Sunday, January 25, 2015

Samadhi of Action - Judo

In Judo, normally, when two persons practice, each of them grasps the collar and sleeve of the other, and tries to score with throws and pins. Through intensive practice, one can develop muscular strength and use it to control an opponent if victory is strongly desired. We can see this competitive process, for example in the style of competitive judo which is now an Olympic sport, and as judo is practiced in many places in the world. 

People that only know this type of judo may not understand the concerns voiced in the following remarks by Jigoro Kano - the founder of modern Judo in 1918:

In the Kodokan, each person practices randori by grasping his opponent’s collar and sleeve. This must be done for beginners to improve their skill, but that method is not the ultimate one. If you grasp your opponent’s collar and sleeve, you must grasp extremely softly and without strength. Otherwise, you cannot move quickly.

This clearly and amazingly demonstrated here by Kyuzo Mifune, 10th dan.

Now this is Mastery. And the lightness of Mifune Sensei is a perfect illustration of the first verses of Zen Master Seng Can's Shin Jin Mei:

The Great Way is not difficult
For those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
Everything becomes clear and undisguised.

Keep training...

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Churning water.

I would like to share with you Matthieu Ricard's thought of the Week, directly from his Newsletter - suscribe to it !
Getting butter from milk is only possible because milk already contains cream. No one ever made butter by churning water. The prospector looks for gold in rocks and not in wood chips. Likewise, the quest for perfect enlightenment only makes sense because the buddha-nature is already present in every being. Without that nature, all efforts would be futile. 




Matthieu Ricard is a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, author and Photographer born in France in 1946. After completing his doctoral thesis in Molecular Genetics in 1972, he decided to forsake his scientific career and concentrate on the practice of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been the French interpreter for the Dalai Lama since 1989.

Monday, January 5, 2015

French Budo

As I was travelling to France from December 17 to January 6, I had the great pleasure to meet and train with my old Budo buddies from a long time ago...

I got to train twice with the Kendo club of Friville Escarbotin . 

My friend and instructor Francis Hollier, originally a Judoka, founded the Kendo club 30 years ago. I started to train with him in 1989 just back from Korea. Since then, I have tried to go train with him at least once a year...

From Left to Right : Pascal Barraud, Frederic Lecut, Abel Brunet, Francis Hollier. 

The four of us were training together 25 years ago in Kendo, Tai Jitsu and Tai Chi... After 22 years in the USA, I can go back to France and meet these guys, it is just as if I had left them last week !

While I was training in Kendo under Francis, he asked me if I would like to open a Tai Jitsu class. Which I did, under supervision of Jean Luc Lemoine, who was teaching in Rouen, 90 km South of Friville. I was not a black belt at the time and could only teach under supervision of a licensed black belt instructor.

On January 3, at Jean Luc's request, I had the pleasure and honour to teach a Yoshukai Karate Class for the Tai Jitsu club of Normandie...

Everyone had a great time...

Once you have practised Budo for years and years, there should be a realization that maybe this is not at all about fighting, but rather about making peace. 

Unless you are able and ready to fight, it is going to be difficult to live in peace. 

Faithfull friends are part of this...

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Yoshukai Karate Dothan Tournament

Last week end was the 35th edition of the Dothan Open Karate Tournament .

Attendance was great, good competitors in Fighting, Kata, Kobudo, some old faces, some new ones.

The 2 highlights of this event however were the presence of both Soke Katsuoh Yamamoto and Kaicho Hiroaki Toyama. 

Soke Yamamoto brought with him his new book : 

and signed it for those students who purchased it. 

He had come from Japan with his daughter and grand daughter who also competed in the tournament.

But the most emotional part of the tournament was the return among us of Kaicho Toyama. Last February, Kaicho Toyama fell very ill, victim of a sudden infection. For several weeks, we were not sure he would survive. 

After Multiple surgeries, Kaicho Toyama beat the disease, and he was among us for the first time this week end, signing on Soke's book for those of us who asked him to do so ! 

Mr Toyama's will to survive and overcome the disease, and the way his family helped him should be examples to us all. At times, we might feel miserable for having missed a plane or having been treated unfairly by life. The next times this happens, let us remember Kaicho Toyama. 

Iki o sakan no subeshi

(Keep High Spirit)

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Abdominal Breathing - the Brick exercise

Babies don't breathe using their chests but their bellies. When we grow up, we gradually learn how to use our chest rather than our abdomen to breathe. The reasons why this happens are mostly cultural. It is important to re-learn how to breathe with our abdomen rather than our chest. The Brick is the first in a series of exercises designed to develop the practice of abdominal breathing

There are 3 goals to this exercise :
  • Teach you an easy way to breathe with your abdomen rather than your chest.
  • Train you to focus your mind in the tanden area (Bring your mind there)
  • Teach you to pay attention to the sensations in that area (Listen to your mind there)


Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground and your legs bent with your knees in the air.   Place an object the size of a brick, a woodblock or a phone book on your belly. The weight needs to be enough that you feel it, but not so much that you feel uncomfortable.

As you breathe in, make sure the brick rises.


When you breathe out, let the brick go down.


Avoid any chest moves when breathing in, avoid any contraction of the abdominal muscles when you breathe out.

Focus your mind on your Tanden : an area 1 or 2 inches under your belly button, and concentrate on how you feel when your abdomen expands during inhalation (breathing in) and collapses as a balloon emptying itself from air when you exhale (breathing out)

The Tanden

The Tanden is an area localized 1 to 2 inches under the belly button, and 3 or 4 inches inside. It is approximately the center of gravity of your body.

Note : There are actually 3 Tanden in the body, the Lower Tanden is the important one for our exercise.

Important points for proper practice :

  • Avoid any chest moves when breathing in
  • Avoid contraction of the abdominal muscles when breathing out.
  • Keep your mind concentrated on the Tanden area about 2” below the belly button.
  • Avoid muscular tension, try to keep your overall body relaxed. This will help you only concentrate on what you feel in the Tanden area.

 Tips :
You may practice on your bed or a couch, however, it is better to practice on a firm floor or exercise mat for it helps better feel what is happening in the tanden area.

Visualization : When you breathe in, it may be helpful to visualize the air flowing from your nose up to the tip of your skull and then back all the way down through your spine to your sacrum (the tail bone) to then fill up your lower abdomen.
When you breathe out, visualize the air flowing up through your sternum (breastplate) toward your nose.

(In this drawing, the subject is sitting in the lotus position:  such visualization can be  practised in any position)

Monday, October 13, 2014

Practical Exercises for Zen Meditation

I am just back from a zazenkai retreat at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center.

Michael Elliston Roshi, abbot of the center and founder of the Silent Thunder (Mokurai) had invited me to teach at this event.

In my presentation of actual exercises to help the practice of Meditation I put emphasis on the 2 following aspects of Zazen:
  • Focusing (Thinking of Non Thinking)
  • Relaxing (to help focusing) 

I introduced to my audience a set of physical practices inspired from Traditional Oriental Martial Arts and Medicine. (Tai Chi, Chi Gong, Taoist exercises...) which I have been using  for several years in my own practice.

These exercises are designed to improve :
  • Body awareness,
  • Breathing,
  • Balance,
  • Physical Relaxation.

I addressed in particular :

  1. How strength and mental energy follow Awareness and Mind. And how the Chinese concept of Chi explains this.
  2. How to channel awareness and one's mind to parts or points of the body to tame one's monkey mind.
  3. How to practice regular and reverse abdominal breathing to calm the mind.
  4. How Tai Chi can actually remove muscular tensions and joint pains during long meditation sessions.

In the next weeks, I will get into the details of my presentation.  Stay in touch ! 

Friday, August 29, 2014


At our last Yoshukai Karate Tournament of Panama City FL, I was asked to judge the Grand Champion Black Belt kata competition. The winners of 5 divisions - open hand or kobudo were competing against each other for the Big Trophy...

Among them was a talented young man who performed a remarkable open hand kata. I do not remember whether he won the price or not. All I know is that he should not have, and that I had know this from the first 2 seconds of his kata. 

How can I decide such thing so early in the kata ? Very simple, when this competitor bowed before beginning his otherwise brilliant kata, his toes went up from the mat. 

This is enough, if your toes go up, your weight is on your heels, a 5 years old child can push you backwards, and you will either fall down or have to step back. 

From the moment you begin your kata, you should be totally focussed, and not let any opening for a potential opponent. When your toes go up, you are totally vulnerable. This demonstrates your lack of awareness and fighting spirit. No Zanshin. Poor Budo. 

For your information and pleasure, look a this picture of Choki Motobu, performing a block found in our Yoshukai and Chito Ryu Nijusichi no kata.

Notice the Kibadachi stance, and how the joints of his toes are white. He is very strongly gripping the floor with his toes. Choki Motobu's idea of a good training session was to go down to Naha's entertainment district and pick fights. He was a born fighter and his karate was based on actual fighting. If anyone knew the importance of proper stance and posture, he was this one...

It does not matter how good you are with your arms. If your balance is poor, you won't have any power and you are only generating wind. Weak stances do weak Karate. Grab the ground.

Oh, and while I am at it, I believe this also applies to Zazen. Stay Grounded.