Mind, energy and strength

Dharma talk given by Meido Moore Roshi at Brooklyn Aikikai, Dec. 15, 2012. Moore Roshi is chief instructor at Shinjinkai in Chicago.

Since most of you are martial artists, I thought that I would say a word about Zen from that perspective.

You’re doing Japanese Budo – the “Martial Way” – and many of you are also doing Zen. In both disciplines, which are “Ways” of developing the human character, we work with three things. These are the mind, the energy or energetics and the physical strength: Shin, Ki, Ryoku.

We say that these things should function as one. That is, you should be using your training – the kata or forms of a martial art, zazen, koan practice, chanting, breathing, training in misogi, all the practices you may do – to unify the functioning of these three things.

All those practices are effective, in fact, exactly because they use or address shin, ki and ryoku. You need to understand that. If you don’t address each aspect fully or deeply, you’ll only be doing a partial practice. Unfortunately, it’s possible to spend your whole life doing a partial practice and only know when it’s too late – after 20, 30, 40 years – that you’ve done so. We have to be careful.

Speaking first about ryoku: to train the body in martial arts we have forms or kata. Physical strength is developed by knitting together the structures of the body so that it functions in an integrated manner. This is done within the confines of the kata. With your body you eventually absorb the particular principles which are encoded within, and transmitted through, the kata. We don’t just learn waza, or techniques. We learn the principles which make techniques work, that is, the way for the body to function correctly.

In this effort, of course, you also have to examine how you move, how you breathe, how you sit, stand, walk, use your eyes. All of that is your training, even how you clean the dojo. We do all of these things in a particular manner, to train the body in a particular way. If you think that martial art training is just the perfection of formal kata or the techniques of offense and defense, then you’re very far from understanding what is meant by training. Every activity must be revealed as kata, because the principles which the kata transmit must be made to permeate your body and activities completely. In other words, you don’t “understand” these things. You embody them. This is what is meant by training ryoku.

However, we should remember that even an animal can be made to learn a physical skill well. So using and perfecting the physical strength and the usage of the body may be wonderful, but it’s still no greater than what anyone could do, really. There’s nothing special about it. That doesn’t mean you can do without it…as a martial artist you have to do it. But it’s not enough by itself.

So next we could talk about the training of ki, the energetic side of existence. The vehicle or way of training ki in martial arts is through the kata, through the form. You find a way to step outside just the technical aspects of using of your body and strength, and start to refine your feeling, start to feel how a technique actually manifests in the moment of an encounter.

In a real encounter there’s no thought or choice that “right now I’m going to do kotegaeshi,” for example, or “right now I’m going to do shihonage.” Or in randori when facing multiple attackers, we never think, “If he does that, I’m going to do this.” It’s not like that. Instead, somehow you ride the energetic feeling and just bring out what is appropriate. If you can develop that energetic sensitivity, and if it joins with a very well-trained and refined technique, then we have a successful result.

Practically speaking, to train this energetic side we need to have a great deal of energy. Our energetic vitality must be tremendously overwhelming and dynamic. You can have great technique, but if you don’t have tremendous vitality then in a situation of real crisis the technique won’t come out freely. You’ll freeze, and as your energy freezes your body will too.

Of course if you have a tremendous vitality but you haven’t learned or trained in the technique correctly, that’s a limitation too. But of the two, ki – the vitality, the energy – is most important. Someone who has that to a tremendous degree, even with no technique, may still beat you if you can’t match their intensity.

Another way we could say it in martial arts, and also in various fine arts like tea or calligraphy, is this: All we’re dealing with is kiai, kokyu and ma-ai. Kiai means energy, kokyu means time or timing, ma-ai means space or interval. Energy, time, space. How you master or connect to those three facets of existence…that’s the degree of mastery which you can demonstrate or not. But of those three, again, the most important to bring out is kiai or ki: tremendous energy. This is true in Zen as well.

Note that by “kiai” here we don’t mean the shout which is used in martial arts practice, or the katsu shout used in Zen to liberate others. The word is used for that kind of audible expression. But here it refers more generally to our energetic vibration, the encounter or meeting of your energy with the rest of existence. The strength and quality of your vibration, if you will.

