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 ~


Friday, July 31, 2015

A Martial Arts Giant: Donn Draeger

The late Donn Draeger was a giant in bringing Japanese martial arts to the west. He was doing mixed martial arts: judo, karate, kenjutsu, jujutsu etc., before MMA was cool.

Black Belt magazine did a very nice job with his biography and accomplishments in a two part article.

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is there.


Crane vs Tiger Kung Fu

The Tiger Crane set is a famous Hung Gar form.

At a zoo in China, a red-crowned crane flew into the tiger enclosure. Much of the enclosure is covered, so the crane couldn't immediately fly out. It was quickly set upon by 3 tigers.

The crane didn't do too badly. It not only defended itself but actually chased the three tigers off while suffering minimum injury to itself.

Below is a video of the encounter. You can read about the encounter at the Huffington Post here.



... and of course, I couldn't leave this post without posting the Hung Gar Tiger Crane set.






Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Philosophy of Yin Yang

Below is a video of a TED talk given by Chungliang Al Huang, who is noted for his taijiquan and calligraphy.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Article on the Late Chen Taijiquan Master Feng Zhiqiang

Yaron Seidman wrote a very nice article on  his recollections of training under his Chen style taijiquan teacher, Master Feng Zhiqiang, who created the Xinyi Hunyuan version of Chen style.

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

...

When we went to Di Tan park Feng would start singing a Peking opera or crack jokes with gentlemen and ladies exercising and dancing in the park. It seemed that many people knew him and were enchanted by his charisma. As soon as he walked into the park everyone was smiling, everyone was happy. There was a spot in the park where Hunyuan students were regularly practicing, and this is also where many people from across China and indeed around the world would come and look for him, hoping to learn something or even just take a picture.

Feng was not a great fan of this spot, there were too many strangers who always wanted something from him. Actually, for me this was a great lesson in humility, because I too was just looking for him for the fame and name, at least in those years before I met him. I too had such a dream to meet a great master, the kind that one would normally only read about in books. But my sheer luck brought me closer to the person and I realized my own mistake.

I realized that to learn from a teacher means to learn from his person and not from fame and name. Feng was such warm hearted kind person, making everybody around him smile, he was passionate about the Taiji he was teaching and dedicated to his students, he was a person who cared for other people, but being so famous made it difficult because so many wanted something from him.

Many famous and rich people also came to look for him hoping to make a connection with the master. One time I remember the owner of a famous winery came to visit and took us to a fancy lunch, and there were many such cases.

Feng was also often invited to give talks and presentations about Hunyuan Taiji and Qigong. One time we went to Beijing University where he gave a talk about Hunyuan Taiji to an enormous crowd. Feng often travelled around the world and throughout China to give seminars or hold symposiums about Hunyuan Taiji. One time we went to a large gathering and symposium about Hunyuan Taiji in Zhao Yuan, Shandong province.

There were so many participants, Hunyuan Taiji was popular everywhere. Feng had an extreme martial ability and this is why he became famous, but in his heart he wanted to help the multitude of people. I heard that from him many times, he cared for the old and sick, and he was very  happy that his Hunyuan Taiji art was able to help tens of thousands of practitioners.

These big Hunyuan Taiji symposiums demonstrated that there were practitioners from all walks of life; young and old, strong and weak, sick and healthy. Everybody practiced Hunyuan Taiji to get healthier and stronger.


Sunday, July 19, 2015

A Great Dojo

Peter Boylan over at The Budo Bum had a very good post on what makes a great dojo. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

“Dojo” is an old term for a place where one studies the teachings of Buddhism.  When Sanskrit was translated into Chinese, this was used to describe the spot where the Buddha completed the path to enlightenment.  It was the dojo 道場.  the way place.  The word dojo therefore, was ancient when the Japanese martial arts instructors in the Edo Period (1604-1868) began using it to describe their training halls.  

The usage has drifted a long way from the original meaning of the place where enlightenment was achieved. The ancient Japanese applied it to mean places where the teachings of Buddhism are studied, and within Buddhist organizations in Japan, this meaning is still used. The meaning though wandered further when some Edo Period martial artists started calling their training halls “dojo.”  Now the word is commonly used throughout the world.

