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, December 30, 2005

Two Dragons


This news story is from Yahoo. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed there.

Nationalism drives China, Japan apart

By Robert Marquand,
Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Thu Dec 29, 3:00 AM ET

The growing trade between Japan and China in 2005 has been matched by rising symbolic and verbal provocations and a steady decline in public opinion and diplomatic ties - marking a new nadir in relations between the most important competitors for Asia's future.

And the year is ending on a sour note. Last week, China formally declared a policy of "peaceful development" as it rises economically in Asia. But within 24 hours, Japan's new foreign minister, Taro Aso, warned that China's nuclear program and secretive military development "pose a considerable threat," the first time a Japanese foreign minister has made such a bald statement of concern.

"This could possibly be the worst period of Sino-Japanese relations since World War II," says James Mulvenon, Asia specialist at the Center for Intelligence Research and Analysis in Washington.

Few analysts predict violent conflict between Japan and China. Both nations are regarded as practical and pragmatic. Yet the negative dynamics of rising nationalism, fear, historical animosity - and China's rapid economic expansion in Asia - are at work with no mediating structures or nations. Diplomats and even some Chinese and Japanese officials say privately that Washington has yet to show it is paying much attention, apparently preoccupied with other priorities such as Iraq.

Relations between the historic Pacific rivals immediately plummeted at the start of this calendar year. Japan surprised China in February, on the first day of its biggest national holiday, Spring Festival, by saying it claimed formal control of the disputed Senkaku (or Diaoyu) islands in the oil-rich East China Sea. The year has now ended with rhetorical salvos, with Beijing describing the Japanese foreign minister's comments about China's military last week as "highly irresponsible."

Two days after Mr. Aso's warning, Tokyo announced it would jointly develop a naval SM-3 missile interceptor with the US, part of a "nuclear missile shield," for use on Japan's advanced Aegis-system destroyers that are expected to be launched in 2008. The US and Japan have been developing closer formal military ties since early this year.

In between the 2005 bookends has been a quiet, intense game of diplomatic snubs, protests, and cat-and-mouse maneuvers in the East China Sea over drilling rights and borders. China has systematically worked to keep Japan off the UN Security Council in proposed reforms of that body. This spring, carefully controlled Chinese "mobs" threw bottles and rocks at the Japanese Embassy here, and smashed up some Japanese businesses in brief rampages in Shanghai, frightening Japanese expatriates.

Japan's UN bid
After a Dec. 26 meeting with Japan on UN reform, China stated it would support greater participation by African countries in the UN rather than an expansion of the Security Council, and reiterated its concern that until Japan is properly repentant for its war-time past, China will block Japan's effort.

No plans now exist for leaders or even foreign ministers of the two most powerful states in Asia to meet. At the first "East Asian summit" this month in Kuala Lumpur, designed to enhance intra-Asian ties (and exclude the US), no "sideline" talks took place. Summit host Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi publicly stated, "We are concerned about the developing dichotomy in Japan-China relations ... one of the main pillars of East Asia cooperation."

Meanwhile, the general public opinion in both China and Japan about each other continues to slide, despite many instances of good business and professional working relationships. In fact, China is now Japan's No. 1 trade and export partner, replacing the US. But only 32 percent of Japanese have a friendly feeling toward China, a new government-sponsored poll shows. The figure has been dropping since 1995, when nearly 50 percent of Japanese said they felt positively toward their huge neighbor.

"Such a major drop in friendly feelings, or ... a rise in feelings of dislike, is not good for both countries," said former foreign minister Nobutaka Machimura in Tokyo Friday, after the poll was released.

Since visiting the Yasukuni shrine in October, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has come under pressure from the Japanese business community to curb his provocations with such an important business partner. On Tuesday Aso the foreign minister stated that Japan should not view China as an "economic threat" but that "competition is a good thing in nature."

Both China and Japan have strong domestic reasons for allowing, and even carefully feeding and managing, the chill between the two.

Cohesion through a new nationalism
China is a communist state whose ideology no longer inspires most of its people, experts point out, but whose communist structures of control still are relied on for authority and legitimacy.

Within that system, hatred for the Japanese occupation in World War II is one substitute for ideology, and building a proud China capable of becoming the No. 1 power in Asia is one way of creating national cohesion. When Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi visits the Yasukuni Shrine, a place where more than a dozen top Japanese war criminals were secretly placed for burial in the early 1970s, it gives China plenty of fuel to stoke the flames of nationalism.

"Try to imagine [German] Chancellor Angela Merkel going repeatedly to pay her public respects at a cemetery where a dozen high ranking Nazis and members of Hitler's inner circle were buried," Mr. Mulvenon points out. "Do you think that might be upsetting?"

In Japan, China's rise has become a major political topic. Japanese politicians, even the head of the liberal Democratic Party of Japan, now are shifting to the right, looking for votes in a prouder "stand tall" rhetoric. Japan has sought to become a "normal nation" not so reliant on the US. Japanese used to point to dictator Kim Jong Il in North Korea as an example of dangers in their neighborhood.

But today the talk is of the enormity of the Chinese threat, a country of 1.3 billion people that Japanese say is controlled by a government whose workings are secret and is less than forthcoming about the size and intentions of its military, and could one day shut down Japan's oil supply.

Just $25.6 billion for defense?After Aso's comment about China's hefty military spending increases, Beijing vehemently and publicly repeated the official Chinese annual defense spending figure of $25.6 billion. Yet few China experts believe that figure. The London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies this fall argued that China now spends nearly $25 billion purchasing Russian armaments alone.

"If you are sitting in Japan, an island nation, and you are watching a huge neighboring country many times larger than you, start to develop a modern military, you are going to get worried," notes one European scholar in Beijing. "It is a fairly basic thing."

