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Martial Arts Teaching and Learning

The Zen Mirror

Training in Interesting Times

By Jeff Brooks

We each will decide if it’s a blessing or a curse but we all are now living in interesting times. Interesting because the veil of routine is lifted more frequently revealing a character of experience less predictable a future less amenable to assumptions than we once believed in.

One of the attributes of periods of social disorder, here and elsewhere, throughout space and time, is that the strong prey upon the weak. And fear becomes a habit. In stable times there is enough amity for decent people to band together to serve their mutual interest. Representative governments, a justice system, the rule of contracts, reliable currency, all depend upon this. Under stable conditions people can recognize the utility of both competition and shared interests. The US Constitution is based on a distribution of power, so that each center of power acts and a restraint on the concentration of power and the arrogance that always grows from that centralization and the suffering that inevitably flows from it.

This carefully made fabric begins to unravel in interesting times. Institutions cease to fulfill the roles for which they were devised. People use more of their energy for cruder aims and so have less for higher human aspirations. Vice is regarded as innocuous. Interesting times in medieval China, Russia or Europe exhibit the same properties as our own interesting times.

People, seeking happiness, forget how to find it. Thrift and industry are for suckers. Work is for chumps. Self mastery and self sacrifice in the service of others is thought to be effeminate and naive, if not outright corrupting. The sale of intoxicating drugs, pornography and gambling is regarded as entertainment, in the same category somehow, as Shakespeare, Milton, the Bible and the Brady Bunch. People make themselves slaves. Fear rules. Freedom, and life itself, are willingly sacrificed in the name of comfort, of personal choice.

The process by means of which people’s lives are leached away by addiction to these poisons is overlooked or denied. The vessel that holds our precious life is broken.

Those of us who are practitioners recognize interesting times as part of the times of our lives. We don’t welcome this, we don’t reject it. We recognize that the path is sometimes smooth and sometimes steep. We proceed. We recognize that in the moment of violent confrontation, of physical or emotional shock it will be too late to train. We will either be prepared at that moment or we will not. And we recognize that the time to prepare is now. This is the time we have. We need to use it well.

As a practitioner we understand that everything changes. That if we can create the conditions for propitious change we have a chance to prevail over every difficulty. But our time is short. Our physical strength, our clarity of mind, the leisure time in which we can train, the lives of the people who are depending on us for protection, all are limited.

If we wish to face the inevitable challenges of interesting times with equanimity and skill, the time to prepare is now. We cannot wait even one day.

If we prepare ourselves, if we conduct ourselves with virtue and sincerity, if we face opposition and threats with courage and unstoppable purpose, there will be no problem we cannot face. Whatever the outcome, whatever the times demand, justice will prevail.

Copyright Jeff Brooks and 2007

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About The Author:

Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt, has been the director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1987 and director of Northampton Zendo since 1993. He is a police officer and police instructor, and the author of “Rhinoceros Zen – Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom.” His column Zen Mirror and other articles appear on

To find more articles of interest, search on one of these keywords:

martial arts, karate, training in martial arts, Zen, mental training

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