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, February 12, 2016

Mastery the Hard Way

This post at The Modern Team was brought to my attention by Cameron Conaway, the Warrior Poet.

With all the talk of the 10,000 hours and what not, we sometimes lose sight of just plain hard work. 

At extract is below. The full post may be read here

When it comes to dedication to his craft, no one surpasses Jiro Ono. Out of a small shop in an underground Tokyo subway station, he runs the most renowned sushi restaurant in the world.

His path to the top came not through exposure, business model innovation, or riding trends.

He became renowned, and is able to charge the fees that he does, through total dedication to excellence. His singular guiding principle is the quality of outcome for his customers—how good his sushi tastes, and the pleasure of the tasting experience.

In Jiro’s mind, there are no shortcuts. There are no tricks. Mastery is reached the hard way—in such small increments that you don’t realize it’s happening.

For example, whereas many elite sushi chefs have a single supplier for everything they need at Tsukiji Fish Market, Jiro builds relationships with specialist suppliers who deal in only one of his ingredients. The result is that when Jiro gets an octopus, it’s from a supplier who has spent a lifetime developing mastery over how to select the best octopus for sushi.

Whereas many elite sushi chefs bring in new recruits and put them through rigorous training, an apprenticeship under Jiro is a 10-year journey.

He’s a perfect exemplar of how doing things the hard way can help you rise to the top. 


For starters, it’s about taking the time to do every step properly. It’s about becoming an expert at what you do so you can create a better product for your clients. It’s an embodiment of “measure twice, cut once.” By focusing on mastery of each step, we learn the repeatable patterns that can be improved upon with each iteration.

The “hard way” tends to get cast aside when one of its many forms is confused as its only form. It’s fair to be wary of work that comes with self-imposed challenges, arbitrary restrictions, or starting things from scratch. While making things more difficult for yourself in order to feel more reward can be admirable in recreation (e.g. “I’m going to swim solo across the Channel”) it’s not a valuable approach for a productive team.

It’s obvious but worth stating: those who spend extra time doing things right end up producing a better end product. Take custom carpentry’s go-to joining technique, the dovetail, for example. It’s considered a mark that a piece of furniture is well-built. And it’s one example where quality arises from the hard way. Kerry O’Brien for Sweeten.com puts it like this:

“Custom cabinetmakers will often use dovetail joints that interlock pieces of wood to distribute weight and stress more evenly, whereas stock nut, bolt, and nail methods isolate wear on a few points.”
 
Taking the hard way means laying out the steps. When you clear the cobwebs of an unknown process by learning from experts, you realize that mastery isn’t magic or even luck as popular myths try to make us believe. An apprentice under Jiro, for example, doesn’t just start learning to prepare the fish. They first have to develop mastery over how to welcome a customer into the restaurant. Then they graduate to developing mastery over how to create the perfect hot towel for a customer, then how to wash dishes, then how to prepare rice. It’s often months or years before they can even touch a fish.

It may be an extreme example, but this kind of repetition of each step in the process can allow you to isolate areas for improvement. Only when every step is done methodically can you understand the effect each has on the outcome. The only way Jiro knew to try massaging the octopus for 15 minutes longer was that every other step was followed rigorously and consistently. And he can taste the difference because he’s done it for years and because no other variables were changed.

Another popular example that dispels the “magic of mastery” myth is how Cristiano Ronaldo rose to the top. While he was developing his skills at Sporting Lisbon, he was seeded among a group of peers whose talents—according to the coaches—were on par with his own. But as Luis Lourenço, his compatriot, recalls in Sky Sports’ The Making of Cristiano Ronaldo:

“When he had nothing to do he would secretly go to the gym at night. He started doing things that we only did when we were with the team and the coaches. He’d get ready on his own and sneak off to the gym. He’d do leg and body exercises and that’s when he started to stand out. While we went to the gym to work out ahead of the next game, he was already working out ahead of his future.”

Ronaldo’s rise to the top is often attributed to devotion to self-improvement through practice and effort; notably, his talent comes second in his story.

A nice bonus of a methodical process is that you can give your consumers a taste of the effort put into your product. When people know what went into something, even though the product itself hasn’t changed, they may value it more. We see this with studio footage from musicians, weekly updates from agencies, and donation requests on popular blogs.

