Zen and the Martial Arts Way of Life

*On February 19, 2017, Linda received her Black Belt in FILKENJUTSU Kenpo at Progressive Martial Arts Academy. This was written by Linda in the preparation process.

Most people would probably agree that being in good health ranks high in things that can contribute to a happier and longer life.  So in general people may seek to adapt an exercise and or nutrition regimen to achieve this goal.  

On my personal path to becoming healthier, I began training in martial arts. The more I train, the better physically conditioned I become, my self-confidence is improved, and I feel empowered as I continue to build my self-defense skills.  

 Linda performing a push up exercise with cinderblocks.

Linda performing a push up exercise with cinderblocks.

But what else can I add to achieve overall well-being? 

A few years ago, I was given a book by my instructor, my Sifu, entitled “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979).  The only thing I knew about Zen was that it included some kind of meditation and peace. Meditation was not something I incorporated into my daily life.  

After reading this book, I found that Zen is not easy to define, so it was something that intrigued me to explore further.  I can now see that employing tools and methods of Zen can enhance someone’s life in general or as part of the martial arts way of life.  

 Linda receiving a promotion from her SiFu, David Corrigan.

Linda receiving a promotion from her SiFu, David Corrigan.

Originally Zen was just one way, of many, that Buddhists incorporated in their religion to attain liberation from delusion and suffering and ultimately find enlightenment.   According to “The Zen Way of Life,” (ZenBegin, 2014), Zen Buddhism originated from India in the 6th century.  It began with the Prince, Siddhartha Gautama, who left his riches and his life at the palace to embark on a spiritual journey.  He became a monk on a quest to find the real nature of all things through thought, meditation, and fasting.  He was regarded as the enlightened one, otherwise known as Buddha.  

Bodhidharma, who was one of Buddha’s successors, traveled to China to spread Buddha’s teachings, “the Dharma,” which they named Chan.  The teachings of Buddhism and even Zen already existed in China but the idea that Zen pointed directly to the mind to reveal one’s true nature was introduced.  

Bodhidharma was trying to portray the nature of emptiness, the absence of self, and the truth in everything as well as other Zen teachings to find enlightenment.  As noted in “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004), Bodhidharma was credited with being the first Zen patriarch to China and also credited with being the founder of martial arts because of the physical and spiritual training he provided to the Shaolin monks.   

In the twelfth century, Bodhidharma’s teachings on Zen spread to Japan and the Samurai Warriors.  The Japanese knew Bodhidharma as Daruma. 

 After receiving her Black Belt, Linda presented a gift to her teacher and academy featuring Daruma/Bodhidharma's famous words, "To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now."

After receiving her Black Belt, Linda presented a gift to her teacher and academy featuring Daruma/Bodhidharma's famous words, "To Fall Seven Times. To Rise Eight Times. Life Begins Now."

The Samurai class used Zen to become aware of the nature of things to be able to move without hesitation in battle.  According to the “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004), there were two schools of Zen in Japan.  The Rinzai and the Soto schools which are still very prominent in Japan today.  The difference in them is the view of approaching the mind of enlightenment.  

The school of Rinzai believes Zen happens at one great moment and the Soto school believes Zen occurs in little flashes.  In Japan, Chan was pronounced Zen, and this is the name we know of today.  Although Zen meditation and its beliefs were used by Buddhists to achieve the liberation of truth, today it has evolved into so much more.  

Three Asian immigrants, Zen masters Roshi,  Harada, and Roshi Yasutani, introduced Zen Buddhism to the West.  And although there are many Americans that practice Zen Buddhism as a religion, there are also many Americans that have just adapted the principles of Zen in their everyday living to live more wisely and more fully.   

 Linda with two of her training partners, Brittany and Kristie, at the Secret City Half Marathon.

Linda with two of her training partners, Brittany and Kristie, at the Secret City Half Marathon.

To the latter group, the Zen practice is more methods and tools to change a mindset and behavior to achieve enlightenment rather than a religion.  

