Friday, January 28, 2011

Let's Dance

Sensei Dean & Me...199?
Do you fight or do you dance?

Sensei Dean would always encourage us to learn how to dance...not ballroom dancing, chacha or waltz, but harmonizing in step with your assailant. He would show us over and over how to move in step with an attack. He would maintain mai-ai, or the gap, to his advantage always moving just out of range to be hit, yet remaining in range to smack the crap out of you.

To this day I still can't dance the way he does...well mostly cause I dance to the beat of a different drummer. Sensei Dean is Sensei Dean. Shinzen is Shinzen. I finally found my own dance! What I learned is that I can't copy the man who took a skinny teen kid and turned him into a man. I had to find my own way through the maze of kata, kumite, sweat, tears and lots of blood (mostly my nose...I had a habit of running into Sensei's fist). I had to find my own dance...I had to listen to my own music and move to it the way Shinzen moves...and it is great!

Keep practicing your Karate, Kempo, Aikido, TKD, Kung Fu. You will find your own dance. Just listen to the music it plays, the rythym that sways and you will begin to move the way you need to move. It's there. Just let it happen...let's dance.

Hands palm to palm,

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Mai-ai, or proper spacing, is extremely important in Budo. Without skill in managing Mai-ai, or what my Sensei called, "the gap", you are not going to be very effective in defending yourself. Proper spacing between you and your opponent keeps you safe...and in most cases in Karate, it allows you to hit your opponent, yet he can't hit you.

Just an inch of proper movement to close the gap or move within the gap can be the difference between victory or defeat. Proper spacing allows you to flow with your opponent without you getting locked up in your stances or handwork. In fact it makes them work even better.

Drills with a partner for proper footwork are paramount and most styles have their own drills to keep spacing and/or to control the gap. From my experience, the person who controls the gap wins, but the gap is also a very tenous place to be. It is in constant flux and you must be able to make adjustments accordingly. If you don't your opponent in an altercation, it is as important to know how to enter the gap and control your opponent in it. Practice, practice and more practice is the only way to develop this skill. It can't be done by intellectualization.

Hands palm to palm,

Friday, January 21, 2011

Where are 'You'?

Where are 'You'?
 If you dismantle a car, when does it cease to be a car?

If you dismantle you...your past, your likes and dislikes, your body, your emotions, your family, your dreams, your hopes, your little voice in the head...when do you stop being you?

Who are you....where are you...when are you?  If there was a pile of all of your 'stuff' can you find the you you call you?  Where are 'you' in that pile?

Something to ponder.

Hands palm to palm,

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Path with Heart

Years ago when I was vascillating between opening a commercial dojo or not, I came across a saying that inspired me to move forward. "Life will always present problems and obstacles to overcome. You might as well make them interesting." ( I can't recall who wrote it)

This made sense. I opened up my dojo (this is when I lived in Lincoln, Ne) and it was successful! Yes, there were problems. There's marketing, rent, insurance, parents of kids who think their kid should be a black belt in three months and a few sleepless nights....but, during this time, I conducted many Zen workshops with Rev. Nonin Chowaney of the Nebraska Zen Center, met many black belts from other systems of martial arts and even was published in the Lincoln paper and a national martial arts magazine...and met many wonderful people.

Don Juan Matus, the famous Yaqui medicine man, is often quoted by saying your path in life must have heart. He said all paths lead nowhere, so make sure your path is one of passion and heart. Otherwise, your path will kill you and rob you of life.

I am so happy I chose to move forward in the martial arts. Even tho I had to sell my dojo when I had to relocate back to Wisconsin, returning to the land of the Badgers has opened many more opportunities. The Broken Bokken Dojo has been a path of heart for me and I gave myself more interesting problems when I got my book published. The publishing world is a strange new world for me and exploring it a white belt has been quite a journey.

Pursue your won't make your life perfect or give you everything you want...but at least the path will be full of excitement and wonder...and it will give your life a rush of energy that makes you feel alive!

Hands palm to palm,

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Keep your Swords Sharp!

In my book, Black Belt Healing, I show you how your mind is a dojo with all the weapons you need to defend yourself from pain, anxiety, depression, suffering. In your mind's dojo are your mind-swords. These are the swords you use to make yourself healthy. These are the swords that can give you life...or take it. Depends on how you use them.

