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#1 2006-05-31 13:47:10

FozzyBond
Member
From: Geneva
Registered: 2006-04-03

Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

I have recently been studying the art of Zen Swordsmanship.  While I don't totally understand the whole business I have been pondering many things.  I hope these questions will spark a greater understanding.  With that, I submit:

  Can Western fencing and Eastern Zen teachings be paired?  If so how?  Does the study of Western fencing without some sort of philosophic or spiritual discipline make purely fencing meaningless?  Can one be a master swordsman without the pairing...or is that person simply a great fencer and nothing more?  Where does one draw the line between spiritual discipline and fencing...or are they always connected?

Any thoughts, or even more questions would be helpful...


Give me a fast ship...for I intend to sail her into harm's way. - J.P. Jones

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#2 2006-05-31 18:53:52

Adam Adrian Crown
Maître d'Armes
From: Ithaca, New York
Registered: 2006-04-04
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Do you mean you've been READING about zen swordsmanship? (I recommend THE UNFETTERED MIND)  Don't feel bad about not "totally" understanding it. Some people study it for -- well, quite some time, and only scratch the surface. Perhaps that's because it isn't an intellectula construct to be "understood."

Do you mean are western fencing and eastern thought compatible?
Of course.
The sun shnes on rich and poor, evil and good alike.
The truth is the truth.
Period.

How do you define "spiritual discipline" ?  What is "purely fencing"?

Children play with matches; that doesn't change the nature of fire.


AAC

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#3 2006-05-31 23:03:09

FozzyBond
Member
From: Geneva
Registered: 2006-04-03

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Thanks for the suggested reading...and yes, I mean I've been reading up on it. 

To answer questions:
   I read "Zen and the way of the Samurai" by D.T. Suzuki.  In it he recounts samurai teachings, Zen philosophy and Japanese poetry among other things.  To define "pure fencing" I mean that this is simply the study and use of the sword.  In this state, there is no philosophy or spiritualism that accompanies the "warrior" in the study of the sword. 

By spiritual discipline, I mean meditation, the pursuit of higher knowledge of both the world and the spiritual realm.  Better than that I can't say, simply because I don't know enough.

Essentially what I'm trying to figure out is; can a modern fencer be a true swordsman?  If so, what does that mean? 

Basically I can explain what Suzuki says, in modern terms most clearly and easily.  A true Samurai was most like a Jedi Knight.  They were at once swordsman, and also leaders of a spiritual movement and way of life.  Many of the Samurai were criticized by "masters" because they were not both.  They were just great fencers, that's all. 

Essentially I'm trying to determine whether the same is true of Western fencers.  Are we destined simply to be just great fencers, or is there a deeper meaning for us.  Are we capable of following "the way of the sword?"  If we are, what does this mean?  Does it have a place in the modern world? 

I hope this makes the questions more clear.


Give me a fast ship...for I intend to sail her into harm's way. - J.P. Jones

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#4 2006-06-01 00:08:14

Linda Wyatt
Prevost d'Armes
From: Danby NY
Registered: 2006-03-26
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Ethan said:

>  Can Western fencing and Eastern Zen teachings be paired?

What do you mean, "paired?"  A one-to-one correlation?  Doubtful. 
But are they related?  Certainly.  Are there connections between the two? 
Yes.  Can it be interesting to compare and contrast?  Or course.


> Does the study of Western fencing without some sort of philosophic
> or spiritual discipline make purely fencing meaningless?


Some things that need clarification.

From the next post:

> To define "pure fencing" I mean that this is simply the study and
>  use of the sword.  In this state, there is no philosophy or
> spiritualism that accompanies the "warrior" in the study of the sword.

I am not  certain that this is either true or possible.  I'll get back to
it in a moment.


>  Can one be a master swordsman without the pairing...or is that
> person simply a great fencer and nothing more?  Where does one draw
> the line between spiritual discipline and fencing...or are they always
> connected?

And again, from the next post:
> By spiritual discipline, I mean meditation, the pursuit of higher
> knowledge of both the world and the spiritual realm.  Better than
> that I can't say, simply because I don't know enough.