What many analysts worry about in the developing chill between China and Japan is the potential for a miscalculation. Japan's inability to offer a convincing apology for its wartime past, and the use of the Yasukuni shrine to score subtle ethnic put-downs in Asia (and get domestic applause) is one possible miscalculation.

Another is Beijing's apparent inability to apprehend how its growing muscularity looks in Asia, and its apparent inability to believably reassure other nations about its peaceful intentions. As Mulvenon points out, "When my Chinese friends ask me why Japan is so worried, I tell them the Chinese have no one to blame but themselves. They created this schism with their military modernization program.... [and] lack of transparency in their strategic intentions."

So far, the US has not actively engaged in trying to reduce the chill. "The US is better positioned than any of the regional powers to take the lead in changing the geopolitical context in Northeast Asia," notes James Goodby, a former US ambassador, speaking of a range of animosities and schisms in the Pacific.

"Until very recently the Bush administration has not seen fit to exercise this unique role...," he says. But Mr. Goodby adds that in recent weeks the White House may have gained a greater "awareness" of its potential for helping with stability.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Lotus


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to www.chinesepaintings.com, where you'll not only find a huge collection of beautiful paintings, but also a lot of information on the meaning of symbols, history, different styles of painting, etc.

Lotus

Thanks to the Buddhist influence, the lotus (or sea-rose) is of unique importance in Chinese folklore and symbolism. It is the symbol of purity. The lotus comes out of the mire but is not itself soiled. It is inwardly empty yet outwardly upright. It has no branches but yet smells sweet. The words for lotus in Chinese have the same meanings as: to bind, connect (in marriage), one after the other, uninterrupted, to love, and modesty. It is one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Buddhism.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Karate


If you've ever trained in karate, or are now, or ever plan to; if you have any interest in martial arts, you have to read 24FightingChickens.

The host is Rob Redmond, who trained in traditional Shotokan Karate. He trained in Japan for several years. His teacher told him that he have taught him his art, and he should do with it what he saw fit.

Redmond has. He's taken a critical look at dogma and tradition, to see what really makes sense for American students of karate.

While personally I may not agree 100% with everything he has to say, he's given a lot of thought to every aspect of martial arts practice and teaching.

If you click on the title of this post, or if you find the 24FightingChickens link over at the right, please pay him a visit.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Empty Chairs


Empty Chairs

A table full of empty chairs,
Reminders of Christmas past.

The children were too young to know
That's where Grandpa used to sit.

The brother who couldn't make the flight.
Close cousins becoming strangers.
The daughter with her friends,
the son at his in-laws house.

The party becoming smaller, quieter.

The children grown,
their table put away.
They have lives of their own,
each has a full house...and not enough chairs.

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #11 Seeing Li Bai in a Dream I


The Tang Dynasty was a Golden Age of culture in China. Poetry was particularly esteemed. The two giants of Tang Dynasty poetry were Da Fu and Li Po (also read as Li Bai). They were great friends as well as opposites.

LiPo could dash off a complete masterpiece in a single draft while drunk, while Da Fu had to grind his work out.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the classic anthology, the 300 Tang Dynasty Poems.

Below is #11, written by Da Fu.

Five-character-ancient-verse
Du Fu
SEEING Li Bai IN A DREAM I
There are sobs when death is the cause of parting;
But life has its partings again and again. ...
From the poisonous damps of the southern river
You had sent me not one sign from your exile --
Till you came to me last night in a dream,
Because I am always thinking of you.
I wondered if it were really you,
Venturing so long a journey.
You came to me through the green of a forest,
You disappeared by a shadowy fortress....
Yet out of the midmost mesh of your snare,
How could you lift your wings and use them?
...I woke, and the low moon's glimmer on a rafter
Seemed to be your face, still floating in the air.
...There were waters to cross, they were wild and tossing;
If you fell, there were dragons and rivermonsters.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Guan Yu


You might notice that whenever I post one of the 36 Strategies, I tend to use a variation of the image of the guy I'm using for this post. Who is he?

He is Guan Yu, the Chinese God of War. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the entry from Answers.com about Guan Yu. Below, I've also copied an entry from www.pantheon.org.

Guan Yu was a real person who was one of the main figures in during the Three Kingdoms Period. While his actual historic deeds are forever entwined with those attributed to him, we can safely say that he was regarded as a paragon of martial virtue, and eventually became regarded as a god.

The last time I was in San Francisco, in Chinatown, I passed by a temple dedicated to Guan Yu.

The following is copied from http://www.pantheon.org/articles/g/guan-di.html
Guan-di
by Micha F. Lindemans

"Emperor Guan", the Taoist god of war. He opposes all disturbers of the peace. He is charged with the task of guarding the realm against all external enemies, as well as internal rebels. He was also called upon during spiritualist seances to provide information about people who had died, prophecies concerning the future, and knowledge about divine recompense or retaliation for good and evil deeds. Guan-di was also revered as a god of literature since he supposedly memorized one of the classics of Confucianism, and as patron of bean-curd sellers. His immense popularity rests particularly on his supposed power over demons and evil spirits, and his ability to prevent war.

The war-god is a historical personality, the bean-curd seller Zhang (162-220 CE). He changed his name into Guan and became a renowned adventurer and general. As general Guan Yu he served under the founder of one of the three realms. In 220 CE he was executed on the orders of a hostile ruler. His cult is of relatively recent origin and was strongly influenced by Buddhist ideas. His veneration began somewhere around the 7th century CE, and even spread to Korea. In 1594 he was canonized by a Ming Dynasty emperor as god of war and protector of China and its people, and was accorded the title of Great Just Emperor Who Assists Heaven and Protects the State in the 16th century and was admitted to the Taoist pantheon. The title of Military Emperor was bestowed upon him in the 19th century by the then emperor of China who elevated him to the level of Confucius.

