Zen Practice in Kata
Traditionally, Zen meditation has four classic postures: zazen (seated), juzen (standing), gyozen (moving), and gazen (reclining). These postures are the four positions that the body can hold in relation to the earth.
Floating in space or in water is not defined within these postures.
The point of these four postures is that a human body flows through them and only them (except when floating or weightless).
Now there are literally thousands of books on seated zen practice (Zazen), but there is painfully little on how to practice zen in the other postures. So, here is how Kata Practice works with two of these postures.
Practicing Juzen in Kata
Old time martial artists are famous for making students stand in static stances for hours at a time. Such a practice quickly produces discomfort and a burning sensation in the legs. New students can barely stand in a solid stance for five minutes, let alone two hours.
But there is much to learn from such a practice.
I sometimes use slow kata as a meditation and conditioning practice. I set a repetitive timer to go off every minute on my phone and I just practice going from one stance to another in a Kata and staying static for a minute in each position.
That means a kata of twenty moves takes twenty minutes of deep stances with no rest. Three minutes a move means one kata takes one hour. Six minutes a move means one kata in two hours.
Let me assure you that kata practiced in this way will strip the ego right off of your bones with no mercy. But the pain eventually becomes bearable and the mind learns to embrace the discomfort as it is. Once this has occurred, other practices soon become possible in the static stances.
You can practice a Zen koan like the famous koan “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”, or a Tibetan practice like Tonglen (breathing in the suffering and pain of the world and breathing out compassion and help), or mushin (just standing with no thought at all), or you can meditate on a technique, or a situation that is causing you difficulty.
There is a reason why the old masters were such sticklers for stance practice – it boils away the ego faster than anything out there!
And lately, I’ve noticed my legs getting soft. So … it’s back to basics for me. It will be some time before I post again while I work on this.
Basics are never basic.
Practicing Gyozen in Kata
Gyozen is Zen in motion. While on Zen retreats, students often do “Zen Chores” where they clean up the grounds, do dishes, clean restrooms and other things. Aside from the practical side of getting things done, the intention is to do the tasks as present as possible. With such an intention, even the simple act of cleaning a toilet can be a fruit-bearing practice in one’s life.
In Kata Practice, one can just work on being mindful throughout the form. After warming up on a few kata, one can set a timer and just practice kata while focusing on just staying in the moment. Tai Chi is the most famous forms that embraces this idea, but it can apply to any kata form and any physical task one may do.
Repetitive physical acts done with intention can produce helpful body metaphors for one to enjoy and rely upon. And this simple concept gives a being the power to better create his or her own reality on his or her own terms.