Zen Karate Summed up by One Question
It’s hot here in LA,
and you can really sweat those toxins out.
The best way to sweat?
I was driving down the street the other day,
and I saw all sorts of martial arts studios.
MMA, Muay Thai, Boxing,
Karate, Kung fu, Kenpo,
Judo, Aikido, Taekwondo,
and on and on and on.
When I began,
which is near 50 years ago,
there was judo,
which was taught in a few places,
and there was Karate.
Karate was undergoing a boom.
This was just before Bruce Lee,
and the Tracy Brothers had breathed fire into marketing,
and Karate schools were opening every where.
I began Kenpo,
went every day,
became an instructor,
and so on,
and I had a lot of questions,
and nowhere to get the answers.
The only magazine was Black Belt,
and they sort of circled the arts,
but never delving in.
And there weren’t many books.
There was the outlandish Super Karate Made Easy,
Ed Parker had a book out,
Robert Smith wrote his book on
Shaolin Temple boxing.
But these books were either techniques books,
or they talked in mysteries,
and there was no way to understand what the heck
the martial arts were all about.
Then I came across a book called
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones.
I had left kenpo by then,
and was in the Kang Duk Won,
and this book was a Godsend.
Not a book about technique,
not a dissertation of mental tricks,
rather questions and tales
that made you blink,
and look for the real you.
One of my favorites was the old question,
‘Who were you before you were born.’
Now you might be wondering,
how can an art built of physical routines
answer that question?
The answer to that wonderment
lies in the simple fact
that we were not distracted.
Karate was not infected by boxing,
throws weren’t an active part.
And so on.
On the surface,
reading these words as I write them,
I can understand
why people might wonder,
how can you call that an art?
How can you think of that stripped down sapling
as a wondrous forest of spirit?
We weren’t distracted,
and we practiced those few techniques we knew
until we could make them work.
Enlightenment is when you do one thing
until you see the truth of that one thing.
You have heard people like Bruce Lee say,
in the end,
a punch is just a punch,
a kick is just a kick.
here’s the bad news,
if you haven’t found that out
through doing a simple kick,
for tens of thousands of times,
then the truth of the statement evades you.
You know about water,
but you’ve never been wet.
That is why,
except for a few logical changes,
and the nudging of matrixing,
the karate I do now,
is virtually the same
as the karate I did way back when.
Pinan one through pinan five,
the iron horse,
a few others,
I do them almost the same as I learned them.
here’s the interesting thing,
the way I learned them was only a couple of generations
removed from the way they were taught before Funakoshi.
I go into modern schools
and I don’t see what I learned.
I see forms infected by boxing,
distracted by MMA,
slanted by tournaments and kick boxing.
I see techniques discarded because people can’t make them work.
I see people fighting,
instead of painstakingly being taught the drills that lead to…not fighting,
to scientifically assessing an opponent and shredding him without waste.
Most of all,
I don’t see the calm of mind,
the calm that comes not from knowing about lots of arts,
but from knowing one thing well.
And, in these modern times,
if people do know one thing well,
it has been slanted by ‘reality fighting,’
by the desire to beat up your fellow man,
not to calm yourself,
and find the truth of yourself.
Not to find out who you were before you were born.
Here’s the art that I was taught,
unchanged except for a few logical tweaks,
and the ‘de-slanting’ of matrixing.
Hope you enjoy getting back to the ‘zen’ of it all.
Have a great work out!
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