Is There Ever A Good Reason To Fight?

As the title asks, is there ever a good reason to fight? Depending on your perspective, there just might be. Humans are strange creatures; we enjoy fighting for sport, recreation, for competition and for achievement. Most importantly, many of us choose to train and learn how to fight in order to defend ourselves.

Most martial artists will agree that we learn how to fight so that we don’t have to. Although this is likely true, there’s usually an unspoken line after that thought that says, “but the light help any individual who threatens me or my family!” And it’s true. You’d be surprised what one is capable of, when persons unknown (or sometimes known) threatens or harms someone important to you.

But the prospect of intentionally exchanging blows with someone just for the hell of it usually doesn’t cross our minds (unless you’re a pro boxer or fighter, in which case I’ll throw down for the many millions of dollars that would ensue). With that in mind, how does one usually focus their energy in the interest of training properly?

For some, it’s simply a matter of having enough drive to want the most out of their workout. But for others, it requires a bit of focus and concentration. Years ago, I was training with a couple of colleagues and we were doing drills on a punching bag. I was holding the bag for a guy who was basically the same height and weight as I was. He was putting his best effort into it, but the bag was barely budging.

When the time came for him to hold the bag for me, I had his teeth chattering after the first few punches. When we were done with the drill, he asked me how I could make my punches so effective. Obviously, previous strength and technique training goes a long way towards making any strike you perform more effective than the average layman.

But when you exercise or work on your fitness, especially in self-defence, it’s often important to focus on why you’re doing it. Picture this: your significant other, or perhaps one of your children, is threatened and/or attacked by someone. The only way to help them is to respond physically and fight back. Consider the fact that further injury could occur, if one were to pull a punch or kick at the penultimate moment. But if your family or loved one’s safety is at risk, you’ll put your entire heart and soul into that strike; you’ll do your absolute best to ensure that you end the threat against those you love.

This is what you need to do, whenever you train. Every punch you throw, every kick you execute, every time you strike that bag, you need to picture that very scenario. This ensures that you’ll develop that power you need to strike with all your heart and soul.

It’s inherently within my nature, and the foundation of my beliefs, to acknowledge that there’s enough suffering in the world. I have no intention of adding to that by exerting violence against someone else. The only exception is when my family or loved ones are threatened. If you include that as part of the reason for your training, you’ll increase your power and move that bag, every time. ☯

"You're Not Buddhist…"

I’m not a monk. That requires a form of ordination that I’ve never submitted myself to. But I am a practitioner of Buddhism. Despite this fact, I’m not the type of person who flamboyantly brags about all the details of my life. And my faith happens to be one of those things that I keep to myself, unless it comes up organically in a given conversation.

Over the years, I’ve had situations where people have questioned my faith. This is probably the worst aspect of this post, since no person should be permitted to question another person’s faith. But this is exactly what I found myself having to deal with; and it was with someone I was involved with romantically.

Almost a decade ago, long before the arrival of my wife and sons, I was dating a girl from a nearby city. She was a bit to deal with, as most exes are, and the fact she lived four hours away from me made it no less difficult. You know how everyone always says that long-distance relationships don’t work? There just may be something to that…

Anyway, I was visiting this girl on a particular weekend where I had four days off. I took the girl in question for a drive to a neighbouring city, where we enjoyed dinner with her older sister. After some conversation and debating on key societal issues, the moment seemed to arrive organically into the conversation where I said, “Even for me, that’s a bit much. And I’m a Buddhist!” The girl I was dating looked me right in the eyes and spoke the words that echo in my head whenever my thoughts turn to her: “You’re not Buddhist! Stop saying that to people!”

It wasn’t just WHAT I said, but the way in which she said it. The sideways glance and roll of the eyes… It wasn’t just the passing on of the information she believed to be correct; it was the attitude she pushed behind it. I had been involved with her long enough for her to know some of the finer details about me, and that this wasn’t a joke.

“Excuse me?” I replied.

She replied, “You were born Catholic and were baptized. It’s cute that you do karate, but that doesn’t make you Buddhist. You really need to stop saying that to people.”

I was taken aback and confused. Had the woman I called my girlfriend actually just pull THAT card on me? I was at a loss, because walking out would have left her stranded almost an hour from her home. And staying meant that I had to find the self-control to keep that shit locked up until we left and had a chance for me to discuss it with her in private.

Folks, it absolutely IS true that my mother is French Catholic. At the age of less than two years old, my mother had me baptized into the Catholic faith. My mother and I have had a debate for decades over John the Baptist and the issues behind baptizing someone prior to the age of consent, but that doesn’t change the reality. YOU choose your faith. YOU decide what faith you observe.