While extra time and effort might not be worth it if the outcome doesn’t budge, taking this kind of pride in your work can bring other benefits. For starters, it means that when the work is complete you’ll be more likely to feel a greater sense of accomplishment for achieving what you set out to do.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The 2016 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 (Mar 26), 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? The challenge starts NOW!

Late update: Besides working out, I had been struggling, trying to decide something to give up for Lent. I finally figured it out: Facebook. I'll still be using FB Messenger and will add members to groups for which I am an admin, but other than that, if we're Facebook Friends, I'll be off until Easter.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Continually Rediscovering Kung Fu

At the excellent Kung Fu Tea blog, there was an excellent post examining the attitudes of foreigners towards Chinese martial arts in Hong Kong over the years, decades and centuries. The author noted that it seems that Kung Fu is discovered again and again and again.

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

The TCMA as a Perpetual Revival Movement

Kung Fu has an odd relationship with the past. It seems that for the last century (at least) each generation has discovered the beauty of the Chinese martial arts only to realize that they are quickly “dying out,” and will likely succeed in doing so unless steps are taken. In other words, there is a strain of the Chinese martial arts that exists in a state of perpetual revival. This is not just to say that each generation must discover these arts for themselves, but that the very language of “loss” and “preservation” are inherently bound up in this process.

Once we understand this, we come closer to grasping the social meaning and function of these practices throughout time. This same discourse seems to be deeply meaningful in our own era. In striving to preserve an ‘authentic’ aspect of martial history, practitioners find something equally authentic within themselves. It may be an increased awareness of their Chinese heritage, a sense of self-creation and empowerment, or simply the awe of touching a relic from humanity’s deep past. After all, few things in our daily life claim to be as ancient as Kung Fu.

Recently I was struck by the notion that not only is there a degree of regularity in the on-going rediscovery of Kung Fu, but that certain rhetoric regarding its social meaning and significance also reappears, with surprising regularity, over the decades. Each generation is bound to rediscover, more or less, the same thing about Chinese masculinity, whether it is embodied in Huo Yunjia, Bruce Lee or, more recently, Daniel Wu. Not only have these individuals carried the same symbolic torch, but they have even been discussed in broadly similar terms by their contemporaries.

This is not to say that they have all played identical roles. Ideas about gender, nationalism and identity are in constant flux. Change is a vital part of this process. Still, the similarities between them are interesting enough that it causes one to stop and think.

The need to look into the past and discover something of value, an idea or symbol that will point the way to a better future, is not confined to the present moment in history. This seems to be an almost universal impulse. Perhaps we enthusiastically rediscover similar inspirations in the lives of each of these figures because there is a ‘Kung Fu shaped hole’ in the human soul?

Alternatively, if we dig deeply enough we will find that the archaeology of popular history and media provides valuable insights into the motivations and meanings driving the current embrace of the Chinese martial arts. The fact that each generation is compelled to “discover” so much anew also mandates that much must also be “forgotten” just as regularly. I personally find the odd forgetfulness that surrounds the contemporary history of the Chinese martial arts to be one of their most fascinating traits. Yet one still suspects that deep currents of discourse from the past shape at least some attitudes in the present even if most of us remain blissfully unaware of this cultural inheritance.

For this reason I am always looking for clues as to how the Chinese martial arts were perceived within the ‘trans-national’ or ‘global’ community prior to their rediscovery in the 1970s. It is tempting to allow our impressions of these attitudes to be shaped by the narratives of popular Kung Fu films in which Western forces were always implacably hostile to the Chinese martial arts. These practices were, after all, tasked with defending the nation’s dignity against the forces of imperialism and spiritual colonization.

Nor is it all that difficult to find racist or bigoted accounts of the Chinese martial arts. Still, it is interesting to note that many of these hostile accounts date to the middle or later periods of the 19th century. This was an era of active military conflict throughout the region and doubts about the Qing government’s ability to adapt to its rapidly changing environment.

By the second and third decades of the 20th century there was a notable change in foreign language discussions of the Chinese martial arts. The main sentiment expressed by these writers was one of mild curiosity rather than derision. And a notable percentage of western authors were inclined to see positive values and potential strengths in these systems of boxing and gymnastics. (Readers should recall that the Chinese hand combat systems were rarely referred to as “martial arts” in the pre-WWII period).

