Friday, March 27, 2009

I Don't Know

Sensei Dan Lutsey of Shorei Kempo made a nice comment on what he had re-emphasized to him during Shihan Dean's seminar. This is that when facing an assailant on the street you really do not know what they are going to do and you have to keep your ego in check...or at least have a balance of confidence and caution. This 'I don't know what is going to happen' mind set is important to analyze as Martial Artists. Yes, we don't know what the other person is going to do...and to be honest with most of us don't even know what we are going to do.

Those of you who have been practicing the arts for awhile, I am sure have had beginners come up to you and ask, "If someone tries to punch you in the jaw (or kick you or choke you) what would you do?" My answer is usually, "I don't know". And they look at me disappointed because I didn't give them a clear cut pat answer. I answer this way because I really don't know. Self-defense is not a conscious ego-controlled logical step-by-step reactive answer to an unprovoked attack. It can't is too slow. Self-defense is a holistic ego-less subconscious response based on specific training that generalizes to multiple scenarios. Huh? Can't believe that just came out of my head.

What this means is that we really cannot know how we will react or respond in any given situation because there are too many variables that come into play. In many cases these situations will never repeat themselves exactly. I don't know what I would do if someone were to punch at me or try to kick me. I do know something will happen, but odds are "I" am not going to be doing it. Again, those of you who are skilled and do some form of Chi Sao or Kakie know you can't do this with a step by step mind set. It is a flow and 'listening' with the arms/body/spirit that needs to be practiced... and if you are like me many times you surprise yourself by the 'blocking' or 'intercepting' that is happening and you are not doing it. It simply gets done.

In Zen, we talk about having this "I don't know mind" and value it as extremely important to recognize and rest in. It is the Beginner's Mind that Suzuki Roshi spoke of. As Martial Artists I believe we need to trust our "I don't know mind" as well as our training. When we do there is nothing we need to worry about in the face of an attack. I love "I don't know mind" because it is a nice place to rest and relieves me from having to know all the answers.

Oh, well. I guess that is enough rambling for a Friday evening.

Be Well,

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lessons Learned from this Weekend

One of the lessons I re-learned at Shihan Dean's seminar this past weekend is that when your opponent launches an attack it is important to position yourself in a strong posture for quick and automatic defense with power. We practiced lots of tai sabaki, or body movement, close quarters, mid-range and long range. The basic lesson is to be moving but move so you are in a position of power and balance. Shihan emphasized this point during the seminar. It is basic but must be drilled and drilled. Sometimes these most basic of concepts get lost and it is important to find them again.

In the above picture, Sensei Micik has positioned herself outside of Sifu Marquardt's reach and has moved in to counter-attack.

For those of you who attended I would like to know what you learned or re-learned. Please share with a comment to this post. I learned a lot more than just the above but would like to hear from you as well.
Here Shihan Dean has moved just outside of Sensei Shepard's punch. He has moved just off-center of the attack and has positioned himself to launch a counter attack or run.

Take Care...and again thanks to the Rhinelander Dojo for the invitation and great time. Also I want to thank the Fu Chen Kung Fu and Shorei Kempo practitioners for attending. Working out with you guys is always a treat.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Pics from Shihan Dean's Seminar

A Big Thank You to Shihan Dean, Sensei Rob Shepard, Sensei Al Klaver and Mr. Ernie Paulson. A good time was had by all. Anybody got anymore Jow? Enjoy the pics.

Sensei Jen and Brian
Sensei Rob standing....Mr. Paulson being taken down
Sensei Rob
Jean and Sensei Verna
Young Man with lots of potential and some goofy Fu Chen guy...oops...Sifu Marquardt!
Sifu Marquardt and Shihan Dean
Jean and Sensei Verna again
Sensei Dan Lutsey
Shihan Dean and Sensei Shepard
Shihan Dean still hard to catch
Shihan watching the action
Sigung Penca in the black....tough to catch him standing still
Future Goshindo Black Belts!
Sensei Rob and Brian going at it.
These guys were working really hard
Sensei Jen Lutsey
Sigung Penca
Jean and Mr. Paulson

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Rhinelander Dojo: the Early Years

I was reading Mr. Morales-Santo Domingo's post on his early days in his Ochoa Dojo in Puerto Rico. It made me think of when I first started in Rhinelander, Wisconsin. Home of the Hodag. In fact, a few of us are traveling up to Rhinelander this weekend for Shihan Dean's seminar. Can't wait.

