I went to a Zen mediation seminar at my dojo and, as with Aikido in general, I am pleased at how well Daoism fits in with their general approach. Philosophically, I reject Buddhism, but there are many elements of their praxis that translate to my worldview.

The first hour was a discussion of the nature of silence, and the struggle to find it amidst the chaos of our lives.

The second was an introduction to Zen meditation, including the ceremonial elements of setting up, entering the space, positioning the body, and leaving when it is over. It’s fascinating how much ritual there is in these elements of Japanese culture. You realize you’re entering into thousands of years of tradition.

The last hour consisted of martial techniques that incorporate silence. This was the hardest part for me. We did an exercise in which two opponents attack you at once, each grabbing an arm to either side. You then had to find that place where each was letting you bring him in, so that you could throw them either in front of or being you—together or each in separate directions. I kept reverting to what I know: muscular strength. As it was, I could overpower my attackers, but this would have defeated the purpose. The idea is to find that silence, that place of rest, where I don’t need to struggle, from which I can redirect them away from me. This is critical, because there will always be someone bigger, stronger, or faster, against whom my strength is useless. But if we can find the center, that place where their size and strength work against them, then it’s simply a matter of leading them (nage the one who leads) where we like.

I kept noticing how hard it was to move my arms where I wanted, precisely because I kept wanting to overpower them. The instructor told them to make it as hard as possible for me—so they were not holding back. I wanted to fall back on what I know from karate: kick their ankles, sweep their legs, causing them to crumple on the mat. Instead, I had to feel where the points of resistance were and find a different direction to lead them. I spent most of the time failing to do so, but was so thankful for the failure.

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