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,



  1. Teacher said something similar to me once. I started kobudo in mid-life, and felt this terrible rush to learn as much as possible...that I had missed so much and had to somehow 'catch up'. Time was limited.

    Teacher said, 'What's the rush? You have a lifetime.' That took all the wind out of my sails! LOL! But did change the way I thought about training. As you say, 'You train until you die.'

  2. Thanks for the wonderful insight. Yes, there is no rush.

  3. I love this post.

    Most people who walk through the dojo doors view black belt as the end. It takes them a while but eventually they start to realize that it is in fact...the beginning.