Thursday, December 31, 2009

Naihanchi on the Ground

About fourteen years ago I had published an article on Naihanchi Kata in "The World of Martial Arts" magazine. It showed how the principles of Naihanchi can relate to some ground self-defense when you have someone in your guard and they begin to punch you.

I have done my best to show you Naihanchi Shodan (Tekki/Naifuchin) standing and the ground comparison. If any questions...ask...and explore this for yourself. The concepts are more important than the exact technique. Hope this makes sense to you all.

One photo on the ground is is with the first 'wave kick'. This is a push on the attacker's hip to move him down so as to execute the second 'wave kick' which wraps around the head and pulls the attacker down into an arm bar.

In the white Gi is Chris Hadfield...he came to me with almost a decade of jujitsu and ninjutsu training. In the black Gi is Mike Mullin, or Iron Mike, as we call him. Tough as nails. He's the guy I mentioned who defended himself against three attackers in one of my other posts. The guy standing is me...with black hair even!

Take Care...and Have a Happy New Year!

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, December 28, 2009

Sky Mind

This morning, with coffee cup in hand, I was standing at my back patio door looking out at the sky. Clouds were rolling across rather quickly displaying the sky from time to time.

My mood when approaching the patio door was rather subdued and I was feeling a sense of sadness. I don't know why I felt this way. But when I watched the clouds roll across the face of the sky I remembered an old Zen saying: 'The Sky is not bothered by the passing clouds.' I began to feel better and ceased to be bothered by my own rolling clouds.

It's amazing how therapeutic it is to just be the sky.

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, December 21, 2009

Zen Koan Defense

Last evening I received a phone call from Andy, a martial artist who is currently out in Los Angeles. He is a Shorei Kempo student out of Green Bay and would come to study with us from time to time.

Andy is very inquisitive and loved discussing koans and using words as a self-defense tool to freeze the opponent's mind. It makes sense since he is a linguist and contracts with the military.

Well, Andy is around 28 years old and he stated he was out on a date and around 4 in the morning they were out and wanted some gum. They stopped at a gas station, which he sort of knew he shouldn't cause it wasn't in the best neighborhood, but he did. When he went in, four males confronted him on what he was doing and threw some racist and harassing words at him. One of them began approaching him asked what was he doing here...

Andy said his heart was beating and his mind was racing and all of a sudden he said, "I am coming from church." The fellow asking the question looked at him like, 'huh' and all of sudden they were his buddies. He got his gum and left.

Andy said they either couldn't figure out what he was talking about or they had a healthy respect for Jesus. He was just glad everything worked out and he and his date were able to leave without harm. He said he had to call me to tell me about his Zen Koan Defense and its effectiveness...and to thank me for the lesson. The real lesson learned is not to get gum in a bad part of LA at 4 am...unless you just came from church.

Hands palm to palm,

pic from Gahan Wilson


As a majority of the world enters into the holiday season, whether it be Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hannukah, Winter Solstice, etc., the Buddhist community finished its December 'holiday' earlier this month.

December 8th, or Rohatsu (8th day of 12th month) celebrates the day Gautama Buddha achieved complete and unsurpassed enlightenment.

Different Buddhist sects celebrate differently. In Soto Zen we honor the time with a 7 day Sesshin. Yep...we sit on our butts for seven days and stare at the wall! Now, I didn't do this myself this year, but I do honor the day with some extra time sitting zen and giving thanks. Typically, sitting begins December 1st and ends the 8th...although it can be held on different days.

Just had a few moments and this crossed my mind so I thought I would post it.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Discipline the Mind

Open your hand right now. How did that happen? Make a fist now...and now point with your index finger...and now make a claw. How do you do this? With intent. Your mind's intent shapes the nature of your hand.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the Art of Karate...the Empty Hand...on one level means you have no weapon in your hand....on a deeper level, the Hand open symbolizes Pure Raw Potential of Ku/Kara, or Emptiness. When you have an intention it shapes the open hand into what you need as a Martial Artist.

It can be a club, a fist, a claw, a gripper, a pointer, a flesh tearer, a knife hand and the list goes on. Since Karate-do is a microcosm of life it is important to understand that your life, just like your hand, is shaped by your mind's intentions. In many ways your mind's intent shapes your life into either a life of bliss or living hell. It depends on how you want to shape it!

Just something to think about. Buddha taught basically three things: 1. Do good things. 2. Avoid doing bad things. 3. Discipline the mind.

I have always contended when you take care of number 3 the first two are no longer needed. Just something to think about.

Hands palm to palm,

photo: Greybolt/flikr

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Ohhh's or Aha's...which do you prefer?

In my last post I put up a koan that has been spinning in my head for over 20 years. Now, I am not much of a koan guy nor classically trained in them. In Soto Zen our central practice is Shikantaza...just sitting zen. However, this one koan, 'Why is a mouse when it spins?' tickles my brain for some reason, so I dwell on it from time to time.

