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 ~


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Kendo videos

Kendo is as beautiful form of budo. Here are a few videos I found.

Look what a clean attack this is:



 More good stuff:

The first one feature a kendoka using two shinai, which is quite rare.



Rarer still is two sword vs two sword


This is also rarely seen; shinai vs naginata:




Here is a demonstration by one of the few 9th Dan Kendoka. The old guy still has it.



Here is a short clip of a katana vs naginata kata:



Saturday, March 27, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: The Alibi Service

I found this one at the Japan Subculture Research Center. If you click here, you can read the whole article. An excerpt is below:

Could you imagine if you had a wife or girlfriend that was sneaking off every day to work in the sex business while you’re in the office? Probably the majority of people couldn’t, and thus covering up a “high-income part-time job” is a real worry for a lot of fuzoku girls.

For a mere ¥5,000 a month, a girl can have a fake pay stub mailed to her home with the name of a temp agency, ad agency, real estate agent or retail business. Shop owners can get discounts when registering a group of women, which is how many fuzoku businesses advertised in magazines can provide alibi services to employees. The services specialize in other business as well, such as creating false documents such as statement of income for those looking to take out a home loan, finding a guarantor for those looking to rent an apartment, or proof of employment for those who want to put their children in daycare but don’t have a job.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The King of Chinese Weapons

In Chinese Martial Arts, the spear is considered the King of Weapons. There's a lot more to a spear than pointing it somewhere and pushing.

Because of the length, extreme precision is a demand. If you are a fraction of an inch off in your stance, the business end could be off by a foot when it matters. Also, the spear teaches you to project your energy at some distance away from your body.

At the online magazine Jade Dragon, is a very good article on the Chinese spear. I've posted an excerpt below. Click here to read the whole article. The article is accompanied by pictures of different spear heads that are very interesting as well. Please take a look.



The Chinese Spear:
The King of Chinese Weapons

"When you use the spear you must judge where you are going to hit and focus your eyes on the target. Focus your eyes on your opponent's head, torso, or foot. When the spear is thrust, you should coordinate the weapon with your mind, hands, and feet. Your spear should shoot like a dragon rising from the sea. The motion must be able to surround the opponent body. With that action, you will be able to hit him."

The spear (ch'iang/qiang) is as ancient as China. Not only is it considered to be the oldest military weapon in China, the spear was originally developed as a horse soldier's weapon. Before 400 B.C., foot soldiers used either a nine foot spear or an eighteen foot spear. These spears combined a thrusting point with a hooking or slicing blade.

As a footnote, there are other types of spears-snake-head pattern spear, single hook spear (hooking fish spear), and double hook spear (hooking fish spear). (This particular topic will be discussed in a later article on Chinese weaponry.)

Unlike the spear that is used in other parts of the world, the Chinese spear was never meant to be thrown. Instead, a specialized set of techniques was developed that strongly resembled the single-headed staff techniques. Staffs of various lengths derived spillover value from some of the spear tactics, although they have complete systems of their own.

HISTORY

In ancient China, many advanced martial artists/warriors knew that this pointed implement under the usage of a proficient spear player was usually both lethal and formidable.

Two of the top spear proponents were the famous General Yueh Fei and the first Woman Warrior-Fa Mu Lan. Both warriors were considered invincible due to their proficiency of the spear in combat. (Stories have it that General Yueh Fei developed the Xing Yi mind-shaping boxing system based on his proficiency with the spear and other martial art systems.)

It has been rumored that during the "Water Margin" period of ancient China some of "Leung Mountains" heroes of the "Water Margin" fame were proficient spear players. The best spear player of that group was a "Leopard Head" Lin Chung whose finishing move was the "Returning Horse Spear Thrust." This movement was a reverse body, retreating tactic that lures the pursuing attacker into a state of frenzy. Then the spear player would abruptly stop and deploy an overturning body spear thrust at his opponent. When executed correctly, the spear rarely misses its target.

Yang Cheng Fu of the Yang Family Tai Chi fame always carried a short single-head spear for protection. It served the dual training function of a straight sword and a short staff.

Under the guise of warfare, the British in the mid-nineteenth century concluded that the Chinese spear was far superior to their bayonets. Currently, the weapon is smaller and its uses are compressed into about thirty different methods.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Lenten Challenge Update

How is the Lenten Challenge going for you?

For me, it's been very good. I've been practicing regularly, I've been focused, and I believe I'm making headway.

When practicing the form, it's easy to just "go through the motions." While this is better than nothing, it's not a lot better. You have to have your mind in the right place when you practice. There is a good post at Classical Tai Chi Blog on this very subject.

