Training in budo begins with the slow development of spatial and body movement skills designed to maximize economy of movement and to position the body in space and time to achieve mastery over the opponent. Decades pass and the budoka masters the physical and mental skills needed to control the flow of combat. However, mastery of physical skill, though a necessary component, does not enable the budoka to develop his true potential. As in art, in budo taijutsu there exists an ineffable quality that can only be properly described as inspiration. Soke exemplifies this in every aspect of his elegant mastery of ninpo taijutsu. It would be absurd to think that great art comes from a paint-by-the-number process. But, many in the martial arts community train in the fashion of a child’s paint-by-the-numbers set. Technique is merely the beginning, for so many it is misunderstood as the end. Inspiration gives life to technique and, therefore, is the essential quality of budo. Inspiration by definition finds it source in divinity. As an artist mimics God’s creative acts by artistic inspiration, so the ancient warrior relied upon the divine to breathe life into technique and, thereby, transcend it. This process occurs from without and can only be developed by communion with the divine. It is said that a divinely inspired warrior once slew six hundred opponents with an ox goad (bo) (Judges 3:31). Such a feat is only possible by a warrior imbued with the spirit of the divine. It can only be imagined to what transcendent heights the warrior mounted as he flowed in the void, hiding in the interstices of space and time to strike with mortal blows into the fury of 600 doomed combatants—this is the true expression of kami waza.
Saturday, August 16, 2008
Since the creation of man, the moon has been an object of contemplation; its silver disc endlessly tracing an arc in the frozen blackness of infinity. The moon seems aloof, staring down in sublime elegance shrouded in the unnerving gloom of night. It appears undisturbed by human tumult as it floats amid the celestial void. The moon's eternal tranquility speaks to man's search for equanimity. "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse." Romans 1:20
The warrior strives for an imperturbable equanimity, especially in the face of death. The Ninja strives to endure, to survive, though he faces the immediate specter of death, realized by a finely honed blade poised to strike his heart. In battle, survival is achieved through the settled spirit which has come to terms with a divine destiny and which knows peace with God. This state results in the free flow of technique and feeling which is the surest path to victory. Fear is subsumed and equanimity achieved when the budoka meditates on the nature and virtues of God. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." Isaiah 26: 3 Then, the heart may float as the silvered moon in the black void.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
"Be not afraid of them: remember the Lord, which is great and terrible, and fight for your brethren, your sons, and your daughters, your wives, and your houses." Nehemiah 4:14
In the fifth century B.C., the Israelites were laboring to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, a work that they were commanded to do as they returned from Persian exile. However, they faced opposition from local Persian officials. Therefore, the Israelites set a guard on the incomplete wall, each man taking his spear or bow. Nehemiah, a jew who had been appointed by Artaxerxes I as a governor, instructed those who had been called to arms to focus on God's power to deliver the warrior and to fight to defend family and land.
The ancient Ninja felt the same obligation and filial duty. The Ninja fought to defend his family and clan. In our training, we must develop the same warrior spirit. True budo can only be derived from heavenly principals, as they are revealed to us by God. First, the warrior is called to remember that the disposition of any battle is determined by the sovereignty of God and that it is God who grants victory through his terrible power. The warrior trains and prepares for the day of battle, but victory is of the Lord. Therefore, the warrior need have no fear of the enemy, whatever the outcome. Second, the purity of budo can only be realized in the defense of family, friend, or land against the evildoer; indeed, this is a moral imperative. True budo requires the warrior to seek the will of God, in faith, and to employ his power in the service of others.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
Generally, meditation means to concentrate the mind on a single point of focus or to contemplate. "Meditation involves putting something into the mind, either an image or a sacred word that is visualized or a concept that is thought about or reflected on, or both." Philip Kapleau The Three Pillars of Zen The practice is endorsed by all major religions but to vastly different purposes. And, it is the purpose to which meditation is applied which determines its character and validity. As a spiritual exercise it is generally intended, in eastern religions, to result in "satori" or a state of enlightenment with the hoped for result of deliverance from "samsara", or the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. As a mental exercise, it's purpose is to achieve control of the intellect and, for some, the attainment of human potential.
