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, November 21, 2014

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #54: Tianmu Mountain Ascended in a Dream

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. 

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.

Li Bai

A seafaring visitor will talk about Japan,
Which waters and mists conceal beyond approach;
But Yueh people talk about Heavenly Mother Mountain,
Still seen through its varying deeps of cloud.
In a straight line to heaven, its summit enters heaven,
Tops the five Holy Peaks, and casts a shadow through China
With the hundred-mile length of the Heavenly Terrace Range,
Which, just at this point, begins turning southeast.
...My heart and my dreams are in Wu and Yueh
And they cross Mirror Lake all night in the moon.
And the moon lights my shadow
And me to Yan River --
With the hermitage of Xie still there
And the monkeys calling clearly over ripples of green water.
I wear his pegged boots
Up a ladder of blue cloud,
Sunny ocean half-way,
Holy cock-crow in space,
Myriad peaks and more valleys and nowhere a road.
Flowers lure me, rocks ease me. Day suddenly ends.
Bears, dragons, tempestuous on mountain and river,
Startle the forest and make the heights tremble.
Clouds darken with darkness of rain,
Streams pale with pallor of mist.
The Gods of Thunder and Lightning
Shatter the whole range.
The stone gate breaks asunder
Venting in the pit of heaven,
An impenetrable shadow.
...But now the sun and moon illumine a gold and silver terrace,
And, clad in rainbow garments, riding on the wind,
Come the queens of all the clouds, descending one by one,
With tigers for their lute-players and phoenixes for dancers.
Row upon row, like fields of hemp, range the fairy figures.
I move, my soul goes flying,
I wake with a long sigh,
My pillow and my matting
Are the lost clouds I was in.
...And this is the way it always is with human joy:
Ten thousand things run for ever like water toward the east.
And so I take my leave of you, not knowing for how long.
...But let me, on my green slope, raise a white deer
And ride to you, great mountain, when I have need of you.
Oh, how can I gravely bow and scrape to men of high rank and men of high office
Who never will suffer being shown an honest-hearted face!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Taekkyon vs Capoeira

Capoeira is a well know Brazilian martial art that emphasizes kicking. The training is often conducted to music.

Taekkyon is a traditional Korean martial art that may be the forerunner of Taekwondo, and is also paired with music.

After seeing videos of Capoeira and Taekkyon, I thought it would be really interesting to see a video of a match between them.

I looked for a long time but couldn't find anything.Then this one turned up on a martial arts forum that I follow.

I don't speak Korean so I am guessing here. This seems to be an exhibition match between a Korean Taekkyon school and a Korean Capoeira school (that has a few foreigners as members). The matches seem to be from the least to the most advanced in the respective schools.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Improving Your Martial Arts Practice

Below is an excerpt from an interesting website, Fierce Gentleman. It's about self improvement in general, but the concepts can't help but improve your practice specifically. The full article may be read here.

Changing your behavior is hard.

Luckily, there is a scientifically proven way to do it that gives you the best chance of success.

Anyone who is trying to change their behavior without understanding this science needs to stop, now.

Read up on the science. Learn to do it the more effective way.

Then, start again, with better strategies, and create the life you’ve always wanted.

Here’s the other thing you should know: behavior change is hard. Hard like algebra. You will work on it for “a while” before you get to that dream-life. What is “a while”? Years.

But that’s okay. The secret of self-development is that everybody has to work hard and put in a lot of work, if they want to achieve something great.

It just so happens that here at Fierce Gentleman we believe that every man is destined for greatness.

So, below we give you the keys to greatness: 23 scientific keys you need to change anything in your life.

Of course, information alone does not lead to life change. (That’s one of the keys.)

But never before has so much high-quality, scientifically-validated information been available for free, to anyone, to get their path started:

23 Scientific Keys to Change Any Behavior

  1. Willpower is weak. Environmental influences are much more important than willpower.1,2
  2. Information does not lead to action. Emotions lead to action. (Tweet this) This one is harder to back up with scientific studies, but it has long been my personal experience….over 8 years of studying both my own behavior, and the behavior of others who I’m trying to help. Information allows us to know in which direction we can go, but ultimately, emotions motivate us to take action. See also 2
  3. The Internet destroys your ability to focus. Unless you’re reading higher-level long-form articles, like this one. Read the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
  4. Facebook makes you unhappy. Delete your account (unless you’re using it for business.) 3
  5. Today’s processed foods are engineered to flood the reward centers of your brain, and potentially trigger food addictions that will wreck your health and wellbeing. Eat vegetables instead. 4,5
  6. Exercise makes your brain bigger. It also gives you more self-control, lifts depression, and stamps out anxiety. 6
  7. Meditation makes your brain bigger. It also gives you more self-control, lifts depression, and stamps out anxiety. 7
  8. Alcohol makes you stupid. Also, fat, sick, ugly, weak of will and — eventually — dead. Give up alcohol. (Personal experience, common sense.)
  9. Take time off work. Overwork drains your willpower and makes you stressed and sick. (Personal experience, common sense.)
  10. Maximize neurotransmitters oxytocin, GABA and serotonin. Minimize activities that have you “chasing the dopamine dragon.” Activities that stimulate dopamine: shopping, gambling, pornography, binge eating. Activities that stimulate serotonin, oxytocin & GABA: getting a massage, swing in a hammock, spending time with loved ones, meditating, praying, listening to music, reading. (See The Willpower Instinct.)
  11. 60% of our daily decisions are habitual. That means that changing our habits is critical to changing our lives over time. (See BJ Fogg’s Persuasion Lab at Stanford University and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)
  12. Changing habits start small. We call this a “wedge” that we can drive into your life patterns to get leverage for further improvement. The smaller the initial change, the higher the likelihood of success. (See The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Building Inner Strength

