The Art of Winning Blog

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wren's Thoughts on Kicking A$$

Introduction to To-Shin Do
By Wren Holden

The first time I heard of To-Shin Do was through my school. I decided to attend a college that was a little experimental, so I was at a particularly open time in my life. I was eager to try new things, and I had resolved to become the person that I had always dreamed of becoming, strong, fast, and absolutely no nonsense. When I looked at the class schedule and saw that a martial arts class was offered, I jumped on the chance without really knowing anything about it. I had wanted to pick up a martial art since I was a little kid, and I envisioned myself doing insane spin kicks in back alleys and doing triple back flips like my heroes did in the action movies. I was very excited to emulate Bruce Lee and the other fighters I admired as I went to my first class. However, I found out that To-Shin Do was something a little different.
For one thing, it was practical. I had not expected to be taught things that I would be able to use in a real setting right away. But after the very first class, I was learning pieces of something that I felt could save my life one day. Coming from an environment where I had been told that I, as a woman, was helpless against men and the world, it was a revelation. I felt like I could survive an attack in a back alley for the first time in my life. I had always been prepared to die rather than have something taken from me with violence, I had always been resolved to fight to the bitter end, but I was given a light of hope that first lesson. I was given the option of walking away instead of fighting fruitlessly until I was either ended or left for dead. I found that the way of fighting and the mindset of the Ninja, while not exactly what I had in mind in terms of grace and honor, aligned really closely to how I had lived my life up until that point.
I threw myself into To-Shin Do wholeheartedly. The fighting style and the thinking in combat were less revelation and more seamless acquisition into my life than anything. However, I found that the camaraderie and balance of the art was helping me with everything from keeping my footing on an icy road to controlling my temper. What I thought would be an engaging hobby became a way to learn about myself. I had always been one to keep inside my head, but I had never really cared about what exactly was in there, and what made me tick as a person. Meditation and the code of mindful action really helped me when I was stressed and to find out why I became angry at certain things. My introduction to To-Shin Do even changed the way I approached certain classes, especially when I learned about the different elements and the ways of thinking that go along with them.

 While I still have those fantasies of being able to high kick my opponents into next week, I understand that in a real fight, I have something real to fall back on. I also feel like I am much less likely to get into a fight, physical or verbal, now that I have the responsibility that comes with knowing how to use my body to the degree of effectiveness that this martial art affords. The kindness and balancing part of To-Shin Do is just as important as the striking and the weapons, and in the end it was the balance of the teachings that impressed me and kept me coming back for more. I am really excited to learn more about To-Shin Do as I continue with my study, and I am also excited to work on myself. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Stop Thinking

I've been contemplating the nature of Mu Shin (no mind) lately trying to figure out how I would articulate the state of extreme awareness that happens when your brain analysis takes a break. It's not a nothingness, rather it's as vast as the multiverses and just as active. In the midst of this contemplation, I received this incredible essay from Hunter. Please enjoy!

Hunter Streit
Ni-Dan Personal Development Essay

Lots of people say that the sign of a good book is that it “makes you think,” but I’ve found the opposite to be the case. In my experience the most helpful and growthful books are the ones that stop the mind dead in its tracks. These books do not send us cascading into some new train of thought, or add to the content of our minds, but instead wake us up to a new level of awareness. This stopping of the mind is not the same as sinking below thought. It is not that we fall into a kind of stupor, like when we watch television or have had too much to drink. It is mindfulness, rather than mindlessness. We begin to experience reality more directly - through a sort of still and alert presence.
The way in which I’ve grown from reading these kinds of books, is in my ability to find this stillness on my own. Sometimes it only lasts for a few seconds and other times it lasts for a few hours. Often I still find myself caught in the ups and downs of the thinking mind and all of the patterns, compulsions and programming that comes with it. However, being free of the conditioned mind even if it is only for a few moments a day is still infinitely better than never finding it.
Whenever I am able to step out of the thinking mind, I begin to realize how repetitive most of my thoughts are. The majority of these thoughts are part of a collection of stories that I tell myself. I have a story at the ready for virtually every area of my life. And most of these stories (as is the case for many people) are negative. I tell myself these stories on a daily basis, but sometimes I am able to stop, take a breath and catch myself in the act. I have come to realize that the stories themselves are not all that important, the problem arises we believe in the stories and invest in them. This creates a vicious cycle, for not only do we believe in the story, but we begin looking for outside indicators to prove that our story is true. We would often much rather believe that we are correct, even if we do not like what it is we are believing. We invest in these stories and over time it begins to warp our perception of reality. We pay more attention to the things that confirm our story than to anything else. We begin to lose track of the distinction between how things are and how we think they are. In Buddhism this is sometimes called the two-fold truth, which consists of relative truth and absolute truth.
Relative truth is all of the self-produced content that we experience in our mind from moment to moment. It is our emotions, beliefs, likes, dislikes, attractions, aversions and so on. All of this feels very real to us and if often absorbs nearly all of our attention. The truth is, that none of this content exists for anyone other than ourselves. Relative truth is the reason why our own internal experience varies from those of everyone else. We can empathize or extrapolate on how someone else thinks or feels, but it will still be heavily biased by how we ourselves view the world. We only ever experience the world from our own perspective, which is filtered by our conditioning. What each of us experiences is therefore only of relative truth, because the world is not experienced the same way by everyone else, and so how can it be completely true? How each of us sees things is very subjective. Knowing this helps us to remember not to take our version of events quite so seriously.
Absolute truth means that reality simply is as it is. Two people may perceive the same situation completely differently from one another, but the situation itself has not changed. Only the individual perception of that situation has changed. Absolute truth is un-biased, it is not good or bad, desirable or undesirable, helpful or harmful. Realizing absolute truth is helpful in so far as it lifts some of the importance we place on how we (as an individual person) see the world around us. We come to realize that the seeing itself is unconditioned. It is how we react to or interpret our experiences that begin to separate us from reality. Recognizing absolute truth is the beginning of a separation between subject and object, between the observer and the observed.
This kind of reading has been helpful to me because it forces me to understand it through a different means than conceptual thinking. When I try and make “absolute truth and relative truth” something to understand or conceptualize, it is meaningless. I can usually tell with this kind of reading when I am in the thinking mind, versus when I am approaching it from a place of deeper attention. When I am in the thinking mind I usually become complacent and bored after a couple of pages. Therefore the act of reading itself is a good indicator of how clear my awareness is.
On a day-to-day basis, my attention can be as fragmented and sporadic as ever, but I am continually cultivating the capacity to notice the gaps and return to a place of centered attention. Even when I only remember to step out of the stream of thinking once a day, I realize that clarity, however infrequent is still clarity. Occasionally, I am able to see something I’ve done or said from an outside perspective, separate from my stories and my conditioning. In doing so I am able to make an unconscious pattern conscious, which is the first step in dissolving it.
I don’t feel the need to separate the different books I’ve read from one other, just as I don’t think my experiences inside and outside of the Dojo need to be entirely separate from one another. I tend to want to compartmentalize different areas of my life, be it: training, my day job, graphic design, music production, socializing, alone-time, family etc. There is something comforting about being able to go into a situation like that. “Ok. I am entering category 4B of my life, so here are the 3 parameters I can expect and the 5 people with whom I am most likely to interact.” This categorization undoubtedly feels safer, but there is a freshness in being able to be in a situation without feeling the need to label, judge, or compare it in any way. Going into a situation just as it is feels very vulnerable. The mind needs to at least believe that it knows what is going to happen. We need a reference point before we can be at ease with what is going on.

I realize reading, like training can only take me so far, but it is a good jumping off point for being more a little more awake and aware in day to day life. Learning to be in the world without superimposing our stories and on it is a daunting task to the mind, but it is perfectly natural for our spirit. I am always in fluctuation between being caught up in thoughts and experiencing the moment, but I know that all I have to do is stop and notice a breath or two and watch the pendulum swing back and forth, from story to reality.

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