Thursday, February 28, 2013

The 9 Confucian Ways of Thinking


Even if they don't always know how it happened, most Westerners have heard about the influence of Zen and Taoism on traditional Asian Fighting Arts. 

What is less well know though, is the immense influence that Confucius had on them. 


Let me give you just one example :


Confucius elaborated on the concept of "thinking" by saying that if you wish to become a cultivated person you should possess nine ways of thinking, these being:

  1. when looking at something, think about seeing it clearly;
  2. when listening to something, think about hearing it clearly;
  3. when showing facial expressions, think about keeping a warm attitude;
  4. when behaving, think about keeping a manner of respect;
  5. when speaking, think about speaking honestly and plausibly;
  6. when conducting some business, think about doing it carefully;
  7. when you are puzzled or have a problem to solve, think about seeking advice from others;
  8. when becoming angry, think about calming yourself; and
  9. when seeing there is a profit to be made, think about whether it is proper to pursue that profit.

If you now consider the 5 precepts of Yoshukai Karate : 

Respect and Manners
Be prudent in Speech, 
Be prudent in action
Keep High spirit
Keep yourself clean

It becomes quite clear how much our arts were influenced by Master Kong...


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A cup of tea


In the early 20th century, Zen master Nan-in received a university professor who came to ask about Zen. But instead he only talked on and on about his own ideas.

Nan-in asked him if he'd like some tea. The professor agreed.

Nan-in brought the pot and cups and proceeded to pour his visitor’s cup full, and then, while the man continued to speak, Nan-in kept on pouring the tea.

The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself. “You fool! Can't you see it is overfull. No more will go in!”

Nan-in replied, “Like this cup, you are also too full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your mind?” 



There are several versions of this story. The protagonists may vary, it may be a different Zen master : Hakuin or Bodhidharma... The visitor, instead of a professor, may be  a high ranking Samurai or a Chinese Lord...





 

Some people are not interested in learning new things because they believe they know everything they need to know. Their cup is plain. 

It happens all the time in Martial Arts some Karate people don't think anything good can come from Judo, Wrestling, Boxing or MMA (and vice-versa).

But is is not limited to Martial Arts... Some people practice Zen, and don't want to hear about Vajrayana or Theravada Buddhism.

Generally speaking having your cup full is the mark of age. Younger people usually still have the ability - and willingness to learn...

Some brilliant elders have seen it all, and can't understand  that younger people might have the audacity and lack of common sense to question the way they teach and do things...
 
I am getting older too. And tired of wasting my time with this kind of people.  I won't be here forever and find it is a better use of my time and effort to try to share the little I know with "not so advanced people" who still have the humility and the willingness to learn. 

If you want to learn from me, empty your cup. If you are not interested, that is perfectly okay with me... 


Don't try to teach a pig how to sing - You'll waste your time, and you'll only aggravate the pig...



Saturday, February 23, 2013

The sound of a wet towel

"My Narrow Isle: The Story of a Modern Woman in Japan"  is the first part of the autobiography of Sumie Seo Mishima. She was born in Japan at the beginning of the XXth century in a Samurai Family, and received a western type of education in the US after World War I.

The end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth centuries were times of great changes in Japan. The society basically switched from a feudal to a westernized capitalistic structure in a matter of 2 generations.


At the beginning of her book, the author remembers how her younger sister's old nurse - whose husband had died in the wars of the Meiji Revolution - used to say: 

"Don't ever, ever flap a wet towel to dry it when you take a bath. It gives out a sound exactly like the sound of a human head struck off!"




The old lady and many of her generation had seen many human heads cut off and be displayed by the roadside...

The old woman was trying to remind young generations of the horrors of what had happened. Unfortunately this was not enough, and the same terrible things happened again a few decades later during the invasion of China by the Japanese troops. 

The tension brewing today between China and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands is - at least partially - fuelled by the remembrance of these atrocities. 


If we cannot learn from the past, we are doomed to repeat the same mistakes...

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Iai in Auburn


Travis Page Sensei invited me to teach a MJER Iai class at his Auburn Yoshukai  Karate Dojo yesterday, February 12, 2013.

Altogether 9 Yoshukai Karate students attended the class. Some of them had already trained with Patty Heath Sensei at the Dothan Dojo. Some of them were new to the Way of the Sword. 


We spent 2 hours together. First wie practised basics :  Nukitsuke & Kirioroshi, Chiburi & Noto; then the first 2 moves of the Batto-ho : Junto sono Ichi and Ni

Later on we switched to Kenjutsu with the first 2 Katachi waza : Deai and Tsukekomi.

When teaching to beginners, I concentrate on the big picture - I want the student to try to memorize the overall "form" of the waza. I am not pushing for perfection for I believe it is counterproductive at this level. I want the student to get an idea of what the whole move is about - so he can picture  himself in the action, and enjoy it !  I believe it is more important than boring them to death asking them to perform a perfect cut.



Sunday, February 3, 2013

I am under no obligation to teach you...