A Chinese story, kind of a Taoistic story about a philosophic farmer.
One day, the farmer’s horse ran away, and all the neighbors gathered in the evening and said ‘that’s too bad.’

He said ‘maybe.’

Next day, the horse came back and brought with it seven wild horses. ‘Wow!’ they said, ‘Aren’t you lucky!’

He said ‘maybe.’

The next day, his son grappled with one of these wild horses and tried to break it in, and he got thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbors said ‘oh, that’s too bad that your son broke his leg.’

He said, ‘maybe.’ The next day, the conscription officers came around, gathering young men for the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. And the visitors all came around and said ‘Isn’t that great! Your son got out.’

He said, ‘maybe.’

Not internal strength, aka internal power as in Internal Martial Arts; rather, strength of character. The type of mindset of the Stoics or the Wuji of Zhuang Zi. That kind of internal strength.

This article appeared at Fulfillment Daily. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here

It's an interesting list. You could do worse.

The Challenge: We all want (and need) inner strength, yet few know how to find it.
The Science: Science suggests 9 keys to developing inner strength that keeps you smiling.
The Solution: Integrate these 9 keys to inner strength in your life for greater fulfillment.

In 1914, Thomas Edison’s lab burned down, and years’ worth of his work was destroyed. This could easily be described as the worst thing to happen to Edison, but the inventor instead chose to see it as an energizing opportunity that forced him to rebuild and re-examine much of his work. Edison reportedly said at the time: “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start again fresh.”

“In a world that we don’t control, tolerance is obviously an asset,” Ryan Holiday, author of the forthcoming The Obstacle Is The Way, told The Huffington Post. “But the ability to find energy and power from what we don’t control is an immense competitive advantage.”

He’s talking about mental strength, a difficult-to-define psychological concept that encompasses emotional intelligence, grit, resilience, self-control, mental toughness and mindfulness. It’s something that Edison had in spades, and it’s the reason that some people are able to overcome any obstacle, while others crumble at life’s daily challenges and frustrations.

The ability to cope with difficult emotions and situations is a significant predictor of our success and happiness. The most capable individuals in this way are able to turn any obstacle into a source of growth and opportunity. And while much has been made of what mentally strong people avoid doing — things like dwelling on the past, resenting the success of others and feeling sorry for themselves — what do they actually do? What tactics do they use to overcome adversity time and time again?

“Things that we think are obstacles are actually opportunities to do something,” says Holiday. “[To] be rewarded in some way that we never would have expected, provided that we address and don’t shirk from that obstacle.”

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Gozo Shioda Yoshinkan Aikido Demonstrations

A compilation of demonstrations done by Yoshinkan Aikido founder Gozo Shioda from 1978 to 1981. At  the time, Shioda would have been in his mid 60's.

I don't like some of the behavior of the ukes, but the power and timing of Shioda is unmistakable.

Monday, November 03, 2014

The Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu

At Meerkatsu blog, there is a review of Choque: the Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil 1856 - 1949. At 744 pages, it must be quite a book and is certainly on my wish list. 

An excerpt is below and the full review may be read here.

Book review: Choque: The Untold story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949

Writer Roberto Pedreira delves into Brazilian newspaper archives in a quest to uncover as much verifiable information about the origin of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Along the way, he uncovers some uncomfortable truths that may alter your perception over who did what, where and when between 1856 and 1949.  At 744 pages, it is a weighty volume and much of it consists of lists of names, fights and other accounts of raw data culled from newspaper reports and adverts. 240 pages are dedicated as an appendix and this includes numerous photographs and press clippings. It all adds up to an essential read for any self respecting BJJ enthusiast and sets the scene for an eagerly anticipated Volume 2.

Available from: Amazon in paperback or digital format
Pages: 744 (240 pages of which form the appendix)
Price: £10.68 book, £6.19 Kindle
Language: English
Print version weight:  1.2kg

What was the actual truth to events that happened a long time ago? Reading Choque, this question popped up into my mind frequently. Clearly, if you believe what you read from the internet, the alleged story of how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came to be born will yield a variety of versions - hardly any of them accredited to verifiable sources. There is of course the book by Kid Peligro called The Gracie Way. It is extremely interesting to re-read The Gracie Way in the light of the content within Choque - a subject that perhaps for another post.

