Showing posts with label 道、老子、Lao Tzu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 道、老子、Lao Tzu. Show all posts

Friday, January 15, 2016

Understanding the Way: the Tao Te Ching

For anyone interested in the ideas and thinking that underpin the concepts of budo and other Ways, the Tao Te Ching is essential reading. There are numerous translations of this canonical text, each doing it’s best to bring understanding and thought to the translation. Fortunately, it’s not a long book.  You can read it in about 30 minutes.  It’s filled with meaning and ideas to explore.
Because of the difficulty of translating ancient Chinese into modern English, there can be wide differences between translations. The internet is an amazing thing. There is now a site where you can see translation of the Tao Te Ching, and explore the original Chinese character by character to improve your understanding and get a better feel for what the translators are trying to express.  The site is at


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Update on training injured

An update on the ol’ knee.  Back in December of 2010 I bent my right knee roughly 45 degrees to the left.  I’ve been taking it easy and not pushing myself too hard.  I thought over the summer that it was pretty much healed.  It only took one regular judo practice to prove this was not true.  While I am fine for straight line movements, it turns out that any sort of lateral movement is both painful and a chance for my knee to collapse under me.  I decided I should do something sensible.

Over the past couple of months I’ve been visiting doctors and having x-rays and MRI’s taken to find out what is wrong with my knee.  Now I know.  I completely tore my anterior cruciate ligament, and I’ve partially torn the posterior cruciate ligament and the lateral collateral ligament.  The result is a very unstable knee that can’t take much lateral pressure at all.  If I think about it much, it’s rather scary.

Not so many years ago, this injury would have been the end of my budo career.  I can move in straight lines, but any sort of lateral movement is impossible right now, which makes most of the budo I do problematic.  It made me consider what it might mean to not practice budo anymore.  At first that was too scary a thought to touch upon very hard.  Budo and budo practice are important to my idea of who and what I am.  At first, the idea of not having budo as a part of my life was so frightening I found myself coming up with rationales for why that couldn’t happen.

Then I had to ask myself why did the idea of not doing budo anymore make me so anxious?  Budo is great.  I almost accept that as an a priori  truth that needs no support.  When I realized I was close to that level of devotion to it, I decided I needed to do some serious thinking about what budo is in my life.  If I can’t imagine life without budo, I’m probably putting too much emphasis on it, and I need to work at getting my life more balanced.

Budo, like any “do” 道、is a small way pointing its finger at the big Way 道 that the Taoists talk about.  But budo isn’t the Grand Way of the Universe.  It’s a small way that is approachable by a little guy like me.  I don’t imagine that I will ever be so wise that I really understand the Grand Way of the Universe, the Big Tao that Lao Tzu talks about in the Tao Te Ching 道徳経、but I do think I might be able to get a handle on a little way like budo.

I like budo training.  I really like it.  It’s one of the most absorbing things I do.  I can get lost in budo practice for hours at a time, and occasionally, when I’m really lucky, whole days.  Good budo challenges me at every level: physical, mental, and emotional.  It makes me look at things very closely, break them apart and see how things are connected.  Why it is that when my partner does X, the most suitable thing for me to do is Y.  It’s not just about how I move my body and what I do.  It’s about how what I do influences my partner and vice-versa.  It’s how I move in space and time and how I move with the people and things around me.  Do I go blundering into things, lurching from situation to situation, or do I move with awareness and sensitivity to my surroundings and what is happening beyond myself.

That’s the point where my little way, budo 武道, meets up with the big Way 道 of Lao Tzu.  I learn about living in the world and interacting with it through practicing budo.  I learn about how to move effectively, waiting for the right time to move, leveraging what my partner is doing to strengthen my actions, not overreaching, not overextending, and knowing when to pull back instead of blundering on the way I’m going.  These are lessons I really try to apply to my life outside the dojo.  I’m never sure how successful I am at applying them to life, but I’m trying.

But what is it about budo practice that is so great that I don’t want to imagine life without it?  The tough answer isn’t that budo practice is so great.  It’s not the epiphanies about living in the world that I get from practice.  It’s not the lessons about movement and stillness.  It’s not the lessons about timing and not moving before the moment is right.  It is about the rush of being able to handle myself and a weapon at a higher level than I move at on a normal day.  It is about the thrill of not getting injured and being able to handle it when someone attacks me without reservation.  It’s about having access to physical power that other people don’t have.  In other words, the parts of budo that I don’t want to imagine being without, are the outer shell of training that is all about my ego.

If I could never train again the way I am accustomed to training, I would not lose the deep lessons of training.  I would still be able to work on timing, stillness, movement, best action in the world.  I wouldn’t be able to work on being tougher and more dangerous.  I wouldn’t be able to practice with dangerous weapons or doing powerful empty hand techniques.  I would have to let go of that part of me that finds these things exciting and a rush and a boost to my ego.

