Friday, October 31, 2008

Mano a mano

I'm back from my travels and posting again...

Funakoshi Principle #13:
Victory depends on your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones.

The other way I have seen this listed is "Respond in accordance with your opponent." Japenese language is funny like that. One set of symbols can mean two completely different things, although the deeper meanings of them can hold surprising similiarities.

Once again this whole thing goes back to perception, except this time it's perception of people. Not only is it seeing people, such as, "Oh look, there's some dude.", but also it refers to seeing inside people and understanding what is going on in real time in their minds and emotions.

In a fighting situation, such as a martial arts sparring match, this is a pretty clear-cut statement. You will win if you punch them in the ding ding. If you do not know where a ding ding is located, you better hit them somewhere else that hurts, or you lose.

However, think about it this way: Life is about interactions of all kinds, not just fights. Sometimes you may NOT want to hit somebody where they are vulnerable. In this case, it could be an effort to not hurt them emotionally, not just physically. You may want to spare someone's feelings or other parts of their being in your interaction with them, or you may not.

All that takes a lot of skill and awareness, and.... you guessed it... paying attention. "Victory" comes from knowing how to handle people. It comes from knowing when to spare their vulnerabilities when necessary, and to not spare them when necessary too. It also comes from knowing how those vulnerable points come and go, and to be able to detect the strong and weak points, as well as the emotions and sentiments, of people as they interact with you.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A quick recap

To anyone just joining us, we are a little more than half way through looking at some principles by a man named Gichin Funakoshi, who is reputed by some to be the man that made karate popular in the United States.

I am doing this as part of a general discussion on some basic spiritual principles, and using karate as an example of how living your normal life, in a normal way, IS a profound spiritual practice. You just need to consistently see it that way for it to be so, and life will take it from there.

Remember that as we go through all this, you can easily substitute your favorite activity in every place where I talk about karate or martial arts.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Don't be a loser

Funakoshi Principle #12: Do not think that you have to win, rather think that you do not have to lose.

I'm in the middle of a flurry of business trips back and forth from Minneapolis, so I haven't been around to write.

Anyway! This is an interesting principle. On its barest level, it talks about sportsmanship. For example, when you are sparring someone in martial arts, you should remember that winning isn't everything. It's whether or not you did your best that matters. Winning is generally a "nice to have" in physical tournaments, but it is not everything.

Looking at this deeper, however, it becomes more interesting than that.

What happens when all you think about is winning?

What does that do to your attitude? What does that do to your focus? Some would say it increases it, and in physical sports the "killer instinct" is necessary for winning. That's probably true. However, take a look at most (professional) athletes. What are they like?

Their focus on winning tends to concentrate their awareness on themselves, namely, their own emotions and egos and how to go about satisfying those things. This is essentially the feeding of a "false self".

Too much concentration on winning does that. It can strengthen and feed your ego and bring you away from being aware of the aspects of yourself that are closer to Consciousness. Funakoshi is saying all you have to do is concentrate on not losing. In other words, it is ok to take care of yourself and provide yourself some measure of comfort and sustenance. You should not deny those needs because their basic fulfillment is just as much a part of spirituality as any other exercise, more even.

You don't have to "lose" by not worrying about your needs at all, or even denying them completely and letting everyone else walk all over you. Concentrating on "not losing" is striking a balance between your needs and egoic desires.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Keep on burnin'

Funakoshi Principle #11: Karate is like boiling water. If you do not heat it constantly, it will cool.

In one way of looking at it, this principle says the same thing I mentioned already about the value of training and working hard on things, i.e. the point of it is to increase your baseline, or Stage, to use a Ken Wilber term.

Along those same lines, this principle can also express the importance of meditation or prayer (which technically are the same thing, if you understand how they work.) Meditation and prayer are like lifting weights, and all the basic ideas apply. If you do it more, you get more focused and centered, along with some other good side effects. If you stop, the effects diminish.

The same is also true on a physical level, as I said before, with regards to karate or any sport.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Tenth Insight

No, it's not a cheesy book! It's the next Funakoshi principle:

Funakoshi Principle #10: Put your everyday living into karate, and you will find the subtle secrets.

Anyone seeing a pattern here? Like any good teacher, Funakoshi has an underlying principle emerging. Moreover, that underlying principle rings true, and is recognizable as being his own way of saying the same thing everyone else is saying when they teach about Reality.

