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 ~


Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Some Lessons From A Book of Five Rings

Below is an excerpt from an article published at The Martialist, entitled Seven Lessons from Miyamoto Musashi's Book of Five Rings. Here's a link to an online version of The Book of Five Rings.


Gabe Suarez, whose work in the field of self-defense I quite admire, wrote an article for the May 2004 issue of Black Belt magazine in which he analyzed the five scrolls of Musashi’s Book of Five Spheres and discussed their relevance in modern times. My Wing Chun Kung Fu instructor thought so highly of Gabe’s article that he discussed it in class. This prompted me to go back to my well-worn copy of the text to reread it. In the course of that I thought I might try to distill some of the lessons I’ve taken from it. These aren’t necessarily the most important thoughts Musashi relates in the text, but they’re the ones I’ve taken most to heart in the context of my martial development and the ongoing task of self-defense.

1. Be a Pragmatist.

According to translator Thomas Cleary, Musashi wrote deliberately in a clear, almost crude style lacking the flowery subtext of his contemporaries. His prose carries the tone, at least when rendered in English, of someone tremendously confident in the remarkably simple principles he is relating – principles that can be applied to different spheres of human activity. He saw only four walks of life and he saw martial skill as essential to life. He did not believe in overcomplicating things. “When you attain a certain discernment of the principles of mastering swordsmanship,” he wrote, “then, when you can defeat one opponent at will, this is tantamount to being able to defeat everyone in the world.”

2. Be a Skeptic.

Musashi, writing hundreds of years ago, decried empty commercialization and poor teaching in words just as relevant then as to today’s martial arts community. “The field of martial arts,” he said, “is particularly rife with flamboyant showmanship, with commercial popularization and profiteering on the part of both those who teach the science and those who study it.” The self-defense industry today is rife with McDojos, strip mall money pits, fly-by-night “fear no man” schemes, and desperate but ridiculous attempts to be different in a market flooded with just-invented combat systems claiming fictional historical roots. It seems the 17th century was not terribly different than the 21st – for good reason. Human nature has not changed in the intervening years. We’d all do well to remember Musashi’s warnings as we seek qualified and effective instruction.

3. Nothing Worth Doing is Easy.

“The long sword seems heavy and unwieldy to everyone at first,” Musashi wrote, “but everything is like that when you first take it up.” That’s the lesson I remember most often in my daily life. Musashi understood, hundreds of years ago, something that too few of us remember today. When you start something new, it’s difficult at first. You have to stay with it or you will never accomplish anything worthwhile. I spent the first three months of my Wing Chun Kung Fu training wondering if I should quit, but I remembered Musashi – and I resolved to stick with it. When I finally started to “get it,” I was glad I had not given up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Collection of Masters

Below is an excerpt from a post a Master's of IMA blog, about the history of The Central Guoshu Institute.The doors were opened in 1928, and some of the most famous masters in China taught there.

The CGI opened its doors in March 1928 as the Central Guoshu Research Institute [zhongyang guoshu yanjiu hui], with the name officially changing to the Central Guoshu Institute [zhongyang guoshu guan] in June of that year. It was initially situated in Han Jia Xiang [Han family lane] in Nanjing, and had to ‘borrow’ some rooms from the Chinese Christian Association. Li Jinglin [3], the vice-dean of the institute, as well as Ma Yingtu, Liu Yinhu and others, moved over to Han Jia Xiang as well. Amongst the ‘founding fathers’ of the CGI were the famous educator Cai Yuanpei, Kong Xiangxi [4], Yu Youren [5], Niu Yongjian, Zhang Zhijiang and Zhang Shusheng. The CGI was administered by a board of governors, with warlord Feng Yuxiang as head governor. An advisory committee was also set up, composed of famous people of the time. Every semester, these famous names would hold advisory meetings and make recommendations to the board.

...

