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MEDITATION

What karate does for your body, meditation does for your mind. Just as practicing karate will strengthen and discipline your body, practicing meditation will strengthen and discipline your mind. And just as a strong body without an equally strong mind is limited, karate is incomplete without meditation. When we have a well-developed body and a clear mind working as one, our actions flow honestly, powerfully, and appropriately. Such harmony can be achieved only through karate and meditation. Meditation is not religious. It is not mystical or worshipful or cultist. As practiced in Seido Karate, Meditation is free of religion, nation, or organization. Meditation, in fact, involves only yourself.

The idea behind Seido meditation is simple: in order to get the most out of your life, you must first clear your mind. To clear the mind we practice seated meditation, during which we sit and concentrate only on our breathing, to the exclusion of everything else. All we are doing is sitting and breathing-but we are doing it with our full selves.

Each time we meditate, we work on our breath. We concentrate on the breath, often counting our breaths to keep focused. We pay attention to where our breathing originates and try to make it as deep and full as possible. We monitor the frequency of our breath, letting it naturally slow down and freeing it from the constant goading of our anxieties. When we can control our breath, we can control our minds.

Breathing-Practice

In Seido Karate, each class begins and ends with a short period of zazen. In the beginning of class, it is used to clear the mind and to focus it on the training ahead. After class, it is used to reflect on what was covered in class and what needs to be studied, as well as to prepare the student to return to the outside world.

In Seido, the basic form of meditation is zazen or seated meditation. Zazen has demonstrable physiological benefits, including lowering the heart rate, reducing blood pressure, improving oxygen exchange in the lungs, and improving glandular function. However, our reason for doing zazen goes beyond these physical benefits.

When you sit, the two major issues are how your weight is supported and the alignment of your body. Your weight is best supported by a tripod or pyramid. When kneeling on the floor or a cushion, your two knees and your buttocks form the points of the tripod. When seated on a chair, the supporting tripod is formed by the soles of the feet on the floor and the buttocks on the forward edge of the chair.

All the seated postures, to some degree, place stress on the front part of the knees, which must stretch and hold that position. There are two solutions you may use to alleviate this problem: a seiza bench or the combination of a zabuton (a thick, rectangular mat) and a zafu (a pill-shaped cushion). Experienced practitioners can sit without these aids, but it is not necessary to do so. These aids elevate the body slightly, removing some stress from the knees and preventing slumping of the spinal area. In addition, the zabuton cushions the bones just below the kneecap from contact with a hard floor.

When doing zazen, the hands are kept in a position called the "cosmic mudra." Put the blade of your right hand, palm up, on the hara, the spot about four fingers below your navel. Place the left hand inside the right hand and join your thumbs so that the tips are touching lightly. This hand position is called ho-in in Japanese (meaning "neither mountain nor valley") and has been found to help direct the focus inward.

The eyes are not closed during zazen because we are more alert and aware with our eyes open, and we are less likely to daydream or doze off. The eyes are kept half-open (hangan), and their focus should be soft and slightly downward, directly in front of us.


Featured Lecture

 

Konnan hiyaku

Faced with difficulty, jump up, mature

We face many different konnan.  As soon as you have finished with one difficulty, there is always another one to face.  However, if you had no difficulties, if your life was smooth and free of problems, there would be no hiyaku.

Instead of translating the word konnan as “difficulty”, think of it as “opportunity”.  Through difficulties you sometimes have the opportunity to realize where your weak points lie.  We might find that we have more ability in certain areas than we might have expected.  This gives us new confidence.

Instead of looking at a problem as if it is so big that we cannot possibly handle it, becoming upset and discouraged before we even start, why don’t we try the opposite?  Face the problem, and perhaps there will be opportunity there for hiyaku.  Even when you feel that your ability does not equal the problem at hand and you want to back away from it, if you can just push yourself through it, you are giving yourself the opportunity to improve and become stronger.

You have to try with maximum effort to resolve each difficulty without too much worry about the outcome.  What difference does it make if you fail?  We are only human.  The most important thing is your sincerity and you concentrate with one hundred percent effort.  The results will come out naturally.

Our weak point is that we try to calculate the outcome before we even begin.  Sometimes we expect too much and when things don’t turn out as we expected, we are disappointed.  Even though we haven’t give one hundred percent of our effort, we give up.  The problem only becomes larger, and the pressure builds until we ask, “What kind of life is this?”

This is the wrong attitude to have in facing problems.  There is no way we can avoid having problems.  We always have to expect some new difficulty to arise.  Running away will only make you tired, and the problem will still be there facing you.  We have to face our difficulties and logically estimate the best way to resolve them.  It is an opportunity for hiyaku.

This is the kind of mental and spiritual strength I want you to develop through your training here.  I also want you to remember, as you stand so straight on the dojo floor, that many small pieces of boards were put together to make this nice floor.  If the floor were rough and uncomfortable, it would be difficult to move around and there would be injuries.

In the same way we should try to care for each other.  If you think of only yourself, you will never be happy.  It is caring for other people that make us happy.  However, we must not neglect our responsibility to ourselves.

It is wrong to believe that our abilities and talents are solely responsible for our success.  We can do nothing without others.  This is why we have to open our eyes and understand each other.  I want you to enjoy your training here and, at the same time, this is the kind of strength I hope you will gain through training.

These lectures are excerpted from One Day - One Lifetime: An Illustrated Guide to the Spirit, Practice, and Philosophy of Seido Karate Meditation by Kaicho T. Nakamura.