Today I found two new books at my local used book store, Autumn Leaves, that I am looking forward to sharing in this and future blog posts. One is an ancient classic that Master Shaffer recommended; The Book Of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi. This Japanese script dates back to 1643, the year the undefeated swordsman Miyamoto Musashi climbed Mount Iwato to related his reflections of his years of sword fighting and the twenty years of reflection that followed and led him to his enlightenment. Ten years later at age sixty he wrote this Book Of Five Rings (as a letter to his students). The version I have is a translation by Thomas Cleary published in 1993. In his introduction Mr. Cleary states that a more proper translation of the title to this book would be The Book Of Five Spheres. I like this better (it sounds less like “The Lord Of The Rings.” Even though this much pre-dates that of course.)
The Five Rings (or Spheres) refer to five separate sections of the book; The Earth Scroll, The Water Scroll, The Fire Scroll, The Wind Scroll, and The Scroll Of Emptiness.
This reminds me of another martial art related form of media I’ve been studying, the Avatar: The Last Airbender series (from television). This came about because my children are watching it, and I’ve found myself becoming interested in it as well. In the world of the Airbenders there are Earth Benders, Water Benders, Fire Benders and Air Benders (well, one last air bender. Who is also learning to bend the other elements because he is the Avatar.) The “bending techniques” are based on real Chinese martial arts, which seem to fit to their related elements. Earth bending is based on the art Hung Gar; Water bending is based on Tai Chi; Fire bending on Northern Shaolin; and Air bending is based on Ba Gua Zhang. Here is a link with more information on the martial arts of Avatar:
The second text I acquired is a funny account of Zen through the teachings and letters of Tofu Roshi, the fictitious priest of the fictitious No Way Zen Center (book by Susan Moon). It is filled with fictitious questions in letter form and his answers imbued with Zen philosophy. For example:
Dear Tofu Roshi:
I can’t sit on the floor. I understand that my spiritual advancement is therefore severely hampered. What to do?
Many people share your difficulty. Those who begin to practice the Way late in life find it particularly difficult to tie their legs in knots. Some young people who are abnormally “uptight” also have trouble.
You might find it helpful initially to practice your knots on a length of rope. All of us should know the square knot, clove hitch, inside hitch, double carrick bend and studding sail halyard bend anyway. When you can do these knots with the rope, transfer the learning to your legs.
Another approach is an architectural one. Cut a footwell in your floor, which will beautify your home at the same time that it will enable you to sit comfortably on the floor.
Do your best, and remember this: If you are sitting on a chair and the chair is on the floor, you are sitting on the floor. We can even say, if you are sitting on a stool which is sitting on a chair which is sitting on a table on the floor, you are sitting on the floor. Be careful not to fall off the floor.