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 ~


Monday, March 31, 2014

Focusing on the Wrong Things

Steven Pressfield is the author of many fine books. At his blog was a very good post by one of his associates which was made in the wake of Amazon's announcement that it was making some experiments with delivery by drones and the subsequent media chatter afterwords.

The gist of the article is that it is all too easy to get hooked into focusing on the minor issues, thereby ignoring the larger ones; the ones that really matter. 

Why the article itself is about the book industry, there are wider implications in our training; what we choose to focus on, and in our larger lives. 

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Don’t Major in the Minor

By Callie Oettinger | Published: December 6, 2013

“Don’t major in the minor.”
Mellody Hobson said it, but I’ve thought it these last few days, since watching Jeff Bezos on 60 Minutes this past Sunday.

In case you haven’t heard, Bezos unveiled a prototype for package-delivering drones at the end of the interview. Without missing a beat, the character-bashing, Jeff-Bezos hating, Amazon-vilifying tribes descended, with articles and comments from one site to the next.
They majored in the minor.
I’m not saying that the drones weren’t newsworthy. They were—and I saw mentions pop up in everything from Outside Magazine’s site to Waterstones’ blog. And I’m not saying that Amazon isn’t above criticism, but . . .

There was much more to that interview than the last few minutes of drones. And if you are going to go down the drone rabbit hole, there’s a much bigger discussion that needs to take place, outside whether Amazon will or won’t ever be able to use them.
Instead of responding to the bigger ideas, they went for the jugular and the jocular, playing guessing games about why 60 Minutes ran the interview, why the secretive Bezos shared the drones.
...
1) Complaining is not a strategy
When Charlie Rose asked Bezos about worries of small book publishers and traditional retailers, and whether Amazon is ruthless in its pursuit of market share, Bezos replied:
“The internet is disrupting every media industry, Charlie. You know, people can complain about that, but complaining is not a strategy. Amazon is not happening to bookselling. The future is happening to bookselling.” (about the 9:15 mark of the interview)
He’s right. And the future isn’t just happening to booksellers. Look at how the rise of e-mail played into the decline of the U.S. Postal Service’s revenues. After years of struggling, a plan was sent to Congress for approval, to end Saturday delivery. Congress nixed the plan. A few months later,

Amazon stepped in with a different plan—to add Sunday service. Via this partnership, the USPS will deliver Amazon’s packages on the one day of the week that no one else delivers them, thus increasing delivery options for Amazon customers and bringing in revenue to the USPS. A win-win.

The examples of industries sideswiped by the future is long, as is the list of industries that have risen, offering much needed innovation and efficiency.

But . . .

It’s easier to bash Bezos and Amazon than it is to look in the mirror and ask, Why didn’t my publishing house lead the charge to sell books online? Why did we focus on the chains as the future when we saw the indy stores struggling to stay afloat? Why didn’t we recognize the potential for the future?

It’s easier to hate Bezos and Amazon than it is to ask, Why didn’t my bookstore stock backlist, long-tail titles, and books from indy publishers in addition to all those big publisher frontlist titles? 

Why didn’t my bookstore create a model that could be tapped by indy publishers and authors, instead of requiring top co-op dollars that only the big guys could pay for prime placement?


It’s easier to vilify Bezos and Amazon than it is to ask, Why didn’t I keep spending dollars with indy stores instead of spending them at the big chains, which then caused the indys I love to die?

It’s easier to major in the minor.



Friday, March 28, 2014

Katori Shinto Ryu

This is Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu - Japan's oldest and most traditional sword school - considered the pinnacle of classic Japanese martial arts. Features part of a rare interview with Otake Risuke, the school's instructor. See the full clip as part of the feature length movie, Art of the Japanese Sword. Enjoy - Empty Mind Films.



