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 ~


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Awareness in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from another excellent post at The Budo Bum, about awareness in martial arts. The full post may be read here.

Awareness, Zanshin, or just plain Paying Attention


Awareness makes budo work. Without it, it doesn’t matter how good  your maegeri or your uchimata is.  You’re going to get clocked before you can use is. Being aware tells us what’s going on and what to be prepared for so we can deal with it when it arrives.  It’s so important I considered including it as one of the fundamental principles of Budo.  I didn’t because it is a skill built on and with the principles I discussed in earlier posts (Structure, Spacing and Timing).  Without an understanding of those, awareness can’t happen. WIthout awareness though, you’ll never get to use the skills you’ve spent so much time developing.

Awareness is a combination of the knowledge of structure, spacing and timing combined with being cognizant of the world you are moving in. If you don’t understand structure, spacing and timing, it really won’t matter how much you pay attention to the people and things around you, because you won’t be able to interpret what you see. If you understand these things, but don’t pay any attention to what you are seeing and don’t apply your understanding to the world, it won’t matter what you’ve learned because you aren’t using it.

A lot of people talk about being aware of the world around us, but what are we looking at and why are we looking at it?  Just being aware of what’s going on around you is useless if you don’t have a framework with which to evaluate what you are seeing.  Understanding your own structure lets you see what’s going on in others' structures. Understanding spacing tells you not just what is good spacing for you, but what is good for someone else. Knowing when the timing is right and wrong for you to act enables you to understand those moments when you are vulnerable to someone else.

Combat Nuns

All of my Catholic friends will nod their heads in agreement that nun MUST practice their own secret martial arts. The video below is proof.

As an aside - I lost my fear of authority figures when I heard the story of my mother getting into a fist fight with a nun when she was 12. Apparently they were about the same size and weight.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

The 48 Laws of Power, #12: Use Selective Honesty

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. Among my favorites is about a scrap metal dealer thinking he bought the Eiffel Tower.

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today, from the 48 Laws of Power Blog, we have #12: Use Selective Honesty.

One sincere and honest move will cover over dozens of dishonest ones. Open-hearted gestures of honesty and generosity bring down the guard of even the most suspicious people. Once your selective honesty opens a hole in their armor, you can deceive and manipulate them at will. A timely gift—a Trojan horse—will serve the same purpose.

7 Ways You Can Disarm Anyone
7 Ways You Can Disarm Anyone

1. Through an act of apparent sincerity and honesty.
2. Learn to give before you take. 
3. Use selective honesty on your first encounter with someone.
4. You must build a reputation for honesty based on a series of acts.
5. Give a gift.
5. Give a gift.
6. Practice the tactic with caution
7. It is better to play the rogue 
7. It is better to play the rogue


Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Gift Ideas for Martial Artists

Today we have another guest post by Jonathan Bluestein. The topic is Christmas gifts for martial artists! Enjoy



Christmas Gifts for the Martial Artist
By Jonathan Bluestein
Unlike my usually scholarly articles, in the spirit of Christmas let us have more fun  :-)

Ain’t no time like Christmas for spoiling a loved one or yourself with a cool martial arts gift. But what should you get? I have listed a bunch of wonderful gift ideas for you to consider, and I am quite sure you would like at least some of them. Take note that they are listed from the more expensive to the least expensive (and even the free!), accommodating a wide range of gifting budgets. I will be describing most items from personal experience, so you can be sure it would be a good and safe purchase on your behalf. Please note that I have not received any of the items recommended here for free, and neither am I associated in any way with the people selling them.

300-400$ :
A real, functional, well-made sword
Regardless of style, martial artists like swords. A decent blade, especially a customized one, is a very cool item to have, and sure as hell impressive wherever you put it. As a gift, it will carry good memories for decades and more.

People tend to think really good sword should be very expensive. Not true. The high-end blades, yes. Can top 5000$ and sky is the limit. But for 300-400$, you can get a REALLY fine sword, even a functional one, made using traditional methods (or not). This actually seems to be the lowest price point at which it is safe to rely on a sword product to last and be sturdily built, regardless of sword type.

Before purchasing, be sure to do some research about the type of sword you’re looking for. Steel types, for instance, can be of utmost importance. The following guide is a good place to start:  http://www.sword-buyers-guide.com/buy-swords-online.html

Picture:  373$ custom-made Katana from SinoSword.com
 Where to buy?

