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Thread: Questioning the link between Zen and Budo

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    Default Questioning the link between Zen and Budo

    In the recent thread “let’s see you do that with shinken”, a lively debate was raged regarding the efficacy of pursuits such as Zen, Chado, etc. in developing the enigmatic state of mind known as Mushin. For the first ten of the twenty plus years that I have been practicing martial arts I firmly believed this as well. Then about ten years ago I joined the International Hoplology Society and started reading about combative behavior outside of martial arts literature. I have primarily read works that look at the roots of violent behavior in men, such as,
    “The Two Faces of Combatives”, Hunter Armstrong
    “Training the Use-of-Arms Professional: Effect-Not Display”, Hunter Armstrong
    “Approach-Close-Enter”, Hunter Armstrong
    “The Koryu Bujutsu Experience”, Hunter Armstrong
    “The Professional Perspective: Thoughts on the Koryu Bujutsu from a United States Marine”, George Bristol
    “Marishiten: Buddhist Influence on Combative Behavior”, David Hall
    “Paleolithic Adaptive Traits and The Fighting Man”, Richard Hayes
    Among The Thugs, Bill Buford
    Ecological Imperialism, Alfred Crosby
    The Third Chimpanzee, Jared Diamond
    Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond
    The Dark Side of Man, Michael Ghilglieri
    On Killing, Lt. Col. Dave Grossman
    The Western Way of War, Victor Hanson
    Acts of War, Richard Holmes
    The Biology of Peace and War, Irenaus Eibl-Elbesfeldt
    War Before Civilization, Liam Keeley
    Man the Hunter, ED. By Lee and Devore
    Men Against Fire, S.L.A. Marshall
    The Biology of Violence, Debra Niehoff
    Demonic Males, Wrangham and Peterson

    I have also played around with some close quarters combative training in the past few years, primarily Fairbairn’s Defendu. So my first hand, or emic, experience comes from the practice of koryu bujutsu and CQB classes. All of this reading has left me firmly convinced that the best way to develop the proper mindset for Budo is to partake in activities that simulate combative stress as closely as possible, mainly, koryu Bujutsu practice. I was also left thinking that 99% of what I had read in “martial arts” books about the “Warrior” mindset, or the Zen, Chado, etc. links to martial arts was utter rubbish.

    But, in light of the current debate, I decided to re-examine my thoughts on the matter. Where did my early thoughts about Zen and the like come from? Well, I had remembered reading Zen in the Martial Arts, by Joe Hyams, and Herrrigal’s Zen and the Art of Archery, among other things. I also decided to read some books on Zen, including some of D.T. Suzuki’s stuff. He was really big on the Zen-Martial Arts connection, although he never was an acolyte of either. Looking back, these books are all total rubbish, but they romanticized the Samurai fiction that I firmly believed in at that time (I should add that I was an impressionable teenager when I started martial arts). But I ask my self now, is there more evidence to be had about an actual connection. Then it hit me, I had been overlooking a couple of major works, that are widely available in English, and actually arry some weight. .The first is William Scott Wilson’s translation of The Unfettered Mind: Writings from a Zen Master to a Master Swordsman, by Takuan Soho, and Wilson’s translation of Miyamoto Musashi’s “A Book of Five Rings”. Now, I don’t read Japanese so I am in no place to say whether or not these are accurate or decent translations of these works, but they are important pieces in the Zen mind/Budo mind puzzle. I also reread one of the Donn F. Draeger monographs that I have, entitled “Zen and the Japanese Warrior”. All of these works leads me to re-examine my position and to believe that there is a valid link between these arts. I am very curious to see what others here have to say about this.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    I'm under the impression that for most koryu the traditional spiritual belief system centers around Shingon or Tendai style mikkyo, with ample helpings of Shinto ideas, many of which are actually part and parcel with mikkyo. The tradition that was heavily affected by Zen belief and thought is Yagyu Shinkage Ryu, under the influence of Takuan Soho.

    (I should note that I'm not a koryu practitioner, merely an observer. I intend to enter koryu training in the future, however. I'm just in the wrong part of the country.)

