Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dealing with Enemies

His enemies are not demons,
but human beings like himself.
He doesn't wish them harm....

He enters a battle gravely,
with sorrow and with great compassion.

Lao Tzu

As Budoka, it is important for us to listen to these words from the Old Man...Lao Tzu. Entering into battle is a serious event with potentially dire consequences, even when defending one's self. Our enemies, or assailants, are not demons but flesh and blood like ourselves. A Sage or Follower of the Way exemplifies compassion and wishes noone any harm.

A few years ago one of my Black Belts from Nebraska had a desire to develop his Chi to a very strong state for defense purposes. He wanted to know how to do this. I remembered that the founder of Aikido, O'sensei Uyeshiba, once stated it is more important to develop compassion than Ki or Chi. This is what I relayed to my student. He took the advice and was thankful as it made sense to him...me too. For I too, at one time, had the same desire, and have found compassion much stronger than Chi.

Lao Tzu also stated:

As weapons are instruments of destruction, they are not properly a gentlemen's instruments; Only of necessity will he resort to them. For peace and quiet are dearest to his heart, and to him even a victory is no cause for rejoicing.

It is a very sad thing to harm another, even in self-defense, and this is why whenever you face a confrontation it is best to walk away if you can. However, if you can't walk away and you must resort to violence, Lao Tzu would say it is prudent, although still tragic.

Patient with both friends and enemies, you accord with the way things are.

So if you need to defend yourself. Defend yourself....but have compassion. For Lao Tzu also states: When two armies join in battle, the one that is compassionate wins.

Words to chew on.

Hands palm to palm,


Monday, April 27, 2009

Keep It Simple

One of the basic premises of Zen Goshindo Karate....and many other forms of Budo...is to keep self-defense very simple. In the photo above Mariah stuck her bokken straight to Ross's heart as he attacked with an overhead strike. His bokken is obscured by the speed he was moving and the light coming through the window. If she hadn't stuck him or moved, Ross would have hit her. He was moving fast with a good swift strike. Mariah, keeping it simple used a straightline approach. Nothing flashy but so damn effective. You should have heard the 'aahhs' after her technique. Everyone new she had a kill shot.

I will post more bokken stuff soon and show some of their good movement.

Take Care,

Like A Rock

A Sage doesn't glitter like a polished jewel

but lets himself be shaped by the Tao,

as rugged and common as a stone.

Lao Tzu

When I read this today it made me stop and think about some of the teachers I have had in life...my sages. None of my teachers, both in Zen and Budo looked like polished jewels. They all had rugged rough edges and if you met them on the street you would think nothing special.

Shihan Dean always looked like he just got out of bed and I swore if you put a clean neatly pressed Gi on him it would immediately get wrinkled upon touching his body. And his belt (obi) never looked like he tied it the same way twice. To look at him, nothing much. But to work with him over time and let him teach you was wonderful and as I look back, priceless. More priceless than a jewel.

Our Dojo was never anything real fancy. Only until this year the Rhinelander Dojo was an itinerant one, renting place to place. For awhile I thought perhaps we only used condemned buildings for our Dojo since the early buildings we practiced in were torn down.
I contrast this to the fancy dancy dojo's of modern time. I don't mean to disparage them, for they do help foster good values and continue the art, but there is something about them needing to be 'the shining jewel' and have everyone look at them and give them praise. Enough said.

Nonin, my Zen teacher, refuses to be called Roshi. (Roshi, today, is a title for Zen Master, even though it means 'old man') He sees himself as a common priest. But I will let you in on a secret...He's a priest with an attitude. If you ever pick up the book, "Thank You and Okay...An American Zen Failure in Japan" by David Chadwick, you can read about Nonin. He's one of the priests Chadwick meets on his journey into Japan. Chadwick changed Nonin's name to Norman for the book's purpose and I know Nonin proofread it before it went to publishing. Nonin was a bit of a headache to the Japanese priests. It's a good and funny book. It shows a rough and rugged side of Nonin others rarely see.

I recommend taking a look at your life. Do you want to be the big shining jewel or be common like a stone? I bet most of us want to be that shining jewel, glittering and being the center of attention. It is okay to have some of those moments to develop self-esteem, but over time it must be balanced. I know I still have those ego-related moments, but then I simply look to my mentors, my common stones. Rough and shaped rugged by the winds and waves of time. Shapped by the Tao. This helps bring me back to earth where I feel grounded. Like a rock.
Take Care,

Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Random Pics

PJ, Joel and Mariah are ready for testing.
Mariah finally chokes out Verna!

Thank You to Andy and Joe for their assistance in testing.

Thank You to Ross for helping test as well as patch up Joel (see last pics)

Some Quick Draw Samurai action

Some Great Sword Play!

