Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Falling Asleep

"Why contracting? Is it stable? Were you able to stay on projects all of that time?"

It was a question from an employee to me, a contractor... and for a moment, I felt the draw into the question, waking up to see myself starting to babble, in time to gracefully put myself back on track.

The question itself is purely innocuous, nothing more than a spring breeze or an itch, but friends and followers may understand how the question may have hit me differently. All of the sudden, I am there again. The mind is in overdrive rationalizing, filling in the details; my tongue is starting to wag and words are rolling out.

I'm putting things in a good light. I'm justifying my choices. I'm stringing the words together ever so eloquently, just so...

... but for whom? This fellow has no idea of my history, nor--however interesting it may be--did he ask for it.

Who was talking? Who was listening?

I fell asleep and suddenly I woke up.

And quite simply, that's how it happens.

Zen practice--and koan practice in particular--cuts to the root of situations like these. Am I on autopilot, at the whim of everything that happens to me? Do I have no choice in how to respond? It's a matter of staying awake--and maybe graceful recoveries when you realize you've slipped.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Please Mind the Gap"

("Please mind the gap between the train and the platform")

Taking the train around the city, the Cantonese made no sense to me, but the British-accented translation always followed: "Please mind the gap..." It echoes still today.

In a foreign land, there is where you are, standing still. There before you is where you need to be, a moving target. In between, there is the gap.

After a day or two navigating the system, the announcement recedes into station's ambient rush hour noise and the gap has long since disappeared.

In my visits, I never did hear screams of people falling through the cracks--perhaps a testament to the unending announcements. Instead, I saw hundreds or thousands of people stepping from the platform onto the train at one station and stepping from the train onto the platform at another station. In time, there was no gap.

How do you get from the platform to the train? When you are on the train, are you no longer on the platform? When you step onto the platform, do you leave the train behind? The family man steps out of apartment and suddenly the office worker is seated at his desk. Where was the gap?

Having an idea that your life could be different? That is a gap. Wondering how to leap forward from your current situation to new circumstances or waiting for your current circumstances to catch up to your desired situation? That is minding the gap. How can you ever cross it?

When I see the all of the others going about their business, I am reminded that it really is much simpler than this. I lose myself in the rush hour flow and now the gap is not even a memory.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

News from Inside the Cave

Sword Mountain Aikido and Zen is admittedly a selfish pursuit: it absolutely reflects my current state and direction of practice. Since the objective is always an integrated practice and life, sometimes that means less practice in favor of more life.

New job responsibilities and changing family schedules since March have taken priority over the long-standing daytime homeschool classes, which in turn put formal Aikido practice on hold and have raised Zen practice into prominence. The Zen practice is public, it's true, but it just so happens that far more of the formal interaction occurs over the internet than in face-to-face encounters.

So, if you didn't know where to look, you may not have found me; and, if you've inquired about Aikido practice while things have been in flux, it's likely you've seen no response. My apologies to you if you are in that crew.

I'm hopeful that we'll be resuming formal Aikido and Zen practices locally (Columbia, MD 21045) and possibly with the Baltimore Zen Center (Severn, MD 21144). I feel my primary focus shifting toward working with experienced martial artists---not necessarily aikidoists exclusively---using Aikido as a vehicle to convey Zen principles into their own arts so that they can do the same. It is not a radical shift in perspective, but it is important: It's not looking to build a particular flavor of Aikido, but rather to work inclusively with interested martial artists to find the Zen principles within their own practice---just as I find them where I am within my Aikido practice.

I don't need to create an Aikidoka. I use Aikido to convey Zen. Does that make sense?

For the inexperienced and less experienced martial artists, I am interested in you too. If you study with me you will learn Aikido--at least one flavor of Aikido--and I will encourage you to explore the martial context with other teachers as well, finding your own way.

Nothing is set in stone, no times, no locations, no prices. If there's interest, though, we can begin. Let me know. Start with the new Contact Box in the right column.