    For the gendai budo, it's certain that Zen is an important part of the belief system. Aikido is an exemplar of this (although I get the feeling that Ueshiba wasn't a Zen follower, his students have emphasized it). Hyams's writing on Zen seems to have had a heavy influence on karate and judo practitioners as well.

    One of the reasons for the preponderance of Zen amongst the gendai budo is, I think, because it's easily accessible in comparison to such obscurities as Shinto and mikkyo teachings. The idea of Zen being easily accessible is odd, I'll grant, but actually it's quite obvious if you check the Buddhism section of your local bookstore. It's made up of equal parts Theravada, Tibetan, and Zen. You're not going to see anything Shingon or Tendai related (although I *did* pick up a book on Shingon once at a bookstore, it was a used bookstore and as such the book ended up there by chance). So to the budoka seeking spiritual improvement which will influence his training, Zen seems to be an obvious choice.

    Frankly, I don't quite understand what Zen provides in the context of bujutsu training. It seems to me that regular meditation, while certainly useful, requires such a heavy commitment from the practitioner that it subtracts from time that could be otherwise spent training. The concept of self-enlightenment, that you can't come to complete understanding by external means, is certainly in line with bujutsu concepts of the student learning through continual practice with occasional breakthroughs. But both Zen and bujutsu have in common a requirement of extensive practice, and doing one seems to me to cut into the time that could be spent in the other. Would you like to be a celebrated violinist or a wealthy businessman? You can't have both because they both eat up all of your life. In contrast mikkyo and Shinto seem to me to focus on more immediate gains and short-term involvement, versus long term extensive study.
    James A. Crippen

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    Default Mushin

    I have been training for over 2o years. I have through my profession encounterd a number of violent situations and have found my mind to be racing, my adrenilin running and find myself responding on instinct. Weather or not "no mind" was in place quite frankly I could not tell you.

    On the other hand, in doing drills and sparring I have found that by lowering my hands, relaxing and literally "stopping my desire to preempt" my opponents move I will do much better in my response/reaction.

    I find that researching the philosophies of Zen, (I have also read much of your list as well as Suzuki and have come to the conclusion that his "response" based concept is one that is applied to all of one's life experiences.

    In demonstrating this to a class my classic routine is to ask the senior student to attack without a pre arranged technique. They are told to attack with no less than 4 techniques for demonstration purposes. Sometimes the 4th one will penetrate but for the most part all are blocked or avoided. Because I have them come at me full force I tend to only block and not counter and normally before they have completed the 4 moves I will have them in a position of vulnerability.

    Sensei taught me a lesson years ago when he was teaching "perferial vision" when looking at his eyes I could not block his attacks. He stood in front of me, and simply began to slap me with both hands, we did not move our feet, the exercise was to demonstrate my ability to block while looking at the eyes. When I was instructed to "gaze" at his upper chest and see the movements with the "perferial" vision I blocked all slaps. I realized later that by watching the chest, and not wanting to get hit in the head again,(One slap definatly rang my bell hahaha) that on the second phase of the exercise I was responding and not thinking of what was coming.

    Sensei also related some of this to the Zen concept of no mind and defined the difference to "appropriate resoponse" as opposed to a "planned reaction"

    Thinking is slower than responding.

    Mike O'Leary
    Old Dragon

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    Thanks for the answers guys. Excellent thoughts. But I what I am really interested in is verifiable historical links between Zen and the martial arts, that support the idea that doing an activity like Zen will enable you to have the proper mindset for Budo.

    Mr. Crippen, I am aware of the Yagyu connection, but Takuan lived in the seventeenth century. In Draeger’s monograph, he places the beginning of Zen influence on martial arts in the twelfth to thirteenth century with the development of the Rinzai sect under Eisai.

