Zen Buddhism and Martial Arts

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By Da Shi Yin Zhao

Consider yourself lucky, or blessed, if your feet have delivered you to the Zen Path. You now have a clear route to the Summit. Whether or not you follow the Path is up to you. You need to want to climb it more than you want to do anything else in life.

And if you have this desire, you can relax in the understanding that everything in your life is the way it is supposed to be. You belong where you are.

Build on the solid ground of small successes. Don't create an elaborate program that a monk living in a mountain hermitage would have trouble keeping. If you are just beginning an intensive practice, you will encounter a series of obstacles - the first of which is just getting to your cushion at the time you scheduled your meditation session. If you keep your session brief you won't give yourself an excuse for not performing it on a day that you have an otherwise crowded schedule. Fifteen minutes is enough time to sit down, do six cycles of the Healing Breath, listen to a couple of music selections, and mentally trace the path of a few meridians.

For detailed instruction in learning the meridian pathways, consult Shi Fa Jun's The Meridian Pathways and Techniques For Following Them" from Assault On The Summit in our Martial Arts' section. For instructions in performing The Healing Breath, consult the chapter "First Zen Practice" in The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism.

After you feel a sense of accomplishment from having faithfully performed your short practice for two weeks, you'll be eager to increase the time. If you began by setting your alarm clock 15 minutes early; you'll soon find yourself waking up on your own half an hour or even an hour earlier.

To become a creature of habit - when you do your meditation as automatically as you brush your teeth - you need to be patient with yourself and allow a transition period. Getting into that "automatic" groove isn't always easy. Don't feel guilty if you miss a session. Trust that as your practice deepens, sitting will become a "positive addiction" and that you will go from having to squeeze your meditation practice into your schedule to having to fit outside obligations around your practice.

If you do "fall away" and don't practice for weeks or months, don't worry about it. Just pick yourself up and resume your practice where you left off. Don't give up your identity as a practicing Zen Buddhist; and always keep the need for self-discipline high on your "to do" list.

"How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" asks the tourist. "Practice," answers the musician.

A few concentration and meditation methods

Instead of traditional koans, I use old rock and roll lyrics. I listen to the words as intently as I can and wait until a particular line catches my attention (Of course, it helps to understand the words. I remember as a kid how my mom laughed at me as I sung along to the song "Arizona" by bellowing out "hairy donuts.")

The line that arrests your attention and leads you into the meditative state has the ability to act as a triggering mechanism, restoring you to that state whenever you begin your meditation practice.

The problem with traditional koans is that they have been intellectualized to the point of uselessness. There has already been so much discussion about the meaning of every word in a koan that a spontaneous insight is nearly impossible. Without that flash of intuitive meaning, there is no purpose to the effort. I know that some people prefer the old koans just as they prefer listening to more sophisticated music. Some of them have the attitude that rock and roll music is beneath their dignity. Some will admit that they'd be "embarrassed to be caught listening to such trash." Others will seem to be willing to use it, but then they secretly substitute more "genteel" music.

I've had years of experience teaching people and I've learned that it's easy to spot the students that are going to fail. Their pride is stronger than their desire to succeed. Pride is the ego's protein. Their ego flexes its muscles and reassures them that they know more than their teacher. They don't understand the mechanics of this meditation method, and no amount of explanation can override their sense of superiority. When they fail they discredit the method. It may be true that many rock and roll lyrics are nonsensical, but traditional koans are not exactly proverbial.

Another unexpected benefit of this method is that we can rely upon the lines to function as a calming mantra that will steady us whenever we feel stressed.

"Itís these little things that can pull you under.
Live your life filled with joy and wonder."
- REM "Sweetness Follows" Album: Automatic For the People

So long as you're not driving, you can listen to the lyrics on your iPod as you go to work.

If you can't listen to music or just don't want to, you can focus on ambient sound. Just relax and listen to the sounds around you without thinking about them. Make your mind a kind of tape recorder that has no ability to evaluate what it records.

There are other techniques associated with the chakras involving mudra, breath, and concentration which I will give as I describe ways to engage the various chakras or "gates."

The Buddhaís Four Noble Truths: An ingenious formula for optimism.

