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, October 31, 2014


My brother had a dog that used to sing along with the chorus:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Zhang Zhuang in Taijiquan

Anyone who has known me or has read this blog for the last 9 years knows that zhan zhuang, the standing stake practice, has had a big impact on me.

Below is an excerpt from a post by Jim Roach at the Classical Tai  Chi Blog. The full post may be read here.

Zhan Zhuang for Taijiquan Practice. The Wuji Positions allows the practitioner to relax the mind, while, adjusting, aligning, and balancing the body to produce correct postures. Zhan Zhuang Training, on the other hand, strengthens the tendons and ligaments, aids in balancing, teaches the muscles to relax, and identifies weaknesses not noticed while practicing the Form. This is important in helping to identify the proper placement of the heel and weighting of the empty foot. 

The Square Form of Classical Taijiquan, brush knee movement is being used to illustrate how Wuji and  Zhan Zhuang can be applied at those stopping points for each position. Applying these training methods in addition to form practice will help the student in developing strength and proper form. Wuji is defined as nothingness, the beginning before intention and movement. Wuji is discussed in many Taijiquan Books written by both practitioners and masters alike. These writers mainly address Wuji in the Preparation Posture and/or the Closing Posture of the Taiji Form. As such, most readers are left to believe Wuji is only accomplished at the beginning and ending of the Taiji Form. However, this is not so. Wuji is practiced during every posture, that is, every posture begins with Wuji, moves into Taiji, and returns to Wuji.
Zhan Zhuang (standing like a stake, standing like a tree) Training is a way to relax both the nervous and muscular systems simultaneously. This is accomplished by combining exertion and relaxation simultaneously. Breathing is done by inhaling and exhaling gently through the nose while keeping the mouth closed and relaxed. The chest, stomach, and hips are in a relaxed state. Zhan Zhuang helps with the identification of the energy flow in the different positions and trains to keep the localized nerve activity dormant (Forum 6); as well as, strengthening the yin side of the posture for strong rooting and building power (Forum 7). There is no set time limit in Zhan Zhuang Training; however, the seasoned practitioner has been known to hold the positions in excess of twenty minutes. Some have claimed to be able to hold the positions for hours. It is important to remember, that as the tension builds in different parts of the body, to tell yourself to relax. (RELAX, RELAX, RELAX) Start with short time frames and increase the holding time slowly.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Recent Works by the Warrior Poet, Cameron Conaway

Cameron Conaway, the author of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage Fighting Poet, was nice enough to write this guest post for Cook Ding's Kitchen, describing what he's been up to since he hung up his gloves. Click on the "Warrior Poet" tag for Cameron's other posts for Cook Ding's Kitchen. Enjoy.

Picking Shots
Exclusive to Cook Ding’s Kitchen

It was June 2007 at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Sandusky, Ohio. It was also Ohio Bike Week. A field of grass, revving engines, a blazing white sun bursting through blue skies, beards and beer and cheering and high heels and leather jackets and a steel cage in the middle of it all. This was Ohio; this was ancient Greece. This was the most terrifying moment of my life but, as was always the case, when the steel cage shut and the referee said, “Let’s do this” and disappeared until the end it was... Zen. Life or death. It was a sport but in no way felt like one. Absolute survival. Absolutely serenity. Peace and violence swirled like the skies in Van Gogh’s Starry Night. There were no thoughts; instinct guided action. I hurt and I got hurt. I survived knowing that a bell, a mindfulness bell, would bring me back to the beginning or the end. Whatever they are. I just wanted to be the greatest fighter on the planet.

I lost that fight. Ate a knee that kissed my organs. Pulled guard and felt the back of my head bounce off the mat. Found myself in a heel hook I didn’t know how to escape. Tapped the mat three times to signal defeat. Other fights to fight, I told myself. Whatever that means.

Two months later I’m walking through the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center trying to find how in the hell poetry could be wielded. It had to be wielded. All I knew was wielding. So it had to be wielded for good. What’s the point of imagination? I wondered as I looked at these beautiful little books. Why is it often linked to escaping reality? Shouldn’t it be linked to better understanding reality so that we can beat the shit out of the world’s problems? I haven’t fought since 2007 but it’s all I think about. Who knew poetry is just as much about the scrap.

Poetry book one, Until You Make the Shore, was based on the absurdities I saw in an Arizona juvenile detention center and the US criminal justice system in general. Can poetry solve that? Hell no. But Allen Ginsberg said, “The only thing that can save the world is the reclaiming of the awareness of the world. That’s what poetry does.” If there’s a tenet I live by or if I have a faith it probably begins somewhere near that. I’m just a simple dude trying to do some social good with whatever skills I have and whatever time I have left to use them. I don’t see a better point in being here.

