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 ~


Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The 48 Laws of Power, #17: Keep others in suspended terror, cultivate an air of unpredictability

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's law is #17:

Keep others in suspended terror, cultivate an air of unpredictability

Humans are creatures of habit with an insatiable need to see familiarity in other people’s actions. Your predictability gives them a sense of control. Turn the tables, be deliberately unpredictable. Behavior that seems to have no consistency or purpose will keep them off-balance, and they will wear themselves out trying to explain your moves. Taken to an extreme, this strategy can intimidate and terrorize.





Saturday, June 25, 2016

Cook Ding's Kitchen 11th Anniversary

Today is the 11th anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen. 

Below is an excerpt from an appropriate article on this day. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

MARTIAL ARTS IS LIKE LEARNING TO COOK

Michael Fuchs


As any experienced and skilled cook/ chef knows, there is a process to learning to become skilled with cooking. A number actually, quite a few ways it may happen. In just about all, there are common elements. Well, in learning Martial Arts, it is no different. In fact, much the same could be said in learning many arts.
 
For instance, cooking implements are generally utilized. Some kind of food is involved. If not a heat source, there is some method of making the food healthy and proper to be consumed by humans- many Nature has made, ‘ready to go;’ many don’t come this way, however. There are often recipes utilized, which have been developed and passed on for some period of time. And there may be ways of learning to make do with whatever is on hand, or to take the recipes and modify them as needed or desired (like changing the seasoning).
 
Much the same is involved in learning to be a skilled martial artist; and especially in learning to become a skilled teacher of martial arts.
 
Examples include: there are generally methods of learning to stand and move properly (for each style); ways of learning to coordinate mind and body and technique, and various other factors, in a harmonious and functional way; physical conditioning methods of some sort; there are often a range of training methods involved, from simple to complex and diverse in nature; there may be ‘recipes’ that are followed, prescribed and set methods and routines (like forms/ kuen/ kata); and other common elements.
 
Now, as one becomes proficient with all of this, at some point in training, the aspiring ‘skilled martial artist,’ like an aspiring cook/ chef, may be shown or somehow taught to take ‘recipes,’ and to modify them somehow. This may be quite simple, like changing the height and width of stances for the elderly or people out of condition for some reason; to much more complex modifications. From experience I can tell you that there are quite a few ways of doing this and learning this.
 
Next, someone who has been taught well and has practiced well, may be shown or otherwise taught, to actually make their own, ‘recipes,’ just as a chef or skilled cook will do. Now again, in martial arts training and learning, there is a continuum and wide variety of ways this may happen. From simple to complex, and high and low. A student or practitioner should look at this as natural, like again adjusting the seasoning or changing an ingredient. As I am sure most people realize, cooks do this all the time. Go watch one of Emeril’s t.v. shows for an amazing example, with a live band no less!
 
Now, this is not something that a beginning student generally is going to be doing, nor recommended to do. But it is in fact, part of the training blue- print. I have had this kind of training, as did many others at the school and with the teacher I come from (generally Sifu level instructors/ disciples). But for those who were paying attention, in fact, you noticed that he always taught this way. You just had to be open and in the moment, paying attention.
 
For instance, I witnessed one of our instructors, a very humble but super disciplined and talented man (and former Chief Instructor), compose and perform an entire 35 movement leopard form on the spot, with 5 minutes given to prepare (part of his 3rd Higher Level Test). And it was an excellent and coherent form! He knew his basics so well, and was so experienced, he didn’t even seem nervous at all. He just put it together and did it. Another example of this kind of ‘backdoor’ teaching is the first form I ever learned, my teacher’s version of the Yang style taiji short- form. We learned it over the course of 1.5 years, very slowly, one or two moves per month. But the thing is, over the course of this time, and over the years that followed, if you paid close attention (I did), he almost NEVER did it the same way twice. The tempo might change, little details of movements, postures, steps and stances, etc...this was his way of teaching us many variations, different version of this ‘recipe.’ And yes, I remember them all, including what became codified as beginner versions, advanced versions, versions for Senior’s, and more. And, of course, he did this with other forms and methods as well (this is an old, traditional teaching method).


Monday, June 13, 2016

Historial Accounts of European vs Japanese Swordsmen

Over at www.tameshigiri.ca, there is an interesting post comparing European vs Japanese swordsmen of the 16th through19th centuries, including contemporary accounts of clashes. 

It's a fascinating topic. The full post may be read here.

There’s a popular, long-standing debate on the Internet as to which kind of  sword is better, or at least which would win out over the other: a Japanese katana verses a European blade (the weapon varies according to the interests of the debaters – longswords, rapiers, etc.).  Similar discussions theorize as to who would win a fight between a samurai or a European fencer.  Debaters line up on both sides and argue that their chosen weapon or fighting style is superior.