I’ve seen many gorgeous dojo in Japan, from the stately Butokuden in Kyoto, to the lovely and peaceful dojo at Kashima Shrine, to many small, private dojos that are delightful pockets of beauty. The longer I train though, the more I come to understand that a dojo, no matter how lovely, is empty space that we have to fill with life and breath.  I’ve noticed that both non-Japanese and Japanese alike will use “dojo” to refer to the members of the training group, not just the facility.  This recognizes that it is really the people who make the empty space into a dojo, not the designated purpose of the space.
 
...
 
It’s the qualities of the people and their relationships that make a dojo great. I had a discussion with a some friends about what they feel makes a great dojo.  A lot of the ideas were about the physical space and things that are nice.  While I agree that a beer fridge is a wonderful thing to have in the dojo office, I’m not sure it’s a necessary component of an excellent dojo.  I’ve had great experiences in the parking lot back of Sensei’s house, and lousy ones in gorgeous, dedicated spaces (with beer fridges!).

The things I look for in a great dojo are the people.  I find that if you’ve got good people, the physical space will get taken care of.  On the other hand, if the people and relationships aren’t good, the physical space won’t keep things together.

The number one item on most people’s list of requirements for great dojo, and what everyone thinks about first, is the teacher. Having a good teacher is important, because the teacher sets the example for everyone else of how things are supposed to be in the dojo. In a merely good dojo, the teacher can be anywhere from a competent technician to world class, but they will likely maintain a somewhat distant teacher-student relationship. The teacher never stoops down to the students level.

In a great dojo though, the teacher is more like a head student than a teacher standing above everyone at the head of the classroom dispensing the lesson.  These teachers are every bit as much students of the art they are teaching as the newest beginner.  They find a joy in polishing their own skills, and discovering new things about their art that is as strong and fierce as that of any student.  This joy in practicing, improving, and discovering new things about their budo, and the teachers ability to share this with the rest of the dojo is what stands out for me in the teachers at great dojo.  The teacher’s personal skill level is almost incidental.  It may only be a few steps ahead of the students, but that’s fine.  The teacher is leading the dojo on a great, joyous journey of improvement and discovery, not dispensing wisdom and correction from on high.
 



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Get Tough!

Below is an excerpt from a 3 part series that appeared at Wikihow.com

The full series may be read here.

Get tough!

The toughest among us are those who persevere in the face of obstacles, lead others through dangerous situations and stand tall when people cut them down. If you want to be tough, you'll need to put in the hard work and effort it takes to hone your best qualities and beat your negativity. Building confidence, getting physically strong, and learning to fight for your beliefs are all central to toughening up. Read on to learn more about getting tougher.

1
Stay steady under pressure. One of the most important qualities a tough person can have is the ability to stay strong when things get rough. Breaking down, flipping out or otherwise letting your emotions get the better of you won't help you or anyone around you when the world seems to be crashing down. Figure out what you need to do to stay relaxed in an emergency or when you're under threat. Practice as often as possible so your tough mental state becomes second nature.
  • Next time you face a difficult situation, consciously pause, stay silent and count to 10 before you react. Take the time to think through the best course of action. Remind yourself that you are strong and you have the presence of mind to face the situation head on.
  • If someone is bullying or otherwise bothering you, think before you speak. Stay calm and assess the situation instead of running away or lashing out.
  • You can practice meditation as a way to understand what it feels like to stay focused and calm no matter what outside distractions occur.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Training with Sifu Yee

Below is an excerpt from an 11 part memoir of a student of a kung fu master and proprietor of a Chinese resturant. I found it fascinating reading. The whole series  may be read here.

Part 1
After 9 years of the night club business, in 1983 we purchased an apartment house on the beach in Fort Pierce, Florida. I went down to prepare the building for rentals on my own without my family. Knowing that I would be eating out a lot, I started to check out the local restaurants. I had wondered in to a small Chinese restaurant off the beaten path.

I always liked to try the small restaurants. From my experience in New York I had found that the small ones were the best or at least I thought so. This time would be no different. Little did I know that I would find much more then good food. After finishing my meal, I walked to the front of the restaurant to pay the bill and noticed a corkboard with various local notices and started to read it while waiting for the waitress to take my check. I noticed a small file card that read, "Kung Fu classes, inquire here." I was involved in the martial arts since the late 60's. I started in Korean Karate, moved on to various different styles of Gung Fu, Tai Chi, Hsingi, Pak Ka, wrestling, grappling, Jeet Kune Do seminars, and the like. When the waitress came I ask her who was teaching Kung Fu? She said the cook, who was also the owner and he was in the kitchen and I could go back and talk to him. At First I declined, but she insisted, so I went back.