In its original incarnation, the faculty at CGI was divided into two schools, the Shaolin School headed by Wang Ziping and the Wudang school headed by Gao Zhendong. [6] Whilst the Wudang School taught the familiar neijia arts of xingyi, bagua and taiji, the Shaolin School actually included many arts not directly related to Shaolin gongfu, such as bajiquan, piguazhang, zha quan, etc. Soon after the CGI was founded, this structure led to challenges between the two factions, eventually resulting in clashes between the subject heads of the respective schools, which led to both the vice-dean Li Jinglin and Wang Ziping resigning from their posts in late 1928 and the restructuring of the CGI. Post-restructuring, all individual subject heads reported to the vice-dean, a role first occupied by Zhang Xiangwu [7] and then after 1939, Chen Panling [8].

...

In its original incarnation, the faculty at CGI was divided into two schools, the Shaolin School headed by Wang Ziping and the Wudang school headed by Gao Zhendong. [6] Whilst the Wudang School taught the familiar neijia arts of xingyi, bagua and taiji, the Shaolin School actually included many arts not directly related to Shaolin gongfu, such as bajiquan, piguazhang, zha quan, etc. Soon after the CGI was founded, this structure led to challenges between the two factions, eventually resulting in clashes between the subject heads of the respective schools, which led to both the vice-dean Li Jinglin and Wang Ziping resigning from their posts in late 1928 and the restructuring of the CGI. Post-restructuring, all individual subject heads reported to the vice-dean, a role first occupied by Zhang Xiangwu [7] and then after 1939, Chen Panling [8].

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Pugilist at Rest

The subject of the sculpture, The Pugilist at Rest, is thought to be Theogenes, a famous boxer in ancient times. Thom Jones, in his short story, The Pugilist at Rest (named for the statue) explains the history of this great boxer:

"Theogenes was the greatest of gladiators. He was a boxer who served under the patronage of a cruel nobleman, a prince who took great delight in bloody spectacles. Although this was several hundred years before the time of those most enlightened of men Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and well after the Minoans of Crete, it still remains a high point in the history of Western civilization and culture. It was the approximate time of Homer, the greatest poet who ever lived. Then, as now, violence, suffering, and the cheapness of life were the rule."

"The sort of boxing Theogenes practiced was not like modern-day boxing with those kindergarten Queensberry Rules. The two contestants were not permitted the freedom of a ring. Instead, they were strapped to flat stones, facing each other nose-to-nose. When the signal was given, they would begin hammering each other with fists encased in heavy leather thongs. It was a fight to the death. Fourteen hundred and twenty-five times Theogenes was strapped to the stone and fourteen hundred and twenty-five times he emerged the victor."

Perhaps it is Theogenes who is depicted n the famous Roman statue (based on the earlier Greek original) of "The Pugilist at Rest." I keep a grainy black-and-white photograph of it in my room. The statue depicts a muscular athlete approaching his middle age. He has a thick bear and a full head of curly hair. In addition to the telltale broken nose and cauliflower ears of a boxer, the pugilist has the slanted, drooping brows that bespeak torn nerves. Also, the forehead is piled with scar tissue. As may be expected, the pugilist has the musculature of a fighter. His neck and trapezius muscles are well developed. His shoulders are enormous; his chest is thick and flat, without the bulging pectorals of a bodybuilder. His back, oblique, and abdominal muscles are highly pronounced, and he has the greatest asset of the modern boxer - sturdy legs. The arms are large, particularly the forearms, which are reinforced with the leather wrappings of the cestus. It is the body of a small heavyweight - lithe rather than bulky, but by no means lacking in power; a Jack Johnson or a Dempsey, say. If you see the authentic statue at the Terme Museum, in Rome, you will see that the seated boxer is really not much more than a light-heavyweight. People were small in those days. The important thing was that he was perfectly proportioned."