Tuesday, March 25, 2014

An Explanation of Kata as a Training Tool

Over at The Budo Bum, there appeared a very good article explaining the use of kata as a training tool. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

What Kata Isn't

Let’s get this straight.  Classical martial arts kata are not practice fighting.  They are not what fighting is or was. Martial arts kata do not simulate combat conditions.  They do not recreate actual combat scenarios.  If kata aren’t any of these things, then what are they, and why bother with them?
Kata are pre-arranged training sequences.  Kata are training scenarios for learning about essential elements of conflict.  I train in both classical and modern Japanese martial arts, and both use a lot of kata.  Classical arts tend to focus almost entirely on kata training.  Gendai arts like Judo use a combination of formal kata training, randori/sparring, and informal kata.
Kata are not for mimicking combat . Kata are for getting better at combat. They are a training tool for learning the skills necessary for dealing with combat.  They are an exceptional tool that has survived hundreds of years of testing and application. As a training tool, they provide a framework for practicing various aspects of combat, not just repeating techniques or practicing in a sparring situation where much of what is effective is not acceptable because of the risk of injury.  
Kata is not sparring, and with good reason.  All sparring assumes a dueling scenario.  2 people faced off and fighting.  Any equipment is equal.  There are no surprises, no unexpected changes. There is an assumption of fairness.  Kata is not handicapped by any of these of these assumptions.  Kata allows a much broader investigation of conflict conditions.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Changing Up Your Training

I originally found this article through Tai Chi Nomad.

I find that I have too much material to practice all in the time I have set aside, so I've needed to come up with training strategies which allows me to concentrate on the central stuff, which continuing to work on the peripheral stuff as well. I have sort of a core that I work through, while rotating daily through other material.

According to this article, what I was doing out of necessity make actually be a benefit to one's overall training. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

Why the Progress You Make in the Practice Room Seems to Disappear Overnight

by Dr. Noa Kageyam

Making the most of your hours in the practice room:

One simple change that could drastically increase your productivity

When it comes to practicing, we often think in terms of time: How many hours are necessary to achieve optimal progress? While this is a valid concern, a more important question is how we can make each hour count. What is the most efficient way to work so that what is practiced today actually sticks tomorrow? There is nothing more frustrating than spending a day hard at work only to return the next day at the starting line. Unfortunately, our current practice model is setting us up for this daily disappointment.

Repetition, babies, and brain scans

Early on in our musical training, we are taught the importance of repetition. How often have we been told to “play each passage ten times perfectly before moving on”? The challenge with this well-intentioned advice is that it is not in line with the way our brains work. We are hardwired to pay attention to change, not repetition. This hardwiring can already be observed in preverbal infants. 


Show a baby the same object over and over again and they will gradually stop paying attention through a process called habituation. Change the object, and the attention returns full force. The same goes for adults. Functional magnetic resonance imaging has demonstrated that there is progressively less brain activation when stimuli are repeated. The fact is, repeated information does not receive the same amount of processing as new information. And on some level, we all know this. Constant repetition is boring and our boredom is telling us that our brains are not engaged. But instead of listening to this instinctive voice of reason, we blame ourselves for our lack of attention and yell at ourselves to “focus!” Luckily, there is an alternative.

Blocked practice schedules

In the field of sport psychology, the continuous repetition discussed above is called blocked practice. 


In a blocked practice schedule, all repetitions of one activity are completed before moving on to a second activity. For example, a baseball player who must hit fifteen fastballs, fifteen curve balls, and fifteen change-up pitches in practice would complete all of the fastballs before moving on to the curve balls and so on. This most resembles the way the majority of musicians practice, especially when it comes to challenging passages. We work on one excerpt for a given amount of time and then move on to the next excerpt until all tasks for the day are complete. A blocked approach seems logical.  Muscle memory requires repetition and why wouldn’t we do all of the repetitions in a row? 

After all, if we are working on a difficult passage, it feels a lot more comfortable 10 minutes into practice than at the beginning. It is precisely this feeling of comfort and improvement that reinforces our reliance on blocked practice. The problem with this kind of practicing, however, is that the positive results we feel in the practice room today do not lead to the best long-term learning tomorrow. Practicing in a way that optimizes performance in the practice room does not optimize learning.

Random practice schedules

What if we took the blocks of practice on particular tasks and broke them down into smaller segments on each task? In the baseball example above, the players could hit the three different types of pitches in an alternating fashion, instead of doing all of one kind in a row. Two breakdown options are a repeating order (e.g., abc abc abc…) or an arbitrary order (e.g., acb cba bca…). In either, the net result will still be 15 practice hits of each of the three types of serve, exactly the same as the net result in the blocked practice schedule. The only variable that changes is the order in which the pitches are practiced. This type of interspersed schedule is called a random practice schedule (also known as an interleaved practice schedule).