Now, I have a certain understanding of this koan, which I am sure a Rinzai Zen Master would not accept, but what the #@%^, I really don't care. For myself this koan has helped me see 'sideways'. This is all I can say about that, without sounding totally like I just flew in from Venus.

One thing I have come to know about koans, is that there are two experiences you can have with them. One is the , "Oh, I See" experience. This is when the koan is sort of explained to you. Your intellect grabs onto it and says it understands, but this is limited understanding.

What is more important, at least from my limited and extremely delusional perspective, is the 'Aha' experience. This occurs when you can 'see' the koan in its wholeness and get the 'feeling' behind it. Your whole body feels it. You may have the same answer as the person who gets the 'Oh, I see' experience, but your understanding is authentic as it comes from a deeper place within you.

It's similar to solving a word in a crossword puzzle you have struggled with without using a dictionary or asking for help. It pops into your head and you go, 'aha!' When you use the dictionary you get the 'oh, I see' is a bit unsatisfying.

My karate teacher, Mr. Paul Dean, was good at just letting us practice without a lot of criticism or critique (until you got to certain levels). He allowed you to explore the art's techniques and katas, especially when exploring a kata's bunkai, or hidden self-defense techniques.

Exploring bunkai on your own and getting the 'aha' is much more inspiring and exciting than having someone just tell you what a certain move means. When you can find it coming deep from within yourself, that 'aha' helps you grow and expands your mind larger than you know. (Right ZenHG?...check out his On the Dojo Floor blog). It is the road to mastery of your art.

So, as you go through life, what do you want? Do you want the "Oh, I see" or the "Aha!"...with a big 'Yes!' running behind it? I know what's more fun. How about you?

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why a Broken Bokken?

I am sometimes asked why we named our dojo, The Broken Bokken. The basic story is a simple one. Verna Micik (Shodan), a white belt then, broke a bokken during a training session. She felt so bad cause she thought she did something wrong. Verna has always trained vigorously (former military). From there, her son Rick (also now a Shodan), thought we should call the dojo, The Broken Bokken. I liked it and it stuck. Little did they know, or me, what the name would come to represent.

Now, looking back at the name of the dojo, it is so appropriate, but on a deeper level. This is one of those stories where there are 'no accidents'. When you think about it, the Bokken is a wooden Samurai Katana used for training prior to engaging in the practice with a live blade. It is safer, period. As most of my readers know, the Samurai's sword was considered his soul, his spirit and was held in very high regard. In Japan, this identification exists through today.

A broken bokken, to me, symbolizes the delusional state of humanity's perception. Their soul or spirit appears broken, fractured, split into the delusion of individuality, black and white, us and them. A broken bokken also symbolizes the wounds we have as we travel through life. It can be the loss of a loved one, someone yelling racist remarks at you or even as simple as slipping on the ice and feeling stupid. Emotional wounds that hurt us, and if not healed properly, alter and shape the way in which we go about our day. These wounds can make our life feel heavy and full of pain.

As a Karateka, a dojo is not only a place where we practice the martial arts, it is a place of transformation and healing. It also means 'hall of enlightenment' in some circles. So, those of us who have 'broken bokkens' come to the dojo to heal, to grow and to shape new lives. Here, the wounds of our lives can be healed as we gain new perspectives about ourselves and life in general.

Most importantly, it is to help us see past the illusion that we are even broken, because on a deep level we are perfect just as we are. Nothing is actually needed. It is just that we live in this delusion that we are broken, that our spirit is damaged and we need restoration, salvation, enlightenment.

It is through the vigorous physical, mental and spiritual training of a traditional dojo (those who still house a shrine) that we can begin to see this wholeness and that we were never broken in the first place. But there are those of us who are hard-headed, like me, who need to get bopped on the head a few times with a real bokken to see this!

So, this is what the Broken Bokken Dojo is about and how we came about.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Yoko Geri taught me Gyoji

One neat thing about the martial arts is that it has ways of teaching us many lessons that carry over into other areas of life. For myself, Yoko Geri was the teacher. And by the way, Yoko Geri is not the sister of Yoko Ono, but means 'Side Kick.'

Going through the ranks of Karate, Yoko Geri was a thorn in my side. Not only did my training partners break a few of my ribs with it, I had a hell of time throwing a good one. For years it seemed my physical structure was not appropriate for a good side kick. Yet, I persevered...and here is where I learned Gyoji.

Gyoji is a term that has a few meanings, mostly based on it context. For Karate, it means 'continuous practice'. I would frustrate myself in trying to throw a perfect yoko geri and the harder I tried the worse I made it. So, I finally told myself to do just a little bit every day. Gyoji.

