Please take a look at Articles on self-defense/conflict/violence for introductions to the references found in the bibliography page.

Please take a look at my bibliography if you do not see a proper reference to a post.

Please take a look at my Notable Quotes

Hey, Attention on Deck!

Hey, NOTHING here is PERSONAL, get over it - Teach Me and I will Learn!

When you begin to feel like you are a tough guy, a warrior, a master of the martial arts or that you have lived a tough life, just take a moment and get some perspective with the following:

I've stopped knives that were coming to disembowel me

I've clawed for my gun while bullets ripped past me

I've dodged as someone tried to put an ax in my skull

I've fought screaming steel and left rubber on the road to avoid death

I've clawed broken glass out of my body after their opening attack failed

I've spit blood and body parts and broke strangle holds before gouging eyes

I've charged into fires, fought through blizzards and run from tornados

I've survived being hunted by gangs, killers and contract killers

The streets were my home, I hunted in the night and was hunted in turn

Please don't brag to me that you're a survivor because someone hit you. And don't tell me how 'tough' you are because of your training. As much as I've been through I know people who have survived much, much worse. - Marc MacYoung


The postings on this blog are my interpretation of readings, studies and experiences therefore errors and omissions are mine and mine alone. The content surrounding the extracts of books, see bibliography on this blog site, are also mine and mine alone therefore errors and omissions are also mine and mine alone and therefore why I highly recommended one read, study, research and fact find the material for clarity. My effort here is self-clarity toward a fuller understanding of the subject matter. See the bibliography for information on the books. Please make note that this article/post is my personal analysis of the subject and the information used was chosen or picked by me. It is not an analysis piece because it lacks complete and comprehensive research, it was not adequately and completely investigated and it is not balanced, i.e., it is my personal view without the views of others including subject experts, etc. Look at this as “Infotainment rather then expert research.” This is an opinion/editorial article/post meant to persuade the reader to think, decide and accept or reject my premise. It is an attempt to cause change or reinforce attitudes, beliefs and values as they apply to martial arts and/or self-defense. It is merely a commentary on the subject in the particular article presented.

Note: I will endevor to provide a bibliography and italicize any direct quotes from the materials I use for this blog. If there are mistakes, errors, and/or omissions, I take full responsibility for them as they are mine and mine alone. If you find any mistakes, errors, and/or omissions please comment and let me know along with the correct information and/or sources.

“What you are reading right now is a blog. It’s written and posted by me, because I want to. I get no financial remuneration for writing it. I don’t have to meet anyone’s criteria in order to post it. Not only I don’t have an employer or publisher, but I’m not even constrained by having to please an audience. If people won’t like it, they won’t read it, but I won’t lose anything by it. Provided I don’t break any laws (libel, incitement to violence, etc.), I can post whatever I want. This means that I can write openly and honestly, however controversial my opinions may be. It also means that I could write total bullshit; there is no quality control. I could be biased. I could be insane. I could be trolling. … not all sources are equivalent, and all sources have their pros and cons. These needs to be taken into account when evaluating information, and all information should be evaluated. - God’s Bastard, Sourcing Sources (this applies to this and other blogs by me as well; if you follow the idea's, advice or information you are on your own, don't come crying to me, it is all on you do do the work to make sure it works for you!)

“You should prepare yourself to dedicate at least five or six years to your training and practice to understand the philosophy and physiokinetics of martial arts and karate so that you can understand the true spirit of everything and dedicate your mind, body and spirit to the discipline of the art.” - cejames (note: you are on your own, make sure you get expert hands-on guidance in all things martial and self-defense)

“All I say is by way of discourse, and nothing by way of advice. I should not speak so boldly if it were my due to be believed.” - Montaigne

Search This Blog

Zen Buddhism, Japanese and Martial Systems

First, I am not a zen master. I am not even a zen practitioner although I attempt to learn and live up to that path in my practice and training. Recently I have come across more information regarding the Asian mind, time and Zen. I wanted to take the time to pass along that information here not to say I know or that I am the expert in this but rather to provide more so that one may change beliefs in this one way or another.

