Friday, December 31, 2010

Musashi's Nine Articles

Miyamoto Musashi is believed to be the greatest swordsman who ever lived in Japan.  He lived in the 17th century and was undefeated in over 60 duels to the death.  Later in life, he devoted himself to Zen and taught select students his famous two sword style, Niten Ichi Ryu, which he created.  Musashi is also the author of the Book of Five Rings (Go Rin No Sho), a book on strategy, philosophy, and tactics still widely read today.
What I present today is a guideline for living which he devised for himself and his students.

Miyamoto Musashi's Nine Articles
1. Do not think dishonestly.
2. Constantly forge body and mind.
3. Become acquainted with all of the arts.
4. Know something about every craft.
5. Learn to gauge the merits and demerits of things.
6. Develop an understanding of all matters. 
7. Perceive things which are not obvious.
8. Pay attention to the smallest details.
9. Do not waste time on nonessentials. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Creed of the Bushi

The Samurai or Bushi Creed was originally composed circa 1300 in Japan.  By reading it, one can see that it's rooted in Buddhist belief and is also a great code to live by in day-to-day life.  I try to read it on a regular basis for inspiration and self assurance.   So, without further ado,  I present the credo below.

I have no parents; I make heaven and earth my mother and father.
I have no home; I make awareness my dwelling.
I have no life and death; I make the tides of breathing my life and death.
I have no divine power; I make honesty my divine power.
I have no means; I make understanding my means.
I have no magic secrets; I make character my magic secret.
I have no body; I make endurance my body.
I have no eyes; I make the flash of lightning my eyes.
I have no ears; I make sensibility my ears.
I have no limbs; I make promptness my limbs.
I have no strategy; I make 'unshadowed by thought' my  strategy.
I have no designs; I make 'seizing the opportunity by the forelock' my design. 
I have no miracles; I make right action my miracle.
I have no principles; I make adaptability to all circumstances my principles.
I have no tactics; I make emptiness and fullness my tactics.
I have no talents; I make ready wit my talent.
I have no friends; I make my mind my friend.
I have no enemy; I make carelessness my enemy.
I have no armor; I make benevolence and righteousness my armor.
I have no castle; I make immovable mind my castle.
I have no sword; I make absence of self my sword.

As in the words of Miyamoto Musashi (from The Book of Five Rings), "You should practice and investigate this well." 


Friday, December 24, 2010

Adapt and Overcome

Encountering a change in life may seem like a road-block.  Where do we turn next?  What's the next course of action? What if we view these changes as opportunities instead of a road-block?

The following is an excerpt from the Art of War by Sun Tzu:
Circumstances are the purveyors of benefit; by such they create power.
Therefore in battle there are no constant conditions;
with water there is no constant shape.
Among the Five Elements, none are predominant;
among the four seasons, none stay for long;
the days are long and then short;
the moon waxes and then wanes. 

We as humans wouldn't be where we are today if it wasn't for adaptation.  As such, we can take whatever life throws our way and use it to our advantage.  It's the actions we take in response to circumstances that make a difference.
When one door closes, another opens.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Seven Virtues of Bushido: Gi

Gi: Right action, Justice
Honesty with all people, doing the right action for others and yourself (not because it's easy, but because it's ethically and morally correct), belief in fair justice.

Truth will out.  By sticking to our moral code of honesty and right action, what fear do we have?   As a Chinese proverb says "A clear mind never fears midnight knocking."  Also, if one tempers with correct justice, one doesn't "lose face."  
Believe in justice for those who fall victim to the evil of others.  Remain loyal to your family, spouses, friends, and brethren.  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Plum Blossoms

It's winter time in Iowa once again.  If you know Iowa, you know blistering wind-chills, two-feet-deep snow, and scraping the windshield every morning before work.
This time of year also reminds me of a quote by Hakudo Nakayama:
Plum blossoms open because of the frost and snow.
 This is a beautiful metaphor that sometimes the hardest and roughest times bring out the best of us.  I can think of many times in my own life that this has proved to be very true.  How about you?


