This present moment in the summer of 2020, with the unrest and the police violence in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by police in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, requires that we stop to consider issues around peace, violence, love, and self and community defense. These are my thoughts, excerpted from the May 31 2020 session of the "Sunday Afternoon Sitting" meditation series I have been running during the pandemic.
There is very old advice in the martial arts, already commonplace wisdom in the days of Sun Tzu, to know yourself and know your opponent:
Hence the saying: If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle. - The Art of War, L. Giles trans., III:18
To succeed in a fight or a battle or any challenge, you have to know yourself, your strengths and weaknesses. You can't develop a strategy that lets you bring your strengths to bear if you don't know what those strengths are. If you don't know your weaknesses, you can't keep your opponent from exploiting them.
And vice versa: you want to exploit your opponent's weaknesses and avoid their strengths. As I've said before, don't fight their fight.
But it's interesting that one of the best ways to understand ourselves is to understand others, and one of the best ways to understand others is to look inside ourselves. Each gives us a useful perspective on the other.
Because we're all human. Even our enemies.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.