For those may not have heard of him, Alan Watts (6 January 1915 – 16 November 1973) was a British-born philosopher, writer, and speaker, best known as an interpreter of Zen.A one-time Episcopal priest, the church still utilizes some of his writings to this day.He was a prolific writer, particularly after studying Eastern ways of thought. authoring some 25 books and many articles.His first book, “The Way of Zen”(1957) remains a classic to this day.I was most fortunate in being able to meet him at a summer seminar in 1973 shortly before his untimely demise in an airplane crash later that year. I learned more from him than I ever suspected at the time and a number of things that he told me that day have stayed in my mind ever since.This article is in regards to one of them.
Few people, even most fans of his, know that Watts was an avid practitioner of aikido.I found out because I was young, didn’t know much about him or his fame (thus, I wasn’t awed by him in the least until a few hours later), and I asked him directly, “Mr. Watts, do you practice martial arts?”He glanced sideways at me and I told him that I was a teacher of Chinese martial arts.It was then that he admitted to studying….and loving, aikido.In fact, he was very interested in all of the martial ways and because it was a rarity to find a practitioner of Chinese martial arts in those days, we talked at some length.
As we discussed martial arts he said, “Any physical activity taken to its extreme, becomes s spiritual path and leads to awakening.”I asked what he meant by, “extreme?”I remember that he smiled as he answered me.“If you strive for perfection in it, it eventually becomes a spiritual experience.”
“Even something like…tennis?” I asked.
He chuckled.“Yes, even tennis…or baseball, or crocheting.Any activity.”
I’ve mulled this over for many years now.The operative phrase in his answer is, “strive to perfect.”If we attend classes on a regular basis, that isn’t enough.If we simply engage in the practice of basic techniques, kata, two-person routines…it isn’t enough.We have to CONSCIOUSLY strive to perfect our skills as this leads towards self-perfection.It is the underlying theory of all martial arts.It is why we continue to practice for decade after decade.We don’t do it for the exercise, although that certainly provides many wonderful side benefits.And we don’t do it for self-defense; heck, we’ve acquired more than adequate self-defense skills after a fairly short time in training.We (should) do it because we are aiming at self-perfection.
Is such a thing even possible?I would have to answer, “No, not in this lifetime.”But that shouldn’t discourage you in the least.
Qin Tze Wudang Mountain Retreat offers the unique opportunity to learn Qigong, Guqin, and Taiji Quan on Wudang Mountain. A step back in time the retreat is nestled on the hillside of a beautiful valley on Wudang Mountain. From Master Qin Tze’s retreat you not only have stunning views, but also can enjoy hikes all over Wudang Shan and up to the Golden Peak. The Retreat is not only a great place to learn it is also a fun, very authentic place to study Wudang Martial Arts, Music and Longevity practices. Master Qin Tze has a huge wealth of information to share. Students attending this retreat can expect a curriculum that is very heart, and culture centred through Taoist philosophy and Qi cultivation.
Below is a video giving a glimpse of life at the school.
Below is an example of the retreat time table
– A normal training day would begin at 06:30. From 07:00 to 09:00 you will learn Taiji Quan and Qigong.
– From 09:30am morning practice will include personal study, farming and daily Taoist Health practices.
– After lunch you will take part in afternoon study meditation and tea culture.
– Dinner starts at 16:30. After dinner training in Xuan Wu, Wudang Sword, and Taoist Baguazhang.
– From 19:30 to 21:00 evening Gu Qin class.
– This is followed by free time. Bedtime is normally 22:30
We often hear our teachers tell us to “concentrate your mind on….”, but truly focusing our minds on any given thing is more than a little difficult. One of my early karate instructors had a cure for that. I don’t know if he learned it from someone else or if he thought of it himself, but it certainly worked.
During one class, he instructed all of us to sit on the floor. As we did so, he placed a clock on the floor in front of us. “This is a good exercise for teaching you how to really concentrate”, he said. “Focus on the clock and use your mind to stop the second hand from moving.”
