Thursday, December 30, 2010

Don't mess with Nun Shido

During the Rohatsu retreat of 1304 at the Enkakuji Monastery Master Chokei gave his formal approval (inka) as a teacher to the nun Shido, the founder of Tokeiji and widow of the Shogun Hojo Tokimune.

The Abbott of the Temple did not approve of the inka being granted. He asked her a question to test her:

"In our line, one who receives the inka gives a discourse on the Rinzairoku classic. Can the nun teacher really brandish the staff of the Dharma in the Dharma-seat?"

She faced him and drew out the ten-inch tanto (carried by all women of the samurai class) and held it up: "A Zen teacher of the line of the patriarch indeed should go up on the high seat and speak about the book. But I am a woman of the warrior line and I should only declare our teaching when really face to face with a drawn sword. What book should I need?'

The head monk said, 'Before father and mother were born, with what then will you declare our teaching?'

The nun closed her eyes for some time. Then she said, 'Do you understand?'

The head monk said, 'A wine-gourd has been tipped right up in Peach-tree Valley; Drunken eyes see ten miles of flowers.'

This story is the same as the one about Yamaoka Tesshu  explaining the Rinzairoku in his dojo 

To be continued...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tai Chi, Balance & Proprioception

Proprioception is a combination of senses that informs the central nervous system about where the various parts of the body are located and moving in relation to each other (Kinesthesia) and in relation to our environment, and that helps us keep our balance. Proprioception is what allows us to to walk in complete darkness without losing our balance. The main organs involved in proprioception are the inner ear, the eyes (sight), skin (sense of touch), and the stretch sensors located within muscles, tendons and joints.

With proprioception, you can estimate the position of your foot on the ground, the angle of your calf with it, and the amount of weight spread between the ball and the back of your foot.

Proprioception continuously gathers input from millions of sensors in your muscles, joints, and ligaments, combines that with input from sight and touch and uses it all to control your balance, coordination, posture, and movement.

Kinesthesia is the part of proprioception that is mostly interested in the localization of the body parts in relation to each other. The sense of equilibrium or balance involved in proprioception is usually excluded from Kinesthesia. An inner ear infection might degrade your sense of balance, which would degrade proprioception, but not kinesthesia. You would be able to walk by using your sense of sight to maintain your balance but would be unable to walk with your eyes closed.

2 simple exercises to illustrate the influence of the senses of sight and touch on proprioception. Try them.

Influence of Sight on balance.
Stand on both legs. Raise on foot at about knee level. Keep your balance for 10 seconds (count until 10). If you cannot hold it for 10 seconds, try to count how long you can hold it. Put your foot back on the ground.

Now close your eyes and repeat the same exercise. Unless you have already trained for it, you will find it much more difficult to hold on your balance with your eyes closed.

Influence of Touch on Kinesthesia.
Stand on both legs with your feet together. Step up to the front and right with your right foot. Land your right foot at 45 degrees to your front right. Slightly bend both knees. Very slowly, lift your right foot from the ground and bring it back toward your left foot and then to your right back. Land your right foot at 45 degrees to your right back. DO NOT touch the ground while doing so. Pay attention to how easy this move is for you.

Now repeat the same exercise but when you move your foot back, let your big toe gently slide on the ground. It should become much easier this way.

The reason why it is easier with your foot slightly dragging on the floor is that your sense of touch provides information to your central nervous system about where your foot is located. When your foot stays off the ground, the only organs that inform your brain are the sensors within muscles and joints. Once the foot slightly touches the ground, then the sense of touch provides an additional information, which makes things much easier. This information about the position of the foot is of course also helpful to help us keep our balance

Training can improve proprioception.

The ability to play piano or wield a sword requires a finely-tuned sense of the position of the joints. This sense can and needs to be trained to enable a person to concentrate on other aspects of the performance such as reading the music or seeing where the other opponents are.

Because of the low speed and stretching moves involved in their practice, Chi Gong in general and Tai Chi in particular are excellent ways to enhance proprioception for adults.

In future posts I will propose simple exercises to train and enhance proprioception.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Zen Master and the Dying Daughter

When the daughter of a rich Japanese merchant fell very ill, she asked her father to request a famous Zen Master to visit her.

The Master demanded a fee of fifty gold ryo. This was a huge amount of gold. The merchant was furious but as his daughter was dying, he finally agreed.

