Groundhog Day and Ikuru

These are my mediation lecture notes from February 2nd.


Today is Groundhog Day. This is actually a holdover from the old Celtic holiday of Imbolc — some of you might know it as Candlemas at your church. It’s halfway (give or take a few days) between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The days are starting to get longer, you can see buds starting to swell up on some trees. In one way of figuring the seasons, this is the beginning of spring, while in another it’s the middle of winter — this is probably the root of the story about the groundhog deciding if we get another month and a half of winter.

But today I want to talk about the movie Groundhog Day. It’s a comedy from the 90s, where Bill Murray’s character, Phil Connors, gets stuck in a time loop while covering the Groundhog Day festivities in Punxsutawney. He lives the same day over and over and over again. Whatever he does doesn’t matter, he wakes up the next day and the whole world is reset.

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Right Recollection: Beyond Mindfulness

You may have heard people talking about "mindfulness". It's a big pop culture thing now -- I recently got some junk mail for a magazine about mindfulness. And it's big business, people are making money teaching corporate executives to pay attention to what they're doing, moment by moment.

The Pali word that gets translated as "mindfulness" is "sati"; in Sanskrit, it's "smrti". When Buddhism came to China they wrote it as 念, "nian"; in Japanese it's pronounced "nen". That kanji is composed of two pieces; the top half is "now", the bottom is "heart" or "heart-mind".

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The Cosmopolitanism of Seido Karate

Over the past few weeks there have many disturbing incidents and news stories about bigotry and intolerance. Even before the politics surrounding the election, the FBI reports that “hate crimes” increased last year.

It's becoming clear that a lot of people are afraid of those who are different from them.

I want you to know that Seido Karate stands firmly against this trend. We are an international family. We have dojos in the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Chile, China, India, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Korea, Poland, South Africa, and the UK.

Seido Karate students include Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Shintoists, Pagans, atheists, agnostics, and pretty much any other religious denomination you can think of. We also include members of all racial and ethnic groups. We are also open and welcoming to the gay and lesbian community. Whoever you are, so long as you respect your fellow students you are welcome to train with us.

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We Train For The Hard Times

About a month and a half ago my mother became very ill. She was rushed to the ER and had to have emergency surgery, and her life was really in danger. She's doing much better now and is expected to make a full recovery, but for several weeks we didn't know how it was going to come out.

It's been a very stressful time for my family. And my father's health hasn't been good. So when Mom was first hospitalized, I had to step up. I was there every day for the first two weeks.

The only reason I could keep calm and focused during all this was my Seido Karate training.

Be An Enthusiast

I recently had some guests over for a cookout. This really excited Ringo, my dog. He wasn't excited by the food, but the people. He's a very friendly pit bull mix, he loves it when I have people over, and he kept running back and forth from one person to another as if to say "Hi! How are you? What's going on over here?"

One of my friends remarked, "Well, he certainly is an enthusiast!"

And I thought, wow, that's a really great way to be, isn't it? We should all be enthusiastic about our lives.

Zen is Meditation

An old friend with whom I started my karate training many years ago recently contacted me on Facebook to ask about the actual definition of Zen. So I thought that it might be useful to review it for my current students.

The simple answer is that “Zen” is how the Japanese pronounced the Chinese word “Ch’an”. That was short for “Ch’anna”, which was how the Chinese pronounced the Sanskrit “dhyana”, which means “meditation”.

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The Power of Water

Ellicott City was recently hit with a tremendous flood. At least two people were killed, and several buildings were destroyed or very badly damaged. One of those was the home of some friends of mine -- they were both away that night and their dogs were trapped inside. They were able to contact neighbors and the dogs were rescued, but a lot of their stuff was washed away.

The roads are still closed off and only work crews are being allowed in for the cleanup, but I walked down to the bridge over the Patapsco to have a look. You can see how the bridge was damaged, the iron railings torn away, bricks broken -- not just torn off but broken. That takes a lot of force.

And this is from water. When we think of strong things we might think of things like rocks and brick, but in a way water is stronger. It was water that carved the Grand Canyon.

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Training Paradoxes

Sometimes in your training you're going to hear contradictory things. Maybe I tell you to do a certain stance one way, and then a few weeks later I tell you to do it a different way, or you go take your promotion test and Sei Shihan Kate tells you something different.

Now, sometimes that's because I was just wrong the first time! It does happen.

Or sometimes there's more than one way to do something. A few weeks ago we went over two different ways to do ushiro mawashi geri, the back spin kick. So if I like one way and another instructor likes a different way, sometimes that's ok, we could both be right.

And sometimes you'll be doing something differently at two different times. So maybe one day I'll tell you to make your jodan uke higher, and another day tell you to not make your jodan uke so high -- maybe it was too low one day and too high the other. Or maybe we're drilling different aspects at different times, so I tell you that you need to kick faster one day, then next week I'm making you do it slowly, to emphasize different parts of the skill.

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Everything Is Contingent

A few weeks ago I attended the 40th anniversary celebration of the World Seido Karate Organization. One evening featured a Seido history roundtable with our founder, Kaicho (Chairman) Tadashi Nakamura and some of his senior students, people who had been there since the start, or nearly so -- or before the start, in some cases, people who had started training with Kaicho Nakamura when he was still part of his old organization, the Kyokushin-kai.

One story that came up is a dramatic event that happened shortly after Nakamura left the Kyokushin-kai. His autobiography tells how he was shot, probably by a Mafia hitman -- I've always gotten a bit of a black humor chuckle of the way the book jacket says he was "gunned down in a Manhattan parking lot" in contrast to the way the calm way the story is told in the book, how he and a few students were trying to fix a flat tire on Nakamura's car (in retrospect, an apparent trap) when they heard a loud noise, and he only realized he'd been shot in the leg when he went to chase after the shooter (!) and his leg started to hurt. Fortunately the bullet had passed cleanly through the muscle. Many of us assumed that the shooter had been trying to "kneecap" him, to end his martial arts career with a crippling injury.

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Responsibility

If I walked into the room to teach my youth karate class, found a mess, and asked my students, "Who is responsible for this?", they would probably think I was trying to find out who to blame. Whose fault was it that this had occurred? We often think of words like "blame" when the word "responsibility" comes up.

But there's another sense of the word which is right there in the pronunciation, if not in the English spelling: "response-able". Indeed the word comes to us French "responsable", and the 1913 Websters gives one definition as "Able to respond or answer for one's conduct". We can trace it back to the Latin "spondeō" meaning "I promise, bind or pledge myself."

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