"The pugilist is sitting on a rock with his forearms balanced on his thighs. That he is seated and not pacing implies that he has been through all of this many times before. It appears that he is conserving his strength. His head is turned as if he were looking over his shoulder - as if someone had just whispered something to him. It is in this that the "art" of the sculpture is conveyed to the viewer. Could it be that someone has just summoned him to the arena? There is a slight look of befuddlement on his face, but there is no trace of fear. There is an air about him that suggests that he is eager to proceed and does not wish to cause anyone any trouble or create a delay, even though his life will soon be on the line. Besides the deformities on his noble face, there is also a suggestion of weariness and philosophical resignation. All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Exactly! He knew this more than two thousand years before Shakespeare penned the line. How did he come to be at this place in space and time? Would he rather be safely removed to the countryside - an obscure, stinking peasant shoving a plow behind a mule? Would he be better? Or does he revel in his role? Perhaps he once did, but surely not now. In this the great Theogenes or merely a journeyman fighter, a former slave or criminal bought by one of the many contractors who for months trained the condemned for their brief moment in the arena? I wonder if Marcus Aurelius loved the "Pugilist" as I do, and came to study it and to meditate before it."

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #36: At a Border Fortress

The Tang Dynasty was a golden age of culture in China. Poetry was especially esteemed. 300 of the best poems of that age were collected into the classic 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. An English translation of the anthology may be read by clicking here.


In the meantime, here is #36, At a Border Fortress:


AT A BORDER-FORTRESS



Cicadas complain of thin mulberry-trees
In the Eighth-month chill at the frontier pass.
Through the gate and back again, all along the road,
There is nothing anywhere but yellow reeds and grasses
And the bones of soldiers from You and from Bing
Who have buried their lives in the dusty sand.
...Let never a cavalier stir you to envy
With boasts of his horse and his horsemanship

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kata and Aikido

Below is an excerpt from a post by Diane Skoss, who is a long time practitioner of classical Japanese martial arts. The whole article may be read here.

Non-aikidoka are often confused when I talk about kata in aikido — “You mean like what they do in karate?” Even most aikidoka are aware of kata only as a term referring to form as opposed to application, or in reference to Saito Sensei’s solo or paired weapons training sequences. Morihei Ueshiba apparently did not approve of the kata training method, believing that “static” prearrangement of techniques interfered with the direct, spontaneous transmission of techniques from the gods. Thus, in most styles of aikido, kata as a set of prearranged techniques is not used as the primary training method. Kenji Tomiki, like his master Jigoro Kano before him, felt that kata was a valuable teaching tool and incorporated it into his system. Today, most Tomiki practitioners could tell you that a kata is a set of techniques practiced with a partner for teaching the basic principles of various aspects of Tomiki aikido.

In fact, the Japanese term kata encompasses all of the above… and more. Donn Draeger defines kata as “prearranged form” and goes on to explain in his Classical Bujutsu (p. 56) that “kata became… the central training method for all bujutsu… [because] it is the only way by which the action that characterizes the bujutsu can be practiced without the practitioners being wounded or killed.” Obviously, during the Sengoku Jidai (Age of Warring States), the warrior had ample opportunity to experience direct spontaneous technique on the battlefield, and preferred to concentrate his training time on perfecting the skills that would provide the base from which such techniques could arise when needed. This was done through innumerable repetitions of kata, practiced with one partner as “doer” (shidachi) and the other as “receiver” (uchidachi).

Warriors were evidently willing to risk their lives based on this type of training, perhaps because many of the kata techniques and sequences were believed to be the divinely inspired creation of the founder of the ryu. In any event, kata contained the knowledge and experience acquired by successes on the battlefield, either of an individual martial genius or as an accumulation of the experiences of many. Each technique (also, confusingly to the Westerner, sometimes referred to as kata) in a kata sequence represents a specific situational study—a particular maai, kamae, attack pattern, or weapon—and the sets were organized in various ways to emphasize particular lessons, usually of increasing complexity. Using these reasonably safe, predetermined sequences, warriors were able to train at the edge to develop the reflexes, intuition and courage to survive in battle.