The following Research Note includes two articles found in Hong Kong’s English language newspapers written nearly a decade apart. Both are interesting in their own right and introduce some important facts about the period in question.

The first documents a Jingwu (Chin Woo) demonstration at a local school. This specific organization did much to promote the practice of the Chinese martial arts among students during this decade, spreading their base of support widely throughout society. Readers should also note that this article follows Jingwu’s linguistic convention and uses the term “Kung Fu” as a label for the traditional Chinese martial arts. This usage provides further evidence reinforcing certain arguments about the historical evolution of the term that I made here.

The second article reminds us of the importance of court records and legal proceeding as historical resources. It is a notice of charges against a Kung Fu teacher in Kowloon for the possession of unregistered weapons. The brief nature of this account raises as many questions as it resolves about how the martial arts community interacted with law enforcement during the 1930s.

The police appear to have had no interest in pressing charges against the Sifu as they were aware that the weapons were only used in teaching, and the judge dismissed the case as a technicality after imposing a minimal fine. Still, one wonders why the instructor was dragged into court at all for a weapons offense that no one was interested in enforcing. We know that during the 1950s-1980s there was a degree of hostility between the Hong Kong police and traditional martial arts schools, whom they often viewed as fronts for organized crime and Triad activity. Cases such as this one raises the question of how far back these tensions went.

Taken together these articles seem to illustrate a more nuanced reception of the traditional Chinese martial arts on the part of Westerners in southern China than current popular culture troupes might lead one to suspect. Their attitude was not always one of derision or implacable hostility. Jingwu’s involvement with the education of the youth was seen in a generally positive light. Both the police and presiding judge in the second account seemed capable of distinguishing the social function of the Kowloon school as a place of instruction from any technical infractions of weapons regulations that existed at the time.  As a set these articles shed light on how the Chinese martial arts were being discussed and imagined prior to their “re-discovery” by the English speaking world in the 1960 and 1970s.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Aging and Martial Arts



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 10) until the day before Easter (Mar 26), 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?

I'm no spring chicken anymore.

While checking in for the 2016 Disney World Marathon, we happened to meet and have a nice conversation with a senior runner.

He was 87, stood straight, was clear eyed and was sharp as could be. He took up running after he retired and is still at it. He had been participating in the Disney events (5K, 10K, half or full marathons) since 1997. 

He had run many of the marathons, even doing the Dopey Challenge (the 5K, 10K, half and full on consecutive days) four times. He's even run with his wife, kids and grand kids (a total of 14 of them on the track).

One time he qualified for the Boston Marathon, which in itself is a feat. At mile 24, he tripped, fell and broke his hip though. 3 months later he ran his first post recovery 5K.

Now with age, he is only (only!) running 10Ks. He says that he isn't beating anyone anymore; he's just outliving them.

There is a new role model for me.

Well, what about martial arts? What is the aging martial artist to do?

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Aging Martial Artists, on this very topic. The full post may be read here.


These concerns apply to anyone who is reaching their winter years but for martial artists it means a change in how we practice, train, teach and apply martial arts and karate. This article will only discuss those aging effects that have special meaning to us.

Bones, our skeletal system, the bones start to lose marrow, etc. and lead toward weaker bones. In our advanced age it can result in brittleness. This means all those awesome things we did in our twenties should be tempered to take this into consideration because broken bones are easier to encounter in harder training and practice. 

Our muscles and therefore our strength due to loss of muscle tissue, etc., result in weaker muscles so our strength, to which many rely on heavily, will no longer carry the day especially in self-defense applications, i.e., defending against attackers in the real world. 

Our metabolism changes and with that, if we don’t adjust for eating habits, will add on weight while reduce body mass, i.e., muscular mass. Our bodies will not have the same ability to continue working efficiently unless we hydrate a lot more. Then there is hearing loss.

Hearing is a sense we use, along with sight and touch, to detect things in our environment. We lose hearing, our sight diminishes and our touch is not as sensitive. All of these are really necessary to achieve proficiency in applying martial and karate skills in competition as well as self-defense. 

Now, here is one that should get all the guys attention - the secretion of testosterone diminishes. You can image how that effects our body and especially our mind-set because a lot of our youthful ability is carried by our testosterone and why the age of military and other like professions has an age thing.