"Higher knowledge?"

I am not sure, but I believe you use "spiritual" to mean religious, or
nearly so.  I've been trying to use your words from your posts to stay
clear and connected to what you are trying to say so that I can respond
to it, but I find that we are nearly speaking two different languages.

Let me try to muddle through a few things here, in the hopes that you can
see where our differences are, and therefore, perhaps find some way to
understand each other.

Can one be a master swordsman without the pairing of Eastern and Western
philosophies?  I'd say yes.  I don't think one needs to look outside, to
other traditions, to find the truth that is in the moment, although most
people I know have a belief system that connects a variety of different
traditions.  I believe someone could be a swordman without any overt
knowledge of any philosophical systems.

Being a master isn't about faith, or about belief, it's about truth.

"Spiritual discipline" to me, does not have anything to do with any
religious tradition or belief system at all.  It is about disciplining
and refining my own spirit, my self, my center, my existence.  It is
about staying in the moment, feeling, not thinking, learning to function
in a way that connects everything as it is.

Is there a line between that and fencing?

Not for me.  Fencing is HOW I do that.  Fencing IS meditation for me,
moving mediation.

Granted, it is not so for everyone.  Many people treat fencing as a
game or as physical exercise, and they practice without consideration
for reaching an ability to stay physically, mentally, emotionally and
spiritually centered.

Maybe it works like this:

For those who have no interest in discipline, spiritual or otherwise,
all things are "games" and none of them are connected spiritually.

For those who are striving for balance, all things are connected to
spiritual discipline.


> Essentially what I'm trying to figure out is; can a modern fencer be
> a true swordsman?  If so, what does that mean? 

Something for you to consider further.


> Are we destined simply to be just great fencers, or is there a
> deeper meaning for us.  Are we capable of following "the way of the
> sword?"  If we are, what does this mean?  Does it have a place in
> the modern world? 

The simple answer is that at least for some, there is a deeper meaning.
It is difficult to elucidate further, since it is such a personal and
non-intellectual, non-verbal thing.

Change is difficult.
Most of the time, it is impossible to see beforehand what is required
in order to make a change, in order to reach a new understanding, and
after the change, it is difficult to remember what was before.

Keep asking question and searching for answers, as long as you don't get
carried away and start thinking that those "answers" are the goal.  It
is good to search, not always so important to find.  Or at least, what
you thought you were looking for isn't always what you find or need to find.


Linda

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#5 2006-06-06 14:21:46

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Zen is a specific kind of meditation.  Ideas or "philosophy" of zen or relating to zen can really only be understood in their context of Buddhism.  As a Soto Zen Buddhist I talk with people who say they are Buddhist or who want to be Buddhist but who have no understanding of basic Buddhist concepts.  This makes it extremely difficult for them to understand said ideas and often it appears that zen gets dumbed down like Tai Chi Chuan did in the 90s. This is similar to the fencing environment today.  A person buys a book and some equipment and suddenly he's an expert.  I don't know how a samuri is like a Jedi - samuri existed and Jedi's are fictional (and unfortunately Mr. Lucas can't stick to one story or explaination for things that he himself has created!).

What aspects of zen/Buddhism are you interested in incorporating?

Zen basically means meditation.  But what does meditation mean?  I understand what people have in mind when they say that for them fencing is meditation.  But that, as a zen Buddhist, is not what I have in mind when I talk about zazen.  Two different kinds of meditation.  Zen/Buddhist meditation has a specific goal or direction (note bene I am using very Western vocabulary here to describe this all) that a fencing meditation does not have.  Somewhere there is an overlap, to be sure, again as Maitre Crown says above - "The truth is the truth."

I bring my zen practice to my fencing when I am mindful.  When I am unattached and focused, listening to my fencing adversary.  Often the times that I make gravest of errors are moments of inattentiveness. Not being mindful of distance and time will provide many hours of material to work on!

