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 ~


Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Life and Death of Shimabukuro Eizo

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post at Ikigai Way, regarding the life and passing of a true master of Okinawan Karate, Shimabukuro Eizo. The full post may be read here.

The martial arts world has lost one of its greatest luminaries. Shimabukuro Eizo, Hanshi, passed away on October 22, 2017. For most people, living to the age of 92 is considered most fortunate. However, Shimabukuro O’Sensei was so skilled in karate and so educated on the subjects of wellness, nutrition, and energy that many folks are surprised by this early passing. Truly Shimabukuro O’Sensei embodied the long-lived spirit of the Ryukyus, and the island chain burns a little less bright without his candle.

Despite the heavy hearts of his family, friends, and students, we strive to celebrate the impact he has made over multiple decades. O’Sensei was an innovator, dedicated practitioner, and enthusiastic instructor. Many folks in the karate world did not realize the depth of his knowledge, and the value he provided as a pipeline to the old ways of Shorin Ryu.

Shimabukuro (Shimabuku when being less formal) O’Sensei was born in Gushikawa on April 19, 19251. Exposed to karate very early in life courtesy of family members such as Shimabukuro Tatsuo (his elder brother and founder of Isshin Ryu) and Shinko Ganeko (his uncle), Shimabukuro Eizo O’Sensei proved himself an apt student under some of the most influential instructors of the day. Eizo either studied directly under, or was influenced by, the following individuals:
  • Shimabukuro Tatsuo – Isshin Ryu
  • Miyagi Chojun – Goju Ryu
  • Kyan Chotoku – Shobayashi Ryu
  • Motobu Choki – Shuri Di and Tomari Di
  • Taira Shinken – Ryukyu Kobudo
  • Shimabukuro Zenryo2 – Seibukan and senior Kyan Chotoku Student
  • Chibana Choshin – Shorin Ryu
O’Sensei studied diligently throughout the 1930s and 1940s before opening his own dojo in 1948. Even after taking on the role of instructor, he continued to refine his own learning by accessing experts such as Chibana Choshin who could add insight into his Shorin Ryu training. Interestingly, the Shobayashi Ryu mantle was pased to young Eizo upon the untimely death of Kyan Chotoku in 1945.



The “Shimabukuro Brothers” (Tatsuo and Eizo) wove one of the most interesting tales of karate history. Neither were afraid of innovation and experimentation, which led them to friction with other karate exponents and even against one another.

One of the most notable events in O’Sensei’s life was his promotion to 10th Dan by Toyama Kanken. Toyama Sensei was an Okinawan karateka and learned gentleman who found himself in the unique position of representing Okinawan interests in Mainland Japan. Toyama Sensei sent word to Okinawa, looking for representatives of various styles to come together and operate under his organization. Shimabukuro Eizo O’Sensei was the lone individual to heed that call. As a result, Toyama Sensei appointed him as representative and promoted him to Hanshi, 10th Dan. Shimabukuro O’Sensei was 34 at the time, making him the youngest legitimate 10th Dan in karate’s history.

Throughout his long, storied teaching career, Shimabukuro O’Sensei’s largest spheres of impact occurred around Camp Schwab and Camp Hansen on Okinawa. He eventually moved his personal residence to Kin Village, just outside of Camp Hansen, allowing him to teach there with great consistency. These dojo(s) melded native Okinawan students with US Military personnel, most frequently United States Marines.

As the Vietnam War loomed, more and more American military members were funneled through Okinawa on their way to Vietnam. Shimabukuro O’Sensei became an incredibly important touchstone for some of those men seeking to improve their survival and life protection skills. A handful of special students went on to continue their training with Shimabukuro O’Sensei as best they could, returning to him as their duties and rotations allowed. They took the art of Shobayashi Ryu with them back to the United States and helped establish the style there.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Budo and Kyokushin Karate

Scott, over at The Martial Way had a nice article about the influences on Mas Oyama's ideas of Budo and how is studied in Kyokushin Karate.

