Friday, April 29, 2011

Medication in Movement

Tai Chi has often be described as "meditation in movement" and it is true that Tai Chi can be practiced as a Meditation exercise, and can also be practiced in order top help regular Sitting  Meditation as we practice in Zen. Now, according to a Harvard Medical School newsletter, tai chi is increasingly seen as a form of "medication in motion."

Visit an urban park in China any given morning or late afternoon, and you're likely to find elderly people engaged in Tai Chi.
A man performs tai chi for his morning exercise in Beijing,
Visit an urban park in China any given morning or late afternoon, and you're likely to find elderly people engaged in Tai Chi.

A study out this week in Archives of Internal Medicine says it may help people suffering from heart failure  feel better about life. In a quality of life questionnaire the researchers gave out, those who practiced tai chi scored significantly higher than those who hadn't been doing the movement. The tai chi group also reported an improvement in mood.
Heart failure is a tough disease to live with; the shortness of breath and low energy that can come because the heart can't pump enough blood make physical activity unappealing. "Historically, patients with chronic systolic heart failure were considered too frail to exercise and, through the late 1980s, avoidance of physical activity was a standard recommendation," the study's authors write.

It's been shown to be useful in treating a wide range of diseases from breast cancer to Parkinson's. The National Institutes of Health has also jumped on board and is funding a variety of studies on tai chi for chronic disease.

The Archives of Internal Medicine study is the first large clinical trial to look at whether a tai chi program can do anything for people with heart failure. The researchers recruited 100 people with the chronic condition from heart clinics in Boston. About half were randomly assigned to receive a 12-week tai chi exercise program. The other half got a heart health education program.

The tai chi program started off with some traditional warm-up exercises of arm swinging, gentle stretches, breathing, and visualization techniques. Then patients learned five simple movements designed to release tension in the body, increase awareness of breathing, and relax the body and mind. Patients got an instructional video tape, and were encouraged to practice at home at least 3 times a week.

The study authors say there's a usually a strong relationship between depression and heart failure, so the fact that tai chi helped cheer people up was an especially good sign.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Respect and Manner

A nice little spot about Bowing, Respect, in the context of Kendo

When I was a kid in a French primary school, there was quite a bit of fighting, all the time, nothing vicious. There were few rules, of course unwritten. You did not beat the hell out of  someone smaller than you. Once you had won and your opponent submitted, that was the end of it... Fighting under these circumstances usually generated respect.

Actually, I made a few friends fighting them.

The Zero Tolerance about fighting in our schools is hypocritical, shameful, and dangerous. 

Kids who are bullied can't vent their anger, one day they grab a gun and bring it to school... Or if they cannot find a gun, they might commit suicide... If they had had the opportunity to beat the crap out of the bullies, maybe lots of terrible tragedies would not have happened.

It is easy, and it is wrong, to systematically ground both students who get in a fight. The right thing to do would be to figure out why the fight happened, and decide in all fairness what to do. Otherwise, how do you want the kids to understand what justice is about ?
Reigi o Omonzubeshi

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Huineng and the Rice Sieve.

In the first chapter of the Platform Sutra, Zen's 6th Patriarch Huineng tells the story of his life.

After a first episode of enlightenment in his native Kwangtung, Huineng travels far from home to meet the 5th Patriarch Hongren.  At his arrival at the Monastery, Hongren asks him a few questions, realizes he was pretty sharp, and sends him to work in the kitchens. 

After several month spent  pounding rice, Huineng - who can neither write or read - enters a sort of spiritual poetry contest in which also compete the smartest monk of the place. 
He asks one of his colleagues from the kitchen to write his Stanza for him on one wall of the Monastery. 

Impressed by what he read, but not willing to let anyone know about it, Hongren does not say much. Instead, one evening, he goes to the room where Huineng is pounding rice.

Huineng goes on:
Seeing that I was working there with a stone pestle, he said to me, "A seeker of the Path risks his life for the Dharma. Should he not do so? " Then he asked, "Is the rice ready? " "Ready long ago, " I replied, "only waiting for the sieve. " He knocked the mortar thrice with his stick and left. 

