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#267368 - 06/28/06 09:58 AM Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH
There is often a large difference from knowing a thing to knowing about a thing. Claims that Zen offers a philosophy for martial arts falls into this category.

Zen refers to Zen Buddhism, the Japanese pronunciation of Chan Buddhism. To be a follower of Zen, first and foremost you must be a Buddhist, and more correctly almost certainly a Japanese student of the Buddha. You revere life, you do not destroy life, you are a follower of the Buddha seeking enlightenment, you are a vegetarian, you daily perform physical work at your temple pulling your share of cleaning, gardening, cooking, etc. You regularly go out and beg for a living. You engage in focused meditation practices, sitting for interminable long hours on a cushion., dealing with the onset of pain in your legs as you try and find an answer for a question that has no answer to show your master you have reached some stage of understanding on the path, only to be tested again and again, unless there is a life shattering awareness event.

I believe that is a fair statement of what a Zen Buddhist is.

Or you may be a lay student, who only undergoes such activity periodically.

Zen isn’t experienced by reading a book, nor is it a brief period sitting in Seiza quietly before and/or after a martial arts class.

Zen is a whole lot of very, very hard work, both to commit yourself to the life style and the continual effort to progress to mastery. It’s also extremely painful, forever.

There appears to have been some movement where after the real combat years in Japanese history, some Japanese weapons experts may have tried to incorporate some aspects of Zen training into understanding awareness into their sword arts, or kyudo arts.

But this was never universal in those arts, and it is questionable if there was much penetration into those arts in the long run.

But it has been written about. Herrigal’s “Zen and the Art of Archery” or Keggett’s “Zen and the Ways’ both talk about martial zen practices. But be warned, there is considerable scholarship disagreeing with their writings too.

The best description of really trying to study Zen is found in Janwillem van de Wettering “The Empty Mirror”.

As for the arts from Okinawa, except for Nagamine’s later attempt to incorporate some Zen training in his dojo (and all of the dojo associated with him didn’t apparently follow his lead from what I’ve read), such is not a common occurrence within the Okinawan arts. From what I understand most Okinawan’s weren’t Buddhists, but followed a wide range of differing religious practices.

Of course at is core, being a Buddhist is nothing about fighting, except perhaps your self, or trying to lose yourself.

The parallel that does exist, in experience of in various stories, is that at times when engaging in combat, or preparing for same, martial artists had sudden insight into many things.

But the Zen path is much more difficult than many MA’s would ever attempt, and if they make it work, they’re likely no longer martial artists anyways. They’ve become something else.

Look there’s nothing wrong taking a moment before class or at the class close to breath quietly, to prepare for or to leave from the state of martial practice.

I once had a former student of Shorinji Kempo visit for a few weeks, and he took the time to show me how to meditate. It was an interesting experience, but it’s not what I do.

Then again, ‘What is the sound of One Hand Clapping’


#267369 - 06/28/06 11:16 AM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Victor Smith]
andy4 Offline

Registered: 01/25/06
Posts: 53
Hi victor.


But there might have to be some kind of cognative mind training with anybody who is entering a self defence/fight scenario other wise the normal human mind /response will take over and with some people that will mean they will freeze, not respond and get beat or even worse.

So some where along the line there might have to be mind training of some description unless a person is one of the lucky few.

Many doorman/ martial artist go on courses run by a guy called Jeff Thompson.(6th dan)
On the courses he teaches some form of self mind contol?
It is certainly not Zen but it seems to work.

Gavin(I think he is a moderator) on the ju jitsu/martial arts thread poss knows more about this than I do

The label can be anything

The label to me is the attempt to clear the mind.
I have seen some people after being hypnotised perform far better and have a far clearer mind set.
I have seen people who claim to be able to hypnotise who were complete con artists.

#267370 - 06/28/06 12:14 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Victor Smith]
Ed_Morris Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 11/04/05
Posts: 6772
Victor, although zen buddhism (or any other philosophy/religion for that matter) and martial practice are not exclusively linked in either a historical account or traditional practice - people use it in this capacity nonetheless.

to me, it's as foreign of an idea to combine bible study with TKD class. but it can and is being done.

as far as I know, the only connection is that a 'zendo' (place of meditation) is also referred to as a 'dojo'.

then of course we the unsubstantiated connection myth between Bodiharma bringing fighting arts AND zen to the shaolin temple...

how many have the ink drawing of Bodiharma in their dojo?

also, C. Miyagi is recalled to have made numerous connections with buddhist gesture/symbolism and kata positions.

I think connections are there, but they are personal in nature and do not signify anything globally essential, legitimate, standard to understanding - any more than any philosophy we choose to better understand ourselves.

If someone becomes a better person thru Christianity and wishes to see their Karate practice thru those eyes...then all the power to them. Should they manufacture historical links saying people who practiced karate on okinawa, were Christian? or that Jesus inspired karate practice 2000 years ago? no. thats mis-information since no such historical link evidenced anywhere. same with Zen and MA. sure there have been MAists thru history who happen to be Buddhists....but that isolated evidence doesn't not create an inseperable link between the two practices.

actually, I remember reading of a MAist from China living on okinawa who converted to Christianity and continued practice. forgot his name, sometime around the late 1800's.

Victor is correct though, religion didn't play a big part in okinawans lives...they had cultural ritual and religious diversity. strange how a culture downplaying religious homogeniality ends up being the most peaceful in nature.

any links of philosophy that are made to martial arts are personal and don't speak to anything more true, accurate, effective, essential, historic, etc. If you do make such links, it will have to backed up. If it's personal in peace, bro.

