Tuesday, December 25, 2012

About DO and JUTSU arts

I have heard repeatedly over the past few years people who believe that the JUTSU types of Martial arts are superior to the DO types, when it comes to actual usability in a real fight.

Such people will pretend for example, that Jujutsu is superior to Judo in an actual confrontation in the street, because the dangerous moves of Jujutsu were remove from Judo so it could be safely practiced in competition.

This is a fallacy. You may debate for hours what is the best car in the world, but if I have to go to town now, the best car in the world is my car. In case of a confrontation, the best martial art in the world is the one you know - IF YOU MASTER IT - because the is the only one you have...

One day a guy called and asked me if I taught Kendo or Kenjutsu. When I told him we practiced both at our dojo, he explained - at length - that he was only interested in Kenjutsu, because Kendo was a modern - therefore worthless - version of Kenjutsu. So I asked him where he had practiced before and he acknowledged the fact he never had, but had read a lot about the subject. I invited me to come to the dojo for a try.

Interestingly enough this guy never showed up for class ...


This is a very interesting video - it shows the Sensei demonstrating fast action Kendo. He is wearing no Bogu and his opponent attacks Men repeatedly. Watch the speed of his action, I don't think his opponent was able to touch him but once, the rest of the time, he hit his Do, Kote or Men, (*) or a combination of these. Obviously, these guys enjoyed this greatly, and I myself really enjoyed watching them. 

Some experts will say that this would not have been practiced by real samurai, that because the Shinai is longer than a real Katana, and that is has no curvature, too much practice with the Shinai would create bad habits that would kill you on the battle field. And there is some truth to this. It is said that Yamaoka Tesshu liked to practice with very short swords for this reason. 

It is also said that when Miyamoto Musashi had to fight the famous Sasaki Kojiro who was using a very long sword (the drying pole) he carved an even longer Boken out of an oar and beat him with it.

Watch carefully this video and ask yourself honestly, would you really feel comfortable with your real sword fighting this little yellow devil armed with a wooden Boken

The best Martial Art is the one you master.

Merry Christmas to all

Terminology :  

Do, Kote and Men are approved targets in Kendo : they are the sides and front of the abdomen, the wrists, and the top of the head. 
A Bogu is the armour used in Kendo to spar.
A Shinai is the flexible bamboo sword used in the Kendo video.
A Boken is a wooden sword the size of a real Katana sword, also used in Kendo and Kenjutsu Training.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Practice Sheet

To really improve a waza (or technique), it is better to practice it at least 10 times in a row. This allows to pay more attention to details, how to move a foot at the beginning in order to raise faster, how to shift weight, open hips or not... This can only be achieved by repeating the move again and again, and by paying great attention to the actual feelings in the joints and muscles...

At the Dojo, the students generally practice each waza 3 or 4 times to allow the instructor to correct them, and then get to another one. It is their job, back home, to practice again and again, to try to adjust the move based on the instructor's remarks, so it becomes a sort of second nature.

It is difficult to remember from one week to the other what we practice. As each one of us has preferred moves, and moves we don't particularly like for different reasons, it is very easy to practice certain moves a lot, and forget some others.This should be avoided.

I created this Practice Sheet to record one's practice. It is easy to use. Whenever you practice one waza 10 times, you draw a small line on the row in front of it. It is an easy way to visualize your training.

In this example, I recorded 70 Seiza Mae, 30 Seiza Migi, 30 Seiza Hidari, 30 Seiza Ushiro and 50 Yaegaki Omote

This document is public. Feel free to download it and use it to help your practice.

The waza I listed are the ones we practice at the Yoshukai Dojo in Dothan, Alabama, USA. As you probably practice other waza, you can modify this document to fit your needs. 

Have fun, Train hard.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Self Defense practice

5 weeks ago I attended a Black Belt test in Auburn. 

Yoshukai Karate testing includes a pre-arranged self-defense demonstration. Two partners attack the testing student who demonstrate in front of the judges his ability to get rid of them.

Over the years I have seen improvement in the level of proficiency students display. However, there are still too often people perform highly impractical moves, techniques that would result in getting their asses seriously kicked - or worse - if they were to use them in the street to actually defend themselves. 

