Thursday, September 22, 2011

Heaven and Hell

Mugen and I often have meaningful conversations at red lights, and may not see that it turned to green. Not long ago on my way to Karate, I had stopped at a red light. The light must have been green for 3 seconds, and some idiot behind me honked. 

That pissed me off !  I really felt like getting off my car to go punch the moron in the face.

Now what is amazing is the speed at which this happens. It is unreal ! In a matter of a few milliseconds, you switch from Dr. Jekyll to Mr Hide. (I've heard that some women have the ability to do that even faster, but this is a different story...).

No seriously, it is hard to believe, It is so fast, no conscious ego involved. Pure, Row Anger Flaring. 5 skandhas at work.
  • Form : the honking,
  • Sensation: the sound hits the eardrum;
  • Consciousness : awareness of the sound;
  • Perception : someone is not happy,
  • Mental formation - pure, row anger.

Later on the Ego becomes involved. Anger needs to be resolved - it really is not good for the body : high blood pressure, adrenaline overflows, stomach acidity...

  • Either give up to Anger and blindly act upon it : Go punch the moron's face, or just wait 5 more seconds before starting the car; (You're an ass, I can be a bigger ass), or 

  • Try to deflate Anger through reasoning : "Look, you are not going to do this, you have other things to do, you are already late for class, and moreover this guy could have a gun... and then it is not the Zen thing to do, after all, he might be distraught because his child is sick, or he just learned his wife is having an affair (too bad, he is a moron anyway...)

So here actually,  Ego is not always the bad guy. It can be a good concept, a good trick contributing to the survival of this creature and to the harmony of society. Ego has - in theory - the power to chose between blind action only triggered by emotion ("emotion" from ex-motion : out of it comes motion - or action), or to consider the consequences of various possible actions in response to a situation and accordingly chose a wiser course of action...

Great danger comes when the ego is not even involved and action is carried out without any rationalization, just on a whim.

Actually, the ability to properly act under such condition was considered positive by samurai, and is very likely the goal of training of modern elite soldiers. This is what Heijoshin is about. Instinctively knowing what to do in any situation. (read the Hagakure

It is not, however, a simple thing to do. To get to that point request years of practice. Needless to say, I am not there yet. I wish I would not have these bouts of anger (rage?), and I am thankful I am able to control them.

I'll keep training. 

Long ago in Japan, a samurai, retainer from a clan well known for their fierce (cocky...) attitude, went to visit Zen Master Hakuin. The Samurai was a big, proud man, used to getting whatever he wanted.

"Hakuin!" shouted the Samurai at the temple door, "I want a word with you right now!"

Master Hakuin rose from his cushion. He took his sweet time to stretch his legs before turning toward his visitor. The large figure of the impatient Samurai blocked the temple entrance.

"Well, monk," grunted the samurai, " They say you are a wise man ! If that is so, tell me about Heaven and Hell!"

Hakuin looked carefully at the fierce-looking Samurai and finally replied, " Did you disrupt my meditation to ask something every fool knows about? You immature fool! What kind of a second class soldier are you ? Look at yourself !You are so unkempt. Your hands and feet are dirty. Your hair is uncombed, you stink, and above all your sword - did you steal it from a kid - is rusty and so obviously neglected that it would not even slice a cucumber ! You are ugly and your mother dresses you funny. And you dare ask me about Heaven and Hell? Leave this temple right now, and never come back again!"

The Samurai was furious! No one had ever dared to speak to him that rudely. In a flash he drew his sword and raised it high above his head. "You filthy monk will die for those words!" he roared.

Hakuin quietly looked up and told him: 
"THIS is what Hell feels like..."

The samurai instantly froze, his sword in mid-air, realizing that Hakuin had risked his own life to teach him. He lowered his sword and deeply bowed to Hakuin. 

"And THIS is what Heaven feels like..." said Hakuin...

Monday, September 19, 2011


The implications of a study involving 13,108 employees - one of the largest of its kind, are significant for businesses and other organizations that offer wellness programs for employees or members. ... 

Many organizations offer wellness programs for employees or members. The programs can cut health care costs and boost productivity. However, many people drop out or decline to enroll.
Instead of expecting tired, stressed participants to run off pounds on the treadmill, Dr. Clark suggests organizations could offer them yoga, tai chi, meditation, stress management classes or sessions with a personal wellness coach that would help them reach overall wellness goals.

Mayo Clinic researchers surveyed 13,198 employees who joined a Mayo Clinic employee wellness center when it opened in 2008. Their study showed the biggest differences between stressed and non-stressed respondents were in fatigue levels after a regular night's sleep and in current quality of life. 

