Monday, March 23, 2009

Kyosaku as a boken

This is another translation from French of a text by Taisen Deshimaru from his book "Zen et Vie Quotidienne" which I do not believe is available in English. I found this passage refreshing and absolutely hilarious. I wish I had been here to see him beat the hell out of the godo !
Actually, the Kyosaku - a stick used to hit the student to prevent him from falling asleep, at his request - looks like a lighter and straighter Boken...

I participated to a Sesshin at the Engakuji Temple in Kamakura. When I was in College, the Abbot of Engakuji Temple was also our Morals and Ethics Professor. He also was teaching Rinzai Zen at the School.

I went to that Sesshin. For one week, every morning, I got up a 2:00 a.m. and practiced Zazen until 6:00 a.m. In the evening, we could not go to sleep, we were sitting outside, and there were lots of Kyosaku strikes. My body was red !

It lasted 5 days, I had been patient, very patient… The next morning the Godo (head of the dojo) made a mistake. As he was half asleep he hit me right on top of the head. It made me really mad. I jumped up, grabbed his kyosaku and hit him with it. “I want to leave!”

In Rinzai Zen, one does not face the wall for Zazen, but faces each other. Everyone could see us fight. They stood up and tried to grab me. I was champion of Kendo back then. I hit everybody and said “This is not a real religion, this is pure violence !”

I escaped and ran to the Head of the temple who was asleep in his bedroom.

“I want to leave and quit Zazen”. I told him everything. He burst laughing :

“In the History of Zazen, you for sure are the only one who ever beat the Kyosaku bearer !!"

This is a famous story in Japan. Since then, Rinzai as well as Soto monks are afraid of me…

Monday, March 16, 2009

How can we change Humankind ?

Below is my own translation from French of an extract of “Zen and daily life” (Zen et vie quotidienne) by Master Taisen Deshimaru. I do not know that this book exists in English.

It provides an explanation of Karma, a concept I have been struggling with for quite a while... Karma as the flame that burns the wood. The wood burns and turns into ashes, but the Wood does not see the ashes, or knows nothing about them, and the ashes know nothing about the wood. What stays its the fire...

This is also an obvious reference to Genjokoan of Master Dogen.

One of the most simple explanation I heard of Yin and Yang is the analogy to a burning candle : the wax is Yin, the flame is Yang. Without wax, there can be no flame; without a flame, the wax is useless.

When the whole wax is burnt, the flame dies, but it might have set another candle in fire. Is this the same flame, or another flame ?

To believe in reincarnation and wish it, or not to believe in it and fear it, these are two erroneous attitudes. In Buddihsm, the 2 aspects are correlated. On one hand, the Buddha repelled all idea of transmigration, and on the other hand, certain texts affirm its reality. In fact, if we want to go beyond the world of transmigration, and beyond ethics, we need to understand the reason for this transmigration. During Zazen, we can understand the cause that provokes transmigration, reach the state of satori and realize this through our whole body and our spirit.

If one cuts all attachment, the substance of transmigration all of a sudden vanishes. And if there is no numen, there is nothing left to cut ! No more fear of death, no attachment to life, no attachment to the ego, no desire to keep on living: the subject is not attached to the ego anymore and the thought of transmigration is not necessary anymore. The burnt wood turns into ashes : it is a progressive transformation of the wood, while the fire keeps going. Karma is perpetuated through the prolongation of our thoughts, our words, our acts.

It is the flame of karma, while the ego is transformed like the wood is burnt. Wood turns into ashes, but wood cannot see the ashes, and the ashes neither can see the wood. There is no numen. By the practice of Zazen and Hishiryo consciousness, you can understand this difficult philosophy. But it is useless to try to get an intellectual understanding of it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ono Ha Itto Ryu

We had the privilege to train under Masayaki Shimabukuro Hanshi's instruction last week end in Pensacola.
The seminar began Friday night with Batto Ho, and we spent all day Saturday and part of Sunday on Ono Ha Itto Ryu, unknown to most students, including myself... We practiced Kihons, stances, and the first 5 katas of the school. By Saturday night, my head was hurting to try to remember all these new moves...