The Master came and told the girl: 

"With these gold pieces we are going to build a new meditation hall in our Temple. Among the monks of the Monastery there are two or three baby Bodhisatvas, who in that hall will train and grow to maturity. Now if you want to, you can die in peace; your life has had some meaning."

And he abruptly left.

At once the girl began to recover...

This story is told by Trevor Leggett in "The Tiger's Cave"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Master Mokudo and the Prostitute

When I was in Korea in the late 80's, prostitution was a common thing. Often young women had to work in the red light houses for a while in order to cover for family debts or send their younger brother to college. Once the debt would be paid, they would go back to their hometown and family to lead a regular life. 

The following story happened in Japan, and it is adapted from Trevor Leggett's "The Tiger's Cave"

Zen master Mokudo when he was passing through the capital Edo (Tokyo) was hailed by a prostitute from a window on the second storey of a building. He asked the girl how she knew his name and she replied: 

"When you were a kid on the farm we were neighbors; after you went to the monastery to become a monk we had a bad harvest, and my father could not pay for the seeds he had to purchase, so now I am here."

Master Mokudo went up to talk to her. She asked him to stay for the night.

He paid her fee to the house, and gave her some more money. They talked of their families till late that evening, and then the bedding was spread on the floor. 

As the girl prepared to go to bed, the Master sat in meditation posture. She pulled his sleeve and said: 

"You have been so kind to me. I would like to show you my appreciation. No one will know."

The Master told her: "Your business is to sleep, and my business is to sit. Now you get on with your sleeping, and I'll get on with my sitting!"

He remained unmoving the whole night.

Monday, December 13, 2010


"Loyalty is a precious quality that we have almost lost sight of today. Instead of loyalty, almost everyone talks about freedom, (this is especially  true of relationships. The idea is that if two people come together in freedom, each can walk out of the arrangement. This is supposed to be a complete safeguard against unhappiness. Unfortunately, even where both are free to walk out – where there are no obligations, no bonds, not even any ties – they go on doing this over and over and do not acquire the capacity to love. Without loyalty, it simply is not possible to love deeply." 

Allthough this quote is originally about  the romantic love between 2 individuals, I found that it also actually applies to every kind of relationships, between 2 persons, between groups and individuals, and within groups  such as teams, schools, companies, churches, countries...

People sometimes leave organizations for they believe they were not giving them their due, or because, for whatever reason, they just did not wish to participate anymore. 

"I don't like it anymore, I don't get what I want anymore, I quit."

When life does not turn out the way one would love, one may decide to quit. 

Not only is this a spoiled kid and selfish attitude, but it will simply not solve the problem. Things do not get better when we quit. It may feel better for a while, but eventually, the same situation will occur again until the individual (if he left) or the group (if it kicked the individual out) has the courage to  address and solve it. 

If on the contrary both parties decide to stay and try to solve the problem together, then it might be solved, and both party might grow from it.

When things go well, loyalty is easy. When they don't, loyalty is about fixing them together. And it is not easy, but it is the only way to go. If you try to escape by quitting,  a similar situation will occur again, until you decide to address it and solve it. I have seen this happen, again and again (to me too). There is no escaping. You may try, you won't succeed. You might as well accept things now, and work them out.

And this my friends, might well be one way Karma works.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

You are invited - Rohatsu Celebration

Rōhatsu (臘八) literally means 8th Day of the 12th Month. It is the Buddhist holiday that commemorates the day that the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautauma (Shakyamuni) experienced enlightenment.

Traditions agree that during that night, as the morning star rose in the sky in the early morning, Siddhartha finally found the answers he sought and became Enlightened, and experienced Nirvana. 

In Zen monasteries, Rohatsu is the last day of a week-long sesshin - an intensive meditation retreat dedicated to meditation. 

Although we'll be a little late, I would like to invite you all to meet next Sunday December 19 at 2:30 p.m. in Headland to celebrate Rohatsu by practicing meditation together. F

or those of you new to it, this will be the occasion to experience Zen in a true Dojo. For those of you who are familiar with Zen, please come support the Dojo through your presence. 


We will practice sitting and walking meditation, chant the Heart Sutra and discuss basics of Meditation. You don't have to be a Buddhist to attend ! 

