Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

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 ~

Saturday, June 06, 2020

The Immovable Fudo Myoo and Martial Arts

Today we have a guest post by Jeremy Thomas. He previously wrote an article for us about his background in both Japanese and Chinese martial arts.

Fudō Myō ō:
Immovability and Martial Arts

不 動 明 王

"A sword to cut through our ignorance; A rope to bind our desires"


The concept of "immovability" is an attractive one, especially to a warrior or martial artist. The idea that one can maintain an immovable inner stillness, regardless of the onslaughts of external forces, is a virtue also sought by certain religious sects and ascetic monks. This is where the Buddhist deity Fudō Myō ō (Sanskrit; Acala) enters into the warrior traditions of the bushi, or samurai military class.

Fudō Myō ō translates to "Immovable Wisdom King". As previously mentioned, this idea of immovability appealed to warriors both in Fuedal Japan up to modern day Traditional Martial Artists. The famous daimyo and strategist Takeda Shingen, known as "The Tiger of Kai", had a statue of Fudō Myō ō built in his image:

"Famous for his battle standards quoting from Sun Tzu's The Art of War, Takeda Shingen was the 19th family head of the Takeda Clan. In 1559, at the age of 39, he became a monk and was afterward known by the Buddhist name Tokueiken Shingen. A resourceful tactician, Shingen built his position by fighting battles that he couldn't lose, listening closely to the advice of his vassals and building consensus. His armies were high in morale and bestowed upon themselves the title of "strongest under heaven", a reputation which soon spread. Shingen also had a statue of Fudo Myo-o built in his image."


This statue still stands today at the Takeda family temple at Tokueiken Shingen.
In my early days of studying Budo and bushi history, I always found it curious that an adolescent bushi, whose life would almost certainly be spent in military service, would have his combat training interrupted to be sent to a Buddhist monastery, ostensibly, to learn the ways of Peace, or the mental discipline of Zen. After quite a bit of research, what I found was an answer very similar to the aforementioned concept of immovability; these young bushi were developing what could be described as a "stable-inner platform". From this inner stillness, relaxed musculature, and iron constitution, martial techniques could be performed spontaneously and decisively, without conscious thought.

An analogy might be seeing a house cat, laying lazily in the sunny spot of the living room floor; and in a flash, he's alert, on the other side of the room.

These concepts of immovability and inner-stillness is what drew me to Fudo-san, along with his virtues. As a father of two severely autistic children, discovering a deity who despises injustice, protects the innocent and is a guardian of children, the elderly and the infirm was a great encouragement.

For my breathing and meditative practices, it gives me a point with which to focus during meditation sessions, whether I focus on the image or the mantra. For lack of a better term, it becomes a "jump-off point", to practice Mushin (no-mind; empty mind).

A recurring and persistent warning, of sorts, I've gotten from experienced Buddhist practitioners, is to not "get caught up in images".

Virtues and Imagery

In the MAT text, Fudō Myō ō's description translates as:

"He holds a sword and a noose,
His plaited hair hangs from the left of his head.
He is well adorned and one of his eyes squints.
He abides amidst his own light*,
Wrathful, seated upon a rock.
His face is creased in anger,
And he has a robust, youthful form."

 - (MAT II.40. Hodge : 113)

In his right hand, the sword in Fudo-san (as he is often called in Japan) wields is known as "Kurikara" (demon-subduing sword), which is used to ward off demons and cut through human ignorance. The hilt resembles a Vajra (lighting bolt), a Buddhist ritual tool sometimes used as an improvisational weapon. In his left, he holds a noose, or rope (depending on translation), with which to bind our evil, selfish and self-destructive desires.

Fudo-san's fierce, wrathful countenance reflects his hatred of the injustices that exist in the world; as a colleague once pointed out, "If he is angry, he is angry for all the right reasons".

However, in essence, Fudo-san is a guardian and a servant. Fudo-san displays this aspect of his service by having his hair knotted in seven knots, falling to the left of his face, in the style of a traditional servant. He has two protruding, fang-like teeth, a lower tooth and an upper tooth. The upper tooth is pointed downward and this represents his bestowing limitless compassion for those who are suffering. His lower tooth is pointed upward and this represents his desire to progress in his service for the truth. his blue-ish black body and fierce face reflect the force of his will to draw all sentient beings to follow the teachings of the Buddha. The flames that materialize as his powerful and purifying aura are the flames which transform bitterness and blind anger into selfless and reflective wisdom. While he is considered a wrathful deity, his essence is one of compassion, and he has vowed to be of service to humankind for all eternity.

Immovability and Combat-Application

Fudo-san's huge rock base (盤石座, Banjakuza) the flat rock upon which he sits, eternally unmoved, is easy to draw comparisons from, in regards to a fighter's desire to develop body-structure, solid stances and rooting power in combat. Knowing what stance configuration makes one most "immovable", or solid, in the situation is crucial, whether it's ma bu, hanging-horse, sankokutai, neko-washi, bow-and-arrow, misubidachi...whatever the situation calls for (it's worth noting at this point, understanding and considering terrain is a big part of understanding what is the most "solid foundation" appropriate for the situation).

Just like building a house, if the foundation is wrong, it's all wrong.

Weak stance,
Weak structure,
Weak strikes.

Stance-work, rooting, and structure are all things my students start day one, just as I did, and it is the theme of a chapter from Musashi's "Book of 5 Rings", which I revisit often. This could also tie-in to the Pak Mei concepts of thin, flat and round "body shapes", and understanding the strong and weak points of those 3 shapes.

Perhaps more important is the internal "immovability"; not succumbing to fear and anxiety, controlling one's breathing and heart-rate, not being caught in the enemy's fierce countenance, not allowing oneself to be goaded or provoked, being able to control one's emotions so technique can arise spontaneously, without concious thought, and one can strike decisively, without hesitation.

This inner stability is what the young bushi (samurai) were meant to learn from Buddhist and Zen practices; to maintain an inner "immovability", and be mentally and spiritually prepared for the harsh realities of combat and war, and to remain fearless in the face of death.

Fudō Myō ō and My Musha Shugyo

I began studying Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu in 2006. This art comes directly from the Takeda Clan, through Sokaku Takeda, who was the first to teach the art publicly (the art was previously known as 'oshikiuchi', or 'inner palace art'). This was the clan of the Daimyo Takeda Shingen mentioned above, who was a devotee of Fudo-san. Studying the Takeda clan art of Daito-ryu, seeing effigies of Fudo-san and his sword "Kurikara" were commonplace, and I enjoyed seeing the different interpretations, and crafts and weapons with those images and themes.

It wasn't until 2019 that I started to truly feel drawn to Fudo-san, in what my teachers describe as a "karmic draw". Despite his fierce countenance and generally scary imagery, I find the portraits, tapestries and statues quite comforting, especially when practicing breathing or zazen. The mantras are soothing, and if vocalized correctly have a lovely harmonic effect on the skeletal-system. Through developing this inner stability, it allows me to be more disciplined in both my training and in day-to-day life.

According to several active practitioners who are personal friends of mine, as well as fellow martial artists, apparently practitioners specifically devoted to Fudo-san are fairly rare. I am not Buddhist, but I do use the imagery, mantras and words of Fudō Myō ō to help cultivate my own inner immovability. I do not believe Fudo-san is a real entity or deity; simply a mental tool to help me develop and control my thoughts and emotions, let logic and reason take the lead, and, hopefully, become a more proficient martial artists and strategist.

I also really like the artwork and many interpretations of Fudo-san!

I hope this shed a little light on what Fudo represents, and takes some of the "mystery and strangeness" out of his images.

I hope you enjoyed, and thank you for reading!

- Jeremy

Compassion Mantra

If you would like to try Fudo-san's compassion mantra, it is quite easy comparatively. Simply repeat the mantra as long as necessary, while sitting in seiza or your posture of choice:

"Nômaku sanmanda bazaradan,
Senda makaroshada sowataya,
Un tarata kanman.."


