Monday, April 30, 2012

Arnica Montana

Last night, one student rushing to sweep me with o soto gari (this is the sweep used in Yoshukai Karate Ippon Kumite # 4), swept me sideways instead of backwards.

Needless to say, my knee did not appreciate this sideways bending. It popped, generating a rather sharp pain, I rolled to the ground holding my knee and immediately thought: "Well, there won't be any Karate or Sword for a loooong time...".

We quickly applied a cold pad on the joint, I was able to walk, and went to my bag where I had a tube of Arnica Gel. I rubbed it on my knee. The rubbing happened at hte lastest 5 minutes after the accident. AFter I came home, I applied more Arnica to my knee.

In the morning, there was no swelling of the knee, but I could not fully extend it, neither could I bend it more than 45 degrees without discomfort. At least, I could walk ! I took an extra serving of Glucosamine and Hyaluronic acid potion.

In the evening, I was able to teach a Iaido class, I practiced all waza standing up, no seiza or tatehiza today ! I was extremely suprised that I did not feel more discomfort.

It is possible that the injury was not very serious. However, I clearly felt the knee popping out of alignment, and could feel several times some parts move inside it, which did not use to.

I really believe this amazing healing is due to the very early use of this Arnica gel.

A few years ago, someone broke a Bo (1 3/4" Diamter) on my right ankle. ( I forgot to jump...) I thought it was broken. I immediately rubbed it with Arnica gel, there was no bruise the next day.

WHen you use this medicine, the main thing is to apply it very quickly after the injury. The faster you use it, the more efficient it is.

I usually bring my gel from Europe. However, you can get it now in the US at reasonable prices (under $10.00). Considering how efficient this is, I suggest you keep a tube of it in your bag.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Modern Taoist and Zen Practices

When Buddhism arrived in China, Taoism had been established there for a long time, with a tradition of spiritual practices somehow similar to the yogic meditative practices of India. The similarities between the 2 great traditions helped the spread of Buddhism in China. It was also the reason why Taoism greatly influenced the practices of Buddhism in general, and of Chan (that branch of Buddhism mostly interested in sitting meditation) in particular.

A clear example of this influence is to be found in the healing techniques  (So Cream method) described by 17th century Japanese Zen Master Hakuin in his Yasenkana. What Hakuin used to heal himself from what he called « Meditation disease » are classical Qi Gong techniques.

Unfortunately the influence of Taoism in Japanese Zen slowly decreased. There might be several reasons for this.

  • Taoism was usually not interested in being spread to the general population, so its higher teachings are usually recorded in very esoteric language that only initiates can understand.
  • Although there are clearly very valuable practices in Taoism, there are also lots of magical and superstitious practices detrimental to Meditation practices.
  • It may not have been easy to find qualified teachers.

This is unfortunate for us, who mostly have learned Zen through the Japanese influence, for some techniques developed by Taoists are very valuable to Zen practice.

Techniques that request the total participation of our bodies to harness the mind.

Even if harnessing the mind is not the goal, but a tool of Zen practice, it is an important one. The ability to quiet the mind – to harness the Monkey - can bring lots of relief to people who need that before they can concentrate on anything else. After all, most of us came to Zen because of a suffering induced by our inability to control our wandering mind.

Today, I see a strong intellectual current in Zen, people want to understand everything, they read complicated books about everything, and do not spend enough time practicing. I am not sure this is going in the right direction. There are limits to what can be achieved through intellectual understanding. Intellectual, analytical understanding uses systems of words and ideas to explain them. These ideas or words are just symbols, they point to the moon, they are not the moon, but we tend to believe they are the real thing, and we get lost. We are like some food critic who know everything about French cheeses, who could not taste the difference between a Camembert and a Roquefort. There is a time where you need to quit asking questions about this or that, and start doing it. Taoist techniques are here for that.

Most of Taoist practices are related to Qi Gong – a term that can be translated as «Exercises in Energy or Vital Force). Tai Chi – practiced for health purposes – is a Qi Gong. Our Karate Sanchin Kata is also a Qi Gong.

Taoists have developed coherent theories and terminologies to guide the practitioner and describe what is happening during practice. Some of these theories use are highly esoteric and possibly misleading. Fortunately, some of them are easier to use, and their understanding makes practice easier. So they are a good tool to achieve a goal. It does not mean that they are «true». They simply are a description of reality. Once again, the Map is not the Territory, but it can be useful to deal with it.

Note: The practice of the "So Cream" or "Soft Butter" described by Master Hakuin in Yasenkana is inspired from the basic Small Circulation practice of Taoist Yoga.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Hundred-Character Tablet of Ancestor Lu

Nurturing energy, forget words and guard it.
Conquer the mind through non-doing.
In activity and quietude, know the origin of the source.
There is no thing; what else do you seek?
Real constancy should respond to people;
in responding to people, it is essential not to get confused.
When you don't get confused, your nature is naturally stable; 
When your nature is stable, energy naturally returns.
When energy returns, elixir spontaneously crystallizes,
in the pot pairing water and fire.
Yin and yang arise, alternating over and over again,
everywhere producing the sound of thunder.
White clouds assemble on the summit,
sweet dew bathes the polar mountain.
Having drunk the wine of longevity,
you wander free; who can know you?
You sit and listen to the stringless tune,
you clearly understand the mechanism of creation. 

L  ü Yen (Lü Yan), also known as Lü Dong bin, is also called Lü Tsu, or "Ancestor Lü,” in recognition of his importance in Taoist history as the founder of the Taoist school of Complete Reality. He is believed to have lived by the end of the T'ang dynasty (618—905 C.E.). 

A huge body of literature is attributed to his spiritual inspiration. His own work, along with later writings ascribed to him, is particularly interesting for its integration of the 3 major Chinese disciplines of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism.