Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the mouse...

Kids know how to have fun in the dojo.

During a recent class, a friend told me, all the kids--who were following instruction quite well--broke ranks and began laughing and running around on the mats. The sensei was surprised, until that is, he realized what the problem was.

A mouse.

This was a major event for the children--aged four to 10--who began chasing the rodent all over the place. The sensei stood back and let the children do their thing.

It took several minutes but eventually the mouse ran into a metal tube (part of an exercise bike), and one of the older kids blocked the entrance, while the sensei, being a sport, blocked the other end and they transported the wee creature outside.

The class, I was told, resumed with more enthusiasm than prior to the incident, which was later referred to as a "thrill" by one of the parents.

I thought to myself, good for the sensei, letting the event take its course and allowing the kids to have fun with it.

And the mouse, no doubt, was happy to be unharmed by a trap or poison.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"As Above..."

In the philosophical school of Hermeticism--a western mystical tradition--the theory of "As above, so below" is used to define the correspondences of the microcosmic world and the universe itself. It is, in other words, suggesting that the human being's very nature is a reflection of the workings of nature itself.

In Taoist writings, this statement is clearly echoed. The Tao Te Ching posits that a person need not travel to far off lands to gain wisdom and insight, rather, the individual need just look outside his/her own window. Apropos of this, we find many techniques in the Chinese systems of internal and external martial arts given names that reflect nature in a broader sense. It may be Kung Fu's adaptation of animal movements; it might be the "Hands through clouds" of Tai Chi.

In the words of aikido's Morihei Ueshiba, this theory is explained thus: "If you perceive the true form of heaven and earth, you will be enlightened to your own true form."

But why does this theory matter at all?

I think, if we are to achieve harmony--Oneness--either within our own psyches or with an opposing person or force, the theory is invaluable. It explains balance on an all-encompassing level; it explains the inclinations of behaviour and motion.

In addition, meditation, and/or Qi practice, often harness the mental connections of the human mind and the energy of the natural world. As sources of qi, we may bring down sun energy or lunar energy into our bodies. (Often the sun or moon can be used as focal points of meditation exercises. A candle, a microcosm of the sun, may also be used.)

Likewise, as the planets move in a circular pattern, so do we maximize energy in a throw. The gravity of holding the moon in place is the same gravity we use in martial arts, and is even reflected in our molecular makeup.

The reverse of this theory is also true: by studying the self, we can learn the secrets of the universe.

Friday, August 19, 2011


"Watch for anger of the body: let your body be self-controlled. Hurt not with the body, but use your body well.
Watch for anger of words: let your words be self-controlled. Hurt not with words, but use your words well." -- The Dhammapada
The first part, not using unnecessary violence, is well known to most practitioners of martial arts. The second, I feel, is a beneficial outcome of a martially disciplined mind.
Words can damage as much as a fist; they cannot be taken back--just like a punch thrown at a target. Most people think this means aggressive, rudely phrased words--yelling and screaming. But in truth, subtle quips, negative comments, and frequent jests can erode another's self worth over time.
A teacher must be aware of this; a student, a friend, a parent, or a spouse.
In a dojo setting, for example, this does not mean giving endless praise to one's students. Nor should a training partner have only non-critical words for his/her partner. However, I have known many individuals who have stopped doing something they loved because of words either said or not said.
"Speak the truth, yield not to anger, give what you can to him who asks..."

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Intuition needs to be exercised and developed like any other aspect of training.
When we spend too much time breaking down techniques, analyzing details etc., a partial atrophy of intuitiveness can take place. I think technique is a tool of intuition, not the other way around (or at least it's equal).
In this way, perhaps, no mind can be looked upon as a link to intuitive mind. An open gate to the flow of emotive power; an over-riding of gut feeling over the analytical.
But how is it practiced? Perhaps just by listening to it on a regular basis. Not just in a martial arts perspective, but in daily life situations. By quieting the part of the brain that keeps nagging you with too much data regarding outcome and probability. Intuition, tied to instinct, can save you from hesitation. And hesitation in daily life can be as damaging as hesitation in self-defense.
Of course, there is time for intellect. No one should argue this fact. It's just that most of us practice this on a regular basis, while the other aspects often get silenced by the voice of "reason."

Monday, August 8, 2011


In 1974, at the age of 24, photographer Kenji Kawano traveled from Japan to the Navajo Reserve in Arizona. He spoke no English, but decided to hitch from community to community taking pictures as he went.

"At first, I thought I wanted to photograph everyday life of the Navajo for awhile, go back to Japan, and have a photography exhibit in Tokyo," he says.

But instead, he remained in the U.S.

"...(I) always felt sympathetic toward the American Indian..." says Kawano. "When I came to the States, I didn't know if American Indians existed."

Kawano is known for a book he did with images of Navajo Code Talkers from the Second World War. Along with this book, Warriors, he has also done books on Navajo woman and the cultural traditions of the people.

In 1980 he became the Navajo Nation official photographer, and in 2005 exhibited his Warriors series at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Today he still lives in Arizona; still snapping pics and showcasing his work internationally.

Check his stuff out at kenjikawano.com.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

holding the pads....

I always jump at the chance to hold the pads for punching/kicking drills.

Firstly, I just like the feeling of absorbing the energy. It feels good to play hard.

Secondly, I can learn a lot about an individual's style, especially if their martial arts background differs from my own.

When sparring, half of one's attention is focused on offense, and half on defense. You are an active participant, which, personally, narrows my scope to freely observe, while holding pads I become a fly on the wall. Breath patterns, eye movement, strengths, weak points, and tells are all on display.

Now, the goal isn't to use this to defeat anyone, rather, to apply the lessons to yourself. I've talked before about picking up tips from boxers and kick boxers. Tips to use and tips just for the sake of awareness.

Recently, I was training with a heavy striker. I let him pound the pads as hard as he wanted--and I moved him around the room to see how his feet moved. The lesson, however, was not about his telegraphing punches or a potential weakness to exploit in his guard. Instead, a painfully obvious conclusion was made by myself:

Don't strike with a striker! Get in close--without getting knocked out--and use what you know best.

Hey, honesty has to count for something!