Alternatively, watch for updates and catch up if you can.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office, Part 2


A Twitter friend of mine, Old 454 writes on his own blog about training, particularly in the context of triathlons. His comment on my post, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office..., inspired some additional consideration I thought worth posting, particularly in light of his posts about the transitions the athlete has to tackle as part of the race.  Go check these! (... and then come back!)

First the Zen

In the original post, I spoke of being at home and being at the office as two states with driving to work as a transition of sorts. To better fit the triathalon model (because a day at the office certainly models running a triatholon, right?), and since I did actually inadvertently create the state of "driving to work," let's swim/bike/run with it!

What if sitting at the computer in the living room is swimming, driving to work is biking, and toiling at the office is running--three states where I am comfortable, places where you can say my mind abides? Then what are the transition periods where gears are shifting? Is it the thought "Shit, I'm going to be late for that meeting" at the first boundary and is being comfortably ensconced at my desk marking the second boundary?

When I spoke of the three states, I only spoke of the major activities, sitting at the computer, driving to work, and being at the office. If a zen master somehow suddenly appeared in at any one of those times and asked, "What are you doing?" I would likely answer: "I'm checking the news," "I'm driving to work," or "I'm going to a meeting" respectively--the high-level names of To-Do projects on my checklist so far. I would likely answer that way without any consideration to all of the subtasks or subprocesses underway--like "I'm activating the left blinker," "I'm carrying a cup of coffee on my way to the meeting," or even "I'm breathing"--that, in some sense, I was also doing.

Perhaps just as telling, if the zen master did not pop in and ask what I was doing, there would likely be no thought of "I am checking the news," "I am going to work," or "I am working" at all. But it does seem that if you understand where that "I" is rooted which is said to be doing something, there's some insight to be had (which surpasses simple zennish word games surrounding the word "I" itself, by the way--perhaps a discussion for another day)--and that might lead to a more accurate answer with mind and body coordinated, so to speak.

Now, if while driving a spider dropped down from the ceiling in front of my face, I might try to smack it away.  This is not fundamentally different than a zen master suddenly appearing in the passenger's seat and asking "What are you doing?" and in both cases it's equally true that getting caught up in the impulse to respond to either stimulus may very well screw up your plan to get to work without the delays of completing an accident report.

So, what of these states, transitioning between these states, and interruptions to your plans of reaching these states? What is it to be at work, watching the clock, wishing to be elsewhere? Do you see where you really are? In the end, the sun rises and sets and doesn't particularly give a shit about your plans, but your boss will insist you log your 40 hours this week.  Perhaps just as importantly, given your circumstances, what you are already doing right now precisely what needs to be done---though it could be different.

Then the Aikdio

In basic aikido practice, we have the completely antipolar states of uke and nage working cooperatively to create an exchange with a particular form, a named technique. After a few repetitions, the practitioners switch states completely.  Between complete submission (uke) and utter dominance (nage), where does the transition occur? Where is the retooling and shifting gears to get from here to there?

In one type of more advanced practice, freedom of attack and response--jiyu waza--are explored.  Still though there are the roles of attacker and defender.  In another type of advanced practice, changing conditions in the attack lead to changing techniques in response--henka waza. In another type of advanced practice, kaeshi waza, the roles of uke and nage are blurred: as uke perceives nage's response as an attack, suddenly the roles are reversed.

In essence, through the fixed practice of forms--as even these advanced practices are by definition somewhat constrained to the "Form of Formless"--hopefully the practitioner tastes something beyond nailing that shomenuchi iriminage.

Now the Disclaimer

First the Zen, Then the Aikido, Now the Disclaimer. What are these states, and where are the transitions?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

What do you Embody?