There’s a part of me that feels that if I had never embarked on my journey in the martial arts, my stepping into Buddhism may not have happened either. But that was a choice that was mine and mine alone, and no one else had any right to infringe on that. You have that same choice, so be sure to exercise it.

Ultimately, you all know that I broke up with the girl in this story, as she happens NOT to be my wife. I’d love to say that her xenophobia against Buddhism didn’t play a role in our breakup, but I’m not a fan of lying. Even if you’re trying to find yourself and learn, it’s important to be true to yourself. No one has a right to question your faith, and only you can know what you truly believe in. ☯

It's Not Their Fault…

We all know that there’s suffering in the world. I think this goes without saying, but sometimes we encounter these prozac-dosed individuals that walk around with tweeting-bird sounds floating around their heads who seem to think that suffering doesn’t exist. In all honesty, good for you if you can truly believe this and live your life in that mindset; even if it’s false.

My point is that for the most part, we are all firmly aware that the world contains suffering. And we all endure some of that suffering, as much as we would prefer not to. As sentient beings, we have an unspoken responsibility to do our part to reduce and/or eliminate this suffering in the world, which leads one to wonder why any individual would intentionally CAUSE it…

“Pain Is Inevitable; Suffering Is Optional”

David Kessler

A few days ago, I was out running errands with my family. We rarely all go out together. Especially given the labour-intensive process required in getting an infant ready and out the door during winter months, and trying to maintain control over the destructive force of nature that is my five-year old son… But as usual, I digress…

During some of our errands, I will occasionally run in quickly without the rest of the family in order to complete one of the quicker stops. This is where the subject of today’s blog post took place.

I grabbed the couple of items I needed from this particular business and headed up to the checkout, which included two tills and two employees. There was a man there, and he was trying to return something without a receipt. I think we’ve all been there, but one also needs to understand that many locations won’t accept a return WITHOUT the receipt from your purchase. This was the case for this particular gentleman.

He immediately became belligerent and started arguing with the cashiers, which included grabbing another package off the shelf to “prove” that he had purchased the item at this specific location. The cashier calmly explained that although it was an item they carried, they couldn’t prove he had purchased it there and that it was their store’s policy not to accept a return without proof of purchase; something which was out of the cashier’s control.

The man became angry and started yelling that he had grabbed the wrong one by mistake and that it was absolutely imperative that the cashiers allow him to exchange or return it. The cashier, who to her credit maintained her calm throughout this entire exchange, explained once again that it was the store’s policy and that she had no authority to go against it.

Now folks, I can understand the frustration on both sides of this equation. I’ve tried to return items without a receipt and I totally understand how angering it can be when it doesn’t work. I have also worked retail and can tell you for a fact that in Canada, with the exception of some specific commercial laws, retail locations are under NO obligation to accept a return or issue a refund. Once the sale is made, the sale is made.

All this being said, despite the fact I try to exude calm as much as possible I have very low tolerance for people who cause suffering and cost others their time for trivial things. Especially an item that’s only $14.99 and especially when you’re tying up both cashiers with your stupidity, holding up the four people behind you. I kindly asked the gentleman to set aside his complaint for a few moments so that the staff could clear the line. This snapped the cashiers out of their stupor and one of them called me over while the other continued to deal with this angry man.

As I was finally and thankfully exiting the location, the cashier was trying to convince the man in much calmer terms that his incorrect choice did not constitute a problem on her part and that she could get him the number for the store manager and he could deal with the matter this way.

For most people, things tend to dwell on our minds. If these two employees were having a decent day, this jackass and his negative energy likely damaged or ruined these poor peoples’ afternoon. Now, I’m not saying that this particular exchange wasn’t important to this person. Maybe that $15 was the last of his money for the week and he really needed the item he sought. But one needs to acknowledge that his approach not only DID NOT get him what he needed, he spread the suffering in the attempt.

Even while dealing with something or going through something negative yourself, take a moment to consider how your actions may affect others. You have the same responsibility as the rest of us in preventing the propagation of suffering. ☯

Bald As A Baby's Bottom

Those who know me well are aware that for the most part, I’ve kept a shaved head. This has had a bit to do with aspects of my beliefs, although one might be surprised to know that I don’t NEED to shave my head, I simply choose to do so as a show of discipline and as a sign of my devotion to said discipline.

If I can be BRUTALLY honest, it also plays a role in the martial arts as having a bald head gives a sparring opponent one less thing to grab onto. This has also been a practical application in my chosen career, as the very real threat of someone pulling on long hair and exposing a throat is a significant concern.

However, what most people don’t know is that you can practice Buddhism and NOT be bald. It’s not actually a requirement. In Buddhism, the shaving of one’s head and face signifies one of the first steps involved in becoming a monk and starting a monastic life.

