The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Lessons from the Yakuza

Below is an excerpt from an article from the Japan Subculture Research Center. This is the first of a very powerful series of articles. It's well worth reading in it's entirety. The whole article may be read here.

Everything I Ever Really Needed To Know I Learned From The Yakuza or The Cops


By Jake Adelstein
Published: 25 January 2010

Entry 01. ”There Are No Small Promises.”

When I was a young reporter, circa 1995, I made an appointment with a Sumiyoshikai (住吉会)boss, Kaneko Naoya, at his office in Minami-Ginza at 7pm. I showed up at 7:20. And Kaneko was pissed. Unreasonably so, or so I thought.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” I said apologizing.

“Why were you late?”

“I had some work to do.”

“Why didn’t you call?”

“I guess I should have.”

“No, ‘I guess I should have’ isn’t good enough. You should have at least called. And you should have been here when you said you would be here in the first place.”

I bowed my head and apologized again.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were so busy.”

“I’m not busy,” he laughed. “That’s not the point.”

“Then why are you so pissed?”

“Because you promised you would be here at 7pm.”

“Is it such a big deal? It was a little promise. (大した約束でもないでしょう)”.

He was silent for a second and then stared me in the eyes, and said, “There are no small promises. You need to learn this now if you’re going to be a good reporter and if you’re going to walk in and out of our world. If you’re going to be a man. Trust is built on little promises and it can all be lost by failure to live up to them. All promises are important. Do you know the saying, 武士に二言はない–bushi ni nigon wa nai? *Literally—A samurai does not have a second word.

I said I wasn’t familiar with the proverb and asked him what it meant.

“It means this: a samurai values his honor, his good faith more than anything and once he has given his word, once he has made a promise he always keeps that promise. If you say it, you do it. I’m not saying I’m a samurai but this is what an honorable man does. If you didn’t think you could have been here exactly at 7pm you shouldn’t have said that you would. “

I was a little pissed when I heard this, the way anyone is when he or she gets lectured. I thought he was just being a cantankerous old bastard or giving me crap because he could.

“I’ll say it again—I’m sorry. I’m sorry I couldn’t keep my promise.”

“Could not or did not? Which is it?”

And before I opened my big yap one more time, I thought about it again. I’d spent too much time at a bookstore on the way there. I stopped to have a can of coffee. I could have been there on time—I wasn’t. For him, my answer was going to be critical in his decision if he could really trust me. I could feel that.

“Did not. I’m sorry I did not come here on time. I do not have an excuse. I will try not to do it again.

(二回と同じ失敗しないよう頑張ります.).”

He offered me a cup of tea and smiled.

“That was almost the right answer. Don’t try, just do it.

(惜しかったな。がんばるんじゃないよ。やるんだよ。約束を守るんです。)

He then very politely explained to me why I should pay attention to his words.

“When you’re a yakuza or a reporter or a cop, people count on you to keep your word, to do what you’ve said you’ll do. In our business, sometimes we got to war—over turf, over money, over a meaningless quarrel. But that’s part of the business. If we’re going to bump heads with the Kokusuikai and one of my soldiers says that he’ll be at his post at seven pm sharp and he’s not there—what do you think will happen? Maybe the guy he’s supposed to back up will have to go in alone—maybe his buddy will get killed. Maybe we’ll lose the chance to make the strike. Apologies don’t cut it. You’re a reporter, you have deadlines. If you don’t meet your deadline—what happens? Can you just blow it off? Do you think your editor will just say, ‘no problem, we’ll just leave part of the paper blank.’ I don’t think so. You can get fired for things like that. I don’t know how it is in America, and maybe I don’t know how it is for the civilians but for us, a man’s word is the most important thing in the world. You need to learn not to promise things lightly and to know the difference between promises you can’t keep and promises you don’t keep. Nine times out of ten, the failure to keep a promise is in yourself, not something you can blame on the world.”