If I tell you I smell smoke, you might be inspired to check for a fire. Similarly, if I tell you I do not smell smoke, you might ignore what is smoldering. It is somehow an obvious matter that what thoughts and beliefs you hold impact your experience of life directly. So, what if I told you this:

Aikido unifies mind and body.

What would you do?

I've met a lot of people here and there working to bring body and mind back together again. Years and years go by, and the practice has no end in site. Often, one would not necessarily say the martial ability improves significantly in that time or even that there are health benefits, but that's okay: If you ask them, they will tell you that those are not the points of their practice anyway. In fact, I've heard more than once that someone practices as if he is old--very slow movement, hardly muscle use at all (thanks to a like-minded uke), and without the threat of pain--so that when he is old, he will be ready...

Still, these ideas persist, and I wonder: When will they know that they were done?

But is this to say that mind and body were never separate? If this is your belief, then perhaps you read the above gleefully as we mocked another's practice together. Perhaps you practice hard, improving strength, developing focused technique, tossing highly resistant like-minded ukes about with resolve. That fluffy philosophical nonsense? Ridiculous... Fortunately, that wasn't part of your practice anyway.

And as these ideas persist, I wonder: When will they know that they were done?

In the first case the mind is not unified with the body, while in the second case the body is not unified with the mind. Still, mind and body were always one, so what is their division?

Diligent practice with the mind and enduring practice with the body are the eventual solution for most.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Office...

Sitting around on the internet, drinking my coffee, I realized it was time to go to work.

No one coming? K-turn and head up the road. Radio this morning? Nah... Whoa! Is that guy going to stop?! Ahhh, good.  Traffic light... any response to that email? Whoops--green light. How about a koan? I was considering this one just the other night... Traffic?! Where'd that come from? There's my exit... Pothole--dodge right. Pothole--swerve left.

And suddenly there I was, in my usual spot, plus or minus a few spaces, in the parking lot, in front of the office.

How did that happen?

It's quite ordinary and yet entirely miraculous. With or without thought, a myriad of things happened: I breathed, my heart pumped, coffee digested, bacteria created gas, all of my senses functioned, thoughts came and went---and, in the aggregate, I drove a big, deadly rolling machine to work without incident.

Sometimes with Aikido beginners I hold open my open hand, turn to it, and scream directly at it, "CLOSE!!!" Somehow, in spite of my most forceful insistence, my hand does not close. And when the giggling subsides, the other hand draws their attention to the first, and as they watch, without a word, the hand closes.

How can this be?

Was it thought that closed the hand?

Was it thought that took me all of the way from the living room to the office?

This is not to say that thought cannot be involved, but was thought driving? The thought to check my email almost had me miss the traffic light... or maybe it's better to say that following my thought to my phone, and following on to my email almost had me miss the light... but, then again, perhaps it's best to say that I almost missed the light because I thought I was supposed to go through it on my way to work, since if the most important thing was to check for that email, work would never have been on my mind at all.

It was time to go to work; suddenly, I was there. In between? Stuff---none of it work-related at all, except perhaps the thought that I'd rather not go to work at all!

What would have had me change direction and end up anyplace else? A flat tire--undoubtedly because I was distracted by an email that might be there? An emergency call from home? The thought that I'd rather not go there or I'd rather go somewhere else? Even if I deliberate and announce the decision to take a different path, is that what changes my direction?

That kind of thinking was not even powerful enough to close my hand...

So, what is this, and how does it apply to our training and to our lives?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Yoga of Aikido and Zen

We begin with the rigid forms of uke and nage, perfecting what it is to be each, seeing how adopting the form defines the interaction within different circumstances.

In some cases practitioners are satisfied with this basic practice of forms, but sometimes the practice evolves to experience the fluidity between the forms. In time, perhaps the practice may evolve to include the formless itself.

But if we hold an idea of progress toward mastery that takes us beyond the basic forms, might we lose the opportunity to gain the insight that comes in perfecting form? Not necessarily, since "mastery," as it is commonly understood, is nothing but another form.