I can't imagine how time consuming and laborious it must have been to wade through the dusty archives of Brazilian newspapers and interpret events that happened over 100 years ago. With no living witnesses who can verify events, Pedreira is left to interpret the newspaper articles and opinion pieces in his own way. A lot of reports were simply spin doctored press releases, some were more analytical, others were just adverts to promote a fight event. Throughout these scattered pieces of data, Pedreira picks up the story and charts the progress of the key players in Brazil who all contributed towards the sport that we know today. It's a pretty bumpy ride. A lot of preconceptions about who did what and when are overturned in Choque. Amidst the wealth of sports coverage, the drama and incidents all play out like a long-running TV soap drama.

About the author
I don't know anything about Roberto Pedreira. I don't even know if that is his real name. The only interview with him has since been deleted, but thanks to Wayback machine, you can read it here.

Paperback book
The version I have was printed in Great Britain under Amazon's own book publishing brand. The version in the US is published by CreateSpace, which is also owned by Amazon. The paper quality is good with print quality crisp. The paperback cover does curl easily, mainly because of the hefty size of the book, it's impossible to read without it suffering wear and tear. The typesetting and fonts used are rather simple and if I was being honest, it's not a pretty book to look at. But the content is what is King here.

Writing style
The format chosen by Pedreira is to write in chronological order. Paragraphs are written with a recall of the facts as they would have appeared in the original newspaper article. Pedreira then fills in between with his thoughts on what may or may not have happened. Often, the author has to introduce certain key people and jump around with dates in order to explain a certain fact or event, but largely, he sticks with the year in question. Quite often, in subsequent chapters, Pedreira will repeat a fact or explain something that he has already explained before. I actually found this useful since there is so much to digest within each page.

Pedreira's writing is sometimes less that fluid but far be it for me to critique his writing for he has had work published in numerous English language magazines and is the author of the popular title "Jiu Jitsu in the South Zone" as well as probably being the very first BJJ blogger with Global Training Report which was established in the year 2000!

The difficulty with writing any historical account is the reliability of the source information. Pedreira's exhaustive research into the newspaper archives and examination of other written sources, eg the Carlos Gracie biography and the Playboy interview with Rorion Gracie suggests he has at least tried to cover as much ground as humanly possible. The skill of the historian is with the interpretation of the facts and here, Pedreira fills in the gaps with as much plausible speculation as he will allow.

By his own admission, many newspapers of the time (as they do now) tend to accept source reports and quotations from interviewees without much critical analysis. Like any good academic textbook, Choque is stuffed full of citations with the original sources. I doubt the basic reader (like me) has the time or energy to verify any of these sources so I'll have to take the author's word that these are all accurate and accountable.

There are a number of spelling errors littering the chapters. Some are intentional - as the author explains, newspapers at the time were rather lax about how certain words and names were spelled. But Pedreira himself misses out on many common English words that a decent proof reader (human, not a computer) would probably have picked up a lot better. Still, given the sheer weight and length of the volume, it's something I could overlook whilst reading.

Friday, October 31, 2014


My brother had a dog that used to sing along with the chorus:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Zhang Zhuang in Taijiquan

Anyone who has known me or has read this blog for the last 9 years knows that zhan zhuang, the standing stake practice, has had a big impact on me.

Below is an excerpt from a post by Jim Roach at the Classical Tai  Chi Blog. The full post may be read here.

Zhan Zhuang for Taijiquan Practice. The Wuji Positions allows the practitioner to relax the mind, while, adjusting, aligning, and balancing the body to produce correct postures. Zhan Zhuang Training, on the other hand, strengthens the tendons and ligaments, aids in balancing, teaches the muscles to relax, and identifies weaknesses not noticed while practicing the Form. This is important in helping to identify the proper placement of the heel and weighting of the empty foot. 

The Square Form of Classical Taijiquan, brush knee movement is being used to illustrate how Wuji and  Zhan Zhuang can be applied at those stopping points for each position. Applying these training methods in addition to form practice will help the student in developing strength and proper form. Wuji is defined as nothingness, the beginning before intention and movement. Wuji is discussed in many Taijiquan Books written by both practitioners and masters alike. These writers mainly address Wuji in the Preparation Posture and/or the Closing Posture of the Taiji Form. As such, most readers are left to believe Wuji is only accomplished at the beginning and ending of the Taiji Form. However, this is not so. Wuji is practiced during every posture, that is, every posture begins with Wuji, moves into Taiji, and returns to Wuji.
Zhan Zhuang (standing like a stake, standing like a tree) Training is a way to relax both the nervous and muscular systems simultaneously. This is accomplished by combining exertion and relaxation simultaneously. Breathing is done by inhaling and exhaling gently through the nose while keeping the mouth closed and relaxed. The chest, stomach, and hips are in a relaxed state. Zhan Zhuang helps with the identification of the energy flow in the different positions and trains to keep the localized nerve activity dormant (Forum 6); as well as, strengthening the yin side of the posture for strong rooting and building power (Forum 7). There is no set time limit in Zhan Zhuang Training; however, the seasoned practitioner has been known to hold the positions in excess of twenty minutes. Some have claimed to be able to hold the positions for hours. It is important to remember, that as the tension builds in different parts of the body, to tell yourself to relax. (RELAX, RELAX, RELAX) Start with short time frames and increase the holding time slowly.