Knowing what his message meant, in the third watch of the night I went to his room..."

Now, what is this "sieve" business here ? Honestly ? Can you figure this out? This does not seem to add anything to the story. But, Zen Masters are not known to act without reason.  Huineng could simply tell us that Hongren asked him to come see him later that night. But No! He insists on this sieve story, so there must be something to it that we don't get, and is worth investigating...

I researched Rice agriculture and processing, and learned quite a bit on the subject and its relation to Kobudo - I'll post about that later - but it did not help my understanding of this part of the Platform Sutra. The only relevant fact out of this research is that yes, lots of sieves are used at different stages of rice processing.

Actually, I found the explanation when and where I was not looking for it (is that familiar or what???) in a book by Nan Huai Chin : the Story of Chinese Zen
It was not to be found in technical details of Rice production, cultivation or preparation, but is of linguistic nature. It is simply that in Ancient Chinese, "The word for "sifting" has the same sound as the word "teacher" ..."
 Now this is what Nan Huai Chin says, and I won't argue with him for my knowledge of Chinese is to say the least, extremely limited, even more so of Antique Cantonese...

So you see, sometimes things are much simpler thatn you think they might be. Providing you know the language...

In a later post I'll tell you about what I found about Rice Agriculture and it's influence on Kobudo (classical weapon traditions of Okinawan martial arts)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

2011 World Tai Chi Day

Only TWO WEEKS LEFT until a new edition of this historic event ...

This year, on
Saturday, April 30th,

will be celebrated at the Dothan Area Botanical Garden

On that particular day, at 10.00 AM local time, Tai Chi and Qi Gong Practitioners from all over the World, from Tokyo to Paris and Atlanta are going to practice. Here in the Wiregrass, we will  meet on the beautiful lawns of the Botanical Garden. 

Please join us for this Free event with your whole family - no special  clothing required - T-shirt and short or jogging pants. 
Take this opportunity to visit our gorgeous Botanical Garden, the Herbs and Rose gardens,  The KOI pond with its beautiful Japanese bridge. And stay for a picnic right after the event...

This year we will practice gentle stretching and balance enhancing moves from the Yi Jin Jing, a set of exercise developed in 6th century China by Zen Master Bodhidharma. 

When the First Patriarch came from India to China to teach Zen, he settled at the Shaolin Monastery. According to the Legend, as he found that the monks there were not in very good physical shape, he taught them special Yoga moves that would enhance their Health. He specifically taught 2 exercises Yi Jin Jing, and Xi Sui Jing.

This year, we will practice together the moves of Yi Jin Jing.

For those willing to be BETTER PREPARED for this world event, 1 Free Seminar will be offered on Thursday, April 28th at 6 PM at Westgate Park.

World Tai chi Day is sponsored locally by Frédéric Lecut’s School of Martial Arts and the City of Dothan Department of Leisure Services..

For more information about the whole worldwide event, please visit the remarkable website of the World Tai Chi and Qi Gong Day Organization (

For more information about the local event,  please contact
Frédéric Lecut (334) 798 1639 –

Larry PATRICK (334) 615 3712 –


Were 3 major schools of engineering. 

It was not easy to get in these schools. The judges would only take the ones with the best grades.

The smartest where the “X's”. Nobody really knows why they were named like this. The X's were very intelligent, really really good in math. They could understand every possible scientific theory and explain and successfully use them.  X's were the top engineers of the Galaxy. Unfortunately, they would often use complicated words to try to explain all these scientific theories, and other people could not understand them. Which could be a problem when they were trying to work with people not as smart as themselves

Just underneath the X's came the “Centralians”. They were named like this because they believed that their activities were Central to the smooth operation of the Empire. (BTW, they were the only ones to believe it). Centralians were very intelligent people too, although not quite as smart as the X's. In fact, Centralians all secretly wished they had been X's. But they had not. Still, they were very intelligent and hard working people too, they could understand a great number of great scientific theories, they even could understand almost everything an X would say – which, as I already said, is not always easy.