I am doing a deep dive on the Wu Style Taijiquan Square Form, and my goal is to consistently not make any mistakes in the sequence, all the while trying to apply internal discipline and exploring the potential for internal discipline within the form and myself. That ought to keep me busy for a while, huh?

My goad towards performing he TCC form with no errors in the sequence is coming along. It's a test of paying attention to what I'm doing. If I'm paying attention, I shouldn't make an error. If I'm just going through the motions, anything can happen.

Lately, I have been making just one error, one lapse of attention per round, and never in the same place twice. It is at the same time both encouraging and very frustrating.

In the past, I did nothing but the standing practice for several years. Before beginning the form, and after just ending it, I just stand. Sometimes I stand only briefly. Other times I stand for a good long while. Whatever fits at that time.

When I feel like I'm getting to a point where I'm putting "enough" time into my Taijiquan practice, I'd like to rejuvenate my standing practice, or zhan zhuang, the fundamental practice of Yiquan. Not because it would somehow improve my Taijiquan, but because I just like it. It'll be a good long while before I'm putting in "enough" time into Taijiquan.

Something else I'm about to put a lot more energy into after along break in my Japanese Language study. I haven't hardly spoken Japanese at all in nearly a year. I'm planning on my study a jump start with Rosetta Stone Japanese, then continue to my study by reading a few collections of Japanese short stories I have, as well as subscribing to the Hiragana Times, a Japanese/English magazine created just for this purpose.

I found a few nifty FREE tools to help me out on the internet. One is Excel@Japanese, which is a very clever Excel application that helps you to learn Kanji. It's a free download. Another is a plug in for Firefox, called Rikaichan. Once you install it, you can go to a web page, hover the cursor over a kanji, and get a translation.

Here's a link to 10 online resources for learning Japanese.

I recently finished reading Effortless Action: Wu Wei as a Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Idea in Early China by Edward Slingerland. I had to put a lot of effort into the reading! It's an expansion of the author's doctoral thesis, and it was well worth that effort.

Well, that's enough for now. Back to work!

Friday, March 19, 2010

The 36 Strategies: #33, Scheme with Double Agents


Next to the Art of War by Sun Tzu, The 36 Strategies is the most widely read book of Asian strategy. Where the Art of War attempts to present an overview and method to the topic of strategy, the 36 Strategies attempts to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims, divided into six groups of six maxims each.

This time we look at #33, Scheme with Double Agents.

The Art of War devotes a chapter to spies and places a great deal of importance upon them. Perhaps the most valuable is the double agent.

The double agent is not only providing you with informaton from the other side, but is useful in disseminating misinformation among the opposition, and perhaps even performing acts of sabotage.

All well and good, but how does this apply to my regular everyday life? A salesman knows that there is no better ally to have than someone inside a customer organization who works on your behalf. Maybe this is a customer whom you've won over or has an obligation to you, or maybe a member of your own organization who is a resident engineer.

Having someone on the inside keeps you up to date on what's going on; what new opportunities are coming, what problems are looming on the horizon, insights about the competition, and guidance in navigating through the organization. An inside person can help to smooth over problems before they reach a boil, or can throw a monkey wrench into a competitor's issues.

I have also found that in working with global companies where the sales force is "here" and the design and manufacture is "over there" it is extremely important to have someone "over there" who is looking out after your interests every day because you simply can't be there to look after them yourself. The insights obtained by your insider about the political climate "over there", and the real issues (as opposed to what they're telling you) are invaluable.

On the other side of the coin, in this economy where you never know when you might get laid off, I have seen some of those "inside advocates" parley their relationships with the vendors whose interests they have been advancing into other jobs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Favorite Authors

Some of my favorite authors, in no particular order:

JRR Tolkein
Neal Stephenson
Mark Twain
Henry David Thoreau
Arthur Conan Doyle
Henry David Thoreau
Zhuang Zi
Nicholas Nassim Taleb
Michael Crichton
Stephen Jay Gould
Patricia Highsmith
Robert Heinlein
John LeCarre
Charles Dickens
Isaac Asimov
Victor Hugo
James Clavell
Sun Tzu
Any Rand
Stephen King
Tom Clancy
Richard Matheson
Malcolm Gladwell
Trevanian
Mario Puzo
JK Rowling
PG Wodehouse
Brad Warner
Bram Stoker
William Shakespeare
Roger T. Ames
Ian Fleming
Frederick Forsythe
Richard Condon
Joseph Conrad
Jack London
Steven Pressfield
Edgar Rice Burroughs

Who are some of yours?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Best Dogs

Below is an excerpt from the book Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs by Gene Weingarten.

