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, October 11, 2015

How our Skills Grow

At Creative by Nature, there was a very good article on the mastery process, how our skills grow. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

Skills and abilities only develop when knowledge is applied directly and used creatively in meaningful situations, not on multiple choice tests. This is as true for basketball and piano playing as it is for cooking, reading, karate, mathematics, parenting, democratic decision-making and brain surgery.

Our comprehension about something new deepens as knowledge is activated and applied. This is why concentration, effort and long-term practice are so essential. There is no way to bypass this process, because we are creative living beings, not machines.

Children understand this, intuitively. During the first years of their lives they learn quickly and informally- mastering their parent’s language, discovering how to walk, run, paint, play, sing and dance. In their early years learning is a source of great joy for them.00.

The mastery path of learning was well understood by our ancestors, both in the West and the East. In Europe, artisans and craftsmen have always trained new apprentices in this way. Likewise, traditional Eastern arts education places great importance on this process.

Monday, October 05, 2015

What Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger

Many of us are familiar with the name Freidrich Nietzsche, who was a very influential philosopher. We come across quotes everywhere. Few of us are actually familiar with him work and thoughts.

At the Art of Manliness is a two part series which presents his biography and the basics of his way of thinking. Below is a little of his biography. The full post  may be read here.

“What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
“Eternal recurrence.”
“God is dead.”
Even if you don’t know much about philosophy, you’ve likely heard these terms and phrases before, as well as the name of their originator: Friedrich Nietzsche.
Few thinkers had as much of an influence on the culture and ideas of modernity than Nietzsche did. And yet few people — even if they throw around his quotes or his name — know very much about his philosophy.
Christians often have a knee-jerk revulsion to the man who referred to himself as an “immoralist” and the “anti-Christ,” and see his views as incompatible with faith, and thus not worth studying.
The less religious, who feel in Nietzsche they might find a sympathetic comrade, are yet frequently stymied in reading and understanding his sometimes seemingly inscrutable texts.
Yet both groups would be well served by giving Nietzsche another look. In fact, the study of his philosophy can be beneficial to men of any creed or background.
Nietzsche does challenge those of faith, but in a way that can prompt a hard, much-needed, and ultimately strengthening examination of the true depth of one’s professed commitment.
And he is undoubtedly difficult to understand, but those who make the effort to dig out his meaning are rewarded with insight on how life can be lived more fully.
So too, scholars of Nietzsche glean not just a richer understanding of his philosophy itself, but of the wider culture and the landscape of modernity (and postmodernity) as well.
Once you become aware of his ideas, you start seeing his influence everywhere. If you’re a fan of Theodore Roosevelt’s ideas of the “strenuous life” and “daring mighty deeds,” then you have Nietzsche to thank. Roosevelt was a big fan of the Prussian philosopher’s writings, and scholars believe they greatly influenced TR’s worldview. The work of one of my favorite writers, Jack London, was also infused with Nietzschean axioms. London’s quest to uncover his own “philosophy towards life” and his love of the “spirit of romance and adventure” has Nietzsche’s fingerprints all over it.
If you’ve always wanted to understand more about Nietzsche and his philosophy, but haven’t known where to start or been too intimidated to dive in, this two-part series is for you. My goal with it is two-fold: First, to provide you with a very basic understanding of Nietzsche so that you have a reference point to start from whenever you encounter him in your literary or intellectual wanderings. And second, to inspire you to begin your own study of this regally-mustachioed philosopher.
In this first article, I will offer a short biography of Nietzsche’s life in a semi-bare-bones, timeline fashion; rest assured that concepts only mentioned here in passing will be fleshed out next time. Knowing a little about Nietzsche’s life helps to provide context for the development of his philosophy.
At the end of the article, I then outline a few reading notes that must be kept in mind whenever you study’s Nietzsche’s writings. Unless you approach his philosophy in a certain way, it’s easy to misunderstand him.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Siddartha, the Story Continues ...

One of the best know and loved novels by the author Herman Hesse is is book, Siddartha.

Siddartha is a novel about a spiritual seeker. He is the highly talented son of a Bhramin and contemporary of the Buddha who turns his back on the high status privileged life his caste affords and seeks his own way.

His way eventually ends up at a ferry where he shuttles travelers back and forth across a river.

For a short time he has with him his son, also named Siddartha, who in turn rebels against him; leaving the ferry for a privileged life in a nearby town.

Scott Meredith has recently published a book named Nagendra. Scott is known as a martial arts teacher and his books are written in an informal and humorous tone. This book is a major departure for Scott.It's a different genre and style.

Nagendra is a serious novel. It can be thought of as a sequel to Siddartha. In it, the young Siddartha stays with his farther for some years but becomes intrigued by the apparent power and wealth of some of the travelers he meets. He changes his name to Nagendra and runs away to seek his own life; just as his father did before him.

