Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Moderation in training

I am a firm believer in hard and serious training. I am also a believer in common sense. There seems to be a tendency in certain young people to train extremely hard to the point of ruining their health by negating the needs of their bodies. Although this seems to be more true for Japanese people, it is true of all ascetic practice. Even the historic Buddha experienced this denial of one's earthly nature and almost starved himself to death. The Chinese, possibly because of the influence of Taoism, seem to be less prone to this kind of exaggerations.

Toru Shirai was born in Edo in 1783. He was a renown Kenshi. He had opened a dojo at the age of 28 and taught around 300 students. But he worried about his own kendo. In the fencing world at the time, there were many fine kenshi. After the age of 40, however, they often became weaker or slower and became a mere shadow of their former selves. Not wanting this to happen to him , Shirai left his dojo and his 300 students, went back to his hometown of Edo (presently Tokyo), and sought out his Itto-ryu sempai Terada Goroemon.

Terada was also a Zen priest and Shirai practiced zazen under him. He also underwent Terada’s severe training methods. This included the practice of cold-water ablutions.

Okunojo Yoshida, a later student of Shirai, writes:
Shirai Sensei abstained from liquor and meat, and poured a hundred, two hundred, even three hundred pails of water over himself a day. He dipped his pail so often that the water in the well he used would become stirred up and muddy, so he would go to the Sumida River to continue. He repeated this day after day for years—in the morning in the hottest weather, at dawn in the depths of winter, and even at inns during journeys to Bishu, Kyoto, and Setsu. On two occasions he fasted and performed his ablutions for seven days—once at Mt. Yuga in Biyo and once again at his home.”

Unfortunately, Shirai’s extraordinary dedication to Terada's ablution method did little or nothing for him. Actually it ruined his health and Shirai finally broke down.

Shirai writes in Heiho Michishirube, “My efforts were fruitless. Worse, they put me in such ill health that neither acupuncture nor medicines had any effect. Eventually my mother and other close relatives begged me to ‘cease those baneful ablutions.’ Unable to bear my mother’s lamentations, I was finally convinced to give up the practice.”

Compare this with Master Hakuin's passage in Yasenkana :
... I began devoting myself single-mindedly to my practice, forsaking food and sleep altogether. Before the month was out... I became abnormally weak and timid, shrinking and fearful in whatever I did. I felt totally drained, physically and mentally exhausted. Strange vision appeared to me during waking and sleeping hours alike. My armpits were always wet with perspiration. My eyes were watered constantly. I traveled far and wide, visiting wise Zen teachers, seeking out noted physicians. But none of the remedies they offered brought any relief.

Hakuin himself had fallen gravely hill from "meditation disease". No doctor was able to help him. In despair Hakuin had gone on a quest for a cure and had finally met Master Hakuyu, a mountain hermit, who had taught him an abdominal breathing Qi Gong that would finally cure him.

Giving up the ablution practice, Shirai began practicing Rentan no Ho: the same style of abdominal breathing practice described by Zen priest Hakuin in his work Yasenkanna. Not only did it restore his health, it also instilled in him the self-awareness and ability to take the first steps toward the establishment of his Tenshin Shirai-ryu.

In Heiho Michishirube, Shirai describes his cure. 
“At the age of thirty-three, on January 18, 1815, I abandoned cold-water ablutions once and for all and adopted the abdominal training method. I had previously read a number of the posthumous works of Hakuin and I had heard from my teacher Terada about the effectiveness of rentan no ho, but I had neglected it in favor of the more arduous practice of ablutions. Now I practice rentan no ho exclusively. I have rallied my spirit and, as Hakuin did, integrated rentan no ho into every part of my life and ways—into my prayers to Buddha, into my studies, into my swordsmanship. Within two short months of such practice I felt my health return as energy flowed into me and filled my abdomen (seika.) My illness has melted away and I feel myself as bouncy as a brand-new ball.”

What Shirai gained from his practice of Rentan no Ho allowed him to take some distance from the treachings of his teacher Terada and develop his own style Tenshin Heiho. In Heiho Michishirube Shirai writes : “the exclusive practice of Rentan no Ho advocated by Hakuin is quick and effective, while the method of ablution has little effect.”

Shirai had become utterly disgusted with cold-water ablutions as a means to enlightenment and it seems that in his later years he even told his pupils that “dousing oneself with cold water and fasting are poor ways to achieve Tenshin (understanding one’s own Buddha nature).”

Common Sense, the Middle way...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Great Judo Chokes

Don't mess with old guys. These guys are practicing Kosen Judo - A form of Judo which was heavily practiced before WWII, and allowed for very hard ground work. These rules were later changed by Kano Sensei to allow for more standing work, but some Dojo still train and compete under these rules.