Life is bitter and painful.
The cause of this misery is desire.
There is a cure for the misery.
Just follow the Eightfold Path.
(The steps in the Eightfold Path are detailed in The Seventh World of Chan Buddhism.)

The material world's bitterness and pain can be felt in many ways: too many burdens; too many losses. We can feel resentment from being rejected or ignored. We can feel the sting of betrayal, of being deceived or cheated, or of being misunderstood. Loneliness and boredom can also be insufferable.

Because our Zen Path does not accept reincarnation or any afterlife scenarios, there can be only one meaning for the First Noble Truth. This material world is our Hell. The Fourth Noble Truth gives us the means to exit Hell and enter Heaven or Nirvana. There is no need for pessimism. We donít have to wait to die to experience the bliss of Paradise.

Boredom provides a clear and powerful example of the grace that can lie within suffering. We watch hours of television because we are bored by what seems to us a tedious existence. We project our emotions onto television characters. We have a spiritual need to create, but we allow others to fulfill that need for us. While there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruits of another personís creativity, this enjoyment should not become a substitute for our own creativity. Trying to solve loneliness by living vicariously through the characters of TV shows, or trying to relieve boredom by being entertained by the adventures of others, is missing a valuable point.

The same sounds and images of the mass media that we use to numb our pain can become a tool of transcendence. We can develop the skill of concentration by closely examining popular culture - the cliches, the fads, the words and ideas that people automatically spout, and search for the truth or the intention behind their use. If we focus our attention on any common expression, our focus may lead quickly into a meditative state. We'll experience a flash of intuitive meaning that produces Zen's euphoria. It's nice to know that "goodbye" is a contraction of "God be with ye" - but that is an intellectual understanding. Focus on the word "goodbye." Say it over and over, like a mantra, letting the sound lead you back into the depths of your mind. Phrases and lines from TV commercials can also function as mantras. There is power in the most ordinary word.

By examining words that convey emotion we can develop mindfulness. The tone of voice, the placing of emphasis, the choice of words... what is the real intention behind the expression? Discovering the subliminal meanings and intentions of speech is a technique that teaches us not to take anything at face value and to be exact in our own speech, making sure that emotion does not color our expressions.

There's a difference between knowledge and wisdom. There is an old saying: "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment." The wise person tries to recognize the common sense that is in any good instruction just as he is aware of the true meaning behind any utterance. This exercise in mindfulness helps him to avoid making bad judgments. It saves him from a lot of trouble.

The act of concentration is easier to experience than it is to describe. Anytime we're so absorbed in solving a problem, playing a musical instrument, watching a film, or performing any activity in which we have no personal "I, me, my, mine" thoughts, we've been concentrating in the pure Dharana state. We can see the difference in team sports such as basketball. A good player, while functioning as a team member, submerges his own identity and becomes a seamless member of a unit. But when he takes the free-throw line, the sense of teamwork unity and subliminal execution is gone. He becomes a self-conscious individual. He then has to rely on his own ability to get into the egoless zone. If he can't do this, his ego will cause him to think about his performance and the effect his success or failure will have on the public's perception of him. Self-awareness can be so inhibiting that he may not be able to do something as elementary to a basketball player as dribbling: toss a ball into the basket. (For example, career stats for the free-throw line performances of basketball-greats Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neil reveal that Kobe misses 15% of the time while Shaq misses 50% of the time.)

jack-stallings.jpg Jack Stallings in uniform

A player's inability to suppress his ego and perform in the subliminal zone is always a problem to coaches. Jack Stallings, who in 1999 retired as the winningest NCAA college baseball coach, insists that "performance under pressure is a habit that can be learned... by habitually concentrating on the proper task. It takes practice and effort," he says, "but it can be learned. However," he concedes, "gimmicks can be useful to help an athlete relax and 'free the mind' from the pressure of the moment." Recalling the "gimmick" [which we call 'triggering mechanism"] of a great relief pitcher, Stallings relates, "He used to back off the mound for a moment and think of fishing in a lake high in the mountains of Colorado... the peace and tranquility of the area would help his mind and body relax, and he could hear the buzz of insects and the soft calling of a bird overhead. He would take a few deep breaths to further relax, and then he'd go back up on the mound ready to pitch."