The Dojo is located behind my home at 610 Mitchell Street, Headland, AL 36345. Tel (334) 798 1639

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Daito and the Beggars killer.

According to the tradition, one of the great Rinzai Zen Masters in Japan, Daito Kokushi (1282 - 1337) lived unknown for many years among the beggars of Kyoto.

These were hard  and lawless times. Often, during the night, gangs of heartless and bastards roaming the poor parts of town would try their swords on homeless people, slicing and killing them just for the fun of it. Who would care for the life of an insignificant beggar ?

One evening, one of the bloody jerks was standing by the bridge where the beggars used to spend the night. All of them were terrified, for they knew that after nightfall the murderer would probably appear among them to cut one or several of them down.

Master Daito told the beggars to hide in a nearby field, and proceeded to sit in Zazen. When the samurai appeared on the bridge at dusk he only saw a beggar sitting in meditation posture. He drew his sword and shouted: 'Get ready, I'm going to slice you in two halves !' 

The beggar did not flinch and remained unmoving. An awe came over the samurai; he hesitated and finally left in retreat.

Master Daito later founded the temple of Daitokuji in Kyoto

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Bokusan and the angry Samurai

During the dark times of the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in nineteenth century Japan, (As described in the movie "The last Samurai") a fugitive samurai had taken refuge in a Zen temple ruled by Zen master Nishiari Bokusan
Three samurai from the other army arrived and demanded to be told where the fugitive was. 

"There is nobody here," said the Zen master.
"If you won't tell us,then we'll chop your head off" and they drew their swords. 
"Well if I am to die," said the Zen master, " Then I think I'll have some Sake."
He took a small bottle of Sake, poured it, and sipped it with great pleasure. 

The puzzled samurai looked at one another and left...

Master Bokusan once said about this incident :

"Well, you can learn something from it : When those guys came, I did not do what they wanted, but neither did I argue or plead with them. I just gave up their whole world and had nothing to do with them. And after a while they were gone."

"Similarly when you complain that you are overwhelmed with passions and bad  thoughts, you should know that the proper way is not to quarrel, plead or argue. Just give up their world and have nothing to do with them.  After a while you will see that they have gone away."


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Muso Kokushi and the Drunk Samurai

Muso Kokushi, (夢窓 疎石, 1275 – 1351), was one famous Rinzai Zen Master in Japan. Once upon a time, he was traveling escorted by a Samurai friend and Kenjutsu expert. They arrived at a river and boarded a boat to cross it.
Master Kokushi was sitting away from the Samurai on the other side of the boat which had filled up with passengers. As the captain was turning away people, a drunken samurai rushed up, demanding to be taken aboard. The captain could not decline. 
In the dangerously overloaded boat the drunk started a quarrel. Master Kokushi tried to reason him by pointing out that any violent movement might sink the boat.

"You meddling priest!" shouted the drunken samurai, and he hit him on the forehead with his iron war-fan. The blood poured down. 

The master quietly sat unmoving and the samurai, satisfied, slumped back in his own place without further disturbance. 

As the boat reached the other shore. The swordsman lightly jumped out, looking at the samurai, waiting for him to come ashore. 

There is something about the stance of an unhappy kenjutsu expert... The bully well knew that he was going to dearly pay for his striking Master Kokushi.

But Muso jumped from the boat and said : 
"No, No ! Now is the time to apply our Buddhism. These Forms are Emptiness; Anger and all the Passions are the Bodhi." 

And he swiftly and quietly led his follower away.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Blind leading the Blinds... (don't let this happen)

We sometimes do stupid things because we let others lead us into them, because we trust other people's judgment or behavior, even if this goes against our gut feeling. It is important that we cultivate knowledge and wisdom, and learn how to trust them and trust ourselves, this does not come easily, it takes work. And humility. Overconfidence can kill you...

As a teenager, I spent most of my free time sailing. Navigating the English Channel and Southern Brittany in winter times can be challenging. Rain, slit, high winds and fog are usual conditions. We did not have radars, GPS or any other modern navigating devices. Just maps, data on current and tides, a loch (Speedometer) and compasses. We managed to survive and I suppose I became good at it, as one day I got promoted to the rank of skipper-instructor, and was entrusted a beautiful 28 foot wooden sloop - the Nosterven - and a team of 4 wanabe sailors. I was 17... What were they thinking ? 

