Monday, November 24, 2014

Qi For Two

It exists. It doesn't exist.
We all know the debate over whether or not qi, or energy force, is an actual source of power which can be tapped into by those with the know-how to do so. My attempt here is not to take sides; it is not to prove or disprove qi energy. Rather, it is to relate an interesting situation in which I find myself as a student of martial arts.
For a few years now, I have studied under two different instructors, although I still consider my first sensei to be my main go-to teacher. That said, I have enjoyed and benefited from delving into another style of martial art, one that I hope complements my original knowledge and training. It seems to work, and I have fun while doing it.
So what i find intriguing is this: while I have great respect for both instructors, and try to soak in as much information from each one while in their respective dojos, they differ in one main philosophical outlook. One teacher believes strongly in qi energy, while the other views the emergence of any extra force during a technique as more of a mechanical phenomenon, i.e. something more tangible and physical.
I find the contrasting outlooks of great interest. I find it symbolic of the split in the martial arts in general. Yin and Yang, perhaps. And I don't view one instructor as less effective or less wise. After all, one major thing both teachers have in common is that the technique works best when it is done properly. With proper mechanics. More power comes from this, whether accompanied by qi or not. As to whether more energy can be added is a different story, one that I prefer to leave be for the time being.
Because like I said, I'm not taking sides right now. Instead, what I try to do is embrace the teaching of both, all the while exploring the options myself, in my own mind.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


It was almost twenty years ago that I first read Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. The book, a fictional account of a wandering monk in the time of the Buddha, is a story sure to trigger spiritual contemplation in any reader. It traces the protagonist's journey through asceticism, worldly desires, and eventually peace and reflection. It is ultimately about seeking truth in all its mystery, which, for Siddhartha, is what life is ultimately all about.
Although it is difficult to remember my exact thoughts about the book twenty years ago, what I do realize is how differently the words feel now that I have had much more life experience. Don't get me wrong, I was still very spiritually minded as a young man. At least as much as today. However, our consciousness seems to be ever-expanding, and as a result, time truly does give us perspective.
One of the things that really struck me this time reading the novel was the fact that this was not just a westerner's interpretation of Eastern thought, but a fusion of Eastern thought with Western mysticism. Hesse was, after all, German, and his take on Eastern philosophy was still seen through the eyes of the West. That said, the truth is the truth regardless of where one lives, and therefore the author still manages to cut through to the core of Siddhartha's contemplative nature.
While doing this, Hesse very deliberately draws parallels between the Buddha and his character, Siddhartha, but is very careful to separate the two in their approach to spirituality and teaching.
At the heart of Siddhartha, is the idea that, "Wisdom is not communicable." Instead, it is seen and heard everywhere all at once, and everything in life is timeless and unified.
However, regardless of which age I happened to be reading this novel, the author's words made me reflect deeply upon the nature of life and reality itself. While now I can relate more to the different stages of Siddhartha's life, perhaps when I'm older I'll look back with even more perspective upon Hesse's eloquent story.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


In the book, The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell retells an old Japanese legend about a samurai who had "the duty to avenge the murder of his overlord." But, in the moment he was about to use his sword to strike down his adversary, the man spat in the samurai's face. "And (so) the warrior sheathed the sword and walked away."
Campbell explains how the warrior was angered by the act of spitting, and realized if he struck down the man in rage it would have become "a personal act." That was not what the samurai had come to do, says Campbell.
It rings of Luke Skywalker's temptation to strike down the Emperor--an act that would have altered Luke's fate forever, as the act would have been one based in anger and hatred. This would have made him as malevolent as the one he sought to destroy.
While emotion may be a useful and powerful thing, anger and fear can distort. They can blacken our hearts and create reactions not thought through with a rational mind.
Viewed historically (and on a larger scale), armies have been mobilized based on anger-inducing propaganda. After all, if there is only compassion for the other side in a conflict, what soldier would pick up a weapon to kill? What population would give consent to a war that had no villain?
I'm not saying what wars have been justified and which have not. I'm just saying that the masses can be swayed either way by the right use of media. And often, anger is the emotion targeted in order to influence large groups of people.
On an individual scale, anger can also make us do things we shouldn't. Such emotions can cloud the mind. And even the most passive soul can be angered by something.
I guess it is about whether or not we strike out at others when we become angry, or whether we try to tame the emotions and wait until we can think clearly once again.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Return...