Kata was considered an essential component of the spiritual “forge” of training, which became increasingly important as the classical traditions evolved into peacetime ways. “Kata are filled, as it were, with physical koan, or conundrums, situations that evoke technical crises” (Draeger, Classical Budo, p. 52). In order to solve these puzzles a process of intuitive learning-through-action must occur, and this investigative process gradually reveals the technical and spiritual truths essential to mastery.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Vermeer Bonanza!

A friend sent me a link to a veritable bonanza of articles on the Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer. Below is an excerpt of the main article. The read the whole thing as well as the others, click here.

Jan Vermeer

Updated May 4, 2009

Just about the only thing we know for certain about the 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer is the thing that matters most: he was a miraculous painter. What was miraculous about him, among other things, was that he painted nothing, or mostly nothing: a woman reading a letter, or asleep at a table. But he made it seem as if time had nearly stopped in these pictures, and the effect is like slow-motion film: the ordinary suddenly looks extraordinary. Put another way, Vermeer eternalized moments that we all live, the ones when nothing much is happening, and gave them an almost mystical gravity.

Is this what makes him so popular? Partly, perhaps. His beautiful works are an effortless and hypnotic pleasure. A painting like "Woman With a Pearl Necklace" is a typical, well, jewel, full of strange portent: the young woman gazes at herself in the mirror as a diffuse golden light pours through the leaded window and glints off her earring, the yellow satin of her fur-trimmed jacket and the hand-wrought nails of a chair. The image is about vanity, to be sure, but also spirituality, since the woman, in her near rapture, looks as if she might be lifting up a host, not a necklace.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Three Laughters of the Tiger Ravine

Kokei Sanshō 虎渓三笑 
Three Laughers of Tiger Ravine


Three Laughers
at Tiger Ravine
by Chūan Shinkō
仲安真康 (mid +15C)
Tokyo Nat’l Museum
spacerBelow text courtesy of JAANUS. Chinese = Huxi Sanxiao. An allegory about three Eastern literati (東晋) who realize by accident that spiritual purity cannot be measured by artificial boundaries. One day the poet Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (Jp. = Tou Enmei, +365-417) and the Taoist Lu Xiujing 陸修静 (Jp. = Riku Shuusei, +406-477) traveled to the Donglin 東林 temple on Mt. Lu 廬山 to visit the Buddhist theologian Huiyuan 慧遠 (Jp. = E On, +334-416) who lived there as a recluse, vowing never to cross the stone bridge over the Tiger Ravine (Jp. = Kokei 虎渓) that marked the boundary of the sanctuary. After an evening together, Huiyuan accompanied his friends as they left the temple. Deeply absorbed in conversation, Huiyuan inadvertently walked with them across the Tiger Ravine bridge. When the men realized what had happened they broke out in spontaneous laughter -- hence the title of the anecdote "Kokei Sanshou" or "Three Laughers of the Tiger Ravine." It is this moment that is usually depicted in paintings. The story probably originated with the late Tang poet Guanxiu 貫休 (Jp. = Kankyuu +832-912). Variations on the theme stress that the three men represent China's three creeds -- Confucianism (Tao Yuanming), Buddhism (Huiyuan), and Taoism (Lu Xiujing) -- and that in the instant they crossed the bridge all were enlightened by realizing that narrow adherence to one philosophy or religion is contrary to true wisdom. Notable works include those by Chinese artist Ma Yuan 馬遠 (Jp. = Ba En, late +12th century), and, in Japan, by Chuuan Shinkou 仲安真康 (mid +15th century), Shoukei 祥啓 (late +15th century, Kohouan 孤逢庵, Daitokuji 大徳寺), Kanou Sanraku 狩野山楽 (+1559-1635; Myoushinji 妙心寺), and Ike no Taiga 池大雅 (+1723-76, Manpukuji 万福寺, Kyoto). <End JAANUS quote>
Symbolism in This Artistic ThemeBridge = Buddhism, Crossing to “Other Shore”
Boundary = Taoism, Polarity, Yin/Yang, Natural Laws
Adherence to Strict / Rigid Rules = Confucianism
Confucius (Confucianism) = Tao Yuanming 陶淵明
Lao tsu (Taoism) = Lu Xiujing 陸修静
 Shakyamuni (Buddhism) = Huiyuan え遠 

Actually, I wanted something a little less scholarly in the explanation of the import of this incidence, and as I was looking around, I found a blog post that sums it all up very nicely. A portion is excerpted below. You can read the whole post at Church of the Churchless. Enjoy.