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

Sosai (founder) Masutatsu ‘Mas’ Oyama was heavily influenced by his Goju-ryu Karate teacher, Nei-chu So, a fellow native countryman of the teenage Yeong-eui Choi (Masutatsu Ōyama).
Oyama 1955

The defeat of Japan and the subsequent indignity of Occupation almost proved to be too much for Mas Oyama, who nearly despaired. Nei-chu So encouraged Mas Oyama to dedicate his life to Budo, the Martial Way. It was he who suggested that Oyama should retreat away from the rest of the world for 3 years while training his mind and body.

Oyama also met Eji Yoshikawa, author of the book ‘Musashi’, a fictionalized account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous samurai warrior. Thanks to this book and the writer, Mas Oyama began to understand the profound meanings of the Samurai Bushido Code, and ultimately shapes his own philosophy on martial arts.

Oyama became heavily influenced by the great swordsmen Miyamoto Musashi (1584 – June 13, 1645), founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and in his final years authored The Book of Five Rings (五輪の書 Go Rin no Sho), a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.

Influenced by Nei-chu So, the writing of Yoshikawa, and Musashi’s works, Mas Oyama decided to withdraw from social life and live in solitude for a period of 3 years and dedicate his time completely to the intense training of body and mind, as Musashi did in his lifetime. Oyama traveled to Minobu mountain, the same place where Musashi created Nito-ryu kenjitsu. Mas Oyama was only 23 years old at the time. In his opinion this would be the perfect place to start his severe training of body and mind that he had planned for himself.

After returning to civiliation Oyama stated that “traditional karate” is non-contactand while at it s peak of recognition, Oyama claimed that the true way of Budo Karate was in the actual physical contact.

The philosophy of budo is evident in the name that Mas Oyama chose for his karate style, Kyokushin, which means “Ultimate Truth”. It is also reflected in the Dojo Kun and in the Spirit of Osu.

The Spirit of Kyokushin emanates from the Budo axiom,

“One thousand days of training completes a beginner.
Ten thousand days of training begins the mastery of the art.”

The training to find the Ultimate Truth is a rigorous and never-ending process for the practitioner.

It is a life long dedication to the Kyokushin Way.

The greeting OSU used in Kyokushin resonates humility, gratitude, perseverance and above all, respect for one another.

Mas Oyama summed up his entire martial arts philosophy in eleven mottos, known as the Zayu no

Mei Juichi Kajo, which are central to his teaching:

Zayu no Mei Juichi Kajo

座右の銘十一個条 – Eleven Mottos of Kyokushin

- The Martial Way begins and ends with courtesy. Therefore, be properly and genuinely courteous at all times.

- Following the Martial Way is like scaling a cliff – continue upwards without rest. It demands absolute and unfaltering devotion to the task at hand.

- Strive to seize the initiative in all things, all the time guarding against actions stemming from selfish animosity or thoughtlessness.

- Even for the Martial Artist, the place of money cannot be ignored. Yet one should be careful never to become attached to it.

- The Martial Way is centred in posture. Strive to maintain correct posture at all times.

- The Martial Way begins with one thousand days and is mastered after ten thousand days of training.

- In the Martial Arts, introspection begets wisdom. Always see contemplation on your actions as an opportunity to improve.

- The nature and purpose of the Martial Way is universal. All selfish desires should be roasted in the tempering fires of hard training.

- The Martial Arts begin with a point and end in a circle. Straight lines stem from this principle.

- The true essence of the Martial Way can only be realized through experience. Knowing this, learn never to fear its demands.

- Always remember, in the Martial Arts the rewards of a confident and grateful heart are truly abundant.




Thursday, December 06, 2018

Why She Practices Tai Chi Chuan

In this beautiful little essay on her blog, Joan Lauri Pool explains why she practices Taijiquan under Maggie Newman. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.


