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, May 06, 2016

A Summary of the 48 Laws of Power

Modern Machiavelli is a website dedicated to the study of power as expounded in The 48 Laws of Power, The Prince and others.

Below is a list of the 48 Laws of Power taken from a post there. The author also explains the use of his own examples in illustrating each law and some useful links. The full post may be read here

Please pay a visit.

  1. Never outshine the Master
  2. Never put too Much Trust in Friends, Learn how to use Enemies
  3. Conceal your Intentions
  4. Always Say Less than Necessary
  5. So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
  6. Court Attention at all Cost
  7. Get others to do the Work for you, but Always Take the Credit
  8. Make other People come to you – use Bait if Necessary
  9. Win through your Actions, Never through Argument
  10. Infection: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky
  11. Learn to Keep People Dependent on You
  12. Use Selective Honesty and Generosity to Disarm your Victim
  13. When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude
  14. Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy
  15. Crush your Enemy Totally
  16. Use Absence to Increase Respect and Honor
  17. Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
  18. Do Not Build Fortresses to Protect Yourself – Isolation is Dangerous
  19. Know Who You’re Dealing with – Do Not Offend the Wrong Person
  20. Do Not Commit to Anyone
  21. Play a Sucker to Catch a Sucker – Seem Dumber than your Mark
  22. Use the Surrender Tactic: Transform Weakness into Power
  23. Concentrate Your Forces
  24. Play the Perfect Courtier
  25. Re-Create Yourself
  26. Keep Your Hands Clean
  27. Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
  28. Enter Action with Boldness
  29. Plan All the Way to the End
  30. Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
  31. Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal
  32. Play to People’s Fantasies
  33. Discover Each Man’s Thumbscrew
  34. Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one
  35. Master the Art of Timing
  36. Disdain Things you cannot have: Ignoring them is the best Revenge
  37. Create Compelling Spectacles
  38. Think as you like but Behave like others
  39. Stir up Waters to Catch Fish
  40. Despise the Free Lunch
  41. Avoid Stepping into a Great Man’s Shoes
  42. Strike the Shepherd and the Sheep will Scatter
  43. Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others
  44. Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect
  45. Preach the Need for Change, but Never Reform too much at Once
  46. Never appear too Perfect
  47. Do not go Past the Mark you Aimed for; In Victory, Learn when to Stop
  48. Assume Formlessness

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Balance Training for Martial Arts

Disrupting your opponents balance while maintaining your own is probably the most fundamental of martial arts strategies. It would be useful to understand balance a little more.

Below is an excerpt from Starting Strength which defines just exactly what is balance and how to understand and cultivate it. The full article may be read here.

What is Balance?

Balance can be defined as the ability to maintain one’s center of mass vertically over the base of support, with minimal postural sway. Let’s break this definition down a bit to make sure everything is crystal clear.

The “center of mass” (CoM) is a reference point representing the “averaged” mass of an object or person in space. In other words, if I were to take your body mass distribution in its current position and represent it as a single point, this would be your center of mass. For most humans of average anthropometry standing in anatomical position, this point lies somewhere within the pelvis, typically just in front of the sacrum.

How do humans detect imbalance?

So we’ve established that balance is maintained when the center of mass lies directly over the base of support (i.e., the mid-foot). Now let’s consider how humans detect imbalance. Although generally taken for granted, it requires a fascinating integration of three systems:

  1. The Vestibular system is located in the inner ear and is connected to multiple other areas of the brain and body through the brainstem. It detects linear acceleration and rotation of the head, and triggers reflexive compensatory movements to help us maintain equilibrium. For example, when focused on an object while rapidly turning your head to the right, you’ll notice that your eyes compensate by turning leftward in order to stay “locked” on your target. In addition, we can sense acceleration or tilting and adjust our posture appropriately due to the activity of our vestibular system, even in complete darkness. Impairments in this system typically result in dizziness or vertigo, and can result from various neurological disorders and diseases of the inner ear, trauma, strokes, tumors, medications, and drug/alcohol use (e.g. “the spins”).
  2. The Somatosensory system provides us with “proprioceptive” (position) and “kinesthetic” (movement) senses, among several others. The skin and musculoskeletal system detect and relay proprioceptive information along specialized sets of nerves to tell our brain about the position and movement of our bodies and joints. This is how you still know where your hands and feet are without looking at them, and how you can feel where your weight is being distributed across your feet. The sensory information coming from this system helps you maintain desired positions and stay in balance without having to watch your own body while you move. This is important since we can’t see our lower back during a deadlift, and we don’t actively watch our knees while we squat. Impairments in this system typically result from conditions affecting the nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nerves) which commonly include diabetes, strokes, medications, and drug/alcohol use among numerous other conditions.
  3. The Visual system’s role should be intuitively obvious: a major component of sensing our position and movement is simply seeing it. Impairments in the visual system result in blindness and can result from things like diabetes, cataracts, macular degeneration, and glaucoma.
Interestingly, as long as at least two of the three systems we’ve discussed are working normally, people can still compensate enough to maintain their balance. For this reason you might encounter the “Romberg test” in hospitals or at drunk driving checkpoints, where the subject stands with the feet together and eyes closed (effectively “turning off” the visual system), and the examiner watches for significant swaying, unsteadiness, or falls that might indicate a problem with one of the two “remaining” sensory systems, usually proprioception.