Let me begin that I feel strongly Americans are at a great disadvantage due to ignorance. In Isshinryu circles it is known that Tatsuo Sensei spoke often of the importance of learning the customs of Okinawa to really understand its karate. I believe this more today then ever before. I have to add one caveat tho, that we must learn of their customs but also we must first change our beliefs to allow for understanding. We have to get into their minds, their time and their time as to the other more esoteric understanding of time. If we continue to fool ourselves that our assumptions and expectations through our personal perspectives, beliefs and experiences we will miss the whole boat.

"The tremendous possibilities that lie ahed if the human race can be weaned from its fascination with technology and turn its attention once more to the study of the human spirit." - Chapter six.

What I am gaining slowly from this and other aspects of my studies is we are driven past our spirit as it relates to the spirit of the heavens, earth and nature is detrimental to our overall health and well being. The speed and complete disconnect from nature's timing, rhythm and beat is causing such distress that humans are suffering for it. I believe this is true. This is why I am presenting the next regarding a view of the Asian mind and it through Zen Buddhism beliefs.

Zen utilizes the "koan" as a teaching tool Koan are sayings or quotes that are given to disciples as a teaching tool. They are meant to take these koans and mediate on them until the key is released in a natural way. These koans seem to be convoluted, confusing and illogical, but they do have a deep meaning and in order to understand that meaning, to discover that key is to understand in which context that koan is to be understood. It is in the context.

The koan is a basic teaching tool of Zen practitioners. This teaching and learning process depends on the use of models, practice, and demonstration (note, this is how many art forms are taught such as martial systems.). Words only distort Zen (this may be one reason why Sensei tend to not use words in teachings).

Zen is very high on the context scale and the communications for Zen is very, very fast. In order to understand the context one must understand the history, background and customs of Zen. In order to begin that understanding you must start with a few facts about the Japanese.

Japanese are raised in and live in a close-knit, highly contextualized social context life. This is why there is no questions, no explanations, and this is why outsiders such as Americans find their methods difficult to understand and accept.

In Japan, the discovery of self is directly linked to the full realization of the basic social laws by which one's family, relatives, friends, neighbors and countrymen live. The American "M-time or one-thing-at-a-time" mode is a type of silo'ing or put it into a box type method that is the opposite. Examples follow.

In our country we look at most martial systems as a sport. Archery, an art in Japan, is viewed as a sport here. In their country it can be a sport, but it is also a spiritual-philosophical ritual. This is considered a discipline that trains the mind. The Zen part drives the Japanese tradition of a spiritual exercise regimen that is designed to train/expand the mind. This is the method to get into the rhythm of the unconscious. This is the method to remove all the obstructions that block our free and direct access to that unconscious.

In the art of Archery it is to achieve a blend of the practitioners to the arrow to the bow to the string and then to the target as not separate entities but rather a unified process - the whole. Americans train for skill while the Asian trains by emptying the mind and removing the self and all the self's baggage. The same is true of how they perceive time. Time springs forth from within, the self and it is not an imposed time. Zen tunes us to nature. In that light in lieu of "its noon so its lunch time" they eat when the body says it time for sustenance. They sleep when the body says its time to rest.

In Zen the thoughts that run willy nilly in our brains interferes with our consciousness. It is a form that teaches to think naturally and unconsciously where Americans tend to think logically and analytically which leads us to dogmatic beliefs, creeds and codes, and philosophies while Zen orients toward form and context.

In Zen it is to achieve dissolution of ego and they use the meditation process to bypass the influence of conscious thoughts. This is geared to take those monkey driven feelings of success or failure  and consciousness of self and make the dissolve or at the very least provide for control to the extent that they no longer drive the person.

In Zen swordsmanship the Zen part is the removal of any feelings about either life or death. Truth to the Zen practitioner is all encompassing and yet the very essence of self. Paradoxical to say the least.

Our brains here in our country tend to reside and rely on the left side which is a low-context side, ultra-specific (this tends to explain why we go to the atomistic and tend to ignore the holistic).

