Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tai Chi and Cardiac Rehab

Global cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality accounts for one third of all deaths, with two thirds of those deaths occurring in developing countries.

■ Heart disease is a chronic condition needing lifetime secondary prevention measures to decrease morbidity and mortality, and to improve quality of life. Cardiac rehabilitation exercise training, one aspect of cardiac recovery, traditionally includes some form of aerobic fitness and, more recently, muscle strength training to improve exercise tolerance. Tai chi, widely practiced in China for centuries, is a popular form of exercise among older Chinese persons associated with enhanced well-being and health among traditional Chinese practitioners. Recent research has reported improvement in cardio-respiratory function, balance and postural stability, fall prevention, and stress reduction. A review of the literature suggests potential benefits from tai chi exercise performed as an adjunct to cardiac rehabilitation exercise training. Tai chi is cost-effective and facilitates a lifestyle of health-related behavior practices.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kobudo works (Kyokushinkai and the Rolling Stones.)

In 1976 the Rolling Stones, who had been banned from playing in France for several years were finally allowed to come back. With 2 of my best friends, we got tickets for the Concert in Nice on the French Riviera. 

We arrived early in the stadium where the concert was to happen. The crowd was composed mostly of young men and women in their late teens or early 20's, nice crowd gathered to listen to their favorite band. You could smell the smoke of marijuana, nothing outrageous. 
2 bands played before the Stones, I suppose they were good, but they were not the ones we were interested in. My friends, my cousin Isabelle and I were sitting on the ground, probably no more than 50 feet from the stage, a little to the right, a good spot.
Bikers showed up, pushed away a group of youngsters sitting close to the stage. They were  quite provocative, and scared most of the kids around them. I looked around and realized there were quite a bit of these Hells Angels scattered all around the stadium. This was not friendly. Bad vibrations... Dressed in black leather outfit, some of them apparently drunk, and aggressive. People were scared. 

One guy dressed in white came to the front of the stage, and politely asked the Angels to leave the vicinity of the stage, quit being rude and leave the kids alone. Nothing happened. 

The white guy came back several times to politely ask the Angels to leave. They laughed, drank more beer, and stayed. He told them the Stones were not going to play if they'd stay so close to the stage,  that they should scatter in the whole stadium so the concert could happen peacefully. They did not move.
This standoff lasted 30 to 45 minutes.
Then rather quickly the front of the stage, 5 to 6 feet above the ground, got populated by numerous guys coming from back stage. Big guys, little guys, they were not threatening, not wearing any particular outfit, but strangely enough, they all were holding their hands in their back.

The polite and patient little white guy asked the Angels one more times to leave. By now, they had been drinking more beer, and they laughed. 

Suddenly, all the guys who had gathered to the front of the stage jumped down and ran toward the first group of 15 to 20 Angels sitting in front of the Stage. I do not know if you are familiar with Asterix, the famous Gaul hero of a famous French comic book series. When Asterix and the Gauls tribe attack the Roman legions, they are like a wedge splitting it. Resistance is futile....

Well that is what happened then. Turns out that these guys had their hands in their back to hide staffs and Nunchakus. And they now were using them, bloodily. I had never seen nunchakus used for fighting purpose before. I realized how efficient they can be. 

Big guys were using Bo staffs, little one nunchakus. They did not try to be nice, they basically wiped the Angels out of the Stadium. Those who tried to escape into the bleachers, they ran behind them, caught them, beat them up badly, then pulled them by their hair or feet all the way to the gates. They cleaned up the stadium of each and every Angels and beat them up, all of them, male, female. It was brutal and bloody.
I was not practicing any martial arts back then, I had quit Judo in 1973 to concentrate on my studies in High School. I really had no clue about what happened. I learned years later, that the people organizing the concert had contracted the security to the local  Kyokushinkai Karate Dojo.

20 minutes later Keith Richards stumbled onto the stage and unleashed Honky Tonk Women...

Kobudo works...

And one may wonder... What should have they done ? What can you do, what should you do on the brink of danger ? Do you wait for the  attack to be initiated by your opponent, or do you consider he already attacked you ?  I believe the situation was handled very properly by the little white guy. The Angels were given all opportunities to leave, they chose not to. Then, the action was very violent. Clearly, it did not have to be as bloody as it was. For what I saw, every Angels got seriously beaten up and blood was drawn from each one of them. They could have been expelled with less physical damage, but then, they might have been able to come back the next day (There were concerts for 3 nights in a row).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Japanese Plural

This is a small point. There is no plural in Japanese.

Most nouns in Japanese have no plural form, (we have the same in English with Sheep, Shrimp, Deer... although not always true in the South) so you use the same word whether you're using a singular noun or a plural noun. There are rare exceptions when a Japanese noun does have a plural form, but it is not marked by adding an"s" at the end of the word. (Usually the plural form simply repeats the word using the "voiced" sound for the first consonant. Ex: hito - person - becomes hitobito - people - and kami - god - would be kamigami - gods. 

So you would say one waza, two waza. You would not say two wazas. You don't add the English letter "s" to Japanese words to make them plural.

 Two Sensei - Toyama and Culbreth
Thus, I would say that I have two sensei, not two senseis. I would study five kata, not five katas. I would visit two dojo, not two dojos. I would also refer to the two Rohai kata rather than the two Rohai katas.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Samurai and Hell

A samurai named Nobushige came to Zen Master Hakuin and asked: 
"Is there really a paradise and a hell?"
 "Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.
"I am a samurai", the warrior replied.

"You, a samurai!" sneered Hakuin, "What kind of Daimyo would have you as his retainer? You look like a beggar". 

Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: "So you do have a sword! Too bad it's probably too dull to chop my head off."

As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here open the gates of hell!"

The samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, put away his sword and bowed.
"Here open the gates of paradise", said Hakuin.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BADUAN JIN - 8 Pieces of Brocade Qi Gong

The Baduanjin (simplified Chinese: 八段锦气功) is one of the most commonly practiced forms of Chinese qigong.

Usually translated as Eight Pieces of Brocade, the name of the form refers to the way the body should be able to flow as a piece of brocade or silk due to the beneficial effects of this exercise. Baduan Jin includes 8 moves.

Some of Baduan Jin moves resemble some of Yi Jin Jing's and are stretching meridians and muscles in very similar ways.  

There are 2 versions of the exercise - standing and sitting. 4 years ago I used the standing version in my warming up routine at the beginning of my classes. Actually, we are still performing some of the moves, in a slightly different form. I will consider reintroducing this exercise next fall, as it is easier to practice and memorize than the Yi Jin Jing we are currently practicing.

Michael Garofalo has published a very interesting study on this Qi Gong, (Link to Eight Section Brocade Qigong)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

3 Treatises on Swordsmanship - and Zen...

The Battle of Sekigahara on October 21, 1600 cleared the path to the Shogunate for Tokugawa Ieyasu. Though it would take three more years for Ieyasu to consolidate his position of power over the Toyotomi clan and the daimyo, this battle is considered to be the unofficial beginning of the Edo period, or Tokugawa shogunate.

At the beginning of this period, 3 short treatises on swordsmanship appeared which would become influential far beyond what their authors originally intended.

The First classical treatise on swordsmanship was The Mysterious Record of Unmoving Wisdom, (Fudochi Shinmyoroku) written by Zen Master Takuan Soho around 1632. This treatise looks at Swordsmanship from the perspective of Zen. 
It specially emphasizes the importance of keeping the mind free of attachment and fixations.  
On the battlefield, this means keeping the mind from stopping on anything, whether the stance, the opponent's sword, the technique, anything that could prevent the mind from moving freely.

The Second classical treatise on swordsmanship was The Life Giving Sword (Heiho Kandensho) written by Yagyu Munenori around 1632 also. The philosophy of this treatise is based on the above mentioned Fudochi Shinmyoroku written by Takuan for his friend and disciple Munenori.
It emphasizes in a similar way the importance of keeping the mind free of attachment to details of techniques, or even to the idea of winning. This treatise is however much more technical in its description of certain techniques Munenori inherited from his father and his father's master, the legendary Kamiizumi Ise no Kami Hidetsuna.

The Third classical treatise was the famed Book of Five Rings (Gorin no Sho) written by Miyamoto Musashi between 1643 and 1645. Although the Philosophy underlying Musashi's book is also to keep the Mind Free from any attachment, Musashi puts high emphasis on the technique of Swordsmanship, and does not consider the willingness to win as a hindrance, but as a mean to complete one's duty to one's Lord, but the willingness to survive the fight as one attachment that could mean defeat. 

Yagyu Munenori was a disciple and friend of Takuan. It is not clear whether Musashi ever met Munenori, although they were together in Edo(Tokyo)in 1623. Musashi also very likely met Takuan around 1630 after he had been temporarily banished to Northern Japan.

Numerous translations of these treatises are available, but I particularly enjoy the ones by William Scott Wilson. 
These are :
The Unfettered Mind – includes the Fudochi Shinmyoroku and 2 other texts by Takuan.
The Life Giving Sword by Yagyu Munenori
The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi.

Mr Wilson gives us clean, accurate and lively translations of these 3 great texts. Although he is not himself a swordsman, the help he received from persons qualified in this domain make his translations very valuable for whoever is interested in how Martial Arts and Zen were related in 17th century Japan.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Wheel of Life

In his book "The Wheel of Life", John Blofeld tells us about his life journey into Buddhism, his unusual attraction toward it during his British childhood, and his further discovery and practice of it in Asia, mostly in pre-red China and Tibet. His book, written in a beautiful style,describes the errances of an average human being on his way to something he is not quite sure about with all the tours and detours, the difficulties, the mistakes, the delays, as each one of us experience them at one time or another in our progressions in Zen or Budo.

In his quest, Mr Blofeld practiced various forms of Buddhism and finally realized that one particular Tibetan tradition fitted him the best.  Among the different traditions he practiced Zen (or Chan as it is named in China) for 9 full month in a Chinese Monastery.

Here is how he describes Zen in comparison to the other ways of Buddhism.

"In time I discovered that it had been a great error to suppose that Zen is a simple approach to Truth. Despite the absence of insuperable linguistic difficulties, it is in some ways the most difficult of all possible approaches, just a a short cut to the top of a steep mountain  is the most arduous route for the climber... "

Mountain climbing... It would come to nobody's mind to climb mount Everest without proper training; not only one needs to have developed a serious knowledge of the particulars of mountain climbing - through climbing smaller mountains, and practicing repelling, or other practices I am not aware of, because I dwas born on the ocean and don't know much about Mountain climbing; but it also requests serious physical conditioning such as endurance training, jogging, weight lifting, etc, etc... activities not directly related to the discipline of Mountain climbing, however important to practice properly. 

So, in order to successfully practice Mountain climbing, one has to master specific mountain climbing techniques. But also,  in order to enhance the efficiency of these specific techniques, one needs to know and practice other techniques, not directly related to the real goal. 

And I am wondering. Are they non specific techniques we could practice to enhance our Zazen practice ?