There are other aspects of my zen practice that are also useful during fencing.  This mindfulness and the awareness of sameness helps develop a sense of compassion that is rarely discussed in Western fencing.  Maitre Crown said it well someplace here on the forum when he said - "The most important thing about fighting a duel is not to fight a duel."  But that kind of begs the question.  This sameness or compassion reminds me that it could be me recieving that touch.  It reminds me to control egoistic drives and to refrain from dangerous misconduct.

My advice would be to explore the practice of zazen and then see what you can derive from it to serve your fencing and vice versa.  The internet is full of helpful websites of local zen/Buddhist centers in your area.  Feel free to email me offline, too.  But reading the books will continue to raise more questions than it will answer.  Those questions will be useful only when you can give them context, like practice.  Zazen, understand, is a difficult meditative process.  But most rewarding.  Like fencing!

Dave


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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#6 2006-06-06 15:33:52

cfaustus
Member
From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Registered: 2006-04-20
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Perhaps it is my own cultural heritage, perhaps it is simply what resonates most clearly with me, but I find it a bit discouraging when people seem to suggest that Asian martial arts are the only ones with any spiritual or mental history and component or that European martial arts are by definition devoid of such things. The plain and simple fact of it is that Europe and the Middle East had similar spiritual martial warriors. They were called Knights and instead of following Bushido, they had a code called Chivalry.

We all know the line: "Chivalry is dead". Well, many would say, "The sword is dead." In a way, they may be right. In Europe and the US, we left personal combat to professionals for a long time. We have disassociated Chivalry from its spiritual and martial roots, focusing only on its most recent manifestation, that of social interaction as developed in the courts of Europe. That does not mean that such aspects were not integral in the Western martial culture at one point. Do we 'kill' something by ignoring it? Or does it still exist waiting to be brought to light once again?

The wonderful thing about Asian martial spirituality is that we have such recent contact with it. This is due in no small part to Japans refusal to follow Europe and the US into the age of gunpowder. This allowed the way of the Samurai to extend at least 100 years closer to the present than Chivalry did. In Europe for better or worse, we embraced the changes which made us put aside Chivalry. I have read articles that many in Asia fear that the Asian culture is putting aside those very cultural artifacts which we 'Westerners' find so endearing. Perhaps it is progress, evolution, a cycle? Maybe we will all discover our folly one day and race to get back to where our grandparents were. Maybe we will discover something new, a blend of the old and that yet to come?

In any case, Chivalry did hold much of the spiritual aspects we look to the Asian martial arts for. The martial/spiritual synergy developed from Teutonic Warrior culture. Later, it would become Christianized. Even at the height of the Crusades, however, Chivalry was seen as a way of life which one could follow and uphold, regardless of religious belief. The actions of Salah al-Din (Saladin), a great Muslim warrior of the early Crusades, made him an exemplar of Chivalry to both Christians and Muslims alike. His great mercy and sense of justice as well as his wisdom in battle contributed to this. Chivalry eventually came to demand more than just battlefield prowess from her subjects. Knights were to be virtuous at all times. In fact, the first Chivalric orders were established to serve the poor and sick. Martial components tot he Orders only grew from the need to protect the pilgrims. Eventually, the Chivalric individual would need to learn to appreciate and perhaps even perform/practice music or art. Dancing was also important. In the ideal case, all of this would help the Knight reflect on his role of service in the world. Without calling it such, it was a form of physical or living meditation. Of course we have many examples of knights acting in very unchivalric ways. At the same time, all Samurai were not the virtuous warriors of hollywood. Bushido and Chivalry are ideals. They are meant to be striven for. Not all will attain them. Many will fail. But that is the way with all ideals. We need them and the chance to strive for them regardless of the difficulty in attaining them.

Fencing, especially classical fencing, still maintains much of this in its practice, customs and the simple respect we have for our partners, opponents and the arms. I know many balk at the suggestion that there may be something spiritual to fencing and that such things have no place in a modern salle. Yet, if one is studying the art of preserving or taking life, ought one not give a thought to mortality? to the value of life? to the value of a specific life in particular? to the fact that we have chosen to study and refine unnatural, but efficient movements over our natural instinct? why fight at all? can any violence be just? Is there anything I get from fencing that I couldn't just get from a healthy regimen of callistenics and chess? Why fence? Why swords? Is it just swords and violence? These seem to be essential questions which many spiritual paths seek to lead people to understand. If one is honest with one's study of fencing, it seems they are intrinsic to fencing itself. Yes, fencing has spirituality, if your eyes are open; if you don't try to 'kill' it by ignoring it.