As stated in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), it is interesting to see that methods and principles of Zen have become part of the martial arts way of life.  Several styles of the martial arts have the ending of “do” which means “the way” or more fully “the way to enlightenment, self- realization, or understanding.”  For example, Aikido, Judo, Taekwondo, Jeet Kune Do, etc. Zen can be thought of as a state of mind or attitude when confronting circumstances in any situation.  

So how does Zen relate to martial arts, when a martial artist is viewed as a warrior, but Zen portrays tranquility and peace?  

In actuality, the martial arts places lots of emphasis on discipline, awareness, and unity, over fighting.  The connection in the Zen and the martial arts is in the mental training. Therefore, Zen can become an invaluable tool for any martial artist.  

 Linda served 6 years in the United States Navy.

Linda served 6 years in the United States Navy.

Detailed below from “The Four States of Mind,” (Roadtoepic, 2012) are just a few of the many methods and states of mind or consciousness one can practice to achieve Zen in a martial arts way of life.  Although one can read about countless ways to achieve Zen, ultimately Zen is something only one can experience intuitively.  It is not about thinking but about telling your mind to be still to attain insight.

 In Japan, the word Shoshin is referred to as “beginners mind.”  This is described as entering a situation without a preconceived notion or expectations of how the situation is going to play out.   This helps us from over thinking or over analyzing the situation. It also helps us to think outside the box and therefore be open to learning and new ideas. 

According to “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), Bruce Lee was a student of Zen, and one of the lessons he mastered was to always approach a situation or a training session with an “empty cup” or a beginners mind.  He studied many forms of martial arts and took from each the techniques that he found useful. He was always learning because he approached things in the Shoshin state of mind.  

 Linda and her son, Jared, at a PMA Christmas Party.

Linda and her son, Jared, at a PMA Christmas Party.

Zanshin is the state of mind where one is aware of their surroundings and their emotions to have more freedom in the way they choose to respond.  This translates to “remaining mind.”  One application of Zanshin in martial arts can be when you are fighting an opponent you are focused on them, but not so much that your focus takes you away from also being aware of an attacker that may be coming up from behind.  It is about achieving a focus while keeping a mental awareness with unity and flow.  

 Linda and her sister, Tanairi, after running in the Ninja 5K.

Linda and her sister, Tanairi, after running in the Ninja 5K.

Another state of mind in Zen is referred to as Mushin.  Mushin can be described as having “no mind.”  One can think of it as getting to the point of doing something effortless.  A way to achieve Mushin is by practicing something to the point that it becomes automatic or second nature.   

A lot of athletes are said to experience Mushin when they are “in the zone.” When one becomes what it is they are doing, then it is thought to be in the zone, “Everything Zen Book,” (Sach & Faust, 2004).  I believe I have experienced Mushin when running but I didn’t know that is what it was. Often my mind quiets and frees itself of wandering thoughts during running, so I can embrace nature and travel for miles and miles without realizing the distance I have gone.  It is my desire that I will ultimately experience Mushin in martial arts as I spend more time in the discipline.

 Linda with her husband, John, and two sons.

Linda with her husband, John, and two sons.

 One state of mind that can be beneficial in any walk of life is referred to by the Japanese as Fudoshin.  Fudoshin is described as having an immovable mind.  One is said to experience this state of mind when they can easily control themselves under the most stressful situations.    Fudoshin is attaining the ability to remain calm and collective when it seems like the world is falling apart around you. 

 I can see where being in this state of mind can also be critical when your actions can determine your survival.  For example, if there is a house fire, if one has Fudoshin they can remain in control, access the situation and act appropriately to remain unharmed.  

 On February 19, 2017, Linda became the 5th female FILKENJUTSU Black Belt. Pictured from left to right: Olivia Cannon, Gracie Hall, Meg Corrigan, Madelyn Fowler, and Linda Davis.

On February 19, 2017, Linda became the 5th female FILKENJUTSU Black Belt. Pictured from left to right: Olivia Cannon, Gracie Hall, Meg Corrigan, Madelyn Fowler, and Linda Davis.