This has been a common trait in monasticism for a number of different religions throughout the ages, including but not limited to Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism and some sects of Christianity. This was usually done as a means of showing religious devotion or humility, but has also been used as a rite of passage at certain stages in life.

But for Buddhist monks, the shaving of one’s head acts as a symbol of denouncing worldly attachments. It also helps to act as a symbol of monkshood and to emulate the Buddha, who also shaved his head prior to attaining enlightenment.

So yes, Buddhist monks shave their heads and this is an observance they must follow. No, Buddhist practitioners who are not ordained as monks are not required to do so. Some of us simply choose to do so for the reasons I mentioned in the first paragraph. And no, rubbing a Buddhist’s bald head for good luck is absolutely NOT a thing. In fact, it is strongly discouraged. ☯

The Learning Stops When The Attitude Begins…

Karate requires a lot of dedication and commitment. This should go without saying, although as an instructor I have often found myself HAVING to say it. I have had a number of people who have come to train and have seen it all: sports enthusiasts, athletes, boxers and practitioners of a different style of martial art. But one thing remains consistent, regardless of your background: you have to start from scratch.

“Empty Your Cup…”

Zen Proverb

I’m sure some of you have heard the story… The one about a scholar who visited a wise Zen master and asked him to teach him Zen. Although the Zen Master did his best to try and teach the scholar, he kept interrupting and providing his own stories and opinions. The Zen Master calmly suggested that the pair have tea.

The Master poured a cup for the scholar. Although the cup was full, the Master kept pouring until the cup was overflowing. The scholar asked the Master to stop because the cup was already full. The Master agreed that it was and replied, “You are like this cup; so full of ideas that nothing else will fit in. Come back to me with an empty cup.”

There are a number of different versions of this story. I believe that even Bruce Lee offered up his own version at some point, but the lesson remains the same. You can’t walk into a dojo with a chip on your shoulder and expect to learn something. This reminds me of two stories…

“Empty Your Cup So That It May Be Filled; Become Devoid To Gain Totality.”

Bruce Lee

The first story goes back to the late 80’s, early 90’s… I was a white belt on the cusp of promoting to green. I had been training hard; three days in class and the remaining days, training at home. I was pretty good, despite being in my teens and how much of a conceit that likely sounds. I had gained mass and became larger than life; speed and precision were my tools.

One day, we had a guy who walked in off the street and wanted to learn karate. As was our custom, we explained that he could try a couple of classes to see if he liked it and if it would be something he would pursue. The man agreed to this and participated in his first class. It seemed to go well.

On his second class, we were paired off and practiced some punching drills. As luck would have it, I was paired with him. He struck me several times, causing pain and some mild injury. He had a grin on his face and when I explained that we weren’t supposed to be having contact with each other for this drill, his explanation was that this was karate and I should be able to block if someone punched. Really, asshole? That’s what you’re taking from it?

Sensei saw the entire exchange and opted to pair up with the man on the next run. Foolishly, the man tried the same tactics with Sensei, who was having none of it. Sensei exchanged blow for blow with the guy, without harming him (in any significant way). The guy inevitably ended up bowing out and stepping to the back of the class. Sensei stopped the drill and followed the man to the back of the class and spoke the words that have stuck in my head for almost three decades…

We are here to learn and teach karate. In order to learn, you have to let yourself be taught. You can’t learn if you bully your way through the people trying to teach you. And you certainly don’t come into a karate dojo with the attitude you possess. Come back when you’re ready to learn…”

The man left and we never saw him again. The second story comes much more recently… It started when I joined the Regina Institute of Kempo Karate in 2016. By that point, I had been studying karate for over 28 years. I hold a black belt and have proven my skills more times than I could count.

But when I walked into Kempo to watch that first night and the head instructor asked if I’d ever studied karate, I admitted that I had. But I wanted to learn their art in as pure a way as possible. I told the Master that I wished to start with them as a white belt. He was taken aback, considering I was already a black belt.

I walked into the Kempo dojo the following class with a white belt around my waist. I’ll admit it felt strange, wearing white around my waist when I hadn’t done so in over twenty years. But I bowed into the class and was as proud of the white belt around my waist as I was of the black one that represented my style.

The head instructor ended up forbidding me from wearing white, as he considered it an insult to my Sensei for me NOT to acknowledge my rank. The next class saw my gi adorned with my black belt, but I still held fast to the back of the class and remained humble. And this has been my practice for the past three years.