Our joints suffer and things like ligaments and cartilage tend to become less flexible and succumb to injuries that younger folks can avoid by their health and fitness.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Evolution in Combat Sports

At Wim Demeer's excellent blog, there was a recent post on the evolution of combat sports. 

An excerpt is below. The full post, with many accompanying videos, may be found here

I believe it is fair to say that Benny (Urguidez) in his prime wouldn’t stand a chance against (the late) Ramon (Dekker) in his prime. Ramon was in the same weight class as Benny, so that can’t explain the difference in power and effectiveness. Look at how Benny and Fujimoto kick: there is nowhere near the power compared to Ramon’s leg techniques. They also look like amateurs compared to Ramon: there is no integrated approach to using arms and legs.

In part, this can be explained by the stage of development the sport was in back then: Benny came from a boxing and karate background and it shows in how he fights. He didn’t practice muay Thai, few Westerners did back then. In essence, him and his contemporaries made things up as they went along, developing skills and adapting their karate techniques to what was then relatively new sport. In contrast, Ramon Dekkers trained muay Thai (Dutch version) from the beginning and you see this in the way he moves, punches and kicks.

If you compare Ramon to today’s fighters, you’ll see even more differences between them and Benny, but also Ramon. The sport has changed, evolved and grown. Not just on a technical level but also strategies, tactics and training methods.

We’ve seen the same thing in MMA when you look at the first UFC events where the Gracies demonstrated the need for effective ground grappling which many fighters lacked.

Fast forward 20 years and there are no Gracies any more in the UFC. Today, every fighter has a good ground game along with good stand up (an area in which the Gracies always were severely lacking) to be able to compete. The funny thing is that the next step in the evolution of the sport is a resurgence of techniques from traditional martial arts. Karate, Tae Kwon Do and other arts are used as a source for innovating in the cage. In a few years, it’ll be something else.

This process is natural and normal for all sports, combat sports included, which brings me to my actual point:

If you don’t follow the evolution of the sport, you become obsolete.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Position in Martial Arts as well as Some Funny Bounces

Position is a critical element in martial arts, strategy and virtually all aspects of our lives. Below is an excerpt from the excellent Karate Thoughts Blog. The full post may be read here.

Before getting to the post however, I'd like to bring up recent experience and some funny bounces.

On a Thursday, I was coming down with the symptoms of a flu. I was very cold, all the energy was just drained from me and I ended up going to be at 8 pm.

The next morning I got up, found the coffee tasted lousy (and I LOVE coffee; if it tasted bad, then I truly was sick) and went back to bed.

I had a transaction that I needed to complete with a customer though. He was a few time zones over so I had a chance to get some sleep before working on it.

So there I am working the email and text messages; up to my elbows in a data base, trying to help him get this urgent order placed and moving.

The phone rings. It's my boss. 

Ok. He usually calls me on Fridays to catch up on what I've been doing. "I'm here with Stacy from HR." I knew what was coming. Yep. There was a reduction in force and I am among the number. Welcome to Dumpsville, population me.

The thing is, it didn't effect me one bit. My mind didn't freeze. There was no "gap."

Ok. The job is over, I have to get a new one now.

I finished letting the customer know what he needed to do and whom to contact to finish his transaction with text messages (my work email was cut off right away), then I got to work on LinkedIn to start stirring things up.

I've always made a point of making sure that my customers know that I do the very best I can for them within the constraints of my organization and that has always helped me. I am in an industry (the Internet of Things) that is growing fast. 

I am in a good position for something to happen relatively quickly. I'll let you know how it goes.

And now, to the article ...

My eldest son practices Kendo, and has (on and off) since he was about 12.  He has been a member of Hawaii's team to the World Kendo Tournament three times.  I am sharing this to give you a feel that he is pretty serious about Kendo.

In fact, when he is at my house, he often goes through Kendo movements and stomps his right foot (like they do in Kendo).  I always have to tell him to stop because I am afraid that he will crack our marble floors.  I secretly think that he may have already done so.

Anyway, we often speak about Kendo and he always tells me about a new technique or strategy he is working on or just thought of.  I am always amazed because he has been practicing Kendo for a while.  Nevertheless, he always seems to have come up with something new.

Recently, he told me (I am paraphrasing) that he realized that Kendo is not as much about hitting as it is about getting into the best position to hit.