    Here is some of what Draeger had to say in the above-mentioned monograph
    “So, the ability to transcend this worry about life and death is one of the purposes of Zen training, and it is done through the physical koan which you will see on the film. I call it a “flirt with death.” Daily, you will walk under a blade that’s coming down for the top of your head. Everyday you train, you come close to, well, flirting with it. So, after a while…and what is a while? It depends on you. Kankei nai as the Japanese say. You don’ t think about it anymore. In fact, you’ve gained some confidence. You’re going to deal with it properly. Deflect it, parry it, evade it, and come up with something of your own. That’s a very important consideration in Zen.”

    And,

    “ Now, I would like you to realize that Zen is not Unitarian, even today. There are people who treat Zen exactly as I put on the board today. That’s all Zen to them. They don’t go to a temple. They do it in the confines of their own land. Walking, standing, reclining, sitting, no matter what. But with complete dedication and respect, just as someone who is sitting in a temple. ..They may be farmers or merchants; some of them are of warrior blood, such as Otake sensei who was here. He is of the Seiwa Genji, Minamoto bloodline. He is a warrior family, very high class one. He is a horse breeder, a rancher by profession. Martial arts is very much in his life; it is not his occupation. He is an advocate of Zen discipline, but we never mention the word. You can go for 10, 15 years in a classical dojo and never hear anybody talk about Zen. That is Zen. On the other hand, you go to another place where, ‘oh man, you’re not Zen tonight, let’s do some more meditation.’ Always talking. All the terminology is flowing like a fountain. But maybe very little Zen. So there is a difference.”

    Now I am also well aware that many of the ancient samurai actually practiced Shinto with more commitment then Zen or Buddhism. But what I am curious about is what Draeger talks about in the kata of koryu Bujutsu being a physical koan, and how much the philosophy, not the religion, of Zen influenced the koryu arts, and when did the connection between Zen and gendai arts re-emerge. Because it seems to me that the modern inclusion of Zen in martial arts is a specious one, starting during the early part of the twentieth century as a part of the militarization of Japan, and continued to an absurd degree by morons from the West such as Herrigal and the Aiki-fruits who were all just living out their own fantasies with no concern for reality.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    Default Re: Questioning the link between Zen and Budo

    Mr Mitchell,

    I suggest you look at the Japanese concept of 'shugyou' (practice/training/ascetic training), as it has developped over the centuries. There is a link between shugyou and many Japanese traditional arts, including folk arts such as kagura and martial arts.

    I think the Zen connection to the martial arts came via Noh drama and Chado, through a codification of rules and forms which constituted correct practice, only this, of course, leading to the desired 'pure experience'.

    Another problem is that there has been a 'washback effect' with the writings of people like Nitobe Inazo, Lafcadio Hearn, Ruth Benedict, D T Suzuki and, to a lesser extent, Herrigel. Apart from defining for non-Japanese the boundaries within which Japanese culture was to be understood by non-Japanese, these various works have also been taken up by the Japanese themselves as explaining parts of the 'essence' of Japanese culture. Before I came to live here, I myself was given Hearn's "Japan: An Interpretation" by my first Japanese martial arts teacher and it took me a long time to see how seriously flawed it was.

    Best regards,
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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    Thank you very much for the informative post Proffessor Goldsbury. Would you possibly have any recommendations on works in English that address the concept of shugyo?

    p.s. I hope I didn't offend with my less than polite refernece to Aikidoka. I have met a number of outstanding teachers, but much of the West Coast is inhabited with snake oil peddlers. And they write a lot of swill about the connection between martial arts and Zen, TM, you name it. I think that some of them are actually genuine in their pursuits and delusions, but some of them are just trying to make a buck by marketing the latest budo-babble craze.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    Originally posted by Bruce Mitchell
    Thank you very much for the informative post Proffessor Goldsbury. Would you possibly have any recommendations on works in English that address the concept of shugyo?

    p.s. I hope I didn't offend with my less than polite refernece to Aikidoka. I have met a number of outstanding teachers, but much of the West Coast is inhabited with snake oil peddlers. And they write a lot of swill about the connection between martial arts and Zen, TM, you name it. I think that some of them are actually genuine in their pursuits and delusions, but some of them are just trying to make a buck by marketing the latest budo-babble craze.
    I am not in my office at the moment, but much of the material in English is in academic papers. Off hand, anything written by the following scholars will be a good start: Mark Teeuwen, Alan Grapard, Fabio Rambelli, Bernard Faure, Joy Hendry, Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney, Rupert A Cox and James Heisig.