Biblically, meditation is expressed as a mental and spiritual practice where the mind is focused on the attributes of God and on his written word. The result of this meditation on the written word (the Bible) is peace and mental stability. "Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." Isaiah 26:3 However, there is no saving merit in meditation, since no man merits God's salvation. Meditation is reserved for Christian practice as a form of communion with God subsequent to the application of saving grace. For the Christian, this is meditation in its highest form, it is the clear perception of reality as it is revealed in scripture--this is true enlightenment. "In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not." John 1:4,5 Meditation with other, non-spiritual ends, may serve useful purposes in honing the ability of the mind to concentrate and to manipulate physical capability. But, meditation in any of its various forms, cannot save the human soul from ultimate judgement.
Zazen, the practice of zen Buddhist sitting, involves the attainment of "bare attention" which is a state of mind where the mind merely perceives. "In what is seen there must be just the seen; in what is heard there must be just the heard; in what is sensed (as smell, taste or touch) there must be just what is sensed; in what is thought there must be just the thought." Philip Kapleau The Three Pillars of Zen This "bare attention" is also to be applied throughout one's daily activities. In martial practice, I can appreciate the value of this naked perception as one experiences "kuden" from the teacher. In this way, the student is free to receive without preconception and free to perform technique and experience feeling without the interference of ego. In the dojo, one of the greatest impediments to training is performing technique the way you think you see it, clouded by your own preconceptions and hampered by your own fears, instead of merely doing. To simply "do" one must see clearly, in a sense "with the eyes of God." That is, to perceive reality unclouded.
Monday, August 4, 2008
The concept of "mushin" or no-mindedness (mushin no shin, mind of no mind) is familiar to any westerner who has some acquaintance with the martial arts. It is seen in beautiful kanji on many dojo walls. Intellectually, it is an easy concept. The martial arts practitioner is admonished to be completely in the moment, to set aside other mundane concerns and to concentrate completely on the martial transmission from master to student. It is a deceptively simple concept, seemingly finite but, in fact, marvelously expansive in application.
In my own training, I have come to understand the critical impact that the application of "mushin" has. In any combative sequence there must be fluidity of movement with moments of prescience. The mind must flow from instant to instant, not stopping to formulate, or the ephemeral connection between combatants will be broken. The mind must be free to move in the void; if it stops for a moment on the weapon I wield, then I am at that instant mastered by my own sword and the result of the conflict will surely result in my destruction. If the mind is stopped in technique instead of allowed to flow in the moment of battle, then I am mastered by technique and my intentions are revealed to the opponent.
Spiritually, I see the concept of "mushin" echoed in the divine Word, "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matthew 6:34
Saturday, August 2, 2008
"There are stories of mountain ascetics (sennin), represented by En-no-gyoja, who were said to be able to use mysterious powers and survive by eating only mist, having grasped the principle of eternal life." Masaaki Hatsumi, Advanced Stick Fighting
In this present time, where the sciences dominate the western mind, where materialism has displaced the spiritual, it may seem strange to consider that life is sustained by the spiritual and not primarily by physical processes. This is mostly clearly understood within the sphere of combat. The ancient warrior understood that what dertermines the outcome of battle is not the mastery of technique, not sophistication of weaponry, but the keen heart which has been forged, tempered, and honed to a razor's edge. It is the mettled heart and the backbone of steel which crushes the onslaught of the enemy. Instances abound in the lore of combat where the beaten hero rises once more to snatch victory from defeat. It is said that one may fall seven times but rise up eight. So, the spirit must be fed and thereby strengthened to endure through to victory at the moment of dire necessity.
The ancient ascetics were said to sustain themselves on mist. Indeed they did. The sennin understood the principal of spiritual food and realized the importance of proper maintenence of the soul. The principal of the mist teaches us that in order to sustain life, indeed to attain the secret of eternal life, we must first and foremost look to the needs of the soul. Without a correct understanding of the spiritual any physical accomplishment is without meaning and at the critical moment, we shall fail. The mist is a metaphor for the immaterial, the ephemeral and spiritual. What the sennin saw through a glass darkly, we may see clearly: "But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4
Where does this spiritual strength originate? You must first know the secret of eternal life. "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." Romans 3:22-26 Therefore, having obtained eternal life through faith in Christ's redemptive work on the cross, one may begin to understand "eating the mist" by feeding the soul on its only source of sustenance, "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God."
For true victory, the warrior must look first to his spiritual life and seek out the principals of eternal life. Having gained this inestimable treasure, the warrior may feed on the spiritual, the Word of God; everything else proceeds from this and nothing apart from it matters.