-Alexis

Last edited by cfaustus (2006-06-06 17:41:06)

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#7 2006-06-06 17:33:25

cfaustus
Member
From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Registered: 2006-04-20
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Responding to David's excellent post on Zazen and fencing meditation, I would like mention as well the similar Christian tradition. Meditation has been a form of prayer in Catholicism and other Christian traditions for centuries. Several several forms of meditative prayer exist as physical prayer. By this I mean prayer which incorporated physical actions/movement in addition to the mental activity usually associated with prayer. Of course, all prayer forms engage the spiritual. One type of this pysiscal prayer is that which encorporates contemplating a specific aspect of one's beliefs while engaging in some activity which is often repetitious or otherwise entrancing. One such prayer is the labrynth. Usually people begin praying such a manner by focusing on spiritual mysteries from scripture, or moments from Jesus' life, etc. As one becomes more comfortable with this, they may begin to contemplate other things, such as their existence, the justness or injustness of their life/actions, their relationship to others, etc. In this way, the physical activity becomes a conduit or medium and is really secondary to the contemplative action. Another type of physical prayer focuses on the action itself. This begins by offering up the action to God. In so doing, the Christian then wishes to perform the action to the best of his ability to glorify his Creator. In striving for perfect execution of an action in this praising state of mind, the actor may come to realize other truths. These may come either through his focus on the action or his  contemplation of his relation to God and the action.

Thus, as a fencer one can strive for perfection in one's fencing. In striving for perfection of an action, or eventually the fluidity of the actions one loses the narrow focus on the action of fencing itself and comes to understand great truths. David mentioned lack of focus as a time when one makes mistakes. In my experience it is not just a failure of focus on the technique (a mental-physical loss of focus) but also a loss of focus on the spiritual 'goal' or truth. For instance, I often fail at the point when my 'ego' asserts itself to much in my fencing. Rather than being mindful of my relationship to all I am engaged in in the bout, and focusing on belittling myself and magnifying the glory of God through a display of excellence, I focus, perhaps only for a second, on what 'I' can do, how good 'I' am, how cool it would be if 'I' pulled off X move. At such a point I have disconnected from the fencing, from my opponent, from my creator. I have shrunk inwards. My fencing is no longer an exploration or a dialogue. It becomes a diatribe, a rant, a tantrum. At these moments I make most of my mistakes, and they often are quite embarassing ones. There is a lesson in that as well.

Such a meditation by striving for excellence was part of the Christian Chivalric tradition and certainly is available to fencers to whom such an approach may appeal.

-Alexis

Last edited by cfaustus (2006-06-06 17:35:02)

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#8 2006-06-07 11:54:51

cfaustus
Member
From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Registered: 2006-04-20
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Linda Wyatt wrote:

Ethan said:


Being a master isn't about faith, or about belief, it's about truth.

Linda

That is a very interesting statement and a point which can be shown to prove that Chivalry is in deed quite intertwined with fencing.

In your post regarding the the 7 principles of the profession of arms (http://www.classicalfencing.com/forum/v … .php?id=22) you state:

"2. The Fencing Master is a perfect model of truthfulness, courage and loyalty."

These virtues are three of the most often cited Chivalric virtues...

One list of the Chivalric virtues is:

faith, charity, justice, sagacity, prudence, temperance, resolution, truth, liberality, diligence, hope and valour.

Truth is clearly seen. Valour basically can be translated to courage.

but what of loyalty?

