Friday, February 27, 2009


Auburn Zen Group will host a Zazenkai, or meditation retreat, at the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship located at 450 East Thach Avenue in Auburn on Saturday, March 21, 2009.

The zazenkai will start at 8 am and end at 5 pm. This retreat is being led by the Rev. Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston, Founder and Abbot of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Everyday concerns are set aside and participants can commit to being completely present to the direct experience of zazen, or meditation.

Literally meaning “zazen meeting”, Zazenkai is a gathering of practitioners of meditation to practice zazen together, to hear the presentation of the buddhadharma by a teacher, and to have Dokusan, or a one-on-one confidential talk with a Zen Master. Rev. Taiun Elliston will present his unique style of teaching the buddhadharma at intervals throughout the day. Lunch will be a vegetarian pot luck meal. Bring a simple vegetarian dish to share. Silverware, plates, cups, napkins and beverages will be supplied.

Participants may silently leave and return as necessary, but are encouraged to remain for the entire retreat to better taste the essence of Zen practice. This is a primarily silent zazenkai except for dharma talk discussion and dokusan, or private meeting between student and teacher that provides the student with an opportunity for individual instruction. You are encouraged to limit other conversation. Bring a jacket, sweater or shawl if the weather is cool. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes as you would for yoga. You may use chairs to sit as well as cushions provided. Turn cell phones off, please.

Zazen periods will be approximately 25 minutes in duration. Kinhin, or walking meditation, will occur between sitting periods. After lunch there will be a brief work period. The retreat will end at 5 PM. If there is enough interest, we may meet for dinner at a local restaurant where Rev. Elliston can answer more questions you may have relating to Zen and your personal meditation practice. On Sunday morning, March 22, Rev. Elliston will give a public talk on Zen during the service at AUUF beginning at 10:00 am.

If you have considered such a retreat in the past, this is a wonderful and rare opportunity to have your practice supported by others and in turn support their practice. For more information, contact Tom Hodges at 742-9495 or

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How Kata Change...

5 or 6 Years ago I had the pleasure to teach a Yoshukai Karate seminar in France at the Kidokan Dojo where I had first taught Ju Jitsu in 1989. It was attended by people from various martial arts : Kendo, Judo, Aikido, and several Karate Styles : Shotokan, Wado Ryu, and another ryu I cannot remember.

At the end of the seminar one student of each Karate Style demonstrated his version of Bassai Kata. These were 4 very different versions of a beautiful kata. Differences were huge !

I have often wondered how Katas do change - One day, one guy invents a kata - he pours into it all he knows about a certain situation, and teaches it to his students to train them. Years later, after it has been taught by several generations of instructors, the kata might have changed so much that it is hard to find similarities between several versions, and everyone swears the are practicing the TRUE version of the kata...

I believe there can be several explanation to these deviations - I read this week in Tales of a Budo Bum an interesting history that well illustrates one of the ways kata have to change.

I hope you enjoy it... By the way, this is a true story.

A Iaido Story

A few years ago, an earnest student who learning swordsmanship from a kindly old master. The master was well past his heyday, and his body was weak. His arms and legs shook if he practiced too hard or too long. Neither his hearing nor his vision were quite what they used to be. Nevertheless, he was devoted to his art, and practiced as much as he could. When he wasn't practicing, he researched the history of the art, and wrote down pages and pages of notes.

The student was happy to have such a master. Because he was old, and lived far away from the city, the master had few students, so most of the time they practiced together, just the two of them. The master was strict, but fair, and after seeing that his student had reached the point where he was ready, he began teaching him the local koryu that he had learned from his own master.

Sometimes, the student would attend practices in the city where a large group of people was practicing the same koryu as his master. When they found out that the student was learning from him, they laughed. "That old fool? He has no idea what he's doing! He does this wrong, and that wrong, and he's too stubborn to admit that he's wrong. He used to train with us from time to time, but I suppose he got tired of us telling him how wrong he was!"

The student asked them how they were so sure that they were right and he was wrong, since their original teacher had died many years before. They answered, "Because we have a videotape our teacher made before he died. And it is the final authority on what is right in our koryu. We tried to show it to your teacher, but he said he doesn't need to see it. He's so stubborn, he doesn't care about right and wrong !"

The student was hurt and angry to hear them talk about his teacher in this way. He went back home and at the next practice, told his teacher what they had said about him.

