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 ~


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Demo of Two Techniques by Yoshinkan's Takeno Sensei

The face thrust thing in the second part of the clip? As a brown belt, fooling around doing free style with other brown belts, I got knocked out once by that one.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Treasure Trove of Information About China

A friend sent me this link. It's a website with a little of everything about China. It has many small articles about a great number of topics. Categories include: Scenery, History, Philosophy, Traditions, Arts, Food, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Kung Fu and News.

The site is a little buggy, but it's worth soldiering through. Enjoy.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Taijiquan Pioneer: Sophia Delza

Sophia Delza (1903 - 1996) was a famous dancer who lived in China in the late 40's and early 50's. She had the good fortune to become a student of Ma Yueh Liang. She returned to the US and was one of the first teachers of Wu Style Taijiquan in North America.


She wrote one of the first books to attempt to explain the form movement by movement. She wrote another which reflected on her over 40 years of practice.


Below is a video of her doing the form which was shot by one of her students in the 60's.


Sophia Delza Tai Chi from erik matthiesen on Vimeo.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Mantis under the Tiger's Shadow

This post was written by an online friend, a man I know as "Zen." He's the author of Zen's Sekai I ( Sekai is World in Japanese). He's a 36th generation student and teacher of Northern Shaolin through .the line of Jack Man Wong. He's also a 6th generation student and teacher of Tai Chi Praying Mantis. Among his other accomplishments and activities is the study of  Chan Buddhism.


Zen is planning on sailing from California to his wife's homeland, Japan. There he will teach Chinese Martial Arts and study Kyudo.


Please pay his blog a visit. Enjoy.
 
A Mantis under the Tiger's shadow

I was asked by my blogbud to do a guest spot here. He had a topic of sorts in mind about my teaching a Chinese Art in the land of the Rising Sun, Japan.

On first thought that would seem a bit off and when I first thought of moving to Japan I also thought, hmm this will not do well.

However let's look at s few things in perspective. A large part of the Japanese culture was developed from China, written language, medicine, ceramics, Zen, just to name a few. Even Karate itself, The kanji for Karate at one time meant Tang Fist or China Fist, before it was changed to Empty Hand. Historically Japan has held things from China in high regards.

The Shaolin arts of Kung Fu are not just about combat. Combat is one of the smaller parts of training. Many forget that Shaolin Kung Fu as we know it today was developed in a Buddhist Monastery with heavy Taoist influence.

Buddhist philosophy is about love and peaceful existence with all. All life is connected and interdependent. Combat skills are a by product of training to live harmoniously and safely in a violent world.

With Japan having the highest suicide rate of the developed countries there is a market for something that will help calm the troubled spirits.

I made an acquaintance in Kobe Japan who teaches Chinese Hung Gar and Tai Chi. He says that most of his students are females, they are the ones with the adventurous spirit these days. I have heard there is a rise of females taking up sword training. Guys are busy being stressed out, working, etc. That is ok, I am finding most of my students here in the states are female as well. Perhaps the guy will benefit indirectly.

On a few of my several trips and stays in Japan I was able to join into a park Tai Chi class that had been going on for several years. The leader had studied Tai Chi at the local Chinese community center.

I also came upon a large Shaolin center during a vist, this was written as Shorin-ji which is the Japanese version of Shaolin.

These things tell me there is a place for the study of Chinese arts under the shadow of the Shotokan Tiger.

Over the years of my study in the Chinese arts I often heard, there is more to Kung Fu than fighting, but no one taught or spoke on it in any detail other than the mention of it in passing when discussing Kung Fu philosophy. Over the last several years I have made a point of finding that “missing” element of Kung Fu and learning how to reinstall it back into my teachings. This need lead me to the Art of Kyudo, and the practice of Zen in order to become a better Kung Fu teacher. This may sound kind of strange, but as we say in Chan/Zen all things are connected. On searching this path I found a Shaolin Chan group who’s head teacher is a “vice-president” of the Shaolin Temple in China. He is in charge of bring back the original form of Chan meditation and teachings to the temple.

After the last few years of training and study I have little by little been bring that into my current class teachings of Northern Shaolin Tai Chi Praying Mantis Kung Fu. I find, it balances the program and training for the students. I have heard my current Praying Mantis Sifu speak on this, This is a new age he says and the “daily fighting that needs to be done is more for our health and well being than fighting the bad guys”. Most people get into a fight once or twice in their life. But everyday they have to fight for their health, fight stress, fight sickness. This will be the path of my teachings in Japan... Kung Fu beyond Combat.