The chokes practiced here are actually not intended to crush the windpipes, but (in the best case scenario), to generate a spasm of the carotid artery bringing blood to the brain. This happens only if the choke is very accurately and quickly applied to a certain point of the neck (it can also be done through atemi). It is however not easy to do. Plan B is to simply squeeze that artery to mechanically restrain the flow of blood to the brain. 

When the choke is well applied, Uke has very little time to tap out. The Human brain uses 20 % of our oxygen, and really does not good at all without blood. When I was practicing Judo in the early 70's, I witnessed an incident during a competition. A guy chocked another one from a standing position, which did not seem to bother him at all; he looked perfectly normal and we were impressed by how well he was able to resist this choke. Disgusted by this the choker let go, and the guy collapsed, unconscious, and breathless. He did not even have the time to tap. Paramedics took care of him, he probably to this day does not remember what happened...

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monkey Mind Simulation

“Monkey Mind” is a Buddhist term meaning "unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable”. It is the Monkey mind at work when you walk to the kitchen to get the pair of glasses on the table, see the refrigerator and open it to grab something to eat, realize that you are almost out of milk, get in your car to go buy milk... etc...

With the help of 9 persons, involved either in Zen and/or Martial Arts, I carried out this little experiment to simulate how the “Monkey Mind” works. 

To do this simulation I sent an image to one person who sent me back a short story inspired by that image. From that image I selected a few words, and used Google to generate a new image, which I sent to a second person, etc...

I had to make a choice of the words or expression to use to generate some images in Google, and that when images had been generated, I had to chose one of them to send it to the next person – That is right, I tried to pick “strong” images, which could easily stimulate one's imagination. Somehow, the whole experiment is tainted by my own preferences and bias. That is correct, but it is not a very big problem. After all, the individual Monkey mind is also very tainted by the individual's personality. My point was to illustrate how things work.

Even if the whole thing looks crazy, there is a logic at work behind this monkey mind.

Somehow, I believe this kind of experiment could also be used to study the deep motivations or collective unconscious of a group, or Sangha...

Thanks to all those who participated in this game.

This train only goes East

The nomad was prepared to cut her to bits
A log Jam, in the Northwest

Up in the Air

His only chance at salvation was tracking Allison

Some young girls looking for a chance out of poverty

That's why flip-flops are good

We continued our walk along the beach

The sound of the waves soothes troubles and restores peace.

The version including all stories would be too long to post here, it is available here : 

Zazenkai at the Enterprise Community Zendo

A Zazenkai (Short Meditation retreat) will be held on next Thursday June 30th at the Entreprise Community Zendo by Michael Inmo Dretsch and his teacher Rev Bobby Kankin Byrd from the Both Sides / No sides Zen community from El Paso Texas.

This Zazenkai will include sitting (Zazen) and walking (Kinhin) meditation, and Buddhist service by Rev. Kankin. It will end up with a Tea Ceremony

Everyone is welcome to attend. If you are in the area, please make the effort to be present. there are evry few opportunities to practice Zen in the Wiregrass. We should try to support all efforts in that direction !

Michael and his wife Elizabeth opened their new Zendo at 108 Oliver Drive, Entreprise, AL 36330 a few weeks ago. The Sangha meets for Zazen every Wednesday from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. For more information about the regular Zazen sessions or the Zazenkai itself, please contact Michael at (360) 359 5950 or dr.dretsch1  @yahoo.com

Thursday, June 9, 2011

3 Short Stories

3 short stories on the same theme. Can you figure them out?

Last Monday evening, after Karate class, we sat in Zazen from 8:00 to 8:30. While we were there, a thunderstorm broke up. Before our Dharma discussion, I went outside to close the cars windows. And there, no Mugen (my dog). The furry little bastard (one of his nicknames - another one is Houdini) was gone. Jumped through the window. So, no Dharma discussion that night. We all go out in the dark and rain, trying to find him, no Mugen. I roamed the neighbourhood until 11:00. Still no dog.

Tuesday morning, after a short and agitated night, I asked Gerri to take over the Tai Chi class while I went looking for him.As I had almost given up, my phone rang, he was at the fire station, right beside the Dojo... I went there, thanked the firefighters (great guys) and took him back home with me.

Two monks traveling on a trail arrived at a river. Waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks to help her cross. He exclaimed, 'Don't you see that I am a monk ? I took a vow of chastity and cannot touch you for women are unclean'
'I require nothing bad from you, but simply to help me to cross this river,' replied the young woman with a little smile.

  • "I am sorry. I can do nothing for you," said the embarrassed young monk.
  • "Don't worry about the vows" said the elderly monk. "Climb on my back, I'll carry you to the other side".

