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,

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sheathing the Sword

Sheathing a Katana, the Samurai's razor-sharp sword, is an art in and of itself. Iaido, the art of drawing the sword, ends with sheathing and bowing. Sheathing the sword is an extremely important part of Iaido as it is putting the sword 'to rest'.
For those who have followed my blog for awhile, you know I consider the mind to be a sword as well. If you do not train in its use properly it will harm you, but if you discipline your mind it will save you. Thus the old Japanese sayings of 'the sword either will take or give you life'. When your thoughts run rampant and are full of worry and anxiety, this sword will cut you up....but if your thoughts are full of joy and faith, this sword will give you life.
Well, what about the sword that is not cutting? The mind that is not judging or discriminating? What about the mind that is 'sheathed'...put to rest? This is the mind at peace. There is an old Zen poem about Faith Mind and is called the 'Hsin Hsin Ming'. One of the phrases talks about how peace of mind is easy, if we do not pick and choose. Discriminating, judging is the cause of our mental dis-ease. This is your mind-sword cutting your life into separate
To put your sword to rest is the practice of Zazen. The practice of sitting upon the razor's edge...not cutting, not judging...just sitting there...fully present...knowing if you move you get 'cut' and your mind will not be at ease. To be able to 'still' the mind so it sets upon the sword's edge is truly an artform and requires daily practice. You then can see your life in its totality...not the cut up pieces you have left on the floor.
As a warrior, of Zen and Budo, please make it a practice to set a daily time for formal Zazen and throughout the day, practice Mindfulness of Mind, Body, Breath, Spirit. Sit on the razor's edge of the Katana called Now. Peace is there. Why do you think the Samurai, the Shaolin monks and other Warrior cultures practice meditation?
Hands palm to palm,