Monday, January 25, 2010

Winter





Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening
by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Daoist Metaphors: The Way of Water


I have long held that Daosim isn't anything mystical at all, but rather a way to make sense of the world around us not unlike Western Science.


It was from observing the way the world worked around them the ancient Chinese guys came up with the concepts of Wuji, Taiji, Yin Yang, Heaven Man and Earth, the Four Season, the Five Elements, and so on.


Also, by thoroughly understanding how nature works, the Daoist has insight into human nature as well.


Having this understanding, the Daoist can align himself with the rhythms and currents of nature and find his way in the world.


I have just recently read The Way of Water and Sprouts of Virtue by Sarah Allan; which I happily found resonates with my thoughts. From the back cover:

"This book maintains that early Chinese philosophers, whatever their philosophical school, assumed common principles informed the natural and human words and that one could understand the nature of man by studying the principles which govern nature. Accordingly, the natural world rather than a religious tradtion provided the root metaphors of early Chinese thought. Sarah Allen examines the concrete imagery, most importantly water and plant life, which served as a model for the most fundamental concepts in Chinese philosophy including such ideas as dao, "the way", de, "virtue" or "potency", xin, the "heart/mind", xing "nature", and qi "vital energy." Water, with its extraordinarily rich capacity for generating imagery, provided the primary model for the continuous sequence of generation, growth, reproduction, and death and were the basis for the Chinese understanding of the nature of man in both religion and philosophy."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anatomy of a Classical Martial Art


The excerpt below is from an article by classical Japanese martial arts practitioner and historian Meik Skoss. The whole article may be read here. 

A Bit of Background

by Meik Skoss

I started this series with a column titled “Who, What, When?” and said then that the major topics would be the classical martial arts and ways and the different family and non-collateral schools or styles comprising these various disciplines. I focused on descriptions of specific traditions in my subsequent columns, but what I’d like to do this time is discuss the origins of Japanese kobudo and give a brief overview of the field.
Although systematic training in the use of weapons, and methods for employing them in warfare existed long before, it is generally believed that the development of martial traditions, schools, or styles (ryu-ha) did not arise until after the end of the Heian period (794-1185). Central to this training was study of the bow (yumi), the sword (tachi), and the spear (yari). Initially, these weapons were not studied in separate arts. Rather, since the need was to prepare for battlefield combat, many different weapons and strategic and tactical skills were taught as part of comprehensive systems (sogo bujutsu). From the middle of the Muromachi period (ca. 1480) to the beginning of the Tokugawa period (ca. 1605) people gradually began to specialize in a particular weapon or system, particularly the bow, spear, sword, grappling and horsemanship. Warriors gathered in family-centered groups or trained with other members of their local domains. As the techniques and methods of these groups became more and more individuated, or as teachers gained particular insights into the essential nature and principles of combat, there arose discrete martial “traditions” or “styles” or “schools” (bujutsu ryu-ha). This began happening at the beginning of the Keicho era (ca. 1600), picked up impetus throughout the Tokugawa period (1600-1868), and has continued even into the twentieth century.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Best Practices in Martial Arts Training


Below is an excerpt from an article appearing in the online magazine, Jade Dragon. The topic is best practices in martial arts training. Whether you agree or disagree with the article, you have to stop and take a look at one's own training. The full article may be read here.

