The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Friday, October 30, 2009

Short Staff Resources


Over at Cloud Hands, there is a page devoted to the various derivations of the short staff. The author, Michael Garofalo has done a mind boggling job in pulling together resources from EVERYWHERE and put them together in one page. If you have any interest in the weapon, please check out the page here. A short description is below.

Way of the Short Staff.
By Michael P. Garofalo, M.S.

A comprehensive guide to the practice of the short staff, cane, jo, walking stick, gun, zhang, whip staff, 13 Hands Staff, and related wood short staff weapons. A detailed and annotated guide, bibliographies, lists of links, resources, instructional media, online videos, and lessons. Includes use of the short staff and cane in martial arts, self-defense, walking and hiking. Separate sections on Aikido Jo, Cane, Taijiquan cane and staff, Jodo, exercises with a short staff, selected quotations, techniques, selecting and purchasing a short staff, tips and suggestions, and a long section on the lore, legends, and magick of the short staff. Includes "Shifu Miao Zhang Points the Way." Published by Green Way Research, Valley Spirit Taijiquan, Red Bluff, California. Updated on a regular basis since October, 2008. Filesize: 300Kb+

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Training for the Pressure of Battle


Unless you are out getting in fights with people all of the time, you can't. What you can do is to put yourself into situations in which you are under a lot of pressure to perform well, even when things may go wrong. That is the gist of this article. A excerpt is provided below.
The Lessons of Embu

by Diane Skoss

In martial arts training it is essential, in my opinion, to have some arena in which one is forced to put oneself on the line. Arts that have shiai provide plenty of opportunity--believe me, there's quite a lot riding on the line when you face an opponent trying to stab you with a bayonet. But in the classical arts, and arts like aikido that in general do not have competition, we must find other ways to push ourselves to the edge. Promotion examinations provide one sort of opportunity to face fear of public failure, to learn to control natural physical stress reactions, and to continue come what may. But for most of us, exams are few and far between. Demonstrations, then, are perhaps a sensible alternative.

In some styles of aikido (Tomiki aikido in particular, but by no means exclusively) formal kata embu kyogi, or kata demonstration competitions, are used to provide this sort of training. I am coming to the conclusion, however, that the resulting emphasis on what the technique and overall performance looks like in order to win a prize is misguided. I am a (now retired) kata embu competitor, and have competed quite successfully in Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States, in sometimes as many as four events per year. There is no question that I have gained from my experience--I have no problem with giving a demonstration of anything that I know in any art that I have studied at any time, and remain unperturbed when not all goes as planned.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

I Wish You Enough


I usually don't forward or post things like this, but it struck me as such a good application of philosophical Daoism in our daily lives. Enjoy.

Recently I overheard a Father and daughter in their last moments together at the airport. They had announced the departure.

Standing near the security gate, they hugged and the Father said, 'I love you, and I wish you enough.'

The daughter replied, 'Dad, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Dad.'

They kissed and the daughter left. The Father walked over to the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, 'Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?'

'Yes, I have,' I replied. 'Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?'.

'I am old, and she lives so far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is - the next trip back will be for my funeral,' he said.

'When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, 'I wish you enough.' May I ask what that means?'

He began to smile. 'That's a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone..' He paused a moment and looked up as if trying to remember it in detail, and he smiled even more. 'When we said, 'I wish you enough,' we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with just enough good things to sustain them.' Then turning toward me, he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory.

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright no matter how gray the day may appear.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun even more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive and everlasting.

I wish you enough pain so that even the smallest of joys in life may appear bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good- bye.

He then began to cry and walked away.

They say it takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them; but then an entire life to forget them.

Take Time To Live.. To all my friends and loved ones, I wish you Enough !

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Internal Martial Arts and Alignment


So much of internal martial arts has to do with the efficiency of body movement, particularly one's structure and alignment. Below is an excerpt on this topic from an aikido perspective. The whole article may be read here.

Internal Structure" by Gregor Erdmann
I have frequently spoken of making appropriate use of our internal structure in our aikido practice. I will once more explore this idea from another perspective. Similarly when painting a wall or weaving a basket, it takes multiple layers criss-crossing to obtain a good coverage of paint or a strong structure.

Our bones, ligaments, tendons and joints, can redirect, store and release a tremendous amount of energy which enable us to perform those physical feats which continue to amaze and inspire us. While we do unconsciously use this structure in our daily activities, if we wish to be extraordinary we need to take our understanding to a higher level.

