Takahashi Sensei was my martial arts instructor and a Buddhist Monk.
When I met him I lived in a small town, small by Japanese standards,
Takahashi Sensei, about 68 years old when I met him, was also the Abbot
of the Buddhist monastery that was practically next door to me. I had
to walk past the monastery everyday to get to the subway station. He
was often standing in front of the temple in the morning alone or with
other monks and I always bowed to them as I passed.
One day as I walked by, Takahashi Sensei (his name unknown to me at the
time) looked at me as we exchanged bows and said, “Guudo Mahnengu!”
I’d lived in Japan for several years by that time and knew that that
was his attempt at an English greeting. That was “good morning.” I
smiled and said good morning. That made me smile inside because I would
sometimes go for days and not speak a word of English. It felt warm and
Usually Takahashi Sensei’s hands were hidden in his robes as I walked
by and bowed. But about a week after that first “Guudo Mahnengu!” he
took his hand out and waved and smiled. This was very unusual and very
touching. I did the same.
This went on for another week. A bow and a “Guudo Mahnengu!” followed
by a wave and a smile.
One morning I finally walked up to him and bowed and said “Good
morning, Sensei. I look forward to seeing you every morning.”
And he said, “Oh … uh … my … Engrish … not … so … good.” So I
switched languages and we carried on a very warm conversation. And from
that day forward we became friends. Actually more than just friends. I
would consider him a father figure in time.
Two or three days a week I came home for lunch. I never saw the monks
at lunch time in front of the temple. But one day Takahashi Sensei was
there waiting for me. He asked if I would like to participate in a
lunch time meditation. I thanked him and said maybe someday, but I was
very busy. Truth is, I was a bit afraid of what went on in that temple
and within the secret chambers of the monastery.
He kept asking … and I kept putting him off … until finally one day
I agreed. That was a mistake.
When I followed Takahashi Sensei into the large meditation room, I
found regular people and monks quietly sitting in a large rectangle on
the polished wooden floor. There were about 30 or so people in all. If
you saw “The Last Samurai” there was a temple scene in the movie that
looked much like that room. Large, open, airy, old … polished
spotless dark wooden floors, the faint smell of incense in the air and
the distant sounds of wind chimes. The temple bell struck at about 1
All of the people had their eyes closed in meditation. But one of the
senior monks was not meditating. He was slowly walking around the room,
robes flowing, as he moved effortlessly … holding an object in his
hands that looked like a long, narrow, thin oar. He carried it at “port
arms” like a soldier would run with a rifle. The monk moved gracefully
and deliberately around the room.
What was this?
Then the monk stopped in front of one person, a man who looked to be
about my age, wearing a shirt and tie, no shoes of course. The monk
slowly took the “oar” and laid it on top of the man’s right shoulder.
It looked like the monk was “knighting” the man. “I dub you Sir
And then, in a flash, the monk raised the oar up and struck the man on
the shoulder! It happened so fast that it seemed like I might have only
imagined it. Then the monk laid the oar back on the same shoulder in
the same “knighting” motion. And then removed the oar from the man’s
shoulder and moved back and away from the man, who never showed any
pain or any reaction and never opened his eyes.
WHAT THE WHAT???
The monk continued to walk slowly around the room. A few minutes later
the same thing happened. But this time it happened to a housewife I
recognized from the neighborhood. Mrs. Yamada. I knew her well. She was
so sweet! And that bastard monk smacked her too! But she likewise
MY shoulder hurt for both of them! I knew it had to hurt. I HEARD the
sound it made. It reminded me of being in school and getting a “swat”
from the principal. Well, IF I had ever gotten a swat, that is.
My first meditation was observation only. The session came to an end
when the senior monk with the oar moved to the center of the room and
tapped his oar to the floor three times. Everyone stood up. The monk
thanked them for sharing that time together with him and wished them
well. Everyone bowed to the monk and he bowed to them. Then they all
moved quietly out of the meditation room.
Takahashi Sensei explained what I’d just seen. Zen is a practice of
living in the moment and being nothing. Impossible to explain in a
single sentence or a single book. But those who meditate must be in the
moment and be nothing in the moment. The monk with the oar examined
each person closely, their breathing, their posture, their facial
expressions, their body movements, even the smallest twitching of their
closed eyelids. Everything, including the perceived energy of the
person, was observed.
If the monk sensed that the person was “not in the moment,” that they
were distracted, that they were thinking about the cares of their life,
or their plans, or their job, or anything else … they got the oar.
I joined the class!
I apparently like abuse! I started going 3 times a week. I even went
sometimes on the weekends too. I joined the martial arts club at the
monastery, attending evening workouts 3 times a week.
In the beginning of my meditation … I got the oar. I got the oar a
lot. The first time it was from Takahashi Sensei himself. I felt like I
had been beaten by my loving father. It hurt my feelings as much as it
hurt my shoulder. I got the oar so often that I had bruises on my
shoulders. But within a few months I was seldom struck. I had learned
Leaving Japan was very hard for me. I’d been there 10 years and had
often thought that I’d always live there. But circumstances brought me
back to the States. One of the hardest things I had to do was to say
goodbye to Takahashi Sensei. I had grown to love him dearly. When we
bowed to one another for the last time … I bowed as low as I could
… showing him my deepest respect and honor … and not wanting to
stand upright, ending the bow and my life under his instruction
forever. I had tears in my eyes when I stood up … and so did he.
“Tony san, you are a human being” Takahashi Sensei told me one day
after we had become friends, “you are not a human doing. Be … then
doing will come easily.”
I have moved far away from being still. Being. I’m often not still
enough. I’m sometimes too active for my own good. My senses get
overloaded and over stimulated by so many things to see and do. To hear
and watch. I miss those “oar days” … of focusing on being quiet in
the moment … and being nothing … in the moment.
SUMMER SCHOOL SPECIAL
Have a student who’d like to join USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP for the
summer? Special discounted program for summer student recruits! Email
me for details
Tomorrow, Thursday, June 25 at 0530! Meet at the U of M in front of the
parking garage on Zach Curlin! No 0530 class at CUMC tomorrow.
TODAY’S BIG THREE
1. Natalie Williams (Boot Camper) looking for a Marketing/ Event
Coordinating or Advertising job. Has a degree in Marketing Management
and has several years of experience. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
with any leads or job opportunities.
2. Eric Flanders (Boot Camper): Fleet Feet Sports “Running Shoes,
Apparel and Gear”, 901-761-0078. Sgt. Tony’s running store. The store
has moved from Erin Way Shopping Center and is now next door to the new
3. Dr. John Whittemore (Boot Camper) Germantown Dental Group,
901-754-0540. Sgt. Tony’s dentist.
This year, the 4th of July falls on a Saturday. Since many of you will
have Friday off, we will have our holiday work schedule on Friday the
3rd. So only one workout at 0700 on Friday 3 July.
To your continued good health and fitness!
Sergeant Major Tony Ludlow
USMC Fitness BOOT CAMP, Commanding
Memphis, TN 38117