As a artist uses different “mediums” to express their connection to the Universe, the Art of Kung Fu will be yet another medium for this expression in Japan through my classes. The combat, the self defense will be there, but so will be the added balance of spiritual and health training. Shaolin arts are also about healing and love not just destroying and violence. Kung Fu is an ancient art that still lives and adapts for modern times.

Having studied Karate, and Kyudo as well as other aspects of the Japanese culture I feel comfortable in using this as a method of communicating this multi-cultural art form. As I am not out to make a financial success of this teaching. Just even sharing and helping a few will be considered by myself a success.

A Zen master once said to me, in joy there is also sadness. In this adventure of resetting myself on the other side of the world it is exciting and there is joy in leaving the madness that is becoming norm for survival life here in the States. There is sadness in leaving my Kung Fu family and support of many years. There is a certain joy in not being a teacher, removing that robe and just be a student with peers in a training class.

I am also fortunate in that I have been invited to train with a Kyudo dojo and have met several of the senior members, this in addition to other acquaintances I have developed is a joy. This is good for moral support of being a stranger in a new land. In fact I feel in a sense like I am going home rather than a new place.

However I will be alone on my Kung Fu path for the most part under the Tiger’s shadow. Yet even still there is the light of visits from my Sisuk, who loves Japan and who promises to come visit and train me so to continue to raise my skill level and bring honor to lineage of Grand Master Chi Chuk Kai and the Northern Shaolin Tai Chi Praying Mantis system.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stance Training

Mike at Internal Gong Fu has an excellent post on stance training for internal martial arts. An excerpt is below. The whole post may be read here.


Internal Gong Fu Stance Training

Over the years I've looked at various stance training qi gongs to aid my internal gong fu. What I've learned is that stance training can be a method to develop internal strength but stance training in and of itself will not automatically develop internal strength.

What is stance? Any standing posture can be a "stance". Standing in line at the supermarket or standing and waiting for the bus is a "stance". Similarly any martial art "stance" can be performed like and yield the same results as standing in line at the supermarket or standing and waiting for the bus.

Therefore, I don't think there is any magical something inherent in any particular stance posture that through repeated performance will develop internal strength. Which is not to say that certain results cannot be realized through continuous and repeated practice of a stance. What I want to focus on here is using a stance as a tool to develop the feeling of whole body connectedness, what is felt as "internal strength".

There are numerous variables that determine the results of any stance training program. Among these are:
  1. My purpose
  2. My personal characteristics including ability to learn, commitment, etc...
  3. The teacher's level of whole-body connectedness; internal strength
  4. The teacher's ability to adjust my posture to elicit the feeling of connectedness in my body
Standing in any stance with a particular purpose and focus becomes "stance training" and this can be hard work [gong fu]. Depending on your purpose and desired result, it can take more time to notice substantial, demonstrable results than, say, mechanically reproducing forms, techniques, and applications.

When I first started Tai chi, I started with forms, not stance. I assumed there was a magical something inherent in the form that through shear repetition would develop internal strength in me. Stance training was not part of the curriculum. Outside of class and on my own I practiced a low Horse Stance for the purpose of strengthening my legs. Still, no internal strength.

Years later when I realized that I didn’t develop internal strength through forms, I thought maybe I could develop it through stance training and so I began practicing zhan zhuang. (This also could have turned out to be a wrong assumption had I not found the right teacher.)

Early in my zhan zhuang training, I also took classes from Gary Torres. I learned and trained a variety of stances: Tiger Stance, Horse Stance, Half-Horse or “L” Stance, Bow and Arrow Stance, Lotus Stance, Rooster Stance, Empty Stance, Short Empty Stance, Tai-chi Stance. Note: This is the breadth of my stance training experience.

The depth of my stance training has occurred in practicing Wujifa Zhan Zhuang for several years with The School of Cultivation and Practice. I think I am now beginning to feel and understand the process of developing internal strength through the use of stance.

I like browsing the martial arts section of the local bookstore looking for others' experience with stance training. The martial art books tend to mechanically describe postures. The chi kung books seem to go into more depth using, imagery, chi and meridian language, and references to Taoist philosophy but that "depth" is often an illusion.

I personally have not yet found any published authors that describe in depth their experience with using stance training as a method to develop whole-body connectedness, internal strength and are written in plain English.