There was this man standing over a wok cooking and smoking at the same time. My first thought was that he is a Kung Fu teacher? and is smoking? I told him that I was interested in his teaching and he wanted to know my experience which I proudly told him. Then I asked him what style he taught and he said, "Jook Lum." I read about it in a magazine, the article was about a Gin Foon Mark. I had seen him do a demo on TV and was not really impressed. Mr. Yee started talking about his system and the more he talked the more I got lost. After about a 15 minute conversation he said I could come watch them train. He said that they trained a few times a week and classes start at 10:00 PM in the alley by his restaurant. As I walked from the restaurant I thought maybe I would stop and take a peak and maybe not.

About a week and a half later I went back to the restaurant to eat and Mr. Yee noticed me sitting at a table. He came over to the table and ask me where I'd been. I told him that I was busy and would try to stop some night. He told me they where practicing that night and that I was welcome to stop in. At about 10:30 that evening I went to watch. I watched for about 45 minutes as his students drilled in the basics.

I was getting bored and was looking for and excuse to leave. They say that ignorance is bliss, I certainly found out this was true on that evening. I was judging this system on my understanding of the arts. I had studied many different arts. I had not seen any trained this way and did not understand. So naturally I thought it was not good for self-defense. I had came from a background of kick boxing, and a lot of sparring. As they went through their movements I tried desperately to use them in a fighting situation.

From being in the night club business all those years I always looked at the arts for practicality, something you could use to remove a trouble maker from the club, with the least amount of danger to oneself. The more I watched the more I got confused with the movement. I told Mr. Yee that I had to go because I had an early day tomorrow or something like that.

Mr. Yee told me to wait for a while and he moved out to the center of the alley. He started explaining the system and the powers. After watching a few minutes of his movement I decide to stay. His gung Fu was like nothing I'd had seen before. It was short, fast, with snappy movement, but yet soft and powerful. His movement was like that of a well oiled machine. There was a carport at the side of the alley and while Mr. Yee was talking he was working his way towards it. Hanging on one of the support poles was a small bag filled with sand that they used for training. Now if you ever hit a bag filled with sand that had been out in the rain for sometime you would appreciate how hard it can get.

Once when I was training in Korean arts I had made the mistake by filling an Army duffel bag with sand and kicking it with my bare feet. It was hanging in the back yard of my house. I decided that I would go outside and practice my kicking routine. The neighbors were sitting out in their yard, as I strutted by with my new Karate uniform on. I was proud that I was involved in Karate and thought this was a great opportunity to show off. It had been raining earlier in the week, and little did I know that after a few rains on that sand bag, it would get as hard as concrete. I positioned myself in front of the bag, made sure that everybody was watching threw a round house kick with the toes, (suppose to be the ball of the foot, I would find out later) and wham the bag didn't even dent, just my toes did.

Now some people have this talent to remember movement, some have this ability to make there movement look good. Some can really dazzle a crowd. But with me, the only god given talents that I have in the arts are that I was born with a strong jaw, and a high pain tolerance, and can usually use the art in a fighting situations. And in some situations it would seem that god just wanted me to suffer. So after one kick I half limped, half walked back passed the neighbors trying not to show the pain. I was really feeling the pain and mumbled something about I forgot that I had to do something else, and pretending not to notice the smiles on there faces.

Anyway, while still talking Mr. Yee began striking the bag from inches away. The support poles were vibrating and shaking. I remember it brought me to my feet. Now he had all my attention. His knuckle was leaving huge dents in the sand bag and he showed no emotion on pain as he struck it very hard. His elbows seemed to be part of his upper body. His hands and arms did not pull back, they just released from where they were. On the other side of the alley was a building with a solid raised panel door, while still explaining his art he positioned himself in front of it. From inches away he struck the door, again and again, this time with his fingers. The door was rattling, then his fingers broke the door.