"Homage to the all-pervading Vajras!
O' Violent One of great wrath!Destroy!*
hûm trat hâm mâm"

* (this mantra is invoking Fudo-san to "destroy" human ignorance and injustice; despite the moniker "Violent One", this is not a mantra encouraging violence)

Special Thanks to: Alan Cicco and Patrick Dunn, for their help with reliable resources for Fudō Myō ō and insight into Buddhist practices.

Additional Thanks to: Chris Wargrimm for recommending "Kurikara: The Sword and The Serpent", and keeping me company through my nights of insomnia.

Last and Most Importantly, Thanks to my significant other, Terra, for putting up with the lifestyle of a relentless martial artist. You are truly a saint, dear.

Dedicated to Saya and Orion


Compassion Mantra: Request for Help:

Fudo Myoo and Martial

Kyoto Festival:
300 Years of Tanukidani Fudo Myoo


Hodge, Stephen. The Mahāvairocana Abhisaṃbodhi Tantra : with Buddhaguhya's commentary. London, Routledge Curzon : 2003.
Linrothe, Rob. Ruthless compassion : wrathful deities in early Indo-Tibetan esoteric Buddhist art. London, Serindia : 1999.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

What Makes Great Aikido?

At his outstanding blog, Kogen Budo, Ellis Amdur has a terrific article examining some of the great Aikidoka from history and dissecting just what it was that made their Aikido so great. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here

Mr Ellis has authored many books on a variety of topics. They may all be found here at one location.

This essay is a composite of a number of mini-essays that I uploaded to a Facebook discussion forum: “Aikido —The Martial Side.” It also includes some of my answers to questions raised by members of the group.
Because aikido is a principle-based martial art, systematized around certain philosophical ideals and very specific physical parameters, many critics over the years have questioned its effectiveness. Aikido is particularly vulnerable to criticism because, for the most part, its practitioners do not do ‘live training,’ (pressure testing against unpredictable attacks, or freestyle competitive training).  Such critics come both from inside the art and without. Even though I share the perspective of many of the critics, at least in regards to much of the aikido I have experienced or seen, something bothers me about such discussions—I wonder if the critics do justice to the art. It is similar to criticizing expressionist art, using a popularizer like Leroy Nieman as an example. Whether one likes expressionism or not, it should be evaluated by its greatest proponents, such as Franz Marc or Maqbool Fida Hussain. Expressionist art may not be a style you enjoy, but criticism should be based on exemplars of the art, not the common mean.

There are some martial arts that one can become relatively effective as a fighter in a short period of time; aikido is not one of them. Yet there are, undeniably, aikidoka who have become quite effective as fighters. My friend and teacher, Terry Dobson, working as a bouncer in a Vermont bar, was once attacked by a guy with a chainsaw—he stepped inside the arc of the attack and threw him with a kokyunage, the saw flying one direction and man another—both hit the pavement hard, with the saw inoperable and the man now unwilling.

Many other aikidoka were known as formidable fighters, taking on people from other martial arts in challenge matches or simply engaging in street-fights. Among them were Abe Tadashi,  Shirata Rinjiro, Kato Hiroshi, Saito Morihiro, Watahiki Yoshifumi, to name only a few. Please note that I’ve deliberately named individuals who did not come from a judo, karate or boxing background—rather, their primary martial practice was aikido  (not to say they may not have done a little cross-training). I am fully aware that stories grow over time, and mundane scuffles become legendary. Nonetheless, unless they are all lies, these men had something special. Perhaps before one improves aikido, it’d be worthwhile to examine what one intends to repair, through examining the best of its possibilities—those who are great.