"Yes, it is true that there is a tape made by our master before he died. I have seen it, and in fact, I own a copy of it. But what the others don't know is that my teacher always considered them to be too arrogant for their own good. He sent me a letter - I have it here, with his personal seal on it - detailing all the things that are wrong on that video. He has gone through step by step, point by point. For example, the others always told me that I do this part too slowly. But in the letter, my teacher explained that he is doing the motion too quickly - it's not good budo to do it in that way. None of the others knows about this letter."

"Master, did your teacher perform the techniques wrong on purpose?" asked the student.

"Not at all, but he was human. Our actions and our intentions are rarely the same. He did the best he could, and then he analyzed his own techniques and found this long list of problems, which he passed on to me, but not to them."

"Well, then, you have to go to the city, and show the letter to the others! Then they will realize that they were wrong about you all this time, and they will have to respect you!"

"Why do I care whether what they are doing is correct or incorrect? It has nothing to do with me. I'm old now, and you're my only student. I only care that you do it the right way, and that you try and teach your students the right way."

"But master, don't you care about the Truth?" asked the student, who was getting quite upset. "Don't you have a responsibility to make sure that the Truth gets passed to the next generation?"

The master said: "Don't confuse telling the Truth with being recognized by everyone for telling the Truth. You want to be rewarded and respected by everyone because you know better than they do. This is vanity, and vanity is self-deception. It is enough to know the Truth, and to do what you think is right."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sword Seminar

Masayaki Shimabukuro Hanshi's coming to Pensacola to teach a seminar in Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu Iaijutsu on
March 6, 7 and 8, 2009.

This seminar will be held at the Pensacola Dojo (Directions to the Big Green Drum Japanese Martial Arts.)

Class times will be as follows :

Friday 6:30pm - 8:30pm

Saturday 10:00am - 12:30pm - lunch served at the dojo

Saturday 1:30pm - 5:00pm (Ono Ha Itto Ryu kenjutsu)

Sunday 10:00am - 12:30pm - lunch served at the dojo

Sunday 1:30pm - 5:00pm (testing)

The full cost for the weekend is $125. If you cannot attend the whole event, the price per class is $30.

Training with Shimabukuro Sensei - a real and legitimate Iai-Jutsu Grandmaster, is an unusual and amazing experience - As far as learning about Iai Jutsu, IT DOES NOT GET BETTER THAN THAT ! Do not miss this opportunity.

Mind, Body, Spirit - JING, QI, SHEN

One term that often comes back in Martial Arts or Zen is "SHIN".

SHIN as in ZANSHIN, MUSHIN, HEIJO SHIN is usually translated as "Spirit".

In the West, although we very often hear about "Mind, Body, Spirit" we generally consider that Mind and Body are equivalent, that it is the same entity, which somehow would be eternal, by opposition to the Body, which will eventually die.

Chinese Medicine has a different and unique view of mind/body/spirit. According to it humans comprise a triplicity of inter-related aspects called Jing, Qi, and Shen. (Shin in Japanese)

  • We can translate Jing as Essence. This is the physical template of a human being our biology and genetics our physical substance.
  • Qi we can call Function. This is our vital energy, our breathe, our movement. It is an immaterial force that is responsible for metabolic energy and the integrity of our structure.
  • Shen (Shin in Japanese) is best translated here as Mind, our consciousness, awareness, and mental function.

These three aspects of a human being are related and interdependent. Jing and Qi engender mind, and the mind influences Jing and Qi. All three are actually different densities of Qi, Jing being the most dense, and Shen the most rarified. This is an important point. It means that in Chinese Medicine the body/mind is not just a relationship between two different fields that intimately influence one another, (an idea now common in Western alternative medicine), but is in fact two aspects of the same field of qi. This means everything about a human being can be treated by harmonizing the chi.

In Chinese Medicine mind equals Shen, a function that is stored in the heart and has nothing to do with the brain. It is believed that if the heart is well nourished and calm, it makes a comfortable home for the mind which can then remain peaceful, harmonious, and undisturbed.

You may look at the Jing Qi Shen trinity as you would a riding chariot : The Horse is Qi, the Chariot is Jing and the Charioteer Shen.