I remember walking into the Rhinelander Dojo, well, actually it was the basement of The Memorial Building, a community center. It was full of kids and adults waiting to learn Karate. The dojo was so full, Sensei had to have half of us sit down so the other half could workout. It was sponsored through the Parks and Recreation Dept.

It was 1969, I was 14 years old, and very excited to be learning Karate. My most vivid memories of this time was sweating a lot, the cold concrete floor (it gets really cold in Rhinelander in the winter), knuckle pushups, Sanchin Kata and thinking, "why am I doing this?"

That concrete floor could get so cold and then so slick it made kumite a challenge. I remember slipping and cracking my elbows many times on that floor. Word of caution: Don't try high kicks on a slippery floor. To this day I have sensitive elbows. Also, knuckle pushups on that floor felt like torture for this skinny white belt. Damn those hurt, but that was nothing compared to having to drag ourselves on our knuckles across that floor.

The one thing that actually kept me going was Sanchin. Seeing Ray Zastrow, a green belt at that time, doing Sanchin impressed the living hell out of me. He did one fine Sanchin! All I knew was that I wanted to be doing that! And look like him. Fast forward about a year and there are only about 12 of us left...Sensei weeded out quite a few people....and then to be asked to join him and a few others on Saturday and Sundays for more intense workouts was an honor. This was outside of the jurisdiction of Parks and Rec.

I took a lot of punishment back then as the only safety equipment we had were 'nut' cups and mouth guards. My white gi was always speckled with blood from a bloody nose, usually mine, and I swore I lived with cracked ribs for years. For some reason I kept going back. On these weekend workouts we would kumite for about an hour and a half...then do some ground work and street self-defense for another hour. Almost every weekend until I was 18 was spent on that cold concrete was cold even in the summer, but then you didn't mind as much. Oh yeah, somewhere in there Sensei finally got some mats for our groundwork. We thought we died and had gone to heaven. Mats are softer that concrete, but you knew that.

The Memorial Building has since been torn down but my memories are still there. At times we went to the Junior High Gym when we couldn't use the Memorial Building (it was being condemned.) The wooden floor was great but the showers were awful. No hot water! (It eventually was condemned and torn down too). We took it as a testament to our man-hood to withstand the cold showers and thought of ourselves like the Japanese masters who would stand under the waterfalls. Hey, I was a kid.

My first Gi was made by my mother...but I didn't have a belt. Sensei Dean noticed and gave me his white belt. I was so honored I think I slept with it. After about one year of training, I will never forget this, Sensei Dean came up to me while we were standing at attention, grasped my belt and said, "You are going to make a fine Black Belt some day". At that moment, I knew I was going to become one. Seven years later it happened. I showed up for a Sunday workout at the Jr. High Gym and only Sensei Dean was there. I asked where everyone was and he said "It is just you and me...and by the way, your testing for Shodan today." I just turned my white gi pants brown, if you know what I mean.

Well, that's all I have time for now. I will try and get some pictures from the seminar this weekend.

Take Care,

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mind over Matter: Just for Fun

When I was about sixteen I was introduced to hypnosis and the power of the mind to influence change. One of the funnest things that I learned was how to swing a pendulum on a string with just the power of my intentions. Here's how to do it if you haven't learned this already.

Get a string about six inches long and tie a small object to one of the ends. This object can be a ring, like the type you wear around your finger, or a nut from a bolt. Then hold the string at the end with no object and let it dangle above a table. Stabilize your elbow and wrist so the string and pendulum just hangs. Then with your thoughts begin to intend to move the pendulum keeping your hand still. Give it a minute or two and the pendulum will swing in the direction you intend. After time you can even get it to swing in a circle.

For some reason this just tickled my brain...but it also proved to me the power of the mind being able to project my intentions into a physical reality. This proof of the power of the mind over matter helped me conquer my panic attacks. It showed to me that I can do whatever I set my mind's intentions towards. It gave me faith that their is more to this world than just physical matter.

Take Care,


ps...if you like old Samurai movies, check out Samurai Torrents on my Blog list.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cold Mountain Hermit

Today I am at home with my son, who caught the flu and has made the bathroom his home for the afternoon. The Nebraska Zen Center newsletter came in the mail and had a nice article on Han Shan, an eccentric Chinese poet of the 9th Century.

