Umpqua: Stopping the Spear

Posted on: Sun, 10/04/2015 - 17:08 By: Tom Swiss

These were the notes for my mediation lecture on October 1.

There was another random act of violence today, several people killed at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. We don't know the details yet, don't know who did it or why. But usually when you have a crime like this, what you find is someone who's given up on their own life. They expect to die in the attack, or else spend the rest of their lives in jail and so effectively end their life as it exists now. There's an occasional exception, someone who acts from a political motive, but usually you find someone in who's completely disconnected from everyone else, lost and hurting.

And they're so full of rage, they just want to take some other people with them. They think this is the only way they can leave a mark on the world: with bloodstains.

Thirty Years, a Funeral, and Ikigai

Posted on: Sat, 09/05/2015 - 23:49 By: Tom Swiss

It was September 1985, thirty years ago, that I began my training in Seido Karate. That's longer than I've done anything else in my life that's not a basic biological function -- longer than I've been driving a car, longer than I spent in school, longer than I've lived in any one place.

(Ok, I did go on my first date before then. So I've been dating longer than that.)

Shikata Ga Nai: "There is Nothing to be Done"

Posted on: Sun, 04/26/2015 - 01:03 By: Tom Swiss

We had promotion testing scheduled back in February, but it had to be rescheduled due to the bad weather. Then our regular classes got cancelled a few times due to weather, and once due to construction. So even though we tried to contact people by e-mail and the website, some people didn't get the word about the rescheduling, and they missed their opportunity to test and will have to wait until May.

Etiquette in the Dojo

Posted on: Sun, 03/15/2015 - 12:25 By: Tom Swiss

"The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants." -- Master Funakoshi Gichin

We study a fighting art. And to learn it, we have to practice fighting skills with each other. That ranges from holding training bags for each other through drills with prearranged attacks to free sparring. So its very important that we treat each other carefully. As my sensei Jun Shihan Kate Stewart once put it, if you keep breaking your training partners you end up with no one left to play with.

Not Too Much, Not Too Little

Posted on: Thu, 01/15/2015 - 12:49 By: Tom Swiss

I usually go running on Wednesdays, and so I bundled up and headed out this morning. As soon as turned on to Edmondson Avenue, I came into full exposure to the wind and the wind chill dropped by what felt like twenty degrees. My face felt like it would be a frostbitten mess in a minute or two. It hurt. (According to Weather Underground, today's weather in Catonsville featured "windchill as low as 0F".)

Falling Down, Getting Up

Posted on: Sun, 12/14/2014 - 15:41 By: Tom Swiss

I've screwed up.

I don't mean anything specific by that, because I could certainly come up with a long list of examples. But the point at hand is that this is a universal experience. Making mistakes is part of the human condition. (My dad sometimes jokes, "I thought I made a mistake once, but I was wrong", which is a great little self-referential paradox.)

It will happen in your training. You'll do a kata or drill wrong. You'll make a mistake in dojo etiquette. You'll forget the Japanese name of a technique.

The relevant question is, after the mistake, then what?

what are those belts about?

Posted on: Thu, 11/06/2014 - 17:45 By: Tom Swiss

A few of my students will be testing for promotion this weekend, and if all goes well they'll get new belts, or new patches on their existing belts, and get to start learning new material next week.

The idea of kyu and dan ranks, much less of various colored obi, was not part of martial arts training in the old days. If you were a rank-and-file soldier you probably learned a few basics through drilling with your unit, and maybe a veteran would show you an advanced technique or two. If you had the good luck to study an art directly with a teacher, he (or maybe in a handful of instances she, but we are talking about a time long before gender equality was a widespread idea) would show you stuff when he thought you were ready for it.

no goal, no instructions, no problem

Posted on: Thu, 10/02/2014 - 18:02 By: Tom Swiss

The meditation that we do in Seido Karate, and that's usually found connected with Japanese martial arts in general, is in the Zen style.

We say "Zen meditation", but technically that's redundant. "Zen" is the Japanese pronunciation of "Ch'an", which is the Chinese pronunciation of "dhyana", which is a Sanskrit word meaning "meditation". So "Zen meditation" literally means "meditation meditation"! But we usually mean it to mean a specific style of meditation: one that developed out of a certain school of Buddhism, but since the 13th century became more widely distributed throughout Japanese culture, and in the 20th century spread throughout the world.

So Zen is not the only type of meditation. For example there's Transcendental Meditation. That was big in the 60s, it was what the Beatles traveled to India to study, and seems to be enjoying a bit of a revival. Advocates claim that it will relax you or even bliss you out. (John Lennon talked about how the people he studied with acted like they were in a competition "to reach God quicker than anybody else", to see "who was going to get cosmic first." Lennon later realized, "What I didn’t know was I was already cosmic.") The Catholic tradition has its own type of meditation, really a form a prayer seeking contact with God -- definitely not what we do in zazen. "Mindfulness meditation" for stress reduction has become popular in recent years, and there are also guided meditations which are supposed to promote health or have various other benefits.

What is a McDojo?

Posted on: Thu, 09/04/2014 - 14:48 By: Tom Swiss

A few weeks ago, at another blog, I put up a post about karate training in which I made said I hoped that "even if the mall ninjas at the local McDojo didn’t quite live up to that [ideal of the martial arts], you’ve encountered some hints of the real thing." One commenter took issue with the term "McDojo", saying that he was part of an association that was "the prime target for McDojo jokes". He contrasted his training with what he called "full-contact, striking-and-grappling, free-sparring, no-punches-pulled nonsense" that invariably led to people getting seriously injured.

I am, for the record, against people getting injured.

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