I did not have any doubts as for my maritime abilities, and never had thought of the possible difficulties a 17 years old might experience trying to teach something to a moron twice his age who thinks he knows everything there is to know about sailing because he read the complete "Sailing for Idiots" set of books at the local library. But this is an other story...

So sometimes during July of 1974, we sailed out of Port Tudy in the Island of Groix heading South toward La Rochelle. The weather was clement, the wind smooth. We sailed past Les Sables d'Olonne In the afternoon, the fog fell on us and I decided to stay a little away from the main land. As the night came down the fog dispersed. We steered South-South East between main land and the Isle of Re. The map was showing a few rocks we needed to leave on our South.

I had kept precise records and a rather good estimate of our position, but because of the fog we'd met I would not trust it too much, and decided that although it would slow us down and was tempted to sail more South, I would rather stay a little on the safe side North of the Island. 

We turned our navigation lights on. An other boat was sailing ahead and  parallel to us toward La Rochelle. These guys had to know what they were doing, as they were going in the same direction I was, so surely we could take a more Southerly route...

Everything was going really smooth. We were following the other ship. The night was beautiful, life was good. I was resting at the navigation table One of the crew members called me, her voice sounded slightly worried. I quickly realized what was going on. The ship ahead of us had almost wrecked on the rocks and was steering away from them. They were signaling them to us with the beam of a strong flashlight. I could hear the waves break on them. We might have been 100 feet from them. We quickly changed course and escaped the rocks. The weather was very clement and a wreck would probably not have been lethal, but that would not have been good on my record...

This taught me a valuable lesson : I should have trusted my own estimate better. As I was not absolutely sure of it, I followed someone else going in the same direction. I wanted to believe they knew better than me where they were going. Never did it occur to me that they could be in the same situation we were, and that their skipper might be thinking "This ship behind us is heading in the same direction I am, they probably know what they are doing, this has to be the right direction"

The Blind leading the Blinds...
This is how people die...

At the end of the day, you only can count on your own knowledge and wisdom. Cultivate them.

Knowledge can be learned and taught by teachers and through books. Knowledge is something people acquired before you, they tested it, recorded the results, and you can use them with a certain level of accuracy. The laws of Physics for example, are a good example of knowledge you can use successfully: If you throw a stone upward, it will very likely fall back down at a speed we are even able to determine. This is how we send people to the Moon, and even better, we bring them back !

Wisdom is personal and experiential, it does not come through books or intellectual speculation. It is the fruit of your personal life. Can you cultivate wisdom ? Yes, yes you can. Get a life ! Get out and interact with nature and people. Drop your keyboard or video game console and actually meet people, get on your bike, play your guitar or saxophone, draw your sword, learn to play rugby, sit on your meditation cushion, and practice. See for yourself. Nobody can give you wisdom. A Teacher may help you acquire it, and adequate knowledge should prevent you from taking too much risks in your endeavours. But they will not give you wisdom. You will do it.

Hopefully you'll find a Master to help you on your way, but remember:

YOU have to do the work.

In a later post I'll tell you about Desert Navigation ! 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Wishing is not enough

We have no choice about who we already are, but we can wish to change ourselves. Such an aspiration gives the mind a sense of direction. But just wishing is not enough. We need to put that wish into action.

We don't find anything strange about spending years learning to walk, read and write, dance or fight or acquire other professional skills. We spend hours working out, repeating fighting moves until they become quasi-instinctive, jogging at the Park or swimming in a pool. 

To sustain such tasks requires interest and enthusiasm. This interest comes from believing that these efforts will benefit us in the long run.

Training the mind follows the same logic. How could one expect to change it without the least effort, just from wishing alone? That makes no more sense than expecting to learn to play a Mozart sonata by just doodling around a piano once a week.

We spend a lot of energy to improve external conditions of our lives, but it is only our mind that creates our experience of this world and translates it into either well-being or suffering.

When we change the way we perceive things, we  change the quality of our lives. This kind of transformation is achieved through a form of mind training known as Meditation in English and French, as Dhyana in Sanskrit, Chan in Chinese and Zen in Japanese.

But remember : 
Just Wishing is not enough. 
Practice ! 

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Abbot and the General

When a rebel army swept into a town in Korea, all the monks of the Zen temple fled but the Abbot. The general came into the temple and was very unhappy that the Abbot did not receive him with  proper respect and manners.