The Asian culture believes in the concept of "hara." This is a part and parcel of Zen as well, the two are intricately blended. Hara is a logic of context and "of action" and not limited to word paradigms.

Art, in Japan, is a Zen discipline where you can say such arts as flower arranging, calligraphy, archery and swordsmanship are tied to it thoroughly and completely. This is what makes them arts in lieu of just a sport or discipline. As such all of them are high-context oriented.

Asian art has four elements which the reader will find familiar - hara, MA, intuition, and michi (the way).

Hara links the individual to nature, the universe, man-earth-heaven. MA is a space-time concept and a meaningful pause, interval, or space. Silences in Japan shout the deepest feelings while in American culture it says "embarrassment or dead time. Intuition come from long, deep study and experience. It is the distillation of a theme, an emotion, idea, or object. Michi implies devotion to discipline and the perfection of one's art. The American view of michi is the limiting belief in "technique."

In a short quote, "The Zen artist, after years of disciplined exercise, experiences the object with his whole self and then lets the object draw the picture using the ink-brush as a tool. There is seemingly no conscious effort on the part of the artist to direct the brush. As was true of the Zen archer, the object - the brush - and the artist are part of a single, unified, integrated process. The Japanese, in order to develop his art, must center his efforts on self-knowledge and ultimately on enlightenment. The greatest efforts are made to still the mind and to eliminate the ego, which is subject to the frailties of praise, success, failure, and lack of recognition. "

Japanese arts come from and grow from within and not influenced a great deal from the outside. American art tends to focus on the aesthetic context or on the object itself or both than using the arts to gain insight to the self, the inner workings of our psyches.

Another unique aspect of the Zen practitioner is the view that any failure is seen as merely insufficient effort in the physical discipline, work and dedication to the task or art at hand. It also places a huge demand on the individual.

The Japanese act comes from three centers, not one as we tend to think of it: the mind, the heart, and the hara. Mind is for the business end, heart is for family, friends and home, hara is what one strives for in all things - balance as a whole.

The heart you can depend on; the mind is fluid, chaotic and always in flux. It takes the hara to bring the other two into balance, equilibrium, the whole. If we are to understand context of Asian's to understand our martial practice as a classic/tradition then we must also understand "tate-mae," "honne," and "suji." Tatemae is a sensitivity to other humans, the public self; honne is a sensitivity to that private self; suji is a situation significance to an event.

We Americans also can divide people into an "us" or a "them or othering." The Japanese Zen aspect does do this to an extent in that honne and tatemae is an "us and them." The exception while Americans have shades of gray in us or them the Japanese Zen aspect has nothing in between honne and tatemae.

One last aspect is "giri" or that obligation which a Japanese can incur  during their lives with a "requirement" to repay that obligation. The Japanese have a meeting of the "heart" and Americans have a meeting of the "minds." One last note of significance is in our country we tend to spar with words to show superiority or greater intelligence. In Japan, they will synchronize their "breathing." Now, I would love to learn more about that part and maybe my continued studies will lead me to that one.

Remember, this is my view as to my current studies. My studies are fluid. They will change as I gather in more information and knowledge. This post is meant to give the reader more information as a key to prompt opening a door, a door to more information gathering and to hopefully inspire the reader to open the mind and truly seek out the customs of Okinawa from their perspective, perception and belief systems.

Hall, Edward T. "The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time." Anchor Books. New York. 1983, 1984, 1989.


Stacy Strunk said...

The impression I got in my research is that the Zen thing tends to the background of Japanese culture. Most Japanese claim to be agnostic or at least not to have any one specific religion. But, because of Buddhism's long history in the area, it's still always "there."

Like here in the U.S., Christianity is a huge influence in our culture, even when it's not obvious.

Here's a couple of shorter reads, you might like:

An article in the Japanese times about the co-existence of Shintoism and Buddhism:

"A View of Religion in Japan"

Charles James said...

Excellent point Stacy, thanks for the info and thanks for the links - will be reading them today.