Sunday we went back to Ono Ha Itto Ryu, and MJER Chuden Waza. In the afternoon 3 students tested for Dan belts, one of them in an unexpected fashion...

Ono Ha Itto Ryu is clearly one of the close if not the closest ancestor of modern Kendo. It was very interesting to practice the kata and see how Kendo kata could have evolved from these.

Here is an article written by by Shimabukuro Sensei in 2007 on this ryu :

Principles from Ono-ha Itto-ryu

by Masayuki Shimabukuro, Hanshi

In our practice of Ono-ha Itto-ryu Kenjutsu, we are exposed to the study of principles that are considered to be the signature methods of the style. However, these principles are of great importance in iaijutsu and kenjutsu in general, and can be found in many styles, including Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu.

The first principle that will be discussed is called “isshin itto”, which means “one heart, one sword.” This phrase can be understood as one beat (of the heart), one technique and describes the fundamental principle of Ono-ha Itto-ryu. Isshin itto is clearly expressed in the techniques contained throughout the curriculum of Ono-ha Itto-ryu.

An example of isshin itto can be seen in the technique called suriage, in which one receives the enemy’s cut with the shinogi as the defender’s sword rises up along the same line as the enemy’s cut, displacing the opponent’s sword, and cuts down to the enemy’s men. This action of receiving, displacing and cutting happens in one movement. This principle is also expressed in suriotoshi, a technique found in Hitotsugachi, the first kumitachi in Ono-ha Itto-ryu. Suriotoshi, also called kiriotoshi, or dropping cut, is cutting down at the same time as the enemy cuts down, along the same line as the enemy’s cut, displacing his sword with the shinogi, thereby creating the condition of shini tachi (dead sword) in the enemy’s technique. The action of kiriotoshi continues by cutting to men or through to chudan (with the kissaki at the enemy’s nodo) and immediately thrusting. As in suriage, this all happens in one action.

These techniques, receiving and displacing the opponent’s cut and countering in one action, are usually considered to be advanced techniques in most styles. However, they are the first things practiced in Ono-ha Itto-ryu. This is especially the case with kiriotoshi, which represents both the beginning and end of the Ono-ha Itto-ryu curriculum.

While isshin itto is a very important component of waza, it requires kokoro gamae, the mind in a state of readiness, enabling the mind and the sword to execute waza together as one unit.

Another important technique or principle is “makura no osae.” Makura means pillow and osae means push or hold. This phrase refers to the principle of restraining or holding an opponent with the light touch of a pillow. This principle can be demonstrated in the example of someone sitting in a chair and then attempting to stand up. Typically, one feels very strong when they rise. But a light touch of the finger to the forehead of someone sitting in a chair can prevent them from rising.

In practice, if one applies osae when the opponent cuts or thrusts, one can immobilize the opponent, preventing him from applying a technique. The application of makura no osae requires correct timing as well as the ability to read the opponent’s intent.

The final principle that we will discuss involves some interesting historical references. Itto-ryu contains a concept called “shisha tachi”, which refers to using the kissaki like the shisha, or scouts, of the armies of feudal Japan. Shisha were intelligence gatherers tasked with obtaining as much information about the enemy, the landscape, potential obstacles, etc. Once this information was acquired, the shisha’s job was accomplished. This information would then be used to affect the proper strategy and tactics in deploying the full force against the enemy.

