Friday, January 17, 2014


Almost three years ago, I had my first experience of what I claimed was satori/kensho (see post). I could still argue with myself as to whether it was true satori or simply kensho, but I don't think too much about how to label the experience. First of all, who cares what I call it? And second, I'm not totally sure all Zen practitioners really use these two terms to mean different things.

So given that, perhaps I should define my terms for purposes of this post. My understanding is that kensho is a moment of deep insight, an epiphany, or a realization about the true nature of things that can strongly propel a person towards satori. Satori being enlightenment. So, thinking of it that way, kensho is a glimpse of satori. If we deepen our understanding of kensho, we will move towards satori. One way I've learned to deepen understanding is through everyday Zen. Everyday Zen is a term I made up to signify the discipline of maintaining the correct mind state in and out of zazen, all day, every day. Keeping my moment of kensho in mind during everyday life is one way of deepening my understanding of it. By applying it. Without application or deepening of understanding, kensho is wasted.

Now that that's all out of the way, on to the purpose of this post: This morning, as I was sitting in zazen, I had a moment of kensho! (I think this would be my second moment of kensho).

It was very early in the morning, so it was still dark. I lit the three candles on my Zen table and sat, staring at the wall. I could see the candle light flickering on the wall, creating moving shadows and light. As always.

As I emptied my mind, I found myself repeatedly thinking that I didn't like the candles being lit and seeing this interplay of shadow and light. I'd never had this problem before so, as with any thought one has while in zazen, I just let it go. However, it kept coming back. Not really thinking, I blew out the candles and resumed staring at the plain, dim wall which I could now barely see. That's when it happened. The most I can say about it is that it struck me how the flickering light symbolized delusion, while the wall was the moment without distractions. Kensho!

Now, as you read this, you're thinking: "Ummm, that's it?"

Yes, my friend, that is it! Kensho is not transferable from one person to another. While this experience deeply illuminated something for me, there's no reason to believe it would do so for anyone else. In fact, I would argue that kensho most often only helps the person to whom it happens (which is why Zen Buddhists don't proselytize or write 'how to' manuals).

I wont go into detail about what this experience illuminated for me. (More accurately, I can't because it's impossible to put kensho into words right away). However, I know how I can apply it in everyday Zen. My previous experience with kensho changed me in a fundamental way and, having had that experience, I'm confident that if I work with this bit of kensho it will also deliver the same powerful outcome in the months and years ahead.

It's very un-Zen to say, but this is an important moment for me!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Raid: Redemption

With 8" of snow having fallen in the last 24 hours and wind chills dropping to -40 tonight, I've spent a lot of time indoors this weekend. So what better excuse for watching tons of movies!

The Raid: Redemption is the second movie starring martial artist Iko Uwais, his first being Merantau (click here for the review on Zen Throw Down). The two movies could not be more different in tone and style. Merantau was a coming of age film, with Uwais playing an innocent young man from a village making his way into the big city as part of a rite of passage.  In The Raid he plays Rama, a rookie member of an elite SWAT team. Merantau was also much more plot driven, while The Raid is gritty, dark, and focused on fights.

The Raid concerns Rama's SWAT team raiding an apartment building in a slum held by a notorious drug lord and his mob of scumbags and murderers. The mission goes south very quickly, and the surviving officers are trapped halfway up the building with machete and gun wielding psycho criminals coming out of the walls. All the remaining officers can do now is try to get out alive. Very simple plot, but it sure works in serving up fight after fight after fight after fight. 

And there are a lot of fight scenes. They are shot and performed very well, with plenty of opportunity to see the martial arts at work. Another plus, given the gritty subject matter, is that there are no obvious wire-fu moves. Just straight up fighting as far as I can tell. And once The Raid starts moving, it gathers speed like a runaway freight train going downhill. You will definitely get all the action you can handle, and the violence level in the unrated edition is extremely high. Positively, there are a few plot twists along the way to add some flavor to the proceedings, and we get eye candy (as far as that goes in a movie like this) via model and former judo athlete Joe Taslim as Sergeant Jaka.

Bottom-line, The Raid is all about fight scenes. That will make it a must see for many people. I enjoyed the movie, which kept me engaged and - in some points - on edge all the way through to the end.

BTW: Word is that a sequel, with Uwais on board, called Berandal is scheduled for release in March 2014. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

War of the Arrows

War of the Arrows (South Korean poster)
I've been on a lucky streak with martial arts movies and have seen one excellent film after another. Although, technically speaking, this South Korean blockbuster is an action movie and not a martial arts movie. There is no hand-to-hand combat and no mention of the martial arts in even a tangential way. Instead, War of the Arrows features combat via sword and, mainly, archery.

But, nomenclature aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable movie! Set in the 15th century during an apparently brutal Chinese invasion of Korea, the story is a standard trope: hero rescuing woman kidnapped by foreign villains. Of course, in an action film we're not looking for the plot complexities of Tolstoy. War of the Arrows executes its story well, and earns a unique feel through its gritty camera work, awesome period feel, and making the most of the focus on archery. The pace is a little slow until the action kicks in, but from there on out the movie is a taut as bowstrings and never looks back.

Another big plus was that there was little in the action that was over the top, and the realistic feel enhanced the tension. Also, the teasing of archers pulling back bowstrings and holding, aiming, waiting creates near constant suspense. This is because the long distance nature of an archery strike means there's a wait between the attack and the payoff that is totally different than you see in martial arts movies or action films using guns. The director - Kim Han-Min - exploits this to the hilt in the way he shoots and paces his film.

The final battle scene is like a chess match, with each surviving participant taking actions that then change what the rest of the participants must do. This constant set of reactions leaves the viewer completely unsure how things are going to end and who will live or die. Really well-executed finale to a satisfying rescue and escape storyline.

No, this is not really a martial arts film (despite the label I have here). However, people who like martial arts movies will probably enjoy it anyway. Also, for those looking to escape from the ridiculous bombast of most recent Hollywood action movies, War of the Arrows will be a refreshing change of pace and quality. Easy to see why it was a massive box-office hit in South Korea.