Sunday, January 31, 2010

Apart from Mind There is No Art of Combat!

Bankei was a Zen Master in the early 1600's. As a son of Ronin, he was also fiercely independent and challenged the overly ceremonial Zen of his time. Bankei was well known for simply telling people to trust in their innate Unborn Buddha Mind.

Today's post I am going to put in a response to a letter he received from a Martial Artist regarding the art of combat. Some of this will make total sense to you...other stuff you might be scratching your head and wondering what he is really saying. This is the stuff you are to explore, meditate upon and hopefully realize in your practice of the arts...and of life.

Here's Bankei:

"In performing a movement, if you act with no-mind, the action will spring forth of itself. When your ki changes your physical form changes along with it. When you are carried away by force, that is relying on "self." To have ulterior thoughts is not in accordance with the natural.

When you act upon deliberation, you are tied to thought. The opponent can then tell the direction of your ki. If you try to steady yourself by deliberate effort, you ki becomes diffuse, and you may grow careless. When you act deliberately, your intuitive response is blocked; and if your intuitive response is blocked, how can the mirror mind appear?

When without thinking and without acting deliberately, you manifest the Unborn (my insert: Unborn can mean Emptiness) you won't have any fixed form. When you are without fixed form, no opponent will exist for you in the whole land. Not holding on to anything, there is no "you" and no "enemy." Whatever comes, you just respond, with no traces left behind.

Heaven and earth are vast, but outside mind there is nothing to seek. Become deluded, however, and instead this mind becomes your opponent. Apart from mind, there is no art of combat."

Hands palm to palm,

translation from 'Bankei Zen' by Peter Haskell

Friday, January 29, 2010


Fred Wolf, PhD...aka...Dr. Quantum.

I love the work of Fred Wolf and have been readying 'Dr. Quantum's Little Book of Big Ideas'. Dr. Wolf is a Quantum Physicist on the cutting edge of where science meets spirit. He is a little nuts too! He was featured in the movie, "What the Bleep Do We Know?!" and in the DVD version of "The Secret".

Dr. Wolf coined a word...'Qwiff' to point to the quantum wave function. The quantum wave function is a wave that contains the potential for all things to appear. It is abstract and not observable but, according to Dr. Quantum, when it 'pops', the physical world manifests.

I don't claim to understand or even to begin to understand quantum physics, but Qwiff sounds like an inherent part of Ku/Kara...or Emptiness. Ku, to me, is energetic potential waiting to manifest into form and Qwiff appears to be the wave that makes this happen. In Karate, perhaps this is the potential that lies in 'the hand' or 'te' as it shape shifts, or pops, into form (knife hand, claw, fist, palm heel, etc) based on thought or intent.

I am sure there are some nuances of quantum physics regarding Qwiff that I am clueless about and I am oversimplifying it...but this is my level of seeing now. Any input to expand my understanding? ...or to confuse me more...which is okay, as you know, confusion comes before clarity.

Hands palm to palm,

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Zazen: The Kata of Life & Death

In my latest posts, I have written about Kata as a means of understanding life. Zazen is also a Kata. It is the Kata of Life and Death.

Nonin, during his Dharma talks (Buddhist sermons), used to always remind us that it is not so much important that we understand all that he says, just that we hear it, let it settle into us and then let it go. Please do this as you read.

As you are aware, the term Karate is based on the Buddhist Heart Sutra which talks about 'Emptiness is Form, Form is Emptiness' ...and I have discussed this previously. For a quick reminder, Emptiness is the source of pure potential from which Form arises. Form arises from Emptiness and returns to Emptiness...and is always Emptiness, except it is now form.This is witnessed in your breathing.

How do you know you are alive? You are breathing, but more specifically, you have an inhale, right? Without an inhale there is no life. The proverbial 'Breath of Life' is your inhale. This is when you take Form. Form comes not only in your physical body, but it is the state of mind you have along with all the stirring of emotions you feel.

During Zazen, you are to be aware of this Form, as it is....then......let it go with the exhale. This is your return to Emptiness. Notice what happens to your body, mind and emotions when you exhale completely and just let go...or 'die'. It is usually very relaxed, is it not?