His real name is not known. Han Shan is his pen-name and means 'Cold Mountain." His life story is full of eccentric behavior and wonderful poetry, much of which, unfortunately, has been lost. He supposedly would visit local temples and perform odd jobs, but mostly poke fun at the piety of the monks. He was a rascal. I like eccentric, radical rascals because they keep us fresh and don't live out of well-worn mind-ruts.

Han Shan often wrote of his life in the mountains...

"My true home is Cold Mountain
perched among cliffs beyond the reach of trouble ...

The Tientiei Mountains are my home
mist-shrouded cloud paths keep guests away
thousand-meter cliffs make hiding easy
above a rocky ledge among ten thousand streams
with bark hat and wooden clogs I walk along the banks
with hemp robe and pigweed staff I walk around the peaks
once you see through transience and illusion
the joys of roaming free are wonderful indeed."

His life was harsh at times as well and you can feel his struggles as he writes about what little he had living in the mountains.

"A trifle poor in the past
today I am completely poor
whatever I do does not work out
every road is a treadmill
my legs quake in the mud
my stomach aches on festival days ..."
Yet, over time he wrote of the beauty of inner freedom.

"Cold Mountain is nothing but clouds secluded and free of dust
a hermit owns a cushion of straw
the moon is his lone lamp
his bed of stone overlooks a pool
his neighbors are tigers and deer
preferring the joys of solitude he remains as a man beyond form."

So, what does he have to with the Martial Arts? Nothing much in terms of punch, kick or throw. What he does do is point us in the way of ceasing the struggle within ourselves. He is teaching us through his life the freedom of spirit...the freedom of Emptiness.

I also just like his poetry. Poetry is painting with words. Nonin is a former English instructor and valued poetry in his teachings to us. He often used the poetry of Walt Whitman rather than traditional Zen stories.

Poetry is a wonderful way of expressing the seemingly unexpressable. It is worthwhile for all Martial Artists to read poetry. Many of the old Masters, like Miyamoto Musashi, were poets and artists. We should carry on this tradition as well and consider it as important as doing Kata or Kumite.

Hands palm to palm.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Katana Training

Now, I know this is going to seem like common sense, but I am going to write briefly about properly training yourself to use a sharp Katana. This is for some of our newer students, especially as we approach summer when we head outdoors for Samurai Summers.

So, the first step is do not use a sharp Katana!

For obvious reasons you can harm yourself very quickly, like slicing off a thumb or toe.

The proper sequence in learning how to safely handle a Katana is to start with a Bokken, or Wooden Sword. You can then safely practice drawing, cutting and resheathing the sword. No fingers or toes are lost. Once you feel comfortable and become skilled at using the Bokken it is time for the next step.

Next, is to get yourself a dull Katana. An inexpensive demo model that you can feel safe in swinging around. Just make sure the handle and blade are properly fastened. You don't want the blade slipping out of the handle. This step allows you to get the 'feel' of swinging a blade and very importantly sheathing it. Sheathing a blade can cause more problems, like losing a thumb, than drawing or cutting.

Once you feel skilled at this level, then and only then should you use a live blade....and then be under supervision of someone who knows what they are doing. This is definitely a time not to let your mind wander into Samurai fantasy time. It is imperative you stay focused and be attentive to what you are doing. If you decided to do some cutting with this blade, again, make sure you have a full tang and the handle is properly attached. Also make sure your blade is sharp. If it isn't sharp and you try cutting you can damage the blade and in worst case scenario break the blade and harm yourself or someone else.

All training, from Bokken to Live Blade, should be conducted under the watchful eye of someone who is trained. You then learn the proper blade etiquette, techniques and skills that will make your Katana training enjoyable and most importantly, safe. Remember, these are all weapons, not toys.

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why Gassho?

In the Martial Arts and the Zen World you will see people putting their hands together, palm to palm, and do a standing bow. This is called a Gassho. Nonin told us that Gassho represents the oneness of duality. When we Gassho to another person we are saying 'You and I are not two." One hand represents you and the other me.

A Gassho can also represent the everpresent 'Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form'. One hand is Form, the other is Emptiness. Gassho-ing is an acknowledgment of this deep teaching and reality that they are not two. They are not one...but also not two.