Best Practices of Internal Martial Arts

The following internal martial arts best practices can be useful for strategists:
  • Practice the various internal martial exercises before the sun rises
  • The key to internal martial arts is to develop the skill of feeling
  • When practicing, focus on feeling your entire body and your settings in terms of yin and yang
  • Practice the alignment of your whole body in terms of center, relax, ground, calm and whole
  • Where the attention goes, the energy flow
  • When exercising, revel in the process not the pace. Indirectly, it is also a test of your concentration
  • Always quietly practice your exercises at the same place and at the same time. Silence is golden. Positive consistency and continuity is important to the mind and body.
  • The quiet practicing of stances allows you to gain the feeling of stillness
  • Understand the practice of stillness to gain insights
  • When training, ensure that one of your ligaments is always connected to the ground
  • There is greater value in the practicing of a single- to double-motion exercise than in the practicing of multiple-motions exercise
  • Begin all practices with a series of deep breathing and stretching exercises without stressing the body
  • Start the stretching process by using low-level and deep stances. Continue by focusing on one-legged stances.
  • Wear a weighted vest while practicing (a training tradition of some Cheng Ting Hua’s Bagua players)
  • You should always stand than to sit.  We recommend the use of the standing table for work
  • Learning Yi Quan is a good way to gain a grand insight into the benefits of standing and stilling the body
  • "When one is relaxed, the body comes flexible (lively), the qi circulates throughout the body, and the body now becomes whole. ..." (Yi Quan training quote)
  • Practice within the training stages of static, active, and changing
  • When practicing Taijiquan, Baguazhang, or other forms of internal art systems, learning and practicing Push Hands (or similar "one on one" sparring exercises) is very important in the development of body sensitivity
  • Always have a good "above-average" skilled training partner to practice the "Push Hands" exercises
  • Practice circle walking everyday (a training tradition of Baguazhang players)
  • Focus on evading, encircling, and entrapping your opposition (a practice of Baguazhang players)
  • Understand the quintessence of Yang Taijiquan through the practice of the Yang Taiji 13 postures
  • Perform the Taiji long form with a fast rhythm. Then practice the Taiji short form with a slow rhythm.  While the practice of the long form in a quick rhythm develops aerobic and endurance, the pace of the short form develops the feeling of patience and steadiness (a training tradition of Taiji players)
  • The circular motion of the moving body should never break. (One should always deploy the circular motion before implementing a linear motion.)
  • Never practice internal martial arts exercises in a cold, windy and noisy area
  • Unless it is absolutely necessary, never travel in an extremely cold and windy area without the proper clothing. If possible, avoid those areas
  • Serious martial art players should have at least one high-quality, customized implement. The customization of your implement enables you to develop a bond with it
  • Never be the martial art player who has the best gear without the skill and the drive to practice with it

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Zen Combat

Way back when, before the internet and DVDs, information on martial arts was hard to get. There were few books written, fewer of any quality; and they were hard to find. One of the first books that I stumbled on when I was a teen ager was Zen Combat by Jay Gluck.


Mr. Gluck was a cartoonist who was studying painting in Japan to improve his technique. Well, I'll let him tell the story. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read by clicking here.

It all began to come together, ever so slowly, when I was living a two-year honeymoon in Japan in an idyllic fishing-farming village outside Hiroshima opposite the famed beauty spot, Miyajima, Shrine Island. I was trying to convert my cartooning style from occidental steel crowquill pen to soft oriental fur brush. I just couldn’t get the flimsy little bamboo brush to draw me a clean line. I was beginning to see that my whole western heritage had caused me to form a block against the technique of strength through delicacy the brush seemed to demand.

“Zen ken shu!” my white-bearded painting and calligraphy teacher said to me one day. “Zen meditation is the sword is the brush! Understand one and you understand all. But you cannot come to understand one without the other two.”

So I took to crossing bamboo swords with my aged painting teacher who, true to ancient tradition, was one of the highest ranking masters of Japanese kendo fencing. To remedy my Madison Avenue slouch over the drawing board placed atop the hori-kotatsu table over the heated sitting pit in the tatami-matted floor, he also had me learn to twang the great eight-foot bamboo Japanese long-bow with its yard-long bamboo arrows.

After months of strenuous effort wielding bamboo sword, bamboo brush, and bamboo longbow with its bamboo arrows I still wasn’t going anywhere. I had the same fault in all, old master said: too much concentration on the tool. “Think too much about sword, you lose sight of the end. Perhaps you understand easier if you see sword play without sword.”

