I am about to grade for my brown belt and part of my grading includes a book report in the martial arts.
I have read several martial arts books but for this grading given what I am going through in my life these days, I am going to go with “zen in the martial arts” by Joe Hyams.
Joe was one of Bruce Lee’s pupils and wrote this book in memory of his teacher referencing their talks on life. There are chapters in this book that I will never forget and strive to apply to every day of my life.
One of the most basic principles to maintaining a zen state is to recognize the difference between inactive activity and active inactivity.
What it means is work hard but play harder. In other words, if you are camping just camp, don’t bring work with you, don’t even think about the work you have to do when you get back to the office. That would be inactive activity or inactive rest.
It’s a balancing act between down-time and up-time… working and resting. For years I have been horrible with this balance. Looking back I see too many hours of poor production time because I hadn’t rested and burned out. I see too many hours with loved ones being compromised by my business because I refuse to turn off the phone.
This tends to go hand in hand with another chapter of the book entitled “Empty your cup”… this really means empty your mind. If your head is full of thoughts you really can’t absorbe any more because there just isn’t any room. Much like trying to rest while obsessing over work… you must empty your mind if you want to rest.
Another great chapter is called “Seize the moment” which again emphasises these points… it means be in the moment… live in the now. Forget what you were doing 10 minutes ago, forget what’s coming in 1o minutes… everything will come to pass so appreciate it while you have it. Don’t get hasty… that’s the next chapter in the book “Conquer Haste”.
A great example of “conquer haste” would be the growth I’ve had in becoming a journalist. In my younger days, the thought of interviewing Moby would cause me to bounce off the wall and race to the interview. Now that I’m a little more mature, I see how unprofessional and counter-productive it would be for me to get so giddy and obvlious to the rest of the world that preceeds that moment.
All in all we need to know our limits. Now only physical limits, but mental and spiritual limits. In the context of Bruce Lee, he had poor vision… he couldn’t see too far ahead so his ideal fighting position was up close. More importantly, knowing his left leg was longer than his right, he placed it at the back adopting a right-side fighting stance.
Another humbling point to consider is that even masters have masters… this helps me pat myself on the back for the progress I’m making despite having seen some of my peers pass me by in flying colours. To each his own… over these last two years I have awakened. I recently spent some time with two very different walks of life…
I spent a weekend up at a multi-million dollar mansion cottage coupled with 3 other cottages belonging to the same owner. He had 4 pools, several boats, 20 foot movie screens and so much more. The following weekend I spent with my fellow brothers from the dojo camping in tents.
To make a long story short, never before had I truly understand what fame and fortune really brings, i.e. zero privacy, zero rest, zero respect. Honestly, I was surrounded by celebrities who would be sued if they turned off their phones and what’s worse… is that their children had really lost touch with the meaning of “yearning” and “earning”.
There is no possible way you could be zen as a celebrity… I’m quite sure of it. My take is that a zen mind is a happy mind. Without, happiness just doesn’t exist. I’d rather be the artist, starving, but in peace. Able to disappear without anyone noticing and able to appreciate even the smallest things.
In contrast to these celebs, my friends at the dojo showed me true joy… found in the most basic amenities. Up at the cottage, we’d hop into Neill’s cigarette boat and go for a joy ride. Up north camping with the dojo… we’d throw sledge hammers or flip tractor tired… even play frissbee at night.
There was never a dull moment…. at the cottage however, it was a lot of sitting around being catered to or watching people making phone calls stressing out over how they should be in the city and not dealing with the outdoors, i.e. sweat, misquitos, etc.
It’s like they say, money can’t buy you happiness but being Zen will do more than help make it happen. To be Zen is to be like water, it is graceful… it cannot be penetrated, it cannot be disturbed, it is simply resilient to whatever you throw at it.
Updated Martial Arts Book Resume:
Karate-Do: My Way of Life
by Gichin Funakoshi
The Book of Five Rings
by Miyamoto Musashi
The Art of War
by Sun Tzu
Zen in the Martial Arts
by Joe Hyams