Now I have heard so many of these thoughts -- maybe hundreds over the years -- but this one made me think... Kendo is not as much about hitting as it is about getting into the best position to hit.

We talked about it.  It certainly takes skill to hit right in Kendo.  But most people who do hit are not in the best position when they do so.  As a result, their hit may be effective, or they may be hit themselves or countered.  There are a lot of considerations.  But when you are in the best position, your hit will probably be better and you will be in a stronger position.

I started to think about how this applies to Karate.  If Karate is about punching, blocking, kicking, etc., then it is certainly true that getting into the best position before we do these things is extremely important.  In some cases, getting into the best position could even make certain things unnecessary.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Paying Attention to Detail in Martial Arts

Over at the Black Arrow blog, Zacky Chan has a very good post on paying attention to detail in his martial art: kyudo, which applies equally well to every other martial art and to everything else to which we turn our attention. It's still early in the year and this is a nice way to start things off.

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

The Importance of Taihai Part I: What is Taihai?


In this series of posts I want to talk about why taihai is so important to kyudo. On the one hand it’s one of the most basic aspects of kyudo, and yet on the other it’s one aspect that is mostly ignored. Great taihai is what separates good from great archers, and it’s also what perplexes most when they first look at kyudo. I firmly believe that the better we can understand and perform taihai, the better we can hit the target, better express ourselves in our shooting, and better learn from the practice of kyudo.

This series of posts was sparked when someone asked me something that went like this:

When researching about kyudo, there is a lot of information about the shooting and everything you do once you’re at the shooting mark, but what about all the stuff getting up to that point?

That is taihai, all the stuff you do before and after you’re at the mark. In that sense, we can divide kyudo into the things we do at the mark (shooting), and all the stuff we do before and after we shoot (taihai). But really, most all the things we do in taihai we should be doing while we shoot, and most all the things we do while we shoot we should also use in our taihai. In that sense, we should look to taihai not as something separate from shooting, but rather as a very important part of the process of shooting.

You could say it’s “shooting without shooting.” I like that, but for the sake of gaining a deeper understanding of taihai, we’re going to have to get a lot more specific.

Like, what does the Japanese word “taihai” mean in English?

From all the English writings I’ve read, I don’t believe I’ve ever found a single translation of the word “taihai”. What you usually find is a description of the process:  “Entering the dojo, performing the right steps in the right order and timing, and leaving the dojo.” or “The formalized movements based on etiquette.” or “Taihai involves five archers entering the dojo, approaching the target and preparing for shooting in harmony, with precise timing and rhythm.”

Even in the Japanese version of “the Kyudo Manual” (Kyuhon), I don’t think there is the use of the word, “taihai”. There are lots of description of different types of ceremonial shootings using terms like, “The movements of three person shooting” or “the movements of removing the kimono sleeve” or “ceremonial shooting for the makiwara”. Taihai is involved in all of these, and yet the term itself isn’t mentioned.

That point aside, the two words that seem to come up the most are “ceremonial” and
“movements”.

How about we call taihai, “ceremonial movements”?

Well, I don’t like this because the term “ceremonial” makes it sound like it’s something special we do only on certain occasions, when really it’s something we should be doing all the time when we’re shooting. The term “movements” is certainly accurate, but it’s not just any movements, but very specific predetermined ones.

I’d also like to mention that taihai is a word that relates specifically to kyudo. When I ask a Japanese person who doesn’t practice kyudo what taihai is, they don’t know. Even if they look at the written characters, the meaning of taihai doesn’t translate. You can explain the motions of taihai in Japanese, or show someone the movements and say, “this is taihai”, but there is no single term to explain to people who aren’t already familiar with the word.
That aside, let’s take a look at the Japanese characters for taihai ourselves and see if we can find anything.

Taihai looks like this: 体配.

体 (tai) most simply means “body”. I don’t think it means much more in the full word of taihai, but if you look up 体 in a kanji dictionary it will also show it as, “style; form; substance; center appearance”.

配 (hai) is a little trickier because it doesn’t have much of a defined meaning if the character is all by itself. Only when linked with other characters does it gain meaning, but then it has a slightly different meaning with each different character it’s linked with to make a new word. Anyway, in a kanji dictionary 配 means “distribute”. With other characters it often conveys the meaning of “distributing”, “alloting” or “arranging”.

So … taihai could be translated as “distributing the body”?