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Zen and the Martial Arts

The Zen Mirror: This Magic Moment

By Jeff Brooks

As times turn bad the need for practice becomes more obvious. This is the upside of current events.

When there is not enough money, when our status falls, when the orgiastic disregard for family looks vain instead of appealing, when intoxication through drugs and alcohol and the internet seem to be a dead end then it is possible to discover what really matters, what will really nourish and protect us.

There is no doubt that in times of hardship people succumb to despair, raiding, addiction and savagery. But people can also band together in a spirit of respect and shared values and recover their humanity through training.

It costs nothing. It delivers everything.

If people take lots of money for it they are fooling you. If your time with them is fruitless, and you have the same unsatisfactory life you had before, look elsewhere.

It’s good to come together with like minded people to practice. But you do not need a group to get started. It’s good to find a room that is simple, comfortable and quiet. But you don’t need to go to a Zen center or to a special meditation hall or to an officially designated dojo.

You can sit still and tall with crossed legs and eyes down. You can walk with calm dignity. You can train kata and kumite and condition your body and mind.

You can conduct yourself with purpose and skill, energy and composure. You can study the sutras and learn the difference between truth and lies, between what helps and what hurts.

You can trade confusion for clarity. You can substitute the pursuit of the things which are disappearing by pursuing the skill and the will to help the people who need you. You can dwell in the midst of difficulty with equanimity. You can encounter unpleasantness with courage, secure in the knowledge that what you are doing is good and essential.

The difficult times we are facing are like an anarchist’s first visit to Mogadishu. They change their minds.

Armed with a life committed to practice no bribe will tempt you. No seduction, no distraction, no impulse, no intimidation will mean enough to you to dissuade you from your purpose.

But how do you get that purpose? How do we not feel distraction, despair, revulsion, attraction, overwhelmed by the mass of misery, disturbance and the fire breathing minutiae that commands the minds of modern men?

Stop and listen. See the river of poison flowing around you. Stay out of it. See the tenderness in the hearts of the people who need you. Go to them. See the generations of neglected, ignorant and abused people, filled with hatred, moved by the fever of destruction. Understand that they will suffer more than their victims will. Do all you can to save those who still can be saved.

Not sure how? Find your practice and do it. Sit still and walk and work and live it out. Learn the four noble truths. That everyone suffers. That there is a reason for that. That there is a way to put an end to that suffering forever. It has been figured out and taught, again and again.

And if it takes the blessing of difficulty and discomfort to set our feet on the path of practice then let’s take it as a blessing and get on with it. Our lives will end someday, that is sure. But if we waste this chance to turn our lives toward practice, there will be no end to the trouble.

Copyright Jeff Brooks and 2011

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About The Author:

Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt in Shorin Ryu Karate, was founder and director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton, Massachusetts from 1987 to 2009, and director of Mountain Zendo from 1993 to 2009.  Both the Dojo and Zendo continue in their teaching and training mission under the next generation of leaders. Jeff Brooks' law enforcement career has included assignments patrol, as law enforcement instructor in firearms, defensive tactics and other disciplines, and as an investigator. He lives and works in North Carolina. He is the author of “Rhinoceros Zen – Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom.” His column Zen Mirror and other articles appear on

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