Book two, Malaria, Poems. The disease ravages nearly a million human beings each year. Us and them are illusions. There is only we. So why in the sweet holy hell is nobody talking about malaria? And why is so much of our “global health” money going toward causes like male pattern baldness? Enter a pissed off version of Ginsberg’s voice.

Book three, Chittagong: Poems & Essays, is primarily about the horrors of the shipbreaking yards I saw in Bangladesh. Again it was all about what do I have and what can I do about the madness before me? Boys are getting crippled and dying from exposure to toxins all to break down the cruise ships we the wealthy love to lounge on. And it’s only crickets? Stage left: Ginsberg’s ghost is now screaming the quote while interspersing F bombs.

I’d like to think that if Ginsberg were my age he’d want to grab a craft brew or two and talk about this shit. Who knows. But I know a lot of others who do and will and want to. I feel the world’s torn—that muddled place where it can swim but its toes don’t touch—between social consciousness waxing and waning, at once breaking through the surface of the mud and blossoming like the lotus and unable to break the surface of the mud and simply suffocating. I just want bloom, sustainable and brilliant bloom.

I don’t know what’s next; but I’m covering up and backing up towards the corner of desperation and my chin is tucked and I’m ready to swing when there’s an opening.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Birthday Post

Today is my birthday. Won't you help me to celebrate?

 Months pass,
days pile up, like one intoxicated dream -
An old man sighs.

- Ryokan

[from 'One Robe, One Bowl', translated by John Stevens]

When I began the new job about a year ago I also began working from home. Sure I had to travel, but when I was home I was completely home and I liked that a lot.

Ironically, I also found that I began to feel a need to get out of the house! I also started to put some weight on from the traveling and noticed that some of my good habits were eroding.

I started kicking around the idea of getting out the house by beginning training in aikido again, and/or perhaps judo.

I found two dojo located fairly nearby. The first one only trained on Saturday afternoons, which is absolutely the worst time for me; plus what they worked on was sort of a mash up of what the teacher put together  of aikido and judo.

The second seemed ideal on paper. Aikido followed by judo (or vice versa, I can't remember), twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Unfortunately they wouldn't return emails or phone calls. It seems that they have closed.

While I was kicking around my options, the Mrs reminded me that a friend of hers has been going to an MMA gym for years, has a great time and is always talking about what a great bunch they are there. I decided to attend the free conditioning class and see what it was about.

I immediately signed up. I thought that I was in decent shape before but found out rapidly that I was mistaken.

The general schedule is a conditioning class Mondays through Thursdays at 7, followed by kick boxing at 8. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they also have Brazilian Jiujitsu from 6 until 8, overlapping the condiitoning class.

I am certainly the oldest guy there. My wife's friend is a year or so younger than I am and her sister is a year or two younger still. There are a handful of guys in their 30's or 40's who show up, but almost everyone is in their 20's including a handful of young women.

The young guys are pretty good to me. They tend to hold back enough to where I'm not getting my block knocked off, but I found that there is a wide range of interpretation of the instructions to "take it easy on the old guy."

In fact, a few weeks into it, I picked up  my first black eye.

I simply can't keep up with the gap between my reaction time and those of they young guys. I also noticed that my knees were chronically sore from the kickboxing too.

One of the assistant instructors suggested that I take up BJJ sooner rather than later, which I was planning on. He said that it would be easier on my body and that a lot of my disadvantages would be somewhat mitigated. In fact, having some patience would probably be to my advantage.

Then I saw this clip.

A 74 year old black belt in Brazilian Jiujitsu.

I don't know if this old bag of bones will stay together long enough to achieve that, but it is certainly a worthy goal. As a rule of thumb, it takes a "regular" young person about 10 years to get to black belt level in BJJ, so maybe it will take me 20. 

Besides being older, I travel for work and I have other responsibilities that simply doesn't allow me to put the time in that I would have as a young man. It's on the edge of the realm of possibility. You have to be somewhere and you have to be doing something. Why not? I'm game. A realistic shorter term goal is to still be doing this when I'm 60.

I've had a couple of pulled muscles and BJJ is a whole new kind of sore, but it's been six months now and I've stuck with it. I'm still among the least of the grapplers, but I do improve every day and have a blast, which is what it is all about.

One of my regular training partners has developed type 1 diabetes. She's trying to raise money for a Diabetes Alert Dog, which can sense when her chemistry changes and indeed save her life. A type 1 diabetic can slide into a coma while sleeping and simply die. The dog would sense the change and wake her. 

