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  Posted on Aug.08.2009 @ 10:26PM EDT by chontri

If you want to know the past,
to know what has caused you,
look at yourself in the present,
for that is the past's effect.

If you want to know your future,
... continue...

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ZEN IN DAILY LIFE ARTICLES - Article 01. Applying Zen Principles into Karate and Life

Guiding a student's mental development from white belt to Shodan & Applying Zen Principles into Karate & Life
By Nicholas Lukich, 3rd Dan Shito-Ryu & Jason Armstrong, Ph.D. and 5th Dan

The aim of this article is to explain the process of guiding students through the ranks, from White Belt (10th Kyu) up to Black belt (Shodan) in the context of Zen principles. It will touch on the relationship of developing the mind through Karate Do achieve the best outcomes both inside as well as outside the dojo in life.

A brief introduction to the Zen & the ox herding pictures:
Zen - "What it is cannot be spoken of, and that which can be spoken of is not it". One cannot understand Zen by simply discussing it or even reading about it. Zen is an art of self-discovery and awakening which the disciple must experience first hand. Knowing this, the ancient masters devised a way to explain Zen using ox-herding pictograms, which represent ten stages of self-discovery and the pathway to enlightenment. The interpretation of each of the pictures only becomes apparent once a student has passed the stage which the picture represents. All students are unique and may require more time at any given stage. Ultimately, there are many possible paths up the mountain to obtain enlightenment, or "satori," – martial arts is just one such path. In the true spirit of Zen, the pictures attempt to explain what cannot be explained.

The ox represents the mind or the self, ego, or pre-conditioned responses. The ox herder is the practitioner attempting to understand his or her nature and, therefore, his or her mind. Throughout the series these two entities slowly merge together until they eventually become one with each other.

In order to overcome others, one must first learn to overcome their inner self. To the student studying the "Way" (Do) this means overcoming one's own weaknesses. When guiding a student, it is important to convey to them that Karate is not a battle with an opponent, Karate is a battle with the self (the ox). Karate is a battle with one's own physical, spiritual and mental weaknesses. Contemporary Zen Master Deshimaru points out that the true link between Zen and the martial arts lies in the fact that both can lead us to the spirit of the way: Because any conflict, whether it takes place within the body and mind, or outside them, is always a battle against the self.

When guiding a student up to Shodan it is essential to understand how the student relates to the path, and how much nurturing or pushing they need to achieve their full potential. All individuals are different, and this needs to be carefully taken into account. Guiding a 22 year old male is quite different than guiding a 15 year old female.

The first stage in traditional karate is that of the beginner student, white and yellow belt (10th-9th). This can be viewed to signify the first Zen ox-herding picture. In the picture you see the boy wandering the land in search of the ox (himself). ‘In the pastures of the world, I endlessly push aside the tall grasses in search of the ox. Following unnamed rivers lost upon the interpenetrating mountains, my strength failing and my vitality exhausted. I cannot find the ox...'

The student has now entered onto the path of Do to seek enlightenment, and understand the self. A quest that was driven by the fact that there is something missing internally, a void that manifests a need for physical and/or mental development. As a starting point in one's training where there is much insecurity and doubt. It is important to guide each student without putting too much emphasis on the technical aspects of training (of course the basics are required). Kata must be the foundation of karate training as it allows one to share ancient knowledge, which the greatest karate-ka of the past and present used to study the Way. At first coordination of different stances, limbs, hands, and even fingers are all confusing to beginners. It is important not to be overly serious or hard at this stage, as it will drive students away. The beginner spirit must be nurtured and reassured that what they are doing is good. Etiquette, Patience, Respect, Repetition and focus of strength and spirit fused into technique is a key element in guiding students to the next rank.

The next stage of development for the student is that of the period 8th –5th kyu. At this stage the student should have around 6-12 months of diligent training. This stage can be represented by the ox herder discovering the footprints of the ox. For the student, this is only the tip of the iceberg in self-discovery. This is a period of great faith, doubt and determination. Fighting (kumite) has begun, and the rigors of training and mental pressure have heightened, pushing the student beyond what they thought was achievable. Fluidity and clarity should now start to be present in technique, and kata should start to feel as the foundation of all karate and fighting/self defense. At this point, the student understands what karate has to offer, however training in class is viewed as something separate from everyday life. Karate is only viewed as "my karate practice time", and integration of karate outside the dojo has rarely been applied at this stage.

