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

T’ang Dynasty poem

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

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Beginning Anew

Another excellent article at the Classical Budoka. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here. Martial arts isn't about organizations or styles, but the people who study, teach and practice them.


For several years, I didn’t have any formal connections to any iaido organization. Since the death of my main iai teacher in Japan several years ago, things got weird real fast in the home dojo, and the local kendo/iaido group that my club once happily worked with also got weird on us. Nobody wanted us all of a sudden.

For several years, I felt cast adrift. There was so much more left to learn in my iai system. Friends offered ideas to help me out of my dilemma and even opportunities to join their systems, but I was never quite satisfied with their solutions until this past December. I got back together with a fellow student of my iai teacher. He had an advanced degree, faced the same problems, and found his own solutions.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Gangs of Chinatown

A friend sent me this article. An excerpt is posted below. The full article may be read here. Check out the rest of the tabs.

# SAN FRANCISCO'S CHINATOWN TRIADS

Introduction

The streets of San Francisco Chinatown seem like a regular tourist spot to most people. People gather there to eat, shop, or just sightsee. All this is very common in the daytime, but during the night, it’s a completely different scene. If you ever go to Chinatown during the daytime, you most likely see a lot of old Chinese people going grocery shopping or tourists looking around, but by 7 pm or so, the stores are closed and the streets are nearly deserted. The reason for this is that at night, the street gangs of Chinatown start to get active. There is a lot of history in San Francisco’s Chinatown that not too many people know about. Chinatown wasn’t the safe place everyone thought it was.

Origin of Gangs

It all started when Tongs started to form in Chinatown. A Tong is the term used for a type of secret society found among Chinese American immigrants. Tongs started forming during the 1850’s during the California Gold Rush when many Chinese immigrants started flocking to the city they called “Gold Mountain.” They went to California thinking they were going to be able to make a fortune but many Chinese found themselves unwelcomed. Some were being robbed, and some were being taken advantaged of by the early settlers such as the Irish or Italians. They felt like they couldn’t go to the local law enforcement because a lot of the police were of Irish descent. The Chinese needed some sort of protection, the kind they had in their homeland, which led to the forming of Tongs. Tongs were created for mutual support and protection, especially from groups hostile towards the Chinese immigration. Industries and families formed their own Tongs and built meeting halls. Each Tong was a form of self government that looked after themselves. “If you were a shoemaker, there would be a shoemaker tong. If you were a seamstress, you would be in a seamstress tong.” There would also be tongs that were formed from last names. For example if a persons last name was Wong, they would be in the Wong tong. The Tongs were, and are today, a lifesaver to many hardworking immigrants.

The Tongs also had another side to them. Some Tongs use their power to extort local merchants, both legitimate and illegal. Tongs also recruited gangsters to do their dirty work. “Some of the tongs actually have a separate branch of gangsters that work for them. Who would enforce the rules and regulations.” The FBI has kept a list of criminally influence tongs. One of the major tongs was named “The Hop Sing Tong.”


Raymond Chow and the Hop Sing Tong
Raymond Chow was one of Chinatowns most notorious criminals. Chow was born in Hong Kong in 1960. At the age of 9, he joined a gang. “I just want to be the best gangster, best fighter, and party, making money, and also selling a lot of drugs.” In 1976, Chows family moved to San Francisco where he enrolled in high school. He was in school for about two months when he got picked on for being a foreigner. To retaliate, Chow shot a classmate in the leg. He dropped out of school and spent all his time practicing martial arts. He practiced in a well known Chinese playground where a lot of gangsters hung out. One gang in particular caught Chows eyes which was the “Hop Sing Boys.” He joined the Hop Sing Tong because of their culture, loyalty, trust, and honor.

The Hop Sing Tong was one of the criminally influenced tongs that the FBI had a list of. “If you say that the Hop Sing Tong is a criminal organization, you’re wrong, because there are some members in there that are not criminals.” Raymond Chow began working for the Hop Sing Tong in 1976. At that time, there were two gangs that were employed under the Hop Sing Tong, which were the Hop Sing Boys and the “Wah Ching.” These two gangs made sure that the rules of the Hop Sing Tong were enforced.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Enter the Dragon

Today begins Chinese New Year. This is the Year of the Dragon. Specifically, the is the year of the Water Dragon.




Metal Animation has a great article on Chinese Dragons, as well as pictures of some outstanding sculptures. I've copied a portion of the article below. The picture is of one of their sculptures. Follow this link for read the whole thing.


Chinese Imperial Water Dragon - Mythology
In Chinese mythology there are five types of dragon:-
    1. Those guarding the gods and emperors
  1. 2. Those controlling the wind and rain
  2. 3. Earthly dragons which deepened the rivers and seas
  3. 4. Guardians of hidden treasure
  4. 5. The first dragon
The First dragon appeared to the mythical emperor Fu-hsi, and filled the hole in the sky made by the monster Kung Kung. Its waking, sleeping and breathing determined day and night. Season and weather. 