Guan-di was also worshipped as the protector of state officials who accorded him special veneration. The government sponsored the building of thousands of temples throughout the realm. In those temples the swords of public executioners were housed. Imperial official made offerings to him on the thirteenth day of the first and fifth month of each year; a practice that continued until the end of the Chinese empire in 1911.

Guan-di is portrayed as a nine-foot tall giant with a two-foot-long beard, a scarlet face, the eyes of a phoenix and eyebrows of silkworms. He is frequently shown standing beside his horse, wearing full armor and carrying a halberd. Alternatively he is portrayed as a military mandarin, sitting unarmed and stroking his beard with one hand and holding the Chun-qiu (the Spring and the Autumn Annals, one of the classic Confucianist works) in his other hand.

In popular belief he is known primarily for casting out demons and people call him Fu-mo da-di, the Great Ruler Who Banishes Demons. His festival is May 13.

The36 Strategies: #11 One Tree Falls For Another


In our review of the 36 Strategies, we now come to #11: One tree falls for another.

This means that an individual sacrifice may be required for the greater goal.

During the Three Kingdoms period, the leader Cao Cao found that his army was unexpectedly running out of food. If the troops came to blame Cao Cao, they'd lose confidence in his leadership, and the campaign would probably not be successful.

He asked the Chief Cook to take the blame for the shortfall, promising him that his wife and family would be well taken care of after he was executed. The cook agreed, and the campaign continued as planned.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Pragmatic View


The Cardinal has been posting all sorts of interesting stuff over at The Pragmatic View. Either click on the title of this post to be directed there, or find the link over at the right.

More on current training


My practice,such as it is - a hodge podge of YiQuan, Xing Yi Quan, and CMC's Taiji form. That's fine. I don't have the dedicated time to practice a complete system. Maybe in early retirement, I can make a real run at that kind of practice. In the meantime, here I am.

Mostly my practice is stance. I do the other things - shi li the next most often, stepping, and combat stances/mojin after that, but mostly my practice is centered on stance. When I am practicing stance I'm mostly just relaxing, or following my thoughts as one would in zazen practice; but sometimes I work on the YiQuan visualizations as well. Whatever strikes me that day.

While my intention is to stand everyday, I rarely manage to come close to that goal. There's always a lot going on.

When I was younger I used to get up much earlier to work out in the morning. The last few attempts at doing that hasn't worked out so well. I have such a difficult time getting motivated. My next strategy had been working out in the evenings when the family is settling in. I've had more success wtih that, but sometimes we go out, or have people over, or what have you.

I've organized my training material into things I really need some dedicated time for, such as stance; and other items that I can just do on the spur of the moment, such as some repetitions of PiQuan. I've become more and more aware of opportunites to get something done, and am getting better at selecting something for right NOW!

So while I may not stand everyday, I'm doing something everyday. I can really feel it when my standing practice is lacking however. I can just feel myself getting all balled up. I will continue the standing practice (or some variation of it; when I'm older I might have to sit) as long as I live.

The CMC form has become an interesting exercise for me. I hadn't practiced it in years. I wanted to see what it would be like to do it again, after some years of standing practice; and I was also curious if I could even remember the steps.

I don't practice it the way I was taught.I use it as a structure of sorts around which to practice shi li. When I work on it, it's REALLY unlike what I had been taught. I haven't been very respectful of the choreography either. I'm likely to do a movement on the opposite side, repeat sequences, do them forwards, backward, then forwards again. It's a tool.

As for Xing YiQuan, I've only scratched the surface of that. I've developed an interest in it for quite some time, as it was the foundation Wang Xiang Zhai drew from in creating YiQuan. I'm only doing a most basic variation of PiQuan, but it's enough for now.

If I were to practice the full curriculum for YiQuan as laid out by Yao Cheng Guang, I'd be practicing a lot of fighting drills. I intend to use XYQ to fill that niche. I find XYQ interesting in it's historical role and for it's aethetics.

Well, that's what I'm working on.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Bath Tai Chi


Here's yet another kindred spirit. You can click on the title of this post, or at the link over at the right. Please give Bath Tai Chi a visit.

Wujimon


I'd like to point out another blog of someone who is devoted to the standing practice.

If you click on the title of this post, or on the link at the right, you'll be directed to Wujimon's blog.

Please pay him a visit.

Monday, December 19, 2005

... and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest


From the Dao De Jing, Chapter 50:

Between birth and death,
Three in ten are followers of life,
Three in ten are followers of death,
And men just passing from birth to death also number three in ten.

Why is this so?
Because they live their lives on the gross level.

He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.

Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter.

My oldest daughter has a friend whose mother has had Lyme Disease for as long as we've know her (maybe four or five years). It wasn't diagnosed in time for any effective treatment to be applied, and she's had to live her life with the progressively dibilitating effects of the disease. When we first met her, she was already restricted to a wheelchair.

When someone has Lyme Disease at the stage she had it, one never gets better. Your body slowly atrophes. You can hold steady for a while, but your health will never improve. You can only wait until the next slip down.

In spite of this awful condition, she had always been one of the most positive people I've ever met. She was fully aware of what lay ahead of her, but that never stopped her from making the very best of her situation as it was that day; and within her constraints, living her life to the fullest.

She ran a company out of her house that provided materials for corporate training. When she became bedridden, and required a ventilator to breathe, her husband quit his job and took over the company. He could work there at the house and still see to her care. Her three kids all go to school locally, so they can live at home and help take care of her.

She managed to be a positive part of her family's lives with intelligence, wisdom, and good humor.

She went from being needing a walker, to a wheelchair, to being bedridden. She had her husband take a wall down to open up the house so she could be better able to see what was going on a be a part of it all.

