Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

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, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter

First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a Happy Easter.

I would also like to thank and congratulate those who took part in the 2013 Lenten Challenge.

According to, I have completed 124 consecutive days of practice without a break.

To help close the 2013 Lenten Challenge off to a good well, I've included an excerpt from my ebook, Cook Ding's Kitchen: A Kung Fu Carry Out ( if you don't have a Kindle, you can download the FREE Kindle Reading App here) below. It's the second chapter on the value of having a practice.  Enjoy.

“Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning.” – Thoreau

There are numerous reasons why someone would want to practice a martial art: self defense, exercise, a social activity, carrying on a piece of history and many others.

For some people, the overriding reason that they practice a martial art is to study “the way;” a type of self improvement which may include those listed above but which overall is meant to bring the student into alignment with the elusive way of the world.

What do we mean by “a practice?” In an article by Steven Pressfield, the author of the Legend of Bagger Vance, Gate of Fire and many other excellent books, he writes:

What is a practice? A practice is a regular, daily application of intention. We might have a yoga practice, or a martial arts practice; we could have a practice in calligraphy or tai chi, or flower arrangement or Japanese swordfighting. Have you read The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura? The brewing and serving of tea can be a profound practice.

A practice isn’t pursued for money. It’s not an ego trip. Humility is a prime virtue in entering upon a practice.

But a practice is not for cream puffs.  A practice requires fierce intention and the relentless commitment of a warrior. A practice needs killer instinct.

A practice is spiritual. Its technique is to use a simple physical act or skill as an avenue to access the higher aspects of the self. In Hatha yoga, the various poses are meant to take us beyond our bodies, into our breath and ultimately into a state of consciousness where we’re present in our flesh but are, at the same time, looking on from a higher, more detached plane. That’s the payoff (beyond easing our aching backs).

Practices take place within a sacred space. When we enter our martial arts dojo, we dress in traditional garb that shows respect for the discipline and its history, for our instructors and for our fellow students; we take off our shoes; we bow to the sensei. We’re quiet. We turn off our iPhones. We stop texting.

The great part about a practice is it can be learned. There’s a syllabus. It’s not a mystery. The teacher starts us at Square One. He guides us. We practice; we get better. Our understanding deepens over time. We had thought, when we started, that we were teaching the calligraphy brush to do what we want, but now we see that the brush is teaching us. It’s teaching us patience. It’s humbling our ego. We finally produce a masterpiece and our instructor throws it into the fire. We’re learning. The end is nothing. The act is everything.

Practice is more than putting in the proverbial 10,000 hours. It’s a deliberate study as well.

An excerpt from an article that appeared in 2007:

The Newest Mandarins

Lei Bo is a philosophy graduate student in China whose faith is in history, and by habit he considers the world using the thousands of classical passages that live in his head. Three years ago he was studying in an empty room in the School of Management at his university in Beijing when students began to amble in for their class on Sun Tzu's "Art of War," a work from either the fifth or the fourth century B.C. Lei Bo decided to stay. He had taken two courses on "The Art of War" in the philosophy and the literature departments, and was curious to see how students in business and management might approach the same subject. The discussion that day was on the five attributes of a military commander. Sun Tzu said in the first chapter of the book, "An able commander is wise (zhi), trustworthy (xin), humane (ren), courageous (yong) and believes in strict discipline (yan)."

The students thought that a chief executive today should possess the same strengths in order to lead. But how did the five attributes apply to business? Here they were stuck, unable to move beyond what the words suggest in everyday speech. Even their teacher could not find anything new to add. At this point, Lei Bo raised his hand and began to take each word back to its home, to the sixth century B.C., when Sun Tzu lived, and to the two subsequent centuries when the work Sun Tzu inspired was actually written down.

On the word yong (courage), Lei Bo cited chapter seven of The Analects, where Confucius told a disciple that if he "were to lead the Three Armies of his state," he "would not take anyone who would try to wrestle a tiger with his bare hands and walk across a river [because there is not a boat]. If I take anyone, it would have to be someone who is wary when faced with a task and who is good at planning and capable of successful execution." 

No one ever put Confucius in charge of an army, said Lei Bo, and Confucius never thought that he would be asked, but being a professional, he could expect a career either in the military or in government. And his insight about courage in battle and in all matters of life and death pertains to a man's interior: his judgment and awareness, his skills and integrity. This was how Lei Bo explored the word "courage": he located it in its early life before it was set apart from ideas like wisdom, humaneness and trust. He tried to describe the whole sense of the word. The business students and their teacher were hooked. They wanted Lei Bo back every week for as long as they were reading "The Art of War."

Scores of men and women in China's business world today are studying their country's classical texts, not just "The Art of War," but also early works from the Confucian and the Daoist canon. On weekends, they gather at major universities, paying tens of thousands of yuan each, to learn from prominent professors of philosophy and literature, to read and think in ways they could not when they were students and the classics were the objects of Maoist harangue . Those inside and outside China say that these businessmen and -women, like most Chinese right now, have caught the "fever of national learning."

There is reading, and there is study.

From Pressfield and Chins’ articles, it becomes clear that you can’t take an art by force, although you must be diligent. Theory will inform your practice but is not a substitute. The unsaid element is submission. You have to submit to your practice; to allow yourself to be shaped by it. 

“The mind and body reflect one another.” – Kushida Sensei, Yoshokai Aikido
Here are a couple of examples of being shaped by ones practice. The mind and body indeed reflect one another. We can work on one by working on the other.