In my own words, I'm asserting the same thing he is: Pay attention!

When you pay attention long enough, you start to realize that life is constantly giving you clues to things, answers even. The problem is that these clues and answers are so subtle that if your attention lags for even a moment, you could miss out.

"Putting your everyday living into karate" does not necessarily mean opening soup cans with shuto strikes, or breaking frozen meat with a bare fist. (Please, never try that.) Putting your everyday living into karate means applying the principles of attention, chi, centered-ness, and awareness into your life. Training in a dojo is a good way to work on these things, but if you don't have a dojo (like me at the moment), you are still fine! You have life!

Here's a trick to show this principle of how the universe gives clues. Think of a question in your mind, something that is general and about your life. Then open a book, any book, preferably not a technical manual for an air cleaning system, but if that floats your boat, then sure. Read a passage out of that book with your question in mind. See if the text has any relevance after you think about it. Often you will find it does.

That's a little trick that forces the issue a bit, but if you just pay attention to what's going on in your life in a particular moment, with a question in mind, you will often see something that gives you a clue. Try it.

Friday, October 17, 2008

In it for life

Funakoshi Principle #9: Karate is a life-long pursuit.

In today's world of ADD kids and ADD adults, people rarely actually stick with something for long. Interests come and go and before you know it, your kid (or the parent) is onto something else. Personally, I think that the overload of information we see from technology and society today perpetuates our scatter-brained tendency.

Karate classes are just a casualty of this phenomenon. I've seen more people come and go in class than are enrolled in the class at any given time. I have put fairly high level belts on people who have earned them every bit, only to never see them again after that. Life calls.

Funakoshi would probably not be too happy with today's state of karate and martial arts in that respect.

However, hold on a minute!

Maybe not everyone is meant to be in a karate class his or her whole life? Maybe people are meant to get what they need and then move on? Perhaps all that is needed sometimes is several months of lessons to drive home some important point in life, at which step the person then moves onward?

I believe that is closer to the truth. So does this contradict Funakoshi? No. I don't think it does.

Instead of the word "karate", substitute "spiritual practice". Spiritual practice is a lifelong pursuit. That is true. A student might leave a karate class, but the student's spiritual practice goes on afterward, hopefully.

Remember, training, exercises, thrills.... these are not necessarily spiritual practice, or lifelong pursuits. However, Life is a lifelong pursuit. There is only one way out, eh? Every-day events are your teacher, and every-day actions are your spiritual practice.

I believe that Funakoshi probably equated karate with spirituality, and understood the importance of using life as your teacher. That is what he meant by the principle.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Small break from Funakoshi

Just felt like diverting....

When I die, say this for me...

If you feel sad for me, feel sad.
If you are moved to cry for me, cry.
But do not let your grief for me pull you way for even one second from doing what must be done in this present moment.
Do not allow your sadness to make you sink into the past, reminiscing of me
for when you are in the past, I am not there, and you are moving away from me.
Instead, be with me in the Present.
In this moment, I never was, and never will be again, but I am here now as much as I was before, and more.
I am the memories in your mind.
I am the air in your lungs.
I am the beauty you can see in all things.
I am YOU.
So when this moment is passed and drifts to the next, know that I am here always eternally, with you, and join me in my greatest and final realization.

Cutting class

Funakoshi Principle #8: Do not think that karate is only practiced in the dojo.

I dare say that this principle is akin to the things I have been noting on this blog for a while now. Life is a spiritual practice. There are times when we do "formal exercises" or training to sharpen parts of ourselves, such as practicing martial arts, but when you leave the classroom the learning does not need to stop. Life is your main teacher. By paying attention to the things around you, there are lessons everywhere.

I don't want to repeat this so much if it can be gleaned from past posts. Let me take another aspect of this principle.

In a sense, taking a martial arts class is the same exact thing as playing baseball, lifting weights, or joining a quiz game league: the more you practice something, the better you get... until you stop practicing. As long as you remain in the classroom, you will get better or maintain your skills. When you get out of the classroom, your skills can get rusty. So what's the point of ever really being in class, if its effects are not permanent and they only work so long as you stay in it for the rest of your life? Shouldn't the things that we can do in our everyday life and practice count for more?

