Tuesday, August 18, 2009

the thickness of a hair.

In “ The essence of Okinawan Karate-do, Page 14, Shoshin Nagamine writes :

"Karate is self training in perfection, a means whereby a man may obtain that expertise in which there is not the thickness of a hair between a man and his deed. It is a training in efficiency, It is a training in self reliance."

In his Fukanzazengi (Eihei Koroku translation by Leighton and Okumura) Master Dogen writes

"And yet, if there is a hairbreadth of deviation, it is like the gap between Heaven and Earth, if the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confusion"

In the "Hsin Hsin Ming" ("Trust in Mind") a poem from the 6th century China when Zen or Ch’an was beginning to emerge as a separate tradition, the Chinese Ancestor Seng-ts’an, or Kanshi Sosan writes :

"The Great Way is not difficult, for those who have no preferences. When freed from grasping and aversion, it reveals itself clearly and undisguised. A hair’s breadth difference, and heaven and earth are set apart. If you want it to appear, have no opinions for or against. The duality of like and dislike is the disease of the mind."

Coincidence ? I doubt it. At the end of his book, Shoshin Nagamine writes again :

I have pursued the study of Karate in an attempt to bring karate and Zen together as one.This has been a life-long effort, and one that can never be fully realized by anyone person.

Zen Masters often have written about or for Martial Arts, but less Martial Art Masters wrote about Zen.

One thing that attracted me so much to Zen is its Practical aspect. Zen is something you TRAIN in. There is nothing wrong about trying to understand some aspects of it, however, if this is your only practice, you might as well go home, you won't do anything good for yourself. But this is not clear from the outside. I believe most people consider Zen as a very intellectual and possibly bizarre philosophical or religious system. This is at least how they look at it in France.

The records we have from Martial Art Masters seldom go back more than 150 years. These masters were not living in the dark ages, but in a preindustrial age and their world was not too different from ours.

For this reason, I believe their words are easier to understand than those of people writing from 800 years or more ago. In any case, they will be easier to understand for students of Martial Arts. I know of no anthology of what Budo Masters had to say about Zen. I believe such a collection could be helpful.

So I decided to devote some time to research what Budo masters wrote about Zen. If you have information to share on this subject, or on a methodology I could follow, your help will be welcomed.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Thich Nhat Hanh

I do not usually meddle in politics, and I may not always agree with Thitch Nhat Hanh's writings.
Still, I hate for powerful tyrants to oppress little guys; the old David and Goliath's story I guess... All tyrants intuitively know the truth of it - the Tao at work...

So here I am, as we say where I come from "une fois n'est pas coutume" some political stuff, this is much more important than whatever the present Gouvernment might or might not change in our country, this really is about individual and religious freedom.

Communist Vietnam's sometimes edgy relationship with religious freedom is being tested in a dispute over a monastery inhabited by disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the world's most famous Zen masters. For four years, the Buddhist monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery in central Vietnam have been quietly meditating and studying the teachings of the 82-year-old Vietnamese sage who is perhaps the world's best-known living Buddhist after Tibet's Dalai Lama.

But lately, they are in a standoff that could test the patience of even the most enlightened.

Read more on this matter.

Tai Chi for Type 2 Diabetes

New research shows that taking up tai chi might benefit people with type 2 diabetes.

For six months, 31 people with type 2 diabetes practiced tai chi (a gentle Chinese martial art that combines movement, meditation and rhythmic breathing to improve the flow of chi). By the end of the study period, those who practiced tai chi showed greater improvements in glucose control than study participants who weren't involved in the tai chi program. What's more, members of the tai chi group appeared to have better social functioning and mental health, in addition to carrying out more self-care activities to manage their diabetes.

This comes as a relief... When I first started to teach in Dothan in 2001, one of my first and dear students was on Insulin. After several weeks (or month ?) of practice, she did not need the Insulin anymore, and attributed this to Tai Chi. Not wanting to get in trouble with the Medical Establishment around here, I never spoke about this. It seems that maybe, Tai Chi really helped her !