Nagenda is written  is the same lyrical style as Siddartha, but it doesn't come off as imitative at all; it flows very naturally. It's a short book and could probably be read in a day, but I found myself slowing down to savor the language.

What young man doesn't want to learn to fight; to become powerful through his fists? Nagendra learns to fight, to acquire wealth, about love, death, sex and revenge.

I saw in Nagendra's travels many of the journeys young men take as they move through the stages of life.

I liked Nagendra very much and recommend it to you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Team Canada Kendo Documentary

Below is a clip from a documentary on the Canadian Kendo team. A fund raising page for this project and more information about the Kendo team may be found here.

Wa - Kendo Webumentary from simonconlin on Vimeo.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Book Review: Internal Elixir Cultivation

The study of Daoism is a pretty broad subject. First there is the philosophical Daoism of Laozi and Zhuangzi, which is actually pretty simple and straight forward.

Daoist meditation is a bit more of a handful to grasp, but is the gateway to Daoist alchemy or internal cultivation, which in turn informs traditional Chinese medicine. Finally, there is Daoism as a religion which is a whole other kettle of fish.

In "Internal Elixir Cultivation," Robert James Coons provides in a clear and succinct way an overview of the philosophy basic meditation methods and the theory and practice of Daoist alchemy.

His writing style is very clear and the book is well organized.

As an introduction to these subjects, a handy overview and a guide towards looking for more detail I would certainly recommend this book.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Power of Ritual in Your Martial Arts Practice

At the Art of Manliness, there was a very good article on the power of morning and evening routines in getting the things that are important to you done.

I once had a streak of over 700 days getting some form of exercise every day, and making a point of waking early and getting my workout in was a major contributor to that streak.

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

You’re a college student.
It’s midnight. You’re brushing your teeth and reviewing how the day went. And you’re disappointed.
You had planned to work out, study for an upcoming history exam, clean up your apartment, and find time to meditate.
But none of those things happened.
You woke up late. As soon as you sat down to study in the afternoon you saw some friends who invited you out to eat. And that night you got sucked into aimlessly surfing the internet while the dirty dishes sat for another day in the sink.
You spit out your toothpaste and vow to do better tomorrow–tomorrow you’re going to turn it all around. But the next day brings more of the same.
Does this sound familiar? Do you feel like you’re stuck in a cycle of good intentions but disappointing follow-through?
There are several things you can do to get unstuck from this rut and start progressing as a man again. Today we’re going to talk about one of the very best: “bookending” your day with a morning and evening routine.

Bookend Your Day: Why a Man Needs a Morning and Evening Routine

Darren Hardy, editor-in-chief of Success Magazine and author of The Compound Effectargues that a person’s morning and evening routines are the “bookends” of a successful life. Why is this?
Imagine a string with a series of beads on it. The beads represent your goals, relationships, and priorities. Tip the string this way or that way, and the beads easily slide off and onto the floor. But tie a knot on each end of the string, and the beads stay put. Those knots are your morning and evening routines. They keep the priorities of your life from falling apart and thus help you progress and become a better man.
Having an evening and morning routine:
Ensures the really important things get done.  While we generally can’t control what goes on in the middle of a day, we usually can control how we begin and end the day. Take advantage of this fact by incorporating your most important tasks, actions, and behaviors into your morning and evening routines. For example, I know many businessmen who refuse to check email first thing in the morning. Instead, their morning routine consists of waking up, getting dressed, and spending an hour working on their most important task of the day, even before they go into the office. This ensures they accomplish their task before the chaos and interruptions of the workday get in the way.
For me, if I don’t exercise first thing in the morning, I won’t exercise that day. I just don’t have time for it. So, daily exercise is part of my morning routine. Journal writing is another important thing for me. If I don’t have a specific time set aside for journaling, it doesn’t get done. Thus, journal writing is part of my evening routine.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


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 #57.


Look how swift to the snowy sea races Running-Horse River! --
And sand, up from the desert, flies yellow into heaven.
This Ninth-month night is blowing cold at Wheel Tower,
And valleys, like peck measures, fill with the broken boulders
That downward, headlong, follow the wind.
...In spite of grey grasses, Tartar horses are plump;
West of the Hill of Gold, smoke and dust gather.
O General of the Chinese troops, start your campaign!
Keep your iron armour on all night long,
Send your soldiers forward with a clattering of weapons!
...While the sharp wind's point cuts the face like a knife,
And snowy sweat steams on the horses' backs,
Freezing a pattern of five-flower coins,
Your challenge from camp, from an inkstand of ice,
Has chilled the barbarian chieftain's heart.
You will have no more need of an actual battle! --
We await the news of victory, here at the western pass!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lineage in Martial Arts

Kung Fu Tea has a very interesting article on the topic of lineage in martial arts. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


Consider the following, seemingly unrelated, incidents:

While conducting field work in Sioux City Iowa in 1862 the lawyer and self-trained ethnographer Lewis Henry Morgan received a telegraph informing him that his two daughters, ages two and six, had just died of scarlet fever. Left emotionally broken and despondent the early anthropologist abandoned the field project that he had been working on since 1859. His diary entry for the day reads in part “Thus ends my last expedition. I go home to my stricken and mourning wife, a miserable and destroyed man.”