This is precisely the goal of the initial part of any meditation program. Training your mind to get into the zone is a step you cannot skip. I recommend lyrics from old rock and roll songs - especially if a student is NOT a rock and roll fan. If he's not a fan he's not likely to listen to radio programs that play such music. A triggering mechanism ought not be heard away from the cushion. It can wear-out or it can get him into trouble. Think of a person who is given the post-hypnotic suggestion to shout "hit me" every time he hears a certain word. If that word is "verdure" he is not likely to be struck. If it is "green" he should stay away from landscapers.

Your concentration has to become "one-pointed" if it is to pierce the veil of Maya. Ego-consciousness will extend your emotions to many things in the outside world. You can interact well with people in your daily live without becoming emotionally involved with them. Acquiring the ability to concentrate, is to limit the diffusion of ego-conscious thoughts and to sever the emotional bonds that prevent you from moving inwards to your spiritual center. In short, concentration provides the freedom of spontaneity which is so exhilarating that you realize you're a whole lot better off not getting involved emotionally in the outside world.

Yoga and Meditation

"We all invent ourselves."
- REM "Crush with Eyeliner" Album: Monster

Once you've learned to concentrate you can practice any of the meditation techniques that involve mantra, yantra, platonic ideal forms, breathing, and so on. Instructions for these and other techniques have been given in Seventh World and elsewhere.

A confusing number of schematics illustrate the distribution of spiritual energy through the various meridians, nadis, gates, chakras, and so on. The disciplines proposed to navigate these systems are so elaborate and require so many exercises that the student easily gets bogged down in senseless details. Because complicated programs are usually counter-productive, I use a stripped-down combination of old Daoist, Hindu, and Buddhist methods.

The "seat" I use is a half-lotus, but if this is too difficult for a student, I usually recommend sitting upright on a straight-backed dining room chair. Keep your back straight - slouching will inhibit your ability to breathe deeply. It follows that you should also master the Healing Breath before you try to activate the Ajna chakra. (There are exercises performed in some of the Daoist regimens that require development of delicate groin muscles. The series called "testicle elevation" is performed by sitting on the forward edge of a straight-back chair with the thighs spread apart and the feet planted flat on the floor.)

Ancient philosophers related the ego-self's mechanical nature to the elements earth, water, fire, air, and space or ether. The ego's passions, fears, instincts, self-destructive tendencies, and the causes and effects of all our actions and reactions in the world's infinite karmic network, are lodged within the chakras until the skill of concentration and the grace of meditation remove, neutralize, or replace them with their positive opposites. (Carl Jung pointed out that withdrawal from troublesome behaviors through meditation almost always brings about a benign solution to psychological conflicts, and this frees the inner personality from emotional and intellectual entanglements.)

The aims of this practice are developing the skill of concentrating the thoughts through breath control, maintaining a healthy body and appropriate environment, and developing an unhindered flow of spiritual energy throughout the body. Concentration on the Ajna chakra is the first and most basic skill of the "backward flowing" methods.

"You canít think and hit at the same time."
- Yogi Berra

Yogi, in his insightful way, points out what many skilled yogis have stated throughout the centuries. To experience the higher levels of meditation (or a highly developed skill such as hitting a baseball) one has to master and pass through the skill of concentration. The ego can only get in the way of mastering any highly developed skill. Experiencing the benefits of concentration not only allows the practitioner to advance to the higher levels of the mediation practice (wisdom), it helps him to understand that obeying his egoís demands makes him the servant of ignorance and failure.

Shi Fa Jun has given the meridian program in the martial arts' section. In addition to the twelve distributive meridians, there is a circular channel, the front "Conception" channel which descends from the Ajna down the front of the body to the Muladhara, and the rear "Governor" channel (analogous to the Sushumna) ascends from the Muladhara through the various chakras to the back of the head and continues over the top of the head to the Ajna. After you can push a ball of light through the 12 x 2 merician channels and are competent in getting into the zone of concentration, your energy should be devoted to activating the Ajna chakra.

The word "ajna" originates in the sanskrit roots "to know" and "to follow," definitions which eventually merged to mean "to command." It is strategically located in the center of the forehead, just above eye level.

