Saturday, June 27, 2009

Isshin and Zanshin

from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”

Page 156

Isshin (one-heart) means to throw oneself wholly into the action without any other thought at all. Zanshin (remaining-heart) means some awareness still remaining. Some of the texts (victor note – of the Way) give both, some of them do not mention zanshin at all, and some of them mention it but say that the heading ‘zanshin’ means that there must be no zanshin.

With a spear, isshin is to commit one’s body wholly to the thrust; in a judo throw, it means to throw one’s body and heart at the opponent. If the action is technically defective, or the opponent more skilful, it will miss; then one is generally in an unfavorable position. On the other hand, the more impetuosity and immediacy and completeness of the movement may have so upset him that he cannot utilize his momentary advantage.

Still, in theory might it not be better to take into account possible failure, and keep something back in order to be able to adapt it/ But then, the one-heart will be broken into two: one saying ‘everything into the throw’ and the other ‘what if it fails?’ The latter is called a fox-doubt, and it infects the physical movement, to cause hesitation.

Similarly, if the attack is successful, must new isshin be formed to deal with a new opponent?

The schools which speak of zanshin take it as an awareness which is wide and unmoving, and which contains the isshin. The immediate awareness is thrown into the action, and yet something remains, unconscious? conscious?, which can handle a failure or even a success. This is zanshin. It must not be consciously aimed at, as that would split the ‘one-heart’.

In a sense the one-heart is the ji or particular technique, and the remaining-heart is the ir or universal principle which manifests in particular situations but is not exhausted in them.

'Isshin is the unity of the wave, zanshin is the unity of the water. Isshin defeats an opponent at a tme and place, by a technique. Zanshin is awareness of the whole process of defeating opponents, and wider than that, defeating them with minimum harm to them, and wider than that, for a good purpose and wider than that…'

In this verse, zanshin is referred to as ‘water holding the moon’.

Friday, June 26, 2009

'Not Setting the Mind' from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”

'Not Setting the Mind' from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”

'Not Setting the Mind' from Trevor Leggett’s “Zen and the Ways”,  Page 158

The mind turns in accordance with the ten thousand things:
The pivot on which it turns is very hard to know.
Zen verse (much quoted in the Ways)

Like many of the Buddhist verses and aphorisms, this verse about not letting the mind get set, but keeping it freely turning on a pivot, seems vaguely ‘wise’ but it is soon abandoned in practice. A fencer comes out without setting his mind on his opponent’s technique or his own and his movements become slack, so that he gets hit on the head at once. The calligrapher goes to write without letting is mind be set on the proper way of writing the character, the result is a sprawling mess. It is true that in this last case, he may persuade himself that he has written well, in an unorthodox manner; but the archer who has missed by a mile has no such refuge. One of the advantages of the martial wasy is that the result is so immediately apparent. In any case after a few failures the whole attempt is abandoned.

As the classic says, ‘those who are not training in a tradition will find it hard to understand.’ The teacher has to supply one or two concrete examples from the particular tradition. Here is one from the judo tradition.

In Tokugawa times, one of the big Jujutsu schools lost three of its best men, killed at night in the street. In each case there was only one mark on the body, a stab in the abdomen, slightly to the right side. It was guessed that these killings were done by a member of a rival school, with which there was a feud on, but the puzzle was ho these three highly skilled men could have been killed by one clean stab. If they had been overcome by numbers there would have been other marks, a single man, even though armed, could hardly have finished the fight with one blow, especially a thrust to the abdomen which is easily checked.

The experts finall worked out how it had been done. There are only two effective ways of using the stabbing knife (1) from below to the abdomen, and (2) down from above on to the neck and shoulder. Skilled Jujutsu men were well practiced in the defense to both of these attacks. An expert could tell which attack was coming by observing the position of the attacker’s right hand: if the thumb is in front, the attack will come down, and if its to the rear, the attack is upward. Before the blade is actually visible, the defender’s body is already moving into the defensive reaction.

The other Jujutsu school discovered how to make use of this fact. Their man was holding the knife reversed; his left hand holding the hilt and the right hand holding only the sheath. This right hand had the thumb prominently displayed – in front. So the defender was moving to intercept a downward blow, but when that came it was being made with the sheath, while the blade moved upwards unopposed.