Often  the problem lies with their instructors who may either not be very knowledgeable on this matter, (Yes, it happens...) or might not be demanding enough of their students when they let them test.

If your instructor lets you believe that you are sufficiently proficient in your art to be  able to actually defend yourself, when you actually are not; he is actually failing you, and if your goal in practicing Martial Arts is to be able to defend yourself, you should look somewhere else for better instruction.

However, at the end of the day, no matter how talented your instructor is, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure you can actually defend yourself by using proper techniques. You, and only You can train and make sure you are up to the challenge.

So how do you know ?

There is a very easy way to test your self defense. Once you have decided what move you want to use on which attack, find someone - if at all possible 50 lb heavier than you - who has no idea what you are going to do, and ask them to attack you. As he or she does not know what you intend to do, he or she will not be able to help and you'll see if your move would actually work or not.

If it works, keep it. If it does not work, change it. Your move might be a valid one, in need of some adjustment - timing, distance, angle, to make it work. Figure them out.  It might also be totally out of touch with reality, in that case, simply drop it and find something better.

One last thing... Remember that no matter how good you are, there will always be someone better than you. Don't be cocky. 

Taido o imashimubeshi

(be prudent in actions...)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Terminology : Katana, Tō, Tsurugi and Ken


         The complexity of Japanese terminology is a constant source of aggravation and wonders... The same Character can very often be pronounced in very different ways (Also 2 different characters may have the same pronounciation...)  When it comes to sword, 2 words come back very often "To" and "Ken"
They are found for example in Junto sono ichi (First waza of the Batto-ho set of MJER) and in Shinmyoken (9th waza of the Tachiuchi no Kurai set of MJER).
However, to make things even more complicated for us poor Gaijin, other words such as Katana and Tachi come up on a regular basis...

Let's try to clarify some of this :

The Character reads Katana in Japanese and Tō in Chinese. It is found in the Japanese words :
  • Bokutō (木刀) : wooden Sword.
  • Iaitō (居合刀) : sword to practice iaidō
  • Nihontō (日本刀) : Japanese swords
  • Battō-jutsu (抜刀術) : art of sword drawing

The Character reads Tsurugi in Japanese and Ken in Chinese. It is found in the Japanese words :
  • Bokken ( 木剣) : wooden sword.
  • Shinken (真⁠剣) : live (sharp) sword.
  • Kendō (剣道) : way of the sword.
  • Kenshi (剣士) : swordsman.

Originally (Chinese Ken; Japanese Tsurugi ) was used to designate a double-edged Sword, and (Chinese Tō; Japanese Katana ) a single-edged one. 

Type of Sword

Naginata - Tsurugi - Tanto - Uchi Katana- Tachi

Although the single-edged curved blade has been used in Japan for over a millennium, the usage of (Chinese tō ; Japanese katana - single edge sword), is much less common in pre-modern Japan (before the 1868 Meiji Restoration)  than the usage of (Chinese ken ; Japanese tsurugi - Double edged straight sword). Thus, in pre-modern Japan, swordsmanship was more often referred to as kenjutsu, kendō, kengi, gekken, and other terms rather than tōjutsu, tōhō, etc.

After the Meiji Restoration, the modernized variants of Japanese swordsmanship have been referred to exclusively with the character (ken ).

The Tsurugi  is the Japanese version of the Chinese Jian Sword - It was originally used in Japan until the Single-edged saber (Katana) was introduced around the 11th century. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Studying the Sutras...

In one of his exchange with the assembly, Master Bankei was asked by his disciple Itsuzan :

"Is it helpful for students to look through the Buddhist Sutras and Zen records ?"

Bankei's answer was :

"There is a time for reading the Zen records. If you read them or the sutras while you are still seeking the meaning contained in them, you'll only blind yourself. When you read them after having transcended that meaning, they become proof of your attainment"

Some people are very knowledgeable about the Bible, the Diamond or the Heart Sutra. They can quote them, it is always impressive. In fact, as I am not as knowledgeable as they are, I would not know if they lied, were simply mistaken, or  "mis-spoke" as I heard a politician say not very long ago...