Tozando (www.tozandoshop.com) – Good for regular and custom Iaito (unsharpened steel alloy Katanas). I have had experience with their wooden weapons – top notch, best you can get. They can sometimes be pricier than other shops, but make up for it with quality products and free international shipping.

SinoSword (www.sinosword.com) – For custom swords, Japanese and Chinese, of all kinds. Their specialty is the Japanese Katana. Their strength is in superb blacksmithing, excellent customer service and the ability to customize swords to the extreme. Ordering from them requires you describe your blade of choice to the smallest of details. Otherwise they may choose things for you, and that can cause misunderstandings. I am in the process of ordering a sword from them, and the correspondence so far has been excellent.

SBG (http://www.sword-buyers-guide.com/authentic-japanese-swords.html) – Sword Buyers Guide is a wonderful website with tons of info for people interested in swords. The page I linked to contains many reviews and links to quality Japanese katanas at a decent price.

Around 150$ :
The best punching bag out there

I have tried my fair share of heavy bags. The one I have now in my martial arts school is my all-time favourite. The MaxxMMA bag is simply brilliant. A genius design – inner rubber tube filled with air, surrounded with a larger outer tube filled with water. These are wrapped with real leather. The result is a bag that actually feels like a torso of a human being. Soft, yet does not give way much. 

Springy but does not bounce. Heavy, but can be moved (70-140lbs, depending on how much water you put in). Just right. As the leather can be tough on some people’s bare hands, the company also includes a nice cushion that easily wraps tightly around the bag. I have had this bag for several weeks now, and I am very pleased with it.
Where to buy?

Amazon:

Ebay:


50-100$ :
Winter protection
You like training outside… But it is god damn winter, and rain/snow would freeze you to death. Luckily this Gore-Tex coverall exists. 

Wearing it will keep you warm and completely dry on the inside in the most wicked of storms, while maintaining your full range of motion. Highly resilient. I have had this suit for 2 years now, and cannot stress how useful it had been for me. Just yesterday I took my large spear to the park and trained with it in the rain.
Where to buy?

Here (the people I bought from):

(Wherein the link is no longer active, then Ebay search for:    Gore-Tex Coverall  ‘.

A wooden weapon (any weapon)
Though not ‘the real thing’, can be no less impressive, especially if custom-made. You also have the advantage of not suffering any guilt while banging it around in practice. The standard wooden Bokken can be gotten anywhere these days. Boring. For a real masterpiece at a reasonable price, which can be used for contact training, you need to order from a hand-crafting artist. Luckily, these artworks are not too expensive.


Picture: Wooden swords made by Carina Cirricione. 

 Where to buy?

Raven Studios (http://www.little-raven.com/RS/MA/) – Run by the Carina Cirricione, this is a fine workshop. I have purchased 4 Chinese Miao Dao from her in the past and had been very pleased with them. Her choice of woods is limited, but she can design and craft any design you may challenge her with (European, Japanese, Chinese or otherwise). Her professionalism is to be trusted and appreciated.

Blizniak Bokken (http://blizniaksbokken.com/) – Their design options are slightly more limited than Carina’s, and they can get more pricey. They also mostly specialize in just two weapons – bokkens and short staffs. They make up for this with an unusually accessible website which makes ordering a breeze, and a very large selection of wood types. For a few hundred dollars apiece, they also make bows (http://blizniaksbows.com/ ).

Less than 50$ :
A weapons rack


Well, all these steel and wooden weapons you bought earlier… You need to put them somewhere, don’t you?  A weapons rack is in my opinion a rather aesthetic addition to any home or martial arts school. It is good looking even when used as a coat hanger. You need to beware as there are lots of bullshit products out there, which are very poorly built and would not last. Take in account that although these cheaper racks look nice, they would be made of wood composites. Full hardwood ones can be much more expensive. 
Nonetheless, I think it would be a waste to pay more.
 
Where to buy? 

 Standing for two weapons (free shipping):

Standing for several weapons (free shipping):

Wall-mounted for several weapons (free shipping):

Research of Martial Arts
Research of Martial Arts is my first book. Since its release in August 2014, it has become a sensation in the martial arts community. I was not expecting such an overwhelmingly positive response, and was very happy when it arrived. The premise of this book is to provide the answers that other books on martial arts do not. To do away with the bullshit – the mysticism, excessive discussions of energies (at the expense of practicality), personal and historical myths, etc. As a life-long martial artist and teacher, I was fed up with the current state of martial arts literature, and decided to write a book that I would have enjoyed reading. Five years of hard work have led to the creation of this work, which I am quite proud to say looks and reads like nothing else on the market. At 418 pages and 220,000 words (longer than two maxed-out Phd thesis put together), the scope of topics discussed in this book dwarfs other ones of its type. It carries appeal to any martial artist, regardless of style, rank or experience level.

