The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Informality and Conservatism in Brazilian Jiujitsu Ranking

Below is an excerpt from an article by John Danaher on the ranking system of BJJ at Eastern Europe BJJ. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

John Danaher is universally known one of the best kept secrets in Jiu-Jitsu. The New Zealand born, BJJ black belt under Renzo Gracie has been praised by the BJJ community as being a master and brain of the art. Danaher is a highly intelligent individual, who has a Master degree in philosophy, and is totally focused on the evolution and improvement of Jiu-Jitsu. He is also the submission coach of none other than former UFC Welterweight Champion George Saint Pierre. Danaher trains at Renzo Gracie’s Academy in New York where he also teaches Jiu jitsu.

He wrote a very interesting analysis on the belt system in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. This quote is from Mr Danaher,written in Renzo and Roylers book

“Brazilian Jiu Jitsu,Theory and Technique”:

“Most martial arts have a system of belts or similar ranks by which a student may assess his level of development. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tracing its roots back to Maeda’s influence Shares the Japanese system of belts. The belt system begins with White belt and progresses through blue,purple,brown,black,and various degrees of black, up to ,red belt for those whose influence and fame takes them to the pinnacle of the art.Compared with other styles,there are a relatively low number of belt grades in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Most styles have different grades within a belt colour,so that one can be a third stage orange belt,for example.This plentitude of belts levels ensures that students have a sense of constantly moving forward,since they are often being given a new level.By way of contrast,the student of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu must often endure long years holding the same rank.Few make it even to purple belt,with black belt being truly elite status.

What distinguishes the Brazilian system from others is its extreme INFORMALITY.There is no precise,agreed upon set of rules that determines who is a blue belt,who is a purple belt,and so forth.Part of the reason for this is the complete lack of forms,or kata (pre-arranged,choreographed sets of movements containing the idealised movements of the style in question,typically a collection of kicks,punches,blocks,and the like performed solo),in the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu system.Most Martial Arts put a lot of emphasis upon learning these katas,this is often taken to be indicative of progress.One might try to differentiate grades in terms of numbers of moves that a student knows. Such a method is clearly inadequate.

It is often pointed out that a purple belt knows almost as many moves as a black belt – he simply does not perform them as well, or combine them aswell, or at the correct time. Also, some fighters do very well with a small collection of moves that they can apply well in any situation – should they be ranked lower that another fighter who knows a lot of moves but applies none of them well? A more objective method is to test fighting skill. If one fighter always defeats another when they grapple, this might be taken as firm evidence that he deserves the higher rank. Yet it is not always so simple. What if he is far heavier and stronger and this is the only reason that he prevails in sparring sessions? What if he is technically inferior? You can see that there are no easy answers to the question of what criteria we can offer for a given belt ranking.

Rather, the extreme informality of the Brazilian style is a direct reflection of the fact that it is impossible to provide clear cut rules as to how people ought to be graded. The most we can do is to provide very general criteria. The individual decision must be left to an experienced instructor who will take a range of criteria into account. For example, the size and strength of the student, depth of technical knowledge, ability to apply it in sparring sessions and competition, how he compares with students of other ranks both inside and outside his school, his ability to teach and so on. In general Brazilian Jiu Jitsu takes a very CONSERVATIVE stance toward promotion. This is a direct reflection of the fact that it is primarily a fighting style. It makes no sense to promote someone to a high rank if they cannot fight well – after all, should a highly ranked fighter be defeated it is a bad reflection on the school. So then, the two principle features of the Brazilian ranking system are it’s INFORMALITY and it’s CONSERVATISM.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The Concept of Power in Martial Arts

I have quite a few posts lately about Japanese and Brazilian martial arts. Today we have a guest post by Jonathan Bluestein on Chinese martial arts, which makes for a nice change of pace. Today Jonathan discusses the concept of power in Chinese martial arts. Enjoy.

The Concept of Power in Chinese Martial Arts
By Jonathan Bluestein
It is often justifiably said that to understand deeply the Chinese martial arts, one has to research to an extent the Chinese language as well. One of the least understood ideas in Chinese martial arts happens to be the use of Power, and that misunderstanding stems from differences of culture and language.

In English terminology, using power in the context of martial arts is pretty simple and straightforward. You may use power, more power, or perhaps ‘explosive power’. So there’s power, and there is ‘bigger power’, and also that ‘explosive power’, which is just ‘power moved at greater speed’… whatever that may mean. But for the Chinese, power is expressed in two different ways, with a clear distinction between them.
One type of Power, the simple type is called , and written like this:

That character is basically a drawing of an iron plough. So in effect, Li is that type of thing which plows strongly through the earth, pushing against much resistance.