    Happy reading!

    PS. No offence taken. I looked at your profile and can tell you that I have had some memorable training experiences with Mr Ichiro Shibata.
    Peter Goldsbury,
    Forum Administrator,
    Hiroshima, Japan

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    Bruce,

    Try checking out Stevens' book about Yamaoka Tesshu. It is obviously slanted, being a complete praise of Tesshu, but it could help you notice some 'historical' approaches to the 'Zen mind'.

    Apparetnly, Tesshu did not require any of his students to cross-train in any of his other arts (Shodo, Zen & Kenjutsu). He claimed that one could reach the same level of 'satori' dilligently training in any of them--and other traditional arts, as well.

    As for following more than one path to this lofty psycho-spiritual state, and that multi-path being too difficult, Tesshu was a noted Zen master, the headmaster of two branches of Itto-ryu (and developed a third, his own Muto-ryu) and was also the headmaster of one school of shodo. Apparetnly he devoted his time equally to all of these chosen paths.

    Further, his wife did not wish to study Zen, so Tesshu found a Shingon priest to help his wife and his children along the path. Arguably, an enlightened Zen/Shodo/Sword master would not simply turn up a Shingon priest for the sake of keeping his family busy, so he, at least, saw merit in pursuing Shingon as a path to the greater goal.

    So, that covers Tesshu in a few paragraphs. Now, back to budo. Two of the oldest koryu were set squarely and firmly upon the foundation of Shinto (Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu & Kashima Shinryu). That is not to say that elements from other religio-spiritual systems did not find their way into these schools through later headmasters. Both schools, as far as I have seen, do not require any specific type of spiritual belief--or any belief at all--for the sake of being a practitioner. However, the schools themselves are doubtless founded upon these beliefs and there would, no doubt, be certain levels of understanding available to a practitioner who may decide to adopt those beliefs.

    By what I have read and understood, most warriors of classical Japan were very pragmatic creatures. There is no argument as to the practical applications of a mental state like mushin. However, it has been stated here and elsewhere that pusuing Zen isn't simply showing up on Sunday and lighting a few candles. It takes sincere devotion--devotion that I would presume a professional warrior did not entirely have time for if he was to be prepared for battle. You will see that Zen and budo became far more widely interchangeable only in the later decades leading up to the Meiji Restoration, and certainly thereafter, when many of the swordsmen of the time (Tesshu, et al) were not (even nominally, as in the Edo Period) professional warriors. It gave them more time to dip their little fingers into other pies, and not be so concerned with trivial things like dying (a bit ironic for Zen warriors, I would say, not being concerned with death because there was no real threat to your life).

    There is absolutely a connection between Zen and martial arts. Though, it is clearly seen that this connection is not quite as umbilical as many practitioners of both would have you believe. Historically, many individuals have [apparently] achieved satori outside the context of Zen. And many of the greatest swordsmen/budoka have had no connection to Zen whatsoever (Iizasa, Bokuden, Kunii Zen'ya, Ueshiba...er...Bruce Lee).

    The fact that these examples exist outside the context of Zen or the 'Zen mind' does not insubstantiate the applicability or intermingling of Zen and MA, which, again, I think many dual-practitioners feel is the case, when one argues that there is not actually a foundational connection between the two. (Damn, that is a long sentence. All those years of Anthropology paid off right there .) I think the sheer fact that 'mushin' is now semantically interchangable with 'Zen mind' is a small testament to the monopoloy that many would seek to grant Zen martial artists on this subject.

    Truly a dizzying topic, and one that interests me greatly, as well. Good luck wiht all of your research. And do keep us posted on what you turn up.

    Sincerely,
    Matthew Snowden
    -The only way to learn is be aware and hold on tight.

