-1693)

Bankei was a radical and a rascal, which is why I like him so much. He challenged the status quo of Zen practice of his day. He called them out on their overly religious and stiff practices with no substance. But what endeared me to him was his use of everyday language. When he spoke to people he did not use esoteric terms or used quotes, sutras or koans from old masters. He used language the lay person could relate to and infused their lives with calmness and a sense of peace.

To him, Zen was fresh and alive and did not require what he considered 'dead words'. He gave them faith by having them simply trust in their own innate 'Unborn Buddha Nature'. This Unborn was present in each and every activity and simply needed to be pointed to and trusted.

When people would come to his temple for retreats he abandoned the strict formality of Rinzai practice....pissing off the conventional Zen community. Even when his enlightenment was acknowledged by the prevailing Zen community he refused their titles and simply preferred to work in the monastery kitchen. During his retreats he allowed people to come and go as they pleased and did not use koans or the 'stick of awakening'. (The stick was used to slap the shoulders of dozing monks.) He emphasized the simple faith of trusting in the Unborn awakened nature we all have.
I encourage you to read about him. Simply do an internet search and read about his life story. He is very interesting....or if any of my students want to borrow a book or two about him I can loan them to you.
I am thinking that this September's Zen retreat will be conducted in my interpretation of Bankei's teachings...of course he would reprimand me for 'stylizing' his teachings...but what the hell!
Hands palm to palm,

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thanks to Sifu Griffin

Sifu Griffin of Hung Gar Kung Fu has been training on and off with us since this summer. He has agreed to teach us Escrima during the winter months until we can get outside and swing our swords this summer.

In the following pictures we have Sifu Griffin being attacked by Sensei Micik with an overhead strike. Just follow the pictures. What we are learning about Escrima is that many of the strategies are so similar to attacking the hands of the assailant. This post is to thank Sifu Griffin for his teachings.

Take Care,

ps...for my students...remember Shihan Dean's Seminar in Rhinelander on March 21st.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Sword that Takes Life: The Sword that Gives Life

As I look out into the winter wonderland of Northeast Wisconsin I dream of being somewhere warmer, preferably tropical. As I dream of blue skies, warm beaches and the sound of waves splashing upon the shore, I figured it was a good time to discuss Imagination.

As most of you know, Imagination is one of our most powerful mind-swords. I liken the Imagination to a Samurai's Katana. Long and razor sharp. Used incorrectly, it will take your life. Used correctly, it will give you life.

I am sure you can remember a time when you let your imagination run wild. It probably hurt...and people who let their imaginations run wild over the littlest of things usually have a lot of physical discomfort, ie, ulcers, headaches and even backaches. Their Katana of Imagination is cutting them and actually taking their life.

However, when you learn how to sheathe your Imagination (via Zazen) you can then learn how to use it properly to give yourself life. Your Imagination can induce physical healings, calm the emotions and even attract abundance into your life. This is truly the sword that gives life...but you must know how to use it correctly!

As you practice Zazen, or even daily mindfulness of your thoughts, be aware of when your mind has wandered from your current here and now activity or purpose. Notice its wanderings and how your daydreaming imagination takes you either into the past or the future. Just notice it and then gently return your focus to your activity or your breathing if you are doing zazen. This is sheathing your mind-sword. It must be done gently and mindfully, just like a real Katana. If you do it with any form of emotion other than gratitude or calmness you will be harming yourself. For those of you who have worked with real Katana...if sheathing your sword is done haphazardly you might just cut off your thumb! Same goes for your Imagination...but you could be cutting off more than just your thumb.

Practice sheathing your imagination. This is true Budo. This is ceasing the struggle. Sometime I will discuss your other mind-swords and the importance of putting them to rest as well. Zazen and Mindfulness training are great methods of putting your mind-swords to rest...and to give you life as well.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, February 20, 2009

Reruns or New Releases

Most of us like to watch some television and go see a movie from time to time. Some shows are so good we like to watch them again, but only a few do we really want to watch over and over, otherwise they tend to get boring.

This can happen with our Kata or interest in Karate as well. Learning a new Kata is like watching a new release at the movies. It is exciting and keeps us entranced for hours on end. It is so good when it comes out in DVD you go and buy it...then watch it over and over...until at some point you get bored with it and put it on the shelf to gather dust. Our Kata practice can take the same path. We practice it over and over but eventually it seems to get boring and we just want to quit.

The real problem is not that the Kata or Karate practice is is your state of mind that is boring. It needs readjusting. Boring happens when you think you know it all or when you are not really seeing the Kata for itself each and every time you practice. You see, every time you practice, let's say Sanchin, you are actually doing a brand new Sanchin. It is different from the one you just did, but your mind is still watching a rerun from the past and saying I know this. This is not the Zen way. This is not a beginner's mind that is open and empty.

The Zen way of looking at Kata is to see each practice time as the first see it as a new release each and everytime you do it. This takes effort at times to see each time you practice Sanchin as the first time. If you are bored it is your mind that has gone sour or stale. You are looking not at Sanchin, but at your feelings and thoughts about Sanchin. Your ego mind likes excitement and will create boring so you move on to something else. This is delusion. Each moment is new and fresh, just like your breath. Each breath you take is new and refreshing. How can it be any different? It is just the ego mind that gets bored with what it considers reruns.

You see there are really no reruns except in your mind. The mind that is mindful of activity moment to moment sees life as new and fresh. It sees only New Releases. This is the Zen way.