So to, by the way, is "pursuing mastery" a form.

So, what is it that we are really practicing? Consider this: When you sincerely and completely adopt a form, the entire universe responds. However long it takes, and whatever the cost--in time, in resources, in relationships, and in anything else--the universe shifts with you, responds to you, and adapts to interface with you through this form. It may sound absurd or at least implausible, but consider: You have already perfected the form you hold right now, and everything that you experience, you experience through it. This form is more encompassing than simply your body; it includes all of your thoughts, all of your experiences, all of your preferences, and so on. In this very real sense, you have created the universe you experience. Alternatively, given your form, you have found your optimal place within the universe.

Suddenly, something peaks your interest. You have an idea. You pursue it. You attempt master it. How does your life change in the process?

What is it that the Aikido practitioners learn alternating between the roles of uke and nage again and again, technique after technique? What is it that the Yoga practitioners learn as they hold and transition between individual poses? What is it that a meditation practitioner learns in shikentaza--"just sitting"--hour after hour?

And what is it, then, that a koan practitioner learns in adopting the forms of these peculiar questions?

Solidly holding one form, spending a lifetime transitioning from one form to the next, or something in between? One form--one life--is neither better nor worse than another; the universe accommodates them all--however long or briefly--so have at it. But what of this want to hold any particular form, to keep things as they are, to change how things are, to become this or that? Do we recognize when we are holding a form? Can we recognize when we are pursuing form? Can we stop this cycle without adopting the form of resistance?

If pursuing formlessness is itself a form, then what happens when you seek it?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Irimi and the Dalai Lama

So I'm a little behind in the news, mostly because I do not follow the news. Occasionally, though, there's a nugget that meshes well with with our studies. That not even I would expect this one from the Dalai Lama just makes it all the more interesting:

From "Celebrity Supporters | Armed Forces Day"

I have always admired those who are prepared to act in the defense of others for their courage and determination. In fact, it may surprise you to know that I think that monks and soldiers, sailors and airmen have more in common than at first meets the eye. Strict discipline is important to us all, we all wear a uniform and we rely on the companionship and support of our comrades.

Although the public may think that physical strength is what is most important, I believe that what makes a good soldier, sailor or airman, just as what makes a good monk, is inner strength. And inner strength depends on having a firm positive motivation. The difference lies in whether ultimately you want to ensure others’ well being or whether you want only wish to do them harm.

Naturally, there are some times when we need to take what on the surface appears to be harsh or tough action, but if our motivation is good our action is actually non-violent in nature. On the other hand if we use sweet words and gestures to deceive, exploit and take advantage of others, our conduct may appear agreeable, while we are actually engaged in quite unacceptable violence.

The ultimate purpose of Buddhism is to serve and benefit humanity, therefore I believe that what is important for Buddhists is the contribution we can make to human society according to our own ideas and values. The key to overcoming suffering and ensuring happiness is inner peace. If we have that we can face difficulties with calmness and reason, while our inner happiness remains undisturbed. The teachings of love, kindness and tolerance, the conduct of non-violence as I have explained above, and especially the Buddhist theory that all things are relative are a source of that inner peace.

It is my prayer that all of you may be able to do your duty and fulfil your mission and in due course when that is done to return to your homes and families.”

~ Dalai Lama

The emphasis added is my own.

In my experience, Aikido and Zen--or, Buddhism in a broader sense in this case--are predisposed to attract certain broad personality types, including pacifists, where here "pacifism" like many other -isms represents a fixed view. Given a fixed view, it is natural to project that view upon and to see it reaffirmed within your practices and daily life.

But there is something inherent in each of Aikido and Zen practice that defies holding such fixed views. An Aikido student's notion of non-violence may be challenged the first time a punch lands solidly on her, while a Buddhist's notion of violence may be challenged on his reading the Dalai Lama's words above. With practice, perhaps you eventually see Aikido and Zen for what they truly are.