In a random practice schedule, the performer must keep restarting different tasks. Because beginnings are always the hardest part, it will not feel as comfortable as practicing the same thing over and over again. But this challenge lies at the heart of why random practice schedules are more effective. When we come back to a task after an intervening task, our brain must reconstruct the action plan for what we are about to do. And it is at this moment of reconstruction that our brains are the most active. 


More mental activity leads to greater long-term learning. In the blocked schedule above, the baseball players must only construct the action plan for each type of pitch once, at the beginning of each block. In the random schedule, they must construct and later reconstruct an action plan fifteen times for each pitch. Although a blocked schedule may produce superior performance during practice, study after study has shown that a random practice schedule consistently produces superior retention following practice a day or more later (i.e., the amount actually learned). This phenomenon is called the contextual interference effect.
 

How much better is a random practice schedule?

It turns out that the hypothetical baseball example used above is not hypothetical.  In a 1994 study by Hall, Domingues, and Cavazos, elite baseball players were assigned to either the blocked or random practice schedules discussed above. After twelve practice sessions, the baseball players in the random practice schedule hit 57% more of the pitches than when they started. The blocked group only hit 25% more of the pitches, meaning that the random practice schedule was almost twice as effective, even though the two groups hit the same number of practice pitches. Similar results have been found across a wide variety of fields. Most pertinent to our interests as musicians, my preliminary research at the Brain and Mind Institute in Canada provides empirical support for the use of a random practice schedule in music. Not only does this research suggest that a random practice schedule is more effective than a blocked schedule for practicing musical passages, participant interviews also reveal that random practice has positive effects on factors such as goal setting and focus.




Friday, March 21, 2014

Another Funny Bounce

Welcome Spring!

For everyone participating in the Lenten Challenge, how is it going?

I changed jobs about six months ago and am now working from home. I travel about every other week, but when I'm home, I'm home and I really like that.

As I'm home a lot, I find that I need to get out of the house. 
I still do my internal martial arts stuff (learning the Gao style BaguaZhang forms online)  and meet with the Wujifa group  on Sundays for stance corrections and heading towards push hands, etc.; but I wasn't getting a good workout and at 56 my health is always on my mind.

I started kicking around the idea of returning to aikido and perhaps taking up judo along with it.

I located two dojo and looked into it. One went out of business and the other only trains one day a week, in the middle of Saturday, which is probably the worst day of the week for me (projects around the house, long weekends at the cottage, etc.).

As I was mulling over my next move, the Mrs reminded me that one of her friends goes to a kick boxing class at Stars and Strikes MMA gym nearby. She (the friend) really likes it and is always talking about what a great group they have there.

So I went to the free trial conditioning class. Sweet Jesus!

I went back and signed up as a regular student.

My first goal is to make it through the conditioning class without having to stop. Once I do that, I want to start the BJJ class they have which is before the conditioning class twice a week. On the days they don't have BJJ, I'll do the kick boxing class which comes after the conditioning class. One way or another, I should be in pretty good shape pretty quickly.

As an aside, I got some new insights into the 100 Man Kumite some of the Karate and Kendo guys do.

There is an MMA competition coming up later this month and the school is sending 6 guys. It will be the first match for one of them. He sort of "graduated" to being good enough to fight matches. For his graduation and initiation, last night he had to fight four two minute rounds with no break against a fresh opponent every round. It wasn't all out, but they weren't playing patty-cake either.

He showed great spirit. I think he'll do well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #52: Returning at Night to Lumen Mountain

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. 


Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.


Meng Haoran
RETURNING AT NIGHT TO LUMEN MOUNTAIN

A bell in the mountain-temple sounds the coming of night.
I hear people at the fishing-town stumble aboard the ferry,
While others follow the sand-bank to their homes along the river.
...I also take a boat and am bound for Lumen Mountain --
And soon the Lumen moonlight is piercing misty trees.
I have come, before I know it, upon an ancient hermitage,
The thatch door, the piney path, the solitude, the quiet,
Where a hermit lives and moves, never needing a companion.
 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Accepting Advice and Having Nothing to Prove

I would like to reference two posts I read that are relevant to anyone studying martial arts as a budo.

Cameron Conaway had a very good post giving advice on how to ... graciously take advice. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here

In his post, Cameron makes reference to another good post on Having Nothing to Prove. An excerpt follows the first excerpt and THAT full post may be read here.

