Archive for March, 2009

Warner Smoke

Posted in Buddhism, Fighting, health, martial arts, meditation, Religion with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by wizardsmoke

Looks like I’m going to go see Brad Warner on his book/talk tour thingy. I don’t really know what kind of turnout he’s going to get, but the booking joint near my town is very random and out-of-place, so there’s a chance no one will show up. At the same time, I’m sure the most random spots can get tons of visitors. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be a total cattle herd or maybe no one will show at all (we’re truly godless and savage where I live) and I can freak him out with some chit-chat. Hahaha!

I actually don’t want to hear more talks on zazen and Vippasana/Shamatha meditation though. So sick of that! And not just from him. Yet I’d rather hear Brad ramble about it than the New Age hippie Buddhist teacher that leads a bunch of yuppies in meditation every week at the church across the street from my house. Of course, what do I know? I’m just some punk.

Anyhow, I got injured sparring the other day. A nice facet of martial arts training is the ability to deal with injuries, and in turn, avoid them. In other words, you get injured and learn how to deal with it. This skill comes the same reason any skill is developed: practice and experience. But other bonus points: I never roll my ankle over anymore (haven’t twisted my ankle in ages), I never get jostled in crowds, I never fall on ice or in the rain, etc.

But from the way the MA stuff is presented in pop culture (or shall we say, marketing), you wouldn’t know that almost every serious martial artist has experienced serious injuries. The only time you hear about it is in weepy stories about how a person couldn’t practice anymore, or in cases like Bruce Lee, where they hype up his injuries to make it seem like only one such Herculean man-god could still practice after being wounded. These are most of the stories people regurgitate to one another, like dopey myths. And my question is similar, myth or otherwise — why not just do that stuff yourself? It’s only magical because you haven’t put forth the effort to do it. Most people float around like driftwood, giving little thought to the direction of their lives — like me and this blog post.

But hopefully there’s an end to this physical means. Hopefully one day there will no longer be any sort of fear with relation to any thing — be it future inhibitions, physical pain, mental and emotional anguish, fear of damnation and so forth. Really all you need to train into yourself is a firm disposition to keep going. I know a lot of guys who are super tough badasses that can plow through all sorts of insults and threats and violent scuffles, but as soon as they get really depressed because their girlfriend left them — they’re cooked! What the hell kind of willpower is that? Perseverance and willpower get shifted around to be useful in every possible medium of expression and experience. Even if you have to start from scratch again and again in everything you do, if you master that ability then you won’t be afraid to let go of things when the time comes. Or something.

Anyway — Brad Warner! We’ll let you know how it goes.

Yoshitoshi’s Personal Encounters with the Supernatural

Posted in academia, Occult, Storytelling, The Arts with tags , , , , , , , on March 18, 2009 by wizardsmoke

One of the most interesting (and last) ukiyo-e artists from the Edo period (1600-1867) of Japanese history, is Yoshitoshi. He’s actually pretty famous for his gory pictures (some of which are featured in recent books by Hatsumi) but these represent only a small fraction of his large, diverse catalog of paintings and prints.

Toward the end of his life, Kuniyoshi (Yoshitoshi’s teacher) was commissioned by the Okomoto family to paint a votive picture for the Sensou Temple in Edo. As his subject he chose the Hag of Adachigahara, an old woman who murdered her visitors to her lonely house on the moors. (Both Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi produced several designs of this memorably cruel figure.) A few weeks after the painting was dedicated, Kuniyoshi was persuaded to attend a play about the Hag, but became sick and turned back. Before he could reach home an earthquake struck Edo (the catastrophic Ansei earthquake of 1855), causing great damage and loss of life. Kuniyoshi was unhurt but badly shaken, and when he finally arrived home his household had given him up for lost. The Okomoto family were all killed in their house. Kuniyoshi was profoundly disturbed by the Okomotos’ fate and blamed it on bad luck associated with the Adachigahara story. Presumably the event reinforced any superstitious inclinations among the students living with Kuniyoshi, including Yoshitoshi, then an impressionable sixteen-year-old.

In 1871, Yoshitoshi traveled to Oiso, south of Tokyo, on a sketching trip with some of his students. On the way home they decided to spend the night at one of their favorite haunts in the lower-class pleasure quarters of Shinagawa. Yoshitoshi’s room was on the second floor; outside his door was a narrow staircase leading down to the main hall. When everyone had settled down for the night and the household was beginning to sleep, slow footsteps were heard climbing the ladder. One of the little kamurou, child attendants of the prostitutes, screamed. Yoshitoshi rushed to the head of the ladder and saw the figure of a pitifully thin woman. He backed away; she disappeared. The next day he learned that some years earlier a woman, trapped in her bitter life, had committed suicide in the room where he had stayed, and that many people who slept there saw her ghost. He later painted an image on silk of the apparition, who beckons to a customer in a parody of the agaru gesture of invitation (agaru means literally to ascend, and by extension to sleep with a prostitute). Less than fourty paintings by Yoshitoshi have survived, along with many forgeries; that three paintings, illustrated here, are of ghosts suggest the importance of the subject to Yoshitoshi. The incident in the brothel unsettled him and may have pushed him toward his temporary breakdown soon after.

–Stevenson, John. Yoshitoshi’s Strange Tales. Amsterdam: Hotei, 2005; (pp. 11-12).

Go Straight!

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, Exercise, Fighting, health, martial arts, meditation, Monasticism, tai chi, taijiquan with tags , , , , on March 7, 2009 by wizardsmoke

Lately, in my Taijiquan practice, I’ve been thinking a lot about the principle of verticality. One of the five fundamental principles of Zheng Manqing-style Taijiquan (and numerous other branches) is to maintain verticality in all movement. This means, keep the back straight — and very importantly — keep the eyes looking ahead on eye-level. This last part about the eyes is often neglected unless folks practice wholeheartedly and on a daily basis.

Verticality is important if you do Buddhist or Taoist meditation practices too (and probably other branches, i.e. Hindu stuff, but I really don’t know and can’t say). Of course, in seated meditation, when it is done with the eyes open the eyes are not straight ahead, but must fall a few feet in front of where you are sitting. The exact spot will vary from person to person, depending on their height, torso size, etc. and must be determined by the individual through consistently practicing and discovering which position allows for good posture with minimal tension.

But the point in either case, is that the eyes are directly related to posture, even though we commonly associate the idea of verticality only with the spine. When the eyes drop below the normal eyeline of the head/body, the body slumps and begins to lean forward. In a combative situation, one will lean on or into the opponent, or overextend the limbs and let them become handles by which to manipulate the body. This can also be related to — or an exaggeration of — sloth, torpor or laziness. It is usually an extension of bodily tension and chronic poor posture, further cyclically exacerbated by this eye scenario.

The other possibility, that the eyes extend too far above the relaxed, default position, reflects tension and excitability or irritability. It’s less common that people have this problem, rather than the previous one of slumping. If people are overly upright in posture, they typically are carrying a lot of tension in the shoulders because they’re using too much muscle mass and are disconnecting from their dantien or hara — their bodily center below the navel.

It seems pretty obvious, but the eyes are a subtle part of our posture. Most people walking down the street are looking at the ground, only glancing up at noises or approaching people. By looking at the ground, their posture is already beginning to suffer — and they’re revealing themselves to be a more viable target for predators seeking people lost in their own thought-worlds. In fact, the drooping of the eyes and the slumping of one’s neck and back is directly tied to thoughts — the more lost in our thoughts we are, the more our posture will suffer.