Learning to be your exhale and letting go (die) into relief is very important. For one it is very relaxing and why many bodyworkers and therapists teach a cleansing breath with a big exhale. For another and more important reason it connects you to Raw Pure Potential...Emptiness.As you connect with your exhale you can feel the 'letting go' as well as the potential arising of the next inhale.

My question for you is...'What Form are you going to take with your next inhale?' You have a choice as to the Form you assume. Are you going to use your inhale for compassion or hatred? Goodwill or vengeance? Tranquility or Anxiety? Your Intention sets your Form.Each breath you take is a chance to 'reincarnate'. It is a chance to make changes.

Just like your Empty Hand can shape-shift (reincarnate) and make a punch, spear hand or claw, your Empty Form can shape-shift (reincarnate) into Tranquility, Calmness, Peace and Goodwill. It can shape into good health, better relations, or even a deeper understanding of the human condition.

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mind Recovery

In my last post I discussed Sanchin and its importance in training the body and the mind to recover from an attack. Let's take a basic element of Sanchin and apply it to daily life.

Sanchin is a very simple kata in terms of physical motion. It is highly repetitive and for some almost boring. While performing Sanchin Kata, your focus is on the motion of body and of breath. When your mind wanders from your focus, the practice is to recognize this and return it to the now of the body and breath.

During testing you are being struck. Sometimes it can be very uncomfortable, if not downright painful. Your mind, upon receiving the pain, will begin to wander into reactive judgement. It gets focused on its own reaction, struggles with fight or run, and forgets that another strike is on the way...and pow...another wave of pain...and now more struggle...and pow...and so on.

Life also has a way of doing this to us as well. Your boss yells at you, yours spouse is mad at you, the kids are not doing well in school and your car is having mechanical problems which you can't afford right now. Life just keeps throwing strikes and you begin to struggle.

Sanchin training gets you to refocus on the here and now of your purpose and to detach from the discomfort. When you are here and now, the punches thrown at you actually do not hurt as much and you can recover back to ground zero of the present moment. You feel more in control. It hurts, but you can take it and move on in a non-attached manner. Your mind is in continuous recovery.

Being able to recover from your daily problems moment after moment in non-attachment will help you feel more settled and 'problems' cease to be a struggle. You begin to take life one breath at a moment at a time. Sanchin teaches and trains you in this principle of mind recovery.

One definition of a Kata, besides 'form', is 'how you behave'. Whatever you are doing, whether it be washing dishes, talking to your boss, picking the kids up from school, is a Kata. It should also be the focus of your mind. When washing, wash. When talking, talk, etc.

When life throws a strike at you...being able to recover and return your mind back to your purpose or Kata pays big dividends in terms of your emotional and mental health.

Other disciplines, such as Yoga and Zazen can also provide this type of mind recovery training.

Hope this makes sense.

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sanchin Testing

We have had a nice influx of new students at the Broken Bokken, so I am repeating an old post on Sanchin Kata and one of the reasons why we practice it. Again, repetition is the key to mastery in the arts. This is also good for senior students.

Sanchin Kata, or Three Battles Form, is one of Karate's oldest and most revered training forms. It's history is reportedly traced back to the Shaolin Temples and the Qigong of Bodhidharma. Karate styles that practice Sanchin Kata typically have 'testing'. Testing occurs after the student has learned the form and consists of the student being 'hit' by the instructor.

Dependent on your teacher, testing has many lessons to teach us. On a physical level it conditions our bodies to take a punch or kick with less injury. For White Belts the slapping, punching and kicking is performed lightly and increases with intensity over time. By the time a student reaches Black Belt level it appears he or she is being beaten. Even though it looks brutal, it is very practical in terms of self-defense.

The testing of Sanchin Kata is also very important for the testing of the mind and it's ability to recover. People who are unaccustomed to being hit tend to 'freeze'' when hit and go into a panic mode. This type of pain is unfamiliar as they have never encountered it before and fear settles into their heart. At this point, their odds of escape are about zero.

Sanchin testing helps alleviate this fear. You learn how it feels to be punched...and you learn that you are okay. Your mind does not become unsettled. Overtime, the physical and mental recovery time is shorter and shorter. Your body and mind becomes accustomed to the contact and it ceases to be a struggle.

Being able to recover swiftly after receiving a blow is important, especially if you are surprised or blindsided with an attack. Quick recovery allows you to 'forget' about the body, stay calm and focus on your immediate purpose...defend (disrupt purpose) and escape (restore harmony).