Last week, during the final minutes of Tai Chi class, my teacher Tom Daly, asked us a simple, hard-to-answer question: “Why do you do Tai Chi? What is the main reason?”
We all looked at Tom a bit stunned and confused. Put on the spot, we brought up some of the more normal and obvious (and what I think of as dowdy) reasons at first: balance, health, and wellbeing. Then one longtime practitioner spoke of the wholeness Tai Chi had brought into his life.
I (the writer-editor) was, as usual, at a loss for words. How could I describe how I came to Tai Chi, and why was I still doing the form (and trying to get better at it) after 20 going on 21 years?
People who lack an interest in Tai Chi often ask me why I do this—to their eyes—strange-looking martial art. They often assume that I do it for self-serving reasons: to improve my health and sense of spiritual wellbeing. When I tell them the real reason, they are even more dumbfounded.
I was bewitched by the beauty of it.
When I was a student in NYU’s graduate creative writing program, I tried to stay in shape by running around the university’s outdoor track. My knees weren’t very good, so this wasn’t a very successful form of exercise. One day, inside the track’s oval, I saw a group of students doing Tai Chi. They looked like big exotic birds doing some instinctual dance. I decided that this must be a type of Tai Chi I had heard of called Soaring Crane.
My eyes were drawn to one student in particular whose movements were more graceful than the others’. When still, he was neither handsome nor fit, but when he did the form, whatever it was, he became beautiful—the way a dog’s or horse’s integrated movements are beautiful.
I wanted to be able to do whatever it was he was doing, to feel it in my body, my entire being. This was the initial allure, but the seduction was complete when I found just the right Tai Chi teacher.
By chance, my friend, poet Katrinka Moore, had been studying with Maggie Newman for some time. When I voiced interest in learning Tai Chi, she recommended that I try Maggie’s beginning class. It was being offered in a small studio in Greenwich Village on Lafayette Street. Maggie had her long white hair up in a bun. She was small and moved with great precision and gentle authority. From the beginning, I loved to watch her move. She was poetry in motion, the embodiment of grace and wisdom.
A former dancer in Paul Taylor’s company, Maggie had taken up the form in her forties—at a difficult time in her life. She had been romantically involved with Taylor, and from the rumors I’ve heard, he treated her badly. I imagine that when she broke with that dance world, she must have been bereft. At first, until she began to study the Yang form of Tai Chi with Professor Cheng Man-ching.
What I failed to realize when I started classes with Maggie was that she was famous in Tai Chi circles. She was one of Cheng’s (“The Professor’s”) “Big Six”: senior students in the United States whom he had chosen to carry on his particular Tai Chi lineage.
I hung on Maggie’s every word and movement as she slowly, very slowly taught us the 37 postures of what I later learned was the short form of Tai Chi. Very ignorant, I thought I was learning the long form because Maggie took more than two years to teach us this form.
During our one-hour classes, I also watched the senior students carefully, trying to mimic the way they moved. Their slightest movements and transitions between movements were so subtle and smooth: How did they do it? When I asked one woman, she said, “You’ll get it eventually. It takes time.” So I had to be content with Theodore Roethke’s advice in “The Waking”: “I learn by going where I have to go.”
It would be many years before I could do the form with any skill. At times I was embarrassed by my clumsiness and poor balance. Then—surprise—I would find myself doing one tiny movement a little better.
Again, every time I thought I had learned something elusive, I realized how little I really understood.
Maggie said at one of the first classes, “One thing you’re going to learn is patience.”


Monday, December 03, 2018

The Mistress of Hung Gar Kung Fu

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there is a series of articles on remarkable women who have helped to shape modern martial arts. One of these is Mok Kwai Lan, whose career spanned from the early days of the 20th century to the Kung Fu craze sparked by Bruce Lee. 

