Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Deadly Serious Attitude

In Karate do Nyumon, (Page 43) Funakoshi Sensei writes about Training :

Each and every punch must be made with the power of your entire body behind it. With the feeling of destroying your opponent with a single blow. You must believe that if your punch fails, you will forfeit your own life. Thinking this, your mind and energy will be concentrated, and your spirit will express itself in the fullest. … You will find that training with a deadly serious attitude will over time benefit not only your study of karate, but many other facets of your life as well. Life itself is often akin to a match with real swords. With a lukewarm attitude toward life – such as assuming that after every failure you will always have a second chance, what can you hope to accomplish in a short life span of fifty years ?

Although this is about Karate Training, I believe it also applies to every training, and among them to Zen. We should practice with a deadly serious attitude, as if each one of our expiration were our last one, and concentrate right then (Right Zen ?) !

AH ! What if this one were my last breathe ? What if I'd drop dead right now with my mind entangled in my daily life worries !

OK, do I practice like that? Of course not, give me a break, I am no Master but a beginner trying to figure it out, and only my experience of Martial Arts is what best helps me on my way !

And on this way Humor is good, and we should keep it flowing too. Have a deadly serious attitude, and at the same time not beat ourselves too hard on the head when we fail.

Always stand back up after we fell and learn from our mistakes.

Let's have a deadly serious attitude, and when our mind wanders around, let's bring it back home and start over again, as if it would again be our last breathe...


Patty Sensei reminded us one point Long Sensei insisted upon during a seminar she attended : While in Seiza, Tatehiza or standing stance before a waza, one should not be “too” relaxed. Even if the waza is not started yet, there should be a part of Zanshin, awareness, attention...

Originally, one is relaxed; once the instructor claps his hands together, giving the signal for the preparatory breathe, one gets a little more tense or focussed, ready to act.

From Seiza, this practically means to transfer ones weight a little to the front in order to raise the toes and be able to stand up faster. This is achieved by slightly tilting the pelvis to the front.

From a standing position, this also means to transfer one’s weight a little more toward the ball of the feet (Kidney 1 Acupuncture point), by slightly bending the knees and turning toes inside (Uchi Hachi Ji Dachi). The heels are still on the floor, but the weight of the body is more toward the balls of the feet, ready to jump. We are not in a fighting stance yet, but we are not relaxed anymore, paying attention to our environment, Zanshin.

In Yoshukai, this is the attitude we take when the instructor commands “Kiotsuke” - "ki wo tsuke" or 気を付け (Stand to Attention). This term is also used in The last Samurai Movie by the commander of the army that is going to be attacked by the last Samurais.

How Strange, reminds me of one of my last Blog postings about Front Stances…

Pensacola Iai Class

Great class in Pensacola yesterday at the Big Green Drum Dojo

We went through :
Seiza Mae
Junto Sono Ni
Zentekigyakuto Sono Ni

Moniri and Tsubamegaeshi were (almost) new waza for us as we had only studied them once with Long Sensei earlier during one of his seminars.

Classes like these are very profitable as we can quietly get into details of waza we have practiced times and times, with possible mistakes (we had for example practiced the wrong Chiburi on Tsukikage for the last 3 months...).

It also answered some of the questions we had, for which I did not know the answers...

I will e-mail my notes to everyone in a separate e-mails

Thank you Patty Sensei for your help and patience.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Front Stance

I just finished reading Karate Do Nuymon by Gichin Funakoshi. Funakoshi Sensei introduced Karate to mainland Japan in the early 20th century. He was also in Okinawa the school teacher of Tsuyoshi Chitose Sensei – founder of Chito Ryu Karate, and instructor of Kaicho Yamamoto, founder of Yoshukai Karate.

Karate-do Nyumon provides interesting insight about etiquette, spirit and historical aspects of Karate and in the way it was taught in Okinawa before the 20th century. It also points to connections between Zen and Karate. I’ll come back to this later.

I was however surprised by some pictures, which in some cases do not seem to really match the text.Were these pictures added after Funakoshi Sensei wrote the book ?

For example, Funakoshi Sensei’s description of the Front stance Zenkutsu Dachi emphasizes very clearly : “make sure both feet point in the same direction”.

But then, in the picture illustrating the stance, the front foot is directed to the front and the back foot is perpendicular to it!

The 2 most common mistakes in front stances are :

1. Stances too low and/or too wide, and

2. Back foot turned to the outside (which usually happens BECAUSE the stance is too low)

Front stances should not be so low that they prevent one to move quickly. Very low front stances are not adapted to actual fighting. They might look good to certain judges for Kata performance, and they certainly will help build strong legs, but there is no way one can move quickly from a very low front stance, when the weight is not on the ball of the foot.

Boxers, or Kendoka are fast. They keep their feet close to each other turned in the direction of the opponent, with their weight toward the front of their feet. Personally I try to focus my weight right behind the ball of the foot (first point on the Kidney Meridian).

And Front stances should be done with 2 feet parallel. Actually, the front foot could even be turned slightly inward, to improve traction from the toes, and the back foot parallel to it can push forward. This allows fast moving in all 4 directions. I do not understand how anybody could fight with their back foot flat and sideways. It does not allow for quick moves, nor to deliver enough power in Gyaku Tsuki.

Sensei Chitose, who was a Medical Doctor and spent a great deal of time studying the human body mechanics, recommended a stance where the feet were slightly turned inward. This can be seen today when Chito Ryu people practice Seisan or Sanchin Kata (This also protects your groin).To me this makes perfect sense, providing here again, that you do not turn your feet too much inward, which would also prevent the ability to move fast. Once again, it is a matter of finding the right balance.

Anyway, Karate do Nyumon is a good book, You should read it if you can et a hold of it. Soon I'll take you of the Heart Sutra quoted by Funakoshi Sensei !

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Does God hate Tai Chi ?

First it was Rock’n’roll music - the work of the Devil, not so long ago Condoms were spreading AIDS in Africa. Now Tai Chi practitioners are on the highway to hell.

In yet another demonstration of tolerance and acceptance, the Wynyard Baptist Church on the northwest coast of Tasmania (an island off the coast of Australia) has banned a group of senior citizens from practicing their gentle and devilish martial art.

Church leader the Reverend Morse says a council of leading parishioners decided the gentle martial art’s philosophies were incompatible with the Bible’s teachings.

"Half of Tai Chi is Taoism and Zen Buddhism, which is in total contrast to what we as a Christian church believe in." Rev Morse said.

He goes on to say "It's about a type of meditation, and what they call search for enlightenment, where you go into things like yoga do or, like in the martial arts, meditations where you just emptied your mind and let it go wherever it wanted to.

Well that stands in opposition to Christianity, which says we are to be in control of our faculties."

“Yoga do?” Could this be a new synthesis of Yoga and Karate do ? I wonder if the Reverend has any idea what Yoga, Tai Chi or martial Arts are about ?

I had heard these guys down under are a little weird. Surely they could benefit from a little enlightenment. Thank God, such silly things would not happen around here !

Embracing the Devil - A Group of Senior Citizens Defy God
Bring back the Inquisition

Monday, May 4, 2009

Nothing great, said Epictetus, is produced suddenly, since not even the grape or the fig is. If you say to me now that you want a fig, I will answer to you that it requires time: let it flower first, then put forth fruit, and then ripen. Is, then, the fruit of a fig-tree not perfected suddenly and in one hour, and would you possess the fruit of a man's mind in so short a time and so easily? Do not expect it, even if I tell you.

Epictetus, a Greek Stoic Philosopher born in 55 AD, taught in Rome and Greece.

This also well applies to Zen and Budo. There is no sudden enlightenment - out of the blue - Nothing magic, no sudden achievement.
The difference between the Master and the Beginner is that the Master repeated the move tens of thousands of time. Some people may be gifted at birth, but without hard training, their gift will be lost (I believe this is what Jesus' Parable of talents is about).
Fall 7 times, get back up 8 times.
"Sudden" enlightenment is only apparently sudden, it actually is the result of long training and dedication. All of a sudden, one may have this "AH AH" moment, but this only comes when the fruit is ripe. Before that there was a need for a bloom, it transformed into a fruit, it ripened, and then it fell from the tree.