In this day and age, I think the main reason for most of us to train in martial arts isn't to fight, but to cultivate a calm, clear mind.

I am 55 and haven't been in a fight since my early 20's. I do however find that I have an opportunity to show the advantage of a calm, clear mind nearly every day.

Take the other day for example.

I was on the freeway with my family driving back from visiting some relatives in Ohio. I was in the left lane passing a truck. There was a SUV behind the truck.

Just as I was pulling alongside the SUV, he decided to change lanes sharply. I dodged as far to the left as I could without driving off the pavement and into the median.

It wasn't far enough. When he finally saw me, he hit my car and went back to his own lane. I didn’t go into the median.

The highway patrolman said that if he had hit me a little differently, my car would have spun out; a very bad thing. If he had hit me much harder at all, I would have ended up in the median and rolled over.

As it was, the damage is superficial. No one was hurt and all's well that ends well.

I didn’t panic when this happened. I didn’t freeze. I focused on what I was doing and rode out the situation. I kept my car on the pavement, my passengers (relatively) calm, didn’t go into the median and I was calm and level headed when I exchanged information with the other driver after we pulled over.

I owe this to my training.

As for being shaped physically, I have recounted elsewhere how I used to train pretty diligently in Yoshinkai Aikido under Kushida Sensei as a young man. When it came time to raise a family and build a career, I hung up my dogi for a while always knowing that I would come back to martial arts training in some form. Martial arts practice is a lot like gravity in that once it gets hold of you, you may think you can escape it for some time but eventually it pulls you back in.

When my late mother was in an assisted living home, then later a nursing home, I got to see and spend time with a lot of human train wrecks up close. The criteria I would apply to determining how I would go forward with exercise in general and martial arts training in particular began to crystallize.

I would want to practice something that I could physically carry into my dotterage. It had to be intellectually engaging. I wanted to do something I could practice effectively as a solo practice and have no need of special equipment or location; that is, self contained and portable.

About 12 years ago, I began some of the fundamental exercises of Yiquan. The standing practice really resonated with me and I have continued it in one form or another to this day.

Five years ago, I began studying Wu style Taijiquan. Beginning 3 years ago I began to focus on the small frame square form from the Wu style.

This was all a very Yin practice though. To burn some calories, keep up some cardiovascular capacity and muscle tone I felt I needed to supplement this. Alongside those practices I also used a treadmill (which I wore out and replaced with an elliptical machine) and weight machine (which I eventually set aside in favor of body weight exercises; the weights made my joints sore).

From my youth in the 70s's from reading the books of Robert W. Smith, one of the martial arts that I have been fascinated by was Xingyiquan. I started learning the Five Elements forms from some videos to add some Yang flavor to my practice.

I wanted to see how Xingyiquan would physically shape me, so I dropped the elliptical machine and the body weight exercises to see what would happen. 

Aside from my "soft" practices, the only regular physical exercise I get other than Xingyiquan is the stuff I do around the house (and the Mrs has no shortage of Egyptian Pyramid slave labor projects she'd like to see me complete) and of course, walking the dog.

I've always had quick results when I've done physical exercise. My usual development would be a big blocky chest, biceps, thighs and calves. I've never been successful in building size or definition in my forearms.

The regular Xingyiquan practice has changed that. My chest is flatter, like a boxer but well defined. I still have strong biceps but the muscle tone seems longer than big. My forearms are getting meaty (for me) and are not only picking up definition, but the insides of my arms are getting defined as well. 

Like my biceps, my thighs and calves have a longer quality to them. My lower back; the area that would be covered by a weight lifting belt if I wore one, DOES feel like I'm wearing one of those support belts. Finally, I am becoming aware of a lot of little muscles in my shoulders and back.

“I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” - Michelangelo

We went to a wedding last month. A couple of weeks before the wedding, the Mrs suggested that I try on the new suit I bought last spring. The jacket was too tight. The jackets of all my old suits were too tight. I had to buy a new one.

At 55 I feel like I am in as good shape as I was in my 20s when I was going to over a dozen aikido classes a week. I am nearly as strong as I've ever been and I can't think of a time when my stamina has been better. I had already lost most of the weight I was going to lose from my peak three years ago by the time I started learning the Five Elements, but my weight is generally a few pounds lighter than a year ago. Altogether, over the last 3 years, I've lost 40 lbs.

My “shape” has changed in many ways. My head is clear and my body is strong. I feel great. The path leads, I follow.



walt said...

And "Thanks" to you, for issuing the Challenge. It sounds like you are on a roll, so keep it going!

I managed to practice each day, but got a surprise mid-way when I injured my hip. Oh, ouchy! I continued on ... uh, with caution -- and that caution in turn yielded up an attention to detail that was greater than usual. In the end, Mr. Pain became a good teacher.

Happy Easter to The Kitchen!

Rick Matz said...

Pain is a good teacher.

I have a nephew who is a high school baseball pitcher with a good fast ball. He hurt his arm a couple if months ago.

He's had to slow down and what proved was his accuracy. Now he's healing. He's getting back his speed but with improved accuracy.

Nicola said...

A belated Happy Easter to you all and thank you also for the challenge, it's been a great opportunity for learning, unlearning and relearning. Onwards and upwards

Rick Matz said...

A Happy Easter to you as well!

Compass Strategist said...

Comparing Taiji, BGZ or XYQ to Aikido is like comparing a laser bean to a 22 caliber.

Rick Matz said...

You're entitled to your opinion, but I disagree.