But perhaps that's just my view...

So, just what are Aikido and Zen absent your view and my view?

O-Sensei and Bodhidharma are waiting on our responses...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Roles & Responsibilities

With the new day job, homeschool aikido club went into hiatus. Knowing that that day was coming, we let the class mature, the class size dwindle due to natural attrition, and we did not actively recruit to fill the ranks. Today there are no students; so, am I an aikido teacher?

The question seems silly, doesn't it? But how would you answer it?

Have you ever been laid off? Unemployed? How would you answer the dreaded "Who are you? What do you do?" at the barbecue? You can answer, "I'm John Q. Public, and I'm an engineer"---but are you? Aren't engineers folks who are paid to do engineering work? You have a degree in mathematics; why are you not a mathematician?

Don't aikido teachers have students?

Sometimes there is an obvious conflict that confounds the definition of the job title itself, an obvious affront to one's identity. Are you aware how often, though, you are bound or guided by identities and titles you hold? Are there things you do because you are an engineer? Are there things you do not do because you are an aikido teacher?

How about because you are a friend, a sibling, a spouse, a parent, a child, and employee, a boss, ... How often is it the titles themselves that keep us acting a particular way---or, rephrased, how often is it the title itself controlling you?

As an aikido teacher, I define the roles of uke and nage for the students, and I use these roles to shape the class. The students alternately adopt the roles and perform their responsibilities. In one moment, you are powerfully tossing an adversary across the mats; the next, you are helplessly pinned to the ground. Can these two really be the same person? Or was it a nage that threw, and was it an uke that was pinned? How might these exchanges have looked without the roles? Without the teacher creating these roles for you? Without your entering the dojo doors as a student, creating the role of the teacher in front of you?

Or was it the fellow in the crazy outfit in front of you who created a student? But how could that be?

This is not to protest roles or responsibilities---aikido class certainly wouldn't be as productive or as fun without them... nor perhaps would the commute to the dojo be routinely uneventful without your complying with the "rules of the road." But consider this lesson now: physical self-defense is not all that you are learning, and there's more to "harmonizing with the universe's ki" than meets the eye. If a teacher truly understands this and conveys this, the student is very fortunate and should practice diligently.

So, are you a student without a teacher?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Martin Luther is not the Buddha.

A Reading from the Book of Wikipedia:

Martin Luther (10 November 1483 – 18 February 1546) was a German priest and professor of theology who initiated the Protestant Reformation. Strongly disputing the claim that freedom from God's punishment of sin could be purchased with money, he confronted indulgence salesman Johann Tetzel with his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517. His refusal to retract all of his writings at the demand of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521 resulted in his excommunication by the pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the emperor.
I have heard of people who root their present attraction to Buddhism in their aversion to their Christian past. For these people, one cannot be cultivated without the other; together, they grow. They hold that this is not that, but do not see the flowering lotus in the Buddha's palm is Jesus' losing his life on the cross. Still they circle Hell, or perhaps not Heaven.

So, what are you willing to do to enter Heaven and to avoid Hell?

How much will people pay to escape their present, to become something different?

Cost: $350 (MRO Students: $275)
Retreat Dates: June 17 - 20
Course: BOD1064
Zen Mountain Monastery Aikido Seminar

Making offerings, saying prayers, performing rituals, perfecting forms, ...: Can doing these free you of that?

Believe that you do not need redemption or believe that you have already been redeemed? One is bad; one is not good. Still you carry the burden that every great sage---whether Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tse, the Patriarchs, or another wise one---has already removed.

Now, have you no faith?

So it is true, then: Martin Luther is not the Buddha, but the Buddha is Martin Luther. Hallelujah!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Finding a Teacher

Janet over at Zanshin Art wrote a post that highlighted the distinction between an Aikido teacher an Aikido instructor. This strikes a cord with me, though it is difficult to discern whether it is harmony or dissonance. The best I could do at the time was to table my own question.

