Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Last Samurai was French !

I loved the Last Samurai movie, and think Tom Cruise did a great job in it.

I learned a few weeks ago, from a fellow Iaido student that the story of Nathan Algren was actually inspired from the life of an actual French Army officer named Jules Brunet.

Brunet was part of a first military Mission sent by the French government to Japan to modernize the troops of the Shogun in 1867.

Jules Brunet in 1890

In 1868, the Shogun was overthrown in the Boshin War, the Emperor Meiji was restored to full power and the French military mission was ordered to leave Japan by Imperial decree.

However, Brunet chose to remain with the faction loyal to the Shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu , also favorable to the Interests of France.  He resigned - actually deserted - from the French army, and left for northern Japan with the remains of the Shogunate's armies to help them organize the resistance to the imperial troops.

Jules Brunet and his Samurai Team

When the troops loyal to the Shogun were decimated, Brunet managed to board a ship and sail back to France where he was court martialed for his desertion. As he was immensely popular in France, where newspapers had published his story, he  just received a 6 month time out sentence, after which he was reinstated and promoted in the Armed Forces. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Spirit of KI

This is a second extract of an article by Zen Master Matsuoka Roshi. Matsuoka Roshi was the instructor of Taiun Elliston Roshi, Abbott of the Atlanta Soto Zen Center and founder of the Silent Thunder Order. Matsuoka Roshi's teachings have been recording in 2 books : "Mokurai" and "the Kyosaku" (Now available for downloading). This part is specifically about the spirit of "KI" (CHI of QI in Chinese). The way Matsuoka Roshi explains KI is down to earth, intuitive and very easy to grasp.

             The spirit of “ki” in the Martial Arts is very important. When your mental condition is imperfect or clouded, you cannot use your whole potential. But, when your mind, or heart, or spirit, is completely pure and clear and calm, your action will be spontaneous and contain boundless power. If your mind is clear, your opponent will not be able to predict when you will attack, or defend, or what technique you may use.

To understand this further, imagine a father sitting beside his young baby. The father can look into the infant’s face and see only pure, clear eyes. The father will never be able to see that in the next moment the baby will hit him in childish gesture. And yet, the baby hits his father unexpectedly. The father simply could not foresee that his son would strike, in the baby’s innocent face. The baby’s mind is clear and pure. Such a young child does not plan or think to hit his father a moment later. He just hits when the impulse strikes him. He acts naturally, spontaneously.

If your mind is as clear as a young child’s, neither will your opponent be able to foresee your next technique. Your action will flow harmoniously from a union of your mind, your body and your spirit. Your pure mind or spirit will conquer your opponent. And your pure mind will come to you from Zen. 

          I would like to add to Matsuoka Roshi what I have learned from my own experience - when you act in the same way the baby acts, not only will your opponent know what you are going to do, but neither do you, actually, once you did act, you might not even be quite sure about what you did. Actually, you did not do anything. Whatever happened happened through you, without you really trying to make it happen. This is what is called the "Samadhi of Action".

          It would be a mistake to believe that such thing could ever occur without serious training...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bankei on Yari fighting II

Poem by Zen Master Bankei : 

Instructions to the Layman Gesso in Response to his Questions on the Technique of the Lance

The Great Function manifests itself without fixed rules

Meeting each situation on its own terms,

it's never too soon, never too late

Thrusting, retracting, advancing, retreating—

it all takes place beyond the realm of thought

When you're in harmony with Mind,

arms and legs operate on their own

The Great Function described by numerous Zen Masters  is the ability to react naturally to any situation. During combat, it is important to not have to think about what one should do next, in order to let the body act intuitively, without being submitted to the judgment of the intellect which makes everything slower. 

This Great Function has two components : Serenity, absence of concern regarding the issue of the confrontation; and Mastery of the technical aspects of combat. 

Both qualities are the result of hard and dedicated practice on spiritual, mental and physical planes. 

We manifest in this Universe under the form of a physical Body. The only way we have to progress is to use it to reach the point when the Great Function manifests itself. Passed a certain limit, intellect becomes a hindrance. Only personal practice and actual realization can help us on our way. The only tool we have is our Body. 

Master Bankei was born in 1622, 22 years after the famous battle of Sekigahara. At the beginning of the Tokugawa Shogunate, a great number of masterless Samurai still used their military skills to make a living as bodyguards (See Toshiro Mifune's movie : Yojimbo), law enforcement officers, or gangsters...

Friday, March 2, 2012

The General and his Vase

Once upon a time, in old China, a great general retired after many years of military service. As he wanted to stay busy, he decided to start collecting antiques.
One evening, he sat in his study to admire his latest acquisition:  a small, very beautiful (and pricey) porcelain vase. Observing it under the sunset light, he rejoyced at the exquisite patterns the ancient craftsmen had worked into it.
Suddenly, a careless move and the vase slipped from his hands. He tried to catch it, but its slick surface was hard to grasp. As the vase was falling, the general dove down to catch it before it reached the floor. A close call, but he managed to stop the fall inches from the disaster!
The general's heart was pounding hard and fast. His breathing was frantic. Carefully holding the vase, he slowly stood up, sat at his table and relaxed.
He felt so relieved he had prevented the loss. 
Still, something was not right. He should have been elated, but only felt puzzled. 

