Ryuko (Norma) Wong Roshi is an instructor at Institute of Zen Studies. She teaches the Applied Zen program, which offers workshops and training in the application of Zen principles and spiritual training in work and life. She is also a private consultant specializing in strategic planning and organizational capacity. Her career has spanned service as a Hawaii state legislator where she worked with public policy, planning, strategy, and native Hawaiian issues. Ms. Wong is a 1974 graduate of the Kamehameha Schools and attended, but did not graduate from, the University of Hawaii and Wellesley College. She was a student of the late Tenshin Tanouye Rotaishi for twenty years, ordained as a Zen priest in 2000, and received her inka shomei (‘mind stamp’) in 2005, as an 86th generation Zen Master of Daihonzan Chozen-ji.
CXC: What is Forward Stance, concretely and at its essence?
NW: Forward Stance is a mind-body approach to movement building.
A mind-body approach utilizes the physical experience to develop, explore, and demonstrate human actions.
By developing a physical and conceptual understanding of basic Forward Stance principles, organizations and allies can literally shift the way in which we move in the world. The basics include characteristic principles of stance, energy, awareness, and rhythm.
Forward Stance emphasizes proactive, strategic action that draws from sustainable energy in a constantly changing environment.
CXC: What is its lineage?
NW: Forward Stance is a movement building adaptation of the 60/40 Stance™ — a technology and curriculum developed by the IZS (Institute of Zen Studies) Applied Zen Program.
CXC: How did it evolve?
NW: The evolution of Forward Stance, and the 60/40 Stance, comes from training principles that can be found in Zen training and in many traditional martial arts and meditation practices.
CXC: What is your background as it relates to Forward Stance? What is your relationship to this practice?
NW: I developed the 60/40 Stance as a means to bring experiential learning to concepts of individual, organizational and societal change. Forward Stance is an adaptation of the 60/40 Stance that evolved over time in the work with ACRJ (Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice) and the EMERJ (Expanding the Movement for Empowerment and Reproductive Justice) project.
Forward Stance (and the 60/40 Stance) is a technology. It is not a practice. We do teach a 10-step form of Tai Ji as a means to experience and learn from the rhythm, flexibility, breath, awareness, and core strength that Tai Ji has to offer. This Tai Ji form is a part of my daily practice, as is zazen meditation, and okyo (chanting).
CXC: Can you define how you are using the word technology?
NW: In this context, a technology is a body of knowledge. Forward Stance is a technology with both physical and conceptual or intellectual principles that can be applied to at the individual, organizational, and movement levels.
CXC: How is Forward Stance related to transformative social change?
NW: Social justice work is highly conceptual, but change cannot occur if it is just a state of mind. Change is inherently a state of being in movement of time and space. If we are trapped in the concepts of social change, how can we expect people to step forward to experience and embrace social change?
CXC: Can you share any stories or anecdotes that speak to the effectiveness of Forward Stance on transformation?
NW: About a year ago during an EMERJ meeting, the question arose as to what strategy would be best applied during a time of economic uncertainty and turmoil. It only took a few minutes of physical demonstration for the meeting’s participants to discover that staying in place or attempting to deal with the crisis as individual organizations were not the best strategies. Imagine standing or crouching in place, by yourself, in the middle of a shouting gauntlet–better yet, physically experience it–and you get the idea of what not to do.
CXC: This month’s journal theme is equinox and balance. Can you share a few words about Forward Stance and balance?
NW: Balance is a state of mind and body that many crave, but most are unwilling to “do.” In Forward Stance sustainable rhythm is among the most difficult principles for people to grasp and operationalize. Unsustainable rhythm is rampant among social justice practitioners, and contributes greatly to the feast and famine, flood and drought, everything and nothing dichotomy that inevitably means “not balanced.”
CXC: Can you say more about what it means to have a sustainable rhythm?
NW: Rhythm is one of the four principles within Forward Stance. As highly thinking and driven beings, we have a habit of creating individual and organizational rhythms that are stuck in a rapid–sometimes erratic–pace. The tenets of self-care have taught us to stop and restore, but not necessarily to drive an intentionally sustainable rhythm that creates momentum and builds internal and external rhythm. In Forward Stance, we learn the architecture and “laws” of rhythm, including the relationship between rhythm and energy.