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 ~


Friday, November 03, 2017

Praciticing Martial Arts in the Right Spirit

Brought to my attention by Walt.

Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim was a German diplomat, psychotherapist and Zen Master. He was one of the earliest westerners who studied Zen and wrote books introducing it to the west.

Below is an excerpt from one of his books, Zen and Us, which describes "right practice" in martial arts training. Enjoy.

The point of every exercise in which a specific skill is practiced is not improved performance as such, but what happens to the performer.|

Improved performance remains, of course, the immediate goal -- but the point is the person achieving it, who purifies and transforms himself by seeking to perfect the exercise in the right way. What practice means in this case is not at all what it means when performance per se is the issue.

Practiced in the right spirit, as a means to the Way, exercise changes a person completely; his transformation then becomes not just necessary, but sufficient to perfect his performance. Skill always shows that a person has practiced, that Being has made over a person and itself expresses the change. This is why the East speaks of a Tao of technique, in which Tao and technique become one within the individual, so that technique expresses Tao.

The most striking account of the change wrought by prolonged practice of a skill is given by Eugen Herrigel in his book on Zen archery. He shows that archery, "to the extent that it is a contest of the archer with himself," is a life-and-death matter. Why? Because it is an exercise in which "fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself."

Endless repetition is common to all exercises. Total concentration is needed at first, but as the actions slowly become automatic, the ego tension, which is rooted in purposive effort, gradually relaxes until ego and implement, the instrument, but also the skill itself as process, become one. Only when the purposive tension is no longer necessary can its vehicle -- the ego -- be neutralized. And only when the ego disappears can the spirit come into play and mastery burst unchecked and of its own accord from the adept's true nature. At this point, mastery is no longer the product of conscious effort, but the revelation of true nature in a particular exercise.

The stages in the process, as described by Herrigel, are as follows: relaxing completely and shedding all tension, concentrating utterly, penetrating the mystery of breathing, mastering the "form" (external technique) completely through endless repetition, allowing the "spirit" to open so that the arrow can be loosed without effort -- all of this shielded, sustained, and carried forward solely by constant, tireless exercise, endlessly repeated and ever more unquestioning. Persistent exercise is the barrier that brings many people to grief. Not all exercises are hard in themselves, but doing them properly is hard.

-- excerpted from Zen and Us, by Karlfried Graf Durkheim

3 comments:

walt said...

Glad you found some value in that; me too. Von Durkheim was an interesting fellow, and as I recall, one of his Zen teachers was D.T. Suzuki.

I'm pretty sure he wrote in German. So all the books of his that we can currently get are translations into English, and sometimes the wording gets a bit awkward for us. Still, the in-sights in his writings shine through.

Rick Matz said...

When I was young, I had several of his books. Since reading this on your blog, I've put his stuff on my Amazon wish list.

Thanks for the reminder!

walt said...

You might enjoy his "Japanese Cult of Tranquility", if you can find it. Little known, I doubt it exists on Kindle. The title is unfortunate, as he meant "culture" rather than what we know as a "cult."

Our own culture could use a little tranquility, don'chu?