Get more details

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kendo Kata Sanbonme

On Tuesday, August 4, 2009 at about 8:30 p.m., after an approximate 22 years of practice, I finally figured out Kendo Kata Odachi : Sanbonme.

Sanbonme is the third in a series of 7 kata performed with a wooden sword (boken) between 2 partners : Shidachi, the good guy, attacked by Uchidachi, the bad guy - usually the teacher. Normally only the first 3 kata are studied before testing for Black Belt.

Sanbonme is a very difficult one to master because of the footwork. When in all other kata one always step to the front or back beginning with the front or back foot, in Sanbonme when Shidachi counter attacks him, Uchidachi steps back with his front foot first.

Until last night, it had never made sense, the natural way to step back seemed to be back foot first.

Because Shidachi's control of Uchidachi's attack was too forceful...

Instead of wacking Uchidachi's attack to the side, if Shidachi only slightly deviates Uchidachi's initial attack and takes control of the center, he is in good and very natural position to attack back, and Uchidachi then only can step back very quickly with his front foot - least he be poked between the ribs by Shidachi's sword that is now dangerously close...

The whole kata becomes effortless, and Shidachi totally controls Uchidachi at the tip of his sword.

We were able to figure this out because of the emphasis my students and I have put on our practice of Kenjutsu lately : Kendo Kata, Eishin Ryu Tachiuchi no Kurai, and mainly Ono Ha Itto Ryu Kenjutsu. The whole point are to not create any opening and occupy the center.

The details of the move I cannot explain in writing. They have to be practiced. The main points are that when practiced in this way, the waza is extremely efficient in terms of RESULT achieved : Uchidachi REALLY feels so much pressure that he has to step back, quickly, with his front foot. It is also extremely efficient in terms of ENERGY used. Shidachi effortlessly takes control of the game EFFORTLESSLY.

Beyond technical knowledge, this is what we should strive for : Efficiency : Achieve maximum result with minimum effort.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Fearless Tea Party

In the Movie Fearless, the hero Huo Yuan Jia played by Jet Li is having tea with one of his adversary, Japanese Kendo Master Tanaka.

The following is a transcript of their conversation :

  • Mr Huo, according to what you say, you really don't know the nature of tea.

  • It's not that I don't know, I really don't want to know, because I don't care about evaluating teas. Tea is tea. But each tea has its own character and properties. What is the purpose of grading ? These many teas are grown in nature, all of them. Is there a discernable difference ?

  • Yes, once you learn this, you can tell the difference between the teas.

  • What you say may be right, but the way I see it, the tea does not judge itself. It's people that judge its grading. Different people chose different things. As for me, as far as I'm concerned, I just don't want to make any choice.

  • Is that so ?

  • Drinking tea is a mood, really. If you are in a good mood, the grade of tea doesn't matter.

  • I've never looked at it like that. I understand that there are many wushu fighting styles. Are you saying no style is greater than another ?

  • That's what I'm saying.

  • If that's true, I want to ask you, if wushu does not differ in any way, why then do we fight each other ?

  • I believe for all the styles of wushu, there is no single one that is superior. All of those who practice different styles of wushu, they would naturally have a different level of skill. Through competition, we can discover ourselves.

  • What you just said makes me have more respect for you. Enjoy

  • You first

This reminds me of one comment by Elliston Sensei during our last Sesshin at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center. Speaking about the beauty of flowers, he reminded us that we are the ones believing that they are beautiful. The flower herself does not know that she is, this is us who think she is.

There is no such thing as beauty in itself, it is the interaction of the flower and the being seeing her. There is no such thing as a good or bad tea. A tea can't be good without someone to drink it, and appreciate it. And depending on the conditions, I will or will not appreciate that particular cup.

There is no Martial Art (Wushu in Chinese, Bujutsu in Japanese - 武術 ) style better than an other. The issue of a fight only depends of the conditions of the fight and fighters. Competition is about leaning where we stand.