For myself, it is a deep sign of respect and most of all, Gratitude. I tend to Gassho to animate and inaminate objects in deep thankfulness for being in my life. This started for me many years ago during a sesshin (retreat) at the Zen temple in Omaha. I was putting away my sleeping bag in the spare bedroom. The door was open and Nonin came out of the bathroom into the hallway. He immediately did a 180 degree turn and Gassho-ed towards the bathroom. "Something" hit me. I have no words for it. All I can say is that almost everytime I go to the bathroom now I end up Gassho-ing to the toilet....and this has now extended to all areas of my life.

As most of you know, Karate ends and begins with respect. A Gassho also symbolizes this deep respect we have for the dojo, fellow students, Sensei and ourselves. We must bow often. Suzuki Roshi had stated that without bowing there is no Zen. It is very essential to our transformation and realization of our inner and pure nature. If you watch, you will notice many Karate styles, including ours, have a Gassho in the opening movements of Kata. This helps unify your mind with the Kata. It symbolizes you and the Kata are not two.

The more I Gassho the more feelings of peace and gratitude come over me. This is Budo. This is Ceasing the Struggle. Like the old saying goes, "Try it, you'll like it."

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, March 6, 2009

Why Sanchin is Moving Zen

Many times over the years I would hear how Sanchin Kata is Moving Zen.
Posture for one. Back is straight, chin tucked in, tongue at roof of mouth. Legs and butt/hips form a stable 'triangle'. Focus is another. Breathing is a focal point. Intensity of being here and now should be as if you are walking a narrow beam over a ravine. Total concentration of actual thusness is if it is a matter of life and death. There are many more...but I like to leave that up to the individual to discover.

If any readers have input would love to hear from you.
Take Care,

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Five Dreaded Words

While moving through the ranks there were five words you never wanted to hear when you were standing next to Shihan Dean. These simple words were, "Hey Guys, Now Watch This". This usually meant someone was going to get a little demonstration of discomfort...and if you were standing next to him or had been working with him you knew it was you. Gulp.

I remember about 12 years ago I came to visit Shihan Dean as I was living in Nebraska at that time. My brother, Bob, had come up from Appleton to work out with us. My brother is ranked in Shorei Kempo and Goshindo. Bob was video-taping our workout and Shihan Dean and I were doing some kumite when Shihan stopped and turned to the camera and said those five dreaded words. My brother started laughing so hard he couldn't hold the camera still.(He was just happy he was holding the camera). I froze as I hadn't heard those words in years....and, yes, I was given a lesson.

Shihan Dean said to come after him with a flurry of fast punches and he was going to show me how to 'dance'. Those of you who know me know that I am fairly fast with my hands. Well, I couldn't touch the 'old man' (I say this with deep respect). He picked off my punches and kept me so way off balance I couldn't set long enough to even throw a decent punch of any type. So, like the problem student I always was, during this punching time I said to myself, "I will close the gap and slip a front roundhouse kick in and see if he gets it." My foot still hurts.

So...those of you who are traveling to Rhinelander on March 21st for Shihan's seminar, I have warned you. If you hear those five words, "Hey guys, now watch this" make sure you're not the one standing next to him.

Take Care,


Zen Goshindo: Basic Fighting Strategy

In teaching Karate over the years my philosophy on teaching has always been what Shihan Dean instilled in me year after year: Keep It Simple. Complicated gets you killed on the street. It doesn't mean we never practiced complicated or showy/flashy techniques (they are just fun to play with), but Shihan Dean would always emphasize the difference. I do too.

In 1988 I started Zen Mountain Karate Academy out of the basement of my house in Lincoln, Nebraska and eventually had a 3000 square foot dojo with a Zendo. As I was learning how to teach better I began to realize the difficulty many of my students had in practicing all of the kata we had in the system. I then could hear Shihan Dean and Nonin speaking in my head about simplicity.

So, I asked myself, "If I could only teach 5 or 3 or even one kata, what would that be?" The one kata was an easy choice...Sanchin. Then I picked Naihanchi. After learning Sanchin and Naihanchi I would assign then a new kata, such as Seisan or Seiuchin, dependent upon the makeup of the student.