What I don’t mean by ‘great’ is those who are spiritual exemplars, those who are great teachers, or those who show artistry and grace in enacting the two-person choreography of aikido. In this essay, I am only concerned with individuals who are physically superlative as martial artists—who could fight with this art. And by fight, I mean hand-to-hand civilian altercations—street fights and dojo challenges. (1)

I wish to tease out the components that I have observed among those who were able to – and did – protect their training hall against dojo breakers or people who challenged them on the mat, striving to embarrass them or worse; those who handled taryujiai; and those who had or have a particular brilliance that has garnered them true respect, not only among other aikidoka, but among practitioners of other martial arts as well. I am making as clear a distinction as I can between the excellent aikido  practitioner, whatever their rank, and true virtuosos. Were we talking about music, this would be a discussion about what makes Hélène Grimaud, Emil Gilels, Martha Argerich and Marc-André Hamelin incandescent musicians, rather than merely ‘excellent.’

When I refer to ‘components,’ I do not mean the usual principles that are enumerated by teachers in every dojo worldwide: irimi, irimi-tenkan, musubi, awase, enten no ri, ‘moving off the line,’ centering, extension, etc. Everyone learns these principles—at least to some degree. The virtuoso, however, is able to actually enact them against opponents who are not colluding in mutual kata practice. They are able to enact these principles at will against a struggling or combative opponent. And they are able to do this due to certain attributes they possess, that none of these leading lights has ever discussed—except perhaps over a long evening drinking Suntory whiskey, or Otokoyama Sake.

Two individuals (among many) whom I think exemplify this are Takeno Takefumi (of Yoshinkan) and Bruce Bookman (of Tenzan Aikido). Takeno is ‘classical,’ whereas Bookman is extremely innovative, integrating components of both boxing and Brazilian jiujitsu, but they both possess the qualities I will enumerate below. These qualities number five (followed by two other components which potentially take one beyond the abilities of even the modern virtuoso).
Two objections may be raised to this essay, that what I discuss below does not encompass the complete martial art and training regimen of aikido’s founder, Ueshiba Morihei, and that it is also, to some degree, at variance to the vision, not only of his son, Ueshiba Kisshomaru, but also to the legacy of other leading lights of aikido, such as Tomiki Kenji, Shioda Gozo, or Tohei Koichi.  I will discuss Ueshiba Morihei at the conclusion of this essay, talking briefly about his own training methodology that was largely abandoned after the 1st generation of his successors—and for the most part, even the leading lights each focused only on a part of what their teacher did, not its entirety.

As for the latter objection, one of the things that makes Ueshiba Kisshomaru, the son of the founder, such a great man, is that he ushered in modern aikido , a martial art of the ‘grey zones.’ What I mean is that just as something like archaic martial traditions like Araki-ryu or Kashima Shin-ryu focused on the inculcation of the values of the warrior class of medieval Japan, as well as the question of one’s survival ( your own, your family, your clan or some larger political entity), aikido is an embodiment of modern society, where few situations end in mortal combat; rather, they are conflicts where some kind of resolution is possible. Therefore, modern aikido provides a place for just about anyone who wishes to enhance their lives through practice of a martial art that is not primarily concerned with life-and-death questions. (2) This has enabled aikido  to exert a much greater, positive influence on people’s lives than Ueshiba Morihei’s narrow, sectarian cult of excellence that was his Daito-ryu, aikijutsu, and aikibudo, some of the names of his martial art’s pre-WWII incarnations.

Nonetheless, my question here isn’t what makes one a comfortable participant in an idealistic martial art, or even a very dedicated student of a physically demanding, even dangerous discipline that has become a centerpiece of your life. My question is not what makes one a good teacher, a great leader of a dojo or someone who can apply the principles of aikido in other social settings. Finally, it is not the reverse—an unfounded claim that these great practitioners are the best martial artists on the planet through their practice of aikido. My question is what makes one a virtuoso practitioner, regardless of one’s other qualities (and this include morality or spirituality)—it is the same question I would ask regarding such karateka as Kanazawa Hirokazu or Higaonna Kanryo, or judoka such as Kashiwazaki Katsuhiko or Ushijima Tatsukuma.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The History of Kempo

It's been a few years since we've had a guest post from Graham Barlow. Graham is the author of The Tai Chi Notebook and teaches taijiquan and xingyiquan at the Yongquan Martial Arts Assocation. He is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

His previous post on his introduction to BJJ, having come from an Internal Chinese Martial Arts background may be found here. 