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    Thanks Matt,
    I have Steven's book, but am often put off by his writing style, and feel he is too one sided in presenting his information.
    Best regards,
    Bruce Mitchell

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    Man, I know exactly how you feel. It's like a post-mortem masturbation. I know that there are TONS of people out there who really idealize Tesshu--and, mind you, I am not one of them--but this book does tend to put things (few things) into perspective, if you look close enough. Granted, Tesshu was a great man for his time, but I have a problem with anyone who eats vomit--Christ if Ozzy Osbourne did that, he'd never hear the end.

    I think that Tesshu may very nearly exemplify the Zen mind in MA perspective. Let me clarify that a bit: I think that the modern Western interpretation of an image that Tesshu is believed to have been--based off of little other than meager 'pop' culture--is the exemplar for many who would contend the Zen and the martial arts perspective.

    Here's another angle for you: Zen seeks to reach the state of mind that the Buddha Sakyamuni preached during the first few weeks of his enlightenment, as I understand. Now, just about any Buddhist scholar (something orthodox Zen would argue against) will tell you that during the first few weeks of the Prince Formerly Known As Siddhartha's Awakening, what he taught was Hwa-Yen (Jp Kegon) Buddhism. But no one understood him. Hwa-Yen and Chan masters (many were both) argued that Chan and Hwa-Yen were to diametrically opposed paths to the very same goal: one promtes a whole lotta reading and studying and library time and analysis and understanding causality, and the other says just show up...oh and good luck! Some Buddhist scholars argue that you cannot truly understand the Buddha Mind without walking both paths (equal extremes of the same Buddhist spectrum).

    Now, I think that 'Zen mind' and 'Buddha Mind' are the same thing, ultimately. Though, they may have differing perceptive applications in one's life and dealings. Where was I going with this...? SHITE! Sorry, I lost it--I type far too slow.

    Anyhoo. Takuan himself also professed that there were many paths to the state of no mind, though he obviously thought that Zen was the best. The reason, he argued, that swordsmanship (with Zen) was such a good vehicle for the realization of this process and state, was that the variables were so vast (too many mind, hah) compared to other ways, and after paying so close attention to all of the causal elements, one would eventually come full circle and be in a state of no mind. Thus, Zen put you in the correct frame of mind, and sowrdsmanship allowed for the application of thate mind-frame, consequently leading to the state of no mind.

    I think that I got my other point back. So, even Takuan states that in this state of no mind, anyone will be able to apply that state to anything they ever pursue: art, tea, frisbee, kenjutsu. This state gives them the ultimate 'open-mindedness', something that Miyamoto Musashi and the ninjas call Void. It is through this 'void' state, this 'no mind' that the warrior would be able to achieve perfection in his swordwork. But, yet again, Takuan says that he will be able to be perfect at anything (Musashi's art, Tesshu's calligraphy...).

    Sorry if I am straying, I can do that sometimes.

    Now, if we are just trying to find some sort of actual demographic evidence and some solid numbers, I'm affraid that I can't help you there. Dr.s Friday and Bodiford have chimed in on more than a few threads regarding this issue. And I think that you would find there information useful. Check on their profiles for old posts and see what you come up with.

    Thanks for listening...
    Last edited by shieldcaster; 20th December 2004 at 02:13.
    Matthew Snowden
    -The only way to learn is be aware and hold on tight.

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    The general, overall connection between koryu and zen is not nearly as typical as most make it out to be. As mentioned above, the more likely connection is with shinto; arguably a 'religious' connection at all.
    But there are several concrete examples of connections between zen and koryu.
    Mugairyu Iaihyodo, founded by Tsuji Gettan Sukemochi in 1693 is a prime example. After studying Yamaguchi-ryu and Chinese Zen philosophy he became equally well know for the sword and the zen philosophy.
    More modern times gives us Omori Sogen, an accomplished zen monk charged with introducing zen to the West and himself an accomplished martial artist in several koryu. Don't know if "ken-to-zen" (Zen and the Sword) has been translated well if at all, but that's worth a read.