There are many differences between the classical dragon and the Chinese dragon, these include the ability to fly even without wings, shape-shifting abilities, and of course the general benevolent behaviour to the populace.
The Chinese dragon is made up of nine entities. The head of camel, the eyes of a demon, the ears of a cow, the horns of a stag, the neck & body of a snake, It's claws that of an eagle, while the soles of his feet are that of a tiger, and the scales that cover it's body are that of a carp.

The Chinese dragon has four claws as standard, but the Imperial dragon has five, this is to identify it above the lesser classes. Anyone other than the emperor using the 5 claw motif was put to death.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Writer's Block Suite

Since I had been invited to have Cook Ding's Kitchen on a Poetry Blog ranking, I thought it would be appropriate to interject my own stuff from time to time, in between my regular posts.


So here it goes (drum roll please), I give you ... The Writer's Block Suite:


Writer’s Block I

Wordless.
Struggling to find
Just one cohesive though.
At a blank piece of paper
I stare.


Writer’s Block II

I have nothing I can say
And I don’t know what to do.
No emotion is welling up.
I feel no words are coming through.

My pen has gone bone dry
There is nothing on my mind.
Nothing weighs upon my thoughts
Must have left my feelings behind.

There is nothing that excites me
I was missed by the lightning.
A dull, lackluster day
I have nothing I can say.

Writer’s Block III

Pen over paper
Poised to express ideas
That never come

Now back to your regularly scheduled postings ...

Friday, January 20, 2012

The 48 Laws of Power, #1: Never Outshine the Master

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.

The first law is: Never Outshine the Master.

Law 1 Never Outshine the Master

Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power.

That is, don't give your boss cause to feel threatened by outshining him. Unless of course, you're about to push him out of the way to get ahead.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Resource for Japanese Martial Arts

Here is a link for Gottsupedia. Gottsupedia is a wiki which is a source of information about Japan and related topics, with an emphasis on history and the martial arts, particularly Aikido. "Gottsupedia" stands simply for "Gottsuiiyan Encyclopedia". 

Below is an excerpt from their article on Yoshinkan Aikido. Please pay a visit.


Emphasis on basics 

Yoshinkan Aikido has some 150 basic techniques which are practiced repeatedly, enabling the student to master the remaining ones, which total some 3000 overall. The syllabus contains no weapons forms, although they are practiced as an adjunct to the open hand techniques. Like many styles of aikido, Yoshinkan eschews competition; instead, it emphasizes practicality and self defense applications. Yoshinkan aikido is one of the martial arts that is taught to the Tokyo police

Distinctively, Yoshinkan places heavy emphasis on basic movements, which are practiced in the form of kata. The reason for this, in Shioda Gozo's own words, is;
"Today's Aikido is so dimension less. It's hollow, empty on the inside. People try to reach the highest levels without even paying their dues. That's why it seems so much like a dance these days. You have to master the very basics solidly, with your body, and then proceed to develop to the higher levels.... Now we see nothing but copying or imitation without any grasp of the real thing...."

Yoshinkan aikido methodology is based on the idea that proper form leads to effective aikido technique and is the key to "kokyuu ryoku"; Yoshinkan's emphasis on basics and instilling them in students through repeated drills is a direct product of the difficulties encountered when Yoshinkan first began teaching exceptionally large groups, such the Tokyo police. Another reason for Yoshinkan's teaching methods, which Shioda points out in his book Shugyo, is that because modern people think more in terms of logic, no one would respond to Ueshiba Morihei's style of intuitive teaching. Ueshiba did not give exact instruction, instead he would show a technique and let everyone figure it out saying "That's fine, that's fine" to everyone's way of doing it. He would also exclaim "Become one with heaven and earth", which Shioda says would be nearly impossible to swallow for people nowadays. Shioda points out that unless precise and systematic instruction is given, people will be unable to grasp techniques, will fail to progess, and soon quit.

Another difference between Yoshinkan and Aikikai and other styles is the position of feet and hips. Most aikido styles use a kamae (generally translated as "stance", but can also be interpreted to mean "ready" or mental and physical "attitude") with the front foot pointing straight forward, the back foot at a 90 degree angle to the front foot, and the hips on a slight angle to the side. In the Yoshinkan kamae, the hips are square to the opponent (partner), and both the front and back feet are angled outwards at approximately 45 degrees (and on a 90 degree angle to each other). The Yoshinkan kamae is not intended as a combat stance, rather it is to instill and reinforce the body's "centre line" (中心線:chuushinsen).