Now some advice about advice ...

...This process only lasted an hour, but for that entire hour I carried anger and that “I know” attitude. It wasn’t until months later, and then again upon reflecting on Kendall Ruth’s brilliant article about re-learning titled Nothing to Prove: On Being a 40-Year-Old Man that the monk’s lessons sunk in. That I made a conscious effort to couple the “I know” with action. That the following 6 pieces of advice about advice rose up within me:

(1) When somebody gives you advice you already know, do not say “I know.” Instead, say “thank you.” Life is a practice. We all need reminders.

(2) Do not eliminate the “I know” from your train of thought. If you know it then know it more. And if you know it and fully believe in it then ask yourself: Am I living what I know? Often the greatest advice you’ll ever receive isn’t some new world-revealing insight. It’s something you already know handed to you in a new shape.

(3) Ask for consent. You know the person who seems to interrupt any personal situation you present with their unsolicited advice? Don’t be that person. Listening is its own form of advice. If you really feel strongly about giving then there’s no shame in simply saying something like: I’ve been thinking about this an awful lot. Do you want my advice?

(4) Advice is not hierarchical. There is giving in the receiving and there is receiving in the giving. Advice is often wielded in an attempt to exhibit power. An older sibling, though the younger may be wiser, might give advice as a way to make clear their maturity status. Motive matters.

(5) Advice can follow the writing maxim of “Show don’t tell.” Some of the best information I’ve ever received came through observing the way mentors and role models truly lived their recommendation. They didn’t have to tell me. They showed me.

(6) Past advice need not live in history. Carve out some time to reflect back on the best advice you’ve ever given or received. The advice you need now may very well be the advice you received then.



... and now an excerpt from Kendall Ruth's post ...



...I set out to see if a 40-year old could still make it through absurd endurance. What I rediscovered was the value of living in joy regardless of circumstance, that I have always had this unyielding river in me that flows whether I pay it mind or not.

Men are taught directly or subtly that we have to prove ourselves. We breathe it in like a fish breathes water. There is a time when proving your mettle has context. Why else would the military be filled with men in their 20′s? Where else would adrenaline sports find their junkies? But the lesson that comes with time is that indeed…there is nothing to prove. There is living each day with the choices we make.

It is far too easy to get bogged down in regrets. Life is too short and fragile for those to make up the majority of our story. Nobody else is going to give a damn about your regret. Get over yourself, get up in the morning and live, even if it means burning the very tissue that holds you together.

As for me I have a run to go enjoy, regardless of the outcomes.
This process only lasted an hour, but for that entire hour I carried anger and that “I know” attitude. It wasn’t until months later, and then again upon reflecting on Kendall Ruth’s brilliant article about re-learning titled Nothing to Prove: On Being a 40-Year-Old Man that the monk’s lessons sunk in. That I made a conscious effort to couple the “I know” with action. That the following 6 pieces of advice about advice rose up within me:
(1) When somebody gives you advice you already know, do not say “I know.” Instead, say “thank you.” Life is a practice. We all need reminders.
(2) Do not eliminate the “I know” from your train of thought. If you know it then know it more. And if you know it and fully believe in it then ask yourself: Am I living what I know? Often the greatest advice you’ll ever receive isn’t some new world-revealing insight. It’s something you already know handed to you in a new shape.
(3) Ask for consent. You know the person who seems to interrupt any personal situation you present with their unsolicited advice? Don’t be that person. Listening is its own form of advice. If you really feel strongly about giving then there’s no shame in simply saying something like: I’ve been thinking about this an awful lot. Do you want my advice?
(4) Advice is not hierarchical. There is giving in the receiving and there is receiving in the giving. Advice is often wielded in an attempt to exhibit power. An older sibling, though the younger may be wiser, might give advice as a way to make clear their maturity status. Motive matters.
(5) Advice can follow the writing maxim of “Show don’t tell.” Some of the best information I’ve ever received came through observing the way mentors and role models truly lived their recommendation. They didn’t have to tell me. They showed me.
(6) Past advice need not live in history. Carve out some time to reflect back on the best advice you’ve ever given or received. The advice you need now may very well be the advice you received then.
- See more at: http://cameronconaway.com/6-piece-of-advice-about-advice/#sthash.vFnesh8f.dpuf
This process only lasted an hour, but for that entire hour I carried anger and that “I know” attitude. It wasn’t until months later, and then again upon reflecting on Kendall Ruth’s brilliant article about re-learning titled Nothing to Prove: On Being a 40-Year-Old Man that the monk’s lessons sunk in. That I made a conscious effort to couple the “I know” with action. That the following 6 pieces of advice about advice rose up within me:
(1) When somebody gives you advice you already know, do not say “I know.” Instead, say “thank you.” Life is a practice. We all need reminders.
(2) Do not eliminate the “I know” from your train of thought. If you know it then know it more. And if you know it and fully believe in it then ask yourself: Am I living what I know? Often the greatest advice you’ll ever receive isn’t some new world-revealing insight. It’s something you already know handed to you in a new shape.
(3) Ask for consent. You know the person who seems to interrupt any personal situation you present with their unsolicited advice? Don’t be that person. Listening is its own form of advice. If you really feel strongly about giving then there’s no shame in simply saying something like: I’ve been thinking about this an awful lot. Do you want my advice?
(4) Advice is not hierarchical. There is giving in the receiving and there is receiving in the giving. Advice is often wielded in an attempt to exhibit power. An older sibling, though the younger may be wiser, might give advice as a way to make clear their maturity status. Motive matters.
(5) Advice can follow the writing maxim of “Show don’t tell.” Some of the best information I’ve ever received came through observing the way mentors and role models truly lived their recommendation. They didn’t have to tell me. They showed me.
(6) Past advice need not live in history. Carve out some time to reflect back on the best advice you’ve ever given or received. The advice you need now may very well be the advice you received then.
- See more at: http://cameronconaway.com/6-piece-of-advice-about-advice/#sthash.vFnesh8f.dpuf