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The Cula-Malunkyovada Sutra

or Poisoned Arrow Sutra






Once upon a time the Buddha and a number of his disciples and followers were staying at a monastery, and the venerable Malunkyaputta was with him, training very diligently. As he was sitting in meditation the following thoughts came to him :

The Buddha has left quite a few important questions unanswered :
  • Is the Universe eternal, or is it not ?”
  • is the Universe infinite or finite? “
  • Are soul and body the same thing, or are they different ? “
  • After death does one exist, or does one not exist, or does one exist and does not exist at the same time, or does one neither exists nor does not exist ?”

I really do not approve that he does not take a clear position on these questions, and I'm going to ask him about these matters !
If he actually takes a clear position on these, then I will keep training under him. But if he does not take a clear position, then, I'm out of there !


So that evening, Malunkyaputta came out of his retreat. He went to the Buddha, bowed to him, sat beside him, and he asked : “Lord, as I was sitting in Meditation, that is what came to me :

I am not happy with the fact that you do not take position about a number of questions. So if you give me a clear answer about the question of the eternity of the Universe, or about existence or non-existence after death, then I will keep training under you. But if you don't, I'll quit and leave.

Lord, if You know whether the Universe is eternal or not, then tell me. But if you don't know, be straightforward about it and admit 'I don't know, I don't see'...
If you don't know whether there is a life after death or not, then be straightforward about it and tell me 'I don't know, I don't see.'”


The Buddha answered :

"Malunkyaputta, did I ever tell you, 'Come, and train with me, and I will tell you whether the Universe is or is not eternal or finite, and also whether there is life or not, or both, or neither, after death ?

"No, lord."


"And did you ever say to me, 'Lord, I'll train under you and in return you will tell me whether the Universe is or is not eternal or finite, and also whether after death there is existence, or not, or both, or neither ?

"No, lord."

"Well if that is the case, what possesses you moron to think you are entitled to demand anything from anyone ?

"Malunkyaputta, if anyone were to say, 'I won't train under the Buddha until he tells me that the Universe is eternal, or not... or that after death there is a life – or not;” this person would die before the Buddha would answer those questions.

Imagine that a man is wounded by a poisoned arrow and a surgeon is called to extract the arrow. And imagine that this man does not want the arrow removed until he knows everything about the man and the weapon that wounded him : the caste his aggressor belongs to, his given & clan names, his size, the color of his skin, his home town; whether he used a long bow or crossbow, the exact material of the bowstring, the nature of the arrow's shaft and feathers, the exact shape of the arrow head, and the way it is mounted... Well then ! This man would just die before he'd learn anything about these matters !

"In the same way, if anyone were to say, 'I won't train under the Buddha as long as he does not tell me whether the Universe is eternal or not, and if after death one's soul goes on or not, ' this man would die before the Buddha would answer these questions !

"Malunkyaputta, You don't have to know whether the universe is eternal or not in order to practice. No matter the answer to this question, there are still birth, aging and death, there are sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair & distress, and my teaching is about ending them.

And it is also true for the other questions : Whether the Universe is finite or not, whether soul and body are the same or different, whether there is existence or not, or both, or neither after death. No matter the answers to these questions, there is birth, aging and death, there is sorrow, lamentation, pain, despair, & distress and my teaching is about ending them.

"So, Malunkyaputta, keep in mind which questions I left unanswered, and which ones I answered. I did not say anything about the infinity or the eternity of the Universe, I did not say whether Soul and Body are or are not the same, and I did not say anything about a continuation of existence or lack of it, or both, or neither, after death.

And the reason I did not say anything about these things is that it would not help. Knowing about these things would not free you. And this is why I did not say anything about this.

And what is it that I teach ? I teach about suffering, about the cause of suffering, about the cessation of suffering, and about the path that leads to this cessation of suffering. And the reason I teach about this is that these teachings are fundamental to achieve our goal and realize our practice. These teachings and practice will free you.

"So, Malunkyaputta, remember which things I did not speak about, and which things I did.

Malunkyaputta was delighted and went back to his cushion.



Comments :

Beside the parabola of the poisoned arrow, which does not need any comment, as it is very eloquent, I see 2 important points made by the Buddha in this sutra.

When the Buddha asks : "Malunkyaputta, did I ever tell you, 'Come, and train with me, and I will tell you whether the Universe is or is not eternal or finite, and also whether there is life or not, or both, or neither, after death ? “ He is basically asking him if he ever asked him to become his student.

When he later asks him : "And did you ever say to me, 'Lord, I'll train under you and in return you will tell me whether the Universe is or is not eternal or finite, and also whether after death there is existence, or not, or both, or neither ? “, He is basically asking him if Malunkyaputta ever asked him to become his teacher.

To both questions, the answer is “No Lord”.

So basically, Malunkyaputta is under no obligation to be Buddha's student, and Buddha is under no obligation to be his teacher.

And this is important. Practically, back to our 21st century, this means that when you do your best to teach Zen or Martial Arts, or anything else, put you r heart in it, give of your time and energy for this, students should have the decency to follow your directions without questioning you too much. And if they don't, I suggest you remind them that you are under no obligation to teach them, and that they are under no obligation to stay.


Said in a different way : “The door is open. “





I did not say that, the Buddha did !