Friday, October 28, 2011

People gain self esteem through Tai chi

Tai Chi appears to be a great way to build self esteem and encourage volunteering according to a new survey being discussed today at the Regional Conference of Gerontology and Geriatrics in Melbourne.

Already known for the significant role it plays in preventing and treating physical and psychological illnesses, Tai Chi seems to hit the mark with older people when it comes to increasing happiness and feelings of self-achievement.


Ruth Wei, a postgraduate student at Murdoch University, has been investigating the effects of Tai Chi on building self-esteem; through the International Taoist Tai Chi society of Western Australia, she surveyed 382 Tai chi participants between January and July 2010.

According to Ms Wei, one in five reported that their confidence and attitudes towards life had improved and they had become more confident in daily life, more compassionate and tolerant towards people and less self-absorbed.

“What emerged from the survey was that the more often people practiced Tai Chi, the more often they became involved in voluntary functions, and the more likely they were to report positive changes associated with improved self-esteem,’ said Ms Wei.

Although the underlying mechanism of how Tai chi might improve self-esteem is not clear, other findings from the study such as increased social contacts, better physical and mental functioning, effective chronic illness management, and an improved ability to relax are all likely to be related. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011


The full text of Zen Master Takuan's letter is included in "The Unfettered Mind" a translation by William Scott Wilson of 3 texts about swordsmanship by Takuan.

In this post I only provide the Translation of the Chinese part of the text, without the Japanese commentaries of Takuan. I encourage you to read and consider them, then refer to Takuan's comments in the full version to reach a better understanding of this letter. 

       Presumably, as a martial artist, I do not fight for gain or loss, am not concerned with strength or weakness, and neither advance a step nor retreat a step. The enemy does not see me. I do not see the enemy. Penetrating to a place where heaven and earth have not yet divided, where Ying and Yang have not yet arrived, I quickly and necessarily gain effect.

     Well then, the accomplished man uses the sword but does not kill others. He uses the sword and gives others life. When it is necessary to kill, he kills. When it is necessary to give life, he gives life. When killing, he kills in complete concentration; when giving life, he gives life in complete concentration. Without looking at right and wrong, he is able to see right and wrong; without attempting to discriminate, he is able to discriminate well. Treading on water is just like treading on land, and treading on land is just like treading on water. If he is able to gain this freedom, he will not be perplexed by anyone on earth. In all things, he will be beyond companions.

      Do you want to obtain this? Walking, stopping, sitting or lying down, in speaking and in remaining quiet, during tea and during rice, you must never neglect exertion, you must quickly set your eye on the goal, and investigate thoroughly, both coming and going. Thus should you look straight into things. As months pile up and years pass by, it should seem like a light appearing on its own in the dark. You will receive wisdom without a teacher and will generate mysterious ability without trying to do so. At just such a time, this does not depart from the ordinary, yet it transcends it. By name, I call it "Taia."

      All men are equipped with this sharp Sword Taia, and in each one it is perfectly complete. Those for whom this is clear are feared even by the Maras, but those for whom this is obscure are deceived even by the heretics. On the one hand, when two of equal skill meet at swords' point, there is no conclusion to the match; it is like Shakyamuni's holding the flower and Kashyapa's subtle smile. On the other hand, raising the one and understanding the other three, or distinguishing subtle differences in weight with the unaided eye are examples of ordinary cleverness. If anyone has mastered this, he will quickly cut you into three pieces even before the one has been raised and the three understood. How much more so where you meet him face to face?

     In the end, a man like this never exposes the tip of his sword. Its speed - even lightning cannot keep up with it. Its brevity - it is gone even before the quick wind of the storm. Not having such a tactic, if one, in the end, becomes entangled or confused, he will damage his own blade or injure his own hand, and will fall short of adroitness. One does not divine this by impressions or knowledge. There is no transmitting it by words or speech, no learning it by any doctrine. This is the law of the special transmission beyond instruction.

     There is no established rule for manifesting this great ability. Orderly action, contrary action - even heaven does not determine this. So what is the nature of this thing? The ancients said, "When a house does not have a painting of a Pai Che, it is like having no ghosts at all." If a man has tempered himself and arrived at this principle, he will control everything under heaven with a single sword.

For those who study this, let them not be thoughtless.

Notes :

  • Takuan Soho was a Zen monk, calligrapher, painter, poet, gardener, tea master, and, perhaps, inventor of the pickle that even today retains his name. His writings were prodigious (the collected works fill six volumes), and are a source of guidance and inspiration to the Japanese people today, as they have been for three and a half centuries.
  • Born in 1573 into a samurai family of the Miura clan, Takuan entered a monastery at the age of ten to study Jodo Buddhism, moving on to Rinzai Zen at the age of twenty-four. He becamethe abbot of the Daitokuji, a major Zen temple in Kyoto, at the young age of thirty-five.
  • At the court of the Tokugawa Shogun, Takuan was in frequent contact with Yagyu Munenori of the Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, and Ono Tadaaki, second Grand Master of Ono Ha Itto Ryu. Both Munenori and Tadaaki were official sword instructors of the Shogun's family and his close retainers. Legend has it that Takuan was also the friend and teacher of the famous Miyamoto Musashi. (See the story of the Takuan, Musashi and the Snake)
  • In his writings, Takuan emphasizes the unity of Zen and Sword, (Zen Ken Ichi Nyo), which deeply influenced the Great Masters of the time and produced a number of documents which continue to be read and applied, such as the Heiho Kadensho of Yagyu Munenori and the Gorin no Sho of Miyamoto Musashi.
  • His letter Taiaki, "Annals of the Sword Taia," was written during his exile in the North between 1629 to 1632, possibly to Ono Tadaaki, Taiaki mostly is about the relationship between one's self and the other.

Taia was one of China's legendary swords. It was forged by the famous sword-smith Ou Yezi for King Zhao of Chu (r.515-489 B.C.)

The Pai Che is a legendary animal with a cow's body and a man's head. It eats dreams and misfortunes. In ancient China people they would display a picture of a Pai Che at the entrance of their house to ward off evil spirits.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Self-Control vs Self-Esteem

In some Martial Arts Schools or tournament, every kid receives a trophy or medal, there are no losers, you don't want to hurt these little creature's feelings or self esteem. I have always thought that this is not the way to prepare people to behave in the real world. 

I believe that Martial Arts help us become better people who can positively impact our environment, society, community and country through cultivation of self control and self discipline - this is not an easy task. Self esteem acquired without working to improve one's self control is a worthless and even possibly toxic luxury

Angela Duckworth, is an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Following her research on the importance of grit in achieveing success,  she was called in by West Point to predict which cadets have what it takes to survive the tough atmosphere at the academy...

Question to Ms Duckworth : Which is more important, self-discipline or self-esteem, for being successful as a student?

Answer : Ah, how great to be asked this question!

We did a study in which we followed kids for four years. We took their self-control ratings from parents and teachers and the kids themselves. We tracked them every year, and we kept their grades from school records, not from their own reports on their grades. We pitted self-control and self-esteem - we also took measures for both - against each other. Here's what we found: When kids increase in self-control, their grades go up later. But when kids increase their self-esteem, there is no effect on their grades. 

The bottom line is that our research shows that self-control is more important than self-esteem in determining achievement

People have been studying self-esteem for a long time, and this allows you to compare the self-esteem of kids who grew up in the nineties with, say, those who grew up in the seventies or eighties with regard to self-esteem. Self-esteem has gone up in the United States; achievement has not. 

If anything, compared with other countries, we have done worse, but our kids feel really good about themselves on average. What seems particularly interesting, and there is an article by J. P. Tangney on this, is that there is an uncoupling between your perception of your own competence and how much you like yourself. Many American kids, particularly in the last couple of decades, can feel really good about themselves without actually being good at anything. This is the problem with the "self-esteem at all costs" message. 

