I wouldn't have trouble with a piss test; only problem is my bad left knee.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
I wouldn't have trouble with a piss test; only problem is my bad left knee.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
I was preparing some documents last week at work and had a bit of martial insight. As this work was rather monotonous I allowed my mind to wander as I waded through it. In effect, it required a lot of typing of the same thing over and over on several documents. I am a fairly fast typist, but not the most error-free. Anyway, as I progressed I began to notice that my speed increased and my errors decreased. At least they did until I became conscious of it. Once I paid attention to what I was doing, started thinking about what I was doing rather than simply doing it, I began to make mistakes. This project was big enough that it took me a couple of hours to complete. So I couldn't resist the temptation for mental experimentation. I purposefully blurred my thoughts so that I proceeded mindlessly so to speak. As I did this my errors decreased again. I ended up working in a sort of auto-pilot mode. But as soon as I mentally noted this, or thought about it, I slipped back into mistakes.
I couldn't help but compare this to my martial arts training. As we train over time our bodies learn the moves and techniques to the point that we can complete them without thinking. In fact, once our bodies know, it becomes counter-productive to think too much. I am not however promoting day dreaming. That is even more counter-productive. The goal is to focus by being centered and being totally aware of our bodies. In the language of Tajiquan, we should transfer our consciousness from our mind or head to our dantien and then proceed utilizing the body's knowledge. This is another example how our martial training draws on mindfulness practice for guidance. The key to meditation is to focus on breathing or a mantra. As this proceeds our minds relax and drop all the external noise to focus on the present moment. This practice means one thing when our bodies are still. It means something else when they are moving and possibly engaging with another. This process leads to allowing the body to do what it knows without interference from monkey mind.
This is so much easier to say, or write about than it is to learn and practice. But on the other hand, nothing could be easier. It is just simply another facet of a complete training regime. Focusing on the mental aspect of training not only leads to better health, but better budo.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
What are our responsibilities as martial artists? One never knows how he/she will react if actually attacked or accosted. In the classical martial arts so much of our training is toward skills not directly related to combat. There are combat systems that strip down the techniques to the essential necessary for fighting or self defense. But the classical systems are more rounded and aim for higher ends than just simply the ability to fight well. However, they are still martial arts and any self-described martial artist should feel comfortable with the prospect of defending him/herself. But, what then are our responsibilities to that end?
A well-executed Dim-Mak strike or a combat throw on a hard surface could very well end in serious damage or death to the attacker. Do we, as the potential defender, bear any responsibility for the safety and well-being of a person who is attacking us? I think the answer is, like most things in life, ambiguously yes and no. Please keep in mind that my answers are based on my own personal philosophy of life and morality; and that I think such philosophies and thoughts are by default subjective. So, this is just my perspective.
As an Aikidoist I believe in O-Sensei's ideal of caring for our attacker as a fellow human being, and therefore doing just enough to control the situation and try to avoid harming said attacker. But as someone who has experienced bullies, and sandlot fights and barroom brawls, I also believe that ideal has to be taken with a grain of salt. All life is sacred and should be protected. That does include the life of our attacker. But it also includes our own lives and the lives of our friends and loved ones. As martial artists we have responsibilities to protect our own lives, the lives of those close to us, and IF POSSIBLE the lives of those who attack us. But, in keeping with the tenets of Natural Law, once another person has taken aggressive action against us, they have compromised and jeopardized their own rights.
Training should, among other things, work to address how we handle attackers and how we respond under stress. Ideally we should know and automatically react with the correct response. I don't know if anyone really reaches this ideal state. But it is a part of what we should train for. The injunction to relax and control our responses is difficult, but crucial to being a well-rounded martial artist. I believe that if a person is truly aiming for this end, then he/she is justified in whatever reaction occurs if they are attacked. Again, Natural Law basically trumps here. If a person violates your space or your person, you have the right to react in whatever manner you find necessary at the time. For it will not have been you that transgressed, but the attacker. All you are doing is protecting your space and your person.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
It was a good summer for Budo. The park wherein we practice morning Taiji reflects the changes. During the spring we did our "Tree Qigong", where we exchange energy with select trees. It was so successful we carried it on into the summer. We use it for our opening practice as a way to warm up, loosen up, and connect with the environment. Long about July, as I was standing under a Hickory practicing Zhan Zhuang, I heard a racket above. Mr. Squirrel was just above my head and not in the least impressed with me borrowing energy from his tree. And he was telling me about it. I have to say it interrupted my silence and brought out a laugh. I had to move on to another tree before I was accosted. A couple of weeks later and it was Mr. Squirrel and his Squirrely friends who were accosted, as a pair of hawks decided to use our section of the park as their hunting ground. They antagonized the squirrels for a half hour or so before moving on. I never did see them catch one, but they certainly tried. As much as I value the quiet and meditative park setting, I had to give in to distraction and view this show.