I would work on my flexibility, not only with basic leg stretches, but I bought a pulley and some rope and tied my ankle to one end of the rope, looped it through the pulley and pulled my leg up. I would try and go just a bit further higher every time. Even though we were not high kickers, Sensei Dean emphasized some high kicking, because if you can throw a good high side kick, the lower ones are more powerful.

Over the course of a few years and applying Gyoji, my Yoko Geri looked like the one you see in the photo. That is me 32 years ago. I came across the photo a few weeks ago...and surprised myself as to the height and form I had. This from Gyoji...a little bit every day.

Now, I apply this to my other arts, ie, zazen, qigong and, of course, Karate. One of my favorite sayings is "You can't swallow the ocean in one gulp". Same with Karate and other arts. It has also served me in my educational and writing pursuits. They take time, continuous practice and perserverance. The results will show up. Just have faith and enjoy the journey of Gyoji.

Hands palm to palm,

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


When people hear I am lay ordained in Zen Buddhism they want to know what that means? People often ask if I am a Zen priest. My usual response is that I am a half-assed one. What Jukai, or lay-ordination is, in the Soto tradition is the ceremony of becoming a Buddhist. At the ordination you receive your rakusu, or mini-robe, you hang around your neck like a bib.

You also recieve your lineage sheet dating back to Buddha and you receive a Dharma name. Mine is Shinzen and it means to 'Trust Zen'. You also receive the precepts of conduct. It is like your oath to lead your life in a certain fashion, like doing good deeds, not getting drunk and having wild sex with sheep...stuff like that.

My time at the Nebraska Zen Center was a time I cherished deeply, even though I am not an overly religious person and have always been suspect of organized religion (my trust issues coming first wife ran off with a Catholic priest...I was sad at first, but in retrospect it was the best thing she ever did for me!)

Well, to get back on track. In my mind I was studying with Nonin Chowaney, head priest at the center and not so much studying Soto Zen as a religion. I trusted him. There was a sense of deep authenticity about him...mostly cause he scared me to death. I swear to this day he can read minds and I felt he could read mine impecably. I was not so much concerned with being a good Buddhist as I was in following the path he laid in front of me to follow. He leads his life with a deep sense of stability and rootedness. I wanted to be like him.

When he brought out the idea of Jukai to me I had to think about it for awhile. After a bit, I thought it would be a great experience and for me the temple felt like a second home, so I agreed. I had to sew my own rakusu...and it had to be done right or you had to redo it. Trust me, there is a lot of sewing of little scraps of cloth and the seams have to be just right....or it gets ripped out and you have to redo it. It is also a bloody experience. I am not so handy with a needle and would often prick my finger. With every stitch we were to say, "I take refuge in the Buddha". I wasn't too good with this cause when I stabbed myself it was "I take refuge in damn it".

During the week of ordination I lived at the temple and lived the life of a priest in training. Actually, I scrubbed a lot of floors, cleaned toilets, washed dishes, sewed and bled a lot. There were two others receiving Jukai with me and it formed a neat bond. Kido (Albert Likei) and I formed the Lincoln Zen Group in Lincoln, Nebraska around 1992....which is still going today. Kido eventually moved to Arizona. Eric (I forgot his Dharma name) went on and become fully ordained. He was from Des Moines, Iowa and was a Tae Kwon Do instructor.

I had plans on becoming a full priest, however, my family obligations brought me back to Wisconsin and I decided to stay a half-assed one instead. In my heart, I am a priest...whatever that really means. Over time, I realized I am drawn to the teachings of Bankei and the lifestyle of Han Shan. I realized I couldn't run a temple unless it was outside and I could wander my mind.

Well, that's all for Jukai. I wrote longer than I had intended. It is snowing quite hard outside and I didn't have Karate class tonight due the inclement weather. Oh...and the photo is the Reverend Nonin Chowaney, Head Priest at the Nebraska Zen Center. Take Care and thanks for reading my monkey droppings.

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Rogue's Gallery

My sister-in-law sent this picture from last year's NCIBBF seminar. From left to right, starting in the white gi is Rob Shepard...he is a San Dan in Goshindo Karate under my original Sensei, Mr. Paul Dean. Then there is the gray haired guy who shall remain nameless because he learned there is no I. Then my younger brother, Bob. He is a GoDan in Shorei Kempo. Next to him is Scott Hermann, a San Dan in Shorin-ryu Karate. And last, but not least, is Sigung Bill Penca of Fu Chen Kung Fu.

A Rogue's Gallery of the North Central Instructor's Black Belt Federation. Our annual meeting is in May (Mother's Day weekend because we can get the Rhinelander High School to ourselves for a decent rate).