She was always thinking "out of the box" and finding ways to make the absolute most of her life.

With each slip in her health, she adapted. She always found a way to give strength to her caregivers, her family, her loved ones.

She passed today. The world will be poorer without her. She seemingly had no fear about her fate, because she knew so well how to live. She had no time to dwell on dying, because she was too busy living.

Her example touched many of us. I can only hope that in my own times of distress, I can meet life with the strength and dignity she had, and she had it right to the end.

May God bless you, Mrs Targus.

Current Training, etc.


My training is starting to come along again. I got over the psychological hurdle of thinking that I had to accomplish x number of things all in one session. I've found that I can break things up to fit into whatever time is available, and as a result, I'm not only covering more ground, I'm starting to get some depth in my practice again.

The sort of obstacles I'm referring to are ideas about having perfect conditions in which to train, or just forgetting it. Just like there's never a perfect time for a crisis, there's (almost) never a perfect time to train. If you wait until conditions are perfect, chances are you'll keep waiting.

I'm still missing some opportunities, but I know what they are and why. Again, it's a matter of letting my thinking change a little more, and I'll take more advantage of them.

In fact, I'm getting more done of what I've wanted to get to all around, including reading, and my study of the Japanese language. I'm still doing a good job of giving due attention to my family and job; maybe even a better job. This seems to be the hardest thing to due, and yet it's the simplest, really.

The root of it all has been really digging my teeth back into the standing practice again. The most fundamental lesson of the standing practice is to learn to relax. Relaxing is more than what you think; we habitually carry with us what the Reichian psychologist would call "character armor." The standing practice can be an effective way of loosening up the character armor, and over time begin to remove chunks of it.

The character armor distorts our perception of the world around us (giving us bad data as input), and corrupts our response to it.

There is a free eBook on the standing practice, Zhan Zhuang, which can be downloaded from http://www.yiquan.com.pl/ or you could click on "YiQuan" over on the link list at the right side of this page.

We had some Japanese visitors to the office last week, and I was able to keep up my end of admittedly simple conversations, but I was doing it. Also, on receiving their business cards, I was able to read more of the Japanese side than I ever have, including being able to make out the kanji for their family names.

Current reading is - Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062502565/qid=1135025549/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/103-6626333-6629413?s=books&v=glance&n=283155

I rank her right up there with Shunryu Suzuki and Brad Warner as a Zen priest who can write about the subject in a way that the reader can really sense of the subject which is after all, more experential than intellectual.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Dao De Jing: Chapter 8


The Dao De Jing, or The Way and It's Power, is one of the great world classics, and the foundation of Daoism. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the complete text. Here is Chapter 8.

Chapter Eight

The highest good is like water.
Water give life to the ten thousand things
and does not strive.

It flows in places men reject and so is like the Tao.
In dwelling, be close to the land.
In meditation, go deep in the heart.
In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In daily life, be competent.
In action, be aware of the time and the season.

No fight: No blame.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Instructions for the cook


The following is a commentary on the Tenzo Kyokun, or instructions for the cook, written by the Zen Master Dogen. It appears at www.za-zen.net. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the article there. At that site is a wealth of information on Zen, and various Zen practices. Please pay them a visit. Enjoy.
==================
Tenzo Kyokun is the first section of the Eihei Shingi, written by Dogen Zenji Sama, and completed in 1237. Although on the surface it consists of instructions for Dogen's cooks living with him in the monastery more than 760 years ago in the Kamakura period, the question is why this text is important for everybody living nowadays.

But it is not only a cook-book, but a book that instructs us how to "cook" our everyday life, that is how to prepare and manage our own personal lives. This text deals not only with handling of food, but also with our attitude towards all matters and people we encounter in our every-day live.

So we have to ask us: what is the basic ingredient of our live? For Dogen Zenj Samai, it is Zazen. Zazen is the base of our live. We have to ask us how we can live Zazen in our everyday live.

Zazen is not a ecstatic experience, it should guide our lives, letting go off ideas of good-bad, white-black, right-wrong. The Tenzo Kyokun calls this "daishin". But of course "dai" does not mean "big" compared to small. The Tenzo Kyokun says that having a daishin means being unprejudiced and refusing to take sides. In the "Fukan-Zazen-Gi" DogenZenji Sama writes to drop off all relationships, set aside all activities, which means that Zazen equals (is) daishin. Zazen makes the mind like a big mountain and a great ocean, without distinctions.

The Tenzo Kyokun teaches us not to consider expensive foods precious and not to treat cheap foods roughly. It states that we should make NO difference at all and treat everything with he same respect. But this is not only limited to ingredients for cooking. We can go one step further and say that we should not feel happy when spring comes nor feel sad when autumn comes, we should not be excited when we have good circumstances in our life, or be sad when a misfortune happens. Whatever we encounter is our life, and we must live it to the fullest. The Tenzo Kyokun says that there is no such distinction as "delicious" or "plain" foods, and the Tenzo should not be happy when he receives food of high quality, nor complain when he received food of inferior quality. The many rivers which flow into the ocean become the one great taste of the ocean.

Zazen is a true religion because Dogen Zenji taught us that it must function in our everyday lives. We should put all our energy into our work, as the Tenzo does.

The Tenzo Kyokun tells us to handle all utensils with equal care and put them back to where they belong and from where we have taken them. The same applies in our everyday life of course, and if somebody closes the sliding door banging with a big sound, we wonder why he can't hear the door cry. But what the Tenzo Kyokun states should not be limited to things, it should apply to people as well. We should treat everybody with good care and without distinction of a "high" or "Low" person, rich or poor. We are all vut one big family of Buddha.