Self-esteem should be earned. I find that parents today, at least those in a high socioeconomic bracket, never want to say anything critical of their children. Everybody has to be a winner. You take your children to a soccer game, and they don't keep score anymore. They don't want anybody to lose. Well, it's a good thing for kids to lose sometimes. They see what it's like to get up again. They realize it's not the end of the world. 


The scholar Roy Baumeister began believing in self-esteem as a predictor of success, but he did studies and it isn't. Self-control is.   

Read the full article

Monday, October 24, 2011

MJER Tatehiza - Renzoku Waza

A very clean and smooth demonstration of  the Tatehiza (half sitting) Waza of the Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu (MJER) Iaido by Noboru Kataoka Sensei - Instructor of the New York City Kendo club.

Kataoka Sensei performs the waza of this series  in a continuous (Renzoku) sequence at different angles.

The Waza of the Tatehiza no Bu (立膝之部) series are :

  1. 横雲      Yokogumo
  2. 虎一足    Tora no issoku
  3. 稲妻      Inazuma
  4. 浮雲      Ukigumo
  5. 颪        Oroshi
  6. 岩波      Iwanami
  7. 鱗返      Urokogaeshi
  8. 波返      Namigaeshi
  9. 瀧落      Takiotoshi
  10. 真向      Makkō

Their full description with pictures is detailed in the book Flashing Steel by Masayuki Shimabukuro Hanshi

To practice MJER Iaido in Dothan, Alabama at the Yoshukai Dojo contact Frederic Lecut

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Perfect Settings

I arrived this evening at the dojo, tired by a long and hot day of work, still sore from last night's somehow intense Karate class.

Fred and I began warming up with our Iaito : Kirioroshi, kesa giri, nukitsuke, and a few more basics

We switched to our boken, and brought Vlad in the game – 100 vertical cuts, then a few sets of waza against him..

We completed the class by practicing the Shodan sets of waza. By the end of the class, all my fatigue was gone !

While we were training, the rain finally decided to hit us !

I drove back home, had a sip of Rosé, changed cloth, walked to the Zendo. 
The night was fresh from the rain, the deck wet under my feet, tree frogs and other night creatures were humming in the darkness.

Drops of water falling from the  trees onto the metal roof. 

Ting, ting.

Just Perfect...

Friday, October 21, 2011

MAN-AN - On Zen practice by Lay People

Man-An Eishu was a prominent Soto Master of the early Edo period. He was a good friend of Samurai and Zen Master Suzuki Shosan, and tried to raise the Soto Zen of that period to a higher level. He rebuilt the Temple of Kosho-ji in Uji. Together with other Masters of this period, he was convinced that a general reform of Zen was necessary, but he lacked the influence to carry it out. (He possibly pissed off a few important heads of powerful Monasteries, favorites of the Tokugawa shogunate ...). Man-An never had on Soto Zen the influence that Master Hakuin had on Rinzai Zen.

This post is a passage from  "An elementary talk on Zen", from "Minding Mind - a course in basic meditation" , a collection of texts translated  by Thomas Cleary.

This first part is about the practice of Zen by Lay people (us...) Man-An was not always tender for some of his fellow Zen Masters...

         If you want to quickly attain mastery of all truths and be independent in all events, there is nothing better than concentration in activity. That is why it is said that students of mysticism working on the Way should sit in the midst of the material world.

The Third Patriarch of Zen said, "If you want to head for the Way of Unity, do not be averse to the objects of the six senses. " * This does not mean that you should indulge in the objects of the six senses, it means that you should keep right mindfulness continuous, neither grasping nor rejecting the objects of the six senses in the course of every day life, like a duck going into the water without its feathers getting wet.