This is an example of getting the mind set on one thing, namely the position of the opponent’s thumb, which in the ordinary way is the key to the situation. Does this mean then that the thumb is not to be noticed? No. It is to be noticed, but not at the expense of the whole situation. As a matter of face, the opponent’s posture was not the normal one of a man about to draw a knife with the right hand. The opponent is holding the knife in fact with the left hand, and he will have to advance his left foot to use it. If we look at the posture in the third set of pictures, we see that from the very beginning the knife-man has his left foot level with his right foot, whereas in the normal case it is well back. An experienced judo expert, who does not let his mind become set in the thumb position, will find something ‘unusual’ in the situation, and will correspondingly keep a freedom of action. He will not be tied to a mechanical defense reaction.

Followers of the Way should consider how technical excellence in a particular point gradually becomes mechanical, and creativity is lost. Technique, like logic, can only operate by ignoring certain aspects of a situation as insignificant; it works well in nine cases out of ten, but in the tenth case the disregarded aspects are in fact decisive. In the tenth case, absolute reliance on technique, or logic can be disastrous. The mind becomes set on them, and cannot adapt. Technique is to be utilized, but it must not be the master, as it does when it is worshiped by a mind set on it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Everything is always in a state of change, the arts martial or otherwise the same.

Change isn’t bad or good, it’s just the reality that you can’t step into the same water in a flowing stream no matter how hard your try, nor can you stop changing what you were taught and practice or teach. Nobody ever has. In fact developing a healthy respect for change, so that you understand an attack will likely never follow any training sequence you’ve experienced, but those experienced help develop skill that can be inserted into the current new and changing reality, too.

All the admonishments, ‘never change the kata’, ignore the reality is that kata continually changes. In fact the origin of that statement likely had nothing to do with the fact kata change but probably was a focus given to beginners to help them focus their training.
At some point in time, we no longer remain beginners, though it is healthy if we keep the beginners mind in our mindset too.

The act of change that is more subtle is the creeping change that infiltrates our studies, especially when we don’t know it’s happening.

I can recall going back decades and learning Sanchin in a more Okinawan standard, without words wrapping around the training. Then an article describing Ibuki breathing, followed by Mas Oyama’s books describing it and in turn started using that term myself. The issue isn’t the use of the term ibuki with hard focused breathing (Quick Definition of course), but the use of a term that wasn’t part of my Isshinryu training. Then making the link to that term and my practice changing my art to use the term.

A more complex example is how the Japanese term ‘bunkai’ crept into the Okinawan arts, and I suspect many of it’s current definitions do not really describe the original Okinawan methods of studying kata technique applications. Today you are hard pressed to find one capable of making the distinction about ‘bunaki’s’ usage.

The past few years I’ve been working hard to identify much that has crept into my own practice, understand why and work to expunge or annotate its usage correctly.

Then a few weeks ago I came across a reference to a short story I had read in College (back in those dark ages of the 60’s). The story “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” by Jorge Luis Borges .
It truly is a short story, a fiction describing a fantastic world, written in very rich detail.

Essentially he described a few friends who found a book with a few more pages than any other copy of that book, partially describing a fictional planet, Tlön. A few years pass and then the 11th volume of an encyclopedia of that planet is discovered. It was so rich in detail many started trying to re-construct the remaining volumes until finally it was published, and in turn much of the world started changing to the practices of that planet.

Of course the author then discovered the entire effort was a work of a secret society, but after making some observations, turns away to his own efforts.

To quote from the story,

“Already the schools have been invaded by the (conjectural) "primitive language" of Tlön; already the teaching of its harmonious history (filled with moving episodes) has wiped out the one which governed in my childhood; already a fictitious past occupies in our memories the place of another, a past of which we know nothing with certainty - not even a that it is false.”

“Then English and French and mere Spanish will disappear from the globe. The world will be Tlön. I pay no attention to all this and go on revising, in the still days at the Adrogue hotel, an uncertain Quevedian translation (which I do not intend to publish) of Browne's Urn Burial.”

I have no further comment at this time, except to note much current change in the martial scene has a similarity to Borges description.

I prefer to point you to the story itself and let you experience “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”,_Uqbar,_Orbis_Tertius.html

Borges short stories in his book ‘Labrynth’ are always worth reading.