Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ken Zen Ichi Nyo

One difficulty for us Westerners who use an alphabetical system of transcription is that the a great number of Characters (Kanji) used in written Japanese sound the same. Hence the numerous misinterpretations and conflicts between self-appointed experts... I would like to address here the different forms of  "Ken Zen Ichi Nyo" often heard in Martial Art schools. 

剣 禅 一 如
The Sword and Zen are one.

Yagyu Munenori is credited with this formula in his work Heiho Kadensho. The meaning here is that the study of swordsmanship (Kendo or Kenjutsu) cannot be separated from the practice of Zen  meditation. In other words, do not even think you can become good at Swordsmanship if you don't Practice Zen. Munenori - a friend of Zen Master Takuan - considers that the practice Zen is a necessary condition to be successful in the practice of the arts of the Sword.
I have not found any indication that he would consider the other way around - that the practice of the sword could be a good way to improve one's Zen practice.

拳 禅 一 如
The Fist and Zen are one.

This formula is pronounced exactly in the same way as the previous one, however, here the Kanji (Sword), has been replaced y the Kanji  (Fist). This formula is generally used in Karate Dojo.

A similar expression is “Ken Shin Ichi Nyo”.

剣 心 一 如
The Sword and Mind are one.

It is very close to Ken Zen Ichi Nyo (The Sword and Zen are one) because the Kanji means Mind and Zen is interested in experiencing the universal mind. 

Why are the Chinese and Japanese using the same character for 2 concepts apparently so different as Mind and Heart ?
In fact, these concepts are not so different. Traditional Chinese Medicine considers the Heart as the seat of the Mind. And even in our Western languages, the word Heart refers not only to the blood pumping organ , but also as being involved with such mental activities as learning ( I learned it by heart), to emotions (My heart fills with joy), or will power (a strong-hearted person).

Numerous Martial Arts masters pointed out that the practice of Zen was beneficial to the practice of their Arts. 
There are fewer sources about the other way around :  how the practice of Martial Arts could be beneficial to the practice of Zen.
Therapeutic techniques such as the Naikan or Kikai Tanden described by Zen Master Hakuin are related to Qi Gong exercises (Some of them attributed to the first Chan Patriarch Bodhidharma.) developed around the 6th century in China. 

We are in good company...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Tai chi proven effective as a therapy for fibromyalgia

According to a research published on Thursday August 19 in The New England Journal of Medicine tai chi may be effective as a therapy for fibromyalgia.

The participants in the study had fibromyalgia. Those who took Tai Chi twice a week for three months experienced less pain, stiffness, and fatigue than a control group that attended lifestyle education and stretching sessions. They also slept and felt better

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include fatigue, body pain, and tender points in joints, muscles and other soft tissues. It is most common in middle-aged women. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Knockdown Fighting

Last July 24 World Yoshukai Karate held theio knockdown tournament in Oxford, Alabama. This is a fighting only tournament, no kata, no weapons, just plain fight.

In the morning I was judging the kids semi-knockdown fights. Some young kids - 8 or 9 years old - were bravely going at it, fighting pretty hard. Good thing they used protections...

And I wondered while watching them : "What are we doing here ? Teach those kids how to be mean and violent ?"

As instructors we have to keep in mind that the only valid justification for this kind of event and fight is to develop character. Fighters suffer, they win, they lose, suck it up, train harder, and come back til they win. 

Winning feels really good. But this feeling does not last and can become addictive. After the celebration, not much is left of it. The real learning, and improving, we derive from the fights we lost.

So no matter what happens, be thankful to your opponent, who helped you learn a good lesson for life : the lesson that by training hard, one is able to overcome one's fears, laziness, weaknesses... and become a stronger and better person.

Yes, we will meet nasty fighters who have no manners and whose goal is only to win, at all cost, who might even cheat on us. Sometimes the judges might make poor calls, because they did not see the action, or even because they are biased in favor of your opponent. We might lose a fight we should have won. It's happened to me a few times.

We still can learn from losing in an unfair match. 
We fight to become better person, to acquire will power, resilience, patience. Little by little, we are changing, we are building a better self, acquiring the experience and courage we need to help those who need it around us.

Let's not lose sight of this...

Monday, August 9, 2010

The So Cream Method

A different translation of the "Soft Butter method" is given by Trevor Leggett in his book "Second zen reader".
This So Cream Method is a specific technique of Introspective Meditation. It was taught to Master Hakuin Ekaku (1685 - 1768)by Master Hakuyu - a Mountain dwelling Hermit Master Hakuin went to consult in search of a cure against Zen Sickness.


I said : May I hear of the use of the So cream?

Hakuyu said : If the student finds in his meditation that the four great elements are out of harmony and body and mind are fatigued, he should rouse himself and make this meditation. Let him visualize placed on the crown of his head, that celestial So ointment, about as much as a duck's egg, pure in colour and fragrance.

Let him feel its exquisite essence and flavour, melting and filtering down through his head, its flow permeating downwards, slowly laving the shoulders and elbows, the sides of the breast and within the chest, the lungs, liver, stomach and internal organs, the back and spine and hip bones. 

All the old ailments and adhesions and pains in the five organs and six auxiliaries follow the mind downwards. There is a sound as of the trickling of water. Percolating through the whole body, the flow goes gently down the legs, stopping at the soles of the feet.
Then let him make this meditation: that the elixir, having permeated and filtered down through him, in abundance fills up the lower half of his body. It becomes warm, and he is saturated in it.
Just as a skillful physician collects herbs of rare fragrance and puts them in a pan to simmer, so the student finds that from the navel down he is simmering in the So elixir. 
When this meditation is being done, there will be psychological experiences, of a sudden indescribable fragrance at the nose-tip, of a gentle and exquisite sensation in the body. 
Mind and body become harmonized, and far surpass their condition at the peak of youth. Adhesions and obstructions are cleared away, the organs are tranquillized and insensibly the skin will begin to glow. 
If the practice is carried on without relapse, what illness will not be healed, what power will not be acquired, what perfection will not be attained, what Way will not be fulfilled? 
The arrival of the result depends only on how the student performs the practices. 

