The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Zen Combat


Way back when, before the internet and DVDs, information on martial arts was hard to get. There were few books written, fewer of any quality; and they were hard to find. One of the first books that I stumbled on when I was a teen ager was Zen Combat by Jay Gluck.


Mr. Gluck was a cartoonist who was studying painting in Japan to improve his technique. Well, I'll let him tell the story. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read by clicking here.

It all began to come together, ever so slowly, when I was living a two-year honeymoon in Japan in an idyllic fishing-farming village outside Hiroshima opposite the famed beauty spot, Miyajima, Shrine Island. I was trying to convert my cartooning style from occidental steel crowquill pen to soft oriental fur brush. I just couldn’t get the flimsy little bamboo brush to draw me a clean line. I was beginning to see that my whole western heritage had caused me to form a block against the technique of strength through delicacy the brush seemed to demand.

“Zen ken shu!” my white-bearded painting and calligraphy teacher said to me one day. “Zen meditation is the sword is the brush! Understand one and you understand all. But you cannot come to understand one without the other two.”

So I took to crossing bamboo swords with my aged painting teacher who, true to ancient tradition, was one of the highest ranking masters of Japanese kendo fencing. To remedy my Madison Avenue slouch over the drawing board placed atop the hori-kotatsu table over the heated sitting pit in the tatami-matted floor, he also had me learn to twang the great eight-foot bamboo Japanese long-bow with its yard-long bamboo arrows.

After months of strenuous effort wielding bamboo sword, bamboo brush, and bamboo longbow with its bamboo arrows I still wasn’t going anywhere. I had the same fault in all, old master said: too much concentration on the tool. “Think too much about sword, you lose sight of the end. Perhaps you understand easier if you see sword play without sword.”

So old master took me to see a movie of karate champion Mas Oyama killing a bull with his bare fists, which is how I start Zen Combat. After seeing it I still wasn’t sure of what he meant, but decided this “swordless sword play” was worth a look. He arranged for me to meet Oyama, writing the formal letter customary to all oriental introductions. Interspersed with the Chinese ideographs common to written Japanese, he drew in minute tick-tack-toe doodles I had never seen in Chinese or Japanese. I questioned these.

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