Martial artists who are younger folks, your job is to bring out as much kiai as you can. How do you do this? What other people are doing, you have to do it more. If someone else is cleaning, you have to do it also, but sharper. You get thrown down seven times, get up eight times. You have to just constantly hurl yourself into the breach. Every time you leave class your uniform has to be soaked with sweat. Because of your age, late teens and into the twenties, this is the time you have to develop kiai like that. Constantly expand your capacity.

Those of us who are older might not be able to do things in that manner, but we still can do something according to our ability. Whatever your situation, as much as you can just refine the technique, and as much as you can just develop your kiai, your vitality. Again, this is something we have to work on in all our activities. When you walk out the dojo door, how do you move down the street? What feeling do you give off as you move through space? How do you meet someone, how do you make eye contact with them, how do you energetically connect with everything you use, and touch, and see, and hear?

In other words, your feeling has to be always going this way [gesturing outwards from the body], never this way [gesturing toward the body], never pulling in. Those of us who are training in martial arts do all of this according to our age, according to our condition, as much as we possibly can. We also have specific practices for energetic training, of course, which are very useful and also good for our health.

So we’ve discussed the training of the body, through kata, and the training of the kiai or energetic side. Now for the third aspect, the training of Shin or kokoro, the mind or heart. This training is particularly what Zen practice brings. You can be a tremendously skilled martial artist physically, and still be a crappy person. You can have a tremendous ability and vitality and skill, but have the end of your life come only to realize that all that had been for nothing. As our bodies and energy shrink with age and our technique loses its sharpness, we may well find ourselves left with nothing to show for all our martial art practice. If there’s no freedom, no liberation, no peace within yourself…what a wasted effort, what a colossal waste of time. So it’s for this that we take up Zen practice.

If you are doing both martial arts and Zen, you have the advantage because your martial arts should help you to bring out the vitality more easily than someone who doesn’t do such training. The life-and-death encounters which you throw yourself into every time you get on the mat: if you put that kind of energy into your Zen practice, you’re way ahead of someone who just sits quietly all day. That’s an advantage of the dual approach. And certainly if you want to do martial arts as a “Way,” not just a way of throwing someone but a way of transforming yourself, you have to go deeply into the heart, into the mind. Not just the body and the energetics.

We have many examples of the tremendous forcefulness and committed development of the mind/heart that a person who does both martial arts and Zen can have. There are many in the literature. I’d like to read to you one of my favorites. This is from Tevor Leggett’s The Warrior Koans, which is a translation of the Shonan Kattoroku, a collection of koans from the Kamakura period in the 13th century. The Kamakura period is when Zen was rooting itself in Japan, and also the time when the samurai really became the driving force in Japanese culture. Many of these koans record encounters between samurai and their Zen teachers, so they’re interesting for what we’re discussing:

Tadamasa, a senior retainer of Hojo Takatoki the Regent, had the Buddhist name Anzan (Quiet Mountain). He was a keen Zen follower and for 23 years came and went to the meditation hall for laymen at Kencho-ji. [Kencho-ji is a famous temple. Anzan was not a monk, but I assume he was what was called nyudo, that is, someone who had “entered the Way” by taking Buddhist vows but was still living as a warrior.]

When the fighting broke out everywhere in 1331 [I assume this would be the Genko war, which led to the fall of the Hojo clan], he was wounded in one engagement, but in spite of the pain galloped to Kencho-ji to see Sozan, the 27th teacher [the abbot] there. A tea ceremony was going on at Kencho-ji and the teacher, seeing the man in armor come in, quickly put a teacup in front of him and said, “How is this?”

The warrior at once crushed it under his foot and said, “Heaven and earth broken up together.”

The teacher said, “When heaven and earth are broken up, how is it with you?” [Which is to say, when your body dies, when the elements of your existence disperse – when you’re done – where are you? What happens?]

Anzan stood with his hands crossed over his breast [That is, in sasshu. This was his answer]. The teacher hit him, and he involuntary cried out from the pain of his wounds.

The teacher said, “Heaven and earth not quite broken up yet.”

The drum sounded from the camp across the mountain, and Tadamasa galloped quickly back. The next evening he came again, covered with blood, to see the teacher. The teacher came out and said again, “When heaven and earth are broken up, how it is with you?”

Anzan, supporting himself on his blood-stained sword, gave a great Katsu! [shouting] and died standing in front of the teacher.

When you die, what happens to you? Where are you? What are you?