The word Faith certainly has a lot to do with people's beliefs. But it also has another meaning which was part of Chivalry: trust. A good knight was faithful. ie. loyal or trustworthy. In a sense is this not also what we mean when we say we have Faith in some higher being? We trust a) that they exist and b) they know what they are doing with all of us. So, to say that a master must be loyal, is to say they must be faithful. I have faith in my master. If I did not, it would be difficult, perhaps impossible, to learn from him. Which brings up another interesting question: if a master breaks the faith/trust a student places in him, what does that mean for his role as master? But I digress. I know that 'Faith' is a loaded word these days and many are uncomfortable with its religious connotations, however, without faith in each other, civil society would unravel. We are all bound by faith of some sort or another.

The rest of the 7 principles also echo the Chivalric virtues.

Integrity and courtesy are mentioned in the first principle. Integrity again points to faithfulness, but also truth and justice. Courtesy is an interesting choice of words since it comes from the concept of court manners which of course were the social column of chivalric development. The demands that the master be the living embodiment of such things for his students requires a great deal of liberality. The degree of knowledge and skill is only attainable through resolution and diligence.

Recognizing the dignity of all human life is part of charity. It also is integral to the Chivalric call as Charlemagne put it, " Do ill to no man" and "Fight for the welfare of all". It is also justice.

The fourth principle mentions the masters belief in the individual's limitless potential for excellence. This is a beautiful statement of Hope.

The fifth principle has the master defending the well being of the student, again echoing justice and charity and the knightly duty to serve and protect. This also requires prudence and diligence as well as sagacity to decern where a student may need to be nurtured. Tempreance is also required to know how much to nurture and how much to correct.

The sixth principle has the master respecting all without bias. Again, charity and justice. It also requires resolve and faithfulness.

And the last one is laden with requirements of prudence, sagacity and temperence as well as truthfulness to know what material to present and how to present it.

Just thought there were some interesting parallels. Perhaps they were intentional? Perhaps they were subconscious?

-Alexis La Joie

Last edited by cfaustus (2006-06-07 11:56:57)

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#9 2006-06-07 12:55:59

Adam Adrian Crown
Maître d'Armes
From: Ithaca, New York
Registered: 2006-04-04
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Alexis,

I found your comments very astute!

At this point, I'd say chivalry has become a more or less integral part of what we do, how and why.

One comment I might offer regarding faith and loyalty.
"Faith" is indeed loaded. I would say faith is believing without knowing. That is, belief without evidence. Not NECESSARILY a bad idea -- as long as the thing you have faith in is not a human being or any principle that requires you to abandon the REST of the code!
"Loyalty" used to be framed around loyalty to your king.
No chivalrous person can blindly obey any king, but could be loyal only insofar as the king personified chivalric principles, a rarity as kings go.
In the modern example, the UCMJ not only ALLOWS soldiers to disobey illegal orders, but places on them the positive obligation to do so.

I would propose that "loyalty" means means loyalty only to that to which I swear loyalty. Or, less stressful on the tongue when I give my word, I keep it. THAT's what I'm loyal to.

Strictly my personal view.


AAC

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#10 2006-06-07 12:59:56

Adam Adrian Crown
Maître d'Armes
From: Ithaca, New York
Registered: 2006-04-04
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

A belated  (due to email pilot error) welcome to David and Alexis.
Glad to have you with us!

AAC

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#11 2006-06-07 13:39:07

cfaustus
Member
From: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Registered: 2006-04-20
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Adam Adrian Crown wrote:

Alexis,
"Faith" is indeed loaded. I would say faith is believing without knowing. That is, belief without evidence. Not NECESSARILY a bad idea -- as long as the thing you have faith in is not a human being or any principle that requires you to abandon the REST of the code!
"Loyalty" used to be framed around loyalty to your king.
No chivalrous person can blindly obey any king, but could be loyal only insofar as the king personified chivalric principles, a rarity as kings go.
In the modern example, the UCMJ not only ALLOWS soldiers to disobey illegal orders, but places on them the positive obligation to do so.
AAC

