Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tai Chi to lose weight and ease depression

The University of Queensland, Australia has released an interesting study for anyone looking to lose weight.  Researchers found that the gentle, yet powerful, exercise known as Tai chi helps with obesity and excess weight, in a number of ways.  The Australian scientists discovered that tai chi:
  • Improves body mass index (BMI);
  • Reduces the amount of abdominal fat and overall waist measurements;
  • Improves blood sugar balance–a critical element for maintaining a healthy weight or to lose weight;
  • Reduces high blood pressure;
  • Significantly reduces depression; and
  • Improves the body’s use of insulin (insulin resistance)–a significant factor for weight gain and diabetes, among other serious health conditions.
Tai chi  is a Chinese internal martial arts often practiced to improve health. It is designed to facilitate the flow of fluids and Qi (life force) in the body, promoting good health and vitality. Tai Chi generally utilizes martial arts movements.

Tai Chi is suitable for most people, including those suffering from injuries and illness.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Meet the Masters : Hongren & Huineng

You are invited to join a Zen week-end retreat (Zazenkai) at the Atlanta Soto Zen Center.  

On March 11-13 Taiun Michael Elliston Roshi Abbot of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and founder of the SIlent Thunder order and his student, Jiryu Frederic Lecut will team teach the March Week-end Seminar about Daman Hongren and Dajian Huineng , the 5th and 6th Chinese ancestors of the Zen Lineage.  The sixth ancestor, Huineng is well known for the Platform Sutra

Daman Hongren (601-674)
In addition to dharma discussions, we will have a full day Saturday of meditation (zazen and kinhin), work practice (samu), meals, and face-to-face interview (dokusan).

Dajian Huineng (638-713)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Kogai and Kozuka

Here is a story taken from the Book “A Daughter of the Samurai” by Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto. It took place several years after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. I would think around 1890. My great-grandparents generation. Not so far from us...

The Author – Etsu-bo – a young Japanese girl of Samurai Family, is 14 years old. She is traveling from her home in the Province of Echigo to Tokyo where she will receive a “modern” education.

In a few words Etsu tells us a lot about proper use of various implements (Koshirae) coming with the katana. She also gives us precious inputs about Samurai mentality.

After having past one night in a house where people make a living raising silkworms, the party is getting ready to hit the road again. Etsu's older brother, now head of the family after their father's death, addresses her.

"Have you seen our host's grandmother?" asked Brother.

"No, I didn't know there was a grandmother." 
"She went early to her cushions last night; probably to escape the bustle and annoyance of our abrupt arrival. We will pay our respects to her before we leave." 

When breakfast was over, our host took us to the grand-mother's room. She was a very old lady with a reserved manner and a face of more than usual intelligence. As soon as she bowed I knew that she had been trained in a samurai house, and when I saw the crest of a naginata on the wall-rest above the shoji, I knew why Brother had wanted me to come to this room.

A naginata is a long, light spear with curved blade, which samurai women were taught to use, partly for exercise and partly for defence in case of necessity. This one bore the crest of one of our northern heroes. He was a traitor, but nevertheless he was a hero. When he was killed, his daughter was one of the group—three of them women—who defended the sorely pressed castle during the last desperate hours of hopeless struggle. 
The old lady told us, with modest pride, that she had been a humble attendant of the daughter and was with her at that dreadful time. The naginata was a memory gift from her honourable and beloved mistress.

Seeing that we were deeply interested, she brought out her other treasure—a slender, blunt knife called a kogai, which, with the throwing-dagger, forms part of the hilt of a samurai's long sword. 

In very ancient days Japanese warfare was a science. Artistic skill was always displayed in the use of weapons, and no soldier was proud of having wounded an enemy in any other manner than the one established by strict samurai rule. The long sword had for its goal only four points: the top of the head, the wrist, the side, and the leg below the knee. 

The throwing dagger (Kozuka) must speed on its way, true as an arrow, direct to forehead, throat, or wrist. 

But the blunt little kogai had many uses. It was the key that locked the sword in its scabbard; when double it could be used as chopsticks by the marching soldier; it has been used on the battlefield, or in retreat, mercifully to pierce the ankle vein of a suffering and dying comrade, and it had the unique use in a clan feud, when found sticking upright in the ankle of a dead foe, of bearing the silent challenge, "I await thy return." Its crest told to whom it belonged and, in time, it generally was returned—to its owner's ankle. 
The kogai figures in many tales of romance and revenge of the Middle Ages.