Joel catches an elbow with his eye...it turned a nice black and blue by Tuesday!

Ross patching up Joel's elbow...nasty rug and mat burn!

Enjoy the pics.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Be Yourself

When you are content to be simply yourself

and don't compare or compete,

everybody will respect you.

Lao Tzu

I will post in the near future more pictures from this weekends Black Belt testing, but I want us to notice something. It is important to see that all three participants are unique. PJ is built like a mountain. He reminds me of the legendary Mas Oyama of Kyokushinkai. Strong, stable and durable. Joel is average height, slim and rubbery. He flows easily and has natural timing and rythym. Mariah is petite but there is nothing small about her attitude. She defends herself like a crazed badger. She moves her hands, feet, elbows, knees like a blender chopping and slicing anything in its way. Trust me, it's scary.

All three are now Black Belts. All three with unique and special talents. All three have different ways in which to defend themselves. Given similar situations throughout testing they all performed different 'techniques' yet all extremely effective.

The testing this weekend reminded me of how a follower of the Way uses what is given to her or him and does not compare or compete. Just use what is yours and respect comes your way. If Mariah or Joel tried to defend like PJ they would get stomped. If PJ tried to use Mariah's blending it would not be as effective. They all use their own talents and are learning to be content with this and growing into it. Such is the wonderful way of the Tao.

Take Care,


ps...more pics later this week. I have a hectic schedule.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Random Pics from Testing

Mariah stabbing Sensei.

Take that!
Joel about to throw Rick
PJ about to throw Rick...Rick falls good!
PJ doing Sanchin
Sanchin Testing
More Sanchin Testing
Even more Sanchin Testing...sooo much fun!
PJ waiting to be attacked...He reminds me of Mas Oyama.
Tyler taking PJ down
Verna pulling Mariah's hair
Verna running after pulling Mariah's hair.
Meeting of the Minds

There's more. I will get them organized for some teaching time too.

Take Care,

Congrats to Mariah, PJ and Joel!

We have three new Shodans at the Broken Bokken Dojo! They are Mariah Herber, Joel Patterson and Patrick Jacobs (PJ). Congratulations on a job well done. They did a superb job in demonstrating their skills and knowledge of Zen Goshindo Karate. I was very impressed with the depth of their answers from the Review Board's questions. They have now been added to the list of Yudansha.

I will be putting together a gallery of pictures from the testing, hopefully soon. I had some technical difficulties last night, probably operator error, and had troubles getting the pictures to post. I will be working on these tonight.

Again, Congratulations!


Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Rush

Those who work at their studies increase day after day:
Those who have heard the Tao decrease day after day.
They decrease and decrease till they get to the point where they do nothing.
They do nothing and yet there's nothing left undone.
Lao Tzu (Ch. 48)

In my last post Narda's situation of starting Kobudo training later in life made me think of this quote from Lao Tzu. One reason for studying Budo is to cease the struggle of battling our own Ego-driven lives. Our ego's, at least I know mine works this way, loves to gather knowledge and show it off. Our ego also gets to feeling insecure if it senses it might not know enough. It begins to grasp after knowledge like a drowning man reaching for a life preserver. It begins to 'work'.

A follower of the Way, one who has heard the Tao, does not rush, does not 'work'. She decreases not in knowledge, but in Ego. It is Ego that gets chipped away by the study of Budo. There is no rush in the study of any Martial Art. It is the Ego that wants more and more and feels rushed and works harder gathering more and more. It is this rushing that actually strengthens Ego. Taking your time and just being here is the practice of Ego-lessness and Budo. This is the daily decreasing I believe Lao Tzu was referring to. It is similar to that old Zen saying that there really is nothing to gain and no place really to go.

Good teachers like Narda's know this. For those who come to Budo later in life it is no big deal. The Tao recognizes no such thing as time or age. It is only Ego that measures it. Ego loves comparisons. So, just carry on with 'everdayness' of your practice. As you do this, the daily decreasing of Ego happens naturally and you enter into that wonderful area of doing nothing, yet everything gets done.

Hope these ramblings make some sense.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, April 17, 2009

Until You Die!

I often get asked by people, "How long do I need to train in the martial arts?" The best answer I have comes from Zen Master Kodo Sawaki. He would often get asked, "How many years do I have to practice Zazen?" He would answer, "Until you die".

He would then comment that most people are not happy with that statement, especially those individuals who prefer instant gratification or think that if they understand something cognitively, they know it. Martial Arts training is the same as the practice of Zen. How long do you need to train? Until you die!

