My dharma name in the Hollow Bones Rinzai Zen Order is Yoshin, which means “willow-heart.” I first heard the word many years ago when I started studying jujitsu, since the name of our school is Yoshin Jitsu Kai: the school of the techniques of the willow-heart.
It turns out that Yoshin is the name of a historic lineage of jujitsu, and of course there is a story about that.
A Japanese martial artist and healer decided to go to China to study, knowing that the Chinese have a very old and rich system of health and healing. He moved to a little cabin that overlooked a river. From the window he could see a river willow, with a broad and supple canopy, standing near a mighty oak, tall, broad, and monolithic.
One night a storm arose with fierce and howling winds. He watched the storm from the open window of the cabin, and in particular noticed the two trees.
The willow was taking a beating! It’s limbs and branches whipped and tossed and flailed in the wind, looking like it would be torn apart, while the oak seemed never to move an inch.
He watched for hours, until, in the middle of the night he heard a thunderous crack and then a dull thud. In the morning, he walked out to see what had happened, and he saw the oak was lying in pieces on the ground, the truck having cracked and severed at the top. The tree was destroyed.
Yet when we walked to the willow, he could see that it was perfectly intact! He was stunned, since this was the tree that seemed to get the worst of the storm at first.
He realized there was a great learning in this, that resistance to force can only work to a certain point. After that, as the force increases, and the resistance rises in response, eventually, the greater force will win.
On the other hand, if one learns to be soft and flexible and yielding, even one with much less strength can prevail. He took from this a principle which he applied to his martial arts AND his healing practice.
He then developed a system of fighting and healing based on training to be flexible, supple, yielding, and even gentle, and he called this Yoshin Ryu Jujitsu
In our jujitsu, we train ourselves to maintain our own balance, while disrupting the balance of the opponent. We learn not to attach to any particular move or response, but instead to remain fluid and open to any possibility. We learn to fall down and roll on the ground, even from great height, in a way that allows us to relax and remain soft, and therefore, minimizing injury.
Learning and practicing this art has changed my life in so many ways. I have learned to remain calm and grounded under pressure. I have learned that softness and flexibility are my most powerful abilities.
I have learned how to work with conflict and adversity in all areas of my life. I have applied this above all to my career as a public defender trial lawyer, where I am always representing a person who is in the weaker position in a courtroom where the prosecutors, police, and judges have all the power, and the law and the facts are often adverse.
And, jujitsu gave me my dharma name. When I got my black belt in 2001, I had the kanji for Yoshin tattooed on my upper arm, so when it was time 14 years later to receive a ceremonial dharma name in the zen order, I asked Jun Po if it could be Yoshin, and he agreed.
Little did I know at that time that the idea of the willow-heart would be essential to my evolution and training as a zen priest! More on that next time!
Blessings and health to all of you,
Reverend Yoshin Eka Dave Klaus
King Bee, Fire-Tender