Good morning! I’m going to go all zen on you today, so check out now if you think philosophy is garbage.
It’s funny, probably the best definition for philosophy I ever heard came from Bill Cosby. He was asking the question, ‘Why is there air.’ All the philosophy professors would ask this and that would lead them into a discussion of the cosmos and God, and life and everything. And he said it’s a dumb question, Just ask any coach and they’ll tell you ‘Air is so we can fill up balls.’
With that bit of droll humor in mind, zen is supposed to be very philosophical. It isn’t, but we’ll just let that sit for a while.
So when I was about 15 or 16 my brother comes home and he tells me a joke. He asks: ‘What is the difference between a duck?’ I look at him blankly, it makes. no sense, I shake my head and he says:
‘One leg is both the same.’
And he walks off laughing hysterically. Idiot brother. Probably doesn’t even know what a ball is for.
But here’s the funny thing. When I think back over my life, that 73 long years that went by in a snap, I don’t remember the jokes I heard. I must have heard THOUSANDS of jokes! But none of them were worth remembering. But that joke about the duck, and one leg being both the same, it is vivid, seared into me. and I can’t forget it. So my brother’s joke has had incredible impact on my life. Which makes it the greatest joke of all time. At least for me. And, it has zen implications.
After all, the most famous zen saying of all time is probably ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping.’ Tell me that doesn’t make as much sense as:
‘what’s the difference between a duck?’
And, let’s translate that zen ‘joke’ to the martial arts.
‘What is the difference between a martial artist?’ And there are two very distinct un-zenlike answers. And the answers, applied to life, result in two types of people.
The first type of person is one who needs to be entertained. The second type of person is one who doesn’t need to be entertained.
And what the heck does that mean? A lot, thank you, and here we go…
People are either creators, or they are created.
People either search out something to entertain them, or they produce.
This isn’t an absolute, of course. It’s one of those scales like:
to the degree that one produces to that degree he doesn’t need to be entertained. And, to the degree that one is entertained, to that degree he doesn’t produce.
I look at kids today, needing to be entertained by a brainless video game. and I would be disgusted, except I used to bury my head in a book. I needed to be entertained.
Where this would have gone I don’t know, because I discovered martial arts, and, as you all know, the martial arts seriously warps personalities.
But, instead of needing to be entertained, to read the latest book, to go to the latest movie, to waste time chattering over the latest stupid joke, I started working.
I worked out, learning and doing forms, repeating them endlessly, looking for some odd concept called…’perfection.’ Could I turn the hand right, could I snap the foot perfectly, could I perceive the attack before it came.
It didn’t happen fast, it was more like a slow cook, but I stopped needing to be entertained. I started creating. Instead of reading books I started writing books. Instead of wanting to be absorbed by a movie, I wanted to be absorbed by a form. Instead of needing to be entertained, I entertained myself…by producing. I became a totally and utterly different human being.
What a weird metamorphoses. Hopefully you now understand the point, you see the zen of it all. Don’t play, work. The end of life comes too fast and you need to hurry to get everything done, but you won’t get anything done if you’re sitting around trying to be entertained.
BTW I’m always pushing my novels, did you know I write other stuff? If you want to know the truth about government, why we have riots and why idiots keep getting into office, why the government seems to do the exact wrong thing almost ALL the time… then check out:
I should probably call this the ‘Al Case’ way of making chi in the martial arts I haven’t seen anybody else talk about this, which is one of the great mysteries. What I do is that simple.
The body is a machine. A machine has to be attached to the ground. Then the machine must have a dynamo of sorts. Think windmill, then translate that to the body and you have it.
Of course, there is more to it.
When you do Tai Chi this is what you are doing, unfortunately, the Chinese didn’t have such things as logic and physics, so we get ‘mystical’ terms which are really just rooted in the science of their day. Instead of talking about ‘grounding’ your energy as you would in electricity, you get ‘rooting’ as you would for a society that is more agrarian.
I know, weird, and probably a bit misleading, but accurate, especially if you do understand something of physics, and are willing to apply it to the body.
So your stance becomes the ‘grounding’ mechanism. You sink your weight, shift between stances, and the energy goes up one leg and down the other. passing through the tan tien, and out to the arms, and when you ‘windmill your arms, make circles, and make ‘energetical connections,’ the chi starts to build.