"Don't you know," yelled the general,"that you are looking at a man who can slice you down without blinking?" 

"And you,"replied the Abbot strongly, "that you are looking at a man who can be sliced down without blinking!" 

The general stared at him, bowed and left...

Monday, November 8, 2010


Last month of May, I had to vent some frustration in a post about the low attendance to a Yoshukai Seminar held here in Dothan. 

Today, I'd like to express my happiness at a good example of Dedication and Commitment.

Last Saturday, we were testing in Iaido. at the Yoshukai Dojo in Dothan. Ron, Fred and myself were testing for Shodan -Ho, an intermediate rank between 1st Kyu and Shodan, and Chris was testing for his 7th Kyu. This was Chris' first test in Iaido.

Chris - who also ranks 4th Dan in Yoshukai Karate - works at the Fairley Nuclear Plant, the plant is presently stopped for refueling and maintenance, and people there are working shifts to reduce the down time to a minimum. This means 12 hours shift for the workers. These are hard working days, I know it, I did it for several years in a previous life as a young engineer.

So basically, after his 12 hours shift, Chris got off work, drove 20 miles to Dothan where he met Fred for breakfast and then trained with him. Then he came to the dojo and tested. Finally, he was able to go home and sleep after a 22 hours day. 

Now, this is commitment. 

Chris could have decided he had already had a long day, was tired and the hell with the test, I'm going to bed. 

If all of us would put in everything we do the effort Chris put into his practice, training and testing, no doubt things would probably be easier on everybody in this world.

By the way, all of us passed the test - thank you to Patty Sensei who drove from Pensacola to test us - an other beautiful example of commitment and dedication. 

Yours in Budo.

Friday, November 5, 2010

20 principles of Karate

Gichin Funakoshi ( 1868 – 1957)  is generally considered as the father of modern karate. He was one of the Okinawan Masters who introduced karate to the Japanese mainland at the begiining of the 20th century. He also was school teacher and one of the Karate teachers of Dr Tsuyoshi Chitose Founder of Chito Ryu Karate, himself teacher of our Grand Master Mamoru (Katsuo) Yamamoto, Founder of Yoshukai Karate.  

Here are the 20 principles of Karate per Funakoshi Sensei.

Read them. Chew on them, this may not exactly mean what you first would think...

1. Karate-do wa rei ni hajimari, rei ni owaru koto wo wasuruna.
Karate begins and ends with courtesy.

2. Karate ni sente nashi.
There is no first attack in karate.
(Please consider this one very carefully, it is poorly understood by lots of people...)

3. Karate wa gi no tasuke.
Karate is an assistance to justice.

4. Mazu jiko wo shire, shikoshite tao wo shire.
First know yourself, then others.

5. Gijutsu yori shinjutsu.
Spirit before technique.

6. Kokoro wa hanatan koto wo yosu.
Be ready to free your mind.

7. Wazawai wa getai ni shozu.
Accidents come from laziness.

8. Dojo nomino karate to omou na.
Karate training goes beyond the dojo.

9. Karate no shugyo wa issho de aru.
You'll never stop learning in karate.

10. Arai-yuru mono wo karate-ka seyo, soko ni myo-mi ari.
Karate applies to everything. Therein lies it’s beauty.

11. Karate wa yu no goto shi taezu natsudo wo ataezareba moto no mizu ni kaeru.
Karate is like boiling water. If you don't give it heat, it will cool down.

12. Katsu kangae wa motsu na makenu kangae wa hitsuyo.
Forget about winning. Instead, make sure you never lose.

13. Tekki ni yotte tenka seyo.
Adjust your techniques according to your opponent.

14. Tattakai wa kyo-jitsu no soju ikan ni ari.
The outcome of a fight depends on how you take advantage of weaknesses and strengths.

15. Hito no te ashi wo ken to omoe.
See your hands and feet as swords.

16. Danshi mon wo izureba hyakuman no tekki ari.
When you step outside your door, you face a million enemies.

17. Kamae wa shoshinsha ni ato wa shizentai.
Fixed stances are for beginners; later, one moves naturally.

18. Kata wa tadashiku jissen wa betsu mono.
Kata is practised in a perfect world, real fight is another story.

19. Chikara no kyojaku, karada no shinshuku, waza no kankyu wo wasaruna.
Hard and soft, tension and relaxation, quick and slow, all connected in the technique.