Following this unexpected blow Morgan must have doubted that his partially completed (but incredibly complex and expensive) project would ever see the light of day. Luckily for us and the field of anthropology it did. But for now we must leave him to his grief and check in with a more recent project.

Early last year I sat down with an informant of my own. Unlike Morgan, who was studying the terminology of kinship systems across a wide range of cultures and languages (e.g., “What do you call your fathers sister?”  “What do you call you mother’s system?”), my research interest were more “kinetic” in nature. I was just beginning a period of participant-observation in a local kickboxing community.

From a martial studies standpoint I like kickboxing as it provides a nice contrast with the traditional schools of Chinese hand combat I normally focus on. In more practical terms it also gives me a way of interacting with the modern combat sports community without having to dedicate myself to jujitsu (it seems that I am a striker at heart).  Nor does it hurt that the workouts are great.

No one would consider me to be an experienced ethnographer. Most of my writing is social scientific and historical in nature. Still, the very nature of martial arts studies makes it difficult to ignore the anthropological angle. At some point those of us who discuss the value of “interdisciplinary work” must move beyond the comfort zone of forever replicating what we did in graduate school and go do something about it. Luckily I had a little experience with ethnographic fieldwork to call on.

One afternoon I got together with my trainer James (who was preparing for an important fight) for an additional workout (unending rounds on the heavy bag followed by some combinations and defense drills). After a grueling workout I steered the conversation towards his own trainer (a well-known figure in local circles who had competed at all levels as a younger man before opening his own gym.)

As we discussed his background and career, I started to ask a line of questions that Lewis Henry Morgan would have found quite familiar.

So who was your teacher’s trainer? How is he discussed back at the home gym in Rochester?
[Locations and names have been scrubbed of identifying information following the normal protocol].

What kinds of disciplines was he trained in? Are there pictures of those guys in his gym? What was it like to be a kickboxer back in the 1970a-1980s? And where did this style of kickboxing come from anyway? In short, I started to ask all of the very basic questions that would give any martial artist a chance to talk about their “lineage.”

What happened next surprised us both. James, who understood and shared my interest in martial arts studies, found that he did not have much to say. He could tell me about his relationship with his trainer, but he didn’t know that much about how he had gotten into the fight game or where his specific skills came from. He could talk about some of his teacher’s better known fights, but he didn’t really know that much about the environment that he came out of. Nor had he ever thought to ask about the deep history of kickboxing.

Lineages in the Traditional Chinese Martial Arts

I say that this surprised us both because James was familiar with some aspects of the Chinese martial arts. He wanted to cross-train in Wing Chun, was a huge Bruce Lee fan and had a deep interest in Jeet Kune Do. James knew about lineages as they existed in the Chinese martial arts and he understood what I was driving at. He knew specific lineage narratives for Wing Chun, Taiji and the Gospel according to Bruce. But it had never occurred to him that these sorts of modes of social organization could (or should) apply to the world of Kickboxing.

In Wing Chun we both knew that you called your teacher’s (Sifu) teacher “Sigung.” Lineages have a specific kinship terminology that defines everyone’s relationship with regards to both the speaker and the creator of the system. In Kickboxing things weren’t as clear. It wasn’t simply a matter of substituting “Coach” for “Sifu.” James couldn’t tell me who his trainer’s coaches had been because it really didn’t matter. It had just never come up. He followed his trainer (with almost filial devotion) because he had been a champion as a younger man and his teaching methods got results. That was it.

The more I listened to the conversations that arose organically, the more I realized that I had been asking the wrong questions to really understand the nature of this community.

As I spent more time with this group I quickly learned that all of my questions had straight forward answers. The information was out there. In fact, Jame’s trainer turned out to be full of fascinating historical reminisces and could explain the evolution of the local Kickboxing community in excruciating detail. Yet while everyone involved agreed that this sort of stuff was fascinating, it wasn’t what you indoctrinated new students into.

Of course that is exactly what we tend to do in the Chinese martial arts. We don’t just teach you basic punching, kicking and footwork skills in the first few months of class. We also set aside time to tell the lineage creation stories, to fill you in on proper modes of address, and explain in some detail who those guys in the pictures are that you bow to at the start and end of every class. This is a critical part of becoming a member of a Kung Fu “family” or “clan.