In the Tenzo Kyokun Dogen Zenji Sama writes about the incident when he met an old Tenzo who worked drying Shiitake in the heat of the sun. Asked why he did this work himself, he answered "If I don't do it now, when else can I do it". Later, he writes about meeting a Tenzo on his ship who came to buy shiitake, and, although Dogen wanted to talk more with him, he said that he needed to go back to the temple in order to prepare food. We see how Dogen stresses the importance of "Now". Do what you need to do now. We don't know what comes tomorrow, maybe we will become ill, have an accident, maybe we will die tonight, we need to do now what we have to do. The Japanese greeting comes into my mind: "konnichi wa". The signs are now and day. Such greeting exists only in Japanese, no other language has anything similar.

Yesterday is already gone, tomorrow is not there yet, only the now counts. Now is important. Not only for the Tenzo, but for everybody in our everyday life. We must thing about what is really important for us and give our life a clear direction, a clear goal - now, based on Dogen's Zazen, Shikantaza.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

WATERCourse

If you click on the title of this post, or the link at the right, you'll be directed to a blog named WATERCourse.

WATERCourse is written by Dadi Astthorsson, of Iceland.

Dadi's blog includes articles on boxing, body movement, and coaching. Please pay him a visit.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Who needs Fiction: Giant Jellyfish


Click on the title of this post to be directed to the London Times.

How do you tackle an invasion of giant jellyfish? Try making sushi
By Richard Lloyd Parry in Tokyo

THEY are called echizen kurage and they sound like monsters from the trashier reaches of Japanese science fiction.

They are 6ft wide and weigh 450lb (200kg), with countless poisonous tentacles, they have drifted across the void to terrorise the people of Japan. Vast armadas of the slimy horrors have cut off the country’s food supply. As soon as one is killed more appear to take its place.

Finally, the quarrelsome governments of the region are banding together to unite against the enemy.

Echizen kurage is not an extraterrestrial invader, but a giant jellyfish that is devastating the livelihoods of fishermen in the Sea of Japan. Nomura’s jellyfish, as it is known in English, is the biggest creature of its kind off Japan and for reasons that remain mysterious its numbers have surged in the past few months.

The problem has become so serious that fishery officials from Japan, China and South Korea are to meet this month for a “jellyfish summit” to discuss strategies for dealing with the invasion. Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party has formed a jellyfish countermeasures committee and fishermen are at work on technology to keep the marauders out of their nets.

The problem first became obvious in the late summer when fishermen chasing anchovies, salmon and yellowtail began finding huge numbers of the jellyfish in their nets.

Often the weight of the echizen kurage broke the nets or crushed the fish to death; those that survived were poisoned and beslimed by their tentacles.

Fishermen on the northern tip of Honshu, Japan’s main island, were forced to suspend work at the height of the lucrative salmon season.

In Akita prefecture some communities saw their incomes fall by 80 per cent. The gizzard shad fishers of South Korea have also been plagued by the Nomura’s.

In some places jellyfish density is reported to be a hundred times higher than normal. Worst of all, no one yet understands why. One theory is that global warming is heating up the seawater and encouraging jellyfish breeding.

Some observers blame heavy rains in China over the summer, which flowed out from rivers and propelled abnormal numbers of jellyfish towards Japan. Nutrients in its river water may have given them extra zip — or overfishing has allowed the growth of the populations of plankton on which the jellyfish feed.

Screens and meshes have been designed that allow fish through but keep out anything bigger, and a web of metal wires can be placed inside a net to chop the jellyfish to pieces.
In the meantime locals are making the best of it — rather than just complaining about jellyfish they are eating them.

Jellyfish are an unusual ingredient of Japanese cuisine but are much more prized in China. Coastal communities are doing their best to promote jellyfish as a novelty food, sold dried and salted.

Students in Obama have managed to turn them into tofu, and jellyfish collagen is reported to be beneficial to the skin.

SEA MONSTERS

The most poisonous jellyfish is the Australian sea wasp, or box jellyfish, with enough venom to kill 60 people. Wearing tights is an effective defence

The largest jellyfish ever found was a lion’s mane, with a bell 2m (7ft) across, and tentacles extending more than 35m

The notorious Portuguese man o’war is not a jellyfish at all but a collection of different organisms including stinging tentacles

Jellyfish have both male and female characteristics. A group releases sperm and eggs which mix in the water

A collection of jellyfish is known as a smack

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Winter Moon


Samui fuyu
Shiroi meigetsu
Yukiakari

Cold winter
White full moon
Brightness of snow

- The Snow Shovelling Daoist

Arrival of Winter


I arrive at work
Darkness still blankets me.
Winter is coming.

- The Snow Shovelling Daoist

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Who needs fiction: Shaolin Monks and the Internet


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the LA Times, where this story first appeared.

http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-fg-temple4dec04,1,5404115.story

Kung Fu Monks Go Modern
Amid China's growing interest in religion, an abbot uses TV, films and the Web to market an ancient temple made famous by a Jet Li movie.
By Ching-Ching Ni
Times Staff Writer
December 4, 2005

SONGSHAN, China — Shi Yongxin wears a bright yellow robe and heavy prayer beads and lives in an ancient shrine high up in the mountains of central China.

Yet he spends a lot of his time traveling in a chauffeur-driven jeep, jet-setting around the world and hobnobbing with Hollywood types.

No wonder some people call him a CEO in a monk's robe.

As abbot of the world-famous Shaolin Temple, the holy land of kung fu, Shi indeed plays multiple roles. His latest is executive producer of a $25-million movie about the life and times of the legendary fighting monks that is set to hit cinemas in time for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He also has a reality TV project in the works, a kind of "American Idol" for kung fu masters.

To critics, Shi's lifestyle and projects prove how far the Shaolin Temple has strayed from its roots in an increasingly commercial society. But its controversial abbot says it's no crime to keep up with the times in order to preserve the past.