Today we have an article written on the history of Kempo. Enjoy.

The real history of Kempo and Jiujitsu

By Graham Barlow

“You can tell if a history is made up because it’s always really simple.” - Heretics podcast.

If you ask about the history of Jujitsu (Japanese) or Jiujitsu (Brazilian spelling) you usually get a story of Samurai warriors, battlefield fighting arts and codes of honour. Jiujitsu, we are told, was the art of unarmed grappling, which the Samurai practiced in case they lost their sword on the battlefield. However the truth is a little bit more messy than that.

In this long podcast series we delve back in time to the beginnings of the Ashikaga Shogunate in Japan in the 1300s, and look at how the power structures of Japan changed as the Shoguns gained more and more influence over the imperial family. We then move on to the formation of the Koryu under the famous Tokugawa Shogunate (who seized control in 1600), and the establishment of the Samurai. We even take in the history of Ninjas!

The Tokugawa had a period of unbroken rule for more than 250 years during which Japan became increasingly locked down. Of particular note is what happened after 1852 when Japan was opened up (forcibly) to Western influence, particularly by the British and American troops. We look at the impact this had and the role of Kano Jigoro and others at the end of the Nineteenth Century.

But we don’t stop there, we go on to discuss the time period between 1960 and 1980 when martial arts marketing in Japan really took off. And finally we follow the developments in Japan through to modern times, with particular attention paid to the history of the Yakuza.

I initially asked my teacher, Damon Smith to do a history of Jiujitsu and he said he could only do it if it included Kempo as the two arts are so entwined, so here we have the history of Kempo and Jiujitsu.

Kempo, a very wide-ranging martial art style, is less well known martial art than Jiujitsu in popular culture, but some of its well known exponents, or people who came out of gyms that were influenced by it include the likes of UFC champion Chuck Liddell, the famous wrestler Rikidozan and the “Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba.

The first episode of the series was also our first Heretics podcast, so if you want to skip our investigation into the origins of Heresy and just get straight to the martial arts chat then skip to 13.15 and dive in.

You’ll find all 5 episodes here:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fighting Spirit in Martial Arts

In martial arts training, we are admonished to maintain and cultivate our "fighting spirit."

What is it and how do we do this? Over at The Shotokan Times, there was an article about this topic. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

  What is Fighting Spirit? And how to train it!

By Michael Ehrenreich

We can see if somebody possesses fighting spirit or not. Fighting spirit seems to be ubiquitous. We all know what fighting spirit is. Until we are being asked for an explanation.

Fighting Spirit: You Know It, When you See it!

When I started competing in the early 1980´s I heard a well-known German coach explaining to one of his students: “You lost the fight because your opponent had more fighting spirit”. I knew exactly what he meant. Even though I was  rather inexperienced as a competitor I  clearly saw that the other fighter wanted it  a little bit more. But what exactly was this karate expert saying? Is fighting spirit something one has and somebody else does not? 

Later as a black belt II understood that there is still a lot to learn. So, I went to many seminars. With all the big names. Unfortunately,  fighting spirit never really became a topic in our discussions. Many of the well-known instructors would mention that fighting spirit was the most important thing for a fighter. I believed them. However, it never went beyond these one-liners. Thus,  I researched in fields like psychology, education, neuro science, philosophy, and sport sciences. Being a sport scientist myself I came up with the following idea: Fighting spirit can be understood just like fitness.

The Puzzle of Fighting Spirit

Fitness is a complex and very balanced combination of a variety of skills like power, speed, endurance, strength, agility, and others more. We only speak of fitness, if all those virtues are being established at a decent level. The same applies to fighting spirit. To illustrated that I have created the fighting spirit puzzle. In this puzzle, all parts are interconnected . Together they constitute our fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit puzzle has six parts: self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. This  analytical puzzle helps us to  to target specific weaknesses in us. It enables us to reach specific goals. Like in fitness, when we want to increase our speed, we need to work on our maximum strength, do plyometric drills, and practice a specific number of karate techniques at maximum speed. When it comes to fighting spirit we would apply the same principles. 

