Since my ordination in 2014 my business Team Mushin CIC has grown from strength to strength, and I have struggled to attend regular Zen practice at StoneWater, and most times only attending two seshins per year and attending StoneWater one day a week, work permitting.
Adam and I first opened the gym in 2011 it was just that, a gym, the way we were going to make our living by doing what we love, teaching martial arts. Over the years it has been open, it has changed from a way to make a living to something more; much more.
I always thought that the gym would allow me more time to myself to attend Hope Street and practice the other important thing in my life, Zen. I soon realised it was going to be harder to attend than I thought and although this upset me in a way, I pushed on thinking “just a little further then it will be at the stage where the gym will run itself”.
Then the realisation, as Roshi says, “ it does not have to look like anything”. At first it was just about turning up cleaning the gym then teaching the classes, sure we did the odd bit of charity work but nothing major. I could still attend practice, not as much as I wanted but I could still do it.
Then after my ordination things started to change: My main role at the gym, on top of teaching and general running is now mentoring & pastoral duties; many of the children who attend our sessions are bullied, some cases are very severe and I offer the parents some down time and a safe place where the children can come and chat to myself about their life and what’s going on in school.
In 2015 we have had a high success rate in children growing in self esteem and being more confident; we use basic meditation and breathing to work with our students to augment the work with their emotions. Now we are dealing with more and more with children and young people rather than adults, I come to find myself sitting down with parents and children on a regular basis and discussing problems such as bullying, drugs, aggression and others besides. I felt that I was unable to turn away from those problems and those children.
So I bring my zen and priest foundations in to the dojo, When I brushed the mats every morning it was almost meditative; although many would see it as boring and mundane I found that it gave me an opportunity for peace, to practice, to be mindful in the activity. I sit zazen during the day and whilst teaching I discovered something similar: By concentrating on just teaching, on just that one technique, I was fully in the moment.
In Feb 2015 we were contacted by a group called “Fight for Peace”; they wanted us to work with them and other groups in something that would not only help us pay the bills but also make a massive difference to the lives of other people. This organisation spans 22 gyms in 122 countries.
We became and are becoming more involved in helping young people in ways I never thought I could, helping them to see their own self worth, helping them to recognise and move away from self destructive behaviour. We now help children and young people get away from gangs, we help them build something better for themselves. We do this by teaching them martial arts but most importantly the values that have become part of me through training and practice. We help them gain education were it is lacking by arranging courses in Maths and English, we help them get jobs that involve more than selling cannabis on a street corner. We are looking at launching an online resource that will help this children in hours outside of the gym by harnessing the power of social media.
But it is not just the people we help that have changed, the gym has changed, it is a family, a community in which one is never alone, never without support be it child or parent, or even teacher. Every single day, we find our students and friends popping in for chat and to talk about their problems. Regularly, I find parents coming in to talk about their children and asking advice on how we can help them stay safe and stay sane.
My ordination has had a further effect; friends are now regularly turning to me for pastoral even spiritual advice. An example would be a long time friend who due to a viral infection had a heart attack and a stroke and found himself doubting himself and worrying about life, the afterlife and how he could look after his wife. He would tell you that I taught him to breathe properly and the meaning of mindfulness and it has brought calm to his life after a very scary time.
My vision for the club being more than a hall of martial arts is steadily becoming real: it is becoming a community hub where friends, students, adults and children can come to feel safe, train and share their problems. I am committed to being this help in a small way; the sort of help that all communities need these days.
“The foundation of our practice is not to harm others or ourselves and to help benefit others as much as we can. For that purpose I shave my head and wear robes, which is the easy way to practice Buddhism.” The hardest part is to reach out and support the people associated with the gym in the spirit of the Buddha, no matter what I am wearing. Understanding the, sometimes, harsh realities of unconditional love is the true challenge of being ordained.
The ability to give the whole of one’s life to realizing Enlightenment, to widening one’s heart, and to serving the Dharma is a rare and auspicious opportunity and I embrace it, knowing that I will sometimes stumble but will always continue forward.
Sue King ( Eido)