One day some guy says something that sounds interesting to those who hear it. They repeat it, change it, transcribe it, translate it... There are errors in translations and values, ethics or uses evolve. And little by little things can become pretty poorly understood. This happens all the time. 

I read last week a short essay entitled "The Myth in Zen in the Art of Archery" by Yamada Shoji. 

"Zen in the Art of Archery" was originally written in German by Eugen Herrigel, a German professor who taught philosophy and studied Kyūdō (the art of the Japanese bow) in Japan between 1924 to 1929.

In 1948, back in Germany, Herrigel published his book about his experiences.  Translated into English in 1953 and Japanese in 1955, it became the international reference about the philosophy of Kyudo. In it, Herrigel explains - very convincingly - how Zen is central to the practice of Kyudo. 

The only problem is : Master Awa Kenzo (The Kyudo instuctor) had never practiced Zen, and in his essay, Yamada Shoji explains how in 2 specific and crucial occasions, Herrigel wrongly interpreted the sayings of his instructors due probably to the fact that he was not totally fluent in Japanese. 

So on the base of false assumptions beautifully detailed by Herrigel in his book, generations of Martial Artists have firmly believed that Zen is central to the practice of Martial Arts.

Not that Zen cannot help the martial artist improve; actually, it can. But Zen is not necessary and numerous great Budo masters were or are not Zenists. But if this kind of things can happen between 1924 and 1948, you can imagine what may have been lost, or embellished between the 6th century when Boddhidharma went to China, and our 21st century...

This maybe why Bankei had strictly forbidden anyone to transcribe his teachings. To avoid this kind of mistakes. Of course they did transcribe them...

Scriptures are good, they are however simply the recording of something that happened in the past, in a situation that was not exactly the same as your situation today. It is your responsibility to figure out things for yourself. It can't be helped...


Friday, September 14, 2012

The Last Words of Huineng

As I was sharing with Elliston Roshi my sorrow at the passing of Shimabukuro Hanshi, he suggested I checked what Hui Neng had to say about his own passing, about 1200 years ago. I happened to be reading in Heinrich Dumoulin's “Zen Buddhism, a history – India and China.“ the part about Hui Neng, the 6th Patriarch of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, who was an extremely influential figure of the development of Buddhist Zen in China. 

As he knew his death was coming, Hui Neng addressed his disciples in this way :

" Good bye, all of you. I shall depart from you now. After I am gone, do not weep worldly tears, nor accept condolences, money, and silks from people, do not wear mourning garments, If you did so, it would not accord with the sacred Dharma, nor would you be true disciples of mine. Be the same as you would if I were here. And sit all together in meditation. If you are only peacefully calm and quiet, without motion, without stillness, without birth, without destruction, without coming, without going - this then is the great Way. After I have gone, just practice according to the Dharma in the same way that you did on the days that I was with you. Even though I were still to be in this world, if you went against the teachings, there would be no use in my having stayed here. "

The Cherry Blossom is to flowers, 
what the Samurai is to men.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Amazing research proves that training works !

In an experiment published by the Oxford Journal, British neuroscientists from the Centre for Neuroscience, Imperial College London compared the behavior and brain structure of a control group of individuals  - never involved with Martial Arts - with a group of karate black belts.

"Using 3D motion tracking, we investigated whether the ability to control ballistic arm movements was associated with differences in white matter microstructure. We found that karate experts are better able than novices to coordinate the timing of inter-segmental joint velocities" (in Individual Differences in Expert Motor Coordination Associated with White Matter Microstructure in the Cerebellum)

Translation : The Karateka punch faster...

Ouch !

Now this is amazing, Training works... If it were only for that, that study would represent a waste of lots of money and effort. There is an interesting aspect to this though : " the ability to control ballistic arm movements was associated with differences in white matter microstructure. " Translation : Training  locally modifies the structure of white matter in the brain. 

There are in the brain 2 types of matter : Grey and White, and apparently, the structure of that White matter is modified by training.

Then in another study published by the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, research found that Medittion involved changes in the white matter.