I don't want her to die. Maybe you can help her.

I'm 57 years old and I'm not a runner. I haven't run since I was a teenager and 5 miles was the longest I ever ran back then. I have found that running leaves me with sore ankles and knees. It's uncomfortable for me. I'd rather do just about anything than run.

A few months ago I found out that nearly 800 million people don't have access to to clean drinking water. They drink out of mud holes, out of water holes shared with animals; from wells that are so distant that the women and girls going to fetch the water are subject to assault, abduction and worse.

I live near the Great Lakes and can go out to the middle of Lake Huron and be surrounded by fresh water as far as the eye can see. To lack water is a concept that is kind of hard for me to wrap my head around

As I said, I learned that so many people are living in such desperate conditions and I also found out that a group named Team World Vision is raising money to address this.

For $50 a person can have clean drinking water for life.

By running.

And so I run.

This 57 year old non runner has signed up for the International Half Marathon to take place during the Free Press Marathon on October 19th. I am taking part in a fund raiser organized by Team World Vision. TWV distrbutes personal filter straws, builds filtration systems, digs wells, etc.

I showed up at the informational meeting held after the service at church, expecting to simply lend support to one of my daughters who had been talking about signing up for a marathon. The next thing I knew, I was filling out a form and was one of the first to hand it in.

Every dollar counts. Won't you please donate? You'll change, maybe save someones' life. My goal is to raise $1300.

 Won't you sponsor me?

Between running and BJJ, I think that NOW I'm in pretty decent shape. I guess that I'll find out in a few days.

I've been at the new job a year now. Both the company and I are pretty happy with each other. I've advanced the relationships they already had from first discussions to several development programs which should see production ramping up either later this year or early next. I've found them some some new customers which whom they've had no contact before.

The travel seems to be pretty seasonal. From autumn to spring is the traveling season. As my boss is in Chicago, I expected to go there quite a bit. As it turns out I've gone to San Diego more times than anywhere else. Not a bad place to visit.

There is a local charitable organization named Life Remodeled. They raise money, organize volunteers and go into areas that need a lot of work and get it done. The last several years they have concentrated on the City of Detroit, which needs a lot of work.

This summer they organized 10,000 volunteers over a week's time to renovate my old high school, Cody High in Detroit, and 100 surrounding blocks in the neighborhood.

That was my neigborhood. I grew up there. I know those houses. I played in those yards. My childhood home is within those 100 blocks.

Between conference calls and what not, I wasn't able to get down there to help and I was quite disappointed. However, even without me, by all accounts everything turned out great.

This month, my wife and I will be celebrating our 31st wedding anniversary.

Time flies like an arrow.

My oldest daughter finished a master's degree and is advancing her career. My youngest daughter completed her college degree and is working in her field. Everyone is doing well.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Free Copies of Research of Martial Arts

Jonathan Bluestein is giving away some free copies of Research of Martial Arts at GoodReads.

Click here for your chance to get one!

Introductory History of Xingyiquan

At EJMAS (Electronic Journal of Martial Arts and Science), noted MA author Brian Kennedy published an introductory history of Xingyiquan training manuals. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

An Introductory History of Xing-yi Training Manuals

By Brian Kennedy Copyright © EJMAS 2001. All rights reserved.
A note on transliterations: Although this article uses pinyin to transliterate technical terms, personal names are presented using the spelling by which the person is (was) best known in English. Book titles are likewise presented as on their covers.

The senior students looked anxiously around the table at each other. Not only had the Master been murdered but the secret training manual had been stolen. That manual, which had been passed down from master to senior disciple for over 500 years, contained the key ideas that gave the school’s techniques their frightening efficacy. The manual had to be found and the master’s murder avenged, no matter what the cost. "Secret training manuals" are a stock motif in Chinese martial arts movies and novels. Unlike other stock motifs such as magic swords and flying through the air, "secret training manuals" do have a basis in reality and have a long history in some Chinese martial arts systems. Training manuals are books or manuscripts that teach the principles, techniques or forms of a system, and as such are separate from books that discuss the history of martial arts or works of fiction. Xing-yi quan is one art where training manuals have existed for several hundred years, and that history is the focus of this article.

Xing-yi Quan

Xing-yi quan means "form-mind boxing," and is romanized as xing-yi (pinyin), hsing-i (Wade-Giles), and hsing-yi (Yang Jun-ming’s transliteration). Stylistically, it is one of the three internal Chinese martial arts, the other two being bagua (pa kua) and taiji (t’ai chi). Structurally, it is characterized by its seeming simplicity: the system consists of a limited number of forms and techniques that are drilled in series of short forms. However, whatever the system lacks in variety, it makes up for in depth, requiring the student to make a long and intensive study of the basic motions of combat. It is also undeniably practical, having been the system of choice during the late Qing and Republican periods for people such as convoy escorts and bodyguards who made their living fighting.