"Movies, TV shows, the Internet — these are all modern communication tools," said Shi, sitting in the dark chambers of his office in the Shaolin Temple as aides with shaved heads buzzed around arranging his busy schedule on their cellphones.

"We are monks living in a new era. We should take advantage of these technologies and use them to serve Buddhism and traditional culture."

At 40, Shi is one of the youngest leaders in the history of the 1,500-year-old shrine. Perhaps because of his youth, he has presided over some of the boldest moves at the birthplace of Zen Buddhism.

Among his innovations were setting up the country's first temple-based website back in 1996, when few in China had heard of the Internet. The next online move was more of a head-turner: He revealed some fighting sequences previously considered top secrets passed only to true disciples.

Shi flung open the doors of Shaolin further by sending cloistered monks all over the world to perform and promote the temple's Zen-inspired martial arts.

He knew physical prowess was not enough. He set up a corporation to defend the temple's "brand name." He was also among the first to send yellow-robed monks to take MBA courses and get doctorates.

No idea seems too far-fetched. He created a broadcasting company enabling the temple to produce film projects and oversee the selection of scripts and stars. He has been contemplating the possibility of taking his martial arts disciples to the stages of Las Vegas.

"We used to be isolated from the world. Our outside contact was only with the land, through farming," Shi said. "Now we must deal with people, it's not as simple. We need to gain knowledge, learn new skills, like study English, know about computers and study overseas.

"In many ways, the Shaolin Temple is riding the wave of a Buddhist revival in China. After years of decline, it is back and more popular than ever. Thanks to the country's growing wealthy class and a yearning for spirituality, people are increasingly turning to religion and opening their wallets to show their faith.

Communist China is officially atheist, but it is home to an estimated 100 million believers of all faiths. Though hard to quantify, many are thought to be followers of traditional faiths such as Buddhism and Taoism, while an increasing number are converts to Christianity.

Old temples are rising from the ashes and being restored to their former glory. New temples are popping up from cities to the countryside. Demand is so high for religious services that sending monks to business school has become a growing necessity in the quest to better manage these thriving houses of worship.

"We are learning about communication skills, client psychology, marketing, human resources and strategic management techniques," said Chang Chun, a monk at Shanghai's Jade Buddha Temple. He is one of 18 monks taking a half-year course in business administration at Shanghai's Jiaotong University.

Located in the heart of a vibrant metropolis, Jade Buddha Temple has a wealthy clientele. That means a need for creative ways to link its modern lifestyle with an ancient religion. A colorful brochure near the entrance advertises opportunities to invite monks to bless newly purchased automobiles and real estate — for a fee, of course.

"Some people think monks should do nothing but sit around and read scriptures," Xue Ming, another monk taking the business course, said as he sat in a newly built conference room with leather sofas and computer cubicles.

"The times have changed — we have to change too. If we stay the same, we can't survive."

By the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976, Chinese Buddhism seemed to teeter on the brink of extinction.

Temples across the country were either destroyed or forced to serve the people in secular ways.

Some morphed into factories, storage facilities, residential units and schoolhouses. Precious scriptures were burned; Buddhist statues were smashed or had their faces hacked out. Many monks were kicked out to seek new livelihoods.

Shi arrived in 1981 to find the Shaolin Temple, nestled in the hills of the misty Song Mountains in central China's Henan province, a shadow of its former self. Where once 2,000 monks lived on an estate that stretched for miles, just 12 elderly monks remained, subsisting by farming a tiny plot of land and keeping a low profile reading scriptures and practicing kung fu.

Then came "Shaolin Temple," a 1982 film that was the first Hong Kong kung fu flick to be shot at the temple. Its star was a then-unknown martial artist called Jet Li. It launched his acting career and brought international acclaim to a dilapidated monastery in the Chinese heartland.

"That movie turned out to be a great advertisement for the Shaolin Temple," Shi said.He has no qualms about capitalizing on the temple's fame. Buddhism, after all, has always been on the cutting edge of innovation, he said. It was among the first religions to use paper to write scriptures and print scrolls. And advertising is not necessarily a bad word.

"What is a pagoda? It is like an ancient billboard," Shi said. "Buddhist statues too are a form of advertising. If we don't advertise, nobody would know about us.

"The problem, however, is that the more people know about the Shaolin Temple, the more they want a piece of its good fortune.

As China moved toward a market-oriented economy, the Shaolin phenomenon to some became just another big business opportunity. Products as wide-ranging as pork sausages and cars, martial arts academies and security doors started to be marketed under the Shaolin name. In 1997, the temple made headlines by establishing a corporation and hiring lawyers to fight trademark violations.

The hardest thing for Shi is fighting the perception that the Shaolin Temple is in it for the money.

"When some people see us doing things like brand protection and movies, they think there's something inappropriate," Shi said."But what we are doing is in keeping with tradition. Monks from every dynasty had to adapt to the changes of society. We are monks. But we are also citizens."

Friday, December 02, 2005

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #10 Alone in Her Beauty


The Tang Dynasty was a golden age of art in China. Poety was especially esteemed. Du Fu was a giant of the genre.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of the classic anthology, the 300 Tang Dynasty Poems.
==================


Five-character-ancient-verse
Du Fu
ALONE IN HER BEAUTY
Who is lovelier than she?
Yet she lives alone in an empty valley.
She tells me she came from a good family
Which is humbled now into the dust. ...
When trouble arose in the Kuan district,
Her brothers and close kin were killed.
What use were their high offices,
Not even shielding their own lives?
-- The world has but scorn for adversity;
Hope goes out, like the light of a candle.
Her husband, with a vagrant heart,
Seeks a new face like a new piece of jade;
And when morning-glories furl at night
And mandarin-ducks lie side by side,
All he can see is the smile of the new love,
While the old love weeps unheard.
The brook was pure in its mountain source,
But away from the mountain its waters darken.
...Waiting for her maid to come from selling pearls
For straw to cover the roof again,
She picks a few flowers, no longer for her hair,
And lets pine-needles fall through her fingers,
And, forgetting her thin silk sleeve and the cold,
She leans in the sunset by a tall bamboo.

