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 ~

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Distilling Sun Tzu to Self Defense

Below is an excerpt from a post at Okinawan Fighting Art, which adapts the "Five Essentials" of Sun Tzu's Art of War to personal self defense. The full post may be read here.

Sun Tzu, The Five Essentials for Victory:

  1. He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight;
  2. He will win who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces; 
  3. He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout all its ranks;
  4. He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared;
  5. He will win who has military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

You already understand and you probably already know that in a modern society there is inevitable changes to mandate how one provides security and safety for themselves, their families and the social structure or group to which his or her families belong. It is my expert provision in this article to expand on these essentials for victory as set down centuries ago how great Generals would successfully carry out the mandate of Heaven and his sovereign to gain victory agains all enemies both domestic and foreign. 

In our world of martial prowess where self-protection is provided we can readily detect a need to follow these ancient teachings while making allowances to our modern times. Therefore the above will be revamped to reflect those changes and mandates as set down by law, the legal system and those who enforce for the sake of societies protection, security and safety. 

There are “Five Essentials for Self-Protection.” 

Commentary: I don’t use the term victory because that tends to lead to certain dissonances due to our modern societies pension toward competitive sports where the dangers of grave harm and death are governed by rules that are sanctioned, mandated and set by society through its laws and legal systems. Even the use of self-defense if not fully explained can lead to mistakes in perceptions because it is used, generally, to explain actual defenses and it is also used, generally, to explain a legal definition since the legal system uses the term as a legal one. 

  1. He will achieve success who knows when to protect and defend and when not to protect and defend;
  2. He will achieve success who knows how to handle aggressions and force both psychological and physical;
  3. He will achieve success who knows how to protect and defend within the limits set by social legal laws and systems;
  4. He will achieve success who, prepared him/herself, waits to take the attacker unprepared; 
  5. He will achieve success who has martial capacity and is not interfered with by societies systems. 

Now, commentary on the five essential principles of self-protection.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Vintage Video of Kam Yuen

Kam Yuen was the second martial arts coordinator for the ground breaking TV series, Kung Fu. He was a master of Tai Mantis, a style in the northern Shaolin tradition. He is also a doctor of chiropractic and continues to practice.

The video below is from the1970's. Enjoy.

Monday, October 28, 2019

The Weapons of Wing Chun

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Tea, regarding the weapons practice of Wing Chun. The full article may be read here.

From time to time I am asked why Wing Chun teaches only two weapons. For those unfamiliar with the system these are the long single-tailed fighting pole, favored by a number of southern Chinese styles, and the butterfly swords. Most of Guangdong’s more popular styles have extensive arsenals.

The straight sword (jian) and broadsword (dao) are commonly seen throughout the region as are the trident, iron ruler, spear, fighting chain and rattan shield.

Such a question may well be impossible to answer. One suspects that many of the explanations that are given are basically post-hoc justifications. It could be that the focus on only two weapons reflects the style’s dedication to “parsimony” and its “concept” rather than “technique-based” approach to fighting. Or this could all simply be a matter of coincidence. If you examine the historical record it is not difficult to locate accounts of Republic period Wing Chun enthusiasts who took an interest in a more diverse set of weapons.

Still, there is something undeniably unique about the pole and double swords. While arts like Hung Gar, White Crane and Choy Li Fut teach a greater number of forms, these two are often the first weapons actually introduced to students.

There is also a longstanding tradition (which one can see in the written literature on the Chinese martial arts as far back as the Ming) justifying the long pole’s special place in military training. It was favored by instructors as it could both physically strengthen students and introduce them to techniques that would aid their study of other weapons.

Meir Shahar has argued that it was this idea, rather than any Buddhist prohibition on bladed weapons, that explained the Shaolin Temple’s specialization in cudgel fighting throughout the Ming era. Thus there may be concrete historical reasons why these particular instruments came to be favored as the foundation of 19th century southern weapons training.

We have already seen that the pole and the hudiedao (butterfly swords) came to constitute the core of Guangdong’s 19th century training for gentry led militias and other paramilitary groups. These forces cannot be dismissed as peripheral to the area’s history. They carried out a great deal of the actual fighting that occurred during the Opium Wars and the Red Turban Revolt.

The provincial government was also extensively involved in financing and procuring the arms that these groups used. While some authors have dismissed the hudiedao as an eccentric toy for martial artists, in fact these weapons were critical to southern China’s military identity throughout the 19th century.

This might be one way of understanding modern Wing Chun’s parsimony in the realm of weaponry.

The forms it taught would allow a martial artist from the Pearl River Delta region to pick up and competently use the two weapons that they were most likely to be given in the case of a community crisis. Other weapons, such as spears or daos, were (rightly or wrongly) considered close substitutes.

Yet when we look at the martial arts as they developed during the final years of the Qing and Republic periods, we are primarily discussing civilian fighting traditions which were taught in a non-military context. Do we have any witnesses to the use of these specific weapons in a civil setting?

How common were they compared to other traditional weapons which were available in Chinese communities during the middle of the 19th century?

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wude: Martial Virtue

Related, but different from the Japanese concept of Budo is the concept of "Wude" in Chinese martial arts, or martial virtue.

Below is an excerpt from a post at Cold Mountain Internal Martial Arts on Wude. The full post may be read here.

Tai Chi discussion sites on the internet can be depressing.  I've participated on many but usually they become toxic as personality clashes develop and one lineage or another strives to assert its superiority.  When this happens and the slagging starts, a central factor is an absence of wu-de,  the martial arts code.