A Dojo is not like a University or College where you take coursework and then graduate. The practice of Budo is a lifestyle. It is a lifelong adventure for those who approach it with the proper attitude. For those who simply want ego-stroking or to get a Black Belt will eventually leave the arts. These type of students will typically find a dojo where they can get a one or two year Black Belt...then quit, thinking they know it all. For me, this is why a Black Belt in Zen Goshindo takes anywhere from five to ten years to earn. The Black Belt only goes to those who I sense are going to practice the arts till they die.

I emphasis to my students that the Shodan, or First Degree Black Belt rank, means 'first step'. Just like a baby's first step. You are just getting started. Talk to any of us old farts who have been around for over 20, 30, 40 years in the arts. They will all tell you they are just getting started...and will never quit.

Zen and the Martial Arts have a lot in common. We do not sit zen or do kata to get anything or go anywhere special. It is a simple practice of just being here/now, breath by breath. We do this till we die.

Hands palm to palm,


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Quick Self-Defense Tip of the Day

This tip is for when you are at mid to long range with someone you feel is getting aggressive and might attack. Typically, if they are at a long range and I have room to run I will. No sense adding violence to this world or a disorderly conduct charge to my name. But if you can't avoid a physical confrontation and it is imminent, be aware of the assailant's feet.

It makes sense. He can't hit you unless he steps at you. When he moves his feet, move yours. Don't stand there, but begin to move offline (remember to protect your centerline?) This will disrupt him a bit and give you an opportunity to assess what his hands are going to be doing.

If you are in close quarters, even a slight shift of your body position will do. This will keep your centerline from being bombarded and again hopefully disrupt your opponent's intent just a second or two for you to launch your defense.

Training tip: Have a partner and yourself stand facing each other. Have your partner step and you mirror that step or simply move to give proper spacing to feel safe. Keep doing this and learn to see the feet out of your periphery vision. This 'dancing' is simple to do and well worth the effort to making it an unconscious habit.

Take Care,

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Flowing Home to the Sea

The Tao is a great river flowing home to the sea.
Lao Tzu

Last evening I chanced upon a television show comparing the way of the Samurai to that of a Viking. They were trying to determine who was the deadliest warrior. All I could do was laugh at such nonsense, then had to remember such comparisons are for those who do not really know the arts...or for the Warriors, they just want to be on TV.

Lao Tzu often compared the Tao as a river flowing home to the sea. There are many rivers in this world, just as there are many forms of warriorship. They all flow home to the sea, returning to emptiness, the great Void, the Tao. To say one is better than the other is nonsense.

To study one form of Budo is to know eventually you will find the peace you are looking for. When you really examine those of us in the Martial Arts, we are seekers looking for some peace in our lives. It can be to lose weight, gain confidence or learn self-defense. Some form of insecurity drove us to study the arts.

To compare your art to another is to bring about great suffering for yourself. (unless you look at the differences to enhance your understanding of Budo and not to disparage the other art.) Simply study your artform without unnecessary comparisons on whose artform is better or worse. To cut down another Art and saying yours is better is ego-related, fragmented thinking and not in line with the Tao or spirit of the Martial Arts.

All Martial Arts have their strengths and weaknesses...just like a river has its deep and shallow spots, its fast and slow spots, its straight and curvy spots. And just like a river, it is moving towards the sea. So are you as you accord with the Way in your art. This why your art ends in '-do' , such as Karate-do, Goshin-do, Judo, Aikido, Tae Kwond Do, etc. These are all rivers flowing to the sea...going home. Just ride the current and you too will find your way home.
Take Care,

Monday, April 13, 2009

Training in the Country

Reading ZenHG's Transient Dojo post reminded me of a time when a good friend of mine, Mike Iott, and I would train. I was about 19 years old at the time. Mike was about three years older than me and had gone through the ranks with Sensei Dean, but also had been an MP in the army. Mike came back with a lot of Kung Fu based information and practices as well as weapons training.

Fortune had it that Mike and I ended up working together at the Rhinelander Cafe & Pub. His brother-in-law was the head chef. We were both cooks and had a great time. We were always 'working out' in the kitchen. Our favorite weapon of choice was the sharp toothpick with an olive at the end. These made great darts and we we were able to draw some blood on a few occasions. We had to stop after we stuck one at the end of the Chef's nose.

The best times however were after work. Mike and I would get together at his place out in the country. He had this great hill we could work on. We mostly did weapons work. No katas. Just free-sparring. We used nunchakus, three-sectional staffs, bo, jo, sai, tonfa, knife, bokken, shuriken and occasional kama. We were careful in our training, but often bruised and battered ourselves.

We had to keep moving. This was Northern Wisconsin in the woods. Mosquitoes are thick and if we stopped we were swarmed. The one summer we worked together I learned a lot about weaponry and body movement. It was very fruitful as well as just plain old fun.