I did however find a few articles on the internet that I think provide a good summary of a general "why" and "how" of stance training and are generally written in "plain English". If this is your first time reading about stance training, please visit these sites and read the entire article. Below are some excerpts from these articles.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Exploring our Mental Contructs

Having just come in from throwing snow, what better time to kick back with a nice hot cup of tea and read a guest post by Rick Taracks, who teaches Wujifaliangong at The School of Cultivation and Practice in Plymouth, Michigan. I've known Rick for many years, and he's an excellent teacher. Please pay a visit to his blog. Rick has made a special study of standing practice, or Zhan Zhuang.


Noticing Conflicts and Wujifa

It seems to be human nature to cling to certain beliefs, concepts, methods or rules. Let's refer to these simply as “mental structures” or "mental constructs". These structures can very often feel familiar and comfortable to us almost like "home" or at times they can feel strange or even like mental trappings and feel some what or even very uncomfortable. In either case, mental structures can either be very limiting or very useful depending on how they are approached.

It seems like common sense to say, "To be functional, we need to adjust, update or discard beliefs and concepts that have become obsolete." that is, until your mental construct comes face to face with a very different situational reality. At that point, many people would rather distort their reality than take a closer look at what the changes, either around them or within them, may be suggesting. The simple act of looking at these obsolete beliefs, concepts or mental structures, will open a road to discovery and greater understanding.

First, we must acknowledge that there is both an experience in “real-time” and then there are the previously established ideas, beliefs, methods, or rules which can limit the real-time experience. Rather than saying the real-time experience is good and the limiting experience is bad, we can explore the framework of these mental structures and in so doing, find them useful. And to be useful, since we are exploring unfamiliar territory, it’s best to keep the "chunk size" of our exploration to that which is easily “digestible”. As long as we remain flexible and open to the possibility that the chunk size at which we are working is not the whole picture, and so is most likely flawed, we will leave the door open just enough to allow new insights.

A brief recap, the mental constructs we create can serve a functional purpose in that they can be explored as methods; they are not the truth. Therefore, by exploring and understanding our mental constructs, we can open ourselves to learning much more about ourselves as the inconsistencies of our beliefs, concepts and rules are examined and exposed.

Often one can find that different internal belief systems and even seemingly functional concepts can conflict with one another in an “either-or” manner. A typical response is to say that one is wrong or one is right without looking deeper. This is a perfectly fine place to start. However, if one stops there and doesn’t allow space for something else to be noticed, then the person may get "locked-in". Ultimately, there is often an un-noticed, more functional, underlying principle and herein lies the opportunity for growth.

Like the finger pointing to the moon, we notice the conflicts (the finger) but often overlook noticing the deeper and more generalized concept or concepts that such conflicts can be pointing toward. The alternative to this "either-or" conflict can be just the thing for an "a-ha" moment if we take the time to explore there.

Consider the following example. Think of the Chinese concept of Yin and Yang. This concept of polarity can point the way back to a place where the differences were once connected in a different form of harmony, a more true type of connectedness or oneness. But we must both learn how to and be open to formulating questions, sometimes questioning our own inner authority. In this example, we may ask: What is the concept that gave rise to this polarity or Yin and Yang? What was there before polarity arose at all?

This is but one example of how to trace an either-or, right-wrong, polarity type of issue back to its source. Again, noticing the method is like noticing the finger and questioning the method is like noticing the direction being pointed to and together, both can lead to an "a-ha" moment; a deeper understanding.

But having one “a-ha” moment is not the end of the show. Over time, "a-ha" moments tend to crystallize into concepts and as time passes, these may be revealed as being a method in polarity or a belief in conflict with another method or belief respectively. Upon making this discovery, some people may get dejected, however, this is a wonderful growth opportunity because the fallacy of this polarity (when thoroughly questioned and examined) can point to the next lesson and the next step in your development.

In the word "Wujifa", the "Fa" means principle. In Wujifa, “principle” serves as a method to reveal greater understanding so we can notice the direction the so called "finger" is pointing to. The practice of Wujifa is more than practicing methods, though this is where many people start. Wujifa practice becomes a series of “a-ha” moments and over time, each moment reveals a deeper more unifying principle.

In the end it comes down to movement; change and development. Mental constructs, whether they are called, beliefs, concepts, methods, or rules, and the crystallization of concepts as being right or wrong, can lock you into a limiting system which may, over time, bear no relation to your current, present, real-time experience. Tracing the mental construct back to its source, to its underlying principle, is in itself a method that is used to expose the constructs for what they are and in so doing, can keep us moving toward a deeper understanding, one which can functionally transform us by giving us a more fluid understanding of the direction we are headed and ultimately further ground or “root” us in our present, real-time experience. This simply concept can help in many different practices and is also one of the foundational tools we use in our Wujifa practices and skill-sets.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Sometimes, the old ways are the best ways

A friend sent me an article about the oldest tea company in Taiwan. An excerpt is below. You can read the whole article here.