If, in contrast, you despise the objects of the six senses and try to avoid them, you fall into escapist tendencies and never fulfill the Way of Buddhahood. If you clearly see the essence, then the objects of the six senses are themselves meditation, sensual desires are themselves the Way of Unity, and all things are manifestations of Reality. Entering into the great Zen stability undivided by movement and stillness, body and mind are both freed and eased.

As for people whose tout to cultivate spiritual practice is with aversion to the objects and desires of the senses, even if their minds and thoughts are empty and still and their contemplative visualization is perfectly clear, still when they leave quietude and get into active situations, they are like fish out of water, like monkeys out of the trees.

Even people who go deep into mountain forests; cut off relations with the world for ever, and eat from the fruits of the trees as ascetics can not easily attain pure singleness of, concentration. Needless to say, it is even more difficult for those who are mendicants in name only, or shallow householders, who are so busy making a living.

In truth, unless you have definite certitude of overwhelming faith, or are filled with overwhelming doubt or wonder, or are inspired with overwhelming commitment, or are overtaken by overwhelming death, it is hard to attain concentration that is pure and undivided in principle and fact, inaction and stillness.

If you are wholeheartedly careful of how you spend your time, aware of the evanescence of life, concentrating singlemindedly on Zen work even in the midst of objects of desire, if you proceed right straight ahead, the iron walls will open up. You will experience the immense joy of walking over the Polar Mountain and become the Master with in the objects of sense. you will be like a lotus blooming in fire, becoming all the more colorful and more fragrant in contact with the energy of fire.

Do not say that it is harder for lay people living in the world of senses and desires to sit and meditate, or that it is hard, to concentrate with so many worldly duties, or that one with an official or professional career can not practice Zen, or that the poor and the sickly do not have the power to work on the Way. These excuses are all due to impotence of faith and superficiality of the thought of enlightenment.

If you observe that the matter of life and death is serious, and that the world is really impermanent, the will for enlightenment will grow, the thieving heart of egoism, selfishness, pride, and covetousness will gradually die out, and you will come to work on the Way by sitting meditation in which principle and fact are one.

Suppose you were to lose your only child in a crowd or drop an invaluable gem: do you think you would let the child or the, jewel go at that, just because of the bustle and the mob? Would you not look for them even if you had a lot of work to do or were poor or sickly? Even if you had to plunge into an immense crowd of people and had to continue searching into the night, you would not be easy in mind until you had found and retrieved your child or your jewel.

To have been born human and heard true teaching is a very rare opportunity, so to neglect meditation because of your career is to treat the life of wisdom of the body of truths of the Buddhas less seriously than worldly chattels. But if you search for wisdom singlemindedly like someone who has lost a child or dropped a gem, one day you will undoubtedly encounter it, whereupon you will light up with joy.

People in all walks of life have all sorts of things to attend to, how could they have the leisure to sit silently all day in quiet contemplation? Here there are Zen teachers who have not managed to cultivate this sitting meditation concentration , they teach deliberate seclusion and quietude, avoiding population centers, stating that intensive meditation concentration can not be attained in the midst of professional work, business, and labor, thus causing students to apply their minds mistakenly.

People who listen to this kind of talk consequently think of Zen as something that is hard to do and hard to practice, so they give up the inspiration to cultivate Zen, abandon the source and try to escape, time and again becoming like lowly migrant workers. This is truly lamentable. even if they have a deep aspiration due to some cause in the past, they get to where they neglect their jobs and lose their social virtues for the sake of the Way.

As an ancient said, if people today were as eager for enlightenment as they are to embrace their lovers, then no matter how busy their professional lives might be and no matter how luxurious their dwellings maybe, they would not fail to attain continuous concentration leading to appearance of the great Wonder.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Please allow me to introduce our newest partner - Vlad

Vlad is made of treated lumber. 

To make your own Vlad, you'll need one post 3 to 4" in diameter, two 2 x 4 x 8" treated, some nails and screws.