Preparation For Shodan
A next stage in Japanese karate, depending on which style, is 4th –1st kyu. At this point the student now approaches most activities in life the same way karate is approached, and a realization has been reach through outside dojo occurrences that what is learnt from karate is beneficial in everyday life. This stage is synonymous of the ox herder seeing or perceiving the ox. This glimpse allows students to better understand themselves, and where they are headed. For the student it is a true break through point where they glimpse their true nature, and karate is no longer something they just do a couple times per week. Study of the Way requires the attitude of a "beginner's mind". At brown belt much of karate has become habit. To grow further and push technical and mental limitations it is important the student maintains a "beginner's mind" i.e. openness to new ideas and willingness to be unbiased by previously held understandings.

Preparation for black belt is a period of mental development. At the end of this period the student's spirit of determination will be at levels above that of average people. The changes in mindset will push the student's physical karate ability to black belt. Mental and physical development must go hand in hand.

As a karate-ka strives for black belt they must attain a new understanding and attitude towards kata. The chosen kata must begin to feel like it is a true expression of oneself, presenting all inner and outer attributes. Therefore, when kata is performed the presence of ki demands the attention of onlookers. Kata and Bunkai application must be perfected and explored. Patience, diligent training and self-analysis are what are needed to move up to the next rank. The period from brown to black belt should be as long, if not longer, than all other stages combined before advancing to Shodan.
4. Catching the Bull
SHODAN – Ox Herding Picture 4, "I seize him with a terrific struggle," this is referring to the ego.


The rank of Shodan is merely the beginning of training for the advanced karate-ka. This represents the ox herder catching the ox and fighting to control it. The struggle with the self is a continuous battle and the student must always have a noose or nose ring, controlling the ox in case it becomes wayward. Only after one reaches Shodan, do they realize how much they do not know. It is at this stage that training consistently and diligently is crucial to consolidate the rank as well as to continue growth. It is now that the teaching role begins and the Shodan becomes a model for all karate-ka. A new path of learning through teaching students is discovered which ultimately helps the student to grow in new ways.

A Shodan should have experience with tournaments and interactions with other karate-ka. Training with the same 20 students in a dojo is detrimental to growth. Fighting and competing with karate-ka one has never met will challenge and push the growth of the Shodan. However, it must be kept in mind that participating in tournaments and sport karate is not the true essence of the art. Finding a balance between learning and trying new things and keeping the art traditional is key. Additionally, a Shodan should have the ability to combine the hard and soft techniques to karate, as well as life outside the dojo. Learning when to be firm in a situation, and learning when to go with the flow is a great asset to have when dealing diplomatically with seniors, subordinates, co-workers, and people in life. This diversity of hard and soft in addition to round and linear techniques must be explored in technique thoroughly as everyone's body is different and it acts as analogy to the above life behaviors. In Zen this concept is often described by comparing the oak tree and the willow. The oak is known for it's strength, size and longevity. The willow is known for it's soft, flowing flexibility. In a ferocious storm the strong oak tree will resist the winds up to a breaking point where it will finally snap. In contrast, the willow in the same storm will simply flow with the wind and force, and because of its flexibility, will survive the wrath of the storm. It shows strength through a different mechanism.

Karate and Zen
Karate can be considered as ‘moving Zen' and should always be looked at in such a way that fosters self-growth and discovery.

The integration of Zen into one's life and work is something that takes much discipline a lifetime to master. A resource which may help to understand this process is available at Applied Zen, an organization that teaches the translation of Martial Arts Strategy and Zen to work and career growth.

http://www.appliedzen.com/index.asp?Sec_ID=190

It is important for Dan ranks to read about and experience Zen to further their development and understanding. Translating lessons from Zen and Karate and applying their strategies to all of one's life is the ultimate test. For what good is knowledge and wisdom if it is never employed in situations other than the dojo or zendo? horizotal line T.o.C . Previous Article « | . 01. | » Next Article



 



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