The following essay is from from the forthcoming stalking, tracking, and observation module of my Frontier Rough & Tumble martial arts program. If you like this you’d probably like my workbook available here.
The Formidable Faculties of the Cricket Frog
I nearly stepped on him. He was so still that I thought he was a part of the terrain. I stopped and gave him a good look-see. He didn’t seem to mind much.
He was a common cricket frog. A storm had come bringing sheets of rain and a break in the heat of this late afternoon in August. He had hopped onto the cement at the edge of the gazebo. Like me, he was watching green leaves blowing from the trees and lightning cracking in the distance. I’ve seen a million cricket frogs. But there was something special about him, or rather, something special about the encounter. I have grown old and wise enough to recognize this feeling. I am about to realize something important. Not right now, but soon.
The next day, after a very productive training session, I sat down to do some contemplation. Let’s not play fast and loose with our words and refer to all forms of mental exercise as meditation. Meditation is a form of medicine — both words have the same Latin root — it is focused attention with a purpose, often using at tool. Those tools start with the letter M just like meditation: mantras (holy words), mudras (spiritual gestures), and mandalas (holy maps or visual aids). Contemplation, on the other hand, shares its Latin root with temple, a space set aside for sacredness or divinity to enter. To contemplate is to empty the mind. You just just sit and breathe. This is the zazen of Zen Buddhism. You don’t think about anything. You turn off your conscious mind and sit immobile.
Like a frog.
It did not come to me in words, this grand realization, but in a rush of images in my mind’s eye. I saw instantly that a frog contemplates in his own way. Every creature that has ever lain in wait for a prey animal to come by — a frog waiting for a fly, a catfish biding for a minnow, a hunter in a tree stand waiting for a buck — has practiced contemplation.
The first three things you are taught when learning zazen are (a) do not fidget or scratch, (b) breathe silently and in a regular pattern, and (c) keep your eyes open to narrow slits to minimize the need to blink. You are instructed to make no judgments or conscious evaluations about about what is before your eyes. You do not ignore the world, you just choose not to react to it for a time. You are completely relaxed, open, and empty — motionless inside and out — in a state of quiet awareness.
This is the behavior of a creature that is lying in wait for prey.
Contemplation is not a human invention. We just differentiated various methods, gave them names, and basically did what humans always do: we codified, boxed, labeled and pontificated. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that all human systems of contemplation and meditation (and maybe even prayer as well) have their origins in hunting behaviors.
From fish, to frogs, to mammals, to apes to humans, at every stage of our evolution, we contemplated in order to survive. Contemplation is in our DNA. It is not a skill that we cultivate. It is something that we allow to happen.
Contemplation is going home.
Hunt: Martial Arts Training Involution #171
* Martial Fitness Warm-up. Set a timer for 10 mins and complete as many 4-rep sets as you can of Sit-Out Push-ups, 5-yard Bear Walks, Leg Triangles, and Shots.
* Weapon practice. Every martial artist should be able to pick up a weapon and use it to defend himself if necessary. Select a dull practice weapon of realistic size and weight and a heavy bag for a target. Advanced folks may use a live weapon and a pell or war post if desired, but only if capable of doing so safely. Set timer for 5 x 2:00 and complete 1 round of each (1) Passing blows (strike as you sprint back-and-forth past target) (2) Stationary strikes, (3) Sprawl and strike, (4) Up and down kneeling strikes (strike as you go down to one knee, both knees, one knee, standing, repeat), and (5) Sit-up strikes. Strike constantly, taking as few 12-count breaks as you need to finish. If the business end of the weapon touches your body at any time, complete 50 Push-ups for each touch.
* Half mile run. Cover a half mile as fast as you can.
* Contemplation. Walk off your run for about 3 minutes or until your heart rate is back to normal, then sit still for fifteen minutes. Do not fidget or scratch, breathe silently and in a regular pattern, and narrow your eyes to minimize the need to blink. Do not think in words, prepare your grocery list, or any of that. Be in a state of quiet awareness, motionless inside and out.
* Journal. And, as always, record your performance, thoughts and realizations in your training log or journal.
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