Kongō-zue (Michael Thaler’s Walking Stick)
It is said that every journey begins with the first step. A journey can manifest itself in a variety of ways. It can be long or short. It can be strenuous or effortless. It can also be inconsequential or carry with it great meaning. My friend Chris Brock and I recently had the unique and great pleasure or embarking on a journey of significant meaning.
This honor was brought forth to us by our Sensei; Richard Rohrman. Sensei Rohrman had a Karate Ka by the name of Michael Thaler that came into possession of a wooden staff or walking stick. Unfortunately, Michael’s life of peace and beauty prematurely ended due to a horrendous illness. Prior to his demise, Michael told Sensei Rohrman that he would leave some items of remembrance for him. After Michael passed, Sensei Rohrman went to Michael’s home where he met Michael’s sister. Sensei happened to notice a walking stick which Michael’s sister offered to Sensei. The stick had Kanji or Japanese logographic writing down the length of its shaft on all four sides, which none of us at the time understood. Sensei Rohrman believed the stick to carry great symbolic weight and carry with it a tradition of going on or being part of a journey. I remembered that I had planned to go climbing in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in the near future and asked if taking the stick with me to the top of the mountain would be a fitting way to further the continuance of its journey? Sensei Rohrman agreed that it would. I invited Chris Brock to accompany me on this climb and we set out to plan our trip.
Prior to the climb, we planned to stay at a motel near the mountain and start the climb the next morning. I have used this same motel many times in the past and was friendly with the owner; Miyoko Honda. We checked in and it then occurred to me that being of Japanese descent, perhaps Miyoko could translate the writing on the stick. We brought the stick into her office and Miyoko began to read the writing. She said that the stick is a “Prayer stick” that is used by Buddhist monks while traveling between temples. As such, it is an item that should be shown great respect. Miyoko became very interested and told us she would contact her friends in Japan to try to get additional information. Chris and I were now piqued with interest and elated to be a part of this. We offered our sincere thanks to Miyoko and turned in for the night.
The next day we set off for the mountain carrying our now distinguished companion. We began the climb in what was good weather for October. However, as we ascended the wind picked up significantly and the temperature inversely fell precipitously. After many hours of climbing, we arrived at the summit with our acclaimed guest still with us. The temperature with the wind chill was approaching 20 below zero. However, we were warmed by the notion that we had fulfilled our understanding of continuing the journey of Michael’s walking stick.
On our return home, we were contacted by Miyoko who, after contacting her friends in Japan, sent us additional information. Here are her results:
Hi Bob & Chris! I found out more details from my girlfriend in Japan. According to her & her husband, it's called "金 (Kon＝Gold) 剛 (Gou=Hard）杖 (Zue=stick), which is used for a journey visiting temple to temple in Shikoku Island. Those characters in the lower part is a prayer called "Hannya-shinkyou" and in the upper part old letters of Buddhism (Bongo) can be seen. Under the white tape, it's written "南無大師遍照金剛", which is Koubou-taishi (Buddha)'s precious word. Under that it says "同行二人" which she translated that " I'm visiting those temples together with Koubou-taishi praying for Buddha and two of us together always". Does it make sense?
It is most regrettable that Michael Thaler could not have come with us on this journey or even have endured long enough to know that it was undertaken and the tradition of his walking stick was advanced once more. For our part in this saga, Chris and I were profoundly privileged that Sensei Rohrman perceived the meaning and tradition of Michael’s walking stick and asked us to participate in the continuance of its tradition. During the all too brief time we knew each other, Michael Thaler demonstrated a kindness and compassion that touched me deeply. I hope this in some small way keeps the memory of Michael alive. While Michael was still alive, he maintained a blog. The title of this blog is truly the story of this walking stick; “One foot in front of the other.”
Budo Kai; Traditional Karate and Fitness
Budo Kai; Traditional Karate and Fitness
Thanks for posting this uplifting story. I'm so glad to know Michael's stick was used for yet another walk.
I came across this blog while researching the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Thank you for keeping Michael's blog available for newcomers to read and look back through time to experience what he had to share.
I think what he had to say about the pilgrimage really exemplifies the effect it can have on people, and the purpose of undertaking it. I suggest everyone to consider doing it.
I came across Michael's blog when I found his beautiful photo of the Linden Cogeneration plant. When I recently found out that my book of poems is going to be published, my first thought for the cover image was Michael's photo. I wondered if you would be interested in granting me permission to use the photo…it would really be an honor. If you’d like to talk about it, you can reach me at lrldoran at gmail dot com.
We will be delighted to see Michael's photo as the cover image on your book of poems and I'm sure Michael would approve too. I'll be in touch via email and send you a higher quality image. All the best to you.
Thank you for sharing this beautiful story.
My thanks also for adding this and keeping Michael's journey alive.
Deep bows. Thank you for this post.
March 23, 2015
Michael Ross Thaler /Daiku
March 23, 1962-January 15, 2008
This Monday 3/23/15 would have been your 53rd Birthday
I feel you with me constantly but I miss feeling your hugs.
Your wisdom and compassion are with me always but I miss our "Secret" talks, I miss your voice.
You are my younger brother but you often acted as my Big Brother.
Your Photography will inspire me forever. A picture of you is ingrained in my mind and heart. It's a beautiful picture.
Your legacy of extraordinary expression with words continues to be honored by the gift you have in common with your niece, Lauren
Your Spirit will be alive forever, as will the Love of the many people with whom you connected on a Soul Level.
The pain of the premature loss of my Cherished Brother subsides at times but I find I miss you more with each passing day.
Love is forever and I know that you are feeling my Love, wherever you may be now.
If only, I could look into your beautiful Royal Blue eyes and tell you how much I love you...just one more time.
Please accept my invitation to visit me often in my dreams!
I Love You, Michael/Daiku and will always Celebrate your Life and my good fortune to have you as my Brother!
With a deep bow.....
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