I figured he was kidding but I guessed wrong. The best was yet to come.
“Sit comfortably so you won’t be shifting around or fidgeting your hands…” Okay, no problem. This was sure a lot easier than firing off endless reverse punches and front kicks! Then came the punch line…
“…and don’t blink your eyes. Not even once.”
What the ****!!! Okay. I had faith, so I did it. My mind soon was focused on something other than the clock; it was wholly concentrated on NOT BLINKING! Now, blinking is an involuntary action of the body but…it can be consciously controlled! To do so requires more than a little concentration and determination, however.
We only practiced this exercise for about one minute the first time. With practice and effort, I slowly built up my time to five minutes but my teacher cautioned us that to do it much longer than that might have undesirable results (the eyes dry out pretty quickly). But after I was able to control my urge to blink fairly easily, I was free to focus back on stopping the second hand of the clock.
Which I never was able to do… but then, that wasn’t the point of the exercise.
If you would like to learn martial arts and how to meditation in China you can find a number of great courses and schools when you visit StudyMartialArts.Org. To read more on the subject you can also check out some of these great articles.
“The bow is shattered, arrows are all gone. At this critical moment, cast aside all doubts. Shoot, without the slightest delay.”
These lines were penned by Zen master Bukko Kokushi during the Kamakura era (1226-1286) in Japan. Typical of Zen-inspired poetry, it’s a bit puzzling. How do you shoot if your bow is broken and your arrows are all gone? For an answer, we must turn to kyudo…most of you have never practiced it and fewer than that will ever engage in it but the answer it provides can be applied to any martial Way.
Kyudo is the Japanese Way of the archery. It’s one of the less popular martial disciplines, especially outside of Japan (where high-level teachers are pretty much non-existant). Equipment is terribly expensive; a good yumi (the bow, which is handmade with laminations of bamboo and various woods) can cost as much as $4,500.00, although you can get modern ones of considerable less quality for as little as $500. Then, too, the precise dictates of the art seem to have more in common with the tea ceremony than with a bloody fighting art. A kyudo neophyte will spend months learning the intricacies of kyu-ha, the etiquette and rituals of the art.
The details involved are intimidating and all of them must be committed to memory until the practitioner has integrated them on a level that is virtually instinctive. For instance, there are a certain number of steps taken to approach the shooting stand, the angle at which the bow is held when the arrow is nocked must be just right. All of the various facets of the mechanics and movements of drawing and shooting are precisely set into forms that have been formalized for many, many years. And they must all be learned exactly. There is even a set of certain movements used for approaching the target, leaning the bow against it, and removing arrows from the target! Kyudo is a bit long on outer movements, to say the least.
Many of you will think that kyudo focuses an awful lot on seemingly petty details, but consider that a beginning karate or gong-fu student likely thought he could throw a pretty decent punch…until he started training. His chin must be held just so, his shoulders have to be adjusted here, his hips have to move exactly this way, and so on. I’ve been known to spend as much as two hours going over the details of a simple reverse punch and I could easily have gone on for another two or three. I’ve seen novices become so overwhelmed by the details of their art that they actually freeze. Their eyes betray their minds, which are frantically trying to recall all of the details…and they become as statues!
Many uninformed people present considerable criticism about this approach to what is allegedly a “fighting art.” They often make very ignorant commentaries, claiming that the practitioner who trains in this way will be so concerned with ensuring that all of the tiny details are just right that he’d be quickly pounded into dogmeat before he can mount an effective defense. This reasoning is based on the erroneous assumption that this stage of training (known as toteki, is the FINAL goal. Not hardly.