Three laughers at the tiger ravine

Today I came across a scroll, painted by Bangaku, of “Three Laughters at the Tiger Ravine.” This anecdote explains their laughter.
Three_laughers_at_tiger_ravine

"This is an allegory in which three literati realize by accident that spiritual purity cannot be measured by artificial boundaries. One day the poet Tao Yuanming and the Taoist Lu Xiujing traveled to the Donglin temple on Mt. Lu to visit the Buddhist theologian Huiyuan who lived there as a recluse, vowing never to cross the stone bridge over the Tiger Ravine that marked the boundary of the sanctuary.

After an evening together, Huiyuan accompanied his friends as they left the temple.

Deeply absorbed in conversation, Huiyuan inadvertently walked with them across the Tiger Ravine bridge. When the men realized what had happened they broke out in spontaneous laughter-- hence the title of the anecdote 'The Three Laughers of the Tiger Ravine.'"
Ray Grigg, in his “ The Tao of Zen,” tells the story somewhat differently in a chapter on “Playfulness.” And he’s describing a drawing of the scene by Bunsei. But the meaning is the same.
[The drawing] shows a Taoist, a Confucian, and a Buddhist circled together in uproarious laughter. Apparently the Buddhist had taken a vow never to leave the monastery but, in the enthusiasm of visiting with his two friends, he inadvertently wanders over the bridge of the ravine that defines the monastery’s grounds.

The distant roar of a tiger breaks the spell of their visit and they realize the vow of confinement has been broken. They clasp each other’s hands and laugh. This is the playful spirit that supersedes vows and teachings and ideologies.
Three_laughers_at_tiger_ravine2
I like how Bangaku depicts the faces of the men. The image brings a smile to my own heretical face. Freedom! Release! Tiger roar!

These guys aren’t out to cause trouble. The Buddhist’s friends didn’t visit him with the intention of making him break his vow. They just ended up walking over the bridge naturally. And when the vow was broken, they laughed about it. Naturally.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Women's Self Defense, circa 1947

Note: July 5, 2012.

This has been one of the most popular posts on Cook Ding's Kitchen since it was originally published. I thought that I'd freshen it up a bit.

On July 14, 2012, the logo below will have a live link attached to it. The link will take you to the jumping off spot for the Women's Self Defense Blogging Carnival, where many articles on that topic may be accessed. This post will be my contribution to that worthy cause.


The video clip below features one Ms. Mary Parker, who was apparently well known in judo/jujutsu circles during her time. She is rumored to be the aunt of Patrick Parker.
 
I love these old videos. Too bad those jumper things the ladies are wearing went out of style, I think they look great.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Home Dojo

Ever want to build a home dojo? For those interested in a martial art which is based on throws and grappling, a show stopper is usually mats. They can be very expensive.

Below is an excerpt from an article on how to build inexpensive yet serviceable mats. The whole article may be read here.


Building a mat on a tight budget.

For many of us the most time consuming and costly part of starting a dojo will be our mat. The “mat” is the central focus of our physical Dojo, so it’s important that we have a robust mat we can be proud of. However for most of us, cost is an issue. Many start their schools out of their garages, basements, or inexpensive warehouse space. While a mat is definitely something we don’t want to “skimp” on, a really nice “store bought” mat can be staggeringly expensive. This is especially true if you are fortunate enough to have a large space.