Yoshinkan's main interest is in teaching a form of Aikido based on the sharp and clear pre-war aikido techniques of Ueshiba Morihei. In establishing the Yoshinkan Dojo, Shioda did away with much of the esoteric components that had been a part of Ueshiba's teachings, however "spirit" and attitude were strongly emphasized in Shioda's teaching.

The name "Yoshinkan" comes from the dojo his father owned - "Yo" means cultivate; "shin" means spirit ("Shin" uses the same Chinese character as "kami," which means divine, deity or god(s) - however it is generally interpreted to mean one's own "spirit" or "mind", rather than anything to do with deities in this case), "kan" means house. Thus "Yoshinkan" is the house for the cultivation of the spirit. Shioda's, and subsequently most of his disciples', teaching style is focused in the physical realm of Aikido techniques, and techniques are spoken of in terms of Centre Power (中心: chuushinryoku), Focused Power (集中力 : shuuchuuryoku), and Breath Power (呼吸力:  kokyuuroku), and less in metaphysical. Yoshinkan will talk about energy flow and power in terms of "chikara" ("力" literally strength or power) rather than in metaphysical terms such as "ki". Despite not adhering to the religious aspects of Ueshiba's teachings, however, the Yoshinkan honbu dojo does have a kamidana at the shomen (front) of the dojo.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Warrior Poet

Having just come in from shoveling snow (there's not enough to warrant the snow thrower), what better time to contemplate cage fighting and poetry?

Below is an excerpt from a book review of Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet by Cameron Conaway. After reading the review, I looked the book up at Amazon and saw that the Kindle version was 2.99. I bought it. I haven't finished reading it yet, but so far I am enjoying it. The full review may be read here.

Caged -- A Book Review

Posted: 12/22/11 05:09 PM ET

The link between the warrior and the scholar is an old one, and in the cultures as diverse as ancient Greece and China, one as august as any. These days soldiers who become statesmen, or scholars who teach at military colleges exemplify the tradition best. While those folks are often in the news, there is amongst us a quieter, no less thoughtful philosophical pugilist. His name is Cameron Conaway, and he is an experienced MMA (mixed martial arts) fighter who also happens to be an award-winning poet who teaches Shakespeare for Ottawa University and was the University of Arizona's Poet-in-residence. Caged is the memoir of his still short, but already exceptional life.

His exquisitely written story is the work of a bard with blood on his hands, his own and that of his opponents. It's a sometimes gristly, sometimes soaring piece of work that begins with trenchant descriptions of a broken home and abusive father. It plumbs the mines of the father-son relationships and psychology, as Conaway bares his feelings when it comes to the agony of his estrangement from his dad, and much else too.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Books on Strategy

My friend Michael Hom recently published an article at Jade Dragon on book selections on strategy and leadership. Below is an excerpt. The whole post may be read here.

2012 Suggestions for the Strategically Minded , Compass360Consulting.com
Here is an updated New Year's list of books for those who are looking to start the year out with a mindset towards strategy and leadership. We believe that these books should be in the library of everyone who is interested in the Asian strategic mind.

Sunzi Art of War

Let's start with the premier book on Chinese strategic mindset—Sunzi (or Sun Tzu) Art of War.
According to Amazon.com:

"The Art of War is the Swiss army knife of military theory—a different tool for any situation. Folded into this small package are compact views on resourcefulness, momentum, cunning, the profit motive, flexibility, integrity, secrecy, speed, positioning, surprise, deception, manipulation, responsibility, and practicality. Most passages, however, are the pinnacle of succinct clarity: Lure them in with the prospect of gain, take them by confusion” or Invincibility is in one's self; vulnerability is in the opponent. Sun Tzu's maxims are widely applicable beyond the military because they speak directly to the exigencies of survival. Your new tools will serve you well, but don't flaunt them. Remember Sun Tzu's advice: Though effective, appear to be ineffective."
                                                           – Brian Bruya, Amazon.com
One of our favorite suggestions to new readers is The Complete Art of War. The first book is Sun Tzu: The Art of War. Millions of copies of this book have been sold in many languages around the world. Lost for more than 2,000 years and only recently recovered, Sun Pin: Military Methods (History & Warfare)Sun Pin: Military Methods (History & Warfare) (by Sun Tzu's great-grandson) is a brilliant elaboration on his ancestor's work.

   
The Complete Art of War brings the wisdom of these two ancient sages into a single volume and gives the reader a unique opportunity to master the essentials of Chinese thought on strategy, organization, and leadership.

Our other favorite interpretations of Sunzi's The Art of War are shown below:
   

Monday, January 09, 2012

Unplugged

A friend sent me this article from which an excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

January 1, 2012, 1:42 pm

Disruptions: Resolved in 2012: To Enjoy the View Without Help From an iPhone

Nick Bilton/The New York Times

Last week, I drove to Pacifica, a beach community just south of San Francisco, where I climbed a large rocky hill as the sun descended on the horizon. It painted a typically astounding California sunset across the Pacific Ocean. What did I do next?