In time, the kyudo student (kyudoka) begins to integrate the details of the art into his performance. He doesn’t have to count his steps as he approaches the stand; they come out naturally. The arrow is corrrectly nocked without conscious effort. This is the beginning of what is called zaiteki; the bow and archer are becoming one. Practitioners of other martial Ways may use other terms to describe the same thing; they often speak of mushin (無心 wuxin in Chinese), which is a term often heard in the practice of Zen. Mu (Wu) means “nothing” or “without”, while shin (xin) refers to the mind or consciousness. Thus, the term is often translated as “without consciousness” (also, “no mind”). Rather than inferring that one is unconscious, this term indicates that the practitioner no longer has to consciously “think” about what to do.
The practitioner moves naturally; he has passed beyond the level of training that required him to concentrate on the details of his technique. His movements are spontaneous and correct. The technique has become “no-technique.” If you can drive a car, play the piano, or even tie your shoes, you already are familiar with this concept. But there was a time when you stared at the piano keys and tried to get your fingers to move to the right spots. With lots of practice, you eventually reached a stage wherein you no longer had to think about it; your fingers “knew” where to go.
If you’re a skilled typist and you’ve been at it a while, you’d likely be stumped now if someone asked you about the layout of the keys/keyboard. Like, which keys are on either side of the letter “J?” You may be able to type 80 words a minute, but that question confounds you. That’s because you’ve achieved a certain mushin in your ability to type. Now, there’s a considerable difference between the “no-technique” of the highly skilled martial artist and the “non-technique” of the novice. Neither the expert nor the beginner can probably tell you what adjoins the “J” key but that doesn’t mean they’re at the same level in terms of their understanding and ability to type. One must strive to achieve the stage of “no-technique” and there’s no short-cut, no way to bypass technique altogether. It’s going to take time. Lots of it.
The bow, the arrows…as the Zen master’s poem reminds us, these are external details. Drive yourself past them through severe, unceasing training and effort and press in to the core of the art. When you art is fully integrated in body, mind, and spirit, the bows and arrows, the details of the punch, kick, or throw are unimportant. At the critical moment, as Bukko advised, you must penetrate the target without the slightest delay.
Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵?) (c. 1584–June 13 (Japanese calendar: May 19), 1645), also known as Shinmen Takezō, Miyamoto Bennosuke, or by his Buddhist name Niten Dōraku, was a Japanese swordsman and samurai famed for his duels and distinctive style. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings (五輪書, Go Rin No Sho?), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.
“I have trained in the way of strategy since my youth, and at the age of thirteen I fought a duel for the first time. My opponent was called Arima Kihei, a sword adept of the Shinto ryū, and I defeated him. At the age of sixteen I defeated a powerful adept by the name of Akiyama, who came from Tajima Province. At the age of twenty-one I went up to Kyōtō and fought duels with several adepts of the sword from famous schools, but I never lost”.
—Miyamoto Musashi, Go Rin No Sho
According to the introduction of The Book of Five Rings, Musashi states that his first successful duel was at the age of thirteen, against a samurai named Arima Kihei who fought using the Kashima Shintō-ryū style, founded by Tsukahara Bokuden (b. 1489, d. 1571). The main source of the duel is the Hyoho senshi denki (“Anecdotes about the Deceased Master”). Summarized, its account goes as follows:
In 1596, Musashi was 13, and Arima Kihei, who was traveling to hone his art, posted a public challenge in Hirafuku-mura. Musashi wrote his name on the challenge. A messenger came to Dorin’s temple, where Musashi was staying, to inform Musashi that his duel had been accepted by Kihei. Dorin, Musashi’s uncle, was shocked by this, and tried to beg off the duel in Musashi’s name, based on his nephew’s age. Kihei was adamant that the only way his honor could be cleared was if Musashi apologized to him when the duel was scheduled. So when the time set for the duel arrived, Dorin began apologizing for Musashi, who merely charged at Kihei with a six-foot quarterstaff, shouting a challenge to Kihei. Kihei attacked with a wakizashi, but Musashi threw Kihei on the floor, and while Kihei tried to get up, Musashi struck Arima between the eyes and then beat him to death. Arima was said to have been arrogant, overly eager to fight, and not a terribly talented swordsman.