    Regards,

    r e n

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    Arrow "Zen & Budo"

    Originally posted by renfield_kuroda ...
    More modern times gives us Omori Sogen, an accomplished zen monk charged with introducing zen to the West and himself an accomplished martial artist in several koryu. Don't know if "ken-to-zen" (Zen and the Sword) has been translated well if at all, but that's worth a read.

    Regards,
    r e n
    A slim volume called Zen & Budo (Zen to Budo) by Omori Sogen has been translated into English. It is or was available from Daihonzan Chozen-ji/International Zen Dojo of Honolulu (c 1989). The late Omori-roshi does reference his book "Ken to Zen" (Zen and the Sword) at the beginning of Ch. 2.
    Raymond Sosnowski

    "Setsunintoh, Katsuninken, Shinmyohken."

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    Originally posted by Bruce Mitchell
    Daily, you will walk under a blade that’s coming down for the top of your head. Everyday you train, you come close to, well, flirting with it. So, after a while…and what is a while? It depends on you. Kankei nai as the Japanese say. You don’ t think about it anymore. In fact, you’ve gained some confidence. You’re going to deal with it properly. Deflect it, parry it, evade it, and come up with something of your own.”
    Hm. Sounds like budo training to me.

    Anyway, all of the people who talk about this stress over and over again that you can get the "Zen mind" by training in budo.

    So, fine. Train. If I've got an hour to sit on my a** staring at a wall, I've got an hour to shoot arrows or swing a sword or a stick.

    If you're interestred only in "the mind", futzing around sitting on a cushion might be the best way to do it. If you're interested in actually learning how to DO something, why waste your time?

    Oh, yeah, before I forget: Herrigel had no bleeding idea what he was talking about.
    Last edited by Earl Hartman; 20th December 2004 at 19:33.
    Earl Hartman

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    Anyway, all of the people who talk about this stress over and over again that you can get the "Zen mind" by training in budo. So, fine. Train. If I've got an hour to sit on my a** staring at a wall, I've got an hour to shoot arrows or swing a sword or a stick.

    If you're interestred only in "the mind", futzing around sitting on a cushion might be the best way to do it. If you're interested in actually learning how to DO something, why waste your time?

    Oh, yeah: Herrigel had no bleeding idea what he was talking about.
    Whoa, Mr. Hartman, pretty harsh words for we who "futz" around on a cushion!
    I, for one, try to sit on the cushion, not futz.

    From a certain perspective, zazen is about paying attention. No more, but no less either. IMHO, the same can also be said about budo.

    And both Zen and budo can be said to be simple, but not necessarily easy.

    But I think we both agree that the connection between Zen and budo has indeed been overstated by many authors, to the detriment of way too many eager readers. There ain't no shortcuts: Want to learn how to swing a sword? Swing a sword. Want to learn how to sit? Sit.

    Oh, and I think we agree about that Herrigel thing too.
    Rev. Sean Taizen Breheney
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    "The problems we face today cannot be solved from the same consciousness that created them." - Albert Einstein

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    Originally posted by SBreheney
    Whoa, Mr. Hartman, pretty harsh words for we who "futz" around on a cushion! I, for one, try to sit on the cushion, not futz.
    I am referring to people who futz around on a cushion looking for budo. I have nothing but respect for people who are serious about meditiation, or whatever their chosen Way happens to be. I have a problem with people who think the can discover the secret of budo by sitting around.

    Originally posted by SBreheney
    From a certain perspective, zazen is about paying attention. No more, but no less either. IMHO, the same can also be said about budo.

    But I think we both agree that the connection between Zen and budo has indeed been overstated by many authors, to the detriment of way too many eager readers.
    Agree.

    Originally posted by SBreheney
    There ain't no shortcuts: Want to learn how to swing a sword? Swing a sword. Want to learn how to sit? Sit.
    That's all I'm saying.

    Originally posted by SBreheney
    Oh, and I think we agree about that Herrigel thing too.
    Well, I'm glad to see that Zen has taught you something of value, at least.

    Earl Hartman

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