Take Care,

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Shihan Dean Seminar Announcement

Just received an invitation from Rob Shepard, Sensei that Shihan Paul Dean is conducting a seminar on March 21st, 2009. It will be in Rhinelander, Wisconsin at the Rhinelander Academy of Karate. Location is 34 S. Brown Street (downtown) in Rhinelander. It is in the lower level of DCI Kitchen Design Studio. (Please use rear entrance)

Registration starts at 9 am.
Seminar starts at 10:00 am and ends at 2:00 pm

Cost is $25 and all proceeds go to benefit the Rhinelander Area Food Pantry.

This is a good time for my students who have never met Shihan Dean an opportunity to meet and work with one of the founders of the Martial Arts in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. You can bet we will be doing some kickboxing and grappling...Shihan Dean loves quick takedowns for the street. You can also be promised some smiles and sweat...probably more sweat during and smiles afterwards.

If any questions just let me know. We can consider car pooling or caravaning.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Zen: The Best Form of Self-Defense

Why do you think the Samurai studied Zen? I really don't know, but I do know this. To study Zen is the very study of how we as human beings can live in peace and harmony. And to me, this is the highest form of Goshin, or Self-Defense. The practice of Zen is not a means of escape from reality, but as the Samurai knew, a direct encounter with your life as it is.

For instance, let's say you take a side kick to your ribs and pain penetrates your skin, muscles, all the way to bone and marrow. Perhaps you might say a few choice words, but in reality there is nothing really to say. All you can do is hold your ribs. Trying to understand the pain intellectually or philosophically is not going to help. All there is is you holding your ribs tasting the pain deeply.

In this moment is your opportunity for seeing and understanding your life as it is. You are are now. Just like having your ribs kicked in, Zen practice and your daily life are the same. It is urgent. It is now. It is simultaneously the means and the end. This is where peace and harmony occur. To practice Zen is to 'see' this. Zen practice is simply eating breakfast, getting ready for work, practicing kata, taking a piss and being polite and mindful with friends and family.

It is from this practice that we see life from a new perspective. Life simply is as it is. Empty and open. Zen practice accomplishes this by uniting us with the Universal part of ourselves which is anchored in peace and harmony. When we live in peace and harmony all sense of Self vanishes as a dream fades when we awaken. The need for Self-defense ceases to exist as the fear of death and dying have faded with the Self. This is why I consider Zen the best form of Self-Defense. Perhaps this is one reason why the Samurai practiced Zen?

Take Care,

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Freedom within Structure

I have a moment in between counseling clients now and after my last post and reading ZenHG's post on Prajna-Paramita Kata (go read it if you haven't)...I feel compelled to write about finding freedom within structure. It is about finding Emptiness within the Form...and I guess also Form within Emptiness.

Kata for instance is Form. It is the action of Karate and without Kata there is no Karate. Now, granted over the years, certain Kata change and evolve dependent upon the practitioner's interpretation and life situation. However, it is important as we grow in the Arts to try and keep the Kata as close to the original as possible. Why? To find the Freedom or Emptiness within it. Once you find the Freedom/Emptiness then the Kata's outer form begins to change...naturally.

Here's an analogy for you. Imagine a mountain with water flowing down one of its valleys. The rocks that comprise the valley provide the form through which water flows down. As the water flows down the valley it follows the contours of the rocks, however, over time the water begins to change the very rocks themselves. They will eventually look different.

Your Kata are the rocks. As you practice your Kata you will begin to feel the flow of your Ki. Your inner Ki or Chi or Spirit is the Water. As your Ki flows, and follows the Kata, eventually it will begin to reshape the Kata itself. Eventually you may even have a brand new looking kata.

Make sense?

Just a thought for us to ponder. Gotta go back to work.

Be Well,

Friday, February 6, 2009

Jiyu Kata

Some styles of Karate have Jiyu Kata and others don't. Jiyu Kata is free form kata. Just like Jiyu Kumite, or Free-Style Sparring, there is a Jiyu Kata. We all tend to break out into some form of movement throughout the day. Perhaps you are walking through your living room and the urge to move into a spontaneous dance of Karate takes over. Or you are in your kitchen and take a butter knife out of the drawer and you are suddenly transformed into a sword yielding Samurai until your spouse yells at you to grow up (yes, I have a rich fantasy life). This urge to move is natural for a martial artist and also develops strong powers of focus and visualization...and are actually helping you develop and hone your physical skills. Plus it is just plain fun.

The post is to give you a bit of some structure to move into the unstructured. During your personal practice time prepare yourself and just stand at attention...perhaps even bowing in as if you are going to do a kata...but just stand. Do not move until you feel movement swell up deep from inside of yourself...and then just allow your body to follow and flow with this movement. Be aware of when your conscious judging mind starts to get in the way. When it does, just invite it come with you as you flow with movement. There are no rules about how long the kata should be or what it should or should not look like...just and see what happens. The most important point is to let the mind be like a ping pong ball on moving water. Allow it to just move with the body. When you are judging too much, stop. Then start again, but only when you really feel inner movement.

Over time your ability to just flow with this inner feeling will grow and become stronger and enhance your abilities with your training partners or on the street for self-defense. This being aware of your inner flow is important in being able to eventually flow with another. Yes, we have 'sticky hand' practice for this, but Jiyu Kata helps connect you with the inner flow of movement. Sticky Hand practice can be a bit too externally focused until you connect with this inner movement.

You will also begin to develop a sense of joy as you move. In fact this is one of the inner movements that I follow. As I stay with 'joy' I move. When I start to not feel joy I move to accord with it...or stop and start again.

Hope this makes sense. I tend to ramble a bit and I have to go now.

If any questions or

Be Well,