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Push Ups

By Sara Aoyama

Doing push ups was one of the first physical challenges I came up against in the dojo. I couldn't do very many of them and the ones I did were really cheaty looking.

A friend told me to work on them like this: "Do one, stand up. Go back down and do two. Stand up. Go down again and do three. Etcetera, up until you go down to do ten." He said it was an easy way to work up to fifty-five push ups.

Ha ha ha.

I think push ups are the product of a male dominated society. Men can go down and do any number of them, but women have a harder time of it. This is a physiological fact, I'm told. Even so, the fact that it is a fact doesn't comfort me half as much as I wish it did.

Who invented push ups anyway? An internet search on them told me exactly nothing (except that they were included in the standards to be a Vermont State Police Deputy).

Before I started training, I only knew about two kinds of push ups-boy push ups and girl push ups. At least, that's what we called them when I was growing up. I think the girl ones are now called "modified" push ups. I was amazed to see finger-tip push ups, knuckle push ups, push ups with the hands forming a triangle, push ups while up on big toes, and one-handed push ups. My favorite were the push ups done while in hand stand position with feet braced against the wall. What kind of sadist could have invented that?

Push ups in my dojo take on lots of purposes. There are "mindful" push ups for when we forget stuff. There are push ups for both kids and adults to regain their focus. There are push ups given as gifts, because push ups make you strong and becoming strong is a good thing.

And then one day I found the answer to an old Zen koan while doing push-ups! When you find an answer to a koan, you are supposed to have reached satori or enlightenment. The koan that I realized goes like this:

"What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

In fact this may be one of the most well known of the koan.

It was at a seminar with Chinen Teruo Sensei. He asked us to do push ups. And then he asked us to do more push ups, and when we came up from the push up, to clap three times. I did not think this was possible. Probably not even one clap was possible for me. But I am always game to try anything. So, I went down for my push-up and came up and clapped. And that is when I achieved enlightenment.

The sound of one hand clapping.... was the sound was me falling on my face.

Needless to say, push ups are not my favorite thing in the dojo!


About The Author

Sara Aoyama is a 1974 graduate of the University of Kansas, majoring in Japanese Language and Literature. She spent over twelve years living in Japan where she dabbled in a number of other Arts such as Ikebana (flower arranging), Cooking, and Shamisen. While living in Kyoto, she was able to see many hidden aspects of Japanese society. Currently she lives in Brattleboro, Vermont where she started training in Shorin-ryu Karate at the Brattleboro School of Budo in May, 1998 after watching her son train for three years. She is a free lances as a Japanese-English translator. Most recently, she translated "The Art of Lying" by Kazuo Sakai, MD.


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