So old master took me to see a movie of karate champion Mas Oyama killing a bull with his bare fists, which is how I start Zen Combat. After seeing it I still wasn’t sure of what he meant, but decided this “swordless sword play” was worth a look. He arranged for me to meet Oyama, writing the formal letter customary to all oriental introductions. Interspersed with the Chinese ideographs common to written Japanese, he drew in minute tick-tack-toe doodles I had never seen in Chinese or Japanese. I questioned these.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Chinese Underworld in America: The Snakehead


In 1993, a ship ran aground in New York. On it were 300 300 illegal aliens who were being smuggled into the US by a criminal enterprise headed by a most unlikely person. This incident and the larger story is described in a new book named The Snakehead. Below is a small excerpt from a review. Click here to read an interview with the author.

NEW YORK (CBS) Patrick Radden Keefe’s THE SNAKEHEAD: An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream, is a true crime thriller about the rise and fall of an unlikely international crime boss, steeped in the American immigrant saga.

When the Golden Venture ran aground off a New York City beach in 1993 transporting 300 near-starving illegal immigrants, federal officials and the NYPD realized they had a huge criminal operation to unravel. Little did they know it would all lead back to an unassuming middle-aged grandmother known as Sister Ping, running an underground smuggling empire out of her hole-in-the-wall Chinatown noodle shop.

She built a complex -- and often vicious -- global conglomerate, relying heavily on familial ties, and employing one of Chinatown's most violent gangs to protect her power and profits, which grew to $40 million. Sister Ping’s ingenuity and drive were awe-inspiring not only to the Chinatown community -- where she was revered as a homegrown Don Corleone -- but also to the law enforcement officials who could never quite catch her.

It took the FBI and New York’s fabled “Jade Squad” nearly ten years to untangle the smuggling enterprise and hone in on its unusual and elusive mastermind, a charismatic criminal genius who exploited the enduring promise of the American dream with breathtaking sophistication.

Monday, January 04, 2010

96 Year Old, 9th degree Black Belt


The following is an excerpt from an article about a 96 year old judo black belt. The full article may be read here.

The visitor was Keiko Fukuda. The highest ranked woman in judo, with a 9th degree black belt, at 96 Fukuda is a still active and vital link to both the roots of judo and Japan’s samurai era. Her grandfather, Hachinosuke Fukuda, was an instructor of Tenjin Shinyo-ryu Jujutsu. One of his students was Jigoro Kano, the founder of judo; the elder Fukuda was a mentor to Kano and there are Tenjin Shinyo-ryu movements in some of the kata developed by Kano.

In 1935, the 22-year-old Keiko Fukuda was pursuing studies typical for a young lady of the era: ikebana, chado, and shodo. Because of her family background, Kano invited her to come study judo at his school. Judo quickly became the center of her life. She trained with Kano (and is today his last living direct student) as well as with well-known instructors like Kyuzo Mifune. She was a good friend of Shoji Nishio in those days, and remembers when Nishio was invited by Kano to go train in aikido with Morehei Ueshiba as part of an exhange of students between the arts.

In 1990, in a celebration in San Francisco, the Japanese government honored her with the Order of the Sacred Treasure, 4th class. The United States Judo Federation awarded her a red belt in 2001- one of only three - for lifelong contributions and in 2006 at the annual Kagami Biraki, she received her 9th degree black belt at the Kodokan Judo Institute.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Funny Bounces

Quite a few people are posting about ow 2009 went for them. I wasn't going to, but there's been a recent development, so here I go.

For me, 2009 has been a year of funny bounces. 

In March, I was laid off from my job with a major semiconductor manufacturer. I was a marketing manager in a sales office that served the auto industry.

The economy fell off a cliff, our sales fell by something like 50% and there were a lot of layoffs. My number simply came up.