How do humans overcome imbalance?

At this point I’d like you to try something: stand up right where you are and slowly lean forward onto your toes. You’ll immediately detect imbalance using the systems I just described, then you’ll notice feeling slightly uncomfortable as your calves, low back, and other leg muscles start tugging to prevent you from falling on your face. This all relaxes as you come back to the mid-foot balance point. Now, lean backwards onto your heels and you’ll feel even more apprehensive as your quadriceps and lower leg muscles start pulling very hard to prevent a fall backwards. You might even reflexively extend your arms out in front of you in an attempt to shift the center of mass forward again. This again resolves as you come back to the mid-foot. All of this “extra” muscular force is required to overcome the imbalance resulting from the center of mass not being positioned directly over the mid-foot. Read that again and be sure you understand, because this is fundamental. Muscular force is required to overcome imbalance, and therefore to maintain it.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Constant Bear

A fundamental auxillary exercise found among the practioners of Cheng Man Ching Style Taijiquan is the Constant Bear.

It is said that Prof Cheng began teaching this variation of the well known exercise to an elderly student that was just having too much difficulty with the normal movements.

The Constant Bear, practiced in this manner, is supposed to embody the essentials of TJQ form practice.

There is some more information on the Constant Bear at Violet Li's column.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Classic BJJ Match

Below is a video of a classic BJJ match, Rigan Machado vs Rickson Gracie.

Rigan Machado is one of the Machado Brothers, cousins of the Gracies, learning from Carlos Jr. He sometimes trained with, and is the only person every to have defeated his cousin Rickson in a competition.

Today they are both 8th degree black belts in BJJ.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Seeing the World Through the Game of Go

This was posted over at the Dao of Strategy blog. An excerpt is below. the full article may be read here.

Games are eloquent... Sociologists and anthropologists have sought since the beginning of the century to extrapolate more or less successfully on the identity of various societies, on the basis of the games they play. In his work of synthesis on games, Roger Caillois states the following:
"Along with music, calligraphy and painting, the Chinese place the game of draughts and the game of chess among the four disciplines that a learned man must practice. They believe that these games train the intellect to take pleasure in the multiple answers, combinations and surprises which spring forth continuously from constantly new situations. Aggression is said to be calmed, while the soul learns serenity, harmony, and the joy of contemplating possibilities. Without any doubt, this is a mark of civilization [...]. Societies which are full of hustle and bustle, whether they be Australian, American or African, are societies which are also dominated by the mask and by possession, which is to say by mimicry and the ilinx: conversely, the Incas, the Assyrians, the Chinese and the Romans present ordered societies, with offices and careers, with codes and scales, with controlled and hierarchical privileges, where competition and chance, which is to say in this context, merit and birth, appear as the primary and complementary elements of social interplay."[2]

Thursday, April 21, 2016

More Than Just Practice for Martial Arts Excellence

Is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice enough to achieve excellence? That's not the half of it, or even a third of it.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Psychology Today which states just that. The full article may be read here .

They say that practice makes perfect. Or, more specifically, that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is necessary to obtain elite performance levels in activities ranging from golf to chess to music. Coined by Florida State psychologist Anders Ericsson and made famous by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, the 10,000 hour rule reflects the idea that becoming a world-class athlete or performer rests on a long period of hard work rather than “innate ability” or talent. You don’t need to be born with the “right” genes to be a super star, says Ericsson, you just have to practice in the “right” way.

Hard work does help explain who will reach the highest levels of performance in music and chess alike. But, it’s not the entire story. In fact, in both areas, deliberate practice wasn’t even half the story – it was about 1/3 of it. Some people require much less practice than others to reach elite performance levels. In other words, it seems that factors other than practice are important for determining who is going to obtain the highest level of skill.

