Monday, May 30, 2011

The Beginning....

My eldest son has taken a shine to the martial arts (at least his new white belt and gi). While it has been fun doing some basics with him, and letting him have a laugh while rolling about, it makes me reflect upon what I should eventually teach him, and what to omit--for now.

He promises that what I show him will not be used on brothers, friends, parents, etc. Nonetheless, I am really only showing him blocks, front kicks and open palm strikes on the punching bag. And usually, the whole thing ends up being about me throwing him "judo style" onto the couch. (He's just four, after all).

But the real question I have is twofold: 1) What's the balance between defense/fun/and safety for his age and a bit older.

2) What style would I introduce him to first. (Of course he'll be invited to formally train with me at some point--and my own style is my first choice for my own defense--but I don't really think all the techniques we learn are suitable until he's old enough to realize the serious nature of the techniques).

He seems to find basic karate and judo enjoyable. And maybe these are a perfect start, as both are solid--especially together--and can be adapted/expanded into other arts such as aikido, jui-jitsu, or whatever he likes.

For now, however, his training will be some fun basics and some couch throws. Learning by having fun is the best method at this age, and to be honest, I like it, as well.

I'm just thinking ahead, that's all.

*note: I once listened to an Ojibwa elder tell a story about the "old days" and about a group of seven-year-olds practicing their bow skills in the woods. He added, "We had no problem letting kids have these responsibilities, and as a result of our trust, they took the weapons more seriously."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

American Buddhism--Part Two

It is the academically overlooked eastern influences on western culture that I am trying to unearth in these posts. Also, the influences that have impacted me, personally.

I mentioned in the last article the influence of the Beat writers on 1960s counterculture. These authors brought about a new take on eastern thought, weaving its philosophy into a more American, loose-fitting, frontier-style ideology. While this movement was born and bred in the States, another huge influence on the hippie era actually came from the pen of a German-born, Swiss author.

Despite winning a Nobel prize for literature in 1946, Hermann Hesse's popularity in North America didn't peak until after his death in 1962. It was then that the themes he had been exploring since just after the turn-of-the-century found appeal with the university students in the western world--themes that explored "an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality." (wikipedia)

The titles popular with this audience included: Steppenwolf, Journey to the East, and Siddhartha (an interpretation of the story of Buddha).

"Buddha's way to salvation..." said Hesse, "...(Is) not just learning and knowing, but spiritual experience that can be earned only through strict discipline in a selfless life."

Again, in Hesse, we get a hybrid philosophy in the sense that he was initially steeped in the schools of German Romanticism and European theosophy. He was also very knowledgeable when it came to the work of the western scholars, such as, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Carl Jung. (The latter two themselves were quite interested in Eastern culture and thinking).

Again, the western take on the East is a merging of two separate hemispheres of the world--like two sides of the brain--fusing into one school of thought. It is not the ideology of the Zen monks in Japan, nor is it specifically Tibetan or Indian. Just as the Christianity of the southern United States is not that of the ancient catacombs of Rome, rather, the former serves as an extension of the latter.

It becomes it's own thing, and serves to influence new schools of thought, in turn.
Like the Siddhartha of Hesse's novel, the author, too, was often at odds with the world of humankind. He was strongly opposed to Hitler and the Nazis (they eventually banned the publishing of his work); he questioned the western educational system; and he believed in the individual pursuit of searching inward for life's answers instead of through the material forms of the world.

In many ways, it seems his life's work was focused on the transcendence of pain in the modern world, a theme well understood by Buddhists and other spiritual followers alike.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The roundhouse and the three wood.....

A tip I once heard--for golfers--is to go to the driving range and practice hitting balls without wearing spiked golf shoes. Seems like nothing, right?

The idea is to be aware of balance. When a golfer swings too hard without spikes, his/her feet will spin, and the shot will be off the mark. The result of the drill is to maintain a slower, smoother swing, with more balance and precision.

I like to think about this as it relates to self defense training. Usually, all of us do repetitive kicks, strikes, kata, on a flat, consistent surface. This is good when learning and honing form, but rarely are circumstances outside the dojo so perfect.

So, try the golf exercise. Go out onto the lawn and try all your kicks. It is very easy to see how a roundhouse could leave you spinning onto your butt. Try it when the grass is damp. It's even harder.

The result, just as the golf drill, will be a better awareness of balance and tempo.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Empathy and Disaster.....