Isn't that the really fascinating thing about Faithfulness when it relates to relationships, whether with humans or the Divine? It is a two way street. We say one 'acts in good faith' ... implying a reciprocal treatment. We say that two people are Faithful to each other ... implying a mutual understanding of loyalty. I can say that I have Faith in my friends, implying that I believe they will act in a certain way which I condone. Yet we never can know how a person will act. All acts of faith are blind trust. We may have some indication that a person acted in a similar manner in the past, but we have no guarantee that they will in the future. We have only our faith. And interestingly, as you mention, such Faith binds and can be broken. If two propose to act in good Faith and one person breaks that trust, the other is no longer bound. However, one can choose to remain faithful to another who has not been faithful to them, even though they are not required to be. Two can also be bound in faith to an ideal, like Chivalry, I may have Faith that my king will act in accord with Chivalric principles, yet as soon as he does not,  he breaks Faith... he is unfaithful... and I am unbound to him, but not to Chivalry. Of course if we believe that there is a Divine being who is perfect and all good, it must therefore be completely Faithful. As such it is only right to respond in good Faith to this being and try to be as trustworthy as it is. So one might say that the only sure Faith is in a perfect, good, supreme being. All other faith is subject to human imperfection. Isn't this what we strive for when we put our faith in ideals, like Chivalry or Democracy... are'nt we trying to condense things we understand as True or Good - more perfect than we are - and eliminate the human imperfection... to find something trustworthy to have Faith in?

-Alexis La Joie

Last edited by cfaustus (2006-06-07 13:43:40)

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#12 2006-06-07 13:44:54

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Adam Adrian Crown wrote:

A belated  (due to email pilot error) welcome to David and Alexis.
Glad to have you with us!

AAC

Thank you, Sir.

I have very little to contribute regarding chilvalry.  I am not a Christian and I have never had much interest in the romance of the chilvalric times.

However, I can say that my zen Buddhist practice fits very nicely juxtoposed to my fencing. How?  Both are systems which solve problems.  Pretty simple problems, too, when we take the time to observe them and know them for what they are.  I was just discussing the idea of shikantaza, or "just sitting" meditation, with a friend Monday night.  In this form of zazen we stop karmic production.  We just are.  It occured to me that when we fence we are looking for a similar circumstance.  By careful control of distance we can stop or prevent certain consequences.  If we are not in control of the distance these consequences happen to us (we experience karma).  So I was likening measure with shikantaza.  The two share a mindfullness.

But to get back to Ethan's original question, it only just occured to me to make this important observation.  Our study of fencing is firmly grounded in occidental history and culture.  That much is certain.  When we take up this practice we are devoting ourselves to help preserve its traditions because of this identity.  But Buddhism is not bound by any culture.  Neither is zen.  We can read about the influence of Zen on Chinese or Japanese swordsmen, or upon ourselves.  Since you originally wrote about Zen, I think that you get a clearer picture by _not_ looking at a specific example, like samuri.  It might help, but I think more useful to your quandary is the nature of zen itself and its cultureless truth.  From this point of view, zen crosses all boundaries and again, fits nicely juxtoposed to many efforts.  Like fencing.

This truth can be observed by the fact that many of the first Western zen masters were Catholic monks and nuns.  they maintained their Christianity and never stopped being Western monastics, but they also experienced how powerful and efficacious zen practice is - for everybody!  In this way they were using zen as a means to strengthen their own practice.  its a funny peculiarity about Buddhism.  If you are a Buddhist you could also be a Jew or Christian.  The problem is if you are a Jew or Christian you can't really be anything else.  Strickly speaking.

So again, get to know zen _now_ and what the practice means for you.  I think that it will then become obvious not only that it can work alongisde your Western fencing, but how it will do so.

Dave


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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#13 2006-06-07 14:16:52

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

cfaustus wrote:

So one might say that the only sure Faith is in a perfect, good, supreme being. All other faith is subject to human imperfection. Isn't this what we strive for when we put our faith in ideals, like Chivalry or Democracy... are'nt we trying to condense things we understand as True or Good - more perfect than we are - and eliminate the human imperfection... to find something trustworthy to have Faith in?

-Alexis La Joie

I like where this is going in the fencing direction.  These are thoughts heavy on my mind lately and I apologize ahead of time if I cannot yet clearly articulate them.