Ah well... So, how about a koan?  From the Gateless Gate, Case 26:

Two Monks Rolls Up the Screen

Hogen of Seiryo monastery was about to lecture before dinner when he noticed that the bamboo screen lowered for meditation had not been rolled up. He pointed to it. Two monks arose from the audience and rolled it up. Hogen, observing the physical moment, said: `The state of the first monk is good, not that of the other.'
Mumon's Comment: I want to ask you: Which of those two monks gained and which lost? If any of you has one eye, he will see the failure on the teacher's part. However, I am not discussing gain and loss.

When the screen is rolled up the great sky opens,
Yet the sky is not attuned to Zen.
It is best to forget the great sky
And to retire from every wind.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Something is Out of Place

These shoes should be by the door. What to do?
  • Get up, pick them up, and put them by the door.
  • Scold the kids for leaving their shoes scattered about, have them put the shoes where they belong, and have them do the dishes while they're at it.
  • Get up, find something the kids value, and move it out of place. See how long until they notice. Make a point about the shoes later.
  • Remind yourself that, on some level, there is no "right place" or "wrong place," and the placement of the shoes is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things; then, appreciate the displeasure of the shoes being in the wrong place.
  • Burn down the house. Now there is no place and there are no shoes.
It's likely that one choice makes sense to you and that the others seem silly. It's also likely that, depending upon who you are, which one makes sense differs.  Moreover, for each of the choices, there is likely someone who thinks that that answer is the best answer.

Let's add complexity. A second person in the house believes that the shoes belong right where they are. Now what?

Do you think Aikido or Zen, or this philosophy or that religion will teach you how to handle the question?

While you consider this important question, I'll put your shoes by the door and fix you a cup of tea.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A Morning with the Waterfall

Sitting in this place, you see the water falling, and you hear the water crashing... then, quiet, you wonder deeply, and you ask, "Why can I not see the falling and hear the crashing at once?"

Now you are filled with realization, yes, but emptied of the waterfall altogether.

How can you hold them both?

A brisk breeze blows through your hair...

It is a peaceful place. Bring your problems here and sit with the waterfall. Can both your problems and the waterfall exist at once?

When the pollen is gone, both nostrils will be clear, and you will breathe freely.

The concrete is still. The water flows.  It is indeed a peaceful place.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What is Disease? Letter to the IAFF through MDA

Firefighters of the Eastern Region!

It is a beautiful spring day! The sun is shining brightly and a cool breeze blows. In this moment, it is so easy to look at our lawns and forget that not so long ago they were buried in over four-feet of snow, and it is so easy to look up at the leaves budding from the shade trees and forget that in the not too distant future we will be cursing brutally at all of those bags of fallen leaves.

My son, Joby, has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD) in much the same way that I have brown hair or you are a firefighter: My hair is not even a thought until I need a haircut, and you are a friend, a neighbor or a stranger I do not even see in passing until my house is ablaze and my children are trapped. But when the sun is beating down, all I can think about is that haircut, and when the flames rise, all I want to see is firemen scrambling to save us. Like this, Joby’s disease is not a disease until it is.

Last summer Joby could walk perhaps a half-mile with us at a very slow pace, and as a family we adjusted and enjoyed. Autumn came and winter left. Now it is spring, and the family itches to walk, but Joby tires after 100 yards. There it is: the disease appeared. Now we remember the past two-mile walks, the climbing on the playground, tossing the ball, swimming in the pool, …; now we see forward to rapid decline, the remodeling of the house, the power wheelchair, the handicap plates, the van with the lift…

But just last week, when we could not afford one of our own, the MDA through their “Equipment Loan Closet” program lent us a manual wheelchair to use for as long as we need it. This simple luxury for my son would cost, I estimate, between $300 and $500 that we simply did not have. One day we sat on the couch watching the sun set, wishing. When the sun rose, we “walked” three miles as a family again, grateful.