What is Vlad good for ? he can be beaten up, he won't complain, and he won't hit you back...

Seriously - it is all very nice to cut in the air, but it is a little like doing kata by yourself, it is very useful, but when it comes to accuracy, timing and distance, it is not enough... If you want a better taste, and a better test of your technique, you need to meet a real target.

Kendo allows you this opportunity, however, as you are, for various reasons, very limited in the number of cuts you are allowed to perform in Kendo.

And then, Vlad never complains... One way to improve your technique is to practice until you are utterly exhausted, go past it, and then, something may happen. It is said that some Kenjutsu ryu practiced up to 10,000 strikes daily. Do you know of any Kendo partner who would stay in front of you to let you hit him 10,000 times ? This is why we needed Vlad...

Karateka and boxers have punching bags, Kung Fu people wooden dummies. I wanted something to practice our cuts, adjust our angles and distance, something that would also offer some resistance to our moves. This is how Vlad was born.

PS : I am not yet at 10,000 cuts a day, just 300 for the time being, it takes less than 10 minutes, and is excellent exercise, it is not about beating the hell out of Vlad, but about aiming at different levels,  adjusting your stances, practicing your "power cut" by twisting your back foot (pivot on the ball of the foot...)

300 + cuts get you a little tired, and it then becomes easier to adjust your moves, your muscles are not too much in the way...

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kendo Kata in Japan

A very nice demonstration of Kendo Kata. Prior to 2009.

Pay attention to the way partners separate in Kendo Kata, if I am not mistaken, this is the way one should separate in the Batto-Ho katachi paired exercises described in 

Samurai Swordsmanship: The Batto, Kenjutsu, and Tameshigiri of Eishin-Ryu - the last book by Carl Long Sensei and Masayaki Shimabukuro Hanshi.


Pay also attention to the way they walk, the ball of the foot lands first, the toes slightly lifted, and the heel never really supports much weight. 


This is important. It is the fastest way to move or change direction. 

When your weight is on your heel, you cannot jump, push with that leg, or change direction as fast as when it is on the ball of your foot.

Always slightly bend your knees to bring your weight to the ball of the foot. Never support your weight with your heels.

Basically, this is when your opponent's weight is on their heels that you want to attack them, specially when they are retreating. For then they are off-balance, and their strikes or cuts cannot be really powerful or accurate. This is true in Kendo, this is true in Karate. 


The Devil is in the details...



Thursday, October 13, 2011

Joshu's Dog


A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?"

Joshu answered: "Mu."

Countless Students have lost sleep and appetite on this "MU"...

For one thing, Joshu did not say "MU". He said "WU", because he was Chinese, not Japanese.

And "WU" is  the way Chinese dogs bark, English speaking dogs do "WOOF", Chinese dogs do "WU". Anybody with a bit of common sense knows that.

Japanese dogs, I don't remember...

Two important facts well known by those with the slightest experience of the Canine world: 

  1. Dogs don't do "MU" in any language.   
  2. No matter their nationality or culture, dogs bark to display their unhappiness about the way things are, and to signify something like  "DON'T DO THIS, DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, DON'T COME HERE, STAY AWAY !"

So some smart disciple asks a question about the nature of a dog, and the Master barks back to him.  That's it! It does not mean "no" it does not mean "yes", it's barking.

Now the student with a lust for deep meaning tries to figure that one out and loses sleep over it. 

When they translated that into Japanese, they should have said the student asked if a cow had Buddha nature, Cows usually do "MU". However, the "MU" of a cow does not carry the same disapproval meaning as the "WU" of a dog... 

Now, do you imagine what would it be if the student had asked "Does a giraffe has  Buddha Nature or not ?" 

Once upon a time, during a sword seminar in Pensacola, my friend Joe asked Carl Long Sensei something like "Sensei, when you perform this waza, do you lean forward, or do you lean backward ? "

And the answer came "YES"...