#267371 - 06/28/06 12:33 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: andy4]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH

I'm just trying to be scrupiously correct as to Zen's role in karate. It never serves anything to make assumptions that don't hold up.

That does not imply that individual additional practices don't have personal merit.

But I wasn't talking about them or the wide variety of faiths individual practioniers may follow finding those paths of value.

Just that Zen Buddhism is what it is, and it is questionable whether Zen should be extended beyond that range.

But anyone can call any tissue Kleenex after all, but that doesn't make it Kleenex either.
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#267372 - 06/28/06 12:41 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Ed_Morris]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH

Making a personal association or analysis is one thing, but that doesn't imply its correct or not. One assertion may be linked, or it may not be.

Look the Chinese had thousands of martial practices long before Bodhidharma came into existence or the Shaolin Temple. But a good story makes a good story in the end. And some stories are so good everyone wants to borrow them.

In such light Okinawa's use of Shorin or Pine Forrest do show they tried to link back to Shaolin, at least a far as naming went.

But even more interesting, pre 1900 were those names used?
I don't recall anyone making that distinction.

Where there is no factual evidence and only oral history, how far you can believe anything rests solely on faith.

Faith is fine for an individual, but rarely sufices for someone trying to investigatge the past, more so for the skeptic.

My own effort is just to try and understand what Okinawa wrought without embellishment or interpretation.

Which is very, very hard to do as we've been surrounded by the embelishment all our martial careers.

One of my instructors personal faith made him work to become a Minister in the Pentacostal Church. Yet he was able to distinguish his christianity against his martial practice, which on the surface his church was against long ago.

I understand the value of personal faith, and I'm sure the Okinawan's had theirs too.

But as I see it, the arts were just the arts, maginficent in their own right, and hardly someting else.
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#267373 - 06/28/06 12:45 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Victor Smith]
oldman Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/28/04
Posts: 5884

Zen is a whole lot of very, very hard work, both to commit yourself to the life style and the continual effort to progress to mastery. It’s also extremely painful, forever.

Certainly from a Southern Baptist perspective

#267374 - 06/28/06 12:47 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Victor Smith]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
Victor...your original post covers a lot of ground. I would agree with Ed, that MA need not have any religious, or spiritual connection. It does not even need to be a journey of self-improvement. I have heard it said that 'you make karate your own'...and that that is the proper attitude to take when teaching a student. Offer technique...and it is up to the student to integrate karate, or any MA, into their personal ethos and life.

As to the historical connections between specific religious traditions and MA/karate, I am sure it has been written about by others (Karl Friday, etc.) and would defer to the academics on that.

However, the statement that Zen IS Buddhist is fundamentally incorrect. The zen state is not a thing, not even represented well by language ('the word'), and certainly not 'owned' by any spiritual tradition.

#267375 - 06/28/06 01:03 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: harlan]
Victor Smith Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 06/01/00
Posts: 3220
Loc: Derry, NH

I'm afraid I politely disagree. Your use of Zen is a linguistic abstraction from the way Zen Buddhism followed Chan Buddhism developing a tool to help a practitioner move toward the goals expounded on by the Buddah.

Which is not my path.

Using Zen as an unattached linguistic abstraction of a state of being, non-verbal in its experience is a very non-standard way to use language.

This type of discussion reminds me of Ludwig Wittgensteins work on how language is twisted and meaning becomes convoluted.

I grant you 'Zen' may be applied as you contend, but that use of the term doesn't describe what Zen Buddhism is, nor does it mean much unattached from the developmental process in the temples.

And I question, really question if an unattached state of awareness, as I perveive your use of Zen, in and of itself, truly links to the development of martial practice, except in books and discussion.

Alfred Korzbsky makes it very clear 1) the word is not the thing, 2) the word is not all the thing and 3) words are self-reflexive.

Thereby proving, unequivocably that Zen is not Zen Buddhism.
victor smith bushi no te isshinryu offering free instruction for 30 years

#267376 - 06/28/06 01:11 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Victor Smith]
harlan Offline
Professional Poster

Registered: 07/31/04
Posts: 6665
Loc: Amherst, MA
I politely disagree. You state that Zen refers to Zen Buddhism. I say, not always. I agree that Zen Buddhism is not a martial philosophy. BUT, my observation has been that most karateka who suscribe to some 'zen' are not following Zen Buddhism.

Yeah...I read K's 'Science and Semantics' in 9th grade. I didn't do the samurai thing of 'burning it' afterwards, but basically let all the stuff go with age.

#267377 - 06/28/06 01:16 PM Re: Zen – Not a Martial Philosophy [Re: Victor Smith]
eric235u Offline

Registered: 05/22/05
Posts: 38
Loc: MA
i practiced zazen for a couple of years and at another time in my life practiced karate for a couple of years. i never heard the zen guys talk about martial arts.

"In the 6th century a monk name Bodhidharma developed a series of fighting technique to help the other monks become stronger physically and mentally."

that quote is from a respected traditional karate school. whenever i see a modern martial artist talk about Bodhidharma doing martial arts i want to giggle.

is there any historical accuracy to the statements tying these two schools of thought together so early? i haven't seen any.

odd to have a doctrine of nonviolence as a "Martial Philosophy". how many sutras talk about kicking ass? 0.

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