They say this disease has no cure, and today that is true—but it is not entirely true. On that one spring day, my hair was not brown, my house did not burn to the ground, and no one in my family suffered from this disease.

In the fall, we will sweat and suffer through days of bagging millions of little leaves, wondering how they can fill so many bags. We won’t likely remember that these were the leaves that were so beautiful today and gave us shade tomorrow. We won’t likely consider how the leaves will be transformed to new soil and new life later outside our sight. But last summer you and your men and women suffered under the brutal sun in your uniforms collecting pennies, nickels, and dimes like beggars from people who would look the other way. This year, though, out of your sight, our family walked around a lake— together—for the first time in two years! That was your autumn; this is Joby's spring. Now, this will be our summer: Joby will attend his first MDA Summer Camp program, likely with many of you present! Know that no child there or family here suffers from disease during that glorious week.

With warmest regards and sincere appreciation for all that you do, ...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Fairfax Zen and The Monster's Shoes

"I'm scared..." I said.

"Of what?" she asked.

"I saw a monster in the hall."

"There's no monster out there!"

"I saw it! Right there! Behind you!"

She spun around 180-degrees, paused, and then again. "I didn't see a monster!"

"It's true! I saw it! It had brown hair, and it went that way!"

She jumped out of the room and ran down the hall in the direction I pointed, came back, and reported still not seeing the monster.

"I'm telling you, it's there right now! You really don't see it? Go take another look; I see it!"  And she did, and standing in the hall she turned to me, opened her mouth to speak, and...

I interrupted: "What color shoes is the monster wearing?!"

She paused.  She smiled.  The six- or seven-year-old brunette looked down toward her feet...


Not bad!  Not bad at all... But she might have seen my own sneakers were white, or even gone a step or two beyond...

No matter---right afterward she giggled, ran up and punched me in the nuts.

There's at least one Zen master in the making at the new Fairfax Zen Group. If you're in the area, you might be the next!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Dana: Generosity

When you inhale, does it serve only you, or does it serve all of the universe? When you exhale, does it serve only you, or does it serve all of the universe?

You exhale, you piss, you shit, you ejaculate---the universe consumes it and thrives. When a tree or the sky or the sea does the same, you consume it and thrive.

Everything is like this.

Would you consider not exhaling now for fear that someone, somewhere, who does not in your mind deserve it, might benefit from your breath? Would you consider not inhaling now because, in spite of air being made available to you, you are too proud to accept it from its source?

Everything is also like this.

The sun rises and sets for you alone, it is true, but do you know who you are?

Air, water, sunlight, blood, food, money, ... All of these things cycle and flow. And through our own will, some will hoard and refuse to give, some will share, some will suffer and refuse to accept. At some point though, your body and the bodies of the others will be reclaimed, because they are part of the cycle and flow, too. You will not inhale again. Your heart will not pump again. Your money will not stay in place indefinitely.

But still, you thrive.

The universe is perfect as it is. Every alternative universe is also perfect as it is. But what is the difference between them, between what you want, what you expect, and what you see, what you experience?

Who are you?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Homeschool Aikido Classes Shifting to Evenings

Monday starts a new day job for me. Until I'm familiar with the new environment, needs, and ultimately constraints, we're going to have to put our daytime Aikido classes on hold.

Anticipating this possibility, we've allowed the daytime class attendance to decrease through natural attrition and through holding off on any recruiting activities until we knew more.  The result is that not many will be impacted.

That said, now is the time to get a new cohort together.  If you are in the Columbia, MD 21045 area or alternatively in the Severn, MD 21144 area (Baltimore Zen Center) and you are interested in Aikido, Zen, or especially the fusion of the two, contact me via email to with your preferences or constraints so that we can get rolling---figuratively and literally!