One of my favorite stories about the effectiveness of Sanchin comes from a friend of mine, Mike Iott. Mike and I rose through the ranks together and he eventually became an MP (military police) in the Army. He related to me a time he had to arrest a soldier and upon trying to restrain him, the soldier punched Mike very hard. The soldier shouted proudly, "I got you!". Mike responded back, "Yes, you did, but the question you have to ask yourself is, 'Did you hurt me?'" After this the soldier went quietly.

So, even though Sanchin is usually taught as an exercise in physical conditioning, which it is also very important, if not more important, to your mental conditioning. The ability to mentally recover, in essence to regain your calm (the first battle) is more easily won by means of Testing.
Shihan Dean would also, during kumite, never allow us to stop fighting after we got hit. He would scream at us this is not a tournament and not point fighting. Never stop upon getting hit. Let it go and stay on your purpose.

Meditate on this and how it also applies to everyday life.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, January 22, 2010

Munster Zen

Women and Men of the Way, like Herman Munster, are noted for their wonderful poetry. Yes, Herman Munster was a sage. This one poem of his I remember. It has stuck in my brain for many years.

"Life is cool.

Life is earnest.

If you get cold,

Turn up the furnace."

Some Munster Zen :D

Hands palm to palm,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Crazy Cloud

One of my other favorite characters of Zen lore is Ikkyu, also known as, Crazy Cloud. Born in 1394, it was rumored he was the illegitimate son of the Emperor. At a young age, around 5, he was sent to a Zen monastery so as not to dishonor the Emperor's reputation.

Talk about childhood issues. He was an unruly teenager and if born today would most likely be labeled ADHD with a conduct disorder. Despite his rebelious teenage behavior, he was an ardent Zen student and took his education to heart. Upon receiving the seal of approval of his enlightenment he tore it up and left the temple.

He eventually became an extremely radical Zen monk and was known for his rabble rousing and was called, Crazy Cloud. Damn, I love that name! Ikkyu was a thorn in the side to the proper Zen community. He claimed it is just as easy to become enlightened covorting with women, getting drunk and living like a bum than shaving your head, wearing robes and burning incense.

Ikkyu was also a prolific poet. Have you ever noticed how women and men of the Way express themselves with poetry? He wrote alot of 'dirty ditties' and loved to hang out at brothels. He was totally open about sex and sexuality. In today's world the religious right would be aghast at his behavior.

Ikkyu stated, “If one is thirsty, he dreams of water; if one is cold, he will dream of a thick robe. It is my nature to dream of the pleasures of the bedchamber!” The following is one of his quickies as translated by John Stevens, plus one of my favorites, The Hovel.
If the bar-girl does not falter,
The beer will flow on and on.
This maiden is my refuge
And this place my haven.

My Hovel

The world before my eyes is wan and wasted just like me.
The earth is decrepit, the sky stormy, all the grass withered.
No spring breeze even at this late date,
Just winter clouds swallowing up my tiny reed hut.
Crazy Cloud is a demon in Daito’s line
But he hates the hellish bickering.
What good are old koans and faded traditions?
No use complaining any more, I’ll just rely on my inner treasures.
My real dwelling
Has no pillars
And no roof either
So rain cannot soak it
And wind cannot blow it down
Every day priests minutely examine the Dharma
And endlessly chant complicated sutras.
Before doing that, though, they should learn
How to read the love letters sent by the wind and rain, the snow and moon.

I love the fresh rawness he brings back to Zen. Life is raw. Life is barebones and must be met squarely head-on. We learn this in the martial arts. You must deal with an attack NOW and IN reality, not notions and wishes. I encourage you to do a web search. does a good job, but just go through what Ikkyu offers. His words are as fresh now as they were in the 1300's. We need more Crazy Clouds.

Hands palm to palm,
Shinzen....a Crazy Cloud wannabee.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Layman P'ang

Layman P'ang is a legendary Zen figure. He was born in China around 740 AD and died in 808. A man of extraordinary insight he is most noted for taking all of his worldly belongings, putting them into a boat and after setting the boat out into the water, sank it. I like him for a number of reasons, but mostly because of his 'eccentric' behavior and pointed comments.

He is also noted for many wonderful sayings. I am going to post one of my favorites from the book, "A Man of Zen: The Recorded Sayings of Layman P'ang" translated by Sasaki, Iriya, Fraser.

