Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Shi Yan Lei's Dharma of Fighting

A recent article in Kung Fu Magazine on the Dharma of Fighting gets right to one of the main tenets of this blog: the use of various martial art practices as tools of mindfulness. In the article Shi Yan Lei explains how he found his Kung Fu practices as better tools for focusing than the meditation techniques commonly practiced in his Chan Monastery. To quote the Push Hands Master, Herman Kauz, "It's not about fighting." It's about self actualization through the practice of being in the moment. So often we forget how fast and fleeting a moment is, and how quickly it is replaced by yet another moment, and then another again... The mantras and breathing exercises of meditation disciplines are aimed at giving us a focus to keep monkey mind at bay. The forms, katas, and qigongs of the martial arts can serve the same purpose. The resulting mindfulness, combined with the release of endorphins and the freeing of Qi flow, results in definite steps towards transformation and personal growth. And like all things in life, these are but steps on an infinite pathway. This pathway takes us where we want to be, but at the same time there is no final destination. Striving is arriving.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Is it Autumn Already?

Here it is Sept 1 and the weather here in the North Carolina Piedmont is cool, approx. 59 Deg. F this morning. Mother Nature has a calendar. On one hand I hate to see the summer go. On the other, I welcome and enjoy the change of season, every change, every season. Why not? This is what we have. Better to love it and be present, than to decry it and be elsewhere in mind.

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.