Full article available at :

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Early mention of Martial Arts in the Ryu Kyu Islands.

In 1816 the ships Alceste and Lyra made the first known British government contacts with both the Koreans and the Ryukyu Islanders. Captain Basil Hall was captain of the Lyra and he left us an interesting journal of this trip.  (Captain Basil Hall : Voyage to Loo Choo and other places in the Eastern Seas in the year 1816.)

I was mostly trying to find information about the practice of Martial Arts in the Ryu Kyu islands (Okinawa is the biggest Island of the Ryu Kyu archipelago, in these times named Loo Choo. Leu Cheu, or Lew Chew by the Brits.)

The Brits recorded the great gentleness of the very peaceful natives, and the fact that there were no weapons to be found anywhere on the islands.
However, after describing the amazing dancing abilities of Maddera – the highest ranking official in charge of the communication with the Brits - Captain Basil describes the following incident : 

... Maddera, who, to use a common phrase, was up to everything, ran amongst them, seized one of the dancers by the shoulders, and pushing him on one side, took his place, and kept up the reel with the same spirit, and exactly in the same style and step as the sailors. The other dances were left off, the music played with double spirit, and the whole ship's company assembled around Maddera, cheering and clapping hands till the reel was over. The chiefs joined in the applause, not less surprised than we were at this singular fellow's skill; for his imitation of the sailors' peculiar steps and gestures was so exact as if he had lived on board ship all his life. The officers and midshipmen then danced together, after which the chiefs, unasked, and with a sort of intuitive politeness, which rendered everything they did appropriate, instantly stepped forward, and danced, as they had before done in the cabin, several times round the quarter-deck, to the unspeakable delight of the sailors.

On returning to the cabin to tea, the chiefs amused themselves with a sort of wrestling game; Ookooma, who had seen us placing ourselves in sparring attitudes, threw himself suddenly into the boxer's position of defense, assuming at the same time a fierceness of look which we had never before seen in any of them. The gentleman to whom he addressed himself happening to be a boxer, and thinking that Ookooma really wished to spar, prepared to indulge him with a round. Maddera's quick eye, however, saw what was going on, and by a word or two made the chief instantly resume his wonted sedateness. We tried in vain to make Maddera explain what were the magical words which he had used; but he seemed anxious to turn our thoughts from the subject, by saying, '' Loo-Choo man no fight; Loo-Choo man write, No fight, no good fight; Ingerish very good; Loo-Choo man no fight." Possibly he considered Ookooma was taking too great a liberty; or perhaps be thought even the semblance of a battle inconsistent with the strict amity subsisting between us.

So here we have several interesting facts : 

  • The head of the delegation was very good at dancing. Okinawan Kata of a long time ago were practiced and demonstrated at public celebrations as dances – a way to fool the Satsuma samurai occupying the Ryukyu, who could not openly tolerate the practice of martial arts. (This tactic was also used by Karate Masters at the beginning of the US occupation in 1945-46 when Martial Arts had been banned). Dr Tsuyoshi Chitose - founder of Chito Ryu Karate was himself a very good dancer (Note 1)

  • Wrestling was openly practiced by the natives of Ryu Kyu.  When Ookooma,  under the influence of Sake, proposed to box against one of the sailors, he naturally put himself in a boxing position, and took a very fierce look. A little strange for one of the Natives deemed so peaceful by the Brits. It seems to me that this guy had been training before...  
  • When this happened, the head of the delegation immediately stopped everything and explained that the sailor was very good, and the Native did not need to fight him. Was this an other instance of trying to keep actual fighting abilities hidden from the general public, and even more so from foreigners ?
  • The Brits had absolutely no clue of what had been going on.

Note 1 - Mr. Van Horne had been in Japan training in 1971 and one day he was watching a local television program depicting a group of dancers going through an old dance routine. As he was watching this program he happened to notice others in the room looking toward the doorway and, there, going through the same movements, was Chitose, and as Mr. Van Horne stated, "with more grace and fluidity than those on the program". He spoke with Chitose concerning what he had just seen and was told "this is one method we used to cover some of our early training sessions when the occupation was being enforced". The American Military had banned most martial training and to get around the rules some other format had to be presented to hide what was actually taking place. Chitose said that in this manner, dance, kata could be practiced without the foreigners understanding what was happening.  

Extract from an article in the Dragon Times about Tsuyoshi Chitose - Founder of Chito Ryu Karate