Here is Verse 25:

"When the mind's as is,
The spirit of itself is empty.
Without applying medicine,
Ills remove themselves.
With ills removed,
You naturally see the lotus flower mani-jewel *
Don't trouble over affairs,
Don't bustle around!
The wise man, perceiving wealth and lust,
Knows them to be empty illusion;
Food and clothes sustain body and life---
I advise you to learn being as is.
When it's time, I move my hermitage and go,
And there's nothing to be left behind."

Read and re-read this. Meditate upon it and get to know the meaning behind the words. If you are a martial artist or healer, take this one to heart.

Hands palm to palm,

*(mani-jewel is a gem that grants every wish)

pic courtesy of

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Shu, Ha, Ri and Ku (revisited)

I originally wrote this back in '08 and feel it is important to repeat the message once again. Remember, mastery of anything requires repetition.

Traditionally, when a student is taught about the stages of development a martial artist goes through you will hear of Shu, Ha and Ri. These I will cover today along with a fourth stage not often mentioned or taught openly...and that is our friend Emptiness, or Ku. Ku, as you are aware by now, can be interchanged for Kara of Karate.

So, what are these stages and what relevance do they have for you as a martial artist? Shu, Ha and Ri are classically taught as a means to guide the student towards mastery. It is helpful for the teacher to be aware of what stage the student appears to be at. Each student advances through each stage as they practice and proceed at their own pace. You can't hurry the pace or try to get to the higher levels by practicing harder. They simply require Gyoji...daily practice with a dose of faith.

Also, dependent upon the teacher you have, you will get a slightly different interpretation of them, so please keep this in mind. Here is my interpretation of Shu, Ha and Ri....with Ku.

Shu (learning form): This is the stage at which the student learns the form of their art. For instance, in Zen Goshindo our principle Kata is Sanchin. During Shu, the student learns the physical aspects of the form. This includes the footwork, handwork, breathwork and mindwork. The training is focused on the physical and 'yang' aspects of self-defense and conditioning of the body. At Shu, the bunkai, or application of the kata is kept quite literal and true to form.

Ha (breaking form): At the second stage of training, the student learns to break from form and can see how a particular movement once described as a 'block' can now represent a myriad of possibilities. A block is now a punch, a turn is now a throw or a bow is now a wrist lock. Here the basics are mastered and can be applied in a variety of situations. Creativity with form begins to sprout as well as get a 'sense' of the inner movement of the form.

Ri (transcending form): Moving into the third stage of development the student begins to transcend form. The student is now released from the outer form and feels the inner essence of the form. No longer confined by the outer form the student is now moved by the internal movement of the kata or form. For instance, an internal movement of Sanchin will have me 'coil' and move in a manner or shape that does not even look like the traditional outer physical form of Sanchin...but it is just doesn't 'look' like Sanchin.

So, in a nutshell, these are the three developmental stages of a martial artist. Do a web search and learn other interpretations. Regardless of what interpretation makes more sense to you, Shu, Ha and Ri only come about through practice...then more practice. Reading about them and having an intellectual understanding about them is not really knowing them.

Ku (emptiness): This last stage is typically considered the highest of mastery and usually kept as a 'secret' or 'hidden' teaching until Ri was mastered. At Ku there is no trace of form or doer of form. The Martial Artist dances in total harmony and accordance with the presenting moment. No ego. No observer. Nothing observed. No form. No doer of form. Nothing to get rid of and nothing to attain. With nothing to release or attain, the Martial Artist is released from all suffering and fears, even the fear of death itself. You could say, at Ku, the Martial Artist is now invincible.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, January 15, 2010

Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form

Karate Master Gichin Funakoshi, to set apart his Martial Art from Chinese Boxing and Okinawan 'Te', called it Karate. In his book, Karate-do Kyohan, he writes, "because of the frequent confusion with Chinese Boxing, and the fact that the Okinawan martial art may now be considered a Japanese martial art, it is inappropriate, and in a sense degrading, to continue the use of 'Chinese' in the name. For this reason, in spite of many protests, we have abandoned the use of 'Chinese' to replace it with 'Kara'."