Mr. Yee looked at me and said that you have to be able to strike with more then the fist or knuckles. I had spent years at doing finger push ups, hand and wrist strengthening exercises, and just hand conditioning in general, but never had I'd been able to accomplish this kind of strength. I had never seen that kind of short energy. I had always heard that it existed, but after visiting several men that claimed they could demonstrate it, I always left disappointed. After that he came over and sat down beside me and lit a cigarette and said, "Oh.. What the hell? We are crazy people, right? We mess with this Kung Fu when we could be making money!" Then he laughed.

I had trained under Paul Huber for years, while training with Paul we had studied many different styles together. Paul was strong and fast. Paul was very capable in many different forms of self-defense, but never had I seen anything like this. When I got back to my apartment, it was about 1:00 AM. I couldn't sleep so I gave Paul a call. Paul answered the phone and was not real happy to here from me at this time in the morning. I ask him if he knew much about Southern Mantis? He said he didn't know much more then me, but from what he had seen he was not very impressed.

I told him about my experience with Mr. Yee. Paul became very interested and we talked for about and hour. After that evening I started training with Mr. Yee, but I had to go home after a few months and prepare to move down. I assured Mr. Yee that when I moved down I would be definitely joining his class.


Friday, July 10, 2015

Imagery in Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from Black Arrow blog, which is about Kyudo. The post is about the use of imagery in kyudo training. This sort of thing is prevalent in Yiquan and related arts. I think we could all benefit.

The full post may be read here.


They are the signs that point us to elevated technique.

They are the way we communicate with invisible theories.

They are what ignite our imaginations, bringing our kyudo practice to life.

Images.

Image training.

More than I have experienced in any other martial art, image training plays a major role in the practice of kyudo. It is how teachers and students communicate together. Just explaining technique and the movements of the body can easily become dry and difficult to perceive. Instead of such explanations, images are used as powerful ways of communication that allow us to easily cut corners.
Often using images allows us to play with techniques we haven’t even learned yet.

For example, when first learning the bow a teacher will probably tell you push the bow and string apart instead of pulling. By doing this we will naturally start using the structure of our bodies, our bones, our elbows, and our legs … using our bodies as a whole to push the bow and string apart, instead of just pulling the bow and string apart with the strength of our hands. By doing this we are utilizing a lot of different and difficult separate techniques, but without even explaining them. All we need is one compact phrase, an image.

It really is magic, isn’t it?

This is the difficult, and yet at the same time easy part about kyudo.

We have all these seemingly disparate techniques that feel unnatural, requiring a lot of training to engrain subconsciously into our bodies, and yet most of these techniques can be instantaneously conquered by the use of images.

But more than just overcoming technique, it’s fun.

And it’s Freedom!

We can use whatever image we like with our kyudo. Our images affect how we feel in our practice, and translate to what we do. Nobody’s set of images will be the same as another. Even if we use the same images, for example, pushing the bow instead of pulling, all of us will see and feel this differently. So how we practice kyudo will be completely different from everybody else, even though it seems like we’re all doing the same thing. This is our expression. This is what makes kyudo an art.

This is what puts the art in “martial arts”.

Images are effective ways of communicating various small seemingly disparate techniques in simple compact phrases, and they are also super fun.

For one more example, I’ll leave you with what may be the king of all kyudo imagery:

矢筋
Yasuji.

The line of the arrow.

Often times when I feel all is lost, all my teacher needs to say is “Focus on the yasuji,” and most everything fixes itself.

There are a myriad of ways one can interpret this, but for me it is the line of the arrow extending to infinity in each direction.

Where this image helps me most is in the kai (full draw). In the kai it looks like we are just standing there waiting to release, but what we’re really doing is utilizing nobiai and expanding from the center line in our chest equally and infinitely to the left and right. We must release amid that expansion outwards to the left and the right. However, often times I will find myself stopped in the middle of the full draw, not exending, dead, waiting for a release which I will forge using the strength of my hands. By focusing on the line of the arrow extending in both directions, our shoulders and elbows and left thumb mimic the arrow and extend in both directions. Continuing to focus on the line of the arrow will allow us to “follow through” the release, extending along the line of the arrow. The arrow has no choice but to fly straight into the target.

Magic.

I can’t even imagine how many small techniques are used with various parts of our body to make a proper release in kyudo, but they can all be instantly mastered by focusing on one simple thing:
the line of the arrow.

Yasuji.



Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Influence of the West upon Chinese Writing

An interesting article on how the West has influenced Chinese writing. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read  here.

China Chronicles is when we have a look back at 5,000 years of Chinese history - and pick out something pertinent...
Few are the men who would be willing to lay down their life for the written word; but T. H. Tsien, who died earlier this month at the age of 105, was one of them. In 1941, Tsien rescued over 30,000 books from war-torn China, sneaking the thousand-year-old volumes past customs in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Had he been caught, he would have lost not just the precious volumes but his life as well.
Tsien's story illustrates not only the bravery of one man, but also the immense importance that the written word occupies in Chinese civilization.  As the oldest writing system still in use, the history is long and storied, charted out by millenia by gradual evolution. In the traumatic 19th and 20th centuries after Chinese and Western civilization first collided, however, this process of change went into hyperdrive. In this edition, we look at same of the ways that Chinese was challenged and changed by modernity...
The late Qing and Republican eras were ones of great political uncertainty and constant intellectual self-scrutiny and exploration. Educated Chinese, seeing their country battered and humiliated by an ever-broadening cast of tiny 'barbarian' countries, studied every kind of political theory and debated new possibilities for national strengthening progress – a cause for which any cornerstone of Chinese civilization, even the Chinese language itself, could be sacrificed for the greater good. Intellectuals across the empire sought to answer the question put forward by the scholar Feng Guifen – "why are they small and yet strong? Why are we large and yet weak?" – and many answered, "because of our language."
Matteo Ricci and Michele Rugieri were the first to systematically apply the roman alphabet to Chinese in 1588, but this was only to assist other Jesuit missionaries in learning Chinese and had little effect on Chinese society. The first to arouse Chinese interest in alphabetizing their own language was Nicolas Trigault, who was also the first to suggest that the lack of phonetic alphabet not only made the job of foreign learners more arduous, but complicates communication between the Chinese people themselves, united by a single written language but divided by innumerable, mutually unintelligible regional dialects.
These later attempts by the Jesuits in the alphabetic writing of Chinese, although still intended mainly as aids to fellow missionaries and not as proposals to reform the Chinese language, began to exert some influence over the thinking of Chinese intellectuals. The first comments to be recorder by a Chinese scholar on the subject exalted the idea of a phonetic alphabet; he wrote, "[i]n the West... in the basis of ideas they form sounds, and the basis of sounds they form words, these being unique and distinctive. Isn't this better?"
This comment was a portent of later developments. Chinese criticism of their own language come to a head in the 19th century, as the efforts of Protestant Missionaries and Chinese reformers did not stop at annotating Chinese script for easier learning and standardization but sought to replace characters with phonetic script. The impact of foreign imperialism and responses to the Western presence in China around this time were complex and profound, culminating in what Zeng Guofan predicted would be "not just a crisis for our Qing dynasty, but the most extraordinary crisis of all time for the Confucian teachings." 
To resolve this crisis, Wang Chao, Secretary of the Board of Rites and cause célèbre of the Hundred Days' Reform, espoused better education for the common people, and the greatest obstacle to this was, in his mind, the lack of "a script that will bridge the spoken and written languages and unite speech and writing." Wang set about creating this bridge once he had regained his freedom, and 1900 produced a work entitled Mandarin Phonetic Alphabet. Towards the end of 1905 and the beginning of 1906, Wang Chao's Mandarin Alphabet began to appear on street corners and in pamphlets, and schools were established to teach the writing system – twenty in Beijing alone – through which tens of thousands became literate. The scheme even managed to impress Yuan Shikai, who drew up plans to promote the scheme in the areas he controlled.
Early Communist ambitions were to do away with Chinese characters entirely; writing in 1958, Zhou Enlai predicted that "like the languages of all other countries, Chinese language is bound to become a phonetic language at long last." In arguing the case for what would become known as pinyin, he made the point that it would be of invaluable assistance to foreign learners of the Chinese language.



Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Judo 10th Dan Kyuzo Mifune

I had previously posted a video of the legendary 10th dan of Judo, Kyuzo Mifune, toying with a number of 6th and 7th dans trying to throw him.

Below is a video of Mifune doing ground work. Again he is just amazing to watch.



Want more?

How about a whole HOUR of Kyuzo Mifune?

Enjoy.