The NCIBBF is a consortium of martial artists from many different styles of arts. We break off our students by rank and then they get to go study a different art for an hour over a five hour day. It is extremely educational and most of all fun. We eat good and there is a fantastic after seminar party at the Fu Chen Kung Fu Academy (Rhinelander, Wis)

A sample of the arts are Goshindo Karate, Shorin-ryu Karate, Shotokan Karate, Pshi Kai Do, Fu Chen Kung Fu, Aikido (Sensei Ken Purdy), Tae Kwon Do, Gracie Ju-jitsu, Shorei Kempo...and whoever else shows up.

I encourage you to visit their website...not sure how updated it is, but it is worth a

Hands palm to palm,


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Where Have All The Zen Lunatics Gone?

Where have all the Zen Lunatics gone? I know you are out there. We need more raving lunatics poking fun and farting at the consensus reality that has the world stuck in conformity and mindless dronality (I think I just made up a word)

We need more Han Shans. He was a raving Zen Lunatic or Taoist Hermit, whichever you want him to be, in the Tang dynasty in China. With his wild hair, tattered clothing and head gear made from birch bark, he wandered the woods and mountains mumbling and talking to the wind. He would often visit Zen temples until they drove him out because of his unpredictable and irreverant behavior. He was a great poet as well.

We need more Han Shans. To me, Han Shan was a man of pure faith in the Dharma. Totally free like the wind...wandering from concern for himself. He was also a man of no means and yet had the whole universe at his disposal. Yes, we need more Zen Lunatics like Han Shan.

Yes, something to aspire to...or at least grow into...I know as I age I feel my inner Lunatic cracking through the surface from time to time. Soon, I know it will engulf me, but until then I will just buy new hats and smile. I am allergic to birch bark.

Hands palm to palm,


thanks to ZenHG for inspiring this post.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Death Poem of Kozan Ichikyo

Empty-handed I entered the world

Barefoot I leave it.

My coming, my going --

Two simple happenings

That got entangled.

I have always liked this death poem of Kozan Ichikyo. He died Feb 12, 1360. He was 77.

Hands palm to palm.

poem found at

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Martial Artist's Secret

My last post...and Doug's comment... reminded me of a post I wrote a few months ago. For me this is an important topic worth repeating.

Why do you think in the practice of Budo we bow in and out, have rules of etiquette for respect and politeness and most importantly meditate before and after each Karate class? What does this have to do with defending ourselves?


Buddha spoke of how important our thoughts are...he spoke of how we create the world with our thoughts. All that is and will be has arisen with our thinking, manifested through our thoughts.

Look around you right now. You are most likely sitting in a chair...and reading this on a computer, which is either on your lap or on a desk. Your chair, desk and computer...and yes your lap too, are manifestations of a thought. Everything around you right now is created from thinking...from thoughts placed out into the vast realm of Ku: Our friend Emptiness.

As I have written in previous posts, Ku is Pure Raw Potential waiting to materialize. All it needs is a thought. Remember Ku and Kara have the same root. An Empty Hand (Karate) when given the thought of 'fist' shapes into a fist. Think or intend 'knife hand' it takes the shape of a knife hand, think eagle claw it takes the shape of an eagle claw and so on. It takes the shape of your intentions or thought.

Well, your life is like this as well. A Dojo is a place where we practice our Martial Art, but it is sandwiched and infused with politeness and respect. This is to counterbalance any negative energy put out into Ku. Classes begin and end with Zazen to cultivate Peace...and to send out those 'vibes' so peace will reign in our lives and we never have to use the techniques of violence. These positive vibes are stronger than any of the 'violent vibes' created during class.

Zazen is the cultivation, practice and manifestation of Peace. The ultimate in self-defense! The Ultimate Kata!!!

An important concept to understand when working with thoughts is that a thought placed out into Ku, whether it is something you want or don't want...will manifest. Even if you don't want to be attacked, if this is on your mind all the time, you will eventually invite an have manifested it into your life.

So, when all you focus on is self-defense you are manifesting a need to defend yourself. You are invoking violence, although inadvertently. The opposite of self-defense, I guess, would be 'other offense'. The best defense is a good offense. This is why Zazen is so important. Zazen is such an offense. It sends out the vibe of peace to the whole world. Nonin often told us that when we sit zen we sit with the whole world and the whole world benefits.

This is why I conduct a Zen and Healing Arts Seminar every year. This year we are raising money for our local Domestic Violence Shelter...Safe Haven. We sit Zen to create peace. The women at the shelter have been violently abused and lives turned upside down. As martial artists, sitting zen, is the best way we can help them...we are also raising money as well...but this is not so important as the manifestation of peace.This is again the One Secret every martial artist should know.

The practice of Zazen and the cultivation of peace via our practices of respect, politeness, integrity, loyalty, honor create the ultimate in self-defense. A society where hopefully we will no longer need Safe Havens or even Police. A big thought...but I put it out there.

Hands palm to palm,