Master Funakoshi goes on to write, "The first connotation of 'kara' indicates that karate is a technique that permits one to defend himself with his bare hands and fists without weapons. Second, just as it is the clear mirror that reflects without distortion, or the quiet valley that echoes a sound, so must one who would study Karate-do purge himself of selfish and evil thoughts, for only with a clear mind and conscience can he understand that which he recieves. This is another meaning of the element 'kara' in Karate-do."

And finally, he states, " a fundamental way, the form of the universe is emptiness (kara), and, thus, emptiness is form itself. There are many kinds of martial arts....but at a fundamental level all these arts rest on the same basis as Karate-do. It is no exaggeration to say that the original sense of Karate-do is at one with the basis of all martial arts. Form is emptiness, emptiness is form itself. The 'kara' of Karate-do has this meaning."

Wow! Lots there. Master Funakoshi in using 'kara' helped the Japanese accept Karate-do as their own. Form is Emptiness, Emptiness is Form is a central concept and part of the Japanese psyche as it comes from Zen Buddhism, more specifically "The Heart Sutra" that is chanted in Zen Buddhist temples every morning.

Dainin Katagiri, my Zen teacher's master, would often state that the teaching of 'emptiness' is quite difficult to understand, but the teaching is very important for us. Katagiri Roshi states that "Emptiness is that which enables us to open our eyes to see directly what being is. If after careful consideration we decide to do something that we believe is the best way, from the beginning to the end we should do our best....We should take full responsibility for the results of what we have done, but the final goal is that we shouldn't be obsessed with the result, whether good or evil or neutral. This is called emptiness. This is the most important meaning of emptiness."

So, Karate-do is about defending yourself with no weapons, but it also about being 'here and now' and giving your full and undivided attention to your tasks...and not be attached to the results, but be responsible. As Nonin Roshi, my teacher, would teach us, our Big Mind is like the sky. It is not bothered by the clouds. It is just sky. It watches.

The kanji for 'kara' and 'ku', another way to say emptiness, are the same. Ku is likened to the sky and often translated as such. Sky is big and reflective. It sees everything, but stays non-attached. It is not bothered by the passing clouds (which is symbolic of our thoughts, emotions and actions).

So, to practice Karate-do for defense of the body is one level of training. The deeper level is to practice it as a form of enlightened action. It is a Zen practice liberating the practitioner from inner suffering, the highest form of self-defense. Master Funakoshi surely knew what he was doing when he used the term 'kara' to name his art form.

Hands palm to palm,

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Depressed? Money Worries? Unappreciated?

In my alter ego as a mental health professional and doctor of naturopathy, I am often asked if I can prescribe medicine. I say I can only prescribe one is Fukitol.

It must, however, only be taken on a belly full of laughter. When taken with laughter, this pill will help change your ability to see life and lift your mood almost immediately. Take as needed...and feel free to share with friends. It is addictive...but this is a good thing.

Warning: When taken on a belly full of seriousness, an upset stomach and/or emotional distress might occur. If this happens consult your local yogi, taoist or zen lunatic for a perspective checkup.

This pill was distributed through and is not intended for use with people who have no sense of humor.

Hands palm to palm laughing out loud,


Monday, January 11, 2010

Hsin Hsin Ming

The Hsin Hsin Ming or Verses of Faith Mind is one of my favorite Zen texts. It was written by Seng-ts'an. He was the third Zen Patriarch in China.

I encourage people to read it countless of times. I have copied a few of the first stanzas to wet your appetite. It is quite long and I love the ending.

"The Great Way is not difficult
for those not attached to preferences.
When neither love nor hate arises,
all is clear and undisguised.
Separate by the smallest amount, however,
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.

If you wish to know the truth,
then hold to no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.

When the fundamental nature of things is not recognized
the mind's essential peace is disturbed to no avail.
The Way is perfect as vast space is perfect,
where nothing is lacking and nothing is in excess.

Indeed, it is due to our grasping and rejecting
that we do not know the true nature of things.
Live neither in the entanglements of outer things,
nor in ideas or feelings of emptiness.
Be serene and at one with things
and erroneous views will disappear by themselves.

When you try to stop activity to achieve quietude,
your very effort fills you with activity.
As long as you remain attached to one extreme or another
you will never know Oneness.
Those who do not live in the Single Way
cannot be free in either activity or quietude, in assertion or denial.