A culture without compassion will die.
It's a simple survival mechanism, built into our biological makeup, allowing us to maintain a balanced and symbiotic relationship with our natural surroundings.
And it works well.
However, for some reason, there are many in our midst who have mental faculties that bypass empathy. And many of these have become our political and business leaders.
As a result, younger generations grow up believing that success and compassion are incompatible. Unfortunately, in a material driven society, this has become true.
In turn, a cycle of consciousness is created that narrows progressively, on both a personal level, and as a species.
Perhaps, in reality, it is our humanity and our lack of empathy that have become incompatible.
And this will be any culture's undoing.

"When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster." -- Tao Te Ching: 72

Saturday, May 14, 2011

American Buddhism--Part One....

Western Buddhism is not Eastern Buddhism.

So explains Shunryu Suzuki in his book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

He's not being critical so much as realistic. Culture and history influence things too much.

That said, I for one, appreciate the fusion of East meets West. It began in the 1800s with Asian immigration, and the literary efforts of the transcendentalist and theosophical movements (see naturalists Emerson, Thoreau, et al). Over many decades, the exploration of Eastern philosophy perhaps peaked during 1960s hippie culture and later New Age-ism. Along with increased immigration from Asia, and post WWII relations with Japan, today, Buddhism is one of the largest faiths in the U.S., comparable in numbers to Islam.

But, in my opinion, an influence largely overlooked in the emergence of Western Buddhism is the work of the post WWII Beat writers. These include the likes of Allen Ginsburg, Gary Snyder, and the lovable Jack Kerouac. The latter not only discussed Buddhism regularly in his pseudo-fiction tales of travel across America, but also created a form of hybrid Zen/American poetry. The Diamond Sutra was a major influence in the author's life.

Here's some ol' Jack, composed during a month-long, isolated stint as a mountaintop fire ranger:

"On foggy days the view from my toilet seat is like a Chinese Zen drawing.... I half expect to see two giggling old dharma bums, or one in rags, by the goat-horned stump, one with a broom, the other with a pen quill, writing poems about the Giggling Lings in the Fog--saying, 'Hanshan, what is the meaning of the void?' " -- Desolation Angels

And here he explains the need for poetic differences between the two continents:

"A 'Western Haiku' need not concern itself with the seventeen syllables since western languages cannot adapt themselves to the fluid syllabic Japanese." -- Book of Haikus

Later in life, Kerouac reverted back to his Roman Catholic roots, but his mark on American culture, in terms of East meets West, is undeniable.

"The second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure." --Kerouac

Saturday, May 7, 2011

a question....

I was recently asked a question.

It was basically this: "Have you ever really wanted to do something and someone else has held you back?"

A friend I was sitting with immediately said yes. Many times, she added. In fact, this had been a painful theme in her life and she was constantly attempting to break free from this cycle.

It was an honest answer, I thought.

Then it was my turn to answer.

I thought seriously about the question put before me, and honestly, I couldn't think of any instances. I have always surrounded myself with understanding people, and my father, who raised me, was very easy-going and let me discover things for myself. In my adult life, my wife has always been very supportive and on more than one occasion I've been brash enough to walk out on a boss who was tyrannical.

However, driving home in the car, I pondered the question deeper. And deeper.

Then it hit me. My response was wrong. I had, in fact, been held back, many, many times.

And sadly, it was always from the same person.... myself.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dojo Rules...

"The dojo is a sanctuary. It is a place, when you walk through the doors, that everything outside ceases to exist. No problems, no worries, no judgments made by those around you.

I couldn't care less what other dojo's do. I couldn't care less about any of their politics or how their students act. This is how it is here." -- My Sensei

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fear Factor...

A myth about self-defense training is that your fear goes away.

I think a truer statement is that you learn to better understand your fears. They don't go anywhere. However, through self-examination, we may gain a good knowledge of our abilities under duress. Confidence is created this way, by knowing you can respond in a situation of fear, rather than being surprised when the nerves kick in.

To become fearless would be to lose one's humanity.

Journeyman talks about this a lot. He always factors in the psychological/physiological aspects to his methods, knowing that fine motor skills will be lost under stress, and an attackers injuries and/or rationality may be dulled by substances or adrenalin. He knows this because he has seen it happen. It is his job to study it.

Because in our training we constantly examine fear--and replicate it as much as is possible--we translate these lessons into our daily existence. Our actions, I believe, are less determined by avoidance of fear, as we accept its presence in the world. Instead we look for effective solutions (even if this require heaps of patience). We analyze why we may be fearful in the first place; and we hesitate to give our power and minds away to others.

These skills make a warrior of life itself. A humble, swift-acting, human being.

Not a fearless, thoughtless thug.