They can be eccentric, slow afoot, even grouchy. But dogs live out their final days, says The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten, with a humility and grace we all could learn from.


Not long before his death, Harry and I headed out for a walk that proved eventful. He was nearly 13, old for a big dog. Walks were no longer the slap-happy Iditarods of his youth, frenzies of purposeless pulling in which we would cast madly off in all directions, fighting for command. Nor were they the exuberant archaeological expeditions of his middle years, when every other tree or hydrant or blade of grass held tantalizing secrets about his neighbors. In his old age, Harry had transformed his walk into a simple process of elimination—a dutiful, utilitarian, head-down trudge. When finished, he would shuffle home to his ratty old bed, which graced our living room because Harry could no longer ascend the stairs. On these walks, Harry seemed oblivious to his surroundings, absorbed in the arduous responsibility of placing foot before foot before foot before foot. But this time, on the edge of a small urban park, he stopped to watch something. A man was throwing a Frisbee to his dog. The dog, about Harry’s size, was tracking the flight expertly, as Harry had once done, anticipating hooks and slices by watching the pitch and roll and yaw of the disc, as Harry had done, then catching it with a joyful, punctuating leap, as Harry had once done, too.

Harry sat. For 10 minutes, he watched the fling and catch, fling and catch, his face contented, his eyes alight, his tail a-twitch. Our walk home was almost … jaunty.

Some years ago, The Washington Post invited readers to come up with a midlife list of goals for an underachiever. The first-runner-up prize went to: “Win the admiration of my dog.”

It’s no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant, even if you are a witling. You fascinate them, even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you, even if you are a genocidal maniac. Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him.

Puppies are incomparably cute and incomparably entertaining, and, best of all, they smell exactly like puppies. At middle age, a dog has settled into the knuckleheaded matrix of behavior we find so appealing—his unquestioning loyalty, his irrepressible willingness to please, his infectious happiness. But it is not until a dog gets old that his most important virtues ripen and coalesce. Old dogs can be cloudy-eyed and grouchy, gray of muzzle, graceless of gait, odd of habit, hard of hearing, pimply, wheezy, lazy, and lumpy. But to anyone who has ever known an old dog, these flaws are of little consequence. Old dogs are vulnerable. They show exorbitant gratitude and limitless trust. They are without artifice. They are funny in new and unexpected ways. But, above all, they seem at peace.

Kafka wrote that the meaning of life is that it ends. He meant that our lives are shaped and shaded by the existential terror of knowing that all is finite. This anxiety informs poetry, literature, the monuments we build, the wars we wage—all of it. Kafka was talking, of course, about people. Among animals, only humans are said to be self-aware enough to comprehend the passage of time and the grim truth of mortality. How, then, to explain old Harry at the edge of that park, gray and lame, just days from the end, experiencing what can only be called wistfulness and nostalgia? I have lived with eight dogs, watched six of them grow old and infirm with grace and dignity, and die with what seemed to be acceptance. I have seen old dogs grieve at the loss of their friends. I have come to believe that as they age, dogs comprehend the passage of time, and, if not the inevitability of death, certainly the relentlessness of the onset of their frailties. They understand that what’s gone is gone.

What dogs do not have is an abstract sense of fear, or a feeling of injustice or entitlement. They do not see themselves, as we do, as tragic heroes, battling ceaselessly against the merciless onslaught of time. Unlike us, old dogs lack the audacity to mythologize their lives. You’ve got to love them for that.

The product of a Kansas puppy mill, Harry was sold to us as a yellow Labrador retriever. I suppose it was technically true, but only in the sense that Tic Tacs are technically “food.” Harry’s lineage was suspect. He wasn’t the square-headed, elegant type of Labrador you can envision in the wilds of Canada hunting for ducks. He was the shape of a baked potato, with the color and luster of an interoffice envelope. You could envision him in the wilds of suburban Toledo, hunting for nuggets of dried food in a carpet.

His full name was Harry S Truman, and once he’d reached middle age, he had indeed developed the unassuming soul of a haberdasher. We sometimes called him Tru, which fit his loyalty but was in other ways a misnomer: Harry was a bit of an eccentric, a few bubbles off plumb. Though he had never experienced an electrical shock, whenever he encountered a wire on the floor—say, a power cord leading from a laptop to a wall socket—Harry would stop and refuse to proceed. To him, this barrier was as impassable as the Himalayas. He’d stand there, waiting for someone to move it. Also, he was afraid of wind.