"In our work, we found that a form of mindfulness meditation, integrative body–mind training (IBMT), improved FA in areas surrounding the anterior cingulate cortex after 4-wk training more than controls given relaxation training. " (in Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation)

Translation : Meditation changes the way white matter operates

Note that they don't say that the structure is changed, but that there are changes in the Way White matter operates. I tend to believe that changes in Functions are generally related to changes in Form - but I then, am no neuroscientist.

It is nevertheless interesting to link both information : 
  • Training in Martial Arts modifies - locally - the structure of White matter in the Brain, and 
  • Training in Meditation modifies the way This White matter operates.

This could mean that meditation is profitable to Martial Artists, and explain why some famous Sword masters were also practicing Zen (Miyamoto Musashi, Yamaoka Tesshu, Yagyu Munenori...)

This is also a good indication that practicing Martial Arts (or other physical activity developing speed and accuracy) would be profitable to Meditators...

Get off your butts...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Masayuki Shimabukuro Hanshi (1948 - 2012)

It is with great sadness that I learned that Masayuki Shimabukuro Hanshi passed last Saturday September 8. 

Masayuki Hidenobu Shimabukuro Hanshi was born in March 1948 in Osaka, Japan and began his sword training in 1975 under the direct supervision of Miura Takeyuki Hidefusa, Hanshi, 20th generation Grand'Master of Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu.

As International Chairman of the Nippon Kobudo Jikishin-kai under Miura Hanshi, and for the Iai-do and Batto-do divisions of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai,Shimabukuro Sensei was in charge of the dissemination of authentic Eishin-ryu Samurai swordsmanship outside of Japan.

Masayuki Shimabukuro Hanshi was ranked 8th dan in Muso Jikiden Eishin-Ryu Iaijutsu, 8th dan Shito-ryu Karate-do, 7th dan in Shindo Muso-Ryu Jojutsu and he held the title of Hanshi - the highest title one can achieve in the Traditional Japanese Martial Arts - in both Iaido and Karate-do.

Demonstration Venezuela 2007

Not all Masters are nice. Shimabukuro Hanshi was a wonderful person. I only met him in 3 occasions, and - beside his technical expertise - I was deeply impressed by his human qualities : kindness, humility and patience. He was also a good cook !

All of us his students will deeply miss him. 

The best way to now honor his memory is to train hard, improve our practice and polish our spirits to continue the transmission of the Art he was teaching us. 

With deepest bows...


Saturday, August 25, 2012

Writings of Suzuki Shosan - II

A warrior asked Suzuki Shosan, "They say the law of Buddha and the law of the world are like the two wheels of a chariot. But nothing would be lacking in the world even without Buddhism. Why liken them to two wheels of a chariot?”

Shosan replied, ‘The law of Buddha and the law of the world are not two separate things. According to a saying of Buddha, if you can enter the world successfully there is nothing more to leaving the world.

Whether Buddhism or worldly law, there is nothing more than reasoning correctly, acting justly, and practicing honesty.

There are differences in depth of honesty. Not twisting reason, preserving justice, correctness in social relations, not crossing people, not being egotistical - these constitute honesty in the worldly sense. This is a way into the deep via the shallow.

Honesty in the context of Buddhism means realizing that all conditioned phenomena are illusions, and using the original reality-body in its natural state. This is true honesty.

The fact is that the ordinary people are very sick patients, while the Buddha is a very great physician. Ordinary people ought to recognize sickness first. In the ignorant mind that fluctuates, there is the sickness of delusion, there are sicknesses of greed and false views, there are sicknesses of weakness and injustice. Based on the mind infected by the three poisons, there are diseases of eighty-four thousand afflictions. Getting rid of this mind is called Buddhism. How is this any different from worldly law?

People who attain the Way know the principle of fundamental emptiness, use principle and duty as a forge to temper this mind day and night, get rid of the residue of impurities, make it a pure unhindered mind-sword, cut through the root of selfish and obsessive thoughts, overcome all thoughts, surmount everything, and are unfazed by anything, unborn and undying. These are called people of the Way.

Now, then, ordinary people are those who take the falsehood of illusions to be true, produce a selfish mind attached to what has form, develop greedy, angry, and ignorant thoughts, create all sorts of afflictions and lose their basic mind, always distracted, overcome by thoughts as they occur, racking their brains and belaboring their bodies, without buoyancy of mind, vainly passing the time benighted, alienated from themselves and fixated on things. This is called the mind of ordinary people.