—William Scott Wilson
His Most Famous Duel
On April 13, 1612, Musashi (about age 30) fought his most famous duel, with Sasaki Kojirō, who was known as “The Demon of the Western Provinces” and who wielded a nodachi. Musashi came late and unkempt to the appointed place — the island of Funajima, in the Kanmon Straits separating Honshū and Kyūshū. The duel was short. Musashi killed his opponent with a bokken that Legend says he had carved from an oar used on the boat that carried him to the island. Musashi’s late arrival is controversial. Sasaki’s outraged supporters thought it was dishonorable and disrespectful, while Musashi’s supporters thought it was a fair way to unnerve his opponent. Another theory is that Musashi timed the hour of his arrival to match the turning of the tide. The tide carried him to the island. After his victory, Musashi immediately jumped back in his boat and his flight from Sasaki’s vengeful allies was helped by the turning of the tide. Another theory states he waited for the sun to get in the right position. After he dodged a blow, Sasaki was blinded by the sun.
Musashi briefly established a fencing school that same year.
Musashi created and perfected a two-sword kenjutsu technique called niten’ichi (二天一, “two heavens as one”) or nitōichi (二刀一, “two swords as one”) or “Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu” (A Kongen Buddhist Sutra refers to the two heavens as the two guardians of Buddha). In this technique, the swordsman uses both a large sword, and a “companion sword” at the same time, such as a katana with a wakizashi.
The two-handed movements of temple drummers may have inspired him, although it could be that the technique was forged by a means of natural selection through Musashi’s combat experience. Jutte techniques were taught to him by his father — the jutte was often used in battle paired with a sword; the jutte would parry and neutralize the weapon of the enemy while the sword struck or the practitioner grappled with the enemy. In his time a long sword in the left hand was referred to as gyaku nito. Today Musashi’s style of swordsmanship is known as Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū.
Musashi was also an expert in throwing weapons. He frequently threw his short sword, and Kenji Tokitsu believes that shuriken methods for the wakizashi were the Niten Ichi Ryu’s secret techniques (see Hayakutake-Watkin).
Musashi spent many years studying Buddhism and swordsmanship. He was an accomplished artist, sculptor, and calligrapher. Records also show that he had architectural skills. Also, he seems to have had a rather straightforward approach to combat, with no additional frills or aesthetic considerations. This was probably due to his real-life combat experience; although in his later life, Musashi followed the more artistic side of bushidō. He made various Zen brush paintings, calligraphy, and sculpted wood and metal. Even in The Book of Five Rings he emphasizes that samurai should understand other professions as well. It should be understood that Musashi’s writings were very ambiguous, and translating them into English makes them even more so; that is why so many different translations of the Go Rin No Sho can be found. To gain further insight into Musashi’s principles and personality, one could read his other works, such as Dokkodo and Hyoho Shiji ni Kajo.
With the U.S election upon us this entry seems somewhat appropriate given the respective track records of the two main candidates.
Ultimately the beauty of teaching and preparing lessons brings with it the opportunity for the teacher to evolve and deepen his or her own learning. Reading an article in High Existence I noticed the opportunity to adapt Nietzsche’s lesson on the tragedy of conformity into a positive affirmation I can use during my own meditation class.
This lesson and the affirmation compliments the visualisations I am using with my middle and high school students in order to make them feel more secure grounded and confident, therefore less reactive and more in control throughout the day.
A traveller asked the wise man. “What attributes are found in every man?” The wise man replied ‘The propensity for laziness and fearfulness.’ They hide themselves behind customs and opinions.’
In your heart you know that you will be in this world only once, there is no second chance. Will you let laziness and fear control your being?
Will you spend your life in fear of your neighbor, in fear of someone who demands conformity and cloaks himself with it?
I am fearless, I am neither lazy nor timid, I do not fear inconveniences and my dealings with my friends display unconditional honesty and unburdened kindness.