Several times over the summer we were forced to find another spot as our usual shelter was occupied by one or two homeless citizens as we arrived. No problem. We can easily move to another location, or practice in the grass. Nothing as serious as choosing a place to bed down for the night. One morning I found the picnic bench occupied by a small brown Praying Mantis. I arrived earlier than my partners so I sat on the bench and observed this Northern Kung Fu Master. He was in no mood for me. He arranged himself at a 45 degree angle, showed me his fists and silently waited for me to make the next move. I kept my patience and my peace. After the others arrived I stood up and we began our transition into the Chen Hunyaun 45 movement form. The wise old teacher was not impressed. I looked back over to the bench to see he was long gone, off to more exciting adventures I'm sure.
Things have been equally interesting for my nighttime Aikido classes. We lost our space at the YWCA, which turned out to be a blessing. We now share a full and regular dojo space with another Aikido school. We have a much larger space, permanent mats, changing rooms, and weapons. What we don't have there is an air conditioner. I think that is a good thing, much to the chagrin of my fellow students. It makes the workout that much more challenging and healthful. However, our first day on the mat in the new dojo I pulled a hamstring. Sensei was demonstrating Yokomenuchi Shihonage with me as Uke. As I went into a forward roll upon being thrown my foot caught in his hakama and my body went one way while my leg stayed put. It has been problematic all summer. It is getting better, slowly.
I have taken advantage of the slow economy and practiced martial arts as absolutely much as possible. On average I have made at least 3, sometimes 4 Taiji classes a week, and 2, sometimes 3 Aikido classes. Additionally I have worked fairly hard on conditioning and riding the bicycle. I believe I am in much better shape now than I was at the beginning of summer, and I hope my Budo has improved accordingly. I now look forward to Fall and whatever may be ahead.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
The Kalama Sutta teaching comes to me through the I Liq Chuan Association. It comes to all of us from The Buddha. It is, I think, one of the most important teachings I have come across. In short the the Buddha teaches here to not believe religious or spiritual teachings just because certain teachers or scriptures claim them to be true, but to rely always on one's own experience. This is important because mindfulness practices are premised on experience. One may be instructed on technique, which may or may not be helpful. But eventually what rings most true to us are the things we experience directly. Further, mindfulness is all experience, all the time.
This carries over to the Internal Martial Arts as we are focused on awareness, sensitivity, and centering. They are not effective otherwise. That is also why they are never quite mastered. Quite like enlightenment, true awareness is something we are always striving for, experiencing over and over again. There simply is no end, there is only continual being.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Some time back a young rambunctious hard stylist asked me if I had ever used Taiji in a fight. While I am a big proponent of self defense, it is not my primary reason for practicing martial arts. I simply answered no. But in my mind I thought, yes. I have used Taiji and Aikido in fights, I do daily. I fight arthritis, hypoglycemia, carcinogens in our environment, the effects of a reckless young life, the creeping effects of approaching old age, the seeds of violence in us all, self-doubt, the metaphorical devil in all his tempting manifestations. Budo/Kung Fu is a disciplined system of self-improvement, self-actualization. It is in a word a fight. It is easier to have a gluttonous, lazy, spiritually empty life. Or is it? Actually I think following a disciplined system is far easier and more rewarding in the long run than the alternative.
This reflects a split in the martial arts community, and the misunderstanding that many non-martial artists have. There is a difference between Bujitsu and Budo. These are Japanese terms, the former is martial art the latter is martial way. The do in Budo is derived from the Chinese Dao, or Way. This gives it a spiritual connotation. In the Chinese Internal Martial Arts, this is taken for granted. Internal Kung Fu is grounded in Qigong, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Buddhism, Daoism, and the combat arts. The way of the warrior is a complete discipline encompassing much more than the ability to fight. In our modern society these other aspects take on a more important function, as the need for combat is not what it was in ancient times. Consequently, the health and spiritual aspects leave the practitioner with a more peaceful orientation further to the original intent of the arts. The more people there are with peaceful orientations, the more peace there is in the world. The defining of all martial arts as combat arts premised on violence is misplaced and unfortunate. O-Sensei maintained that Aikido is the ultimate art of peace. From the outside that may be confusing. But once one has practiced for some time the definition makes sense. It accordingly applies to many of the “do” arts of
Monday, May 18, 2009
A friend of mine, a Taiji sister, just passed away. It is a sad event. Little more than a year ago she was practicing Taiji 4-6 times a week and was notably strong for her age. Around that time she embarked on a missionary trip to Africa and was required to take a round or two of immunizations. Almost immediately upon returning she began having problems with strength and balance. The medical officials floated several potential culprits, including a reaction to the immunizations. While we may never really know, I am afraid the latter is a good possibility. Although I am told the doctors rescinded that diagnosis before long.