20. Tsune ni shinen kufu seyo.
Think of ways to apply these precepts every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What meditation is not

Sometimes practitioners of meditation are accused of being too focused on themselves, of wasting their time and energy in egocentric introspection and failing to be concerned with others. 

Can we regard as selfish a process which ultimate goal is to root out the obsession with self and to cultivate altruism ?

Would this not be like blaming an aspiring doctor for spending years studying medicine before beginning to practice ?

In the same way that Martial Arts ultimately are not about learning how to fight, meditation is not :

  • An attempt to create a blank mind by blocking out thoughts - which is impossible anyway. 

  • Engaging the mind in endless intellectual cogitation in an attempt to understand the past or foresee and anticipate the future. 

  • A simple process of relaxation in which inner conflicts are temporarily suspended in a vague, warm-fuzzy and amorphous state of consciousness. (Tequila does a better job at this.)

  • There are more practical and efficient ways achieve the above. Among them are senseless exercising, deep intellectual - scientific or philosophical speculation, and the use of recreational drugs.

    Meditation of course induces some sort of relaxation but it is a side effect connected with the relief that comes from letting go of hopes and fears, of attachments and the incessant jumps of the ego and Monkey mind.

    Most of us come to meditation longing for something we are not exactly sure about, most likely for one of the 3 reasons above. And this is perfectly alright, as long we don't get stuck on this for ever. We need to realize this is not what meditation is about. 

    The Value of Traditional Kata

    During the last edition of the Yoshukai Tournament in Dothan on October 30, 2010. I was watching a weapons kata competition. 2 black belt were opposed in that group. One competed with a traditional sai kata - Yosei no Sai, one competed with a non traditional Sword Kata.

    The traditional Sai kata was that : Traditional. There needs to be nothing flashy about fighting. If you watch the video of Yamamoto and Koda Sensei performing Sai tai Bo, you will see nothing fancy, but sharp and short moves right to the point. Basically if you are in front of  someone who masters all the moves of Yosei no Sai, it is going to be very difficult to reach them unless you own a a gun.

    The Sword Kata was very fancy, a mixture of Iaido and twirling baton, that flashy sword was everywhere, flashing in everybody's eyes. Yes, it was impressive to the untrained eye. jumps, multiple drawings, loud kiai... But practically, anyone with 2 to 3 years of traditional kendo or kenjutsu training could have cut in the middle of this dance with a mere boken (Wooden sword) or Jo (short wooden staff)  and whacked senseless the competitor on the head. 

    Nevertheless, this last competitor, even after being unable to properly perform noto (slide the blade back in its sheath) won the trophy.

    After all these years, even if I should have gotten used to this kind of things, that just made me angry. I still can't accept mediocrity. The problem is not in the competitor, but in the judges who let such fallacy go on. Here we had 5 judges supposedly highly competent in their own style of Martial Art, and they graded a flashy dance without any martial value above a well executed traditional form. If these persons are not able to see the actual fighting value of a traditional kata properly executed, versus a non traditional routine poorly done, maybe they should not be judging in a Karate Tournament. 

    Chris Wheeles performed the Sai Kata in Dothan. He just opened his own Dojo in Gulf Shore, AL. If you wish to practice good and traditional Karate, give him a try.

    Saturday, October 30, 2010


    Thoughts of themselves have no substance; let them arise and pass away unheeded. Thoughts will not take form of themselves, unless they are grasped by the attention; if they are ignored, there will be no appearing and no disappearing.

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Leave no Trace

    "When you do something, you should burn yourself completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself." 
    Master Shunryu Suzuki, (1904-1971) came from Japan to the USA in 1959 and popularized Zen in the San Francisco area.
    I am not exactly sure what he meant with this, but this is how I would interpret it :  

    “If you do something, you might as well do it right, you might as well put your whole being into it. Do it as if your whole life depended on it.”
    Okay, it may sound a little excessive. 
    Should I do the dishes as if my whole life depended on them ? Maybe not. But I should at least try to do them well. If I get a plate out of the water with a greasy spot on it, then I should use a little more soap to better clean it... I should not just lay it on the draining rack thinking that this is just a little tiny  and unimportant spot, which nobody will see  anyway.