First, as a Buddhist, I believe in human perfection, but not when we are 'sleepwalking'.  We must awaken to the fact and deal with reality.  Yet,

Second, in fencing we know things to be true. It is not faith that keeps my point of weapon inline to target. Observing the priorities the science teaches us we can solve the problem.  How we view an opponent can differ: my opponent will behave according to the science, or my opponent won't.  In either case this does not change what we know to be true about fencing.  So this is where experience and training becomes so crucial.  When we are no longer able to conduct ourselves according to what the science of fencing teaches us we stop fencing.  This harkens back to your observation that "I often fail at the point when my 'ego' asserts itself to much in my fencing. Rather than being mindful of my relationship to all I am engaged in in [sic] the bout..."

So finally, if I have any faith at all about fencing its that it will continue to be true.  I have found a useful mantra for many junior fencers beginning to bout: that every time they recognize a touch it means that another aspect of fencing is true.  In this way we can let the ego (who certainly _never_ gets hit) go and take greater delight in the fact that what we know is true is true for everyone.

Dave


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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#14 2006-06-07 16:05:19

Linda Wyatt
Prevost d'Armes
From: Danby NY
Registered: 2006-03-26
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Dave said:

> Zen basically means meditation.  But what does meditation mean? 
> I understand what people have in mind when they say that for
> them fencing is meditation.  But that, as a zen Buddhist, is
> not what I have in mind when I talk about zazen.  Two different
> kinds of meditation.  Zen/Buddhist meditation has a specific goal
> or direction (note bene I am using very Western vocabulary here
> to describe this all) that a fencing meditation does not
> have.

I'm curious about this.

What "specific goal or direction" do you mean?
I'm having trouble reconciling "specific goal" with meditation as I see it.
Perhaps it is simply that, as you said, you are using Western vocabulary.

When I say that for me, fencing is meditation, I mean that it is a way for
me to reach the state of "no mind" or of non-attachment, of being in the moment,
of not-thinking.  It is, I believe, the first thing that ever did this for me.
It is not so easy to turn off a mind that wants to explore everything all the time!!

What do you mean by "two different kinds of meditation"- can you elaborate?

thanks

Linda

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#15 2006-06-07 16:22:37

Akilles
Member
From: Saint Louis
Registered: 2006-06-06
Website

Re: Zen Philosophy...Western Swordsmanship

Hi, Linda.

To avoid unnecessary differentiation - and loving both fencing and zazen - it is useful for them to have slightly different intent.  Yes, I wholeheartedly agree that we experience a kind of no-mind no-attachment during fencing.  Fencing was also my first experience with that feeling.  I started fencing when I was thirteen.  I had every reason to be a worrisome teenager.  But fencing clicked with me at once and provided a solace that has served as a refuge ever since.  However, fencing, as a meditation, and viewed from the point of view of zazen, is extremely limited in its ability provide for us the best means to understand our conditioned thoughts.

When we fence, however close we get to focus, mindfullness and stillness, there are simply too many factors and stimulus involved.  Training, for example, helps produce fencing "macros" which enable to us to rely upon trained reflexes and tactics.  We are not always required to examine every detail.  Sometimes when we focus on one thing we lose site of another important contributing factor to the assault.  During zazen, the karma stopping sitting and breathing, we are able to focus on everything - at once.  The purpose of which is to fully understand the origins of our thought processes. Zazen really isn't very "spiritual".  It is a way to see reality liberated from the forms we create out of sense experience and the ever changing universe.

So while the two share many traits and our experience of them is often quite complimentary, a priori, they have different goals - or - perhaps it is more accurate to say, fencing has a more specific scope whereas zazen has universal scope.

This is in no way to imply that the lessons we learn from fencing cannot be translated for the benefit of other aspects of our lives.  I think that happens, too.  But again, you would need to adopt a very different fencing regimine to acquire the same consciousness.

I guess the question to ask would be whether or not you find aspects of your consciousness that fencing can't penetrate?

Dave


all conditioned things decay - seek liberation diligently

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