Next time I'll post about how Chinese Medicine looks at Shin, not as a single entity, but as a juxtaposition of several souls or minds related to different organs.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Kendo Kata Video - bis

OK, I am getting better at this game of uploading stuff on the net ! Here, you can watch the video directly from this screen without having to follow a link up.

This was taken at the Yoshukai Karate Wintercamp, last february 7, 2009.

Kendo Kata Video

Finally, after days of a fierce battle against the mighty Internet Dragons, I was able to upload the video of our winning Demonstration of Kendo Kata Odachi on Feb 7 at the Yoshukai Karate Wintercamp.

It turned out to be much easier to upload to Google Video than it is to YouTube or Facebook - actually, I gave up on both of these...

I hope you enjoy it.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Big Sit

Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, proposes in their last issue a 90 days Meditation Challenge:

• Sit in formal meditation for 20 minutes each day.

• Listen to one dharma talk each week on

• Study Dogen’s Genjokoan, the text selected for the period.

• Commit to the sixteen bodhisattva precepts.

• Practice with others at or at a local meditation center.

• Begin when you like. Tricycle’s staff will begin February 23.

I will participate in this challenge, and encourage you to sign up for it !

Sitting in meditation for 20 minutes is not a very difficult thing to do. Actually, we do it twice every Wednesday evening during out sitting sessions. What is more difficult is to stick with it, daily, to have enough guts to say “This is important, and I am going to do it, every morning. Such a challenge, for a limited duration of 90 days, is a fun and reasonable goal to set. And it is always easier to practice with others. Even if you do not know them, you will know that other people participate, and that is a powerful motivating factor !

Dharma talks are lectures about the Dharma (The philosophy of Buddhism), to be given by several Zen instructors. They are always interesting. I do not know how they will be given, I hope in writing, for my slow connection does not do MP3 files very well. We will see !

Genjokoan is the 3rd Chapter of Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, in which he summarizes most of his conceptions about Zen. This text is more difficult than Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s lectures in Zen Mind, Beginner’s mind. It is however extremely interesting, and will get us into the core of Soto Zen. I am currently studying it with Sensei Elliston, the Abbot of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center, and this would be a perfect opportunity to try to share with you what I am trying to learn !

Take this as a challenge to yourself, a fun thing to do. You have nothing to lose but ½ hour a day for 90 days, and you could gain a lot from it.

Visit the BIG SIT page, see if you'd like it, and sign up !


Last February 7, 2009, we were in Panama City for the Yoshukai Karate Winter Camp. This event was enjoyed by numerous students from white belts to Shihans.
In the afternoon, after the beach work out and traditional immersion in the freezing waters of the Gulf - I passed on that part - teams and individuals competed by demonstrating various Martial Arts.

Cody Ray and I placed first in our group, and Grand Champions of the overall competition by performing Kendo Kata Odachi, and Tameshigiri.

Kendo Kata includes 2 parts - Odachi, performed by both opponents with long swords (O-tachi) ; and Kodachi, where Uchidachi uses the long sword, and Shidachi a short sword (Ko-tachi).

Cody and I had worked for a long time to perfect this kata. Undoubtedly, we still could improve it, and we will. This victory was the result of a year and a half of study and practice, and it shows once again that hard work pays, and results occur.

If you do not succeed the first time, keep training, you might succeed the second time. If you do not succeed the second time, keep training...

Eventually, it is about keeping trying, keeping coming to class, even when one would rather stay home watching TV, go party with friends or fishing on the lake.

It applies to everything in life, to Kendo, Karate, Cooking, Zen, Math, Finance, Professional matters, Love... And it maybe why the practice of Martial Arts is such a good one for young, and not so young people.

RIKKI HITATSU - Try and you will achieve

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Zen meditation keeps pain at bay.

Washington, Feb 4, 2009 : Zen meditation - a centuries-old practice that helps people gain mental, physical and emotional balance - can keep pain at bay, according to Universite de Montreal researchers.

According to a Psychosomatic Medicine study, Zen meditators have lower pain sensitivity both in and out of a meditative state compared to non-meditators.

Along with Pierre Rainville, a professor and researcher at the Universite de Montreal, Joshua A. Grant, a doctoral student in the Department of Physiology co-authored the paper.

The main aim of the study was to examine whether trained meditators perceived pain differently than non-meditators.