From this command center several kinds of energy, each associated with a specific light, are dispatched:

First is the lunar transformative agent which is sent down the Conception channel to the Muladhara (base) chakra. This agent adds the cooling force of wisdom to the emotional and sexual forces released when the Muladhara chakra is activated. Your first encounter with the light should make the Ajna's characteristic pearl grey light begin to glow, growing stronger until it takes on a moon-silver color. When this soft silver light emanates from the chakra, it is time to send it down to the Muladhara.

Next is the single burst of energy as a dazzling mind-filling white light that heralds the Satori experience. This light spontaneously appears usually during sleep or deep medttation. The second light that Ajna generates is a dazzling, "bright as a welder's arc" light. This light will set the stage for entrance into the Buddhist Trinity and you'll experience Satori, the extinguishing of your ego while your Buddha Self (Amitabha) surveys the world for a minute or so.

Finally there is the refined creative or nutritive energy sent via a golden light ball through the Governor channel to nourish the "immortal foetus" in the area of the Lower Dantien in the Manipura chakra; to the Middle Dantien in the area of the Heart chakra; and to the Upper Dantien in the Sahasrara (brain) chakra.

Concentration on the Ajna facilitates purification of the mind and its troublesome desires. Premature activation of the kundalini forces is always detrimental. An abundance of literature warns against using physical methods of activating the kundalini, such as bouncing up and down on the coccyx, or repeatedly clenching the groin muscles, or any other manipulations, may in fact cause a sudden activation of the kundalini; but this is ultimately an unsatisfactory artificial result that has nothing to do with a spiritual practice. It is akin to taking psychedelic drugs to gain "mystical" experiences; a dangerous and futile practice.

These yoga instructions are intended to affect the body via the mind, not to affect the mind via the body.

Each chakra is associated with a sensory element, a color, a geometric shape, and a specific sound vibration or note (the ordinary do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do of the musical scale) which is used with such mantras as Om, Namah Shivai, So Ham, or any of the traditional Chakra mantras such as Lam, Vam, Ram, etc. Many pratyahara, concentration, and meditation techniques use these elements in their exercises. The other chakras elements, the gods and petal numbers and letters of the sanskrit alphabet, etc., tend to complicate a program and are not necessary for our purposes.

chakras.jpg Chakras

Each chakra contains many colors - many of which are described by totally unfamiliar flowers. One color is usually identified as the main color. The best color scheme for this one that I've seen uses the visible spectrum, the mnemonic for which is Roy G. Biv.; red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. You can see this color sequence in a rainbow.

The Ajna receives sensory data from all the lower chakras. It has a pearl grey characteristic color, and an inverted triangle geometric shape, There is no specific musical note associated with it at is initial phase although its mantra, Om, may be chanted in any note.. Later in the regimen it will resonate with the note A on the scale (The "m" at the end of the mantra should be held as long as possible with the lips gently touching and vibrating.)

A Chakra's color may be visualized as filling its geometric shape which can be used as an aid to meditation. Behiind gently closed eyes, visualize the colored object as you chant the appropriate mantra. The shape may be rotated in the visual field.

Pratyahara exercises on the various senses involve the technique of conjuring up the smell, taste, sound, or touch where no such sensory stimulus exists in the environment; or, conversely, being able to ignore the stimulus completely when it is present in the environment.

If you can master concentration on the Ajna, the rest of the chakras will take care of themselves. Pantanjali stressed, above all other accomplishments, the importance of concentration. If you can get yourself into the zone of concentration, the rest depends on Grace.

The Muladhara chakra is associated with the sense of smell, a red color, a square geometric shape, and the mantra "Lam" (pronounced Lum rhymes with hum or some) chanted in the musical note middle C.

When the Ajna has sent down energy to activate the Muladhara, sexual feelings ought to be felt. If you felt these feelings already, indicating a premature activation of the Muladhara, go back and work on the Ajna until you have attained power in concentration and can enter the zone at will. You cannot put step #3 ahead of Step #1. If you persist in this preference for the sexual rather than the spiritual, you will fail.

Although any activation of the Ajna will produce spiritual results - from concentration through many experiences of meditation that lead into samadhi's Divine Union of orgasmic ecstasy Tattva #4, it is the experience of Satori (Tattva #3) that indicates that the Ajna has been fully activated. The Daoists use the expression, "face dropping away" to describe the Satori experience. Satori and its various light emissions are unmistakable experiences and confirm that the Ajna chakra is in control of the regimen.