The problem with both these viewpoints is that they tend to presume an almost mystical quality or superiority inherent in either the sword or the wielder, who they believe will generally (if not always) win when matched against the other.  This ignores the human condition. No matter what country to go to, you’ll find high quality weapons and junk;  master weapon smiths and poor ones; talented fencers and what we would charitably refer to today as “cannon fodder”.  Depending on which combination of time period, gear, armour, level of skill, and — to be honest — the unforeseeable vagaries of luck, occur,  it’s impossible to know how any particular

Two excellent articles which take a hard, objective look at weapon vs. weapon are:  Longsword and Katana Considered and Katana vs. Rapier: Another Fantasy Worth Considering by John Clements of ARMA.

Rather than argue intangibles, I thought it would be more interesting to explore historical fact and allow readers to draw their own conclusions.  This by looking at cases of actual combat as well as period comments about encounters between Europeans and Japanese  from 1542 through to the beginning of the modern age when swords became ceremonial objects.

History of European / Japanese contact

Many find it surprising to discover that the first period of open contact between Europe and Japan lasted a little more a century, from the first contact in 1542 (a Portuguese merchant vessel blown ashore in Japan by a storm), to the institution of the Sokaku (Closed Country) Edicts in 1635 which closed Japan to Europeans, allowed only limited European trade at two ports, and forbade Japanese to travel.

It would be more than 300 years before open trade with the West would be re-established in the late 19th century.

During this first century of openness, it was the Portuguese, Spanish and Dutch who had a lock trading in much of Asia, and the majority of contact with the Japanese.   Many European sailors, merchants and soldiers traveled to Japan; most of these carried weapons at all times, rapiers being the weapon of choice.  Dueling was common in Europe, for any — or even no — reason, to the point that there were fears of losing the young men of an entire generation.  Laws were passed forbidding dueling;  laws which were, in the main, ignored.

A similar situation existed in Japan, and until the Sword Hunt of 1588 everyone could carry weapons; an affront to personal honour could only be expunged by blood.  The Imperial Regent (Kampaku Toyotomi Hideyoshi) instituted this Sword Hunt to secure his reign, ordering the confiscation of weapons from anyone other than members of the military, followed by several edicts meant to restrain banditry and  prevent peasant revolts, forbidding  the wearing of bladed weapons except by samurai or the military.  Within a few decades this class system had become part of the fabric of Japanese life.   Even then there were exceptions, as certain classes — such as merchants — were allowed the use of weapons to defend themselves and their merchandise from bandits.

It should also be noted that the Japanese weren’t sitting passively at home during this period either.  Wako, or pirates, were common in Asian waters between the 13th and 16th centuries.  Red Seal ships — Japanese armed trading vessels, licensed to trade between Japan, China, Korea and other Asian ports — sailed regularly from roughly 1600 to 1635; that some may have also indulged in a little piracy is a matter of discussion.  Japanese mercenaries were used in various areas of Asia by both the Dutch and the English as part of the Namban Trade, Europeans being known as Nanban bōeki (Southern Barbarians): History Without Borders: The Making of an Asian World Region, 1000-1800 p223.

Readers of fiction will recognize this period as the setting for the novel Shogun by James Clavell.  While the main protagonist of the story is the English sailor John Blackthorne, the story itself is loosely based on the real-life adventures of William Adams.

(Cook Ding's Kitchen had a post on Will Adams here.)

Friday, June 10, 2016

Training Less in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from a post at Green Leaves Forest. It's a blog about kyudo

I never really thought about it before, but in practice a kyudoka doesn't stand there with a whole quiver of arrows, loosing them at the target. He only has a few. There's a reason for this, which is what the post is about. 

I look at my practicing my taijiquan form once each day as my "one arrow."

The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

How many arrows should we shoot in one standing?

By “one standing” I mean when we go to the mark to shoot, and so the question I pose is, how many arrows should we bring at once to shoot at the mark?

This is actually an interesting question I’d like to ask some archers outside of the kyudo realm.

But since kyudo is all I know and that’s what we’re talking about here, I’ll just stick with kyudo.

Anyway,

When I first learned kyudo my teacher told me to bring two arrows.

After I while I started training for my first tournament. In most tournaments you shoot four arrows in one standing, so my teacher told me to practice shooting four arrows.

After the tournament I wonder if I continued to shoot four arrows and my teacher told me to return to two, or if I just returned on my own. Interesting thing, our memory.

Soon I moved across the country to a new dojo, before which I was told to take the utmost care and humility in learning the ways of the new dojo and adhering to them. To this end, I only shot two arrows at each standing, because that’s the standard.

I got comfortable with the new dojo and especially those I trained with in the morning. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with few members and when I first joined, rarely visited by teachers. After one sitting zassha form in the beginning of training, it was all four arrows at one standing after that. Now I sometimes only go with two, but the norm is four, and I haven’t received any heat for that.

Sometimes when I’m all alone, I’ll take six arrows at one standing, which is almost always frowned upon in my experience. But when you’re alone … well … there’s no one to frown at you.

For the past few months I’ve been training with a guy who will shoot 6, 8, or even more arrows before going and retrieving them from the shooting bank (though he usually only takes four at one standing). Sometimes I join him in this. If you’re having fun with a partner … well … that’s fun.