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Performance Under Stress

It's one thing to practice in your comfort zone. It's quite another to have to perform under stress.

Below is an excerpt from an excellent article by a well known martial artist whose honesty of his short comings and sincerity in overcoming them are striking. The full article may be read here.

Stephan’s note: today I interview Burton Richardson who has spent decades researching the training methods that make martial arts techniques practical, reliable, and functional.  His approach is very applicable to street self defence, but is equally valid for anyone wanting to compete.

Burton: What is that thing? Okay, I’ll give you the brief rundown.

Basically, I was at the Inosanto Academy late at night in mid-80s. One of the guys training there named Marc Denny.  Actually he was a student of mine, I taught him private lessons in Indonesian silat amongst other things. And he was one of the senior students at the Academy.

One night he came up to me and said, “Hey, you like actually stick sparring,” as I would actually go to tournaments and compete in stick fighting with the big head gear.You’d have this giant suit on so you’re protected, along with very, very thin light sticks, big gloves, the whole thing. We need protection and all the deal.

And Marc said, “This friend of mine he likes stick fighting.” He’s somebody he met recently. And he was “Do you want to spar with him?” “Of course, yeah, sure.”

So this guy comes down. His name is Eric Knauss and he’s a big, tall guy, strong. To make the long story short he takes a big, very big, heavy rattan stick and he goes “Do you mind if we use these?”

I’m like “Oh, that’s fine.” We put on the helmet. We only have fencing helmet and hand protection I think, maybe not even knee pads, just that. That’s all.

I figured because we had no protection that we were going to go really, really light especially because these sticks are so big and heavy because, gosh, you could kill somebody with those things. So we started and he just tried to take my head off.  Like swinging so incredibly hard trying to take my head off.

And I found out that night that all I was doing was to block his shots. I just had nothing going. Under that kind of pressure, that kind of fear of actually getting your knee blown out or arm broken or getting knocked out , I just didn’t have anything  there even though I was an instructor and supposedly really good at this art.

So that started a big evolution. And I just want to talk about that a little more later. But the idea was to go in and try it out. This guy, Eric, who is just an amazing stick fighter, after doing Filipino martial arts for years and years, his question – which was brilliant – was “What actually happens when guys really fight for real and hit as hard as they can especially with not much protection so you’re afraid of getting hit? What actually happens then?” So he went and tested it like a scientist.

I had been doing drills and drills and drills and cool techniques and impressing everybody and all that, but that type of training was more reality. So that helped really change my focus.

Stephan: So the elements of pressure and fear were added, that showed you that you needed to train in a different way, and that you needed to test it in a different way?

