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


  1. Bravo Shinzen Nelson!

    What are we looking for indeed.

  2. love it shinzen! read it to dennis here at the school.. his instictive zen mind said what about reaching for the other moon? the real one.. the source of the illusion! miles zhen wren

  3. Miles: Did you ever see Family Guy where Chris has climbed into the tree and is trying to get the moon? He falls and hits the earth...he caught nothing but air...and a concussion.

    Jorge: Thank you...again, too much caffeine, too early in the morning.