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.