Another type of Power is Jìn, and is written like that: 

Unlike Li, which is just this one drawing, Jin is made of four drawings put together. The one on the right side is the same as Lì . We therefore learn that Jìn is something that already contains Lì within it, but also features additional components.
The character on the left within Jìn , is Jīng
The character Jīng is made up of three drawings itself:
Yī – One, or ‘whole’.
Chuān – A river.
Gōng – Work, or something being in the works.
So quite literally, Jīng hints at: “something working-flowing beneath the whole”, and means either “an underground river” or “to pass through something”. Therefore:
Jìn 勁 = Jīng巠 + 力 =
A power that passes through
(And does so similarly to the power of an underground river)

But in reality, it is even more than that. Consider that the drawing for Gōng is actually a carpenter’s ruler, and that the concept of the character Gōng is used in China to symbolize that “some work was done here”. As in 功夫 Gōng Fū (Kung Fu) – skill acquired through continuous effort. So the inclusion of the component Gōng within the larger drawing of Jìn tells us that Jìn is more than just a ‘power that passes through’ – it is also a power that required some previous ‘work’ to make happen. This brings us to the real and full definition of Jìn in the Chinese martial arts:
A power that passes through and requires skill to manifest
Therefore, we end up with two types of power:
1.      , or ‘dumb power’, which is brute force. The type of power anyone can use. Lifting something off the floor. Putting a book on a shelf. Breaking a stick. Opening a jar. Pulling a rope. Tractor digging a hole. These are all Lì – a natural power.
2.      Jìn , or ‘skilled power’, which is a power that manifests a skill or technique that required lots of work to become proficient at. A well-honed power. Like an Olympic weightlifter doing his thing. 

A vault-jumper propelling himself to the air. A master issuing a punch from zero distance. A bullet leaving a rifle. These are all Jìn – a trained power.

Thus in the traditional Chinese martial arts we talk less of ‘power’, ‘more power’ and ‘explosive power’. What interested the people who carried on these traditions throughout the centuries were the actual qualities contained within the different powers, and what these qualities meant. Lì is ‘dumb’, and is therefore limited. But Jìn may express as a concept some very advances notions of transferring energy. Hence, the use of Jìn for martial purposes is called Fā Jìn 發勁. Often wrongly translated as ‘explosive power’, but actually meaning ‘to emit Jìn‘. This issuing outwards of Jìn from one’s body to another can then take many shapes and forms. It can be Cùn Jìn 寸勁 (Inch Power) – a very short and fast explosive power issued from close range. It may express outwards as Dǒu Jìn 抖勁 (Shaking Power) – a longer Jìn that contains tremors and affects the opponent differently. Another is Làngtou Jìn 头劲 (Wave Power) – a mechanism that uses a waving pattern of the body, especially the spine, to generate momentum for martial applications. There could even be countless combinations of all of the above, and many more. 

Imagine then how intricate and rich the traditional Chinese martial arts truly are, if mere two words as such, Lì and Jìn, can contain so much within them, and require a whole article to be understood. Think of this minor example and remember, that the traditional martial arts are beyond the technical – they are a complete cultural heritage, and ought to be understood in that fashion.


Wherein you liked this article, please support its author - take a look at shifu Bluestein’s ground-breaking book – Research of Martial Arts:    http://www.researchofmartialarts.com

______________________________________________
Shifu Jonathan Bluestein is the head of the Tianjin Martial Arts Academy, and teaches Xing Yi Quan and Pigua Zhang in Israel. He is also a martial arts author and researcher. His list of published articles, most available for free reading with links (and on this blog), can be found at the following link:
If you liked this article, please ‘like’ the page of shifu Bluestein’s school on Facebook:
_______________________________________________

All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan may be contacted directly via email:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com .

Friday, February 20, 2015

Tang Dynasty Poems, #55: Parting at a Wine Shop in Nanjing

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
PARTING AT A WINE-SHOP IN NANJING


A wind, bringing willow-cotton, sweetens the shop,
And a girl from Wu, pouring wine, urges me to share it
With my comrades of the city who are here to see me off;
And as each of them drains his cup, I say to him in parting,
Oh, go and ask this river running to the east
If it can travel farther than a friend's love!


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Lenten Challenge Starts NOW!

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion (unless you want it to). We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Today!) until the day before Easter (April 4), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat, immersing yourself in something new; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it.

If you fail, no one will hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board. Start anew.

For those of you who already train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

Won't you join me?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu Documentary from the 80's

Below is 14 minutes of a Japanese documentary on Daito Ryu Aikijujitsu, the ancestor of Aikido. It takes a few minutes to get past Japanese text and old photographs and get to some techniques being demonstrated.




Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Old Film of Jigoro Kano, Founder of Judo


Before getting to the meat of this post, I want to make readers aware of the upcoming Lenten Challenge.

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion (unless you want it to). We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Feb 518 until the day before Easter (April 4), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat, immersing yourself in something new; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it.

If you fail, no one will hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board. Start anew.

For those of you who already train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

Won't you join me?

Here is vintage film of the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano.