Zen Writing: Reflection, Clarification, Discipline

My master instructor in martial arts was Grandmaster Daeshik Kim, President of the Society of Ho Sin Sul and the US Martial Arts Institute. I studied at USMAI from 1980 to 1989. While there, I attained 5th degree Tae Kwon Do and 4th degree Ho Sin Sul, making me one of the first four American master instructors of HSS.

For the uninitiated, martial arts is sometimes referred to as Moving Zen. At Dojangs the Zen part of martial arts is seldom discussed. It is just assumed to be part of everyday practice. To my way of thinking it is  Zen like in that one must be absorbed in practice to the extent that you are in a meditative state. It is often said that you don’t own a technique until you have done it 1000 times and do not truly understand it until you have done it 10,000 times.

The kata, or choreographed patterns of practice, either solo or in pairs, is similar to a moving Koan. The term ‘form’ is normally used in English.

Writing is to me much like martial arts training and practice. It requires deep reflection on your subject, often to a level of detail not experienced by many. Then it requires clarification of what you are doing. In clarification you often simplify, much like a martial artist’s attempt to find maximum efficiency with minimum effort in his/her moves. Finally, you must be disciplined. Discipline, to me, means you keep going when you are tired, discouraged, or wanting to do something else. You practice, practice, practice no matter  what distracts you, then you practice more.

There is one technique I recall that I couldn’t master, the Tornado Kick. It is a turning, jumping, 540 degree, kick found in Tae Kwon Do, Wushu Kung Fu, Shaolinquan, and Capoeira martial arts. I tried to do the kick for months, then years. Finally, after two years, I found myself coming into the dojang every Saturday to practice the kick. My friends offered me advice and encouragement and still, I couldn’t do it.

One day while stretching, I watched a young student go to the bag, wind up and execute the kick. I was watching without thinking about watching. Suddenly, I said to myself, “So that’s how you do that.”

I walked to the bag and executed the kick perfectly. Everyone in the dojang applauded. I took a well-deserved bow.

In writing, you may work on your technique for months, even years, without reward. Then one day, when you aren’t focused on the outcome, when you take your mind out of what you are doing and just do it (the Greeks don’t have an exclusive on that), you will surprise yourself.