Monday, December 13, 2010

Seven Virtues of Bushido: Introduction

What is Bushido?  In Japan, it was a code of conduct which samurai were expected to live by.   Let's dissect the kanji above.  The first on the left is bu meaning martial or battle.  The middle is shi meaning warrior.  The last, on the right is do meaning way or road.  So literally translated it is "Martial Warrior Way" or "Way of the Warrior."
Although the book Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo written in the early 18th Century, (1700's) claims samurai of the day have seemed to abandoned such ideals, (probably the result of many samurai becoming master-less after a long period of peace),  the code is still something to live by like the samurai of old.

The Code of Bushido consists of seven virtues:
Gi righteousness, rectitude, right conduct;
Yu bravery, courage
Jin benevolence, humanity
Rei respect, courtesy
Makato honesty, sincerity
Meiyo honor
Chu loyalty, devotion

In this series of articles, I will explain each virtue of Bushido in detail and how we can all benefit from living by such a code.  Not only for the martial artist, but for any person.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Belief In Yourself

I'd like to share a Zen story today.
Great Waves
In the early days of the Meiji era there lived a well-known wrestler called O-nami, Great Waves.  
O-nami was immensely strong and knew the art of wresting. In his private bouts he defeated even his teacher, but in public was so bashful that his own pupils threw him. 

O-nami felt he should go to a Zen master for help. Hakuju, a wandering teacher, was stopping in a little temple nearby, so O-nami went to see him and told him of his great trouble.

"Great Waves is your name," the teacher advised, "so stay in this temple tonight. Imagine that you are those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. You are those huge waves sweeping everything before them, swallowing all in their path. Do this and you will be the greatest wrestler in the land."

The teacher retired. O-nami sat in meditation trying to imagine himself as waves. He thought of many different things. Then gradually he turned more and more to the feeling of waves. As the night advanced the waves became larger and larger. They swept away the flowers in their vases. Even the Buddha in the shrine was inundated. Before dawn the temple was nothing but the ebb and flow of an immense sea. 

In the morning the teacher found O-nami meditating, a faint smile on his face. He patted the wrestler's shoulder. "Now nothing can disturb you," he said. "You are those waves. You will sweep everything before you."
The same day O-nami entered the wrestling contests and won. After that, no one in Japan was able to defeat him.

It is true that a little creative visualization can help us through our problems.  It can also help us realize that we can actually do whatever we truly want to.
This story is from a great site called 101 Zen Stories.  Click here for more zen stories.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Interview: Mr. Hahn

I've known Mr. (Justin) Hahn since high school.  He has achieved black belt in multiple arts, and has agreed to a short interview with me.  Mr. Hahn currently lives in Colorado.

How were you introduced to martial arts and what is your background/experience with martial arts? (include styles)
I was introduced to the martial arts when I was a little kid and watched the Karate Kid movie. I think that was my first real influence into the world of martial arts that wasn't purely action based. Since then I have studied many styles Seishin Ryu, Tang Soo Do, Hung Gar, BJJ, Judo, Kickboxing, Aikido, The Sanjuriu samurai system which includes Jujutsu, Akijutsu, Karate, and Kenjutsu, Krav Maga, Jun Fan Jeet Kune Do, Shudokan, and currently studying Filipino arts Kombatan.

Why do you practice martial arts?
I practice for the same reason some people lift weights, ride a bike, rock climb, run, play video games, make music, or do whatever it is they do. I love it, it's the one thing I knew I loved before I even knew what love is.

What do you feel is the importance of martial arts training?
Martial Arts can help with confidence, conquering fear, Self Defence, finding peace, or even fitness. It helps you physically, mentally, and spiritually. Especially the spiritual aspect, many martial arts out their may not be as effective in true combat as others, but I don't believe that makes them any less significant. To punch somebody, Kick them, throw them down, choke them, are all primitive in today's world. As a former soldier from an army combat unit I know. I believe their is a wisdom in martial arts, and that's where the true value of training is.