That being so, you should know the different terms for the original mind. It is called the adamantine actuality, the indestructible body of reality, This mind is not hung up on things; it is unafraid, unshakable, undismayed, unfazed, undisturbed, and unchanged, master of all. Those who realize this and use it effectively are called great; they are said to have iron guts, and to have attained the Way. People like this are not obstructed by myriad thoughts; able to let go of all things, they are very independent.

However, people who would practice the Way of Buddha will be unable to succeed unless they have an intrepid mind first. It is impossible to gain access to the Way of Buddha with a weak mind. If you are not rigorously observant and do not practice vigorously, you will experience misery along with those afflictions.

One who overcomes all things with a firm mind is called a wayfarer. One who has thoughts fixated on appearances, is burdened by everything, and so suffers misery is called an ordinary person.

So people who work up the courage of violence with an afflicted mind may have the force to’ break through iron walls for the moment, but violence ‘eventually comes to an end. The mind of a strong person, being immovable, does not change. If men who are warriors cultivate this, why would they not attain a strong mind?

Even people of outstanding heroism, when the killing demon of impermanence comes lose their usual power, their ferocity, and ability to exert any effort. When they try to open their eyes they cannot see anything; their ears can't hear, their tongues shrivel and can't speak. When the killing demon enters the heart and destroys the internal organs, breathing becomes difficult, pain invades their bodies, and under it they become unable to overcome and kill the demon of impermanence, unable to bear the great hardships of the mountain of death, drowning in the river between here and the afterlife, shamed at the court of the king of death, falling forever into the three evils and four dispositions, disgraced generation to generation, lifetime after lifetime, as self and as other, unable to escape. 

Would you say this disgrace is insignificant because shallow people don’t know of it ? Even in the illusory human society disgrace is nothing to take lightly; how much the more so is eternal disgrace ?

Can someone ignorant of this logic be called someone who knows principle or embodies justice? Think ahead before you act.

If you know the principle, you should fear it. If you embody justice, use the fierce and firm mind-sword to cut down the enemy of birth and death and live in great peace.”

Somehow, this story reminds me of the - probably apocryphal - episode of the viper coming upon Takuan Soho and Miyamoto Musashi meditating together.

How about that ?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Suzuki Shosan quotes - I

Suzuki Shosan is among the most dramatic personalities in the history of Zen. Born in the province of Misawa (present day Aichi Prefecture) in 1579, he became a retainer of Tokugawa Ieyasu (1541-1616), who unified Japan after the battle of Sekigahara. At age 41, after being enlightened by deities claiming to be the Nió, the guardians of the temple gate, he became a monk and developed a highly original teaching style strongly imbued with the warrior spirit. The warrior’s life, Shosan believed, was particularly suited to Zen study because it demanded vitality, courage, and "death energy," the readiness to confront death at any moment. Emphasizing dynamic activity over quiet contemplation, Shosan urged students to realize enlightenment in the midst of their daily life.

Advice to warriors :
Do your job with your mind as taut as an iron bow strung with wire. This is the same as Zen meditation.

Use your mind strongly even when you walk down the street, such that you wouldn’t even blink if someone unexpectedly thrust a lance at your nose. All warriors should at all time be in such state of mind in everyday life.

There is a practice designed to enter the Way of Buddha by means of your profession. You should apply this idea, that a man born in a house of valor, polishing a sword and sporting a bow, should always exert the strongest attention, as if he were marching right into an army of ten million men.

The strongest men and the greatest martial arts masters are born that way, so no effort can attain that; but when it comes to exerting our whole heart and disregarding our lives, to whom should we be inferior? No one should think he’ll lose, even to the greatest warriors. Why is that? Because if you back off such a person, who will back off you?

Thus consider that you are always on duty, required to firmly apply your full attention. If you slack off, you’re useless. 

Remember such a stable and firm attitude is itself meditation practice. There is no other method of concentration to seek. Buddhism itself is about applying full attention steadily, without being disturbed by external things. Developing a confident attitude that is never pained or vexed or worried or saddened or altered or frightened is called attaining Buddhahood.