Then watch our Facebook Fan Page and our Twitter stream for timely updates between postings here.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Between the Rock and the Hard Place

At a speed of 24 hours per day, a tsunami approaches with immanence, appearing larger and larger every day.  At the speed of 60 seconds in every minute, the land behind you crumbles away into an encroaching abyss. The paths to the left and to the right appear the same, stretching outward toward the horizon...

The pounding of your pulse: tick, tock, tick, tock, ...

The space shrinks, and the details ahead and behind become more frighteningly clear...

The roar of the ocean, no break in the wave to be seen...

The rumbling of the ground breaking away behind your heels...

Hurry, tell me now! What will you do?

Would your answer change if your family and friends were beside you, counting on you?

In the time it takes for the Zen student to derive a clever response, he is crushed between the rock and the hard place. In the time it takes for the Aikido student to consider his technique, he is cut in two.

But what of you, sitting comfortably reading this?  There is no Zen master ready to scold you, nor is there a villain ready to run you through; yet, one heartbeat--passed, one breath--expelled.  You sit with a screen in front of you and chair beneath you, but like a meteor hurdling through the atmosphere toward the ground with a flaming trail behind it: Every moment is like this---until you stop.  Then this is where it begins.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

To Engage or Not To Engage?

People criticize your martial art, challenging you to demonstrate its effectiveness.  One can imagine that there was a time when this meant a thug showing up at the dojo's door, putting the reputation of you, your instructor, and your entire martial lineage on the line.  Today I suspect that this is more likely to occur in Internet forums, verbally and quite possibly anonymously.

Should you engage in the debate?

Aikido is not generally taught as an art that encourages fighting, but understand that Aikido is not an art of avoidance either.  Aikido is an art that teaches freedom in every situation, particularly when stresses are high and there is the possibility of real physical danger.  Aikido's freedom is not necessarily defined as whether you physically survive an encounter, let alone subdue your adversary---though those are are hopefully practical benefits of the training; rather, when in your circumstances---whatever they may be---there is something that you must do, you will be able to take the necessary steps to do it without regard to the attractions or aversions found within the circumstances.

At the moment you notice the debate, you are already engaged.  With or without your conscious involvement, your circumstances have brought you this point.  Now what?

Do you feel an instinctual impulse to engage?  Do you feel the need to prove to someone else that your art does what it promises to do?  Do you feel the need to defend your own activity in this art, even to yourself?  Is there a matter of honor and reputation?  Did you choose this art because it might make you invincible in the face of such nonsense?  Will you be swept away with a "must win" mind?

Do you feel an instinctual impulse to avoid the confrontation?  Do you hear your instructor's voice, your pastor's voice, or your conscience, telling you that this is wrong?  Did you choose this art because you believed it supported this view?  Will you be swept away with a "must avoid" mind?

The impulse, either one, is part of you, part of your own circumstances.  Will the impulses drive you, or will you drive you in spite of the impulses?  From moment to moment, you have the freedom to take the wheel.  That is what we practice.  We learn what it is to lead another's energy / intent / "ki" and what it is to have our own led.  When we know these, we also what it means to be "centered."

Seeing a debate, know the freedom of being able to either engage or to disengage with your own will, with regard to your own purpose---whatever that may be.  From this perspective, your test will be whether or not you lose sight of that purpose, whether or not you are swept away by the circumstances.

When this practice is clear, you will see that, in spite of the most aggressive attacks and defenses employed in practice that make the typical audience wince, there is no violence in Aikido at all.

However, yes:  If you are one who is not ready to see clearly how it is possible to punch a person in the nose without engaging in a fight---and even how to accept being punched in the nose if that is what must be done---I would prefer that you not punch anyone in the nose.  This is the more "religious" view of Aikido creating peace in the world; but, with time and practice, you may find the actual peace to which the art points.

Inspired by Dave Golderberg Sensei's post, "Zen and the Art of Blowing Off 'Aikido' Nut Jobs."