As an example, why lift weights if as soon as I stop lifting weights I will almost immediately revert back to my baseline strength? I either have to lift weights for the rest of my life, or be happy with what I've got. If you like to lift weights, then that's great. It's about pleasure at that point. If you don't like lifting weights, why do it?

Ok, now that I've played Devil's advocate....

That's not to say that classrooms do not have a purpose. A sensei of mine used to say, "The worst you ever do in class is the best you will ever do on the street. The point of class is to work on your worst, and make it better."

What you do in a class over a long period of time affects your baseline. A few months of class will move up your baseline a tiny bit. A few years of class will move it up noticeably, but barely. A few decades will move it up a lot. Your baseline is what matters, not the limits of your skills in class.

Ken Wilber refers to this concept as "States" and "Stages".

A State is a temporary frame of mind or consciousness. When you practice karate in class, and you are having a good day, or a good year, you are in a very high State of practice, or a high state of proficiency. States come and go, however. Once you leave class temporarily, or for good, the State goes away, or you can revert to a lower State.

Stages are your baseline. Stages are permanent, and do not go downward easily. If you stop practicing forever, your baseline level of skill in karate is your Stage. Stages take a long time to advance. Moving up your baseline to a new level is a slow and arduous process that can take years or decades in the case of martial arts.

Stages can advance through normal activity in your life, not just class. That's the essence of what Funakoshi is saying. However, actively working on a Stage in a classroom setting can advance it faster.

A final disclaimer: This is yet another toolbox, a belief system. It is a series of labels I have put onto things that are not describable with words. Keep in mind things I've said on the blog about Oneness and a lack of advancement or striving.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Funakoshi Principle #7: Accidents arise from negligence.

Another way of wording this is inattention and neglect cause misfortune. Once again, on the surface this physically means pay attention. If you are careless in practicing martial arts, someone could get hurt, and people do get hurt. So pay attention!

The deeper meaning of this principle is... Pay attention! Yet again, here we have what is really my own personal basic guiding principle in life, paying attention.

The Japanese have a concept called "satori", which can roughly translate as "excellence", but what satori really means is attentive focus and readiness. In his book Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Dan Millman's teacher, Socrates, shows him what satori feels like. He pulls out a knife and tells Dan to catch the knife when he throws it at hm. Naturally, Dan was scared half to death, but he figured he better damn well pay attention or he was about to get skewered. He might be getting skewered anyway...

Socrates never threw the knife, but Dan realized that the lesson was about how he felt when he thought Socrates was going to throw the knife. He went into a state of satori. Think about how you'd feel if someone told you they were about to throw a knife and you had to catch it.

Granted, we can't all pay attention like this all the time. Sales of headache medications would go through the roof, and Pfizer's stock would be a lot higher than it is now. However, there are other kinds of attention too, ones that take less effort. In our martial arts school, the Kodo School of Karate, we call one of them "Mind of Water". This state of consciousness is a quiet and relaxed readiness. You are not in satori, where you are trying to catch daggers, but you are attentive and awake, alert too, but not tense. Although you are not noticing every single detail of every little thing, you are tuned into the main flow of things and you understand what's happening around you as it happens.

Should anything arise that requires more attention, BANG. You switch into satori, and you focus on it. We call that "Mind of Mirror".

There is also a "Mind of Moon" where you are usually in Mind of Water, but with an added focus on trying to see everything at once in more detail. Mind of Moon talks more about noticing things with your senses: sight, sound, touch, intuition, whereas Mind of Water is a state of consciousness and may or may not deal with senses at any given time.

Neglecting to have at least one of these states active can result in accidents. Accidents mean that you missed something and it caused you to make a mistake.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Release the mind

Funakoshi Principle #6: Always be ready to release your mind.

I'll admit. There are some Funakoshi principles that are more physical than others, and some can be tough to find the deeper meaning behind them. This is not one of them.

In a strict martial arts sense, when you have practiced the physical moves for a long time they become ingrained in you, and when it comes time to do them for real (or practice) you can do them without thinking. There is a state of "no mind", or in Japanese, mu-shin. That state of no mind, where you are at one with the present moment and you just act as needed, is one of the biggest side effects of practicing martial arts. When you do it in class, it starts to spill out into your life for some things.

When you first start to get into this, it sort of comes on when it wants to. The state of no-mind in newer black belts tends to only come out under situations of extreme endurance or stress, but as they progress, it becomes easier to get to it, and eventually it can come at will. Holding it for long periods of time is another matter.