The other day it was a normal morning practice. My teacher showed up and watched my practice while dealing with some dojo business printing things. Everyone else left and it was just us, me shooting and him printing. It was about time to go to work, but I wasn’t satisfied with my shooting. I thought, “Just a little more”, and I’ll have it.

So I shot four arrows.

Not yet.

Fine, nobody else around, I’ll shoot four more.

Nope.

This is shit, I can’t leave like this. I’ll shoot my last four.

I had dug myself into a little hole, and there I was, already running late for the rest of my day and nowhere near close to happy with my shooting.

You just shot twelve arrows, didn’t you?

Fuck. Now he decides to say something. I figured this was going to happen. But he didn’t say anything before, or partway. There’s nobody else here. Who cares how many arrows that I shoot?

In my mind I know it goes against some rules in kyudo to shoot like this, but I’ve got a plan. I’m trying to forget everything else and condition my body to shooting. The immediate results might seem ugly, but I’m sowing seeds for the future. After rest, my body which has soaked up all this time in the bow will grow to great heights.

That’s what I thought, anyway.

“Yeah, I did.”

I wouldn’t recommend that.”

Wow. He’s taking care not bark at me. Probably because he knows I’ll hate it and not listen. I appreciate that. I still thought I was right and dreading his long speech about how many arrows I should shoot, all when I’m trying to get out of the dojo and off to work.

“Bad habits get worse when shooting so much. The brain stops thinking and your body finds the easy way to shoot, which makes for lazy and improper form.”

He’s explaining this. This makes me happy. I don’t really want to hear what he has to say in my current state, but explaining the reasons is a hell of a lot better than just saying “No”.

“By shooting only two or maybe four arrows, it gives you the time to focus on each arrow. This allows you to improve your technique and make each arrow better than the rest. It’s very difficult to remember to do everything you’re supposed to in shooting, which is why the body won’t just do it alone by habit.”

Starting to make more sense than my theory.

“Also, it gives the body time to rest while you retrieve your arrows. Your shoulder and hand have been hurting lately, right? Your body and mind need the break, not more arrows.”

Why is it that the more my shoulder hurts, the more I want to shoot? Strange thing, our minds.

“When you start kyudo, and during shodan and nidan (first and second ranks) you are told to shoot lots of arrows to get your body used to shooting, but after that it’s time to start putting more time into each arrow. For a godan test (fifth rank), one would be much better off putting more time into each arrow than simply shooting a lot.”

This was the end. I was free to go. I nodded my head and said hai hai in all the right spots. I was pissed. But to be fair, I was pissed at myself, for whatever reasons. That’s nobody else’s fault. I retrieved my arrows, got changed, and got to work on time.

Afterwards though, I was very affected by what my teacher had told me.

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Time to Train

I don't know anyone who doesn't long for more time. More time to train, to read, ... whatever.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Selfication.com on how to have more time. It 's brief. :-). The full article may be read here.

I can say from my own experience, giving up Facebook for Lent opened up a LOT of time for me. While I am back on it, I am on less and am being more sensitive to being sucked in again. I don't know if I will give up Facebook for Lent again, but I will certainly remain on a restricted diet.

Enjoy.

How to Have More Time

“I don’t have time.”
Think about this statement for a moment. How often do you say it to others? How often do you tell it to yourself?
Have you ever considered what a killer of dreams this sentence is?
  • ‘I’d like to work out more, but I don’t have time’.
  • ‘I’d like to read more books, but I don’t have time’.
  • ‘I’d like to start my own business, but I don’t have time’.
  • ‘I’d like to meditate, but I don’t have time’.
  • ‘I’d like to be with my family and friends more, but I DON’T HAVE TIME’.
The list goes on and on. But what’s fascinating is that the most accomplished and busy people seem never to say this. Warren Buffet’s schedule, for example, is almost empty (1). How can this be?

Time is Our Most Precious Resource

The big idea is this: Time is more valuable than money. You can always get more money, but you can never get more time.

Most people are way more careful with their money than with their time. If someone tries to take our money, we tend to be very protective. But if someone is trying to take our time, usually we don’t care as much.

Realizing this critical blind spot is what separates accomplished people from the rest.
In his essay, ‘On the Shortness of Life’ (2), the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca writes that we suffer from a “foolish forgetfulness of our mortality” and reminds us that if we waste our life, nature will not give us any warnings or signals. Instead, life will “silently glide away”:
It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passed away before we knew it was passing. So it is: we are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it… Life is long if you know how to use it.
— Seneca

How to Have More Time

According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy in wealthy nations is about 80 years (3). So, assuming if you’re lucky enough to live in one of these countries and that you’re not a statistical outlier, you can expect to live about 80 years x 365 days = 29,200 days.

Of course, you cannot know exactly when you’re time is up. All you can know for sure is that once you’ve spent one of your days, you will never get it back.

So, obviously we’re not talking about having more time in terms of adding more days to your life here, but rather how to have more time for what is important to you. And the first step to doing that is to appreciate fully how scarce a resource time is.

Once you’ve done that, you have to make a commitment to change. You have to decide what is truly important to you and start to ruthlessly cut out everything else.

Defend Your Time

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”
— Warren Buffet

Saturday, June 04, 2016