 Ideally, Tai Chi is a philosophy. The word 'philosophy' refers to the love of wisdom.  The essence of wisdom, as the ancient Greek philosophers put it, is knowledge of oneself.  Wu-de, the behaviour code of the martial arts, is based upon the philosophy taught by an ancient sage – ‘Confucius’ (to Westerners) or Kong-tse,  'Master Kong'.

“The Master”, as he is known to countless East-Asians, lived in the troubled later years of the Zhou dynasty (1046 - 256 BCE), a time of warring kingdoms, environmental degradation, famine, genocide, corruption, and a lack of either public or private morality.

Seeing the chaos into which the land had descended, he taught a system of morality based upon the principles of natural order as he saw them outlined in the I Jing (Book of Changes).

To reform society, The Master proposed to start small – with the individual. If the individual cultivated morality within himself, then he could influence his family. In turn, a cultivated family might have a reforming influence upon their neighbourhood, which in turn might, by example, reform the community. Then other communities might be reformed, next the province, then finally the state. Thus, a great responsibility rested upon individual initiative. Personal morality was a matter of social and cultural responsibility.

The Master’s objective was to encourage the development of cultivated individuals whose minds and emotional make-ups had been refined through education. This sort of education he saw as a moral duty, having as its outcome both individual fulfillment and the moral enhancement of all those groups of which the individual constituted a part.

This is the root of the Martial Arts Code.

Confucianism was patriarchal and is now outmoded in terms of many of its assumptions.  But, if cleansed of its assumptions about gender and authority, it can have much to teach us.

The Confucian virtues are:

1. Humanity - which can be understood as involving respect, magnanimity, truthfulness, acuity and generosity. It is the foundation of social order and is based on the love of people. This can be interpreted as the selfless desire to be of benefit to others.

2. Justice - which means duty, principle and motivation. It does not involve unquestioning obedience to authority, but rather an unswerving devotion to moral principles. A further principle of justice is that it should be available to all equally, regardless as to social class. Emperor and peasant should be considered as equally answerable for their actions. 

3. Propriety or Etiquette - is based on a sense of due deference and is indicated by courtesy and respect manifested toward others. It relies on an essential sincerity, rather than just the observance of outward forms. 

4. Education or Knowledge - is a moral imperative. It can be defined as mental development dedicated to the cultivation of Humanity, Justice and Propriety. Education allows us to understand others and their needs. Self-improvement and education is something we owe to ourselves and others.

5. Sincerity or Trustworthiness  - consists of faithfulness to the ideals of Humanity, Justice, Propriety and Education. It is seen in a character which is well-informed, reliable and non-dissimulating.

These virtues work together. Thus -- Education may externally result in the acquisition of Knowledge and an ability to marshal facts but, if informed by the other virtues, can result in Wisdom. Similarly, the virtues, when cultivated in an informed way, result in the “Superior Individual” - a person possessing sincerity and deep character who can be of great service to society and able to further the goal of its eventual enlightenment.

This is our model for a martial artist.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #73: The Han Monument

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

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. Today we have #73: The Han Monument.


The Son of Heaven in Yuanhe times was martial as a god
And might be likened only to the Emperors Xuan and Xi.
He took an oath to reassert the glory of the empire,
And tribute was brought to his palace from all four quarters.
Western Huai for fifty years had been a bandit country,
Wolves becoming lynxes, lynxes becoming bears.
They assailed the mountains and rivers, rising from the plains,
With their long spears and sharp lances aimed at the Sun.
But the Emperor had a wise premier, by the name of Du,
Who, guarded by spirits against assassination,
Hong at his girdle the seal of state, and accepted chief command,
While these savage winds were harrying the flags of the Ruler of Heaven.
Generals Suo, Wu, Gu, and Tong became his paws and claws;
Civil and military experts brought their writingbrushes,
And his recording adviser was wise and resolute.
A hundred and forty thousand soldiers, fighting like lions and tigers,
Captured the bandit chieftains for the Imperial Temple.
So complete a victory was a supreme event;
And the Emperor said: "To you, Du, should go the highest honour,
And your secretary, Yu, should write a record of it."
When Yu had bowed his head, he leapt and danced, saying:
"Historical writings on stone and metal are my especial art;
And, since I know the finest brush-work of the old masters,
My duty in this instance is more than merely official,
And I should be at fault if I modestly declined."
The Emperor, on hearing this, nodded many times.
And Yu retired and fasted and, in a narrow workroom,
His great brush thick with ink as with drops of rain,
Chose characters like those in the Canons of Yao and Xun,
And a style as in the ancient poems Qingmiao and Shengmin.
And soon the description was ready, on a sheet of paper.
In the morning he laid it, with a bow, on the purple stairs.
He memorialized the throne: "I, unworthy,
Have dared to record this exploit, for a monument."
The tablet was thirty feet high, the characters large as dippers;
It was set on a sacred tortoise, its columns flanked with ragons....
The phrases were strange with deep words that few could understand;
And jealousy entered and malice and reached the Emperor --
So that a rope a hundred feet long pulled the tablet down
And coarse sand and small stones ground away its face.
But literature endures, like the universal spirit,
And its breath becomes a part of the vitals of all men.
The Tang plate, the Confucian tripod, are eternal things,
Not because of their forms, but because of their inscriptions....
Sagacious is our sovereign and wise his minister,
And high their successes and prosperous their reign;
But unless it be recorded by a writing such as this,
How may they hope to rival the three and five good rulers?
I wish I could write ten thousand copies to read ten thousand times,
Till spittle ran from my lips and calluses hardened my fingers,
And still could hand them down, through seventy-two generations,
As corner-stones for Rooms of Great Deeds on the Sacred Mountains.