Taipei’s oldest tea shop thrives on honesty

Lin Hua Tai Tea Co. is Taipei’s oldest tea wholesaler and retailer. (Staff photos/Audrey Wang)

    * Publication Date:10/14/2010
    * Source: Taiwan Today
    * By  Audrey Wang

Taipei’s oldest tea shop, the 131-year-old Lin Hua Tai Tea Co., has never changed the way it does business with tea farmers and customers.

Sixty-four-year-old Lin Mao-sen, the fourth generation owner, described his business as “a very traditional one.” Just as in the old days, the shop follows a routine of buying, roasting, sorting and selling tea leaves. He never really considered adopting new marketing strategies in the face of intense competition from ready-to-drink bottled teas and changes in the drinking habits of the younger generation, for his sales have barely been affected by these trends, he said.

In 1879, Lin’s great grandfather, originally a tea farmer, began the family business of processing and selling tea leaves in Taipei County. Before long, the store was relocated to its current location in the Dadaocheng area of Taipei City.

Tea leaves purchased from farmers are already processed and ready to infuse, but to give the shop’s teas a deeper and more sophisticated flavor, Lin said, his family goes the extra mile with an additional roasting process. “This practice, getting rid of extra moisture in the tea leaves, keeps the dry leaves fresh longer and ensures a more consistent tea quality,” Lin said.

When he was a child, tea leaves were roasted on large bamboo trays over burning charcoal for two straight weeks, Lin said. Back then, the Lins often hired as many as 10 helpers in their busiest seasons and those in charge of this process had to get up every two hours in the middle of the night to toss the leaves on the trays to prevent localized overroasting.

Today, machines have replaced most of the labor; only two people are needed to operate a giant tea-roasting machine, with a few more helping hands afterward to spread the hot tea leaves on the floor to cool before being sorted, Lin said.

His 660-square-meter shop still preserves its old wooden window frames and compartments. The spacious outlet houses 50 large tin barrels, holding dozens of varieties of tea in different grades, including the well-known tieguanyin, regular oolong and white-tip oolong, a special type of oolong produced only in Taiwan.

On each container, red paint marks the name and price of the tea, ranging from NT$133 (US$4.24) to NT$6,667 per kilogram. Lin said he insists on the visible price labels to prevent customers who cannot tell tea quality by observation from feeling they are being cheated. “Price is determined solely by quality,” Lin explained, noting that customers always get what they pay for and there is no difference between wholesale and retail prices in his store.

According to Lin, the shop’s patrons have come from all corners of the world, and throughout Taiwan. Because their price tags are so visible in the store, however, there is very little room for travel agents to charge under-the-table sales commissions, so there are very few tourist groups.
Lin hua taiLin Mao-sen showcases the finest variety of tieguanyin, also the most expensive tea leaves in his store.

Lin said over the years he has turned down all offers from travel agencies to bring in tourists in exchange for sale commissions. He does not want to overcharge the end-customer by manipulating prices in the store and risk tarnishing his business reputation.

“Relationships with customers must be based on good old-fashioned trust,” he said. “Trust is something that needs to be cultivated for a long time, but once it is in place, customers will naturally keep coming back.”

Lin learned his business philosophy from his father, who considered honesty the most important value in business. In 1964, when a flood ruined all the tea leaves they had in store, Lin’s father immediately decided to discard the entire inventory, although it amounted to the worst loss in the history of their business.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sen

Below is an excerpt from www.Kendo-Guide.com. The full article may be read here. By the way, the painting of the comorant is by Musashi.

Kendo Terminology: Sen
"Sen no sen" "Sen sen no sen" "Go no sen"

This kendo terminology, "sen" is an important part of our kendo life, especially in the early stage. Thus, we must really understand what "sen" means...

If you just say this word "sen" to a Japanese, they think that you are trying to tell them something about 1000 (the number).

However, in kendo, we use "sen" as in "sen wo toru", which means "to anticipate (what your opponent will do)".

It is important to know this word because 1. senseis use this word all the time, 2. we want to achieve this level.

There are "Sen no Sen", "Sen Sen no Sen" and "Go no Sen".