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 31, 2013

Take a Hike

China's Mount Hua pilgrimage may be the most dangerous walk in the world. The poet Basho in medieval Japan had a much easier time hiking an ancient trail, I am sure.

I found this article on Yahoo. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here. The pictures which accompany the brief article are astounding. Enjoy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 8:27am PST

Snow and ice make China's Mount Hua pilgrimage especially dangerous

By: Shannon Dybvig

The five peaks of Mount Hua have been vertical sanctuaries for monks, hermits, and spiritual seekers, especially Taoists, for centuries, but to get to them pilgrims must cross treacherous trails, such as those made from links of chain and wooden planks joined by iron staples. And now with winter approaching, it's the most dangerous time of year to attempt what could be the most dangerous hike in the world. All five peaks are joined by steep, narrow trails, stairs, and ladders, and dotted with temples and lookout points. Though some peaks involve riskier ascents than others, all hikes require slow and steady climbing along the trails, or you'll risk a speedy decent. Numerous visitors have embarked on the hike and never returned, although the Chinese government isn't saying how many. Check out this skyscraping trek below.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Adversity and Commitment

I'm a believer that we have the time and resources to do whatever it is we want to do. Obstacles serve to help us distinguish between what we only think we want to do from what we really want to do.

Steven Pressfied, the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gate of Fire and many other fine books has written about this. While his article is directed at writers, I think it is every bit as applicable to those of us who study martial arts.


An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

How Pro Are You?

By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 12, 2012


The question is, “What’s the main difference between a pro and an amateur?”

My answer: depth of commitment.

I’ve always wanted to meditate. But my depth of commitment is unbelievably shallow. I can’t count my breaths past twenty. And pain in the knees? At the first twinge I’m up and outa there. It’s pathetic. I’m ashamed of myself. I’m an amateur. I will never succeed on my meditation cushion, and I don’t deserve to.

I lack depth of commitment.

One way to measure depth of commitment is to ask yourself of any calling, “How much adversity am I willing to endure to pursue it?”

Can you stand being broke? Can you live in a garret? Are you willing to work through pain—emotional, psychological, spiritual? Can you weather doubt, fear, despair?

The artist or entrepreneur must be like the hero of a movie. He has to be the protagonist of his own life, meaning be willing to pursue his objective (rescue his daughter from kidnappers, save the earth from vampires, kill Osama bin Laden) to the ends of the earth and then catch a ride on a rocket and keep on pursuing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Anti Fragile

One of my favorite authors is Nassim Taleb. He is the author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. His most recent book is Anti Fragile.

Below is an excerpt from an article Mr. Taleb has written in the Wall Street Journal. The full article may be read here.

Learning to Love Volatility

In a world that constantly throws big, unexpected events our way, we must learn to benefit from disorder, writes Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Several years before the financial crisis descended on us, I put forward the concept of "black swans": large events that are both unexpected and highly consequential. We never see black swans coming, but when they do arrive, they profoundly shape our world: Think of World War I, 9/11, the Internet, the rise of Google GOOG -1.01% .

In economic life and history more generally, just about everything of consequence comes from black swans; ordinary events have paltry effects in the long term. Still, through some mental bias, people think in hindsight that they "sort of" considered the possibility of such events; this gives them confidence in continuing to formulate predictions. But our tools for forecasting and risk measurement cannot begin to capture black swans. Indeed, our faith in these tools make it more likely that we will continue to take dangerous, uninformed risks.

Some made the mistake of thinking that I hoped to see us develop better methods for predicting black swans. Others asked if we should just give up and throw our hands in the air: If we could not measure the risks of potential blowups, what were we to do? The answer is simple: We should try to create institutions that won't fall apart when we encounter black swans—or that might even gain from these unexpected events.

Fragility is the quality of things that are vulnerable to volatility. Take the coffee cup on your desk: It wants peace and quiet because it incurs more harm than benefit from random events. The opposite of fragile, therefore, isn't robust or sturdy or resilient—things with these qualities are simply difficult to break.
To deal with black swans, we instead need things that gain from volatility, variability, stress and disorder. My (admittedly inelegant) term for this crucial quality is "antifragile." The only existing expression remotely close to the concept of antifragility is what we derivatives traders call "long gamma," to describe financial packages that benefit from market volatility. Crucially, both fragility and antifragility are measurable.

As a practical matter, emphasizing antifragility means that our private and public sectors should be able to thrive and improve in the face of disorder. By grasping the mechanisms of antifragility, we can make better decisions without the illusion of being able to predict the next big thing. We can navigate situations in which the unknown predominates and our understanding is limited.
Herewith are five policy rules that can help us to establish antifragility as a principle of our socioeconomic life.