Because of its scope, the book is hard to describe in a paragraph. Therefore, I decided to share no less than 72 pages from it absolutely free online, to help potential readers get a sense of what it is about:        http://media.wix.com/ugd/0cde99_2049dcd1c02c4cf391346f203baf4fd5.pdf  . The book has earned many reviews, all favourable, and they may be read here: http://www.researchofmartialarts.com/#!reviews/c8h4  (scroll down a bit). The book itself can be purchased on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/Research-Martial-Jonathan-Bluestein-Shifu/dp/1499122519  .

I am also holding a special Christmas giveaway which will end on December the 18th, after which I shall send free copies of the book to 10 lucky winners:  https://www.goodreads.com/giveaway/show/116308-research-of-martial-arts  .

I wish you all a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year!
______________________________________________
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 .

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Shaolin Kung Fu Legeng: Ark Wong Huey

Some time ago, I posted a clip of Grand Master Ark Yuey Wong. Recently, there was an article about him at the excellent blog, Kung Fu Tea. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

1965 was a pivotal year for the traditional Chinese martial arts in North America. Simply put, it was the moment when everything changed.

While a handful of non-Chinese students had been studying these fighting systems in the US since the late 1950s, most western martial artists got their first detailed look at Kung Fu in January of that year. Ark Yuey Wong, an established master of Guangdong’s southern Shaolin methods, was the one who declared that the door was open.

While it is often debated which instructor was the first to teach non-Chinese students, for most American martial artists the dawning of the new era was announced on the cover of the January 1965 issue of Black Belt magazine.  Wong, dressed in a black Kung Fu suit, was the first Chinese martial artist to grace the cover of what was then the “publication of record” for the US martial arts community.

Nor would readers seeking a more detailed discussion of the Chinese martial arts be disappointed by the volume’s contents. The tone of the issue was set by the very first letter to the editor requesting more information on the Chinese martial arts. In retrospect this growing wave of interest is understandable.

By the early 1960s the Japanese arts (Judo, Karate and Akido) were becoming established as respectable athletic endeavors in the west. Judo had even been admitted to the Olympics. As American students became more deeply versed in these arts they increasingly encountered stories and lineage histories suggesting that the ultimate origins of their practice might be found in China. Many martial artists wanted to know more.

While a small number of western individuals had studied the TCMA prior to the early 1960s (Sophia Delza, R. W. Smith and Jim Anestasi to name a few examples), it was actually the media that would first bring most martial artists into contact with the Chinese styles. To understand the significance of 1965 it might be useful to think in terms of information “push” and “pull.”

Prior to this point individuals who wanted to know more about these subjects had to work hard to discover or “pull” this information towards themselves. After 1965 the media (first the publishing industry, then TV and finally movies) increasingly began to integrate the Chinese martial arts into their narratives. These were then “pushed” into the homes of consumers, regardless of their preexisting level of interest.

The January 1965 issue of Black Belt represents the beginning of a sustained wave of medialization of the Chinese martial arts which would extend through the era of Bruce Lee to the current day. Prior to that time the magazine had focused almost exclusively on the more popular Japanese styles.
There were a few exceptions to this trend. In 1962 Prof. William C. C. Hu, who would later become a regular writer for the magazine, introduced the terms “Kung Fu” and “Shaolin” during the course of his discussion of the historical origins of Karate. Two years later in 1964 there was a short profile of a “Shaolin” school in Connecticut. But it was not until the January issue of 1965 that the Chinese martial arts started to receive sustained coverage.

This seems to have been thought of as something of a “special edition” for readers who might be interested in the Chinese martial arts. Pride of place was given to an exploration of Ark Yuey Wong’s school in Los Angeles. In an interview the master discussed both his background and philosophy of the martial arts. The magazine’s editors put great emphasis on the fact he was both metaphorically and physically opening the doors of instruction to all students.

The same issue also featured an extended profile of Zheng Manqing (Cheng Man-ch’ing), the renowned master of Yang style Taiji (and instructor of R. W. Smith) who had recently moved from Taiwan to New York City. While stories circulated about Zheng defending the honor of the Chinese martial arts back on the mainland, in New York he accepted a diverse student body that included a large number of western students.

