Archive for Shinto

Tengus, Musashi and Joshu

Posted in Asceticism, Buddhism, Fighting, martial arts, Monasticism, Shintoism, society, Stayin' Alive, Ultimate Reality with tags , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2008 by wizardsmoke

What are the pinnacles of a martial artist’s path? Endless willpower (the embodiment of faith), natural, animal-like movement and an awareness of one’s place in the universe. Alternatives include trouble with the law, a bohemian lifestyle or a macho complex…

But does this come at a price? A martial artist keeps the peace by intimidating the opposition to a point of no return, by forcing potentially dangerous or malicious people to hide or change. This is admirable, but a martial path is often lonely. It is difficult to befriend people genuinely if one does not perceive themselves as equal. By becoming tough, deadly and virtuous, one is robbed of basic human weaknesses and empathies. Fortunately, a virtuous person is beyond conscious value judgments of character!

An ascetic path would say that basic pleasures and empathies are human weaknesses that cause suffering and the disorder of society. This is true, but at the same time, many people are driven to practice martial arts for very human reasons: for their jobs, to protect their families, for ego boosts (to be tough), or from seeing too many Naruto episodes.

Sometimes, people who take these factors as inspiration are driven to achieve very high levels in the martial arts. But I would not be surprised if the highest levels were achieved by people like Musashi, who had much disdain for society’s records and rules. Part of having a job or a family also involves conforming to society and adjusting to its rules. Here one can argue that this is either a further martial development, or a hindrance to one’s martial development. In other words, Musashi was something of a tengu.

Does a martial artist become so secure in his/her ability to kill or destroy that they care so little about other people to the point of no longer noticing their presence? Is this different from realizing how easy it is to kill or destory people or things to the extent that the existence of such things makes them emanate extraordinary substance and value in the martial artist’s eyes?

It’s like what Leonard Cohen said about his Zen teacher, 100-year-old Joshu Sasaki: “He became someone who really cared about—or deeply didn’t care about who I was. Therefore, who I was began to wither. And the less I was of who I was, the better I felt.”

We don’t know Musashi the man, we don’t know ourselves, but we can certainly understand that people like him, living in seclusion from society, perfecting methods of killing (and some slick painting), with nothing in the world to protect except his deep passion to know the essence of combat, are not normally functioning members of humanity. There’s no human glory in that life, which is one obsessed with violence and so far beyond driven to understand things that it eclipses a normal life. Not saying Musashi had a choice necessarily–he seems like he got dealt an interesting hand to play out in life–but it’s something to consider. Sometimes desire for this stuff can be too strong.

Do you lean towards being a tengu or some noble humanist? Sometimes you’re too far in either direction to change in one lifetime.

Icy Cold Refreshment

Posted in Buddhism, Daoism, martial arts, Monasticism, Religion, Shintoism with tags , , , , , , on February 19, 2008 by wizardsmoke

I always make sure a few minutes of my shower is cold. It wakes you up and gives you energy. It’s just science.

Do you wonder why Yamabushi and esoteric Japanese Buddhist practices involve “kaji”–waterfall training? It gives the practitioner energy and willpower. The plain truth is that consciously relaxing the muscles and breathing deeply while amidst icy cold water uses up an individual’s old energy and forces one to take in new stuff from the surrounding areas. That’s why there are ascetic Shinto practices which involve getting possessed at shrines whilst taking an ice-cold shower. The individual is catching the new energy in the waterfall.

 Hiroshige’s Waterfall

I don’t know about the whole possession thing, but if you live at a shrine or nearby, you’re probably half-possessed anyway — so go for it! And as for the rest of us chumps living in stale, (sub)urban areas without gnarly ancient shrines filled with tengu, a cold shower still develops the spirit.

When one is in the midst of freezing cold water, there’s only two choices: (A) Give up and freeze like a pansy; or (B) use willpower and powers of concentration to objectively observe the sensation of the cold, relax the muscles (especially around the neck, shoulders and hips!) and focus the mind on the warm parts of the body. When one has the ability to concentrate like this even amidst the freezing cold, they can move on to other sensations of pleasure or discomfort and overcome bodily identification with those.

Ahh…don’t overdo it though! Sitting in a freezing waterfall for 2 hours is sort of dumb. Uses up your chakra and all that good stuff.

Cold water is also good for the skin. I’ve always considered cold water good for the complexion and warm water good for the muscles. So switch ’em up in the shower for fast and positive tension-taming results!

There’s a reason hermetic, ascetic and Daoist masters all advised one to bathe in cold water.

A Bunch of Ninjas

Posted in Fighting, martial arts, Religion, Shintoism with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2008 by wizardsmoke

Today I watched Naruto for the first time after a long hiatus, and I realized yet again that the Naruto series has the same charming energy as Hatsumi’s art and books. You could learn a thing or two about illusion and strategy from both works.

Clearly the writer(s) for the Naruto manga and show have read Hatsumi’s stuff. His books are the best ones on real ninjas widely available to the public. And his writing on genjutsu (illusion techniques) is just delish. A bunch of other things in Naruto were picked up from Japanese mythology and culture and so on, so if you’re interested in that stuff, you know what to do.

Hatsumi himself gives off such strong energy, he could pull some serious illusions on you. And I guess that’s sort of his game to begin with. Not only can he make and see through illusions, he’s pretty talented artistically — he’s a good writer. So he can pull people into his art through that alone.

Now, there are tons of high-level martial artists out there, many of whom are pretty comparable. Every martial art has the same belief that their lineage is the toughest, that some guy in their lineage is the best fighter the world’s ever seen. It’s a pretty narrow-minded belief, and as a show, Naruto demonstrates that stuff in a cool way; the various ninjas are exceptionally skilled at different areas of expertise. ‘Coz the various martial arts are like that, too. And in real life, and in the show, the person who survives is usually the genius of strategy and deception and perceiving when to act. And that’s what ninjutsu seems to be about as well, at the end of the day.

Naruto is such a bangin’ show when it does its stuff well. I know anime elitists don’t like it, because they need to keep everyone else off their scent (we can’t know what their underground tastes are!). And Naruto is a serialized show, so due to it’s high ratings and popularity as a money-maker, it probably won’t ever end. But if you can watch 4 or 5 episodes per sitting, you’ll be pretty set.