About a month after my last day, I received a call on a Monday from one of the salesmen I worked with. One of our customers had recently won a program and needed someone to write software for them on a contract basis. He wanted to know if I'd be interested and should he suggest my name

You bet I was. I hadn't written any software in something like 14 years, but the hourly rate I could get for writing software beat what I was going to get for unemployment. On Tuesday I heard from the automotive director of the company in question. I had a breakfast interview with him on Wednesday, was in a customer meeting with him on Thursday, and was fully engaged on Friday.

The contract was for six months, which would have ended in October; extended to the end of 2009, then extended again to the end of March 2010. After that, the program would be soon going into production and there aren't any new programs on the horizon.

While all of this is going on, back in June a guy that I know who owns an engineering services company calls me up and asks if I'd be interested in working for him. Sure! We'll have to figure out how I could best be put to use with his company.

After many conversations over several months, they finally made me an offer on New Year's Eve. I'll be doing new business development for them. They want me to find new applications with new customers in new segments, and drive new products if I must. They're handing me a blank sheet of paper.

I've worked for foreign companies for the last 15 years or so. They pay a premium to have an American face in front of the customer, especially the Japanese. I always knew this intellectually, but now I'm having to come to grips with the reality of it. My base will be about 2/3 of what I was making a year ago. But I'm getting back company paid health insurance, disability insurance, their contribution to a 401k, etc.

C'est la vie. I've had an extraordinary run. I'll just be motivated to make as much of that back as quickly as I can.

I have to give my contract employer a month's notice. I hope they'll release me a few days early so I can start on the 1st of February.

The Mrs is relieved that I'll have the stability of a direct job again (ie knowing what my take home is, rather than having that big tax liability hanging out there). On the other hand, the difference between what I had been making and what I will be making will take some getting used to.

As far as my kids go, the older one is still working for the regional public transportation agency, still working on her master's degree, and still living at home and saving money. She's hoping to get herself into some sort of starter home next year.

The younger one played volleyball well for her school. She was a starter and made the conference all freshman team. She found that playing a varsity sport in college is tough, and that also her school is very small. She's hoping to be accepted into one of the big state universities and play club level volleyball for them.

As for 2010, we'll have to see what the demands of the new job are, before I start making plans. It'll be a brand new adventure.

Here's a couple of blogs I would invite you to take a look at. One is Nagual Time, who's author practices aikido and taijiquan. The other is Short Zen Poems. Please take a look. I'm sure you'll enjoy them.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Bullies


Who hasn't encountered bullies in their childhood. Whose child hasn't experienced bullies in one form or another. Below is an excerpt from a very good article which can be read in it's entirety right here.

 Life through the lens of Asperger's Syndrome.
by Lynne Soraya

October 20, 2009, Anxiety
Friends and Allies
What being bullied taught me about friendship

In the second or third grade, I remember being asked about friends.  "Oh, I have lots of friends," I said, reciting a list that included all my teachers, day care providers, school janitors,  and most of the kids I knew.  Everyone was nice...at least I thought.  I didn't understand the true nature of friendship - until I was bullied.

Girl with big brown eyesWhen I was in fourth grade, we moved to a new town. Having always felt different,  I was always drawn to other outsiders.  Which is why, on my first day of school, I was drawn to a girl who stood alone, off to the side, watching everything with big, soft, brown eyes. I liked her immediately.

But, I was soon to find out, others did not. One day, while I was playing alone on the merry go round, one of the popular girls sought me out. She wanted to be my friend, she said. But the conditions for her friendship were clear...drop my friend. I refused. Adamantly. That's when the bullying got serious.

But the bullies were in for a surprise...I didn't react the way they expected. The previous year,  my PE teacher had decided to teach us the basics of Aikido, one of his passions.  Deeply affected by Aikido's philosophy of non-violent self-defense, bolstered by my newly acquired church teachings to "turn the other cheek," I had become militantly pacifistic.  So, I refused to fight.  If they persisted, I'd use the Aikido techniques I'd learned to defend myself. But only that.