I have to admit, the 10,000 hour rule is an appealing one. It implies that almost anyone can become an expert if they work hard enough. As Hambrick says, deliberate practice is so popular because it has “meritocratic appeal.”  The data, however, tell a somewhat different story. Yes, hard work is extremely important, but it’s not everything. Whether it’s genes, motivation, one’s ability to handle failure, all of the above or something else altogether, we have to owe up to the fact that factors other than practice contribute to achieving greatness. Only then will we be best able to identify areas we are most likely to excel in and have the best chance of rising to the top.

Monday, April 18, 2016


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 #59: A SONG OF WHITE SNOW IN FAREWELL TO FIELD-CLERK WU GOING HOME


The north wind rolls the white grasses and breaks them;
And the Eighth-month snow across the Tartar sky
Is like a spring gale, come up in the night,
Blowing open the petals of ten thousand peartrees.
It enters the pearl blinds, it wets the silk curtains;
A fur coat feels cold, a cotton mat flimsy;
Bows become rigid, can hardly be drawn
And the metal of armour congeals on the men;
The sand-sea deepens with fathomless ice,
And darkness masses its endless clouds;
But we drink to our guest bound home from camp,
And play him barbarian lutes, guitars, harps;
Till at dusk, when the drifts are crushing our tents
And our frozen red flags cannot flutter in the wind,
We watch him through Wheel-Tower Gate going eastward.
Into the snow-mounds of Heaven-Peak Road....
And then he disappears at the turn of the pass,
Leaving behind him only hoof-prints.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Ruts and Rituals

So you practice diligently everyday, but after a while it feels stale. Perhaps the rituals and habits that you worked so hard to form have become crutches and ruts. 

Below is an excerpt from an article from Inc. The whole article may be read here.

Brilliant performers in any field often have rituals or practices that they fall back on to help them perform consistently at their peak. When you are charged with doing complex work every day, rituals can bring order to your world and help you focus more effectively. If you want to deliver a result consistently, you must systemize it, and that's precisely what a ritual does.

However, the danger of rituals is that they can remain in your schedule long after they have stopped serving their original purpose. Worse, they can begin to work against your ability to be effective.
While I believe that high-performing people and teams must have strong rituals in their life to support their goals, I also know that these rituals must be examined on a regular basis to ensure that they aren't becoming fossilized ruts. Here are a few suggestions for shaking up your rituals before they stall your progress.

Examine Your Daily Rituals For Ruts

Many people have daily behaviors they engage in without thinking, whether that's the time they get out of bed, a quick stop for coffee in the morning, a discipline of reading/studying, or the check-ins they do with their co-workers. Consider how you're currently engaging in these rituals, and how you might be able to able them to make them more effective today.

Additionally, consider how you begin and end each day. Don't just rush out of bed, swallow some breakfast, and speed off to work. Do you have daily rituals that help you focus on your priorities, think about opportunities, and evaluate your progress? If not, think about how you might be able to incorporate them. If you already have these rituals in place, consider whether they are truly effective, or if there's a way you can tweak them to make them work better for you.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

XingYiQuan's 3 Levels of Practice

My friend over at The Dao of Strategy brought this excellent article by CS Tang to my attention. Below is an excerpt. The original may be read here.

The terms of Xingyi Quan’s three levels of practice—Ming Jin (明勁), An Jin (喑勁), Hua Jin (化勁)—came from Guo Yun Shen and were systematized by Sun Lu Tang, who proposed three levels of practice:
  1. training the Jing to transform into Qi
  2. training the Qi to transform into Shen
  3. training the Shen to return to emptiness.
Initially this theory was a concept without clear differentiation. In Dai family Xingyi Quan, each time one began to train a fist one had to practice it several times with a soft Jin at first and then a few times with a hard Jin before closing the movement. The intention was to practice slowly to begin with, ensuring that the movements were accurate, and to use the Yin energy completely, co-ordinating the movements between hands and feet. Through repeated practice one would collect the Jin in the body, accumulate a ball of Qi and release it with power and sound, with an integrated and explosive force in a single movement. Hebei Xingyi Quan inherited the above method but took a more direct approach, whereby one had to learn the hard Jin at first so that one would achieve power and could apply it quickly. Once one had mastered the fierce and hard way of practice, they would then begin to train the An Jin and Hua Jin.

The practice method of the three Jin is mainly used in the Five Elements Fists. Each fist is practiced in three ways. First, master the hard movement so that you can face the enemy; then begin to practice sets of the form; finally, go back to the beginning to train An Jin. When you are proficient you can train the Twelve Animal forms, before finally training the Five Elements Hua Jin.