As I thought about this, I realized that what I need to work on is getting rid of that part of my ego.  The injury to my knee is painful, but blessedly, it can be fixed.  If I don’t let go of my ego though, I can cause injury to the people I train with, as well as those I live and work with.  Looking back, the injury to my knee was partly driven by ego. I really wanted to prove I could throw my training partner.  Did I need to?  I could have gotten through the evening’s training without throwing him, and we both would have been fine.  Unfortunately, I really wanted to prove something to him and to myself, and it was something that didn’t need to be proven.  So I tried to set up a throw, and instead of letting it go when it didn’t work out, I pushed more effort into the throw.  My partner did a perfectly reasonable movement to stop the throw, and when I threw in still more effort, the thing that ended up giving was my knee.  

If my ego had not been involved, I doubt I would have pushed for that technique.  My ego was involved though, and it blinded me to the proper movement, positioning and timing.  My ego convinced me to try something that was clearly foolish and doomed to failure.  I’m glad it happened and I got injured there.  In the dojo, with good training partners is a good place to find out about your ego.  What if it had happened at home or at work or on the street?  At home I could have insisted on winning arguments and being right and in charge, harming my relationships with my family and friends.  At work I could push my views forward over better plans and advice to elevate myself amongst those I work with, and perhaps harmed others jobs and incomes with plans based on my ego rather than good timing and positioning in the market.  On the street perhaps my ego would have insisted on “defending” myself from someone and getting hurt or even killed, when a better solution might have cost me my wallet or just the a bit of ego as I let someone else have their way even though it might be wrong, rude and disrespectful.

The important bits of budo practice I can find in other places.  I can work on breathing and timing and presence and movement in a lot of activities that don’t involve combat practice.  If I can’t at least control my ego, or better still, let go of it, then maybe budo training isn’t the place for me to be right now.  That’s the powerful lesson coming from this injury.  My ego has gotten too big.  I need to work on cutting it down to size.  I’m finding this aspect a lot more painful and troublesome than any of the physical pain I’ve encountered in training.  

It’s easy to train the physical aspects of budo, but the mental side is more critical.  This where you learn not respond to threats and attacks that aren’t real threats.  I’ve learned that much about maai in the dojo.  There is a point where my partner is too far away to be able to reach me.  In these situations I can ignore the sword strike and focus on my partner because I know the sword is not going to touch me.  I don’t have to move unless I want to.  I’ve learned to await the real attack peacefully, without excess tension or excitement.  Then I move when it’s really appropriate to instead of whenever something appears to be threatening.  I’m trying to learn to apply that lesson to encounters outside the dojo.  This is tough.  Often what is being threatened is not me so much as my image of myself.  

This injury has forced me to face one part of that.  The threat of not being able to do budo is not a threat to me.  It’s a threat to my image of me.  Looking at it that way, the most difficult part becomes trying to drag my image of myself closer to whatever the reality is.  I enjoy budo immensely, but it’s not all I am.  Being really honest with myself is tough because it is so discomfiting.  I have to admit that, as much as I love budo, and as much as I try to define myself in budo terms, that’s only a small fraction of who I am, and I need to make room for imagining myself in other ways.

This doesn’t mean giving up budo, by any means.  It does mean admitting that a threat to my budo practice is not a threat to me.  It does mean balancing what I’m doing in budo with some other activities to make me a more complete person.  I know I’ll never be finished.  I will be a work in progress until there is nothing left that can be call “me”.   Budo is a part of that. Right now it’s a part I really love and enjoy.  But it’s not an essential part of my life or who I am.  I have to accept that and train with an awareness of this.  My budo is a small way, not the grand Way of the Universe.  If I remember that, I can learn a lot from it.  When I forget this, my ego swells and I can go off in all sorts of unhelpful directions.

My knee hurts.  And it’s really frustrating when I can’t do things I want to because I’m pretty sure my knee won’t support them.  I’ve got lots of other things to work on and think about though.  This knee injury isn’t the end of the world.  It’s a change, and a hurdle and problem.  One of the few things I think I’ve figured out about the big Tao is that change is constant, form is transitory.  This knee injury is a useful lesson, and it keeps on teaching.  My budo training will go on, but it will be different, and hopefully less ego driven. If I hadn’t gotten hurt, I might have been able to avoid this lesson, and that would have been worse than the injury.

I wonder what lessons I’ll learn from having my knee put back together?  This injury is definitely no fun. I'd much rather be physically whole, but I think I may have learned something valuable about myself in the process of dealing with this injury.  Now if I can just keep learning. It's not the end of my budo career, but it is the start of a new phase.