I encourage all of my students to get together with each other and just play. It is the best way to learn.

Take Care,

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Straw Dogs

Heaven and Earth are not humane.
They regard all things as straw dogs.
The sage is not humane.

Lao Tzu

Can Lao Tzu, Taoism's historic founder, really mean the sage is not humane? You betcha! A sage is not trying to be humane, wonderful, beautiful or anything for that matter. A sage is just a sage.

On a similar note, practicing a martial art with non-violent intentions has nothing to do with being nice or kind or noble. Considerations of good and bad, noble and ignoble invite comparison, dependencies and a false sense of ego. Heaven and earth...nature...do not make these comparisons. Remember, the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Tornadoes take out the innocent and the guilty. It makes no distinctions.

A Martial Artist who accords with the "Way" simply walks through life organically, moving with whatever happens to be needed done next, joining forces with nature, the universe, in creating greater wholeness out of fragmentation created by the ego. A sage sleeps when a sage is tired, eats when hungry and defends when attacked...with no distinctions. Ponder this.

I can tell I have had way too much caffeine today.

Take Care,


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Self-Defense Tip: Protect the Centerline

A central concept for most Martial Arts I have practiced is: Protect the Centerline. This is that imaginary line that runs right down the front of your face to your crotch.

For self-defense purposes you do not want to get pushed straight backwards against this line. Your balance and root will be taken and you are easy prey for followup attacks.

Learn to guard your centerline with Tai Sabaki...body movement... and arm location. A good exercise to learn how to guard your centerline is a warm up we do called the Elephant Swing. All you do is stand shoulder width apart and begin swinging your hips back and forth. Allow your arms to swing freely and flop back and forth across your chest and back. It is a lot like that toy in the Karate Kid. It looks like a little drum on a stick and attached are two little balls on a string. Rotating the stick back and forth causes the balls to strike the drum.

This exercise teaches you how to protect your centerline by turning and allowing your arms to catch whatever comes in its range. Play with it and see what happens. Stand toe-to-toe with someone and have them reach for you or punch your center line while swinging. Be curious as to what comes next. Have them reach high, middle and low.

There are many other ways to protect your centerline and if you watch and notice good self-defense you will see how the centerline is always guarded. When self-defense is conducted properly your centerline is the turning point of the action...just like in the elephant swing. Just a tip for the day.

If you have more ideas or tips on this subject we are always open to learning.

Take Care,


Friday, April 3, 2009

The Warrior Healer

This week I had a wonderful opportunity to attend a workshop by Mr. Philmore Bluehouse. He is a Navajo Peacemaker and Medicine Man. It was invigorating to listen to him discuss the Warrior's Path. Just like in Budo, the Navajo Way emphasizes that the Warrior must develop his or her Nurturing or Healing side. Without developing and listening to this part of Warriorship, the Warrior is out of balance and, in short, nothing but a bully or punk. A balance of this duality is a part of their ancient traditional teachings and depicted in their artwork as well.

You can see the non-balance in today's martial art's world. It is the macho guy who thinks he can kick everybody's butt and that your art is only good if you can take someone down. Remember the Cobra Kai from the Karate Kid? That type of mentality. You can see it alot in the MMA fighters who are really young...or any style for that matter.

It was wonderful to hear and see the wisdom of the Warrior Way in the Navajo traditions. Mr. Bluehouse lives what he preaches. You can tell he is an authentic Warrior/Healer just by listening to his words and feeling his spirit. He is the real deal. Prior to being a Peacemaker/Medicine Man he was in law enforcement and held very high rank. I encourage all Martial Artists to look into themselves and find the Warrior and the Healer inside of themselves. One thing I found really cool. He spoke of the Arrow and how it can be used to take life or give life. This is the same teaching traditional Budo has with the Katana. It can be used to take or give life. Wisdom is wisdom.

Remember, authentic Budo means to 'Cease the Struggle', besides 'Way of the Warrior'. This means to create peace, not only in ourselves, but our communities. This is why the Broken Bokken Dojo conducts a Zen & Healing Arts Retreat every September, with the proceeds going to local charities. We want to remind fellow Martial Artists of this path and to provide opportunities for learning different types of healing. I know many of us are on this path now and want to thank you and encourage you to continue. This part of our Martial Way must be emphasized or I feel we will lose our authenticity as true Warriors.
A preview of this Falls retreat we will have our own Sensei Tyler Albertson teaching us more Jin Shin Do. I have other Warrior Healers I am going to invite and am thinking of having some round table discussions about Healing and the variety of Healing modalities. If any readers who have attended in the past have any imput or suggestions let me know.
Take Care,