According to “Zen Living,” (Burk, 2014), “The central Zen method is Zazen or seated meditation."  Za means seated, and Zen means meditation. Zazen, when practiced regularly even daily, can be very beneficial. The mind will start to settle the longer one sits.  Beginners may start with 5 to 10 minutes but a normal classic Zazen period is 30 to 40 minutes.  Zazen can be done anywhere, but it is recommended to find a place with minimal distraction to you. It is recommended that you keep your eyes open to avoid daydreaming or drowsiness. Thoughts will come as you meditate, but it is important to let them be passing thoughts and not mull over them.  

Practicing Zazen increases the awareness of mind, building its attention muscles.  Zazen teaches you to declutter your mind and achieve serenity.  With Zazen we try to see things purely, letting go of discrimination and the subjective.  

 Linda with her Black Belt Test partner, Gary Hall.

Linda with her Black Belt Test partner, Gary Hall.

In the Western culture, there are other ways people meditate that are different to Zazen.  For example, one might focus on a passage from the Bible and how we can apply the concept to our life.  Some concentrate on repeating a mantra, or some might try to set aside distractions as they focus on visualizing something. 

According to “Zen Living,” (Burk, 2014) “mindfulness is the practice of Zazen except it is done while engaging your daily activities.”  “In contrast, mindfulness is cultivating awareness during an activity; you don’t do Zazen while washing the dishes, you wash the dishes.”  It is being in the present and focusing your awareness on the action you are performing. 

Most people have trouble remembering to be mindful.  Our minds tend to wander to the past or the future and find it difficult to stay in the present.  If we are actively doing something with our body, our mind becomes active as well.  But with mindfulness, one is always taking care of everything around them, whether it be a person or a situation.   

The best way to keep in the present while meditating is to focus on your breathing.  As noted in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979), Zen breathing is a method of controlled or focused breathing that can restore calmness, confidence, and strength.  Visualizing the air entering your body through your nose and entering the lower part of your lungs as it completely fills to the top.  Then imagine the air traveling through your body as it fills every inch of your body and before it leaves your body, you take the next breath.  One cannot force the breathing so that it is unnatural.  This type of breathing has proven to relieve anxiety, fear and even to heal our minds, bodies, and spirits.  Breathing can also be used to manage pain and provide insight into the way your body responds to different situations.  

Doing something with focus and concentration, in other words, being in the present, is a practice of Zen referred to as Kime.  It is the process of tightening the mind. Bruce Lee was quoted in “Zen in the Martial Arts,” (Hyams, 1979) with saying “A good martial artist puts his mind on one thing at a time.”   

 Linda learning a Jiu Jitsu technique from her teacher.

Linda learning a Jiu Jitsu technique from her teacher.

Many times I would arrive at martial arts training, and my mind would be drifting elsewhere.  This would interfere with my mental state.  I could not give my all to the technique I was learning because my mind was not in the present.  This hindered my training because I could not retain the information when the class was over.  

I train a lot better now as I leave whatever it is at the door.  I can tell from my experience that practicing Kime helps me retain information and train with enthusiasm.  The same thing can be applied to life in general by staying in the moment of whatever task you are doing from the most mundane to spending time with the family.   
 
Practicing Zen methods and tools to adjust your attitude and find yourself in any of the Zen states of mind mentioned above can attribute to a healthier quality of life.   It is my desire that these principles that I have reflected on in regards to Zen will make their way into my daily martial arts way of life.   

 Linda and SiFu David.

Linda and SiFu David.

 

Works Cited

Hyams, Joe.  Zen in the Martial Arts.  New York:  Bantam, 1979.  Print.

“The Zen Way of Life, Buddhism.” ZenBegin. 2014. Web. Feb 2017

Sach, Jacky and Jessica Faust. The Everything Zen Book. Massachusetts: F&W Publications Company, 2004. Print

Wik, Adam. “The Four States of Mind.” Roadtoepic. 22 May 2012. Web. Feb 2017

Burk, Domyo Sater. Zen Living. New York: Penguin Group, 2014. Print