There was more. The same issue also featured a detailed article by Prof. William C. C. Hu about the meaning of “Kung Fu.”  His discussion delved into the etymology, popular usage and philosophy of the term on a surprisingly nuanced level given that for many of his readers this might be their very first exposure to the word. Lastly there was the latest installment of a multiple part series on the early history of Taijiquan.

Prior to 1965, one had to search for any sort of reliable information of the Chinese martial arts. After that time it would increasingly be delivered to your door (or television) for a nominal fee. This single magazine issue introduced readers to important Chinese martial artists on the East and West coasts, to the rich traditions of Yang style Taijiquan and Southern Shaolin, and to both the scholarly examination of the TCMA and some well-worn historical legends.

In my view this document is a time capsule, capturing the moment when the Chinese martial arts in America started to change. What had once been esoteric and private, hidden behind the walls of the various Tongs, was coming out into the open. Black Belt had determined that the Chinese fighting arts could be marketed to mainstream martial artists. It was Ark Yuey Wong who both verbally and symbolically opened the doors.

This was all the more interesting as Wong himself was very much the product of the previous era.

 Over the course of his life he saw immense changes in the nature of the Chinese martial arts, and how they were presented to the public, both in Guangdong and California. As someone who lived and taught in both places, Wong was a critical bridge helping to convey the innovations that were sweeping through China to diaspora communities on the other side of the Pacific.

While Wong is often remembered as the first (or one of the first) teachers to open his school to westerners, in truth his contributions to how the martial arts were taught and thought about within the Chinese community more generally may have been just as important. For all of these reasons Wong was a true pioneer of the Chinese martial arts in America.

Before moving on to a more detailed discussion of Wong’s life I should offer a few disclaimers. First, I am not a student of his style or connected with his lineage. Nor do I claim any special or secret knowledge about his life history. This short profile relies on a number of publicly available biographies (most of which are generally in agreement with each other) and published statements made by Ark Yuey Wong himself.

My goal in writing this is to illuminate the context of Wong’s life and career to better understand his contributions to the spread of the Chinese martial arts. Additionally, a detailed study of his early years (something that I can only touch on here) may also help to add nuance to our understanding of the evolution of hand combat within Chinese popular culture during the early year of the Republic period.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

The Mind During Competition

I ran across a post at All Out Effort, describing what a competitor had running through his mind during a BJJ match. I found it very interesting. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

I lose by 22 points and get submitted?


By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

To boil down everything I talk about into one word, the word would be mindset. Mindset meaning, "The established set of attitudes held by someone."

Whether it's competition in sports, public speaking, or any intense activity, we are told that we need to think like a winner -- to be positive, to own the room. That's nice but we're all human. A lot of thoughts go through our heads very quickly and we can't control all of them. Sometimes you just have to let it go and think what you're going to think and let it pass on its own. I will never be able to remove all doubts, and I have come to accept them as a part of myself, it's something that keeps me sharp and informed.

I'm going to tell you a story about what went through my mind during a match in my last competition but frankly it's what goes through my mind during any intense situation.

Let me start by giving a brief explanation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), the art that I will be speaking of. It's one of the newer martial arts, born of the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Judo was brought to Brazil, taught to the Gracie family. Through challenge matches (and some street fights), they evolved it from a throwing art, to a ground fighting art. It was and still is the best example of martial arts efficiency and they constantly proved that a smaller person can beat a bigger person through leverage and positioning. Why it became a ground art is because a smaller person needed the ground as a platform to create leverage. Essentially it looks like pajama wrestling. When a person gives up (taps out due to pain or is choked unconscious) or loses enough positions (positions are dictated by the amount of leverage that can be exerted), they lose.

Fast forward to today, we hold tournaments to see -- out of the people who train (which now there are many), after we even out for age, weight, and rank -- who's the best. I've done many different martial arts but this is the art I find the most challenging, frustrating, and rewarding. From this art spawned the UFC and the sport of mixed martial arts -- making famous fighters such as Royce Gracie, BJ Penn, and Georges St-Pierre (GSP). I am no GSP. In fact I may be the opposite; I am an arthritic thirty something who doesn't get paid to train.