What any normal person would do in 2011: I pulled out my iPhone and began snapping pictures to share on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

I spent 10 minutes trying to compose the perfect shot, moving my phone from side to side, adjusting light settings and picking the perfect filter.

Then, I stopped. Here I was, watching this magnificent sunset, and all I could do is peer at it through a tiny four-inch screen.

“What’s wrong with me?” I thought. “I can’t seem to enjoy anything without trying to digitally capture it or spew it onto the Internet.”

Hence my New Year’s resolution: In 2012, I plan to spend at least 30 minutes a day without my iPhone. Without Internet, Twitter, Facebook and my iPad. Spending a half-hour a day without electronics might sound easy for most, but for me, 30 unconnected minutes produces the same anxious feelings of a child left accidentally at the mall.

I made this resolution out of a sense that I habitually reached for the iPhone even when I really didn’t need to, when I might have just enjoyed an experience, like the sunset, without any technology. And after talking to people who do research on subjects like this, I realized that there were some good reasons to give up a little tech.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Five Levels of Skill

Over at Be Not Defeated by the Rain, there was recently posted an excellent article by one of the top Taijiquan masters in the world, Chen Xiao Wang. Below in an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

The Five Levels of Skill
by Chen Xiao Wang translated by Tan Lee-Peng, Ph.D.

Learning taijiquan is in principle similar to educating oneself; progressing from primary to university level, where one gradually gathers more and more knowledge. Without the foundation from primary and secondary education, one will not be able to follow the courses at university level. To learn taijiquan one has to begin from the elementary and gradually progress to the advanced stage, level by level in a systematic manner. If one goes against this principle thinking he could take a quick way out, he will not succeed. The whole progress of learning taijiquan, from the beginning to achieving success consists of five stages or five levels of martial/combat skill (kung fu). There are objective standards for each level of kung fu. The highest is achieved in the fifth level.


The standard and martial skill requirements for each level of kung fu will be described in the following sections. It is hoped that with these, the many taijiquan enthusiasts all over the world will be able to 'assess' on their own their current level of attainment. They will then know what they need to learn next and advance further step-by-step.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Chinese Swords and Swordsmanship

It's high time to discuss swords again, don't you think? Below is an excerpt from a post at appeared at Be Not Defeated by the Rain. The full post may be read here.

I wanted to spend a little promoting this website. ChineseLongsword.com is a research and translation project of ancient Chinese sword manuals led by the Historical Combat Association (Singapore). Their goal is to preserve the ancient wisdom contained in these manuals for future generations. Their founder Jack Chen has also been in correspondence with my Sifu. Their efforts should be deeply commended and appreciated by the martial arts community. I hope that I can meet with them next time I am in Singapore.


The first manual they worked on was 單刀法選 "Dan Dao Fa Xuan", a Chinese swordsmanship manual, written and drawn by 程宗猷 (Cheng Zong You) during the Ming Dynasty, when the Japanese pirates fought with the Ming soldiers. He was taught by 劉雲峰 (Liu Yun Feng), who learned Japanese swordsmanship (Kenjutsu) directly from the Japanese.

This has since expanded to include writers such as 俞大猷 (Yu Da-You) a famous Ming-Dynasty General who defend China against the Japanese pirate invasions. Legend has it that General Yu visited Shaolin Temple, and improved on the monks' Staff techniques with his own teachings. He later wrote and compiled 正氣堂集 (Zheng Qi Tang Ji), "Compilation of Vital Energy". In his book, is a section called 劍經 (Jian Jing), "Sword Treatise" Other authors cover the spear, shaolin staff, shield and wolf brush and many others.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Now

First of all, Happy New Year. I hope that it is a healthy, happy and prosperous one for you and yours.

Kung fu is defined as a skill that is developed over a long period of practice.

I notice that with the new year, that there is a resurgence of the "10,000 hour" meme. Malcolm Gladwell, in his outstanding book Outliers, notes a common trait among people who are at the top of their profession - they've practiced a lot. I mean a LOT. Like acquiring over 10,000 hours of practice and performance over their careers.

If you're like me, when you read this you start coming up with complex training schemes in order to accumulate 10,000 hours of practice in the shortest amount of calendar time. Then when the Universe reminds you that you are not in as much control as you think, you become frustrated.

I think the emphasis on 10,000 is worth noting, but is misplaced. What goes into those 10,000 hours is what matters.

For 2012, I'm not going to think about acquiring 10,000 hours of practice. I will think about today. This practice session. This repetition. Now.

If I practice one continuous Now, the 10,000 hours will take care of themselves.