How to Rotate

“I move, I lose balance. What do I do?”

In the beginning you learn new things. As you speed up, even as a good athlete, you’ll lose balance from time to time. You feel it. It is easy to see what is going wrong. There is some deviation of the central axis of the body from the center of the axis of rotation. That’s it. You are leaning this way or that way as you turn. Maybe leaning to far forward with your head and shoulders, to be more purposeful in sending force to the new direction, but extending too far, over your balance point. Maybe your footstep is too long or too short to get a natural repositioning of your body in your new posture. 

It is easy to fix. You pay attention to the idea of moving with a stable rotation of the center axis of your body. You make an effort to keep a stable center line as you pivot, without leaning or bending off axis. Soon you can do it, and you can do it at higher and higher speeds. You can do it under pressure, in dynamic combative exchanges, where changes of posture are not predictable, but are spontaneous, skillful responses to the demands of changing conditions. 

It works. 

But the thing is there is no center line. It does not exist as a thing. It exists in relation to everything around it. It exists by virtue of everything that it is not. The rotation of a wheel works this way. You can see the hub. You can see the axel. You can direct your attention closer and close to the center of the axel. If you take a microscopic look at the axel you will see that the atoms themselves are rotating around an axis. The one single atom at the middle, is rotating too. Go in deeper. Maybe you can see the quarks and bosons moving around, but there is no structure that is the center. The center is relative and changing. In practice we master this characteristic of the center line.

Even in static poses, as in the naihanchi kata, the center functions this way. The center of the body, as we “draw the four points into the barrel,” as we absorb the pressure of shi-me, as we proceed from the initiation of one static posture, through its duration, to its conclusion and transformation into the next static posture, maintaining the center is essential. We use it, we rely on it for stability and power, but it is a reference point, not a thing. The center is moving in space and time, based on conditions. It is relative and transitory. 

The center works this way in time as well as in space.

Once we have learned the importance of insight into the impermanent nature of phenomena, we practice taking note of it, instead of ignoring it or taking it as external to our concerns. We may use attention on the sensation of the breath at the nostrils to reel our attention in, from the years, the moments, the instants, and bring our attention to the present. 

We can get good at this. Clear and stable, attending to the content of the moment, our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our volitions, our consciousness.  But our attention is not quite in the present moment. It is getting close. But the present-ness of the present moment is not apprehensible, it is not graspable, it is not observable. The present is a reference point, not a thing. It is relative, like the center line or center point of the body. 

We cannot understand this. We can describe it and frame it. We can use metaphors and concepts. But the conventional ways of depicting infinity – as a moving star field, or a vanishing point perspective moving toward the horizon – is necessarily metaphoric and approximate. We can gain direct experience of this, but only through training.

There are many techniques used to deepen our ability to experience, at finer and finer scales, time and space. When we do deeper and deeper observation of the moment we are in, or the changes in the postures as we pass through them, the experience is something like looking at a fractal zoom. There is no end to it. We pass a reference point as we move in for a closer look, we are disconcerted briefly then we can reorient in the new fractal landscape at the new dimension. The same feeling of disorientation in scale occurs in reading the Gandavyuha Sutra, or other ancient texts, where they describe universes existing in every pore of the Buddha’s skin, galactic world systems poised on every hair, and then describe visiting these worlds within worlds, and meeting the beings there. Then, like an infinite hall of mirrors, the same endless interpenetration of scales replicated at every scale from the cosmic to the infinitesimal, we reorient and experience the new world, somehow familiar, somehow completely new. This is a training tool. 

In this case it is a literary one; it is imaginary. The fractal zoom is a graphic representation of a mathematical idea. It is also imaginary, but it can illuminate something real. Our quest for the present, as we carefully observe phenomena as they change, as they transform from moment to moment, based on their composition and their conditions, little by little gives us the ability to see deeply, and to become free of the confusion and pain that comes from misunderstanding the flow of things. 

Insight, into the present moment in time, into the center of our bodies in space – as we move, stand, walk, sit or lie down, is also a mind excursion. That excursion – like the fractal zoom, like the Gandhavyuha, like kata practice and mindfulness of breathing – are also means to understanding, then to insight and then to freedom. 

To be able to prevent a violent attack is a valuable skill. To subdue a violent threat to your loved one or neighbor takes courage and training. 

As we build those skills, over a lifetime, we build on them.


Post Copyright © 2022 Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate Dojo LLC, Yamabayashi honbu, Saluda, NC

Photo by Tarleton Brooks Copyright © 2022

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