I do however have one secret weapon. I train at Cobrinha BJJ, recognized as one of the greatest academies in the world. I hadn't competed in years and as my physical health got worse, I joined the academy thinking I was done competing forever. In fact prior to committing I had told them as much. Competition is usually for teens to early twenty year olds. Someone forgot to tell our guys -- as thirty, forty, fifty, and even sixty year olds are competing. I somehow got the bug to compete, which I still don't get because I don't like competing. That's part of the pull I think, to do the things you don't like and challenging yourself. That's what Jiu Jitsu is about, fighting that bigger guy, challenging yourself, facing all the mental challenges of wanting to give up and beg for mercy, and finding a way to come out better than you were. Every technique you are taught is about gaining victory out of impossible situations, every roll (sparring) is the Hero's Journey. Competing is the Hero's Journey, competing is Jiu Jitsu. You don't love Jiu Jitsu every time you train, sometimes you hate it, that's why you do it.

There were enough of us older grapplers (in BJJ if you're over thirty, you are considered an older grappler) who competed to even form a little group within Cobrinha's called Old Man Jits. We began entering competitions together, encouraging, and even prodding each other to compete. Since I created this group, this added more pressure for me to compete. Did I mention I don't like competing?

(Editor's Note: I actually only have good things to say about Five Grappling. They are the only tournament where I saw staff cleaning the mats between matches and playing music in the warm up area. Their scoreboard was also very easy to read. Right before your match though, those are not the thoughts that runs through your mind.)

Recently many of us in Old Man Jits entered a tournament called Five Grappling. Since we formed this group and began training together whenever we could, and entering more tournaments, we began to accumulate medals. Recently one of the guys Jeff got silver at a major tournament, and earlier in the day Julio won double gold (his division and absolute). You become happy for your teammates but you also feel some added pressure to do well. Especially considering in my last tournament outing, I lost in overtime in a very close match. My fingers still hadn't healed yet from all the grip fighting (grabbing at my opponents uniform in an attempt to control his movements).

I'm waiting in the bullpen. Is it too late to leave? I don't warm up. I know others do, others like to get a good sweat going. My heart is already thudding so fast, any warm up would probably exhaust me. I signed up thinking I was going to enter and just lose. I wait to be called telling myself I am going to lose. I start to relax because I feel like I have nothing at stake. I'm going to lose anyhow.

They call my name and the name of my opponent. Normally I avoid meeting and talking to my opponent, I'd rather not know my enemy so I can beat him mercilessly. That type of thinking though never seems to work for me so I shake his hand and introduce myself. I'm going to lose anyway so might as well be cordial.

I find out my opponent is the guy who took first place at the last tournament I was in. He was the one who convincingly beat the guy who had a war with me. Does that mean he will beat me twice as bad as he beat that guy?

We enter the gym to compete and it's a swamp in there. No AC, hundreds of people, lots of people wrestling on the mats, it's a human sauna. I'm probably breathing in sweat particles.

My memory gets blurry at this point but I remember the score and timekeeper having some technical issues. We wait around for a while as I keep telling myself how I am going to lose. I never tell anyone about what's going through my head, especially my teammates as they would try to convince me otherwise. That I'm going to win! That I'm a badass! But I got a good mantra going, the loser's mantra and I don't want to be derailed from my train of thought. I assume they resolve the issue because they tell us to start the match.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Book Review: Wisdom of the Taiji Masters

The publisher, Tambuli Media, was kind enough to send me a copy of Wisdom of the Taiji Masters by Nigel Sutton.

In the history of Taijiquan in America, one of the first notable teachers from Asia was Cheng Man Ching.Robert W Smith, an early writer about martial arts, wrote extensively about Prof. Cheng and indeed did much to promote his art.

Prof Cheng and his methods are not without critics. His Taijiquan is often derided as being watered down, or only a partial transmission of the art.

Before coming to America, his art took root in Malaysia and Singapore. To this day Cheng's Taijiquan is thiving; being taught as a real fighting art.

Nigel Sutton has spent decades in Malaysia and Singapore, studying and practicing Cheng's art. In this book, Wisdom of the Taiji Masters, Sutton presents interviews he has conducted with many teachers of this line who practice and teach in a wide variety of circumstances and locations.

Mr Sutton has a knack of getting out of the way and allowing each of his subjects to express themselves about the arts they study and teacher. With each of these interviews, the unique character of each of these master teachers voices comes through. It is almost as though you can hear each one of them speak.

As different as some of their approaches were to each other, I found there were common threads which taken together must represent the core of Prof. Cheng's Taijiquan. As for what are these common threads, I will give the reader the pleasure of discovering them for himself.

I think each of these masters has something to say to us no matter what are we are studying.  There is a lot of information here and it is not to be digested in one reading. This will be one of those martial arts books that I return to again and again to test my current thinking against.

Well done, Mr. Sutton. I hope that you publish more.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Challenge 2014

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 Day. 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."

Won't you join me?