Mr Trevor Leggett was a 6th Dan (6th degree Black Belt) in Kodokan Judo. He also trained in Yoga and Zen and translated numerous Buddhist scriptures in English. 


Friday, August 6, 2010

The Soft Butter Method

Here is a transcript of the Soft Butter Method to cure Zen Sickness. This Vizualization exercise is  described by Zen Master Hakuin in "Idle Talk on a Night Boat".

Because he had long been suffering from an unusual sickness, Hakuin requested the help of Master Hakuyū - a recluse monk living in the mountains. Master Hakuyū - sort of an archetype of the wise old man - could be a Taoist Master or a Yamabushi, and he even reminds me of our Western Merlin. He was in any case very well versed in Traditional Chinese Medicine as well as in Buddhism history and classics.

The Soft Butter Method is part of a corpus of "Introspective Meditation" practices developed on one hand  to help people afflicted by Zen Sickness.  On an other hand, they can also be used to prolong life. The emphasis is about the "Concentration of Chi in the lower abdomen". Chi (Ki in Japanese) is a primordial concept of Chinese Medicine, difficult to convey to Western minds. We will get back to Chi in future posts. 

Why should we be interested in a method to cure Zen Sickness ? As we do not sit in Zazen for days in a row as Master Hakuin used to, it is unlikely that we wil
Well, let's remember : Hakuin was practicing Rinzai Zen in which the mind focuses on a Koan and the disciple's full energy (Chi) is devoted to solving this Koan

In Chinese Medicine :

"Too much thinking or obsessing about a topic can deplete the spleen, causing a stagnation of its qi. A person with this condition may exhibit such symptoms as poor appetite, forgetting to eat, and bloating after eating. In time, the person may develop a pale complexion from a deficiency of spleen qi. This can eventually affect the heart, causing the person to dream about the same subjects at night. Students are often affected by this imbalance; the standard treatment is use of herbs that tonify heart blood and spleen qi."

The above by the way seems to accurately describe some of the symptoms affecting Hakuin (More on this also in future posts)
Too much intellectual thinking or worrying is not the exclusive problem of Hakuin. It  obviously is one of today's main cause of imbalance in our North American Society.

If the practice described by Hakuyū was able to totally cure Hakuin in the 18th Century, or Chih-i's older brother in the 6th century China, it may be wise for us to try it.


When Hakuin enquired about the Soft Butter Meditation practice he had previously mentionned, Master Hakuyū replied : 

"When a student engaged in meditation finds that he is exhausted in body and mind because the four constituent elements of his body are in a state of disharmony, he should gird up his spirit and perform the following visualization:
"Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in color and fragrance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoulders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks.

"At that point, all the congestions that have accumulated within the five organs and six viscera, all the aches and pains in the abdomen and other affected parts, will follow the heart as it sinks downward into the lower body. As it does, you will distinctly hear a sound like that of water trickling from a higher to a lower place. It will move lower down through the lower body, suffusing the legs with beneficial warmth, until it reaches the soles of the feet, where it stops.
"The student should then repeat the contemplation. As his vital energy flows downward, it gradually fills the lower region of the body, suffusing it with penetrating warmth, making him feel as if he were sitting up to his navel in a hot bath filled with a decoction of rare and fragrant medicinal herbs that have been gathered and infused by a skilled physician."

Master Hakuyu did not specify in which position the student should practice, Standing up, in Zazen, lying down... If you have any input, please contact me.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Christmas dinner.

As I was reading a post about Choki Motobu in the excellent Blog Karate by Jesse, it reminded me of a story I heard from my Ju Jitsu Master Roland Hernaez.

It happened I think in the early 80′s. A group of French Martial Art Masters (Ju Jitsu, Karate, Aikijitsu, Kobudo…) were gathered in a small bar-restaurant in a small town of the suburbs of Paris for a traditional Christmas dinner.

The dining area of the restaurant was a separate room in the back where people could eat away from the crowd and noise of the bar. This is a pretty standard sort of arrangement in that sort of establishment.  

So there were probably 8 or 10 masters there having a good time together, sharing some good food and drinking good wine.  Some of these people, such as M. Hernaez were nice and peaceful persons.  Some of them were not. Some of them were experienced in street or combat fighting and/or had served during the terrible independence wars of Indochine (Vietnam) or Algeria, and had little opportunities to practice their self defense abilities. Also remember, they were not drinking iced tea. 
All of these men were in their 50′s or 60′s, and looked like regular guys. They could have been a group of employees working in the same office, gathered there to enjoy a traditional Christmas Dinner, as the French love to do. 

A group of bikers had entered the bar and ordered  their drinks. They realized there was a group of old men eating in the back, and decided to have a little fun at their expense and to scare them a little.

It was not a brilliant idea, but of course, who said you needed a 120 IQ to join the Holly Fraternity of the Rueil Malmaison Bikers ???

They entered the back room. 

Very shortly, most of them were on the ground , with various injuries. The cops - called by the bar owner - arrived too late to prevent the incident. They handcuffed some bikers to take them to the local jail, while they let the other ones  leave for the hospital on stretchers. They took the deposition of the old men, and left.

The masters ordered their coffee...