In any case, my friend went downhill fast. She continued coming to Taiji class and meetings in the park as long as she could. But before long she was in a wheelchair. The last time I saw her she came to class and sat through our form practice, doing the hand movements from her seat. But she was in good spirits. She was reading Roger Jahnke, and Thich Nhat Hahn, and looking to the future. But she never returned to Taiji functions.
I got an email from her some two months before she passed. Actually she dictated it to a friend as she no longer had control of most of her body at that point. She said she had limited movement in her hands and neck, but was confined to bed for 22.5 hours a day. In her message she thanked me for my patience in our Taiji practices together, and she expounded on all her blessings. She was thankful for the opportunity to learn patience in her condition, for the good people around her, and for the time to reflect on the importance of spending time with loved ones. Instead of decrying the whole experience she determined it was heart-opening.
I never heard from her again. Two months later I received news she had passed from this life. There are several things about this that are remarkable for me. One, of course, is again another reminder of how quickly time flies and how soon life is over. Another thing, for me at least, is the insanity of western medicine--especially immunizations. Another frightening thing about this is our limited control in the sequences of our lives. I am engaged in healthful and mindful practices because I want to ensure I have some control over how my life unfolds. But we must remember, as Don Juan told Castenada(1), death is always just over our shoulder. This does not mean we should tremble in its presence. On the contrary, it means we should live our lives as impeccably as possible, and never, ever take a single moment for granted.
1. Castenada, Carlos. A Separate Reality; Further Conversations with Don Juan. Washington Square Press.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Saturday April 25th: World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. I made my cup of tea and stepped out into a beautiful North Carolina Spring day. There was only one soundtrack worthy of my ride across
Reflecting on the beauty of the day and my intention, I thought about how already, all around the world, people were practicing Tai Chi/Qigong just as Dancing in the Streets started up. What a positive twist on a Motown classic.
“He hums, there are drums, four winds, rising suns,
We are singing and playing, I her him saying.
I remember breezes from winds inside your body
Keep me high, like I told you, Ill sing to them this story and know why1.”
Tai Chi is such a multifaceted art. It is an extremely effective martial art, while at the same time is the ultimate art of peace. Taiji actualizes many of the stated goals of the meditative arts. Master Jou says, Taiji can “become a revelation showing the relationship between time and space, creating a gate through which the four-dimensional world can be entered2” Consequently Qigong alone or as a component of Taiji practice is a spiritual and a healing art. Both of these systems are rooted in Taoist spiritual practices and TCM. And like many things of mystical nature they have to be experienced to be full appreciated. Words just don’t do them justice.
The title track of my cruising CD was wrapping up as I pulled into the park and the players started coming in from all corners,
“Sullen wings of fortune beat like rain.
You’re back in terrapin for good or ill again, for good or ill again3”
As we began to gather the energy started flowing over. Younger players began going through the motions of their forms, while the elders maintained the peace that marks their presence. Old friends and acquaintances struck up conversations while new friends spoke in generalities and the quieter among us found seats and observed. But rest was not the order of the day, not this day. Not that Taiji and Qigong are tiring or exhausting. Quite the contrary, they are rejuvenating.
We began by centering ourselves and acquiring good Taiji postures. We all participated in some simple Qigong practices while we synchronized with ourselves and the rest of the world. This in and of itself was worth the trip and the energy was phenomenal. As the day proceeded we took turns experiencing different forms, techniques, and practices as presented by the different schools and teachers participating. It was all very enlightening and refreshing. There was a noticeable level of energy and goodwill permeating our area. If it were quantifiable I am sure it could power the city, or perhaps end the war; would that it worked that way.
All-in-all I call this year’s WTCQD a success. Personally I saw old friends and teachers, fellow practitioners, and met new friends. As I write this, some 24 hours later, I am still charged with an abundance of Qi. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. If not, I invite you to try it. Again, words just don’t do it justice.