And last, but not least, the Gadz'Arts who, although they could do good engineering, also liked Art and Beauty, and would spend lots of time in their shops trying to build beautiful things. They were intelligent too, but clearly not as bright as the X's. They knew it, and didn't really care. The Gadz'Arts minded their own business, they might not fully understand all the science behind their engineering, but they still did the job. Needless to say, the X's and Centralians tended to look at them as not very serious people who could not really understand the science behind what they were doing, had a strange attraction for Art, and would sometimes spend too much time on a project to make sure everything was properly executed.
In the big colonies under jurisdiction of the Empire, the big bosses where the X's, the Centralians translated to others what the X's really wanted, and the Gardz'Arts – once they had been told what the X's really wanted, were actually making it happen.

One day, the Emperor summoned the head of the 3 alumni organizations and told them : 

“You see that River down from the town. I want each one of you to select one Engineer among your bests to build me a bridge across it. Money is not an issue, each one of you builds me a bridge. I will come back in one year, and see what you have been able to do.”

Each school selected one head engineer who recruited a team, and they went to work.
and this is what happened :
  • The X's used the latest technologies to build a very sophisticated bridge. Which collapsed. But they knew why it had collapsed, and they were ready to build it anew. 

  • The Centralians used the same kind of technologies to build their bridge. It also collapsed, but they did not know why.

  • The Gadz'Arts - who had not hear about the latest technology, built their bridge according to the old ways. Their bridge did not collapse, and they did not know why.

If I have not verified for myself that something actually works, I won't tell you it does. Don't take anything for granted, don't trust anything because it is written, or because someone of authority tells you this is the way it works. Try for yourself...

Le Pont du Gard built by Roman Engineers during the 1st century

Incidentally, I happen to be one of these Gadz'Arts, as is my Dad, a sort of family tradition...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Armadillo, Mushin and the 5 Skandhas

  • 10:00 pm Monday night, Back from Karate and Zen, driving home on 431 North between Dothan and Headland. Clear sky, the road a long band of black asphalt lit up by the headlights.  
  • Something on the road. It should not be there. Small, moving - it's alive, brownish color. Obviously an animal, it could be a cat, a possum, a raccoon, an armadillo. By its color, the way it moves, more likely an armadillo. But not enough time to say.
  • Numerous animals killed on our roads, impossible to avoid this one, likely going to die. Bad Feeling.
  • Stir the car - keep the wheels on both side of the animal, fortunately in the middle of the lane.
  • To escape predators, armadillos jump up to 4 feet vertically in the air, and then run away. When a car drives over them, they jump, they hit the bottom of the car - they die. No noise from under the car. This one must have survived. Good...

At 55 miles per hour this whole story lasted probably less than 2 seconds. While the whole event was happening, there was absolutely no ego, no "I" involved. Now that I am telling the story, I use the concept. But at the time, there was just the sudden awareness of a shape on the road, the recognition that it very likely was an armadillo, a bad feeling about it, the expectation that it was going to die, and the automatic move of the hands to try to keep the wheels of the car away from the creature.
Now that I am telling the story, I can say that I saw something, I identified it as an animal, probably an armadillo, I felt bad about the fact it was probably going to die, I tried to avoid it...
But these are just figures of speech, when it happened there was no "I" involved.

  • A form on the road
  • Awareness of it
  • It's an armadillo
  • Bad feeling
  • Hands adjust direction on the steering wheel. No Bump.

The 5 skandhas at work. 

I realized last night they actually are a very accurate way to describe that sort of experience. And that in fact, there really is no need of an "I" to describe what actually happens.

When something happens fast, the introduction of the "I" - separate from the action - is a waste of time. If someone attacks you or your car starts skidding on a slippery road and you wonder what you should do - it's probably too late. You need to act without having to think, somehow "you" are not even acting, but the action happens through you. I know it sounds funny, but if you have been in such a situation before, you must know what I mean. 

And this is why training is important...

Mushin - Empty Heart - is the ability to react to a situation without prejudice, without fear, without the interference of ANY concept.

Yesterday's Armadillo encounter clearly showed me one thing : "I" is a concept, a figure of speech. And for lack of a better way to word it, I can actually operate without it.