"In all my campaigns," he thought to himself, "in all these years, charging the enemy, leading my men into battle, at times facing armies much bigger than mine… I have never felt such fear as I just now did, realizing I very well might lose this vase ..."

The General looked at the vase again, a most beautiful object indeed. Smiling, he opened his fingers. 

The vase dropped and shattered into pieces.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Eight Main Psychic Channels

The 8 Main Psychic Channels - or Vessels - are important to know, because they are much easier to visualize than the 26 channels or Meridians of traditional acupuncture.

Basically, there are : 

  • 3 channels on the Torso : One vertical in the Back, one vertical in the Front, one horizontal around the waist; 
  • one vertical channel inside the Torso, 
  • one channel on the outside, and one on the inside of each Limb. 

This is quite easy to remember.

  • Tu Mo follows the middle line of the back.
  • Jen Mo follows the middle line of the front.
  • Tai Mo is a circle at the waist.
  • Chung Mo raises inside the body from the perineum up to the Heart.
  • Yang Yao runs along the outside of the arms.
  • Yin Yao runs along the Inside of the arm.
  • Yang Chiao runs along the outside of the leg.
  • Yin Chiao runs on the inside of the leg

Du Mo - Governor Vessel
Ren Mo - Conception Vessel

Knowledge of these 2 Tu Mo and Jen Mo vessels can be very profitable to the actual PRACTICE of  Zen and Budo to help improve health and ability to focus. We will in later posts describe a few exercises to this effect. In Karate, Sanchin Kata should be performed while keeping in mind the path of these Governor and Conception vessels. 


Tai Mo - Belt Vessel

Chong Mo - Thrusting Vessel

These 2 Belt and Thrusting vessels are not often mentioned in Classical Acupuncture (I know, if you are a genuine acupuncturist, you won't agree. Sorry,  this is not a blog about acupuncture...) 


Yang Yao - Yang Arm Vessel - runs along the outside of the Arm.

Yin Yao - Yin Arm Vessel, runs on the inside of the Arm.


Yang Chiao - Yang Leg Vessel - runs along the outside of the Leg.

Yin Chao -  Yin Leg Vessel - rus on the inside of the leg

These 6 vessels are important to memorize. We will use them for various exercises.

The following Notes are for Acupuncture Nerds

Note 1 : Correlation with the 12 organs Meridians :

Basically, for those of you familiar with traditional Chinese Acupuncture, the 2 new things are the Belt (Tai Mo) and Thrust (Chung Mo) Channels. You already are familiar with the Governor and Conception Channels, and the Positive and Negative Arm and Leg Vessels are a “compilation” of the Yang and Yin Meridians of the Arm and Legs. Yang Yao : Large and Small Intestines, Triple heater meridians; Yin Yao : Heart, Lungs and Pericadium meridians; Yang Chiao : Stomach, Gall Bladder and Urinary Bladder meridians; Yin Chiao : Kidneys, Liver and Spleen meridians.

Note 2 : Detailed description of the 8 Psychic Channels :

  1. the Tu Mo or Governor channel rises from the perineum (between the genitals and anus) and passes through the coccyx up the backbone to the brain;
  2. the Jen Mo or Conception channel rises from the perineum and goes up along the belly, passes through the navel, the pit of the stomach, the chest and throat before going up to the brain;
  3. the Tai Mo or belt channel from both sides of the navel forms a belt which circles the belly;
  4. the Ch'ung Mo or thrusting channel rises from the perineum, goes up between the tu mo and jen mo channels and ends in the heart;
  5. the Yang Yao or positive arm channels in the outer sides of both arms link both shoulders with the centres of the palms after passing through the middle fingers;
  6. the Yin Yao or negative arm channels in the inner sides of both arms link the centres of the palms with the chest;
  7. the Yang Chiao or positive leg channels rise from the centres of the soles and turn along the outer sides of the ankles and legs before reaching the perineum where they connect with other channels; and
  8. the Yin Chiao or negative leg channels rise from the centres of the soles and turn along the inner sides of the ankles and legs before reaching the perineum where they connect with other channels.

Note 3 : Terminology :

The names of these channels vary a lot, I suppose depending upon different ways to translate Chinese. This is not that important for our purpose. What matters to us is to be able to visualize the path of these channels.

Tu Mo is also known as Du Mo or Du Mai, Control Channel or Governor Channel.
Jen Mo is also known as Ren Mo or Ren Mai, Function or Conception Channel.
Tai Mo is also known as Dai Mo, Belt or Girdle Channel.
Chung Mo is also known as Chong Mo, Chang Mo, Chong Mai, Thrusting or  Penetrating vessel
Yang Yao is also known as Yang Wei Mo, or Positive Arm Channel.
Yin Yao is also known as Yin Wei Mo or Negative Arm Channel.
Yang Chiao is also known as Yang Jiao Mo, Yang Qiao Mo, or Positive Leg Channel.
Yin Chiao is also known as Yin Jiao Mo, Yin Jiao Mo or Negative Leg Channel.