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


Introduction
This post is the third entry in our series examining the lives of female Chinese martial artists.  While it is the case that the vast majority of hand combat practitioners in the 19th and 20th centuries were male, a certain number of women also adopted the art.  We started by looking at the life and historical reputation of Woman Ding Number Seven and her contributions to the creation of White Crane Kung Fu in Fujian province.  Not only did she make some critical technical contributions to the development of the local arts, but her memory served as an important touchstone for discussions of gender and hand combat throughout southern China.
Next we examined the life and contributions of Chen Shichao and her brother Chen Gongzhe.  This dynamic pair was an important force behind the success that the Jingwu Athletic Association enjoyed in the early 20th century.  Chen Gongzhe was instrumental in financing the group, while his sister worked tirelessly to promote female involvement in the martial arts on equal footing with men.  This goal challenged strongly held norms and resulted in notable (often quite personal) push-back from more conservative elements in society.  Yet ultimately the Jingwu Association succeeded in spreading the belief that women should have access to martial training and that this was an area where they could excel.  It is unlikely that this social transformation would have been quite so successful without the pen and teaching efforts of Chen Shichao.
In the current post I would like to return our focus to southern China.  Mok Kwai Lan is most often remembered as the fourth wife (or more accurately concubine) of Wong Fei Hung, the renown martial artists who is regarded by many as the father of modern Hung Gar.  Yet Mok was also a martial artist and practitioner of Chinese traditional medicine before her marriage.  Further, she maintained an independent and fruitful teaching career for more than five decades after Wong’s sad death in 1924.
Both Mok Kwai Lan’s life and career deserve more careful consideration than they usually receive.  She is a figure whose influence spans generations.  She was born in the final decade of the 19th century and her martial training likely started at the same time as the Boxer Uprising.  She saw the rapid development and transformation of the martial arts in the 1920s and 1930s, before having her own career disrupted by the invasions of the Second Sino-Japanese War.  In the postwar era she witnessed a fundamental transformation in the popular perception of the traditional arts, driven in no small part by her departed husband’s rise to fame as a local folk hero.  Lastly she was still active and teaching when the “Bruce Lee Explosion” reignited global interest in the martial arts in the middle of the 1970s.  It is hard to think of too many other figures whose careers spanned so many important eras.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Advent Challenge 2018

Today begins the season of Advent in the Catholic Church. It is a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays prior to Chistmas and ends on Christmas Eve. Advent lasts for a little over four weeks.

As a warm up for the Lenten Challenge, I would like to issue the Advent Challenge.

Beginning today and through Christmas, in spite of the business and general insanity of the season, find a way to train every day. Do what you have to; move heaven and earth, but train every day. Even if it's just a little. No excuses.

These challenges are a form of Shuugyou Renshuu, or "Austere Training." There is a very good article about Shuugyou Renshuu right here.

Won't you join me?

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Sword is the Soul

At Nippon.com, there was an interview with a famous contemporary Japanese swordsmith, Miyairi Norihiro. The full interview may be read here, with follow up photos here. An excerpt is below.

For centuries, Japan’s warrior class revered the Japanese sword as the “soul of the samurai” and symbol of their dominant place in society. The Meiji Restoration of 1868, though, removed the samurai from power and the promulgation of the Sword Abolishment Edict (haitōrei) stripped them of their arms, bringing an end to the once-common sight of warriors strutting about with their swords at their waists.
Although many traditional arts associated with the samurai have disappeared, the production of Japanese swords has persevered. Today there are around 350 swordsmiths, and enthusiasts in Japan and around the world continue to admire Japanese swords as works of art and exemplars of an age-old tradition of craftsmanship. One of the best-known swordsmiths today is Miyairi Norihiro, a master whose commissions include ceremonial swords (goshinpō) used during Shintō ceremonies at Ise Shrine and exact replicas of historic swords for the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. We recently sat down with Miyairi to learn about why the Japanese sword continues to exert such a powerful hold over people’s imaginations.
INTERVIEWER  You come from a long line of swordsmiths. How did you develop your unique approach to sword making?
MIYAIRI NORIHIRO There are several traditions of Japanese sword-making, each with its own distinct style. Famous examples include the Sōshu and Bizen traditions. My family all the way down to my grandfather and father belonged to the Sōshu school. But when I began my apprenticeship in my twenties I studied under Sumitani Masamine, a living national treasure who was a master Bizen swordsmith. He was a true artist who could create a distinctive clove-like hamon pattern on the blade. This pattern is now known as the Sumitani chōji [cloves] hamon in his honor. I was fascinated by his creativity, which far exceeded any other swordsmith. But the world of Japanese artisans is very conservative. Leaving a family tradition and apprenticing with a master from a different school was unheard of, and many people at the time regarded me as a kind of heretic for breaking the unspoken rules of conduct.
I studied for five years under Sumitani and for nine years with my father before establishing my own forge in the city of Tōmi in Nagano Prefecture. I received the mukansa qualification [meaning “exempt from examination,” it is the mark of a master craftsman] when I was 39, the youngest person at the time to do so. But as I entered my fifties, normally the prime of life for a swordsmith, I became seriously ill. I made up my mind that if I recovered I would not be shackled by traditions or schools.
My family has been making swords in the same tradition since the middle of the nineteenth century, but I broke away and become something of a lone wolf. My swords combine differing traditions with novel elements, and I think that fusion appeals to many of people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Mastering the Body in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from an article that Nic Asher's website. The full post may be read here.