Burton: What happened after that first night, my mind was racing the whole drive home that night. It just did not compute. I have been doing Filipino martial arts for many, many years and I had a reputation as being a very, very good practitioner of it.

And you go from this environment where you think everything you know you can do – “You can do this. I can do everything.”

And then you get to this thing where like, “woah, I couldn’t do.” The only thing I could do is block and also when he tried to smash me in the knee I was able to move my leg out of the way; fortunately

I had done enough sparring where we just hit at the hand or hit at the leg. I had practiced that, moving my leg, so I had some good defense there. So luckily I didn’t get beaten up but I just was lost basically. I was just totally defensive and just had that “deer in the headlights” sort of feeling.

So over the years I found out that the first thing is that you have to be able to function under that kind of pressure.

Look at jiu-jitsu, which I love of course – I’m coming up on 20 years doing jiu-jitsu – it’s one thing to do jiu-jitsu.  But when you add striking, especially hard striking when the other guy is really trying to hit you hard and you don’t have protection, then it’s a whole other thing.  Now there’s not the fear of losing or getting your guard passed or getting submitted – there’s the fear of physical damage and that’s whole another level.

So full contact stick fighting really helped me to be calm under pressure.  I’ve got to say though that all the times I did that, and I did for many years, I never once wanted to go and do it. When someone said “Oh, Eric is coming tonight,” I was always like “Oh, God…”

But luckily, happily, whatever something inside me just compeled me I have to go and do it and I’m glad I did.

Stephan: But it’s funny because one of my defining memories was watching a couple of guys who have been doing a lot of traditional martial arts spar for contact for the first time with boxing gloves.

And the traditional martial arts stance lasted for about three seconds until the first guy got hit in the face. And within five seconds it degenerated to two guys standing with their hands down at their waists throwing these gigantic right-handed haymakers over and over.

They forgot using both hands. They forgot the “Leaping Monkey Fist Steals the Peaches” or whatever their cool moves were. It was just right hand to face with a straight arm, thrown like they were throwing a baseball from behind the guys body, and they were trading back and forth.

I had done a little bit full-contact sparring at that time. So I was sitting there finding this pretty amusing, but it showed that anybody under enough pressure goes back to the primal instincts. We’re not that much evolved from cavemen.

Burton: It is true.  You know Bruce Lee talked about the truth in combat. That’s the truth in combat. Once you get hit really hard, okay, now we’re talking about the truth in combat. And when we talk about discipline in the martial arts sometimes people have this separation. I think you’re a good example, Stephan, of somebody who doesn’t do this because you have the whole picture.

But there are a lot of people that separate it – “Oh, this fighting and that’s martial arts.” And sometimes people forget those attributes that we look for from traditional martial arts like discipline and such. But it’s so important to really look for that in actual reality-based, actual fighting.

For example, you get hit in the face like you’re talking about, everybody goes back to that haymaker thing until they have developed the discipline to respond well even when they are under that kind of pressure. That’s what it’s all about in our training: if we can develop ourselves to be calm under that kind of pressure, and we can actually implement a well-thought out game plan, and we can then take tha to our everyday life.

You can be calm everyday when everything is great.  When things start going wrong that’s when we have to draw from our martial arts training and all that pressure we’ve been under and say, “No, it’s best to just be calm and do the right thing here. Don’t go off the handle. Don’t start screaming or whatever.” I just think that’s probably the most important thing we can learn out of martial arts.

Stephan: I think that’s a really good point, Burton. I do want to move on to jiu-jitsu and grappling and MMA. But before I do that I want to play the devil’s advocate for a second with the dog brother style sparring where you’re wearing minimal protection and heavy sticks.

The argument has been made that it teaches you bad habits for when it comes to bladed weaponry.

 When I’ve done dog brothers style sparring you’re sometimes willing to take a shot or two if you know you can get a good one in or you can charge into the clinch.

The naysayers say, “Well, you’re just training yourself to get your arm chopped off” if we had machetes or swords or bladed weaponry. So how do you square that circle, and reconcile blades versus blunt weapons, and possibly developing bad patterns and bad habits when you’re going between those two weapon systems?