The yoga system I use follows the technique of meditation whereby the outward flow of energy is reversed and made to rise to the higher centers (chakras). Concentrating the thoughts involves closing the eyes, and gazing up at the Third Eye (Ajna chakra) or the inside top of the skull. I direct my thoughts to the "seed" which for me is usually the sound mantra Om, while I stare up at the Ajna, the place the Daoists refer to as the "room of the ancestors."

Concentrating the desires involves semen retention As it approaches the moment of release, the ejaculatory response is overcome, led back by the energy of thought, so that pure sexual energy rises up the central nadi, refreshing the heart and body.

When you proceed correctly and the Muladhara is sexually aroused with proper control, you can let the force rise up the Sushumna or Governor's channel (the spinal channel) by using the imagery of the Panama Canal. A ship can climb a mountain by a series of steps. It sails forward into a "lock" that has closed gates before it. The gates behind it are then closed, and the lock is filled with water. The ship rises. When it reaches the level of the water on the other side of the forward gates, the forward gates are opened and the ship sails forward into the next lock. The gates behind it are closed, the lock is filled with water. The ship rises until it is level with the water on the other side of the forward gates. These gates are opened and the ship moves forward. And so on.

There are three Bandhas or "locks" associated with a yoga program. A "lock" is the contraction of muscles, held long and tight, even while breathing. There are also "gates" associated with the Microcosmic Orbit. The details for these are given in Fa Jun Shakya's Meridian section.

The force is drawn up, the lock is applied, and held for as long as necessary. The "water" force fills the next chakra's "lock" and is held there by application of a muscular "bandha" or lock. Without this constricting pressure the water will recede.

As the kundalini force ascends to the Svadhishthana or bladder chakra or gate it stimulates the sense of taste. Associate with this chakra an orange color; a crescent or bowl shape; and the mantra "Vam" (pronounced "Vum" rhymes with some) which is recited to the musical note D with a trailing mmmm vibration. The pratyahara exercise associated with taste is the ability to experience a specific taste when it is not present; and to ignore it when it is.

At this point in your work, you should have entered the states of true meditation Tattva #5, and, if you are diligent, its extension into samadhi (orgasmic ecstasy or Divine Union, Tattva #4).

As the force ascends the spinal channel and engages the Manipura or Navel chakra, it stimulates the sense of sight. Associate the color yellow with this chakra. Its associated geometric shape is a downward pointing triangle with handles - in fact this shape represents a stylized cauldron. The mantra is "Ram" (pronounced Rum, rhymes with some) chanted on the note E with a trailing mmmmm vibration. The pratyahara exercise is to conjure up the sight of something in your mind and also to obliterate from view an object that actually is in your environment. Behind and below the Manipura lies the Lower Dantien which, when the time is ready - an event likely to be months or years in your future - the Ajna will send nutrient energy to mix with the kundalini energy brought up from the Muladhara and Svadhishthana chakras. The Lower Diantien acts as the conception vessel or "womb" of the Child, Future Buddha, or Immortal Foetus.

As the force ascends to the Anahata (heart) it stimulates the sense of touch. The associated color is green. The shape is of two triangles superimposed to form a six pointed star. The mantra is Yam (pronounced yum rhymes with hum) chanted in the note F. The pratyahara exercise is to be able to conjure the touch of something when it is not present and to ignore it when it is. If you are reclining on your bed you may find as you enter concentration that you are unable to feel your feet or fingers. This lack of sensation is related to this pratyahara exercise. Behind the Heart chakra lies the Middle Dantien, If the Lower Dantien is considered the gestating first trimester, the Middle Dantien is the 2nd trimester in which the Child (the Future Buddha) is formed. Again this event will take place in the future and is of no consequence at this first encounter with the Anahata.

Ascending to the Vishuddha (throat) chakra, the force stimulates the sense of hearing. You may hear the Holy Shabd or Holy Nahd, an incredibly loud noise that is obviously inside your own head since no one else hears it. Associate the color blue with this chakra and an inverted triangle. The mantra is Ham (pronounced as hum) on the note G. It is in the realm of the Vishuddha Chakra that you may experience Tattva 2 & 1, known variously as Divine Marriage, The Union of Opposites, Spiritual Androgyny, the Rebis State, the Bodhisattva experence, and second vertex of the Trinitarian God.