I am by no means an expert in the field, and am still enjoying the journey of discovery. I recently came across a few new concepts which I shall share with you and hopefully fuel your own desire for self discovery. Before I touch on these points, I will highlight our structure fits in with the basic aikido forms we practice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Tokyo Vice


The following excerpt is from the Japan Subculture Research Center. The full article may be read here.

TOKYO VICE: An American Reporter on The Police Beat in Japan is being published on October 14th! Read an exciting (sort of) interview with the author and chief editor of the web-site,  Jake Adelstein.

I’ve been working on this thing now for almost three years and its nice to finally see it in print. If you’re curious about the sex industry in Japan, about yakuza, cops, journalists and all that can go terribly wrong in the little island country of the rising sun, please read the book.   The following interview was done for Random House, who have been kind enough to publish the book.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

A Rare Blade


For the sword lovers among us, this is a real treat; a very rare sword. I have taken an excerpt of an article about a Japanese katana that had been tested on a live criminal and placed it below. The full article may be read here.

THIS BLADE IS UNDOUBTEDLY ONE OF "MUNEHIRO - SOKAN'S" MASTERPIECES. THIS IS QUITE APPARENT FROM IT'S DISTINCTIVE FEATURES. THE HAMON (TEMPERING) IS HIS SELDOM SEEN "SAKA CHOJI" (REARWARD SLANTING CHOJI) THIS IS FOUND IN THE KAMAKURA BIZEN SCHOOLS OF "ICHIMONJI", AND "BIZEN HATAKADA", HIS NORMAL HAMON IS "GONOME" (ROW OF BEADS), THE HORIMONO IS OF "FUDO'S ROPE", WITH A DRAGONS CLAW, AND A KEN BLADE, ON THE END'S. THE DRAGON (KURIKARA), AROUND A KEN SWORD IS ONE OF HIS SCARCEST CARVINGS, WE KNOW OF ONLY THREE OTHERS LIKE IT. THE "TAMESHIGIRI" (CUTTING TEST) WAS DONE WITH THE "RYO KURAMA" STROKE (SEE CHART) # 1, THIS IS BY FARE THE MOST DIFFICULT TEST TO SUCCESSFULLY ACCOMPLISH, AND WAS DONE AS A PUNISHMENT (SO INSCRIBED ON THE NAKAGO) ON A "LIVE" CONDEMNED CRIMINAL, AT THE PRISON TESTING GROUNDS. IT WAS PERFORMED BY "GOTO SHINTARO", ONLY EIGHT MONTHS, AFTER THE BLADE WAS MADE. THE PRACTICE OF PERFORMING "LIVE TAMESHIGIRI" WAS BANNED ONLY A FEW YEARS AFTER THIS TEST, IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE "MEIJI RESTORATION". THE RARE COMBINATION OF THESE ATTRIBUTES, MAKES THIS A TRULY UNIQUE (ONE OF A KIND), AND EXTREMELY COLLECTABLE BLADE. IT IS RATED AS "TOKUBETSU HOZON", BY THE "N.B.T.H.K.".

MUNEHIRO - SOKAN, WAS ONE OF THE FOREMOST SWORD SMITHS, AND ONE OF THE TOP FIVE (5) HORIMONO MASTERS OF THE SHIN-SHINTO (1801 ~ 1867), AND EARLY MEIJI PERIOD. HE WAS BORN IN OKUSHU SHIRAKAWA (AREA), ABU (VILLAGE) NEAR SUMIGAWA. HE, MOVED TO EDO (TOKYO) AT AN EARLY AGE, AND BEGAN STUDYING THE ARTS OF BLADE MAKING IN THE SCHOOL OF THE FAMOUS "KOYAMA MUNETSUGU" (ONE OF THE "FOREMOST FIVE" OF THE SHIN-SHINTO PERIOD). HE RAPIDLY BECAME ONE OF MUNETSUGU'S FINEST STUDENTS, HIS EARLY WORKS MIRROR THOSE OF HIS SENSEI (TEACHER), AND ARE NORMALLY DONE IN THE BIZEN STYLE, WITH GONOME HAMONS. HIS "HADA" (BLADE GRAIN) IS NORMALLY KO-MOKUME (SMALL BURL WOOD), MIXED WITH ITAME (NORMAL WOOD GRAIN). HE BEGAN TO CARVE HORIMONO AS AN AVOCATION. HIS SKILL LEVELS RAPIDLY PROGRESSED (FANTASTIC DETAILED), AND HE BECAME ONE OF THE PERIODS FOREMOST HORIMONO MASTERS. NEARLY ALL THE WORKS OF HIS SENSEI (TEACHER) MUNETSUGU THAT HAVE HORIMONO ARE THE WORK OF MUNEHIRO - SOKAN. IT IS SAID THAT MUNETSUGU WOULD ALLOW NO ONE ELSE TO ENGRAVE HIS MASTERPIECES. SOKAN, ENGRAVED: HI & BO-HI (GROOVES), KEN SWORDS (BUDDHIST DOUBLE EDGED BLADES), "FUDO'S" (THE DEITY OF WARRIORS) ROPE, "GOMABASHI" (DOUBLE CHOP STICK GROOVES, W / A DRAGONS CLAW, "BONJI" (SANSCRIPT KANJI, PRAYERS), AND A FEW COMPLETE "DRAGONS" (KURIKARA), WE KNOW OF ONLY THREE 3 IN ADDITION TO THE ONE ON OUR BLADE. HIS HORIMONO IS FASTIDIOUS, AND EXHIBITS THE HIGHEST LEVEL OF SKILL.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Style of No Style