Shisha tachi refers to using the Kissaki to probe the opponent much like shisha would probe the enemy prior to mobilizing the full army against the enemy. One tactic that a shisha might have employed in a given situation is called “mon zen no kawara.” This refers to kawara, roof tiles, that shisha would throw at the front (zen) of the gate (mon) of an enemy’s stronghold, causing a disturbance in an attempt to lure him out. In a way reminiscent of mon zen no kawara, shisha kissaki can be used to lure the opponent out, forcing him to commit to a course of action. Shisha tachi can also be used to assess the opponent’s skill and to determine the correct distance for attack and defence. The information obtained through shisha tachi is then used in support of one’s skill and waza in overcoming the opponent. Once this information is acquired and can be used to defeat the opponent, shisha tachi, much like the shisha, is no longer necessary, and is replaced by the use of one’s full technique.

Ono-ha Itto-ryu emphasizes the principle of isshin itto. However, in addition to the techniques that reflect this principle, it also contains teachings such as makura no osae and shisha tachi. This is important because one must have not only good technique, but must understand strategy, possess common sense, and have a clear mind and strong spirit.

Monday, March 2, 2009


As we can't always be serious about training...
I hope you enjoy this absolutely Hilarious video about Sword Training

Sunday, March 1, 2009


Below is an extract of "The Zen Way to Martial Arts" by Zen Master Taisen Deshimaru

Born in Saga in 1914, Taisen Deshimaru became a disciple of Master Kodo Sawaki in the 1930s. Kodo Sawaki was one of the most influential Zen masters in 20th-century Japan. He particularly emphasized the importance of zazen practice and was among those masters who opened up the practice to laypeople by organizing sesshin in numerous temples.

Unlike most Zen masters, Taisen Deshimaru continued to lead a secular life while following his master’s teaching. He received the monk ordination in 1965, shortly before his master’s death. In 1967, he came to Europe and settled in Paris to transmit the teaching of Zen.

Shortly thereafter, in the 1970s, his mission began to increase in scale. He received dharma transmission from Master Yamada Reirin, head of Eiheiji Temple, and became kaikyosokan (head of Japanese Soto Zen for a particular country or continent) in Europe. He trained many disciples, and was the catalyst for the creation of a multitude of practice centers. He founded the AZI in 1970 and La Gendronnière in 1979. He died in 1982, after having solidly established Zen practice in Europe.

Bushido, the way of the samurai, grew out of the fusion of Buddhism and Shintoism. This way can be summarized in seven essential principles:

  1. Gi: the right decision, taken with equanimity, the right attitude, the truth. When we must die, we must die. Rectitude.
  2. Yu: bravery tinged with heroism.
  3. Jin: universal love, benevolence toward mankind; compassion.
  4. Rei: right action--a most essential quality, courtesy.
  5. Makoto: utter sincerity; truthfulness.
  6. Meiyo: honor and glory.
  7. Chugo: devotion, loyalty.

These are the seven principles underlying the spirit of Bushido,

Bu - martial arts;

Shi - warrior;

Do - the way.

The way of the samurai is imperative and absolute. Practice, in the body, through the unconscious, is fundamental to it, thus the enormous importance attached to the learning of right action or behavior.

Bushido has influenced Buddhism, and Buddhism has influenced Bushido; the elements of Buddhism found in Bushido are five:

  • Pacification of the emotions;
  • Tranquil compliance with the inevitable;
  • Self-control in the face of any event;
  • A more intimate exploration of death than of life;
  • Pure poverty.

Before the Second World War Zen Master Kodo Sawaki used to lecture the greatest masters in the martial arts, the highest authorities of Budo. In English "martial" arts is confused with "arts of war," but in Japan there is only: the way. In the West the "martial arts" are a fashion, they have become an urban sport, a technique, and have none of the spirit of the way.

In his lectures Kodo Sawaki would say that Zen and the martial arts had the same flavor and were the same thing. And in both Zen and the martial arts, training counts for a great deal.

How long do you need to train? Many people have asked me, "How many years do I have to practice zazen?" And I answer, "Until you die." They're not very happy with that answer. In the West people want to learn fast; some people think once is enough: "I came once and I understood," they say.

But the dojo is not like a university.

In Budo, too, you have to practice until you die.