The kundalini force will then ascend into the Ajna's center for all sensory data plus ego-consciousness, the skandha Vijnana. The color is indigo and the geometric shape now is the circle in which the downward pointing triangle is housed. The mantra is still Om chanted in the note A. Conception of the divine child occurs, Tattva #0. It is then that the nutritive elements are sent to the Lower Dantien and the gestation of the "immortal Foetus," as the Daoists call the Future Buddha.

And finally the kundalini force ascends into the ultra violet and rainbow colored Sahasrara, the totality of color, form, consciousness, and the musical scale. Within this center lies the Upper Dantien, the place where the Child will complete his development and spiritually egress through the fontanelles. Many Daoists and Alchemists believe that they can make this spiritual being penetrate the material barrier and actually take on substantive human form. Zen Buddhists do not subscribe to this belief.

The Opus is complete and there remains only the Origin's Empty Circle or Void.

In Buddhist tantrism the primary path to integration is through sexual energy. This practice involves advanced techniques for controlling the distribution of sexual fluids and spiritual energies. As such, the practice requires the cultivation of the power to restrain ejaculation and is not to be attempted until the practice of concentration is mastered.

Chakra awakening is the most effective way to ensure the transformation of base forces into creative forces.. When the "backward-flowing" upward movement of kundalini is set in motion, liberation from external things occurs. The ways of the world will be recognized, but they will have lost their power to arouse the ego's desires.

Finally, regarding the Left-Hand versus the Right Hand paths in Tantric practices, a person should keep his sex life separate from his spiritual life. Involving other people is always spiritually counter-productive - if not completely destructive. We need only a purified and controlled mind. As Hui Neng, Sixth Patriarch of Zen, noted: "Itís not the wind thatís blowing, nor the flag thatís flapping, itís your mind thatís moving." Still the mind and everything else in the material world stops. The practice requires a positive but passive attitude and an appreciation of solitude.

"For a minute there, I lost myself. I lost myself."
- Radiohead "Karma Police" Album: OK Computer

"See your body as a country," says the Taoist Master

"Head for the high ground," says Sun Tzu in The Art of War.

A key component in cultivating the practice is the discovery of the true motives behind your behavior. Itís been said that there is a thousand feet of elevation between simply being lazy and knowing that youíre lazy.

taoist2.jpg Daoist Rubbing

As we can easily see in the wall rubbing from the Bai Yun Daoist Monastery in Beijing, the bodyís spinal column is Mount Sumeru. The Ajna chakra, in the figure's head, is drawn as a kind of porthole through which the seated figure of Lao Tzu looks out at the world. It is the point where we face the bright rising sun in the East, where the air is clean and fresh. The Ajna chakra in the forehead is the point where the major channels arise or connect. There are stations in these channels that are used for developing and delivering the Future Buddha's spiritual presence. Since these advanced developments proceed on their own irrespective of the practitioner's efforts, it is better merely to note these locations and to accede passively to the activity without attempting to interfere with their activation. Preparing the Way for these spiritual developments is the difficult work: the Eightfold Path and the disciplines of Chakra meditation.

The human being is a small universe that contains all of the mystical elements of the cosmos. To evolve as an individual is to open and expand. It is like the lotus flower answering the impulse to rise from the muddy swamp to reach for the sunshine. This great light is an illumination that guides us on the Way. Right understanding, spontaneously activated by the Ajna chakra, provides the necessary illumination for a safe and spiritual journey through life.

Again, a sexual yoga practice cannot be properly practiced without an awakened Ajna chakra.

Throughout the work always remember, as you purify sexual impulses in the lower chakras and refine your psychological impulses in the upper chakras, that you are in sacred space where there is no room for immoral behavior and indecent thought or speech.

There are those who will take themselves too seriously as they walk the Path. In the Daoist wall rubbing we see the monk Bodhidharma at the top of the mountain, with his arms raised, giving the joyous signal, "I scored a touchdown." He is spontaneously lifting his mind (and arms) toward higher states, welcoming the vast element of space. He is free. What a relief this experience provides. He can turn his back on the material world. He has simplified his life.(put the Dao wall rubbing here)

Humming Bird