Zen, The Tao and, The Ocean
Zen Buddhism has bean historically a fusion of early Indian Buddhism and Chinese cultures. As Buddhism migrated to China it naturally took on Chinese characteristics. This being the indigenous tradition of Taoism. Hence the character of Zen is both Indian and Chinese in manifestation. It later migrates to Japan and takes on a Japanese natural sensibility.
Well what has this got to do with us? The ideas of Zen and Taoism are a treasure trove of understanding and happiness in and out of the surf. How can we adapt these ideas in the surf we may ask? How may we adapt these on land?
Taoism is partially based on flowing peacefully with the energies of the universe. This is called Wu-Wei. What this simply states that if you force things arrogantly, and depend on your ego you will ultimately fail miserably.
It quite simply can be observed in reality. Go with the way of Wu Wei. In this light please let me give you an example: I used to have a 78 year old Aikido teacher who could throw 10 competent attacking male students with the minimum of movement. It blew my mind! I mean he launched them! As I learned Aikido we were taught to meditate (my first experiences with meditation). We were also taught that sometimes four fingers carefully positioned with the proper utilization of your opponents movement and energy can make him fly upside down for six feet. This seems impossible yet I have seen it and honestly done it (not as well as the 78 year old). You see, If I fought a large man arrogantly as I am a small man...but 5'9, I would be beaten to a pulp. If I utilize his attacking energy to good effect I weave around his blows and catch him. Amazingly to throw him using not my weakling force but his tremendous strength. This is an example of using energy with the best defensive effect on land and in the martial arts. This has its parallel in the water!
Arrogance and ignorance in the water, in other words, not going with the energy of the ocean can be conducted by surfers and suppers on a daily basis. I have made these mistakes before. Firstly the worst mistake you can do is to show up at the beach and paddle out. This is the normal approach in a hurried modern world. Go, go, go. Time is money supposedly money in Western Culture.
When you do this you may often run afoul in to all types of energy that nature represents. I have seen surfers paddle out directly into coral heads and reef shelves that the water had “hidden”. This could have been avoided if if the individual just took some time to pay attention before surfing to the tide and how the ocean was flowing.
I sometimes surprise other surfers and suppers at the speed to which I get up in the line up. This is not because I am a strong paddler. It is because I utilize energy of the ocean in an observant way in the same way my Akido teacher used the minimum amount of energy to throw his opponents. We use a type of Wu Wei. All of the energy of a breaking wave moves toward the beach and has the tendency to find it way back to the ocean and its deeper water. If you are fighting this concept you are fighting the energy of the universe. Again watch the water. Which way is the water moving. Time and time again, I see surfers that try to paddle through the middle of the break. This is like fighting a 300 pound boxer. You will usually loose. Side step this energy like an Akido teacher. Find the channel. As the energy of the wave is moving back out to see, jump in it, side step the energy coming in and catch the current the energy current coming out. The channel. Sometimes the channel looks like the long-way out, but again, go with energy of the universe in a Taoistic manner.
When you get drilled the worst thing to do is fight it. After all you cannot defeat the ocean. I was once taught by Mel Kinney how to flow with a pounding. I thought that he was kidding when he told me what to do as it was completely opposite to how I would try to escape a drilling. As 20 foot wave would break in front of me I used to dive for the bottom. My thinking was that this was the safest thing to do. I used to fight the wave. Unfortunately the opposite happened. Instead of flowing with nature in a Taoist manner the inevitable would happened. I would be beaten violently underwater as I did multiple cartwheels.
This was unfortunate in that I would often break my board in half. Mel Kinney taught me something that was very Taoistic in manner. These were his instructions. He told me to just lay the board to my side and go 1 foot underwater with my hand pointed above my head. Imagine superman going strait up! Well that was what he told me to do. I call this a reverse superman. How this works is that when the wave grabs your board you get pulled back towards the shore at high velocity in
that you are shaped like a streamlined pencil. This has two functions. Firstly you are pulled rapidly out of the impact Zone using the waves force. I mean this is very Taoistic in practice. When you pop out of the water you literally can end up 30 yards in. The second function is a little less subtle. If you become an anchor by diving for the bottomYour board will often break as it has nowhere to move one the leash is taught. By doing the reverse superman you and the board become a single flowing unit thus preventing board breakage.
I hope this little article can help you flow with the ocean. After all the ocean is a manifestation of the Tao itself. Why fight it. Move with it. Until next time! Aloha from Hawaii
Dr. Len Kelemoana Barrow