Rule 1: Think of the economy as being more like a cat than a washing machine.

Rule 2: Favor businesses that benefit from their own mistakes, not those whose mistakes percolate into the system. 

Rule 3: Small is beautiful, but it is also efficient.

Rule 4: Trial and error beats academic knowledge.

Rule 5: Decision makers must have skin in the game.   

 


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The 48 Laws of Power, #5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. Among my favorites is about a scrap metal dealer thinking he bought the Eiffel Tower.

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

Law #5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life

Reputation is the cornerstone of power. Through reputation alone you can intimidate and win; once you slip, however, you are vulnerable, and will be attacked on all sides. Make your reputation unassailable. Always be alert to potential attacks and thwart them before they happen. Meanwhile, learn to destroy your enemies by opening holes in their own reputations. Then stand aside and let public opinion hang them.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

After the Rain

After the Rain, (Ame Agaru in Japanese) was the latest script written by Aikira Kurosawa.

A synopsis of the plot may be found here.

The film features some outstanding fight choreography.







Friday, January 18, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

FREE eBook on Practical Daoism in Everyday Life!

FREE eBook on Practical Daoism in Everyday Life! #36 ranking for books on Daoism on Amazon!

I've updated the eBook with a new cover and a couple of minor edits on the inside. The old cover sucked. I know this because one of my daughters told me so. She went ahead and made a new one for me and it is available now.

To commemorate the new cover, I am making Cook Ding's Kitchen: A Kung Fu Carry Out available FREE for 5 days starting NOW.

The eBook is available on Amazon for the Kindle here:


If you dont' have a Kindle, you can download the FREE Kindle Reading App HERE.

If you already have a copy of Cook Ding's Kitchen: A Kung  Fu Carry Out, Amazon will either soon send you an email or you will be able to download the update through the "Manage my Kindle" page on Amazon within the next few days.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"I Have No Desire to Retire"

Before getting to the business of this post, I just wanted to say that before the Advent Challenge I had been tracking some of my daily activities such as exercise on life.do. Today marks 50 consecutive days of working out!

Ip Chun is the oldest son of Ip Man.

From Wikipedia:

Ip began studying Wing Chun with his father when he was seven years old. In 1949, after the Communists established the People's Republic of China on the mainland, Ip's father left for Hong Kong and Ip, then 24, remained in Foshan to continue his studies in university. Ip studied Chinese history, philosophy, poetry, traditional music, and Buddhism.

By 1950, Ip had completed his studies and he chose teaching as a profession. In addition to teaching Chinese history, music and science, Ip also helped the Chinese Foshan Entertainment Department organize opera plays. During that time, he was awarded "The Person with the Most Potential in Chinese Art" award for his research in music. However in 1962, due to the Cultural Revolution, Ip and his younger brother, Ip Ching, were forced to leave Fo Shan and move to Hong Kong to join their father.

In Hong Kong, Ip worked as an accountant and newspaper reporter in the day and practised Wing Chun in the evening under his father's tutelage. In accordance with his father's wishes, in 1965, Ip participated in the affairs of the Wing Chun Athletic Association (WCAA) and became one of its founding members when it was formally established in 1968. During the first three years in the association, Ip took on the role of treasurer and was later appointed as chairman.

In 1967, Ip began teaching Wing Chun in Hong Kong and some of his first students, such as Ho Po-kai and Leung Chung-wai, still train with him at present. Between 1970 and 1971, Ip and Lau Hon-lam taught a class of about 20 students in Ho Man Tin. Ip's father died in December 1972 and entrusted the film footage of his Siu Nim Tao, Chum Kiu and Muk Yan Jong forms to his sons for posterity. Ip inherited his father's legacy and continued teaching Wing Chun.

Ip currently teaches five days and two nights a week at the Wing Chun Athletic Association, as well as teaching a class in Sha Tin once a week. Between 1985 and 2001, Ip traveled abroad to promote and conduct seminars on Wing Chun, before semi-retiring in 2001 to concentrate on teaching in Hong Kong. In 1992, Ip set up the Ip Chun Wing Chun Kuen Martial Arts Association (www.ipchun.org) to certify and authenticate those among his senior students, who have attained instructor qualification under his tutelage, to teach Wing Chun to students from around the world.

Ip served as a consultant for Ip Man, a biographical-martial arts film about the life of his father. Ip also made a special appearance as Leung Bik (son of Leung Jan) in another film, The Legend is Born – Ip Man.



Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Master Craftsman

I found this article at Tofugu. It's about the construction of Japanese swords and the few remaining sword smiths. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here, which includes a couple of videos. Enjoy.

