The concept of Mushin was explained to me by a Japanese friend of mine the night before Sasha was born. I struggled for many years to empty my mind – the essence of Mushin – a very difficult thing for a westerner to do.
I accomplished it today.
I am very far away from the marital artist I was 40 years ago. I was given the privilege by my karate master to teach young adults (middle school to early high school) our style of karate. Once a week about 20 young men gathered for a lesson. Occasionally I had to demonstrate techniques that were interior to fighting skills – difficult to grasp, but essential in the development of a skilled fighter.
I was addressing the class before we began and a fly kept buzzing around my head. One hand flew out and I caught the fly! The class was silent as I walked to the door, opened it, and let the fly go.
Karate isn’t all about killing. I’ve never been able to do that again.
On another occasion I wanted to demonstrate Bruce Lee’s Three Inch Punch. This involves projecting enough force with the hand a scant three inches from the opponent that you can do serious physical damage to a person. Bruce Lee demonstrated it at a tournament in Long Beach back in the late 60’s and everyone was amazed. It took me about two years to master it.
To begin, I borrowed a phone directory from the front desk and had one student hold it firmly against his stomach. I then had three more students stand behind the one holding the book, reinforcing one another with their hands on each other’s shoulders. They were leaning forward on an angle to strengthen their position.
I emptied myself and focused on the boy’s stomach -- we never focus on surfaces, we imagine our fist travelling three or four inches behind the point of contact, this is essentially how boards are broken in a demonstration. With my hand three inches from the book, the punch began. It travels from the hips up through the torso and then to the arm and fist.
When I made contact with the phone book, my fist had summoned enough force that all four boys were flung backwards onto the floor. Each boy was well over 100 pounds, no one was hurt.
It was demonstrations like this that solidified the young men and their desire to learn the martial art. I gave one last demo to show them the concept I used today to overcome extreme odds.
I set myself in what we call a ’rooted stance’. This is how we ‘attach’ ourselves to the earth to a point that we cannot be moved by any force. While many will laugh at the concept, ask someone who has observed it and you will hear a story that sounds incredible. In this rooted stance any person can approach from any direction and will be unable to knock you over or dislodge you from the stance with their hands.
I did this for the class and invited them to come up one at a time and try to move me. None could.
Fast forward 40+ years to today. I start the morning with a time release narcotic to ease the neuropathy in my feet. Because it is released into my bloodstream so slowly, the narcotic effect is very light. Far lighter than the Norco I take with it to ease the arthritis pain in my hands, This I do feel, and it does make me a bit lightheaded.
I have injured several parts of my body, and wear neoprene sleeves on my right elbow, both wrists, and both knees, this is the only way I can walk and use my hands, A cortisone shot I received several weeks ago in my lower back has worn off, and the only way to ease the brutal pain associated with it is large doses of Gabapentin. While it is very effective in dealing with spinal nerve pain, it leaves you extremely dizzy, lightheaded, and unable to focus your eyes.
I go back to the basics. I place myself in my rooted stance. Immediately I am able to walk in spite of the dizziness. Each step connects me to the earth in a manner that is somewhat ineffable. While it is difficult to exercise, I decide today I am going to get back on the bike.
I purchased a stationary bicycle to help me get a little cardio in, but the issues with my hands and back sometimes interfere. Today I decided no interference. I gently ease myself on the bike and grab the handlebars. The pain starts to swell in my hands. I look at the odometer. It says 9 minutes. My goal has always been to up the ante two minutes every time I climb on board.
As I start to peddle, I can immediately feel the lactic acid in my forearms start to burn off. It hurts. I can hear the wheels moving around and around, but there is another sound. It is the pop of my right knee every time the pedal forces that leg up. That knee was replaced in 2006 and I was told it had a 15 year lifetime – so I’m about a year past due for a new one.
All of a sudden everything goes quiet. I am focused on the front door – the bike is in our hallway because we are out of room elsewhere in the house. My mind starts to empty as the minutes click by. The whirring of the wheels and the click-clack of my knee form a mini-symphony, and I am the conductor. I am rooted to the bicycle and feel no pain from the waist down. Around the 9 minute mark the lactic acid is gone and my bloodstream is starting to supply oxygen to my muscles once again. While my wrists are numb and I can’t bend any finger without considerable pain, I have separated myself from it for a very short while.
As I reach the 11 minute mark I am elated. I have momentarily conquered my body; I have punched through the phone book once again.
Gently, I ease myself off the bicycle. I hold tightly to the handlebars and frame as the dizziness returns and the room starts to spin once again. I can feel the pain in my sacroiliac shooting down my left leg into my calf. My right forearm is on fire, and I can barely close my hands. I probably need more Gabapentin and Norco.
IT DOESN’T MATTER. I WON TODAY. EVERYTHING I LEARNED 40 YEARS AGO CAME BACK AND ENABLED ME TO CONQUER MYSELF. MY MIND WAS EMPTY, I EMBRACED MUSHIN.