The Zen Mirror - Battle and the Ocean of Mind
By Jeff Brooks
Fish can sense light. They can sense temperature and turbulence. They
can see and hear well enough to recognize their prey, and to escape their
predators. But they never get to know water. Water is the context for
everything they do and perceive. But it itself is imperceptible to them.
They are never not in it.
We are like that. There is a critical missing link in our training if
we fail to notice that we exist in a universe of mind. Noticing it is
critical. It will determine the quality of our training and the quality
of our life and death.
In training we rehearse conflict scenarios again and again until they
root deeply, until they are reflexive. Because we have been through it
a thousand times in simulation, when conflict arises we can act spontaneously,
we execute the procedure ingrained in training.
As we ramp our training up to meet the intensity of the demands of conflict
it becomes tempting to regard all unknowns as potential enemies. In a
war zone it is prudent. In peace time it is dangerous. To lose the flexibility
to scale from kinship to total threat, we lose our way. In some cases
it may become our duty to do it. But if we do it ignorantly, as a martial
artist it may defeat our purpose.
We exist in an ocean of mind. If we allow our practice to be fueled
by fear and rage we degrade to the level of the enemy. (Our true enemy,
the poisonous states of mind that cause suffering.) It is tempting to
do it. It feels energizing. But the energy that is a product of fear
and hate will be subtracted from a whole world of potentially good human
relationships. If we lose perspective in this way we sacrifice our human
connection to the people we are dedicated to protect.
If we lose our commitment to virtuous action we lose the source of our
strength, and we squander the abilities we have developed. When we know
what we do is right we can be fearless and resourceful without limit.
Friends will appear. For those who waste their minds in hate the entire
world will, by increments, be transformed into enemies. It may require
an act of profound heroism to avoid becoming ensnared in anger.
If we fail to notice that our mind is creating the way we see our world
then we will get lost in procedure and forget our true mission. As martial
artists we have a critical social role as well as an individual opportunity.
The context of our training must reinforce our dedication to our mission:
generosity to those who need us; patience and dignity in the face of
provocation unless the moment to act should come; personal conduct that
is honorable; the cultivation of a calm, clear mind that allows us to
In the heat of battle it will be impossible to cultivate this. We will
be who we are. When the decisive moment comes we must act; all considerations
will fall away. But as we train, as we live our lives, whether we perceive
it or not, we will cultivate not only our skills, but our heart and mind
as well. Whether we cultivate a heart and mind of hatred or of nobility
will decide the course of our life.
If we are motivated by the desire to benefit others, and we act always
with courage, although there is no guarantee that we will win, we will
About The Author:
Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt, US Shorin Ryu
Karate, has been the director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton,
Massachusetts since 1987 and director of Northampton Zendo since 1993.
He is author of The Rhinoceros Tale. His column Zen Mirror and other
articles appear on FightingArts.com.
FightingArts.com is pleased to announce its first
book: “Rhinoceros Zen –Zen
Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom,” by Jeffrey Brooks, a work
that portrays the dual paths and interplay between Zen and Karate-do.
and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding
read for any martial artist.
(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)