In this state, which is not just good for martial arts, but for a lot of other things too, you are not putting up any mental barriers or labels between you and the things you are looking at. Normally when you look at something, your mental chatter labels it. "Book"... "Pen"..... "Monitor"... etc. What you are therefore perceiving most of the time is your mental label of things rather than the things themselves, which have no names. When you look at something without a mental label, it can be surprising because you become aware that the thing is literally bursting into creation, in a fit of ecstasy even.

Most people can't live like this all the time, but a good substitute for that is to be able to switch into that state for little bits of time whenever you get the chance. Always being ready to release your mind means being able to do that, both in times of stress and in times of calm.

Doing this on a regular basis is a powerful exercise and spiritual practice.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

We interrupt this bloggin'

Usually towards the beginning of each month I like to remind everyone who is new here that sometimes it's easier to start reading this blog from the beginning instead of picking up the most recent posts first. Lately that's not quite as true because I have been doing various topics, but for the earlier stuff there definitely is a progression.

Also, we now have a "followers" widget on the right sidebar, if you look over there. Pretty cool.

It's not what you say or do...

Funakoshi Principle #5: Spirit first, technique second.

Technique is a mechanical thing. The word "technical" is part of the word "technique". Doing a technique in a technically perfect way is great, if it is even possible.

However, it is your spirit that allows the technique to accomplish its goal. Beyond that, if you can develop and focus your spirit, you can even let go of the technique, from a technical standpoint.

Confused yet?

Let's say someone throws a punch at you, and you block it.

If your technique is perfect, you might have enough speed and power to actually block that punch. You might even have enough power to break their arm as it punches, if you wish. But what are you going to DO to that person in terms of the overall fight? Are you going to scare them? Are you going to surprise them? Are you going to make them laugh? Are you going to make them your friend?

It is the spirit behind the technique that conveys its intention. If you block the punch and burn your eyes into the person, they may realize it's not a good idea to try a second punch. If you had relied only on technique, that may not be the case. They may have thought you simply got lucky and they might try again.

What about life?

Ever hear the phrase "it's not what you say, but how you say it"? Someone's language "technique" could be great, but their personality or intentions can be completely off and they can rub people the wrong way. Actually, people make a lot of problems for themselves because they are insensitive to what is behind their language technique. Your ability to not only use good wording but also to convey the proper message that you intend without creating undesired reactions in other people is what is known as people skills.

Beyond words, actions are the same. You can go to work every day as a matter of technical course. It's just what you do, and you do it by habit. OR, you can go to work every day as an exercise. See it as a test. See it as a kata. Simply see it as fun, even if it is not initially what you think of as fun!

Remember you make your reality through your thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and feelings, i.e. your spirit. The technique is what it is, whether it's throwing a punch, talking to your teacher, or going to work. The spirit is what makes that technique work the way you wish to manifest it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Control, you must learn control

Funakoshi Principle #4: First control yourself before attempting to control others.

Control.... this is a pretty profound concept in my mind, certainly not a trivial thing to talk about. It is something I have wrestled with in my own life since I was a kid and I could probably write volumes on it, but maybe it is best to start simply.

Technique..... The first thing anyone needs to be able to do is control the body. You do this as an infant learning to walk (not to mention the hundreds of other motions you learn before even attempting to walk.) You also do this in karate. When you first start out, you cannot control your body in such a way to do "good techniques", whatever they may be.

Ever look at a white belt doing a stance next to a brown belt? They are both doing a stance, but they look different. Same technique, and aside from personal differences between their body types, the difference in the way they look is control. A brown belt has been around long enough to know how to control his or her body to do a good stance. A white belt is still trying to figure out the mechanics of it.

Now what about the deeper physical aspects of control beyond motor skills? Senseis sometimes say you should "move from your center." This is the element of controlling yourself physically. Move from your center. It is not as easy as you think, and you actually spend a good deal of your early (and late) belt ranks figuring out how to move from your center.

Jujitsu has developed this concept even more highly. First you learn to control your center. Then you learn to control someone else's center (through throws and holds and other stuff). Then you learn to control the center between you and your opponent.

In karate, you are going to have a lot of trouble managing the techniques thrown at you by your opponent if you are still trying to figure out the basics of how to block or punch. You need to know how to move before you can begin to deal with stuff coming at you effectively. Once you do learn this, having an opponent trying to strike you becomes less of an issue.