There are those who discuss the amount of rewards and size of entitlement of those who have exercised considerable military ability, put their lives on the line, ground down their bones, and become famous. They are foolish! Why not do a warrior’s deed, costly though it be, for the sake of loyalty? People who think of rewards are nothing but military merchants.

There are myriad different methods of practice, but essentially they amount to no more than overcoming thoughts of yourself. The source of suffering is ego, the thought of self. To know this is reason. Once you know the reason for suffering, your sense of duty evokes effort to extinguish the thought of self with a genuine courageous mind. Fools can’t understand the source of misery and happiness; people without a sense of duty cannot break the bonds of life and death.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Fighting Man of Japan

I edited and uploaded onto Scribd.com a very interesting book which had been  poorly scanned by Google. Written by F.J. Norman, a British officer who had spent years in Japan at the end of the 19th century, this book entitled " THE FIGHTING MAN OF JAPAN - The training and exercises of the Samurai" describes the Military Training and Education in post Meiji Restoration Japan.

Chapters III and IV are particularly interesting as they respectively treat of Kenjutsu and Ju Jutsu. The author had the rare honor and privilege of probably being the first Westerner admitted to train at high level in these 2 noble arts; and in the process he also became friend with the last Tokugawa Shogun 's Maitre d'Armes...

Full contact Kendo...

You can read or dowload this book at http://www.scribd.com/doc/99921047/Fighting-Man-of-Japan.

Friday, July 13, 2012

TAI CHI increases Brain Size, Improves memory and mental skills

An article published in June 2012 in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reports the results of an 8-month randomized controlled trial comparing 120 Chinese seniors who practiced Tai Chi three times a week to a group who did not. The research was carried out by scientists from the University of South Florida (Florida, USA) and Fudan University (China). 

The researchers observed that the subjects who practiced Tai Chi experienced increases in brain volume and improvements on tests of memory and thinking, as compared to a control group that participated in lively discussions three times per week over the same time period.

The control group also displayed brain shrinkage over the study period, consistent with what generally has been observed for persons in their 60s and 70s. 

The study authors report that these findings “show increases in brain volume and improvements in cognition with a largely non-aerobic exercise (Tai Chi).”


Tai Chi classes are offered on Tuesday and Thursday morning at Westgate Park and on Thursday Evening at the Yoshukai Karate Studio in Dothan, AL
for more information contact frederic.lecut@gmail.com

Friday, June 22, 2012

Mechanics of breathing

The following is a very simplified explanation of the mechanics of breathing. To get this kind of understanding may help you develop greater awareness of what you actually do when breathing. 
There are 3 basic ways to breathe. Some are better adapted to different types of activity. 
Read this and experiment. In a later post I will propose some basic exercises.

Basic Architecture of the Torso :

The Chest at the top contains the Lungs and Heart. The Chest is a cavity formed by the spine in the back, the sternum in the front, and 12 pairs of ribs on the sides.

Under the Chest the Abdomen contains the digestive organs : stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, intestine; the kidneys and bladder, and the reproductive organs.

Chest and Abdomen are separated by the Diaphragm, a flat muscle shaped as a dome. In the center of the diaphragm is a hole through which run the esophagus and some veins and arteries. The shape of the diaphragm is modified during breathing. Inhalation corresponds to a flattening of the diaphragm. 

The lungs located inside the ribcage have the general shape of a bell. Their structure is similar to that of a sponge and they are elastic. Muscular action can stretch or compress the lungs, (exhalation or inhalation). When the muscular action ceases, the lungs revert to their original shape and volume. If you try to force yourself into inhaling lots of air, and then relax, your lungs will naturally empty. If you try to force yourself into emptying your lungs as much as you can, when you relax, air will naturally fill them up again.

The digestive organs in the abdomen are not elastic. Their shape and position can be changed by muscular action, but not their volume. Separated from the lungs by the diaphragm, they act as a sort of piston which can move up or down under the lungs, pushing or pulling them up or down.

There are 3 basic ways to modify the shape of the lungs :
  1. lifting or lowering the chest.
  2. expanding or squeezing the bottom of the chest.
  3. raising or lowering the digestive organs.