I was glad to see Brother so interested, and was happy myself in watching the old lady's face flush and light up with her memories.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two - 十四 南泉斬猫

The story of Nansen and the cat is case 14 in a collection of 48 koans recorded in a document named Mumonkan (or Gateless Gate)

Nansen Oshõ saw monks of the Eastern and Western halls quarreling over a cat.

He held up the cat and said, "If you can give an answer, you will save the cat. If not, I will kill it."
No one could answer, and Nansen cut the cat in two.
That evening Jõshû returned, and Nansen told him of the incident.
Jõshû took off his sandal, placed it on his head, and walked out.
"If you had been there, you would have saved the cat," Nansen remarked.

Mumon's Comment
Tell me, what did Jõshû mean when he put the sandal on his head?
If you can give a turning word on this, you will see that Nansen's decree was carried out with good reason.
If not, "Danger!"

Mumon's Verse
Had Jõshû been there,
He would have done the opposite;
When the sword is snatched away,
Even Nansen begs for his life.

Elliston Roshi in response to my post about "Unity of Body and Mind" wrote a few days ago on this matter : 

Like Nansen in "cutting the cat," we must take actions without regard to consequences to ourselves, and sometimes even without regard to the consequences to others. Otherwise we are paralyzed in the face of reality. This is "right action," but it is not necessarily right as opposed to wrong.

Now, back to Nansen and the cat... Have you ever tried to grab a cat to put medicine drops in his ears, or his mouth ? Let's not even speak of slicing him in two ? Unless the cat knows and trusts you, you are going to have a very hard time catching him to start it, and then, imagining you are able to corner him, you better have some very serious leather gloves and a good mask on your head before you can try this stunt. And a good very sharp sword. 

Actually, a Kendo Armor and a Live Wakizashi would very likely be the perfect combination to try that. 

Was Nansen some sort of Ninja ?

I must say I am puzzled by this story, (actually by most of the Mumonkan's stories...) I can relate to Elliston Roshi's post, for it is important to me not to be paralyzed by the fear of doing wrong, and trying to realize Unity of Mind and Body through my practice should help me not screw up too much when acting. 
Still, I don't really get Nansen's point in killing the cat. 

I'll keep trying
Elliston Roshi honors us with his insights on  Zen related posts in this blog. Please do not hesitate to comment and ask for his input.
in Gassho - Thank you Sensei.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Unity of Mind and Body - 01

Kyuzo Mifune taught along with many of the other greats of his time (Dr. Jigoro Kano, founder of Judo, Morihei Ueshiba founder of Aikido, Gichin Funakoshi founder of Shotokan Karate, Dr Tsuyoshi Chitose, founder of Chito Ryu Karate) that Martial Arts were about perfecting one's character.

“Action of a man done without the unity of mind and body, may be indecent and cause harm to the people around him.” (Canon of Judo, p. 27)

As long as I am not able to see through my own nature, I cannot know what the consequences of my actions are. Consequently whatever I do to try to make things better is liable to have in the long term some negative consequences.

The West acknowledges this when we say that : "The way to Hell is paved with good intentions"
Once I saw a mockingbird stunned in the middle of the road in front of my house.I lifted the bird off the ground and laid im in a branch of a nearby tree. After 30 seconds, he flew away. I had saved him, it was the compassionate thing to do. But now think about the family of earthworm that he swallowed for breakfast that next morning. Or about my cats who would gladly have had him for breakfast. How do these creatures feel about my saving the mockingbird ? 

The story of the arsenic contamination of the groundwater in Bangladesh is a tragic one : 

Prior to the 1970s, Bangladesh had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world The death were mostly due to diarrheal diseases due to ineffective water purification and sewage systems as well as periodic monsoons and floodings. 

As a solution, UNICEF and the World Bank advocated the use of wells to tap into deeper groundwater for a quick and inexpensive solution. Over 8 millions of wells were financed and constructed as a result. Infant mortality and diarrheal illness were reduced by fifty percent. 
However, it has been found since 1993 that approximately 20 % of these wells are now contaminated with very high concentration of arsenic. As a result, many people have died, and more will. About 80 millions people are at risk. Arsenic causes both physical and intellectual damage to the human beings. It is a carcinogenic 
which causes various diseases, especially of the skin.