So this begs some of the deeper questions about control. What is it?

Here's my definition:

Control is the identification of "self" with one's True Self, as opposed to one's desires and animal nature.

Once you do this, the wants and desires of your Animal Self (food, warmth, sex, sleep, safety) and your Inner Self (acceptance, revenge, friendship, romance, and more) can be seen for what they really are. The illusions behind them are broken and you become "free" of them. You have control. This does not mean they go away. They will always be there as long as you are human. However, when you can "control yourself", you are able to do what needs to be done at the moment, rather than what these lesser natures are telling you to do.

After doing this for a while, a funny thing happens. You realize that there is really no difference between the "self" that is you and the "self" that is someone else. It's the same Self. Once you become free of it, you contribute to all humans' abilities to become free of it as well. At that point, there is no need to "control" others forcefully or otherwise, because you understand things as they happen and are able to do what needs to be done despite the obstacles presented by someone else's desire and animal natures.

Friday, October 3, 2008

For great justice!

Funakoshi Principle #3: Karate is an aide to justice.

Alternatively, this could be translated as "Karate stands on the side of justice."

First, what the heck is justice? Second, are we supposed to be dressing up in capes and tights and going out to save people from evil villains?

I really doubt Funakoshi wanted us to don our gis and belts and go out to save little Okinawan damsels in distress, fun as it might be. As for Justice, we can bring up a lot of arguments about whether or not it even exists in life at all.

So what in the world is this principle talking about? Karate is an aid to justice??

One thing that comes to my mind when thinking about this over the years is that Justice has a lot to do with Balance.

If instead of thinking about legal matters we think about karate as an aid to Balance, then it all becomes more clear. Using the word "Justice" may just mean that we are talking about Balance as it pertains to events outside of ourselves. Balance can be an internal or external thing, but I see Justice as a purely external thing that relates to interactions between two or more things. BUT, what you do on the inside reflects what you do on the outside, so there's really no difference between the two.

So there you have it. Karate is an aid to the Balance within ourselves and between ourselves and others.

This means that if you work your technique and your awareness, you will bring Balance to your internal self, and from there that Balance will rub off on others besides you. It will rub off on situations in which you involve yourself. It will rub off on tasks that you do and things that you make.

In other words, karate is a tool, i.e. an aid. In itself, it is not Balance or Justice. It is a way of obtaining them within yourself and others.
Remember also that "karate" can be substituted with any personal spiritual practice. Your practice is what balances you.

Also keep in mind that sometimes doing nothing can be balancing. By observing and "being" you can lend your energy to the balance of the world, and therefore the "justice" of the world is aided by it.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

No First Strike

Funakoshi Principle #2: There is no first attack in karate.

On a surface level, this is a pretty good observation. Karate is for defense. You do not use karate to walk into a bar and rough people up. You do not use karate to oppress your little brother or sister. etc...

All katas in Wado Ryu and Shotokan begin with a block or an evasion of some sort. In the story of the kata, you are not the attacker. You are the defender.

But all of these examples talk about technique. You can "use" karate without having to throw a technique. Using karate can be keeping your awareness on the street at a high level so you cross the road when that gang of shady-looking people is coming your way. Using karate can be burning your eyes into that mugger to make him think twice about attacking you. Using karate can be accommodating an annoying coworker in a business meeting to let them get something they really need despite the fact it stings your ego a bit. Using karate can be enforcing a boundary on your kid without instilling fear in them to do it.

We can think of many more examples.

Where does this principle apply in the non-technique examples?

To understand this, we need to realize that an "attack" is not always something physical. You can attack with words, looks, attitudes, body language, and other things.

This principle's deeper meaning is that you should be aware enough of yourself to NOT throw these kinds of attacks first. Doing that takes a tremendous amount of self-awareness because a lot of us throw these kinds of attacks unknowingly or out of habit. How many times have you found yourself in a situation where someone irked you and you just had to shoot a verbal barb at them, which wound up starting an argument? If you would have just left it alone, there would not have been a useless confrontation, right? Have you ever kicked yourself for doing that?

If you have, then you are on the right track. Becoming aware of the attacks you make against people is a first step. Catching them after the fact is progress. Catching them before you are about to do them is where you want to be.