So, what about Fighting Strategy? As I was finding my way through the ups and downs of reworking my expression of the hit me. I decided to look at my Kata and Self-Defense applications in terms of ..'what would I teach my daughters?' What do they need to learn to be able to defend themselves? This became the central core of what I would teach and how I even began to see Kata Bunkai. As I changed the 'lens' by which I viewed Kata, it all changed.

Here is my lens: I try to make sure that all of what we do is designed to defend against three attackers and all techniques must be swift, efficient and easy to do for a small person. (this helps me too because I am 5'8" and weight in at 155 lbs)

With this central theme, Zen Goshindo was developed around simplicity and a father's fear of his daughters not being able to care for themselves. Nothing mystical or esoteric. Just functional. We also have fun and like most Martial Artists, appreciate receiving a good bloody nose from a well-executed technique...or maybe a not so-well executed defense. (I tell my students we switched to black gi's because it hides the blood stains)

So, that's it for a little history and fighting strategy of Zen Goshindo.

Take Care,

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Zen Goshindo Karate: Some Lineage

I have a few minutes this morning and I decided to respond to a question from ZenHG at the Dojo Floor Blog. He was curious about Zen Goshindo Karate.

Our branch of Goshindo Karate was originated by Master Frank Van Lenten of Goju-ryu Karate. He had studied with a myriad of Karate instructors while in Okinawa with the Marines. He was also a student of Master Shimabuku of Isshin-ryu Karate. The first Kata's we learned were beginning Isshin-ryu (combo of Goju and Shorin-ryu) Katas of Sesan, Sanchin and Naihanchi.

My instructor Shihan Paul Dean, after achieving rank in Goshindo Karate, started studying with Master Tadashi Yamashita (Shorin-ryu) while Master Yamashita was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (I have some old 8 mm film of Master Yamashita teaching Naihanchi). Through Master Yamashita we learned the Pinan system of katas.

As I matured in the arts I had the opportunity to train with Master Yozan Mozig. He is a Master of Zen Shuri-te Karate, Psychology Professor (University of Nebraska-Kearney) and Zen Buddhist Priest. He inspired me to add Zen to our Goshindo to illustrate the Zen focus of our art. At that time I was studying Zen with Reverend Nonin Chowaney of the Nebraska Zen Center.

Zen Goshindo Karate is about simplicity and self-discovery. Zen Goshindo means Self-discovery through the way of self-defense. Our principle Kata is Sanchin. More on this later.

Gotta go.

Take Care,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sanchin Dachi

Sanchin Dachi (stance) is a very importance stance in Karate. It provides a sense of stability and rootedness to the earth, which is important to have when defending yourself from a larger opponent.
I have found this stance to be very effective in close quarters combat situations. I work in an office setting in a small office with chairs and desks. Our waiting room is also full of chairs and tables. There is very little room to move into a fighting stance you would use in kumite or as you see in full contact mixed martial arts. It is not for the ring, but for the street. I have used this stance (and the kata's bunkai/street applicaton) in an office self-defense setting. It works!
When practicing Sanchin Dachi it is traditional to carry heavy weights in your hands hanging down from the sides. This helps with a sense of stability and being close to the ground. It also help your muscles, tendons and nerves get used to pressure upon the legs so it becomes natural to stay this way when when someone is pressing you in an attack.
Many Karate-ka will tell you that when first practicing this stance it feels very awkward...but after years of training it becomes very natural and easy. In fact, you might just find yourself standing like this when waiting in line for a movie or at the grocery store. The stance itself can provide a sense of alert calmness as well.
Even though Sanchin Dachi might feel and look like an immobile stance, it is in fact very mobile when you learn how to use the feet and hips to manipulate your opponent. Notice the inward 'hook' position of the front foot in the photo. This can be used to hook your foot behind your opponent's leg to uproot him...or this leg position can protect you from a front kick to the groin by simply lifting your knee.
A front scrotal kick can also be 'caught' by both your legs as you squeeze them together...this one takes some practice....but all it takes is missing a few times and you get the hang of it. I could go on and on about Sanchin Dachi, however, I want to hear what you know.
I invite any readers out there to respond with how Sanchin Dachi helps them or how they use it in self-defense...or in any way for that matter. Or any training tips on making the legs stronger, etc. We love to learn at the Broken Bokken Dojo.
Be Well,