    Sometimes, when we do things, we don't do them exactly as well as we should, and we know it, but we think : “Well, this is good enough, this will do”. And it does not. Something happens, and comes back to bite us - or someone else...

    No matter what we do or train in, let's put all our heart into it. Let's try to do it right. We should not accept any compromise, we should do it as good as we think it should be done. Just a little less good won't do.

    This little Sandpiper puts his heart in his work, and does not worry about anything else. 
    He simply does his Bird job and the waves erase his trace. 


    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Naikan Tanden Seminar

    On last Saturday October 16, I held our first seminar in our new Headland Dojo. The theme was Naikan Tanden.

    I borrowed this term from Zen Master Hakuin, (1685–1768) who possibly borrowed it from older sources. One relatively accurate translation of it would be "Introspective Meditation at the Tanden"...

    To tell a long story short we practiced a number of Qi Gong exercises centered on the Tanden, an area located slightly below the navel; and others designed to move energy around the body - limited to 3 points on the center line of the body (also known as Conception Vessel in Traditional Chinese Medicine). 

    All these exercises were practiced using regular abdominal breathing.

    In addition, we also practiced the mighty Reverse Abdominal Breathing.

    Between each Qi Gong exercises we practiced Zazen (sitting meditation)for 10 minutes. 

    The whole session lasted about 2 hours  after which we had a tea and a little discussion to evaluate the program and exercises.  This was not an easy class. I introduced lots of different and at times confusing exercises to my students. The Reverse abdominal Breathing is obviously not an easy thing to get into. 

    I am very thankful for my students' input, their help and their patience.

    From this first session I intend to build up more simple programs adapted to various audiences with different needs. (More later). 
    In future articles I'll provide details about reverse abdominal breathing, as well as energy circulation in the body, and the importance of these practices for meditation and martial arts. 

    Saturday, October 2, 2010

    13th Century Karate

    The name “Karate” originally written 唐手 ("Chinese hand") in Okinawa could also be pronounced “Tode”. It was changed to 空手 ("empty hand") at the beginning of the 20th

    The main reason for this change was the willingness on the part of most Okinawan Masters, to see Karate become part of Japanese mainstream culture. Gichin Funakoshi, main artisan of the introduction of Karate in Japan, and a student of Zen, writes in one of his books that the change was to remind the Heart Sutra saying : “Form is emptiness, Emptiness is form”.

    In the following 13th century text, translated from Japanese by Trevor Leggett in his book “The Warrior Koans”, “Karate” is mentioned both in relation to Zen and Martial Arts. This is an interesting indication that “Karate” was known by Japanese people in a Martial Arts context way before the introduction of the Okinawan Art on Mainland Japan.

    A Koan is a paradoxical riddle given to Disciples of certain Zen sects to meditate upon.

    Kamakura Koan No. 44 : Wielding the spear with empty hands

    Nanjio Masatomo, a SoJutsu Master of the Spear, went to Kenchoji to sit in meditation, and afterwards spoke with priest Gio about using a spear on horseback. 

    Gio said, 'Your Honour is indeed an expert in So Jutsu. But until you understand the method of using the spear with empty hands, you will not grasp the ultimate secret of the way.'

    The Teacher added, 'No spear in the hands, no hands on the spear.'

    The Spear Master did not get it!

    The Teacher said further, 'If you don't understand, your art of the Spear is a little affair of the hands alone.'

    In December of 1256 Fukuzumi Hideomi, a government official, was given the koan 'wielding the spear with empty hands'. He wrestled furiously with it to no avail. One evening, exhausted, he crept into a little grotto near the meditation hall, and sat there in meditation, repeating again and again “Kara-Te, Kara-Te (empty hands, empty hands)”.

    Another monk heard Hideomi repeating 'Kara-te, Kara-te', and thought he was saying 'Kane-dase, Kane-dase (give some money, give some money)'. He thought it was a robber and raised the alarm. The Jikijitsu (head-priest in charge of the meditation hall) made a quick search around the dojo and found Hideomi.

    Hideomi was indeed very ill with tuberculosis, and absorbed as he was with the koan, he had forgotten to eat for several days. He was extremely weak and actually on the brink of death. The Jikijitsu hit him on the head saying, 'Let not this heart be set on any place' and he gave a big Katzu shout.

    Hideomi nodded, and quietly died.