Imagination is your Katana....if you don't use it right, it will cut you. An imagination running wild does you no good.  Train your imagination and it will give you life (how it does this is in my book...hint hint for those who haven't purchased it yet)

Just like an actual sword, it must be cared for. The proper care of your sword retains it sharpness. Without proper cleaning of your sword it will grow rusty and be of no use when you need it. Same goes for your Mind-Swords. It is imperative to keep them sharp and well cared for.

Gyoji, or daily practice, of engaging your Mind-Swords (there are three of them) keeps them sharp and ready to use. They will be clean without a lot of emotional or psychological rust. Meditation, such as Zazen or Transcendental Meditation, is a great way to keep the Mind-Swords sharp. Also, daily use of visualization and emotionalization is a great way to stay sharp and healthy. Qigong, like standing on stake, or Tai Chi is also another way to keep these swords sharp.

Life throws a lot of stress at you from day to day. Having sharp Mind-Swords keeps you in shape for battling these daily encounters, whether it be a toxic boss, a tough customer or a self-absorbed teenager. Just as you find it important to practice your external artform...remember your internal arts as well. This is what differentiates Budo from just fighting.

So, keep your Mind-Swords clean and sharp. They will serve you well when you need them.

Hands palm to palm,

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stop or Yield

In Zen we take vows. These are different than least in my mind. Vows are also not commandments. A vow is a course of action with purpose, but is more of a guideline than an absolute. Goals are more absolute and tend themselves to on and off, pass/fail thinking...also lots of discouragement.

I see it this way.  Goals are like Stop signs. Vows are like Yield signs.

Stop signs are absolute. Stop. No options...stop. If you don't you have broken the law and probably harmed yourself or another. Regardless, it is on/off thinking. A goal like not eating sweets is on/off, pass/fail. You must stop or you fail.

Yield signs give you options. You slow down, assess the situation and determined by the situation you either stop or continue on. A vow is like this. It makes you slow down and assess. I have vowed to lead a healthy lifestyle...I want some chocolate...I slow down and assess the situation. Do I stop (don't eat) or do I continue (eat the chocolate)...depends on the situation. Sometimes I don't eat cause I just don't really need it...or I eat because I am offered a small piece at a social gathering and to refuse would insult the host.

Now, I am sure there are lots of holes in my thinking...but for me this works. If you are a martial artist you might be able to see this.

When someone asks you how to defend yourself from a left hook punch, most of you would say...'don't know, it depends on the situation'...this is living by defend yourself, but the situation dictates the response. Your response then can have multiple dimensions.  If you have only one way to defend yourself in your mind...let's say you will duck whenever a left hook comes at you...this is the may or may not work. Your response is now limited by your one course of action you have predetermined...what if the left hook was just a sucker you are screwed. With a vow you have more options...and you stay on track with your life.

Stop signs have one command. Yield gives you options. Ponder this in self-defense and life. Just some ponderings while I await my next appointment.

Hands palm to palm,

A lesson from my Zafu

The longer I sit zen, the more that I can see and feel how zazen is a model for how to conduct my life. Be here. Be now. I have heard and read those words since the 60's, but now, with years of zazen they are more than just words. They are a reality of presence. Coupled with my martial arts practice I can see how everything is always here, when I need it and that there is very little I need to change.

Zazen is a model for how to be. Pay attention. Live from you hara...your body's center. No rush...take your time. All is here, perfect as it is. Just now, just this, just being with no being. A thought with no thinker. No words can express it.

As you read these words you will have your own intrepretation based on what you know. I encourage you to sit zen...on a regular basis. Zazen has many lessons to show DT Suzuki once said (I am paraphrasing)..."all teachings come from the mind, zazen simply points the way"

Hands palm to palm,

Sunday, January 2, 2011

To Goal or Not to Goal

What if you didn't set any New Year's Resolutions?

What if you never set any goals at all?

What if you made no provisions for the future?

What if you just lived your life moment by moment in total faith that all is provided when you need it?

What would that be like?

Are you bold enough to do this?

Can you have faith that you are complete and whole just as you are? Right now?

Can you see that the 'self' you wish to improve is a ghost? 

Can you see the 'self' is just an illusion of the senses? 

Can you see that to try and improve something that is a ghost and just an illusion is pure folly?

Can you understand that to set a goal actually hinders you and your flexibility to be responsive in limitless ways?

Can you see that to now set a goal, even if it is to set no goals, is a goal as well and puts you in a bind? Oh, what to do? What a dilemna!

To goal or not to goal.

What do you say?

Hands palm to palm,