I believe that when someone masters something, they'll express it in their own unique individual way. This doesn't necessarily mean throwing out past practices, but seeing them with fresh eyes and understanding.

Take aikido for instance. It was basically founded by one man who taught perhaps thousands of students over decades. There are now at least dozens of recognized "styles" of aikido.

... and then there is Yamaguchi Seigo.

Below is an excerpt from an article about Yamaguchi Sensei and the aikido he teaches. The full article may be read here.

Yamaguchi Seigo

The “No Style” Style

By Ralph Pettman

Yamaguchi-sensei was one of Morihei Uyeshiba’s “third generation” students. Unlike some of the others of this generation, however, he never gave his personal interpretation of Uyeshiba’s art a particular name, in part I guess out of respect for the man who was his teacher, and in part because the kind of aikidoYamaguchi taught was too intangible to be given something as concrete as a label or a name.

This raises right at the start a key dilemma when talking about Yamaguchi’s approach, though it is the same dilemma that dogs any spiritually oriented martial art that tries to transcend the limits that language sets. It is the dilemma of how to teach an art or belief that has an ineffable end, when the means available to do so are effable ones. How is it possible to impart a truly formless form?

This is not a dilemma unique to martial arts. Painters, musicians, creative writers, and dancers all face the same problem. Religious teachers do too. Anyone who has mastered any art, or who has come to practice a particular faith, and who then seeks to teach it to others, confronts the same difficulties. If we insist too much on the “correct” repetition of the physical forms in which an art or faith is expressed (playing the correct musical scales, saying the correct prayers, for example) we risk getting a stereotyped, mechanistic result that is not a true expression of that art or belief. We risk inculcating mere technique, that is, a mere facsimile of what our art or faith involves – one where the outer form is reproduced without real understanding of what this form actually means.

This dilemma is usually resolved by trying to pass on the feeling of the art or belief in such a way as to free, rather than inhibit, the student’s understanding of what is to be done. Teaching becomes a very different practice when this is the aim. It stops being a matter of the teacher insisting that the student copy what the teacher does. Indeed, the teacher stops “teaching”, in the sense of “training” the student, and tries instead to create the opportunity for the student to learn. The teacher educates (“leads the student out”), and the better the teacher, the better these opportunities will be.

This also requires a very personal teacher-student relationship. It cannot be done, that is, by requiring the student to conform to a pattern of performance determined in advance. Nor can it be done en masse.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Hello from Nelson!


I'm in Nelson, British Columbia for work this week. This is my first time to to either the Northwest of the US or Western Canada. It's absolutely beautiful here.

I flew into Spokane, Washington, rented a car and drove for four hours north. Nelson is remote. I'm told it's about equidistant, about an 8 hour drive, to either Calgary or Vancouver.

I saw an email from the IT guy at the company I'm visiting, which said something about sending backups to a remote site. As remote as Nelson is, I'd like to know where they're planning on sending those backups. Then again, maybe I don't.

This must be a lovely place to live. Everything overlooks the lake. I understand that it's not uncommon to have to chase a black bear or an elk off of your deck in the morning. Of course living in a big city, I'm used to having virtually everything I could want right at hand (like an airport). It would take some getting used to living in a place so far out in the friggin' boondocks.

As I said, this is a beautiful place. You just have to really mean it to get here. I flew for 7 hours to get to Spokane Washington, then got in a rented car and drove for four hours north along the Pend Orielle River. It's only about 160 miles,but it's not like you're getting on an 8 lane interstate. It's basically a 2 lane highway which follows the river upstream. It's a very engaging road, in that your have to pay attention to what you're doing. The radio didn't come in very well, with the mountains, but I did get to drive along to some classical music for a while, and then accompanied by the blues.