We can imagine that in Anzan’s time, such questions might be keenly felt by a warrior because death could come in any moment. Our time is the same, but we don’t believe it. We’re fortunate to live in a relatively peaceful place, at least until it ceases to be so – as in Connecticut yesterday. At any moment something can happen. Perhaps most of you are not going into battle and showing up here leaning on blood-stained swords…or on crutches after serving overseas.

But regardless, when your own body falls away – when it falls down, stops moving, is burned or put into a box – where are you? What are you?

That question – to look deeply into it – is what I mean by developing shin, the mind or heart. Not just the strength, not just the energetic vitality. If you’d like to do martial arts as Budo – not just as physical exercise, not just as self-defense, not just as fitness, but as a life-transforming martial Way – that is the question you have to bump up against. As I said, you may well reach the end of your life and find that all your training was for nothing, if you don’t see through that question.

What is this life? Why is this life? All my training, all my suffering in life, all my sweat and work, all the food I ate, all the shit I made, all the people I knew, loved, hated, hurt, helped: for what? What’s it for? What am I? What is this? Why am I here? Why am I doing this?

If these questions can burn in you whenever you hold a wooden sword, or whenever you grab someone’s wrist, or whenever you throw or get thrown, whenever you walk into the dojo, whenever you leave the dojo and walk outside and go about the rest of your life – if you can hold that kind of question in your gut and never let it go, that’s the one-pointed training that those guys [tapping book] had. That’s how they trained their minds and hearts in unity with their bodies and energy. And that’s our tradition.

So it’s useful to look at training from the standpoint of those three things – Shin, Ki, Ryoku. To deeply train the body and physical strength is important, technique is important. It further has to be under-girded or supported by a foundation of tremendous vigor and vitality, ki, energy. And these things fuel a deep training of the mind, an examination of the heart.

If you are lacking in any of these three approaches, then fix that. For example, if you’re a person who contracts and pulls your energy in, you have to figure out how to use the training to bring your energy out. Here [at Brooklyn Aikikai] you could do misogi to learn that. Another way to bring energy out is to seek out any situations that make you feel uncomfortable: dealing with other people, walking alone at night, whatever you can think of that makes you pull your energy in. Just force yourself to do it, to deal with it. If you’re a person who doesn’t feel comfortable with people, who feels shy, then go where people are and force yourself to talk to them, that kind of thing.

Everything becomes a practice in that way. And you’ll find that somehow your energy starts to change. You’ll see you have this reservoir of it. It starts to well up. And then it starts to come into your technique, and everything about your art changes.

But no matter what, don’t forget that question: Why? Why are you doing it? Why are we training?

Don’t tell me you’re all training because it’s fun. It’s not fun enough! [laughter]

Just question all the time: what is this thing that is training, throwing, being thrown. What is it that is seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking?

This is the essence of Zen practice. I’m trying to talk from the standpoint of martial arts. In my particular branch of the Zen lineage we have a lot of people who were also swordsmen, martial artists, so we have a kind of approach which is very physical or, I should say, “embodied.” Many practices we’ve inherited work strongly with the body, the breathing, the energetics. We have the energetic training system passed down from Hakuin, all that stuff.

But it’s all ultimately pointing not at a “Zen” question, not at a martial arts question, but just at the fundamental human question.

Sitting is the fastest way to develop samadhi, which is a meditative condition useful to martial artists but which also creates the foundation and the conditions for deeply examining those fundamental human questions. If you’re interested in Zen practice you can do it. You can break through to an answer. I don’t care if you call yourself a Zen practitioner or a Buddhist or not. If you’re a person who wants to know why you live, and you’re doing martial arts and you practice Zen also: it’s a good situation.

Of course the path of Zen and martial arts together is a very severe one. There aren’t many people who can do both deeply because it’s difficult. Why is it difficult? It’s so direct. It’s direct precisely because it addresses all the aspects of our being – mind, energy, body – which we’ve been discussing. But that’s also its benefit.

In any case, if we’re the kinds of people who feel these questions, and we really burn to experience and embody the answers, we can’t escape anyway. We find that we can’t go back in time to a point in our lives when we didn’t have these questions. So it’s best to just go forward as directly as possible, using our whole being and holding nothing back.

If your path for doing this is the practice of Zen and Budo, then that’s wonderful…because as a path it’s truly a sufficient one.

 Copyright 2012 The Korinji Foundation.

One Reply to “Mind, energy and strength”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *