Ken Zan Ichi Nyo

Ken Zen Ichi Nyo (The Fist and Zen are One)

By Katherine Loukopoulos

Once upon a time, not so long ago (1970), on 72nd Street, Manhattan, there was a Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu Karate Dojo.  The name of the dojo was Budo-kan and it was known as the 72nd Street Dojo.  It was the place where I grew up.

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Zenko Heshiki Sensei, the owner, was a colorful personality with absolute dedication to Master Shoshin Nagamine.  Born on Okinawa, he and his mother migrated to Argentina as soon as he finished primary school.  A decade later, Heshiki Sensei migrated to the United States (1962), and became a student of Ansei Ueshiro Sensei.

The 72nd Street dojo prided itself as being the dojo where only the tough survived.  There were beginners, intermediate and advanced classes.  What separated the class levels were the number of repetitions executed for each technique.  All classes were exact replica of each other.  There were no variations. The tempo was quick and every little mistake was pointed out.  We had no other choice but to fall in love with pushups.

Heshiki Sensei was ruthless, and so were his star black belts.  Making money was never the primary focus; money came from donations, and subsidized by sympathetic students who led successful businesses.

Military boot camp would seem like a child’s play in comparison to Heshiki Sensei’s beginner classes.  At the end of the Saturday advanced class we also run a 10-kilometer around Central Park without shoes regardless of the weather.  Shoshin Nagamine Sensei and the senior teachers who traveled from Okinawa were really impressed.

Heshiki Sensei who left from Okinawa at a tender age wrestled to learn Spanish and to be accepted in the Argentinian society; ten years later he repeated the process by migrating to the United States.  A person who migrates is never 100% of either side.  The longer we stay away from our native land, the more of a stranger we become; and we are never inducted 100% in our new country.  It is a constant struggle that only people who have experienced migration can comprehend these words.  Therefore, it was very important to Heshiki Sensei to be totally accepted by Nagamine Shoshin Sensei.

 

On the other side of the Pacific, Master Shoshin Nagamine had fine combed his Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu creation.  Although the karate training was Nagamine Sensei’s answer to good health, he believed that karate alone was not enough in developing the ‘whole’ person.  He espoused Zen and included it in the dojo curriculum. Immediately Heshiki Sensei did the same.

Zazen was practiced by the warrior classes of Japan, and therefore, it was fairly easy enough to be inducted in the Hombu Dojo, but in US, this was a different story.

The majority of US Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu dojo owners found themselves in a dilemma.  Most of them did not understand Zazen training and Zen philosophy.  How could they be teaching it to their students?  There were students who were offended by the introduction of Zen because they viewed it as a religion being forced on to them, and others found the practice completely irrelevant to the study of martial arts.

A smaller percentage of practitioners did find the true meaning of life in their zen training and espoused the training.  Needless to say they became the ‘good boys’.  The rest of the students either stopped training, or found other dojo which did not participate in the zen program.

American Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu teachers tried to find a happy medium. Some reserved Zazen training for the advanced classes.  Others simply sat quietly for a few minutes without conducting the zen ceremony.

Heshiki Sensei invited Zen Master and Goju Ryu practitioner, Sogen Sakiyama, to live in our dojo for one year and to teach us the physical and philosophical lessons of zen.   Taking care of Osho san (Master Sogen Sakiyama) became everyone’s responsibility.

Afternoon classes did not include zazen and they became the most populated.  Early morning and evening classes always concluded with zazen; advanced classes included two sessions with a ‘kinhin’ in between.  Sutra chanting followed, and in the end Osho san spoke to us and Heshiki Sensei translated.

We did this every day for one year.  When Osho san left, we continued our practice without deviation. Once a week we had all-night zazen training.  We started 2000 hours and finished 0600 hours the following morning.  We also had monthly weekend retreats where strict silence was observed and only the sound of bells and wood struck together gave us directions.  For this event, Heshiki Sensei and his male students shaved their heads.

We continued along the laid path until Heshiki Sensei permanently left for Hawaii in order to pursue zen training at the Chozenji International Zen Dojo of Hawaii.  It was February of 1977.

In the Nagamine Sensei Hombu Dojo the six o’clock class had its most members.  Morning and evening classes had the fewer members, but were also the classes whereby zazen always followed the karate lesson.

In the Japanese society one does not voice their discontent, and personal opinions remain personal.  Instead of students saying that they would not sit, simply they offered Nagamine Sensei a reason as to why they could not take the evening class. This is called ‘ii wake’, that is, a ‘good excuse’. However, there were ‘secret’ trainings in various homes, gardens, and back yards, which never included zazen training.

Okinawa students were able to avoid the zazen training without damage because they maintained silence.  Americans on the other hand, boasted that they would not sit, and fell from grace.  What worse, Nagamine Sensei was always well informed, and when a student from the States visited the Hombu dojo, if that student’s sensei did not practice zazen in America, that student was not permitted to train there.  Only too frequently innocent students who made the long trip suffered due to their sensei’s choice of ‘not to sit’.  In the matters of zen, Nagamine Shoshin Sensei was inflexible.

Takayoshi Nagamine Sensei on the other hand, having spent many years in the United States he understood the dilemma.  In America Takayoshi Sensei did not pressure the issue of zazen; however, on Okinawa if he instructed night classes, then he also lead the zazen sessions.

Matsubayashi Shorin Ryu has strong and qualified teachers who will pass on the Nagamine Sensei torch to future generations.  If zen will be a part of the entire package that still remains to be seen.

 

Glossary:

Kinhin – In Zen Buddhism, kinhin (traditional Chinese: 經行 jīngxíng; Japanese: 経行 kinhin; Vietnamese: kinh-hành), or kyōgyō (教行?), is the walking meditation that is practiced between long periods of the sitting meditation known as zazen.

Practitioners walk clockwise around a room while holding their hands in shashu (叉手), with one hand closed in a fist, while the other hand grasps or covers the fist. During walking meditation each step is taken after each full breath. The beginning of kinhin is announced by ringing the bell twice (kinhinsho); the end by ringing once (chukaisho 抽解鐘 ‘the chime to let go and detach’).

Zazen – Zazen is considered the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them

Zen – Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhismthat developed in China during the 6th century as Chán. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and East to Japan.

Source:  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

 

 

 

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