Through my actions I reveal my true self. My strength my confidence. I am a unique miracle. I dare to show myself as I am. I will show my uniqueness with every last movement of my muscles, consistent in my uniqueness I am beautiful, and worth regard.
When the great thinker despises mankind, he despises its laziness: for it is laziness that makes men seem like factory products, things of no consequence and unworthy to be associated with or taught.
A man or woman who does not wish to belong to the masses needs only to cease taking him or herself easily; I will follow my conscience, which flows with strength and shines with confidence.
Adapted from Friedrich Nietzsche Lesson on the tragedy of confirmity
Wujiquan (Chinese (無極拳): Pinyin: Wujiquan; Wade-Giles: Wu Chi Chuan): ‘Ultimate Void Boxing’: Is a rare and Secret Ultimate Void Boxing Skill, and is said to be the Mother Art of Taijiquan; from Wuji comes Tai-ji. The Wujiquan System is composed of 36 ‘Characters’: 18 kinds of natural climatic phenomena, and 18 of Qi applications.
One of the rarest of traditional Shaolin Boxing systems, Wujiquan is also one of the purest of traditional Chinese soft-internal boxing systems(Neijia): being taught to very few in its entirety and only after years of rigorous training and testing for aptitude; it never became widely known, which meant that unlike the better known, Taijiquan, there was no opportunity for the system to undergo the experimentation and mixing with other systems and arts which during recent centuries led to the variety of styles which characterize Taijiquan.
Wu Ji boxing comes from the “Yi Jing” or ”Book of Changes”. Taiji is born from the state of Wu Ji (complete nothingness, or complete harmony with the universe). Yin Yang, or a single continuous line running from one point across to another, is born from the state of Taiji (Taiji gives rise to Yin Yang). A single line stretching between 2 points gives rise to a surface area or square (Yin Yang gives rise to 4 directions or surface area). A surface area or square gives rise to 8 trigrams or a 3 dimensional cube (4 directions give rise to 8 trigrams or 8 directions).
“Wuji quan” is the martial applications and techniques handed down from Wu’s ancestors.
The Wuji quan curriculum
After students are trained in the elementary level of Wu Ji, two disciplines become the focus, one of which is called Hun Yuan and the other is called Ba Gua Zhang.
The training system incorporates:
Wu Ji Health Exercise System.
Wu Ji Standing Postures
Wu Ji 12 single movement training
Wu Ji leg and root training
Hun Yuan Discipline ↓ Ba Gua Discipline
Wu Ji’s 18 rules
Hun Yuan Palm (1) Wu Ji internal strength secret Ba Gua Palm’s Upper body work/ upper body energy
Hun Yuan Palm (2) Wu Ji medical knowledge skills Ba Gua Palm’s Root and leg work/ root and leg energy
Hun Yuan Palm (3) Wu Ji Dim Mak or acupoint striking Ba Gua Palm’s 9 cross- pattern footwork
Hun Yuan Palm (4) Ba Gua Palm’s Spirit and energy training
Wu Ji’s methods of diet and nutrition
Soft silk palm technique
Cloud hands palm
Silk pulling palm technique
Explosive palm technique
Wu Ji elementary level
The middle-aged and the elderly can also practice the Wu Ji’s Health Exercise System and Wu Ji’s 6 essential guiding principles.
Wu Ji’s five-animal boxing forms (Wu Qin Xi) including:
Head rotations, Crane drinking, Wolf observes all directions, Hen sleeps and Ape reflexes.
Wu Ji’s 32 body building boxing: in addition to the 5 aforementioned animal forms, it also includes: Opening the trunk energy and internal splitting energy.
Wu Ji Standing Postures (for juveniles)
Leg and root training and energy/power training (for juveniles)
Wu Ji intermediate level
According to one’s body condition, there are two disciplines. The Ba Gua discipline is for those who don’t have high blood pressure, and includes:
Upper body work/ upper body energy work
Root and leg work/ root and leg energy work, 9 cross-pattern footwork and Spirit and energy training (more information can be found in the form treatise).