Swords have always been a big deal in Japan. Japanese swords, or nihontō (日本刀) are one of the most highly sought after types of swords in the world today. A sword was even involved with the mythological creation of Japan. The Japanese sun goddess of the universe Amaterasu gave her grandson Ninigi the legendary sword Kusanagi (along with a mirror and jewel) when he was sent down to Earth to plant rice in Japan. But what makes these legendary swords so awesome? And who if anyone is making them today? Korehira Watanabe, that’s who.

Korehira Watanabe has the kind of passion and dedication you can’t help but respect. He is not only doing what he loves, but he is doing it for his country, for the Japanese people, and for tradition. He is keeping the ancient Japanese sword-making spirit alive. From an early age he knew what he wanted to do and he never gave up on that dream. Despite protests from his family (he was more or less disowned for his career choices), he followed his own path and ultimately succeeded in his endeavors. He is truly an inspiration.

Korehira Watanabe is one of the last thirty traditional sword makers left in Japan today. He has been painstakingly perfecting his craft for the past forty years but only in the last five has he really started to achieve results acceptable to him.
Many traditional craftsmen respond to modern times when handing down his craft. But the essence of the tradition suffers in doing so. I think it is meaningless to carry on the tradition that way.
He is attempting to recreate the legendary craftsmanship found in Koto swords from the Heian and Kamakura periods (794-1333 AD). This is nearly impossible to do because there are no blueprints or directions for making these swords and it’s not exactly possible for him to reverse engineer them. But these overwhelming odds have not slowed him down in the slightest. Even after forty years of hard work, Korehira Watanabe is still going strong with no signs of slowing down.
Recently he believes he has managed to create a few swords that match the quality of Koto swords, however. The art of true Japanese Shinken (lit. real sword) is in danger of dying out and Korehira Watanabe is striving to keep it alive.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Better Way to Practice.

I found this article at Life Hacker

Maybe you're accumulating thousands of hours of practice, but is it doing you any good? Are you working harder, or smarter? This article addresses that very question.

An excerpt is below;the full article may be read here.

A Better Way to Practice


While it may be true that there are no shortcuts to anywhere worth going, there certainly are ways of needlessly prolonging the journey. We often waste lots of time because nobody ever taught us the most effective and efficient way to practice. Whether it's learning how to code, improving your writing skills, or playing a musical instrument, practicing the right way can mean the difference between good and great.

You have probably heard the old joke about the tourist who asks a cab driver how to get to Carnegie Hall, only to be told: "Practice, practice, practice!"

I began playing the violin at age two, and for as long as I can remember, there was one question which haunted me every day.

Am I practicing enough?

What Do Psychologists Say?

When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. Ericsson is perhaps the world's leading authority. His research is the basis for the "10,000-hour rule" which suggests that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain – and in the case of musicians, more like 15-25 years in order to attain an elite international level.

Those are some pretty big numbers. So large, that at first I missed the most important factor in the equation.

Deliberate practice.

Meaning, that there is a specific type of practice that facilitates the attainment of an elite level of performance. And then there's the other kind of practice that most of us are more familiar with.
  
Mindless Practice

Have you ever observed a musician (or athlete, actor, trial attorney) engage in practice? You'll notice that most practice resembles one of the following distinct patterns.

1. Broken record method: This is where we simply repeat the same thing over and over. Same tennis serve. Same passage on the piano. Same powerpoint presentation. From a distance it might look like practice, but much of it is simply mindless repetition.

2. Autopilot method: This is where we activate our autopilot system and coast. Recite our sales pitch three times. Play a round of golf. Run through a piece from beginning to end.

3. Hybrid method: Then there's the combined approach. For most of my life, practicing meant playing through a piece until I heard something I didn't like, at which point I'd stop, repeat the passage over and over until it started to sound better, and then resume playing until I heard the next thing I wasn't pleased with, at which point I'd repeat the whole process over again.

Three Problems

Unfortunately, there are three problems with practicing this way.

1. It's a waste of time: Why? For one, very little productive learning takes place when we practice this way. This is why you can "practice" something for hours, days, or weeks, and still not improve all that much. Even worse, you are actually digging yourself a hole, because what this model of practicing does is strengthen undesirable habits and errors, increasing the likelihood of more consistently inconsistent performances.

This also makes it more difficult to clean up these bad habits as time goes on – so you are essentially adding to the amount of future practice time you will need in order to eliminate these undesirable tendencies. To quote a saxophone professor I once worked with: "Practice doesn't make perfect, practice makes permanent."

2. It makes you less confident: In addition, practicing mindlessly lowers your confidence, as a part of you realizes you don't really know how to produce the results you are looking for. Even if you have a fairly high success rate in the most difficult passages, there's a sense of uncertainty deep down that just won't go away.