I gave up on meditation about two years ago. Things in my life had drastically changed, and as a result, my focus on many things in life began to diminish. Also, a major factor, was that my time alone decreased significantly.
But recently, the art of sitting in silent contemplation has returned to my life.
It wasn't deliberate. I wasn't searching out solace or a way to regain my mental focus. And I'm not sure this will be the outcome, anyway, to tell you the truth.
Really, what happened was that I was reunited with a group of friends, who meet each week, and discuss books and spiritual ideas over coffee and tea. And they meditate. Twenty minutes at the beginning of each meeting.
Returning to meditation was daunting. At least at first. It had been a long time--my mind raced and I felt trapped. The clock ticked and my breathing was all over the place. But I settled in soon enough, and ended up having a pretty positive experience. Since then I have gone back four or five times, and manage now to find my zone pretty quickly.
But don't get me wrong, this isn't at the level of "no mind," transcendental type meditation. I'm still a hack, really, just trying to calm my mind here and there. No chakras are being opened, believe me, I'm just trying to sit and be relaxed for a twenty minute space of time.
And this approach has made it easier for me this time around. I am putting less pressure on myself to achieve results. In fact, I'm just happy to sit, my mind swirling, with the odd moment of peace tucked in for good measure--often accidentally.
But it's good to be back, for sure, and we'll worry about those chakras another day. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Parent-And-Tot Class

I just got in from my first ever parent-and-child karate class. It was great fun, and reminded me of how excited I used to get when my dad would play in the parent-and-child hockey games when I was young. The class was just run like a normal kids class--no tailoring it to be more suitable for parents. I think more clubs should try this type of event. It shows the parents how hard their kids work and why they like to go to the classes in the first place. It's both humbling and a good bonding excercise.
(Now, after class, my son is wiped out and fast asleep in bed. And I'm sure I won't be awake much longer.)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

letting go of control...

Here's a tough one for me...
My son takes karate at a small dojo in the town where we live. I, too, have attended classes there, and enjoyed it, and I think the teacher is good (and most importantly at this stage, he makes it fun for the kids). However, that doesn't mean I'm not letting go of control when I send him there. It is inevitable that my son's teacher will vary in some ways from myself and the teachers who taught me. Many of the details are small, unimportant things. While some are larger concepts.
And it can be hard to let go of control!
There are habits that I have come to see in all the students that could be fixed; there are philosophies that I believe are important that aren't included in the lessons. But I still stand by the bulk of the teachings, and I don't "correct" my son outside of the dojo (although I may add an opinion here or there).
And as I stated, he finds the classes fun... My son is learning while having fun...
Teaching is also a very gradual thing, meaning, my son's sensei is likely not trying to fix every detail at once. Especially with a small kid.
That said, at what point--or what age--do I worry about his "serious" training? I don't want him to one day have a false sense of security as a martial artist, if he is not getting a well-rounded teaching experience. And is that up to me to help round it out? I surely don't want to step on any toes.
One day, after I trained in the adult class several times, his sensei invited me to help with the young kids, including my son. So I asked my lad, after class, if he wanted me to do this. He said no. I respect that.
So for now, I observe, and enjoy the good things he is learning.   

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

i'd rather quit...

I encountered, this summer, a teacher who made me think: If I had to study under this individual, I'd likely quit the martial arts. That has never happened before. I don't know what this says about me, but I do know what this says about the way this sensei taught. His skills were excellent, but he was belittling and arrogant. He made you feel your attempts were insufficient even when you were trying your best. And although it was all done under the guise of jest, it was still enough to impact the lesson in a negative way.
It takes a lot for me to say something this strong, but the truth is, that I wouldn't want to learn from someone who cares so little for the feelings of his or her students.
Maybe this is a poor attitude on my part, but it makes me appreciate the other teachers and fellow students I have encountered along the way.