While Harry lacked the wiliness and cunning of some dogs, I did watch one day as he figured out a basic principle of physics. He was playing with a water bottle in our backyard—it was one of those 5-gallon cylindrical plastic jugs from the top of a water cooler. At one point, it rolled down a hill, which surprised and delighted him. He retrieved it, brought it back up and tried to make it go down again. It wouldn’t. I watched him nudge it around until he discovered that for the bottle to roll, its long axis had to be perpendicular to the slope of the hill. You could see the understanding dawn on his face; it was Archimedes in his bath, Helen Keller at the water spigot.

That was probably the intellectual achievement of Harry’s life, tarnished only slightly by the fact that he spent the next two hours insipidly entranced, rolling the bottle down and hauling it back up. He did not come inside until it grew too dark for him to see.

I believe I know exactly when Harry became an old dog. He was about 9 years old. It happened at 10:15 on the evening of June 21, 2001, the day my family moved from the suburbs to the city. The move took longer than we’d anticipated. Inexcusably, Harry had been left alone in the vacated house—eerie, echoing, empty of furniture and of all belongings except Harry and his bed—for eight hours. When I arrived to pick him up, he was beyond frantic.

He met me at the door and embraced me around the waist in a way that is not immediately reconcilable with the musculature and skeleton of a dog’s front legs. I could not extricate myself from his grasp. We walked out of that house like a slow-dancing couple, and Harry did not let go until I opened the car door.

He wasn’t barking at me in reprimand, as he once might have done. He hadn’t fouled the house in spite. That night, Harry was simply scared and vulnerable, impossibly sweet and needy and grateful. He had lost something of himself, but he had gained something more touching and more valuable. He had entered old age.

In the year after our move, Harry began to age visibly, and he did it the way most dogs do. First his muzzle began to whiten, and then the white slowly crept backward to swallow his entire head. As he became more sedentary, he thickened a bit, too.

On walks, he would no longer bother to scout and circle for a place to relieve himself. He would simply do it in mid-plod, like a horse, leaving the difficult logistics of drive-by cleanup to me. Sometimes, while crossing a busy street, with cars whizzing by, he would plop down to scratch his ear. Sometimes, he would forget where he was and why he was there. To the amusement of passersby, I would have to hunker down beside him and say, “Harry, we’re on a walk, and we’re going home now. Home is this way, okay?” On these dutiful walks, Harry ignored almost everything he passed. The most notable exception was an old, barrel-chested female pit bull named Honey, whom he loved. This was surprising, both because other dogs had long ago ceased to interest Harry at all, and because even back when they did, Harry’s tastes were for the guys.

Still, when we met Honey on walks, Harry perked up. Honey was younger by five years and heartier by a mile, but she liked Harry and slowed her gait when he was around. They waddled together for blocks, eyes forward, hardly interacting but content in each other’s company. I will forever be grateful to Honey for sweetening Harry’s last days.

Some people who seem unmoved by the deaths of tens of thousands through war or natural disaster will nonetheless grieve inconsolably over the loss of the family dog. People who find this behavior distasteful are often the ones without pets. It is hard to understand, in the abstract, the degree to which a companion animal, particularly after a long life, becomes a part of you. I believe I’ve figured out what this is all about. It is not as noble as I’d like it to be, but it is not anything of which to be ashamed, either.

In our dogs, we see ourselves. Dogs exhibit almost all of our emotions; if you think a dog cannot register envy or pity or pride or melancholia, you have never lived with one for any length of time. What dogs lack is our ability to dissimulate. They wear their emotions nakedly, and so, in watching them, we see ourselves as we would be if we were stripped of posture and pretense. Their innocence is enormously appealing. When we watch a dog progress from puppy­hood to old age, we are watching our own lives in microcosm. Our dogs become old, frail, crotchety, and vulnerable, just as Grandma did, just as we surely will, come the day. When we grieve for them, we grieve for ourselves.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Middle Kingdom: The Impossible Black Tulip

Historically, China has been known as "The Middle Kingdom." They believed they were at the center of the earth. In fact, the characters which refers to China in both Chinese and Japanese reflects this: 中国.

A very rare ancient map has turned up. This map is known as The Impossible Black Tulip, due to it's rarity. An excerpt from an article is shown below. To read the who article, please click here.

On this rare map, China is the center of the world

Tuesday, January 12, 2010
(01-12) 09:17 PST WASHINGTON, (AP) --
A rarely seen 400-year-old map that identified Florida as "the Land of Flowers" and put China at the center of the world went on display Tuesday at the Library of Congress.

The map created by Matteo Ricci was the first in Chinese to show the Americas. Ricci, a Jesuit missionary from Italy, was among the first Westerners to live in what is now Beijing in the early 1600s. Known for introducing Western science to China, Ricci created the map in 1602 at the request of Emperor Wanli.