Real on-stage confidence comes from (a) being able to nail it consistently, (b) knowing that this isn't a coincidence but that you can do it the correct way on demand, because (c) you know precisely why you nail it or miss it – i.e. you have identified the key technical or mechanical factors that are necessary to play the passage perfectly every time.

3. It is mind-numbingly dull: Practicing mindlessly is a chore. We've all had well-meaning parents and teachers tell us to go home and practice a certain passage x number of times, or to practice x number of hours, right? But why are we measuring success in units of practice time? What we need are more specific results-oriented outcome goals – such as, practice this passage until it sounds like XYZ, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like ABC.

Deliberate Practice

So what is the alternative? Deliberate, or mindful practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, that is, for lack of a better word, more scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of hypothesis testing where we relentlessly seek solutions to clearly defined problems.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Capoeira in Combat

Capoeira is fun to watch. In a demonstration setting, it's beautiful.

Have you ever wondered how those gymnastics might be applied in a combative situation? Check out this video. It shows students in a capoeira class sparring and putting all that athleticism to use.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Martial Arts Video Fest

Some odds and ends.

Here is a link to Movies about Mushashi and Movies Starring Toshiro Mifune.

Here is a link to a collection of Martial Arts Documentaries.

Years ago, the Detroit Institute of Arts hosted a film festival honoring Japanese film maker, Akira Kurosawa. Every Sunday evening, they showed a different film by Kurosawa, all ~30 of them. My brother and I dutifully went down there and saw all of the samurai films.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year! Now Give Up.

We attach ourselves to things and thereby cause no end of aggravation and pain for ourselves.

I stumbled across an article from which I've posted some excerpts below, that is well worth reading. The whole article may be read here.

What are you willing to let go? What better way to begin the New Year than to to give up, to travel a little lighter?

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." - Michelangelo

The Art of Giving Up

by Dyske Suematsu  •  November 5, 2006
One winter night, one of the few Japanese friends I had in my early 20s was playing a guitar at his company Christmas party. He was an architect and was about 10 years older than I was. Before he decided to study architecture, he was making a living as a guitarist in Japan. This was not the first time I heard him play, but I was still stunned by how good he was. After his performance, I told him that it was a shame that he was no longer pursuing his musical career. He then shared with me his recent realization that life is a process of giving up. At the time, I didn’t think much of what he said. I think I remembered it only because of its unusual reversal of the popularly held beliefs. Especially on this land of dreams, “giving up” is seen almost as sacrilegious. Everyone’s livelihood seems to precariously hinge on holding big, albeit distant dreams. For some people, the more dreams, the better. So, what did my friend mean when he said that life is a process of giving up?

...

“Giving up,” in this sense, isn’t the same as quitting. My friend was still playing guitar; he just wasn’t pursuing it professionally. Most alcoholics cannot enjoy alcohol in moderation; they have to quit entirely. In the same way, when you are attached to something, your choices are either to quit altogether or to depend on it for life. Either way, it is not enjoyable. It is also common to see aspiring artists, musicians, and actors entirely drop their activities once they come to a conclusion that they are not going to make it. At that point, it becomes clear that the driving force behind their creative pursuits was not their enthusiasm or passion, but their attachment to the idea of becoming someone. Or, it is also possible that whatever enthusiasm they had was overwhelmed by their fear of failure. Ironically, I believe that, if you can give up the idea of “making it,” you would have a better chance of actually making it. If you were not under pressure from your own expectations, you would enjoy your activities more, and therefore produce better work.

...

As I grow older and face various physical deteriorations, I’m forced to be in peace with the idea of giving up certain things in life. I could possibly refuse to accept the idea of giving up, and try running 10 miles every morning or spend hours in gym, but if my motivation for keeping up my physical strength is to be in denial, then what I’m really giving up is to have the courage to face reality. Again, this attachment to physical strength will eventually extinguish any enjoyment I might get out of exercising.

Having a child is a double-edged sword where it could expedite this process of detachment, or encourage greater attachment to one’s own ego. If you are to see your own child as an extension of your own ego, you are inclined to mold him into something you want. If you succeed at it, your child strengthens your attachment to your own ego. On the other hand, if you see your child as another person with his own ego, he provides plenty of opportunities to make your own ego objectively observable. In other words, your child becomes a useful tool for you to detach yourself from your own ego.

When you say, “I sacrifice myself for my kid,” what you really mean by it is that you are willing to make compromises between what your ego wants and what your kid’s ego wants. In an ideal world, you want your own ego to coincide with that of your kid (because he is merely an extension of your own ego.) If you had no such expectation, there would be no “sacrifice”, because the difference would be exactly what you would want in order to allow you to achieve the detachment from your own ego.