The Hun Yuan discipline’s foundations are based on internal energy. The first set of Hun Yuan Palm, the second set, the third and the fourth can be found in the form treatise.
Internal applications and techniques
Internal secrets: internal elementary training methods.
Dim Mak or acupoint striking (please refer to the Form treatise).
Medical knowledge skills:
Martial artists should be aware of proper diet and nutrition and watch what they eat and what their meals are composed of. Internal applications and techniques are practiced by both schools – Hun Yuan and Ba Gua.
Wu Ji’s 18 rules are the main applications and techniques of Wu Ji’s internal skills. Internal skills can also improve the practitioners’ external skills.
In the beginning, people can work on their internal power by means of external exercises. When they get to a certain stage with their internal energy work, they should then focus on working on their internal skills and energy to improve their external skills.
This is your chance to change your life forever…And join me on this journey to tame your monkey mind!
HighExistence has designed a legendary self-development obstacle course! 30 Challenges to Enlightenment.
Before you read further, you should watch the trailer to introduce the course.
This thing is the culmination of the HighExistence team’s combined 25+ years of research in self-development, spirituality, science, and philosophy. They spent 6 months engineering the course, and it’s honestly unlike any self-improvement tool I have ever seen.
Over SIXTEEN THOUSAND people have now joined the tribe for 30 Challenges to Enlightenment.
What is 30 Challenges to Enlightenment, exactly? At this point you might be wondering: What is a “legendary self-development obstacle course,” exactly? What does it consist of? Oh-ho-ho, my friend, what a Pandora’s Box you’ve thrust open by asking such a question!
30 Challenges to Enlightenment is the ultimate life experiment. It’s an Odyssey of self-actualization. It’s a toolkit for disrupting your default state and claiming a High Existence. It’s the Hero’s Journey toward mental, emotional, and spiritual liberation.
It’s many marvelous things, rolled into one mega-empowering bundle. Philosophically, the course is rooted in Nietzsche’s idea of a “gymnastics of the will”—a practice of undertaking difficult life experiments to become stronger and wiser. The course includes three indispensable components:
The Challenge Map
The Challenge Map is the most iconic component of 30 Challenges to Enlightenment. A beautiful 24” x 36” poster, it’s simultaneously a habit-formation tool, progress chart, challenge list, work of art, and conversation piece.
The Challenge Map lists all of the challenges, providing a title, icon, and short description for each. For each challenge, there are 30 checkboxes—one for each day of the challenge. We used the Don’t-Break-the-Chain technique of habit development—as you check more boxes, you’ll feel averse to breaking the chain, so you’ll keep going.
The Challenge Map also divides the 30 challenges into 6 unique quests, which are based on the stages of enlightenment in the Zen tradition. The quests map out a natural progression toward self-actualization and spiritual realization, providing meaningful structure to your journey.
The most powerful thing about the Challenge Map is that it’s UNMISSABLE. 99.9% of self-improvement tools are either digital or relatively small and easily hidden. This leads to people ignoring or forgetting about them. You can’t ignore or forget about the Challenge Map, once it’s on your wall. It serves as a gorgeous, vitalizing reminder of your commitment to self-development, inspiring you to continue to undertake new challenging adventures.
The Challenge Guidebook
The Challenge Map is all about action, but action is never complete without knowledge to back it up. That’s where the Challenge Guidebook comes in. It’s a 290-page eBook that contains in-depth sections elaborating on the science and philosophy of every quest and challenge within 30 Challenges to Enlightenment. It also contains an introduction that explains the philosophical framework for the journey and our grand vision for the course.
For each challenge, the Guidebook provides profound quotes, philosophical perspectives, actionable advice, thought-provoking Reflection Questions, and insights on the purpose of the challenge. At over 40,000 words, the Challenge Guidebook is truly dense and comprehensive—the most thorough articulation of the HighExistence philosophy we’ve ever created.