Deny the reality of things
and you miss their reality;
assert the emptiness of things
and you miss their reality.
The more you talk and think about it
the further you wander from the truth.
So cease attachment to talking and thinking,
and there is nothing you will not be able to know.

To return to the root is to find the essence,
but to pursue appearances or "enlightenment" is to miss the source.
To awaken even for a moment
is to go beyond appearance and emptiness."

Translation: Richard B. Clarke (

Hands palm to palm,


Sunday, January 10, 2010

Self-defense Tip: Become the Blender

If you are attacked in a tight spot and you are in close quarter's range of fighting it is important to become a human blender. Use your knees, elbows and head butts. Practice these over and over and over in the dojo in many different combinations and angles. Make them flow and you will become a human blender, slicing and dicing your way to safety.

Knees, elbows and head butts are your blades. When used properly, your opponent will feel like he has been dumped into a blender going full speed. He will feel pain, feel lost and be confused as he is being hit high, low and in between from many different levels, angles and positions.

Blenders are also loud. So should you be. Scream, Kiai, Yell...go berserk with loud noise like a blender's blades chopping chunks of ice. This will make your opponent's mind turn to gel and you will add further confusion and pain with knees, elbows and head butts. My students think I am nuts because when I kiai (karate spirit yell), I often am screaming, 'Die!' I call it a direct hypnotic suggestion.

In fact, when SWAT teams enter a home, they are loud and noisey and screaming, "Get down, get down." When the mind gets confused it tends to listen to what is being said and will follow with minimal effort....not always, but usually more than less.

Now this may all seem violent, especially for some of my peace loving readers, but it is part of training for yourself to understand how to receive some of this ...and to find that still and calm place within yourself. How do you respond to being in the blender?

Life many times can make us feel like we are being pureed, liquified and smoothied out. To learn how to stay calm, we need to learn how to create confusion and become the blender. The Dojo is the place for you to practice this safely and to learn how to not only 'be the blender', but to be in the blender and not be 'cut'. To become the blender and be able to bring yourself to this level of violent craziness can, with proper instruction, help you realize that calm and peaceful place within yourself.

This is the paradoxical Way of the Empty Hand: Karate-do.

Hands in Gassho,

How would you know?

Imagine for a moment if clocks and watches did not exist.

How would you know when to get up in the morning?

Or go to bed?

How would you know when to go to work?

How would you know when it's time to go home?

How would you know when to get together with friends for a drink and a movie?

How would you know?

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, January 8, 2010


I know this is an old joke and when I came across it again it still made me smile. We all need a smile once in awhile and so thought it would be fun to share.

This Zen Buddhist Monk walks up to a hot dog stand and says to the vendor, "Make me one with everything". So the vendor makes him a hot dog with everything and then hands it to the Zen Monk.

The Monk gives him a twenty dollar bill. The vendor takes it, puts it in his cash register and shuts the door. The Zen Monk says, "Wait, where's my change? "The vendor replies with a smile, "Change must come from within".

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, January 4, 2010

Gardening is Budo

Karate, as you know, originated in Okinawa and spread to Japan. Both countries noted for their farms and beautiful gardens. We can learn a lot from gardening just like we can from Budo, or the Martial Way.

In fact, there is an old saying on how Farming is Budo. Many of the old karate-ka were farmers and knew the earth well. I don't have a farm, but I do like to garden. This time of year I miss being out in the dirt, pulling weeds, watering and, yes, I even talk to my vegetables. Once, I swore a tomato talked to me...but that was back in the 70's.

Well, to stay on track. Gardening is Budo. It is about discovery, calming the spirit and seeing directly into our true nature. Our mind is like a garden. Stuff grows in it...even when we aren't trying. If you just dug up the earth and left it, in a few days the grass and weeds will begin to grow. When you plant vegetables or flowers, they begin to grow.

No matter what, stuff grows in your garden. Just like your mind. Whether you pay attention to it or not, stuff grows. Thoughts are always growing in the mind. Some are intentional, some are just random. Some are vegetables and flowers...some are weeds. Regardless, your mind is always growing thoughts....and just like a real garden it needs to be tended.

As I mentioned earlier, an untended garden grows weeds and grass. An untended mind grows suffering, delusion, ignorance and anger. Tend your garden by pulling the weeds and your vegetables will grow strong and tall. Tend your mind by pulling the suffering at its root and your bliss will grow. It is a matter of taking care of your garden and your mind.