"While previous studies have shown that teaching chronic pain patients to meditate is beneficial, very few studies have looked at pain processing in healthy, highly trained meditators. This study was a first step in determining how or why meditation might influence pain perception," says Grant.

To reach the conclusion, the scientists recruited 13 Zen meditators with a minimum of 1,000 hours of practice to undergo a pain test and contrasted their reaction with 13 non-meditators. Subjects included 10 women and 16 men between the ages of 22 to 56.

The administered pain test was simple: A thermal heat source, a computer controlled heating plate, was pressed against the calves of subjects intermittently at varying temperatures. Heat levels began at 43 degrees Celsius and went to a maximum of 53 degrees Celsius depending on each participant’s sensitivity. While quite a few of the meditators tolerated the maximum temperature, all control subjects were well below 53 degrees Celsius.

Grant and Rainville noticed a marked difference in how their two test groups reacted to pain testing - Zen meditators had much lower pain sensitivity (even without meditating) compared to non-meditators. During the meditation-like conditions it appeared meditators further reduced their pain partly through slower breathing: 12 breaths per minute versus an average of 15 breaths for non-meditators.

"Slower breathing certainly coincided with reduced pain and may influence pain by keeping the body in a relaxed state. While previous studies have found that the emotional aspects of pain are influenced by meditation, we found that the sensation itself, as well as the emotional response, is different in meditators," Grant said.

The ultimate result was that Zen meditators experienced an 18 percent reduction in pain intensity.

Posture in Zen and Martial Arts

Watching one of my student practicing a set of Iai waza in preparation for testing, I realized how the general attitude has a huge impact on the impression left on the judges, and on oneself. If one wants to give an impression of calm and focus, one simply needs to act as if calm and focussed... It may sound dumb and stupid, wishful thinking. It is however, effective. Once one gets on the mat to demonstrate the exercise, one needs to think "I own this ring, this is my kingdom, I am the king, and I will show you what I can do !'

So when one gets in Seiza to bow to the judges and the sword, one should have a very proper posture, spine erect, chin tucked inside, head up, etc, etc, that demonstrate self confidence, calm, and focus. This is the same posture as the one recommended for meditation - but for the legs position.

By assuming a posture that demonstrate self confidence, one acquires self-confidence. It could be that this self confidence lasts only for the time of the demonstration, but a little self confidence is better than none, it is a beginning. It is training. We train our bodies to perform complicated Karate Kata, Iaido Waza or Tai Chi forms, we can also train our mind to become focused and self-confident, and this can be achieved through the use of proper posture.

I will post more on this matter later - Below is an article Gudo Nishijima which I believe relates to this subject. Proper alignment of the spine and hips is extremely important to a proper State of mind. It is difficult to have a straight mind if one does not have a straight spine. Practicing the proper posture straightens body and mind.

The Relation between the Autonomic Nervous System
A talk by Gudo Wafu Nishijima

My theory about the relation between the autonomic nervous system and Buddhism is only my supposition, but I have been utilizing it in explaining Buddhism for many years. And since I first arrived at this proposition many years ago, I have not met a case that caused me to change my theory. Therefore I would like to express my primitive proposition to the audience for reference. Of course, I am only a Buddhist monk and do not have sufficient knowledge of physiology, psychology, and so forth. However, in my experience, I have found it very useful to explain Buddhism on the basis of scientific knowledge, and so I would like to express my proposition on this occasion.

1 - Fundamental basis

The autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts, i.e., the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The two parts generally function in opposite ways. For example: In general, when the sympathetic nervous system (hereafter, I call it the “SNS”) is stronger than the parasympathetic nervous system (hereafter, the “PNS”), people are prone to be tense, to have a weaker appetite, to suffer from insomnia, and so forth. On the other hand, when the PNS is stronger than the SNS, people are prone to feel dull, to have a strong appetite, to sleep heavily, to have rather high blood pressure, and so forth.

Therefore the state of having a stronger SNS is not preferable, and neither is a state of having a stronger PNS.

I guess that, in some way, Gautama Buddha found this kind of important fact by his experience in his sincere life. Of course, at that time there was no scientific knowledge about the autonomic nervous system, but I think that through his enormous efforts and his genius he knew such a kind of fact intuitively.