The Challenge Guidebook is a potent complement to the Challenge Map. Before embarking on any challenge, you will first read its description in the Guidebook. This will provide you with a deeper understanding of the challenge’s context and purpose, rendering it more meaningful and alluring. The Reflection Questions will prompt you to pause and reflect throughout the course on many aspects of your life, your reasons for undertaking challenges, and the obstacles which prevent your growth. They will facilitate a richer learning experience and further motivate you to complete challenges by helping you understand your “reasons why.”
The Challenge Tribe
The Challenge Map is about action. The Challenge Guidebook is about knowledge. And the Challenge Tribe is about community. The Challenge Map and Guidebook are immensely powerful on their own, but we understand that people are less likely to follow through in isolation.
That’s why, when you grab 30 Challenges to Enlightenment, you’ll gain access to an exclusive Facebook discussion group for everyone who is taking the course. Here you can find inspiration, make friends, get support and advice, and help others who are going through the same experience. This community will show you that you’re part of something larger and keep you motivated to continue with your quest. It will also provide a space for ongoing learning, enrichment, and connection that can last for the rest of your life.
Be(come) who you are…
Carl Jung once observed, “The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”
30 Challenges to Enlightenment is designed to help you become the strongest, wisest, and most honest expression of yourself.
This course is engineered to help you overcome destructive habits, deepen self-understanding, and become a more enlightened version of yourself. It’s designed to allow you to liberate your mind, develop self-mastery, gain confidence, and discover bliss.
Once more, if you want to join the insider tribe—if you want to be the first to know when this thing is live and receive an epic gift—click below:
“Because life is so brief and time is a thief when you’re undecided. And like a fistful of sand, it can slip right through your hands.” (Rod Stewart – “Young Turks”)
Being “undecided” is the same as choosing to not do something. At some point the decision MUST be made to take action. This is a highly promoted concept in personal protection. Choosing to do something to protect yourself has a much greater chance of survival than choosing to do nothing.
Now, timing is a key in choosing when to act! Learning to see the timing comes from training (i.e. practicing to make decisions). One of the ways that martial artists train for this is sparring. If you don’t decide on something to do, you get hit. Your first attempts at deciding what to do could also get you hit but you have now learned what variables go into decision making. This leads to better decisions. Since I live in Minnesota, it is inevitable that I’ll drive on icy roads in the winter. It usually takes a slip or slide or two to remember what to pay attention to after the first snow storm but it doesn’t take long to have the decision making for those situations back in good use.
The previous reflected physical and tangible things to make have to make decisions about. The problem is when we can’t take our decision making skills and apply them to non-physical and intangible things. How to chase your dreams is a great illustration here. How long have you hesitated in making a decision about what to do? How many opportunities have passed that would have let you achieve everything you wanted? “And like a fistful of sand, it can slip right through your hands.” This can be anything from finding that perfect job posting and not applying for it because “it’s not the right time” or allowing “I don’t know how” to interfere with moving forward.
These hesitations will cause nothing but resentment. It will build negative thoughts and create insecurity. The further a person goes down this path, the more they criticize others. More time is spent complaining about how badly things are going than about how well things have grown and developed. The only way that accomplishments can be made is through deciding to get them done.
For many years, Tony Robbins has helped motivate people to work for and reach their goals. The idea struck me hard after reading his quote. I recognized the bunch of little things that I’ve been afraid to work on because I couldn’t believe the outcome would be more valuable than what could potentially go wrong. It has left me with more confusion about how to get these things done but that will change as the plan is decided and the work begun. I know that my students have seen some of this occurring but it can’t be helped because I’m not far enough along to have everything smoothed out. It should be seen by them, though, as the journey never ends and the work continues.
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A koan is a riddle or puzzle that Zen Buddhists use during meditation to help them unravel greater truths about the world and about themselves.