We would train a specific part in order to increase our fighting spirit.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cheng Man Ching, Renaissance Man

Prof Cheng Man Ching was a renaissance man. He was a renown painter, poet, calligrapher, doctor and taijiquan master, as well as a pretty fair bowler and apparently song writer.

Here is a link to a video of his daughter, Katy Ching, performing a song Prof. CMC wrote about the benefits of Taijiquan practice.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Vintage Judo Video: Kyuzo Mifune as a Young Man

I love vintage martial arts videos.

We're all probably pretty familiar with the video of the Judo great, Kyuzo Mifune as a tiny white haired old man tossing around his black belt students like rag dolls.

This one is new to me. It features him as a much younger man. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Dao De Jing, #75: The Reason People Starve

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #75, The Reason People Starve

The reason people starve
Is because their rulers tax them excessively.
They are difficult to govern
Because their rulers have their own ends in mind.

The reason people take death lightly
Is because they want life to be rich.
Therefore they take death lightly.
It is only by not living for your own ends
That you can go beyond valuing life.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Five Step Path for Taijiquan in Combat

Below is an excerpt from a post written by Ian Cameron, a senior Taijiquan teacher in Scotland. The full post may be read here.



The first step of which is Pushing Hands. Learning to "listen" through touch, to detect the direction of a force and any changes in the opponents intention. If any of the Five Steps are missing, then Tai Chi disappears. None of the five steps are separate from each other, there is a continuous thread running through them.


Adherence; One of the characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, is the idea of maintaining contact with an opponent. This requires sensitivity of touch to detect not only an opponents intentions, but also his weaknesses. To adhere is to use the principle of softness. Even when taking hold of an opponents arm, the grip remains soft. This allows you to follow his movements, rather than fight with them, as you would do if you gripped too hard. When there is bodily contact, then the body itself has to be sensitive enough to feel the movements of your opponent. When someone is attempting a hip throw for example, by feeling the intention, a slight shift of weight can neutralize it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Beginner's Mind in Martial Arts and Everything Else

Being about to keep a beginner's mind is essential into making progress in just about any endeavor. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Shotokan Times which discusses this. The full post may be read here.

Shoshin?! The State of Mind for Studying Anything

By Thomas D. McKinnon
‘Shoshin’, (初心), translates to ‘Beginner’s mind’.  To quote the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki:

‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.  A true beginner’s mind is open and willing to consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time.’

Shoshin: The Quintessential Mindset for Learning

Shoshin, simply the best way to approach any learning experience: an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconception. Even when studying at an advanced level just do it as a beginner would.  

 Listen without commenting, regardless of how much you think you know of the subject.  Observe as if you know nothing, learn as a child learns, and get excited about a new discovery.  Shoshin, like all of the concepts you discover on your journey of Karate-do, will help you to lead a more rewarding life.  Shoshin is the quintessential mindset for learning.  

One of the things that we (karateka) do, prior to and on completion of training, is the ritual mokusoMokuso means to “silent thinking”. However, in the dojo it has further connotations: to meditate or contemplate quietly, thus separating your karate training from the outside world.  I give this guiding instruction to beginners for mokuso:

‘Empty your mind… Concentrate on your breathing, think of nothing but slowly filling and emptying your lungs (using diaphragmatic breathing) whilst emptying your mind.’

Shoshin: Make Room for Learning

By emptying your mind you are making room for learning, or absorbing, like a child or a complete beginner.  Shoshin is a concept far less literal than it is metaphorical, not to be confused with simply forgetting everything.  As we develop knowledge and expertise the tendency is to narrow our focus, filtering out the things we think we already know, concentrating on details we consider we don’t know.  The danger here is that we may block out information that disagrees with what, we consider, we already know. Unconsciously we sifting out any conflicting ideas in favor of information which confirms our previous experience or philosophical standpoint.

Entering the dojo for the very first time students, from varying demographics – age, sex, socio-economic, body composition, up-bringing, life skills and experience – begin with shoshin… more or less.