I’ve had opportunities to coach and correct some of the junior students, which has been great. But for the most part, I’ve accepted my role as a student and have spent the majority of my time learning as opposed to teaching. And this is the important part of today’s post…

The most important part of mastering any skill is rooted in one’s ability to learn. You have to open yourself up not only to learning, but to criticism and correction. Even if you’ve studied something prior to walking in, you have to be willing to admit that you may know NOTHING about the art you’ve chosen to add to your repertoire.

Although studying two arts at once includes a significant number of issues on its own, as long as you humble yourself and be wiling to empty your cup, there’s always a little more room to learn.

Think about it… Let’s examine one of the most basic techniques in the martial arts: a punch. If a 20-year student tells you that they’ve learned how to punch, that’s fine. If that same 20-year student told you that they “mastered” how to punch, they’d be lying as there’s always something more to learn.

And that’s how you should approach anything you try to learn. Face it as a beginner and learn as much as you can. Even a master can be humble in the face of learning something new. ☯

There's No Crying While Meditating…

You know, there’s a reason why monks prefer to live out their lives within the walls of a monastery. Sure, some of them do it as part of a vow of silence, some do it because they prefer to live a simplistic life of minimalism.

Living a monastic life has some measurable benefits when it comes to meditation. For the most part, monks have an easier (notice I said “easier”, not “easy”) time finding harmony and inner peace, thanks to the quiet and serenity that comes with living within the boundaries of a monastery. Although finding one’s balance and harmony is possible even when one does not live within a monastery, there’s a hiccup to modern life that the monks likely didn’t anticipate: kids!

Picture this, if you will… You settle into a comfortable position, perhaps cross-legged, perhaps sitting on your knees. You close your eyes and start taking several deep, steadying breaths. Maybe you even have a bit of relaxation music playing in the background. As you feel yourself sinking deeper and deeper into your meditation, you feel a shift in the air. A disturbance in the Force, if you will! You have your suspicions about this disturbance, but you continue to concentrate and focus on your breathing.

Then it happens: you feel a light, nasal breathing against your face, followed by a soft whisper, “Daddy?” This is accompanied by the typically expected poke of a small, bony finger; perhaps against my cheek and if I’m a real winner in tonight’s story, perhaps against the eyelid. “Daddy, you’re a statue…”

You try your best to stay focused and concentrate, hoping that your first-born will take a hint at your lack of a response and back the hell away. But of course, my offspring is stubborn and tenacious and refuses to surrender. Especially when faced with the mystery of what daddy is doing (I have no idea where he gets THAT from!) He’s fascinated at what his father is doing and wants some answers.

Just then, salvation comes in the form of my wife who steps into the basement and softly whispers that Daddy is meditating and that he should leave me alone. The boy responds, “Daddy’s not meditating, he’s a statue!” My wife agrees that it’s fine, I’m a statue but to leave me alone nonetheless.

Just then, my infant son who was until this point quietly cradled in my wife’s arms, decides to burst out with a mighty wail equivalent to someone getting their family jewels stomped during a mosh pit. This effectively dissolves my focus with the imaginary sound of a shattered pane of glass.

Meditating is already something that requires a deep level of focus and practice. It takes time to find your groove, become comfortable with what your doing and get to a point where it provides you with any sort of noticeable benefit. So learning, practicing and becoming proficient is all the more challenging when attempted in a modern family setting.

Eventually my son may come to learn and understand what I’m doing and respect the need for a few moments of silence. In the meantime, be sure to find time for yourself in order to search for harmony and inner balance. As the skills develop, it will become easier even WITH all the “little distractions” that come with life. ☯

To Be Born Twice…

When I take stock of my life, I realize that through time and circumstance I have experienced something of a rebirth on more than one occasion. In my youth, the path of my life and how I grew up was determined by a single diagnoses of Type-1 Diabetes at the age of 4. I’ve often reflected on how differently my life may have been had I not been diagnosed as such.

Later on, I would start my training in karate; a move that I would ultimately come to see as a rebirth. The person I became and the health I gained showed a marked departure from where I began. It also helped define the kind of drive and ambition I would have in almost everything I’d do in my life.

My chosen career, although started later than most, was most definitely a rebirth. It was almost like being under water for so many years, only to finally come up for air. When you finally find what you were meant to do, it seems like a perfect fit and everything else seems to melt away.

But sometimes, these rebirths don’t happen on their own. Sometimes you have to take yourself in hand in order to make them happen. I’ve often said that life doesn’t are about our plan. Things will happen in due course, but this doesn’t mean you should just sit back and wait for it happen.

Change may be organic to life, but POSITIVE change requires your active involvement. You can’t remake yourself by hiding away from the outside world. You are part of the living organism that is the world, and the only way to have a positive impact is through positive thinking and positive action. ☯