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Martial arts without Zen?

Assignment:
Read the book, “Zen in the Martial Arts” by Joe Hyams. Choose your favorite chapter, and write a paragraph to a page explaining what you liked about it.

I have chosen the chapter entitled, “Martial Arts Without Zen”, starting on page 121. Author Hyams here discusses the unfortunate circumstance in which people attain a high level of martial arts skills but do not adopt the spiritual philosophy of the arts. This problem strikes a chord with me for several reasons.

First of all, I have come across many people who have physical prowess but who are deficient in character. With regards to martial arts, I happen to have met through business contacts the actual practitioner on whom the character of the bully sensei was based in the original “Karate Kid” movie. He told me that he really was as mean as they portrayed in the movie! As might be expected, he suffered from heart problems, was divorced, and had no contact with his children. His aggressor mindset brought him much unnecessary heartache in life. I am mindful that the empowerment martial arts training can bring must be guided by strong moral values.

Mr. Hyams makes the point that Zen can be applied to parts of life beyond the martial arts. He talks about acting without conscious effort, as well as being a better person. I can see how the two are connected. I think it is of the utmost importance to train yourself to do the right thing naturally, to make it second nature. Just as executing the perfect tennis volley should be effortless, saying please and thank you should be effortless. The Zen approach should give you control over yourself so that the “best you” can shine through. I constantly review the spiritual teachings of my religion and other sources. I would expect my martial arts training to help me achieve the self-mastery needed to put these teachings into practice and become a better husband, father, businessman, etc.

The author also states that one may apply the spiritual precepts of Zen in the martial arts without involving oneself in the arts. This is certainly true, as we know that countless people have performed good deeds on this planet without the benefit of martial arts training. Is martial arts then just one of many disciplines for reaching your potential, all equally valuable? Or, does it give its practitioners a particular advantage – beyond the obvious benefits of better health and self-defense skills? But maybe the health and self-defensive benefits are what make it distinctive! I will look at this some more as the studies continue.