The river, the mountains, forests of pine and birch. It was a tiring day, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The remoteness brings to mind the Daoist and Zen hermits. A recent article at Weakness With A Twist is worth reading. The author describes a sort of "Hermit Kung Fu." I don't know much about the teacher he writes about other than recognizing the name, but that man's particular art isn't the point of the article.

I'm in Nelson for work. I am visiting the company I am contracting with. I'm thankful to have this contract, but I'm putting in an awful lot of hours, which backs up into other things. Among them, my own practice.

At times my practices gets really knocked off track. However, I am a believer that once martial arts practice gets hold of you, it's like gravity; you can get away from it for a short time, but it'll always bring you back.

I am getting pretty regular again at practicing the Wu style round and square forms. What I'm not doing enough of is practicing some of the foundational exercises like Tai Chi Walking, Wujifa's Side to Side exercise, or my beloved zhan zhuang (or "standing stake").

I know from long experience that if I keep my head in the right place and take the opportunity to practice whenever that opportunity presents itself, instead of waiting for conditions to "be right," I'll gradually be right back on track. That will include those foundational exercises I seem to have trouble fitting in right now.

I usually get a lot of reading done when I travel. After knocking off the current National Geographic on the airplane, I started in on one of my favorites for the coming Halloween season, The Essential Dracula, by Bram Stoker, annotated by Leonard Wolf.

There should be a lot of good movies to watch this month. The Mummy Movies, with Brendan Fraser and Rachael Weitz   have been on TV. I can look forward to the original Dracula, the remake Bram Stoker's Dracula, the Frankenstein movies with Boris Karloff; the Mel Brooks classics Young Frankenstein and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, and if we're very lucky, the Abbot and Costello Meets ... films.

What are your favorite books and movies for the Halloween season?

I need the distraction. I'm still reeling for the news that my Nigerian benefactor may not be all he seems.

I'd like to bring a couple of Wu style taijiquan related blogs to your attention. The first one is called the Forum for Traditional Wu Tai Chi Chuan, and is run by students of Ma JiangBao, who is one of the grandson's of the founder of Wu Taijiquan, Wu Jianquan.

The other has to do with the "other" Wu style, also known as Wu/Hao style of Taijiquan, Danilo Marrone's blog. Please pay a visit.

My oldest daughter is back working on her master's degree. She's taking an accounting class right now, and inspite of her generally not doing well with numbers, she's at the head of her class.

The youngest daughter is doing well at school. It's a challenge to manage being a brand new freshman student and playing a sport. She's been playing well, but the team is currently in a 9 match losing streak. The coach intends to shake some things up, so with hope we'll see the positive result of that in this last month of the season.

One of the volleyball dads is the groundskeeper for a golf course. What a great job (easy for me to say; I bet he has his complaints about his work just like the rest of us)!

The Mrs continues to look for work. She applies, she interviews, it seems to go well, ... and the cycle repeats itself.

A direct job opportunity that I once thought I had in the bag but evaporated, seems to be coming back to life again. With hope, this time it will happen.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

A Pragmatic View of the Dao


The following excerpt appeared in an online magazine, Jade Dragon. In it, the author to show how Daoist thought applies where it really counts; not in lofty philosophical discussions, but in the gritty realities of daily life. 


The full article may be read here. Please pay a visit.

Playing with the Dao:
A "Pragmatic" Strategic View




The Dao gave birth to One. The One gave birth to Two. The Two gave birth to Three. The Three gave birth to all of creation. All things carry Yin yet embrace Yang. They blend their life breaths in order to produce harmony.
People despise being orphaned, widowed, and poor. But the noble ones take these as their titles. In losing, much is gained, and in gaining, much is lost.
What others teach I too will teach:   "The strong and violent will not die a natural death."   --- Chapter 42 of Laozi's Dao De Jing (also known as the Tao Te Ching)
We are currently living under a challenging macro scenario of rapid urgency, where uncertainties become a regular commonality. Some of these uncertainties are driven by many global-sized, technologically driven velocities of change that unnerve the masses to ask the question "What are we going to do now?"
Someone recently asked me the following set of questions: "Since our world has gotten more chaotic than what we dreamed or believed in, what can we do about it? Can a person stay ahead of the curve of shifts and changes by understanding the Dao? Is there anything in the Dao that allows us to understand our world of uncertainty?"