But here’s a better way to understand it. Make a circle with your thumb and forefinger. Have somebody pull it apart. They do it easily. Now draw a circle on your hand, making a circle of the thumb and forefinger. Suddenly your hand is strong enough to resist great force. You’ve just used energy. Not muscles, which are up in your forearm, but the idea of energy running around and around your hand.
Okay, now imagine that for your whole body. When you do a move you imagine energy running through your whole body. Maybe you make a circle of your arms, easy to do in, say, the first move of Pinan Two, or Pinan Four. Now imagine the energy running in a circle around your arms. Bingo.
Now, you have to change that concept for different moves. My favorite is to add a circle to the move, and pretend I am drawing circles in the air, and making my arms into a dynamo.
While I don’t talk about this energy, this way of making energy, in the Chiang Nan book and course, that is the place where I probably best demonstrate the concept. Monkey Boxing is probably the art I use it the most and specifically for combat. But Chiang Nan is more concise for the concept.
We actually didn’t all them bunkai, we call them ‘Promise Fights,’ or ‘form applications,’ or simply techniques. But the real description was…
It was explained to me that they were the ‘promise of a fight.’ It was decade before I figured out what the phrase actually meant.
Before there is action there must be thought. Action does not occur before thought, action cannot occur at all without thought. Period. The actual word would be…
A postulate is the thought before the action. So without a postulate there is no action.
And, to drill those techniques until you are sweating blood is to make the postulate work. It is to make the idea work, is to make the concept work. It is the postulate… or it is the promise that your technique will work. The more you drill the more your promise will come true.
Now, a couple of things. If the technique is flawed the promise won’t come true. If the technique is a poser the promise won’t come true. If the technique is inappropriate, poorly put together, or mechanically or dynamically unsound… the promise won’t come true.
But, if the technique is correct and appropriate, if the technique matrixed…it will come true.
But, all conditions being met, this where the magic starts. Endless drilling = martial magic, and in the most extreme sense of the word.
I remember one time I struck a fellow in the face, pulled my punch, didn’t touch him, and he staggered away holding his chin. My promise, my postulate was so strong, he thought he had been hit. I had actually changed his reality with a thought.
That takes a LOT of drilling with the correct techniques.
We took our techniques form the forms. Basic techniques from pinan one through pinan five. Up to green belt we had about 20 techniques, real basic things, block and counter. We drilled those until we NEVER HESITATED! And never missed our target, never flubbed a block. We would do the technique twice on each side. If we made a mistake we would do the technique more than twice. Sometimes a lot more.
Come the green belt test we would run through the promise fights in about five minutes. And that was considered slow. And we were judged for perfect form. We had to have perfect form in the middle of a fight, and every technique was considered a fight… with ourselves, could we meet the demands of discipline.
Think about it, ten seconds for two attacks, ten seconds for us to attack our partner twice, 20 seconds and we had done one promise fight. 20 promise fights times 20 seconds, 400 seconds 6 1/2 minutes No hesitations. You can’t hesitate in a fight.
Okay, brown belt we had maybe 50 techniques, fifty promise fights or ‘bunkai.’ 20 seconds for both partners to get through each technique times 50 = 1000 seconds. Or…17 minutes.
Sometimes the instructor would have us do just the techniques from a specific form or two and we would really focus on getting things perfect and fast.
Black belt we had about 70 techniques. 1400 seconds, or…23 minutes.
About the time we were ready for black belt testing you would see fellows sweating blood after class for hours trying to get the promise fights into the required time frame. Once the black belt test started the instructor would just sit there and watch, and you NEVER wanted him to make a check on his clipboard.
A green belt test you could make a few errors, same with the brown belt test. There were NO errors allowed on the black belt test.
Do you know what kind of mental focus is required to achieve this? Superhuman is the only word that comes to mind.
And we did it in about three years. And we ended up being totally intuitive. Simply, we were not allowed to think about what we were doing, so we didn’t, and the only choice we had, the only result was intuition. We had to know what we were doing with no hesitation. You can’t hesitate in a fight.
Now, if this seems brutal, it actually wasn’t. It was just demanding, and done on a gradient, first you only have to do 20 techniques, then you only have to do 50 techniques, then 70 is reachable.
So that is the secret of the bunkai, of the form application, of the…promise fight.