Xing-yi has two major subdivisions, the Hebei-Shanxi tradition and the Henan tradition. The Hebei-Shanxi schools are much more prominent both in China and in the West. Their core training consist of the 5 element fists and the 12 animals forms. Meanwhile, the Henan schools, although far less prominent, probably represent a more accurate/faithful version of early hsing-i. Their core training consist of 10 Animal forms that are different from the 12 Animal forms of the Hebei-Shanxi lineage.

The Henan branch is also known as Muslim xing-yi. The reason is that the historical founder of xing-yi, Ji Ji Ke, had two major students, who in turn founded the Hebei-Shanxi branch and the Henan branch. The Henan branch founder, Ma Xueli (1714-1790), was Muslim, as were his family and all his students. Since the Henan branch of xing-yi tended to stay within the Islamic community, it subsequently became identified as a Chinese Muslim ("Hui") martial art.

At any rate, the development of modern xing-yi is attributed to Ji Ji Ke, circa 1750, and the subsequent history of its training manuals can be usefully divided into four periods: the legendary period, the hand-copies period, the Republican period, and the modern period.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Spear in Japanese Martial Arts

There was a very good post about the Japanese spear, the Yari over at Ichijoji blog. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The spear is a weapon that has been used in some form in virtually every corner of the earth, and must be, after the club and the rock, one of the most basic weapons devised by mankind. Japan is no exception, and has a long tradition of the use of various pole arms, including spears, dating to way back before the 'samurai' era. However, as far as samurai are concerned, the spear was not even the principal pole arm until the 15th or 16th century. For some reason, it was the naginata that assumed that role, while the spear languished until the time of the Namboku-cho (1334-1392) when it gradually gained popularity. This popularity increased during the early Sengoku period, until, by the time of the famous warlords of the mid to late 16th century, it had assumed the position of one of the main weapons on the battlefield. This was partially due to logistical considerations, and indeed, the growing size of armies meant that it provided a cheap and easy to use armament for levies and other
irregular troops.

Though individuals became famous for their use of the spear, on the battlefield, their particular forte was in tactical deployment. Walter Dening, in his The Life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, tells the story of how Hideyoshi got caught up in an argument to see whether long or short spears were superior. Oda Nobunaga's spear instructor favored short spears (short in this case means up to 8ft long) whereas Hideyoshi favored the longer type.

A trial was arranged: both men would train a group of fifty men in the use of their chosen length of spear,and after three days, the two groups would compete against each other. To cut a long story
short, while the spear instructor taught his men the techniques to oppose the longer weapons, Hideyoshi told his men they had the advantage anyway, so they could attack any way they liked, and wined and dined them. He also divided them into three units so they could make forward and flank attacks. On the day of the contest, Hideyoshi's men made mincemeat of his opponents.

Although this is probably an apocryphal tale, it does indicate the tactical value of the spear on the battlefield. That is not to deny that a shorter spear offers definite advantages to the individual warrior, but in battles employing formations of troops, longer spears offered a decided advantage. In fact, Nobunaga employed longer than average spears in his formations, and even on an individual level,
some warriors made use of the longer spears. Maeda Toshiie, for example, used one that was reportedly 6m in length.

The differences on such weapons also lead to certain specializations in the way they were used. For the ashigaru, who made up the bulk of the armies in the Sengoku period, spear usage was comparatively limited. Among the most common techniques was a downward strike aimed at knocking the opponent's spear downwards. This was particularly useful in tight formations, and contemporary writing suggests that this was seen as preferable to thrusting.

In fact, despite it's efficiency as a thrusting weapon, on the battlefield even the shorter spears were, as often as not, probably used to knock down an opponent and then despatch him. The triangular sectioned blade of the su yari (straight spear) was particularly effective for this, and this may also explain the popularity of the tanged spear head over the socketed type – the tang running deep inside the shaft gives greater durability as well as weighting the head, making it more effective for sweeping and striking movements.

Practice with long weapons quickly brings an appreciation of the difference in their range and speed compared with the sword. Facing someone with a spear (if they are using it well) allows one to realize the advantage it has – it is said that the spear gives its user a 3x advantage. When you see the speed with which a spear can be extended and retracted, how quickly the blade can shoot out at different targets, you appreciate how difficult it would be to face one in earnest.