Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Path of Emptiness

The sage, skilled in the arts of war, Go being one of the highest, understands that having a plan or strategy in the mind is to invite defeat. If we plan to open a game of Go with a San-Ren-Sei opening without adapting to the moves of the opponent we shield ourselves off from the reality of the game and lose contact with the movement of the stones. The mind is to be devoid of both thought and non-thought, plan and non-plan. Go was, afterall, created in the lands of Chan (Zen) where "empty-handed I go, and behold the spade is in my hands; I walk on foot, and yet on the back of an ox I am riding; When I pass over the bridge, Lo, the water floweth not, but the bridge doth flow."

When we understand emptiness in this way we see Go through the eyes of the sage. We will have no ranking, no joseki, no plan of attack. We will have no form. Like water, moves take the form needed.

As the master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi wrote in his Go Rin No Sho in 1645, "Taking straightforwardness as basic, taking the real mind as the Way, practicing martial arts in the broadest sense, thinking correctly, clearly, and comprehensively, taking emptiness as the Way, you see the Way as emptiness.

"In Emptiness there is good but no evil. Wisdom exists, logic exists, the Way exists, mind is empty."

The Scroll of Emptiness

Go Rin No Sho



Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Sharp Sting

Sparring is a part of a life in the dojo. To the shugyosha it becomes second nature to test his skills with an opponent in a controlled environment, letting his bruises mark next weeks lessons in improvements. When we face our senior, the shodan or above, the infamous black belt, we expect that the senior might take certain liberties with the rules of sparring in order to give lessons not provided by the usual sparring session.
After a long session of sparring, many years ago, I traded partners and ended up sparring with a black belt. I was very fatigued at this point and had trouble maintaining a proper guard. He repeatedly warned me to raise my hands. Just in time I would block the punches that were launched at my shoulders. Again the warning would come. Again I would agree, but fatigue countered. Finally the black belt had seen enough. Faking to the side and waiting for me to inhale, he struck me squarely on the forehead, followed by the words, "I said, keep your hands up."
There are those who feel victimized by this sort of treatment and turn inwards, not learning the valuable lesson. Others know that practice prepares us for a time when our life may be on the line and second chances are not an option. A sharp sting on the forehead may be what it takes to keep the hands up no matter how bad the lungs are burning, how full the legs are with lead, and the mind whispers to give in. I never let my hands down again.
And now, after many months off the goban, I am ready to begin again, stone against stone. There will be many losses. What I can be sure of is that there will be a sharp sting, a lesson that, while it may hurt, will serve a greater purpose. The teachers are gracious in there punishment. Most will show us the lessons in our failure. We are all just fellow shugyosha on the path.