Japanese Language Study


The Japanese Language studies are going well. I’m about halfway through the course I’m taking. A few weeks ago, after a big push ahead, I was just beginning to study the Kanji; the Chinese characters adopted by the Japanese.

I could see that learning Kanji was going to take a lot of effort. I decided to stop my forward progress for a time and do a big review of everything I’ve learned so far; while considering how I wanted to tackle the Kanji

While I was at it, I came across a very interesting program entitled Wakan. It’s available as a free download as long as it’s not put to any commercial use. Wakan translates between Japan and English, and between Chinese and English. It’s a very handy way to look up words and characters. Even if you have no intention of studying either Japanese or Chinese, but may want to look up a word or character from time to time, I think you would find it useful.

Wakan can be found at http://waken.manga.cz/

I was fooling around with Wakan one day. I input the phonetic rendering of my last name: mattsu (マッツ) and nothing came of it. Then I decided to try matsu (マツ), and what it spit out was “pine tree.”

I decided to put Rick (riku) in. Riku gives “shore.”   has a lot of things going on in it’s composition.

A shore pine is a type of pine tree.

In researching the sumbol of a pine, this is what I've got so far (http://www.chinesepaintings.com/chinese-symbols.html ):

Pine
The favorite tree of Chinese painters, the pine symbolizes longevity and steadfastness. Pine trees rank above all other trees and epitomize self-discipline. Pine, bamboos and plum-trees are the "Three Friends in Winter."

The Kanji for pine tree is : (matsu is the Kunyomi or Japanese reading; Sho is the Onyomi or “Chinese” reading; the Kanji is made of the characters for ‘tree’, and ‘public’).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who needs fiction: Chessboxing


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original placement of this story.
----------------------------
By Hook or by Rook
In chessboxing, contestants match moves on the board one round, in the ring the next. Checkmate is as good as a knockout.

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Times Staff Writer

BERLIN — Martin "Amok" Thomas is jabbing a right, but Frank "so-cool-he-doesn't-need-a-nickname" Stoldt is as elusive as a ribbon in the wind. He can't be hit. Time.

The gloves come off, and the men hurry across the canvas to the chessboard. (You heard it right.) Amok took a couple of body shots, and he's breathing hard, but he'd better focus. That Stoldt, though, everyone in the gym knows he's this warrior-thinker, slamming the speed clock, cunningly moving his queen amid unraveling bandages and dripping sweat, daring Amok to leave him a sliver of opportunity.

Time. Velcro rips. Amok slides back into his Everlast gloves, bites down on his mouthpiece, dances along the ropes. His king's in trouble, and his punches couldn't knock lint off a jacket.

Stoldt floats toward him like a cloud of big hurt. Such is the bewildering beauty of chessboxing, alternating rounds of four minutes of chess followed by two minutes of boxing. Victory is claimed in a number of ways, some of them tedious, but the most thrilling are by checkmate and knockout.

The sport's godfather, Iepe "the Joker" Rubingh, believes that chessboxing, like that contest in which frostbitten Scandinavians ski around with rifles, is destined for the Olympics.

"It has enormous potential," says the Joker, 31, a taut Dutchman with an undamaged chin and wire-rimmed glasses.

"Chess and boxing are very different worlds. Chessboxers move around in both. It's extremely demanding, but extremely rewarding. It's all about control over your physical and mental being.
The adrenalin rush in boxing must be lowered to concentrate on chess strategy.

"Some will snicker. The Joker knows this. But he is not deterred.

Former world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis is a devoted chess player. Ukrainian Vitali Klitschko, another heavyweight champ who recently retired, has a keen intellect and knows what to do when a queen sidles toward his king. That's the kind of brawn and brain a clever marketing guy like the Joker thinks he can turn into success, not the novelty kind of success, but genuine prime-time, Caesars Palace spotlight success.

"I'd love to get them together," the Joker says of Lewis and Klitschko.

"What do you think they want — $30 million?" Without marquee names, however, there is a potential drawback. Will people buy a beer and a hot dog and watch bare-chested smart guys in colorful satin shorts play chess? They will, the Joker believes, if the match coincides with the possibility of a knockout or spilled blood.

He has a question: "Is this story for the sports pages or another part of the newspaper?" Hard to tell, he is told.

The World Chess Boxing Organization, founded by the Joker and several business partners, held its first European tournament in Berlin in October. Five hundred fans showed up under dim lights as Bulgarian Tihomir "Tigertad" Titschko became the new champion.

Titschko peers over a chessboard like he's trying to deconstruct the theory of relativity, and he hits like a big man who just met the guy who stole his girlfriend.

He defeated Andreas "D" Schneider, a German actor in dark trunks who punched well but succumbed in the ninth round to Titschko's blistering chess attack, described as "the Dragon variation of the Sicilian defense."

Chessboxers use words like "aesthetics" and "arduous." They ponder performance art, science, philosophy; they study grids, angles and buried meanings in obscure books. They know about black holes and Taoism. The rules might be considered simple: Eleven rounds, six of chess and five of boxing. The first round is always chess.

"That's because," says the Joker, "if you go down in boxing there is no chess." A one-minute pause between rounds allows opponents to slip on and off gloves and for the chessboard to be moved in and out of the ring.

If all is equal on the chessboard and the boxing scorecard after the 11 rounds, according to the rules, "the opponent with the black pieces wins."