I grew up loving Arnold. I lifted weights as a kid, played sports and practiced martial arts. I’d devour books and movies, watching hours of Bruce lee films and practicing my one inch punch on reluctant friends.
Quickly jumping from one sport or discipline to another, some would criticize me for not focusing and sticking to one thing. Unknown to myself at the time, this was exactly what I should have been doing. In fact, the more time I spent exploring different systems of movement, health, and training the better I got. At everything.
Think of it like this. If you want to write a song, but know only five words, you’re going to be in trouble. I was broadening my knowledge, and creating a strong base that would serve me very well in the future.
By stepping back and looking at the big picture, you can give yourself more freedom and room to grow. The ceiling is truly limitless and it’s completely up to you where it stops.

You Have One Shot. One opportunity.


You, my dear reader are awesome. Not only that, but you’re the proud owner of the most complex ‘machine’ in the known universe. Let that sink in for a moment… No really. The human body is a highly adaptive organism with a seemingly unlimited capacity to learn, create and express itself.
But there’s a problem…It’s too easy to neglect the body. In fact, if you look around any street in the western world you won’t see a mass of athletic bodies, moving with vitality and effortlessness. Which, by the way is the natural state of a human body. (If you don’t believe me go and watch some footage of tribes untouched by globalization.)
The problem isn’t laziness. It’s our genetics and a lack of knowledge. Quite simply, we’re born to be lazy. The world is easy for us now. If I don’t want to move much or eat healthy, I don’t have to and I’ll probably live to a ripe old age. This means we have to fight against our natural instincts to not expand energy. Without good reasons to do this you’ll lose the battle to motivate yourself.
Look, I don’t need to tell you that your body is degrading every day. And that you only have one. And that if you don’t know how to care for and protect your body that it may end much, much worse than you’d planned for. I don’t need to tell you all this, but I did, and its worth reminding yourself every once in a while.
Who owns your body anyway?


You are fully responsible for your body. So the question you have to ask is do you want to start the journey of real ownership. Do you want to commit to mastery? Knowing you have one body, that will one day be gone. I mean, at the end of the day nothing really matters anyway, we all die. By the way this isn’t supposed to sound negative. If you think deeply about it, you may realize that this is the ultimate freedom. You can do anything, or nothing, and it’s all the same…it is completely your choice.
Reasons For Physical Mastery


  • More energy
  • Ability to protect yourself and others
  • Complete physical freedom
  • Understanding of human nature (discipline, fear, success, failure, emotions)
  • Unlimited potential for play and creativity High levels of awareness and intuition
  • Deeper appreciation for life
  • Impressive feats of strength and flexibility
  • Knowledge of anatomy, training, nutrition and meditation, massage, injuries
And so much more…
Your body is an incredible vehicle for self-mastery, discovery and growth. From overcoming ‘impossible’ challenges, to understanding and exploring fear, creativity, and play. This all sounds great…But what exactly does mastering the body mean? And how do we go about this process?
The Big Picture


We human beings have a deep connection to learning and play. They are the building blocks of survival. Kittens will play for long periods, learning to hunt by chasing string. And dolphins, with coral. Not only that but within play is the ability to express our uniqueness and to share our art, which I believe transcends mere survival, touching on something deeper.
But we need to keep ourselves engaged. How do we do this? In one word. Progression. Our attitude should be a striving yet sensitive approach to continual and never-ending improvement. Or as the Japanese would say, ‘Kaizen’. If we approach the body in this manner, we are on the path towards mastery.


Saturday, November 24, 2018

Wu Yinghua and Wu Family Style Taijiquan

Below is a video of Wu Yinghua, the daughter of the founder of Wu family style of Taijiquan, Wu Jianquan, performing the long form.