When selecting the type of mat you need, there are many questions you’ll have to ask yourself. What are the requirements of my space, should be your first question. Do you need a mat that can be put away after every training, or will it be permanent? Do you need to use the space for something other than Aikido. Often times people will run their Aikido school out of a church or youth group building. In a case like this you cannot use a permanent mat because you’ll need to remove the mat for the other functions that the space is being used for.

The size of your space and the cost to “mat” it is important as well. If you have a large space, filling it with real tatami, or faux-tatami is going to get expensive fast. Common tatami size is 71″ by 35.5″ (180cm by 90cm), close to 6 feet by 3 feet. The price range of tatami is going to be between $150 and $1000 (USD) per mat.

At that price 8 mats (only 12 feet by 12 feet) is not cheap, let alone a large 100-200 mat space.

When we built our mat these questions became very important. Cost turned out to be the most prohibitive factor for us. The mat we built was based on a mat we had trained on at Aikido of Fresno for years. The design is hard enough so that it doesn’t feel mushy and hard to move on. Yet flexible so you can fall on it over and over without injury. The mat is softer then faux tatami on concrete, but much firmer then a sprung floor covered in tatami. It’s a permanent mat, so not ideal for spaces that must be used for other purposes. But the cost is insanely low. By far the least expensive of all the options we found.

We built our mat for $450, and it’s about 350 sq ft. Covering the same space with faux tatami would have cost us around $2850 (not including shipping). The best thing is it doesn’t cost much more as the mat’s size increases. It’s a perfect mat for your garage dojo at home, or for your commercial school in a large warehouse. You can build a really large, quality mat with this design for very little money, and for most of us that’s pretty important.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Maybe 10,000 Hours Isn't The Answer

Ever since Malcolm Gladwell's book, "Outliers" came out, there has been a lot of discussion about accumulating training time on the clock (or calendar). After all, "kung fu" indicates a skill acquired by hard work over a long period of time. After all, it's so simple and straight forward - just rack up 10,000 hours and voila, you're a master!

My own opinion had been that we only serve to drive ourselves crazy by trying to figure out ways to cram in more and more training time. Budo study after all, is meant to enhance our lives; not replace it. Spending all one's time training in my view, would be a pretty bleak existence.

My view is that the martial art I study is trying to teach me to move in certain specific ways, and if I make that way of moving habitual, then I am reinforcing that, training during every waking moment.


But here below is an excerpt from an article that takes an entirely different direction. It's written by George Leynard, who is a senior aikido teacher. The entire article may be read by clicking here. Please do. It's very thought provoking.

Aikido - The Theory of Limits (Part1)

One of my students a while back gave me a book on the Theory of Limits. Suffice it to say that a) it was totally and completely over my head after about four chapters or so and b) it totally changed how I thought about the process of teaching and training.

Without getting too technical, what the book said was that, in a complex system like a factory, in order to increase output it is essential to analyze the different factors that went into production and arrive at which is the "limiting factor". Resources can be devoted to all of the other factors with little or no increase in the out, hence the "limiting factor.

If one treats the acquisition of Aikido skills as just such a complex system, with increase in skill level being the "output" desired, one can see how the theory of limits would be a useful way to think about ones training or how one would teach.

If most people were asked what the limiting factor was in their training, I think that most would reply "time". Most folks simply do not have the time to train as they would like. If they only could train more, then they would really be able to take their training to a higher level... But is time REALLY the true limiting factor. Most of the time I would say not.

I believe that the limiting factors for most Aikido folks fall into one of several categories. These all have to do with very basic and fundamental factors which means that they represent true "limiting factors" which, if not corrected make any progress impossible.

A few years ago, Ushiro Kenji Sensei, the Karate teacher was asked what one single thing would he point to that would, if addressed, make Aikido better. He didn't hesitate a second before replying "the attacks". I think that he is absolutely right and I would like to talk about the various issues with our attacks that make them the "limiting factor" for most Aikido practitioners.