Players are required to wear headphones during the chess part of the match. "This is so no one in the audience can yell out, 'Hey, be careful of the knight on E-6,' " says the Joker, whose ring alias is a bit of history and a bit of Hollywood.

"It's part court jester, who in the old days was allowed to make fun of the king without getting punished. It's a name responsible for entertainment. And everyone knows the Joker from 'Batman.' "

The inspiration for chessboxing came to the Joker in 2003 after he glimpsed some dark magical realism in a comic by Enki Bilal, a Yugoslav-born artist living in Paris. "It's a futuristic story, and there's a guy watching TV," says the Joker, "and on TV is a kind of chessboxing match."

The Joker was raised in the Dutch port city of Rotterdam, the son of a carpenter and a librarian. "I always thought it was a nice combination," he says, sitting in a candlelit Berlin cafe, sipping water before an evening practice at the world's first chessboxing gym. "My mother brought home loads of books, and my father taught me how to work with my hands." He and his father would sit up until 4 a.m. watching boxing matches beamed in from the United States.

He remembers Frank Bruno's ill-fated bout with a young and ferocious Mike Tyson in 1989. "I always wanted to box," says the Joker, "but my parents weren't fond of their son doing contact sports. I did cross-country skiing and table tennis. My dad taught me chess when I was around 6 or 8. I beat him after a few months. I like games where you have to think and go deeper."

The Joker went to college and majored in German cultural history. A painter, photographer and video artist, he followed the bohemians to Berlin in 1997.

Six years later, he traveled west to Amsterdam and took on Luis the Lawyer in the world's first "official" chessboxing match. These days, the Joker speaks of hybrids, of mixing things; he believes most people don't see all of life's available dimensions and narratives.

"We're too focused on defining sport in one way," he says. "Look at the old Olympics and the ancient Greeks. They had poets in the games, but in our society we want to divide things. I don't like borders. You try to tell a story through a game. Look at Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, or Bobby Fischer playing the Russians in chess."

The Joker grabs his gear and crosses the street to the neighborhood gym. He slips into the basement, past trophies and punching bags. This is his domain, his club, where he trains chessboxers and eyes potential stars.

The guys are setting up chessboards and speed clocks; pieces are arranged, pawns skitter.They're an interesting bunch, some with a thread of gray in their hair, others with barely a wrinkle on their face: There's Stoldt, a muscular Berlin cop and former amateur boxer. His wife was searching the Internet one day when she came upon chessboxing, convincing Frank it might be his calling.

There is Victor Abraham, a classically trained baritone with close-cropped black hair and a mustache, who paints in the Bauhaus style. Jan Schulz, the club's trainer, can play two games of chess at once and still seem as if he could handle something else, like maybe physics. And there's Amok, a website designer with good-sized fists and long arms snaking out from a tank top. The chess games begin.

Practice, of course, but intense. The speed clock clicking and clacking, and Schulz darting between chessboards. Stoldt is swirling and sliding his pieces. A few boards over, Abraham is studying the opponent's knight that's inching his way. But he takes a moment to talk.

He grew up in Leipzig, East Germany, during communist times. He boxed as a boy, and his grandfather led him to chess. He finished his classical music study in 1989, the year the Berlin Wall fell. He sang parts in Schubert and "West Side Story," but once, he says, "I had a cold and I kept singing because I needed the money, and my voice went bad. It's not tragic. Life is risks and I'm happy." He crushes a knight.

"This is a lot of fun," Abraham says. "I'm too old to be a professional boxer. But I'm not too old to be a chessboxer. You mix brain and power." The opponent slides a bishop to G-4. "Ahh, I have to be careful here," he says.

An hour's up. Chess pieces slide into boxes. Skipping ropes hum in the air. The Joker leads the club through stretching and push-ups. A few guys struggle, but not Stoldt. He's strong and compact, as well as dominating, like an upright piano in a tiny room.

"It's important for me to have such a channel," he says. "I can be aggressive in a physical and mental way. Chess is not boring. One mistake and you lose a game. Boxing is the same way, very intense. You have to hit at the right place at the right time, and in chess you hit your opponent where he doesn't expect it."

He slows his rope.The Joker orders up a bout. Stoldt versus Amok.Knights and bishops get a workout first. Then into the ring. Though Amok has a nice reach, Stoldt is slipping in jabs and Amok is tiring.Time. Amok slides his queen to A-4, Stoldt drops a knight on G-3. Moves, counter moves, Stoldt takes a knight with a bishop. Gloves back on. Amok can't break through to hurt Stoldt.

He's jabbing, but his arms are heavy, sweat's flowing. Gloves off. Amok goes to F-4 with a knight. Stoldt's pressuring. The queens wipe each other out. The ring again. Amok is sucking wind. Shoes scrape on canvas. Smooth and quick, Stoldt goes for the kill. Knight to H-4. Amok's toast.

"I have to learn to box better," Amok says. "I knew Stoldt could knock me out if he wanted to. I have to be calmer. I get stressed when I get hit. I've got to concentrate, work on my chess. I think chess is the most important part of this sport. If you survive the ring, the better chess player wins."

The Joker pats Amok on the shoulder. Amok may be a contender one day. He's dedicated, smart and strong. The Joker has that same recurring thought: Wouldn't it be the ultimate marketing coup for chessboxing to arrange a match between Lewis and Klitschko? He smiles at the possibility.

Here comes another thought, this one about the potential growth of the sport: "Look at Russia, Ukraine. They're chessboxing nations and they don't even know it yet."

Zhan Zhaung Qigong eBook for free download


If you either click on the title of this post, or click on the "Yiquan" link at the right, you'll be directed to the website of Andrzej Kalisz.

At this website is a free eBook on Zhan Zhuang Qigong, available for a free download. It's very well done, and well worth the read if you're interested in this subject.