- Terrapin Station The Grateful Dead. 1977. Arista Records
- Jou, Tsung Hwa. The Dao of Taijiquan; Way to Rejuvenation. 2001, The Tai Chi Foundation. Pp. 135.
- Terrapin Station The Grateful Dead. 1977. Arista Records
Friday, April 24, 2009
Thank you God for sunshine, and all that follows from it.
Where would we be without it?
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Arpil 25th, 2009 is World Tai Chi and Qigong Day. It starts at 10:00am, wherever you are in the world, and last until at least 12:00 noon. The idea behind the celebration is for everyone in the world who is participating to engage in Tai Chi and/or Qigong during the designated time and therefore contribute to a continuous wave of peaceful healing energy that will simultaneously spread across the globe as participants in each time zone begin the process. This is a great opportunity to participate in a world-wide experiment in peace, to interact and have fellowship with Taiji players in your community, and to learn more about these wonderful, dynamic, and infinitely varied arts. As more and more Westerners are introduced to these arts we also find a concurrently growing number of medical studies and trials--in Western clinical environments--confirming what many Asians have known for centuries: These are powerful healing arts. What's more these are self-empowering arts. They provide a framework whereby we may actively engage in our own healing process, and contribute to our self-actualization.
It is my intention to attend the celebration in my community and report my experience back here. It is my desire that these arts "catch on" with more people as I believe they are truly remarkable and contribute to healthier individuals and a more peaceful world.
Sunday, March 1, 2009
Under The Blade
As I was learning the ukemi for sankyo and nikkyo my Sensei passed on an important and universal insight: “In Aikido we go under the blade.” Typically when we are on the receiving end of joint locks, or most localized pain, we tend to stiffen and instinctually attempt to get away. However, if we try to fight a joint lock it only gets worse. The proper response is to stay soft and go with it, to relax into the hold as much as possible. This helps Tori/Nage to better learn his side of the kata, and keeps Uke from being injured.
The lesson for training is obvious. I have found joint locks easier to tolerate and training to be safer as I relax. This of course applies to other holds, throws, and grappling applications. A crucial component of Internal Martial Arts training is learning to be soft. A common mistake in the early stages of learning is attempting to power through applications, to use strength instead of technique and proper form. The key to Asian Martial Arts is to be smarter rather than simply stronger, to correctly use your partner’s energy against him rather than overpowering him. On the flip side of this Uke should also resist the temptation to resort to strength. In the processes of free sparring and combat the roles of Uke and Tori are dynamic. Intelligent relaxation is crucial for everyone.
I can remember first attempting to body surf in the Atlantic on a fairly rough-water day. As the waves began to break I was no longer swimming and had lost all control to the power of the ocean. Instinctively I stiffened and tried to right myself to ensure a smooth landing. The wave promptly stood me on my head and crashed down on top of me. I ended up with a headache, a nose full of salt water and trunks full of sand. After a few more attempts and few more crashes I learned to relax and let the wave carry me along. The result of course was an enjoyable ride and a smooth landing on the beach.
The practical and metaphorical lessons for life outside the dojo, or off the beach, are also obvious. Life has a way of seemingly spinning out of control. We often feel as if we are blown or carried by greater forces, as if we are at their mercy. We do well to relax into such situations. In fact we do well to relax into all of life, to use the greater forces of life to our advantage. Buddhism teaches that we go with all the situations of life, even the painful ones. We cannot resist any of the changes we are presented with. It is obviously better to experience them for what they are as calmly as possible.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Last week I went out on a Monday morning to do Taiji in the park. It was cold and a national holiday, so I was the only one who showed up. That’s not a totally unusual occurrence since there are only 3-4 of us who do this regularly anyway. So I took advantage of the opportunity and worked on a couple of forms and Qi Gong by myself. It was a nice morning, even if it was cold. So I decided to further my opportunity and walk a while. The city park where we practice has a nice walking trail and is adjacent to a greenway along a creek. In short, it is a great place for walking in the city.
Walking is a great practice for rejuvenation and focus. I’m not talking here of Zen walking, or Qi Gong walking, great practices in their own right. Nor am I talking about anaerobic walking, also a great practice. Rather, there is much to be gained from good old fashioned walking at one’s own pace.
Here I am walking with no destination in mind, no time limits, and no goal outside the act of walking itself. I slow down and notice the birds, the sound of the creek, the colors that are still available in the full gray of winter. My mind is settled by the presence of the moment. My body is energized by the activity. The demands of life fall away, at least for the moment. The only demand I recognize is the fact that I do have to go back to my car and the rest of the world eventually. But in the meantime….