2. Oneness between body and mind

We Buddhists believe in the theory of oneness between body and mind absolutely. Therefore I became interested in knowing about the mutual relation between the state of the autonomic nervous system (hereafter the “ANS”) and the human mind, and I arrived at the proposition that when people have a stronger SNS they are prone to be idealistic, and when people have a stronger PNS they are prone to be materialistic.

In human society there are so many people who are very spiritual and ascetic, but sometimes they can be rather aggressive and criticizing towards others. However there is also another kind of people. These people are very attached to physical enjoyments and do not to like to work so much, but tend to be pessimistic and hesitant.

When I was young I had a chance to read two books by an American psychiatrist named Karl Menninger. One was called "Man against Himself" (Harcourt, 1938,1956), and the other was "Love and Hate" (Harcourt, 1942).

"Man against Himself" explains the psychology of a person who commits suicide. The author says that a person who commits suicide is not a weak person, but usually a very strong and aggressive person. But for some reason, when his or her aggressive attack against others fails, his/her attack is directed against himself or herself. And when I read this description, I had to agree with Dr. Menninger's opinion.

However, in "Love and Hate" Karl Menninger insisted that if we want to be healthy in body and mind, it is necessary for us to maintain love and hate equally. Before that time I had been taught that only love is valuable, and hate should be avoided, but when I read Dr. Menninger's idea it was impossible for me to disagree with his opinion.

In Buddhism we believe that it is not good to be emotional, and so we should not be angry or greedy and so on. And when I compare such teachings with the theory of Karl Menninger, I can notice the reason why Gautama Buddha recommended the Middle Way to us.

3. Buddhism and the ANS

A fundamental principle of Buddhism is that it denies both idealistic belief and materialistic belief. And I think this fact suggests that we should avoid having both a state where our SNS is stronger and a state where our PNS is stronger.

We can say that ideas are only the motion of our brain cells, and therefore they are not real entities in themselves. And likewise we can say that sense stimuli are just excitement in our sense organs, and so they also are not real entities in themselves.

Therefore I think that Buddhism emphasizes the importance of equality or equilibrium between the SNS and the PNS. In Buddhism there is a Chinese and Japanese phrase, Jijuyo Zanmai, which explains the state in Zazen. The word Jijuyo is divided into two parts, one is Jiju and the other is Jiyo. Jiju means “to accept self,” and Jiyo means “to utilize self.” And Zanmai means a state in Zazen. Therefore we can interpret that “to accept self” suggests the function of the PNS, and “to utilize self” suggests the function of the SNS. So we can think that Jijuyo Zanmai means a state of equality between the SNS and PNS.

But it is very difficult, and almost impossible, for us to make the ANS balanced, because the ANS originally has a function of autonomy. But in such situation, I think that Gautama Buddha has presented us with a very effective and calm method to make the ANS balanced, and that is Zazen.

Why does Zazen have such excellent power? For many years after I began to study Buddhism I didn’t know the reason. Then about 10 years ago, because of the recommendation of my student, named Mike Cross, I read a book entitled “A Teacher’s Window into the Child’s Mind” (Fern Ridge Press) by Sally Goddard, an American psychiatrist and teacher.

In her book she explains that in our human life the important term of development is the first 7 or 8 years after birth, and in particular, the first 15 months. She says that if a child receives some unfortunate influence during that term, the child will suffer from rather serious effects on his or her personality, and it will be very difficult for the child to get rid of those bad effects during his or her life. However she says that, “Ultimately, the cerebellum is responsible for regulating the postural reflexes and muscle tone, and thus maintaining the body’s equilibrium.”

Reading Ms. Goddard’s book I could get an outline of the reason why Zazen is useful to make us better.

4. The meaning of Zazen

1. Zazen is not a means to attain “enlightenment,” but is just an act to experience the balance of the ANS.

2. Zazen is just practice of keeping the spine straight vertically in the regular posture.

3. The state in Zazen is called Shinjin Datsuraku, which means, “dropping body and mind off.” And when we think about the meaning of “dropping body and mind off,” we can interpret that when we are keeping the ANS in balance, the balance of the ANS can be felt like plus/minus 0, and so we sometimes feel that consciousness of our body seems to be 0, and consciousness of our mind seems also to be 0. And such a state is called “dropping body and mind off.”

4. Therefore, by practicing Zazen everyday we can become accustomed to having balance in our ANS, and such a state is just the state of Buddhas.