Ricci's map includes pictures and annotations describing different regions of the world. Africa was noted to have the world's highest mountain and longest river. The brief description of North America mentions "humped oxen" or bison, wild horses and a region named "Ka-na-ta."

Several Central and South American places are named, including "Wa-ti-ma-la" (Guatemala), "Yu-ho-t'ang" (Yucatan) and "Chih-Li" (Chile).

Ricci gave a brief description of the discovery of the Americas.

"In olden days, nobody had ever known that there were such places as North and South America or

Magellanica," he wrote, using a label that early mapmakers gave to Australia and Antarctica. "But a hundred years ago, Europeans came sailing in their ships to parts of the sea coast, and so discovered them."

The Ricci map gained the nickname the "Impossible Black Tulip of Cartography" because it was so hard to find.

This map — one of only two in good condition — was purchased by the James Ford Bell Trust in October for $1 million, making it the second most expensive rare map ever sold. The library bought another of the world's rarest maps, the Waldseemuller world map, which was the first to name "America," for $10 million in 2003.



Thursday, March 04, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: Sex and Daoism


A friend sent me this article. My commentary is unnecessary. The whole article may be read here.

Driver guilty of duping `stupid' model into sex

DianaLee

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

A truck driver claiming to be a Taoist master was yesterday found guilty of duping a young model into having sex with him on the pretext it would improve her luck.

District Court judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi postponed sentencing to January 21 pending a psychological report and remanded Au Yeung Kwok-fu, 55, in custody.

The self-proclaimed Mao Shan practitioner was convicted on nine counts of having unlawful sexual intercourse under false pretenses between April and December 2007. Au Yeung was bound over for HK$200 for an indecent assault conviction in 1974.

The judge described the complainant, then a 19-year-old model with Form Three education, as stupid, ignorant and simple- minded in having sex with a man 20 years her senior on the blind faith it would bring her fame and wealth.


 

But he also found her to be an honest witness. On the other hand, Kwong said, Au Yeung lied in court and fabricated excuses. He rejected the defense contention that during the sex rituals Au Yeung had no control over his body as he was possessed by his master's spirit.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Happy Birthday Nara!



A friend sent me a travel article from which I've placed an excerpt below. You can view the original article here. The original is accompanied by some very nice pictures, so you'll want to have a look. Enjoy.

Happy 1,300th to Nara, Japan


THE ancient city of Nara has lived in the shadow of its neighbor, Kyoto, for centuries. So this year, as Nara marks the 1,300th anniversary of its ascension as Japan’s imperial capital, the city might be forgiven for going over the top.

Nara was a splendor in its time — a world of silks, Chinese scripts and Buddhist culture set in a sleepy landscape. Built by the emperor Shomu, a convert to Buddhism, Nara played an important role in the spread of that religion in Japan, as evidenced by the ancient temples that still dot the city. Now it is celebrating that history in style.

After a $100 million investment, the eighth-century palace that once anchored Heijyokyo (Nara’s ancient name), only to be razed following the transfer of the capital to Kyoto in A.D. 784, has been painstakingly rebuilt and is scheduled to open on April 24. To celebrate the cultural diversity of the Nara Period, when the city reigned as the capital, Nara has built a life-size replica of a ship that carried Japanese envoys to and from Tang China.

But the restored palace and ship are just stage-setters for a yearlong festival (300.jp/foreign/english) to celebrate the city and its history. In the works are carnivals, fairs and musical performances drawing on an era that saw the rise of Buddhism in Japan, as well as the increased influence of the Tang Dynasty.

A highlight, officials say, is the “Corridor of Light” festival from Aug. 20 to 27, when the palace will be illuminated with candles and LED lights.

At the recreated palace, a 15-minute walk or short shuttle bus ride from Kintetsu Yamato-Saidaiji Station, guards in period armor will re-enact something akin to an ancient Japanese version of Buckingham Palace’s changing of the guard three times a day, between April 24 and Nov. 7.

At the heart of the city is Nara Park, and nearby is the Todaiji Temple, and home to Japan’s largest Buddha statue, erected in 752.

The city’s modern-day charms, however, lie in Naramachi, a historic merchant area in the heart of the city, which is now home to small museums, traditional town houses and a scattering of quaint cafes and restaurants.

Ryo Yonehara, a Nara native who recently started an English language magazine, Nara Explorer, recommends taking at least an afternoon to explore Naramachi’s mazelike paths. “Strolling through Naramachi is when you’ll really fall in love with Nara,” he said.