Does that mean we should do nothing until we harmonize Mind and Body ? (For whatever that means!) Of course no, some situation do call for actions. There are situations when we should act. If I see a creature suffer, I will try to help. But I must be aware that my actions may have consequences different from what I expected.

Lets keep training.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Heavy Breaking

I'm going to make more friends over this one...

Kyuzo Mifune (1883 -1965) was already a 6th dan in Judo at the age of 30. In 1945 he became the fourth person to be promoted to 10th dan. He taught at the Kodokan, where he became the chief instructor and at numerous universities, police departments and military academies. Mifune Sensei practiced Judo throughout his life, he was a referee in the Tokyo Olympics, in 1964, less than a year before his death.

Once when as he was visiting a Karate Dojo, one of the Karate men demonstrated breaking. After the guy had smashed a number of tile piled on top of each other, he asked Mifune Sensei :
"Can a Judo man do that?"
"Yes, very easy!" replied Mifune
"Is that right ? I'd love to see what kind of technique Judo uses to break tiles ?"
"No problem, just set up the tiles, I'll be right back."

Mifune came back with a hammer he had in his bag.

The Karate Man looked at him surprised : "You are not going to use this hammer to break the tiles are you ? "

"Oh yes I will ! I told you it was easy ! Efficient use of energy is the key principle of Judo..."

Being able to break hard stuff is an exercise some Karate people enjoy. Some of them are amazing in their expertise at breaking hard things. Our Grand Master Katsuoh Yamamoto himself holds a world record of ice breaking. It can be extremely impressive. I would not advise anyone to try to break a baseball bat without the proper training. It takes lots of guts, hard work and perfect technique to break certain things. The ability to break hard and heavy stuff shows guts, courage and dedication, it also requires the proper technique. It is not however, an indication of one's ability to fight.

"Concrete blocks or baseball bats don't strike back". 

(Shihan Travis Page)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Sexual Passion ...

One day, His disciple Chiba told Yamaoka Tesshu : "To really practice Zazen, one has to cut off all sexual passion" 
Tesshu laughed : "Oh really ! And how are you going to do that ? Is not sexual passion the root of all existence ?"
"I will separate from my wife and all other women - this way sexual temptation will not arise !"
"Brilliant ! Is that not a little selfish ? What about your wife? The faithful companion of these past 20 years? ... Staying away from women is no way to cut off sexual passion; it's just trying to suppress it !"
"Then how should I cut it off ? "
"Throw yourself fully into the world of sexual passion - all of them. There only you will find release from them. Love your wife with all your heart, and find enlightenment in the middle of everyday's life!"...

Tesshu's position agrees with one principle of modern psychology: the more we try to suppress something we do not like about ourselves, the more it comes back to haunt us. 

One major difficulty met by mystics of all traditions is sexuality. Denying the body's needs is a tricky thing.

If you prevent the safety valve on top of your water heater to open, the pressure builds up inside and eventually, the whole thing blows up with great damages...


This does not mean Tesshu's recommendation would safely apply to everyone of us. Actually, his wife was so unpleased with his way to deal with sexual passion that she threatened to divorce him and kill their children (she was indeed of Samurai Blood) to make him adopt a different path.

The Noble Eightfold Path does not deny sexuality but recommends to not use it in a way that could harm anyone.

We are living here and now, cravings and attachments are real, because we make them so. Believing that the satisfaction of Sexual Passion - or any other craving - can give us happiness is a mistake. Believing we can obliterate it and that this will make us happy is another one. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

World Tai Chi Day

We will celebrate this event on next Saturday, April 30 2011 at 10:00. I am still to find the right place for it. Last year and the year before, we held it at Solomon Park, but I am considering other options this year, Once things are set, I will let it be known. 

Our Menu : Breathing exercises, Qi Gong, and the 4 Winds Short Form

Please plan to attend this great event, and advertise it around you. It is up to us to spread the word. 

The practices of Tai Chi and Qi Gong help people harmonize their lives and better contribute to their communities