Having reached the other bank, the old monk put down the young woman and she thanked him with a broad smile. She went her own way, and the monks theirs. 
After a while, the young monk who could not stand it anymore and said, ' How could you dare carry this unclean woman on your back? It's against our rules.'

 'This young woman needed help and I carried her down to the other bank. You didn't carry her at all, but she is still on your back,' replied the older monk.

Once upon a time in Thailand, a Lady saw a Monk sitting in meditation under the sun in the middle of summer. The Monk was very thin, he looked starved and sickly, sunburnt and bitten by mosquitoes and other pests, but there was a saintly aura about him as he sat beautifully and still in the middle of this ordeal.

Impressed by his dedication, the Lady invited the Monk to rest at her house. She served him food and tea and he ate and rested for several days. The Lady and him spent lots of time talking about the teachings and practice of Buddhism, and the Lady was thoroughly enjoying his company

She built for him a small temple and a shed at the top of a hill she owned, so he could practice in decent conditions and would not have to beg his way out in the world. Everyday, a servant would bring him some food. The Monk got better. At times, the Lady would come speak to him and he would preach the Dharma to her.

After several month, the Lady's Granddaughter came to visit her. She was lovely. There was a special bond between the two ladies, they both were beautiful, charming and generous, and deeply loved each other. As she thought the Monk would also enjoy meeting such a charming and lovely young girl, the Lady asked her grand daughter to bring the Monk his food.

That evening, when the Lady visited the hermitage, she asked the Monk how he had felt about her beloved granddaughter.

The Monk answered : "An other walking sack of shit."

The Lady told him : "If are not able to see and appreciate beauty when it is there for you to see, you don't deserve it. Leave now !"

The next day she burnt the hermitage.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Art of a Zen Master - I

The Hojo Kata of the Jikishin Kage Ryu - a Koryu (traditional) style of Kenjutsu was created by Matsumoto Bizen no kami Naokatsu in the middle of the Muromachi period (1333-1573). He received the teachings of the Hojo in a dream.

Note that this dream deal is very convenient. When your students know that some sort of God visited you in a dream, they tend to not question you so much. 
This also was the case Muso Gonnosuke Katsuyoshi who founded the Shindo Muso-Ryu of Jo Jutsu.  After an encounter with Miyamoto Musashi he went to spend some times in the mountains of Kyushu in training and meditation. There he had a dream. A God, Kami or Tengu visited him and revealed to him the secret art that would enable him to finally beat Musashi with a single stick !

But back to the HOJO. In this video of the late 70's, the Kata is performed by Omori Sogen Roshi (in white) and his disciple Terayama Tenchu Sensei. Omori Sogen Roshi was a Zen, Kenjutsu and  Calligraphy Master.

If you compare  this version of Hojo kata to others (fancier) available on Youtube, you will be impressed by the intensity displayed in this old version.

In 1929 Omori Roshi underwent Hyappon Keiko, the grueling practice of performing the Hojo a hundred times a day for seven days. in  Hosokawa Dogen's book "Omori Sogen : The Art of a Zen Master"  he recounts his experience : 

Onishi Hidetaka - who was captain of the Kendo Club of Hitotsubashi University  - and I were told by Yamada Sensei, "In our style, after completing the hyappon keiko (one hundred time practice) one is able to receive the final certificate” It was decided that at the end of July, we would be confined to a mountain temple in Yamanashi prefecture. After 20 days of preparation we began the hyappon keiko. 
We got up at 4:00 in the morning, went down the mountain, and bathed in a river. Before breakfast we did the Hojo 15 times. After that we rested awhile then practiced 30 more times. After lunch we rested and did the Hojo 55 more times until dusk. We did zazen in the evenings. 

By the third day I could shout more loudly and powerfully during practice, but my voice was so hoarse I could not speak at all. At night my body was so hot that I couldn't sleep. Food would not go down my throat; I had only water and raw eggs. My urine was the color of blood. The arms that held the wooden sword could not be raised. We were resigned to death. I couldn't go before Yamada Sensei and say, "I failed." Onishi and I got out our notes and letters and burned them all as we prepared to die. 

On the fourth day, a strange thing happened. The same arms that had difficulty in even holding the wooden sword went up smoothly over my head. As my arms went down, I felt a strength that was not physical coming out of both arms. It felt as if this downward cut extended to the other end of the world. For seven days, we practiced the Hojo a hundred times daily in this manner. We finally finished at the beginning of September. Later Yamada Sensei praised me saying, 'That is the Muso (No-thought) Style.' 

I was able to cultivate mental strength entirely because of this Hojo.

And we thought we were training hard...