  1. Lifting or lowering your chest : Inhale by raising your chest : straighten your spine and lift your ribs; exhale by letting your ribs fall and rolling your spine down. This is the shallowest kind of breathing, there is not much room for expansion of the top of the lungs.

  1. Vary the diameter of your chest. By expanding or squeezing your lower rib cage sideways. This is a deep way to breathe. The ribcage can expand quite a bit sideways, and the bottom of the lungs can expand a lot to inhale lots of air.

  1. Upward or downward movement of your abdominal organs, through action of your abdominal muscles..

Exhalation happens by contracting one's lower abdominal muscles. This action lifts the guts. They push the diaphragm and the lungs upward. This type of breathing is very adapted to intense activity such as fighting where emphasis should be made on short forced exhalation through contraction of the abdominal muscles. Inhalation just happens by itself in between each exhalation. 


Inhalation is produced by contracting the higher abdominal muscles. This pushes the guts downward, which pulls the diaphragm and the bottom of the lungs down. This way of breathing is less common. It does not allow for a very deep breathing, because the same action that pushes the guts down also limits the ability of the chest to expand laterally, but for some non-mechanical reasons, it is very interesting for meditative purpose.

Of course, it is possible to combine these actions, and practically we very often do it. For example, when we are out of breathe, we combine lifting and lateral expansion of our ribcage in order to inhale huge quantities of air. Or when we sneeze, we roll our spine to the front to lower our ribcage, and contract all muscle groups that squeeze the chest and push the guts upward.

In a later post, I will propose a few exercises. for now I suggest you try to figure these 3 modes out by yourself. 

Have fun...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The amazing Race to Enlightenment !

This week, on the amazing "Race to Enlightenment", can Jim and Suzy achieve right mindfulness ? And will Joe and Candy be eliminated for relentless clinging to the self ?

This is funny - and then, when I see on the net that some (self-appointed ?) Roshi guarantee enlightenment to their disciples, it reminds me of the scam of the "Black Belt Clubs" of certain martial classes, where you pay a hefty fee when you join (10 years ago about $2,000.00) to be a proud member of the exclusive club. 

This gives you the right to wear a special cool patch on your Uniform,

and to see your future Black belt, with your name embroidered on it proudly displayed on the dojo wall, waiting for you to test for it...

Like Great Master (Chief Inspector) Clouseau would have put it :

The old Black Belt Club ploy...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

I’ll still be here to guide you

As some of you may know, I have a personal connection and appreciation for Korea. I have learned a lot in that country. One day I will expand on that.

Daehaeng Kun Sunim passed a few weeks ago after an amazing life. She was a Korean Seon (Zen) Master. She was self enlightened, as the 6th patriarch Hui Neng was. Or Bankei Yotaku was. She had a very difficult Childhood in Korea when the communist troops invaded the Southern part of the Peninsula. Like Bankei before her, she puts emphasis in her teaching on simple things, trying to soothe suffering for others. She does not use complicated concepts but speaks simple words of love and compassion. Expressed in a plain, simple and direct language that anyone can understand, her Zen is refreshingly clear and simple. You don't have to be learned, live in a monastery or even necessarily consider yourself a Buddhist to effectively practice it.

The following comes from one of her Dharma talks. According to the author, although it may be tempting to think that she's speaking in metaphors, she isn't. She once gave him a fierce look and said, "I always keep my promises!" :-)

Let me talk about one more thing before we end today’s talk: Some of you are worried about what happens after I pass away, that I won’t be here to guide you. Right? However, because you are practicing and learning to rely upon your fundamental mind, I will always be with you, just as if I was alive. No..., not “as if.” I will be there, alive. Even now, I often leave this body behind to go take care of things. So if I need “this” shape to help save people, I go use this shape. When I need “that” the shape to help save people, I use that shape. If the shape of an old monk is needed, that’s shape I take. If a beggar is needed, then I go become a beggar. If a bug is necessary, I become a bug. Could you call any of these shapes me? No. “I” don’t exist. Not even a little bit. Not even now. If you all work hard and deepen your practice, what is there that you couldn’t do?! So there’s nothing for you to worry about!

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