These succinct paradoxical statement or question used as a meditation discipline for novices, particularly in the Rinzai sect are intended to exhaust the analytic intellect and the egoistic will, readying the mind to entertain an appropriate response on the intuitive level. Each such exercise constitutes both a communication of some aspect of Zen experience and a test of the students competence.
The koan serves as a surgical tool used to cut into and then break through the mind of the practitioner… Koans aren’t just puzzles that your mind figures out suddenly and proclaims, “Aha! the answer is three!” They wait for you to open enough to allow the space necessary for them to enter into your depths—the inner regions beyond knowing.
To study Zen is to embark on a path of learning to stop resisting reality, and in doing so to free oneself from superfluous drama and the ceaseless ebb and flow of mental states.
Here are some koans that I hope are particularly useful and relevant to your own spiritual and martial arts journey.
Flow Like a River
There is the story of a young martial arts student who was under the tutelage of a famous master.
One day, the master was watching a practice session in the courtyard. He realized that the presence of the other students was interfering with the young man’s attempts to perfect his technique. The master could sense the young man’s frustration. He went up to the young man and tapped him on his shoulder.
“What’s the problem?” he inquired. “I don’t know”, said the youth, with a strained expression. “No matter how much I try, I am unable to execute the moves properly”. “Before you can master technique, you must understand harmony. Come with me, I will explain”, replied the master.
The teacher and student left the building and walked some distance into the woods until they came upon a stream. The master stood silently on the bank for several moments. Then he spoke. “Look at the stream,” he said. “There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.” The young man took the master’s advice to heart. Soon, he was barely noticing the other students around him. Nothing could come in his way of executing the most perfect moves.
The Diamond Sutra
Out of nowhere, the mind comes forth.
A Master was asked the question, “What is the Way?” by a curious monk. “It is right before your eyes,” said the master. “Why do I not see it for myself?” “Because you are thinking of yourself.” “What about you: do you see it?” “So long as you see double, saying I don’t and you do, and so on, your eyes are clouded,” said the master. “When there is neither ‘I’ nor ‘You,’ can one see it?” “When there is neither ‘I’ nor ‘You,’ who is the one that wants to see it?”
An aged monk, who had lived a long and active life, was assigned a chaplain’s role at an academy for girls. In discussion groups he often found that the subject of love became a central topic. This comprised his warning to the young women: “Understand the danger of anything-too-much in your lives. Too much anger in combat can lead to recklessness and death. Too much ardor in religious beliefs can lead to close-mindedness and persecution.
Too much passion in love creates dream images of the beloved – images that ultimately prove false and generate anger. To love too much is to lick honey from the point of a knife.” “But as a celibate monk,” asked one young woman, “how can you know of love between a man and a woman?” “Sometime, dear children,” replied the old teacher, “I will tell you why I became a monk.”
The final koan, I will share with you is MU. This koan is one of the most famous of all and is the one most often used by the leading Zen masters of today: Because of this, the Chinese/Japanese character for MU is sometimes displayed in the dojo or teaching space where Zen students gather.
Joshu (A.D. 778-897) was a famous Chinese Zen Master who lived in Joshu, the province from which he took his name. One day a troubled monk approached him, intending to ask the Master for guidance. As he was about to ask for guidance a dog walked by. The monk pointed to the dog and asked Joshu, “Has that dog a Buddha-nature or not?” The monk had barely completed his question when Joshu shouted: “MU!”
The character for MU literally means “nothing.” Joshu’s answer was quite simply “Nothing,” which was not to say that a dog lacks Buddha-nature. Naturally, both Joshu and the monk knew that Buddha-nature is inherent in all creatures without exception, which is why Joshu’s “MU” should never be interpreted as a denial of this fact.
The only purpose of his response was to break the monk of rational thinking in trying to understand the truth of Zen and to get him to aspire to a higher understanding of reality beyond affirmation and negation, in which all contradictions disappear on their own. Joshu’s “MU” is neither a yes nor a no. It is an answer that surpasses the opposition of yes and no and directly points to Buddha-nature, to the reality beyond yes and no.