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"Fire Monks" review @ Hardcore Zen

Over at Hardcore Zen, Brad Warner has a review of a book that looks interesting:

For those who don’t know, the basic story of the book is this. In 2008 Tassajara Zen monastery deep in the Ventana Wilderness area of Northern California just east of Big Sur, was threatened by one of the biggest forest fires California has ever known. There were a several evacuations that whittled the number of people in the valley further and further down until finally the forestry service ordered the last twenty-one people protecting the monastery to leave. At the last minute five of the monks turned back and went into the valley to protect the monastery.

Gonna have to pick this one up.

Tangentially, it reminds of a karate fire story. The Honbu (headquaters) of Seido Karate is in Manhattan, and we have many other dojo in the New York City area. We have several students who are on the FDNY. (One of them was Captain Patrick Brown, Sensei, who died on 9/11 trying to rescue people...but that's a sad story and I want to tell a happy one now. But we will never forget him.)

In Seido Karate, when you take a dan (black belt) level promotion in addition to showing your technique and surviving some fairly intense sparring, you have to write an essay, make a brief speech, and take questions from a panel of senior instructors. Back when I was testing for shodan, one of the people testing for godan was an NYC fire fighter. He told us a story of going into a flaming apartment building. As his team moved forward, he came to a doorway that was blocked by a kitchen table that had been blown around by a backdraft or something like it. Full of adrenaline, not stopping to have doubts, he raised up his hand and hit the table with a knifehand blow, breaking it! And his team moved right on in.

Brad notes that this book is

...not just a true-life adventure tale about people fighting a fire. It’s actually a really good book about Zen, and about how the so-called “Zen mind” one develops in practice can be very practical in real situations when one must act quickly and decisively even without a lot of information about what might be best to do

Which, of course, is useful in not just fire fighting but fighting as well; thus the relationship between Zen and the martial arts.


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