Monday, October 24, 2011

New Initiatives

Spread the Word: Zen and Martial Arts

Several years ago, while in very intensive Zen study, I began reexamining my Aikido through Zen lenses and vice versa. Each one naturally informed the other. Part of the examination's growth can be found on this website; part is still emerging, particularly as I've begun opening up my integrated practice to all comers. The result, as with everything in life, is a work in progress; still, some key tie-ins between the topics are recurring and clearly important to me--perhaps they'll be important to you as well, whatever your practices and whatever your objectives.

I've started cataloguing those Zen topics, those Aikido practices and techniques, and the links I see between them, and I am considering how best to deliver them. Whether that's to continue on course writing and working with visitors locally, travelling about a bit delivering weekend seminars, enriching this space with recordings and videos, or something in between, I do not know. I'll follow my gut, which will hopefully be informed with your feedback here, on Facebook and Twitter (find my links on the right), or in person.

There are two things in particular I've realized over time regarding this type of work, though: First, it's not something that can be forced. Second, I can only do so much on my own. Combined, we find one interpretation of Zen's "nothing is left undone" teaching: If it's important enough for me to want to spread this work and it's important enough for others to want to receive it, everything will come together to make that happen.

So, I'd appreciate it if you helped me reach the right ears: Who should I see? Who do you think might benefit?

Whether in place or on the move, I look forward to our exchanges. In each new encounter--particularly given the variety of styles--I am challenged and given an opportunity to reflect and to improve. Our encounters improve my practice; I hope the same for you.

Challenge the Word: Koan Intensives

Related to all of that is the Zen aspect alone. Our Zen practice, like our martial practice, is rooted in the adversarial. This is not to say we are "combative" in the sense of competition, winners, and losers; rather, we perfect ourselves individually and each other within challenging encounters. Our practice can also be characterized as somewhat nomadic: Once rooted in the practice, students are encouraged to work with different teachers, engaging in exchanges with different schools' practitioners.

Particularly when limited to electronic exchanges, the test of skills and understanding comes through koan exchanges... but the same is also true in person. Whatever the school's tradition and whatever the school's practices, koan exchange reveals the heart and the understanding of a practitioner in that moment. Even those practitioners who "just sit" should be able to demonstrate clearly how their practice frees them from the "wheel of life."

Sword Mountain and Baltimore Zen are looking for individuals who wish to take up this matter with intensity, and we are looking for those individuals and organizations who would sponsor their practice.

This is not a trivial matter. Not everyone is cut out for this practice. Not everyone will excel in it. Not everyone would be selected to be sent out to represent the teachings. But it is time that we begin this work.

Are you ready, or will you help?

Help with Words: Counsel & Consult

Sword Mountain and Baltimore Zen have always been available to help individuals discover certain truths, to find your "true self." As our teachers tell us, though, it's the work of all sages to alleviate suffering, whatever the guise, meeting it wherever it stands. If we are conditioned to restrict this practice in to the sick, the impoverished, the homeless, and so forth, we are ourselves attached to form and thus set ourselves up to exclude the burdens everyone else faces. If we divide society into two, we are ourselves in conflict. How then can we help one another?

To meet you where you stand may mean an appointment in your boardroom to discuss a business problem or over privately over coffee to discuss a personal matter rather than an early morning hour or so in silence on a cushion with us--it's hard to say if you wonder but you do not ask.

So ask. Perhaps we can help one another.

Rashomon Jiyuwaza

Ryotedori jiyuwaza: fixed attack, free response. Uke seizes your wrists, but unlike those preceding or expected, this grab is stiff. You will not be permitted to move, and Uke will adjust to maintain this hold without being thrown. What is your response? A little struggle to the left, a little to the right. A little push, a little pull. Maybe a twist? A body shift? A drop? A sutemi attempt?

Suddenly, your Aikido is challenged and you are failing. Perhaps you pull something out with a "There it is!" from Uke? Congratulations? Perhaps, perhaps not.

Let's reexamine through a Zen lens: What happened here?

Nage is working within a framework, a context, a collection of rules, interpretations, assumptions, expectations, and so forth. So is Uke. Yet, these contexts need not necessarily be matched. Realistically, how would they be? Even if the teacher does set the context, can we assume the contexts of Uke and Nage match that of the instructor perfectly, let alone match the other's? What if the instructor asserts no context, leaving a vacuum? What will emerge?

In our example, did Nage break the Aikido context by giving other than a "pure" ryotedori attack--in this case, a ryotedori plus "I'm going to test you" attack? Did Uke get drawn out of a "proper" Aikido context and into Nage's context by struggling to make some technique from the repertoire of named techniques work? Did Nage expect Uke to limit his response options to the same while he worked to hold Uke in place?

So, the above is a somewhat fictionalized view of our practice last Thursday. The only facts were that (1) four of us with vastly different styles and experience got together and enjoyed a few rounds of friendly jiyuwaza, and that (2) I took some extra time past the point to catching my breath to observe the dynamic caricatured above. What I saw was something of a dojo Rashomon plot: the hard stylist, the soft stylist, the non-aikidoist, and I may each have walked away with a personal interpretation of the practice. Not everyone was privy to all of the information: The hard stylist wondered in retrospect if it was okay to take the practice in a different direction; the non-aikidoist looked for a nod from me to see if I would allow the type of response that he knows well from outside Aikido; and so forth.

We had the unique opportunity to explore an undefined space where the only true boundaries were self-imposed limitations. Thankfully they included safety and respect for one another, but even those were not explicitly stated. More than styles and skill levels came together in this encounter. Hopefully we'll have the opportunity to review our recollections of the practice and to see if anyone noticed when and where the true enemies appeared...

Masakatsu Agatsu Katsuhayabi!

I do look forward to more with this crew, though this one encounter was valuable beyond measure!

Care to join us? Check practice details in the sidebar.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Get Out of Bed!

It's one of those mornings when I can't get out of bed. Someone else's alarm clock woke me up too early, so I lie here... I could get an early start, or maybe I could go back to sleep. I should get out of bed... Have to pee, but the bathroom is over there and it's so warm under these covers... Toothbrush is by the sink, get this taste out of my mouth... What's waiting at the office, I wonder? Did a reply come from that email? My back is sore; it's going to sting if I move... Ugh, have to go downstairs to make my coffee.

Still in bed.

Well, actually I'm no longer there, that first cup of coffee is long gone, and the other issues in between were resolved; still, I wonder: when did I leave there and how did I arrive here? What happened in between?

At some point, I must have figured it out. So, tell me, do you know how to get out of bed?

You'd better come to practice... Details are on the right.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Walking Meditation

Barefoot, circling a well-explored path, slowly, deliberately. Pay full attention to every aspect of one foot descending, making contact with the ground at a single point and then onward toward fully joining, solidly rooting you to the ground.

With full attention to the rear foot now, watch it similarly as it enters the sky.

Again. Again. Again.

It can be so complicated, so easy to stumble, so difficult to perfect... Yet, before you came to this place, it was time to leave for practice; and when you went home to dinner afterward, you left this place behind--effortlessly.

Walking in circles is not even a single step from the central truth of this practice... but can you take a step from the top of the 100-foot pole without it?

We will consider the practice as well as applications in class...