How has being a martial artist influenced your daily life? 
I have found myself at home in the martial arts, It's an outlet and way of life for me. I practice everyday, even the day's I don't go to the school. Because of my training I am a stronger person in all respects. As my former Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan instructor Steve Decker used to say, "You can lose your job, your house, even your wife, but you'll always be a black belt, no one on earth can take the knowledge of your training from you." That is how I look at my training day in and day out. It's the one thing that is for you and you alone.

What advice or guidance do you have for other martial artists? 

My advice would be to make your art your own, know what works for you and what doesn't. Some people may want to only learn the most effective techniques to help them in a fight, some may want more of a spiritual experience, and some may want both. Know why it is you want to train before you start. Let the instructors you talk with know the reasons before you start, most will either teach you primarily in what you want to know or send you to some one who will.

Many thanks to Mr. Hahn.  Best of luck on your journeys.  Amituofo 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Empty Your Cup

An open mind is a treasure.  All too often we go about our day judging others, sticking to our own beliefs of what is valid, and not willing to see the views of others.  Of course we have to discern what is right from wrong, good from evil, but we can learn from others as much as we can from teachers or ourselves.

Here is an excerpt from the Tao Te Ching Chapter 11:
If you mould a cup you have to make it hollow;
It is the emptiness within that makes it useful.
In a house or room, it is the empty spaces-
Doors, windows, rooms- that make it usable.
They all use what they are made of to do what they do,
But without their nothingness they would be nothing.

Now, it's not talking about being empty in the sense of "personality," but rather your mind.  A more modern quote, from Bruce Lee, is as follows:
Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.

Let's all try not to let our personal beliefs restrict us of learning new things, showing us new ideas, or even ways to improve our lives.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Courage and Self Confidence

One of the many benefits I have acquired from practicing martial arts is that of self confidence.  Along with self confidence comes courage and better self esteem.  It's not knowing that you could possibly win in a fight (because who's to say the opponent isn't a better fighter) that brings this benefit.  The courage and self confidence is more of a side affect of practicing and training.

Bearing this in mind makes me recall a great quote by Jin'uemon Shigezumi, a samurai of the 17th century:
Do not become a cowardly sort of fellow who fakes a smile and is unable to look people directly in the face.  No matter what the cost, become a man of mettle. 
A bushi, even if he has nothing to eat, must sit there and pick his teeth serenely with a toothpick like he has just had a big meal.
Apply yourself assiduously to the martial way. 

(Bushi is the Japanese word for warrior)
(The Japanese character above is "bravery/courage")

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Twenty Rules for Lifelong Training

The following is an excerpt from a book titled Budo Secrets (order a copy here).  Not only is this important for a martial artist, but it is something we can all benefit from in our daily lives.

1. Never Lie
2. Never forget to be grateful to one's lord.
3. Never forget to be grateful to one's partents.
4  Never forget to be grateful to one's teachers.
5. Never forget to be grateful to one's fellow human beings
6. Do nothing to offend gods, Buddhas, and one's elders.
7. Do not begrudge small children.
8. Do not burden others with your own troubles.
9. There is no place for anger and rage in the Way.
10. Do not rejoice at the misfortune of others.
11. Do your best to do what is best.
12. Do not turn your back on others and only think of yourself.
13. When you eat, be mindful of the hard work of the farmers who grew the food.
14. Do not dress in fine clothes, or waste time on superficial appearances.
15. Always behave with good manners.
16. Always treat everyone like an honored guest.
17. To overcome ignorance, learn from as many people as possible.
18. Do not practice and study the arts just to make a name for yourself.
19. Human beings have good and bad points.  Do not dismiss or laugh at anyone.
20. Strive to behave well but keep good actions hidden and do not seek the praise of others.