For myself, tending the mind is accomplished via Zazen and mindfulness of everyday activity. Just being here. Zazen is the weeding of the garden of my mind so my vegies (bliss, happiness, compassion) can grow and give me food and life. Yes, we can learn a lot from gardening. In many ways, Gardening is Budo. I miss my garden...It's there, just waiting till the snow melts and the ground thaws.

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Enter the Gates

In the study of the Way, or Tao, you pass through many gates on the path to liberation. Today, I want to discuss three Gates of Liberation that are important for you as a Karate-ka to understand and meditate upon.

As most of you are aware, the -do of Karate-do indicates that you are on a path of awakening and liberation from suffering and the root of suffering. Inside the dojo you are following a path of freedom and learning how to accord with the flow of life, or Tao.

As you walk upon this path, the first gate you walk through is understanding the true meaning of Kara in Karate. This is the 'empty' of Empty Hand. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Kara or emptiness, does not mean there is nothing there. Kara relates back to emptiness of a separate existence from everything else. You have no separate self that lives and dies. You are composed of non-You elements.

For instance, I am Shinzen, but I am also the oatmeal and coffee I had for breakfast. I am a father only because I have children and a Sensei only because I have students. I, Shinzen, am composed of non-Shinzen elements. (I encourage you to read any of Thich Nhat Hanh's work on Interbeing).

To understand that you are not you, but also many elements connected to everything else, you can see that you are 'empty' of an individual 'you' and that 'you' can only exist because everything else exists. You can only be you because of the whole universe existing at the same time. With this understanding, or passing through this gate, you can see that 'you' were never born and can never die.

The second gate is the Gate of Seeing. This is the gate of seeing that the menu is not the food and the map is not the territory. So often you can get caught up in labels, concepts and notions about the world and all it entails. As a younger Karate-ka I was often criticized by the Karate traditionalist because I went outside the labels of what 'true' karate was and supposed to be.

I saw how a Kata, like Naihanchi, could be performed on the ground, rather than standing. I could see how other martial arts, like Aikido, Jujitsu, Kung Fu, exist within the Kata. I could only do this because I had caught early on, the meaning of emptiness or kara or kara-te, and could see how non-karate elements also comprise karate. I could also see how brushing my teeth is Karate, mopping the floor is Karate and laughing my ass off at Monty Python is Karate. Everything I do is real Karate.

The Third Gate to pass through is realizing there is nothing to get! This is my laughing gate. Having this insight caused me to laugh at myself till my ribs ached. There is nothing to get or to gain....there is no real hidden or dark secrets that are going to make you are already infinite and there is no problem. So many of us, especially me, often searched for the next best martial art, hoping to find that ultimate way of self-defense...and to build my ego, the false sense of existence. Passing throught the first two gates helped free me from this agonizing search...and helped me pass through this third one, waking up to the fact that all I need is right here and now. No place to go and nothing to get! Everything is perfect and complete just now as it is. I can now use and be free from what 'things' are called, even myself. Heck, no need for New Year's Resolutions.

Three Gates...I could go and on but this is a good starting point for discussion and fun. (Actually, my wife is telling me to get started on my post holiday honey-do list)

Hands palm to palm,

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Eagle & The Mouse

About two weeks ago I learned a neat story from some Native American teachings. It was from the work of Don Coyhis and The White Bison Society. Don uses the Medicine Wheel teachings along with the twelve steps of Alcoholic's Anonymous, but taught in a culturally relevant manner. Don and the White Bison Society teaches Wellbriety. Some very deep teachings.

Don teaches that we have two viewpoints from which to lead our lives. One is the mouses'. The other, the eagles'.

The Mouse is low to the ground and can only see so far into the distance. Even short grass can seem like a formidable jungle to a mouse. A mouse's life is reactive and comes from a sense of fear, insecurity and worry. A mouse is always running in fear of being caught.

An Eagle soars above the earth. The Eagle can see vast distances and has a very large perspective on what is happening. An Eagle's life is one of vision, faith and freedom. An Eagle is one with the sky...flying in joy.

We as humans have the ability to see the world from both viewpoints. Some of us live as mice. Some of us live as Eagles. It is important to understand that we can actually choose which viewpoint from which to live. Which do you prefer?

Hands palm to palm,