Burton: Right, exactly. So to me the key question is what are we training for?  If I’m training to go on a sword fight that’s one thing, but chances are that I’m not going to be in a sword against sword fight.  People also say “Well you’re never going to get into a stick fight” but I saw a stick fight in L.A one time.  Living in downtown in L.A. I saw two guys with sticks and they were swinging at each other with that caveman sort of thing. They’re both just swinging like crazy and if either one of them knew how to actually use a stick then they would have been fine.

One thing is that with the helmets on, there are certain techniques that do not work with that helmet, even if it’s a light helmet. You have to hit really hard and generate lots of power to knock somebody out when that helmet is on, whereas a quick jab without the helmet will still give you the stunning effect and then you can follow up. So anytime you add protective equipment it changes the way you can actually implement techniques. Like in MMA with the gloves… Put the gloves on and, wow, getting to the choke is a different thing. Guys can grab on your gloves.

I trained Chris Leben for three years. I was his head coach for three years. He just moved to San Diego and we worked against that all the time, getting that choke. I mean we would reach in and grab the gloves – if the referee doesn’t see it’s okay!  So the point being, when you add equipment it changes everything.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Taiji versus Thai Boxing

Violet Li writes articles on Taijiquan for Examiner.com. Her column may be found here. The excerpt below is an example of her work. The full artice may be read here. Please click through. You'll probably enjoy the photographs.

Muay Thai is a full-contact combat sport of Thailand that uses stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques. It is known as "the art of eight limbs" because of its utilization of fists, elbows, knees, shins, and feet. Muay Thai Boxing first became popular in the sixteenth century. Today there are millions of practitioners around the world.

Tai Chi (Taiji) was an ancient Chinese martial art as well as healing art. General Chen Wangting (1600 – 1680) first created the modern Tai Chi style approximately 400 years ago. Chen Tai Chi is an extended style. Its movements appear very soft.

On Sept 28, 2013, five Muay Thai champions from Thailand were invited to Jiao Zuo (the closest city to Tai Chi birth place Chen Village), Henan, China to compete with five Chen style Tai Chi competitors. According to Master Chen Ziqiang, the Chief Instructor of Chenjiagou Taiji Academy and organizer of this tournament, explained that the tournament followed the international boxing standard and had five weight divisions: 75 kilograms (165 pounds), 70 (154 pounds), 65 kilograms (143 pounds), 60 kilograms (132 pounds), and 56 kilograms (123 pounds). It was a friendship tournament and consisted of five matches or one match for each weight division.



Friday, March 07, 2014

Zhan Zhuang Grounding and Structure

Below is an excerpt from a very nice article that appeared at The Way of Least Resistance, on the Standing Stake practice, Zhan Zhuang. The full article may be read here.

 Zhan zhuang: grounding, structure, intention and qi
Introduction


There is a tendency in the Chinese, and increasingly in the Japanese, martial arts to venerate “standing post” training - what is known as zhan zhuang (站樁 - literally “standing like a post”).  In particular the internal arts of China are known for this practise.  Even more particularly, the art of yiquan (意拳 - literally “concept fist”) focuses almost entirely on this as a martial training method.

Yiquan, which is also called “da cheng quan” (大成拳 - literally “great achievement boxing”), was developed by xingyiquan master Wang Xiangzhai (26 November 1885 - 12 July 1963).  One of his students was the Taiwan-based martial artist Wang Shujin (a master of xingyiquan, baguazhang and taijiquan who happens to have also been one of my grandmaster Chen Pan Ling's main students).

In Japan the yiquan tradition was continued by Kenichi Sawai, founder of the school of taikiken (体気拳 - literally “mind and spirit fist”).

So what is the point of “standing post training”?  Can it have any martial function at all?  Clearly Wang Shujin, a respected and well-attested and experienced full-contact fighter, felt so.  However things tend to get more than a little clouded whenever people start to go into specifics of “how” or “why” zhan zhuang should be useful in martial training...

Mostly the claims centre on the notion that zhan zhuang helps you develop “great power”.  And in a sense I can corroborate this claim.  However it does depend greatly what you mean by “power”.

Of concern to me is the notion that zhan zhuang is useful because it develops a kind of “mystical” or “superhuman” power  - one which is often read into the character 気 (qi/chi in Chinese and ki in Japanese).  In my experience zhan zhuang does no such thing.

However, it might be said to develop “qi” if by this term one means something far more subtle - namely “intention”.

Channelling intention: the martial function of zhan zhuang

An ability to channel “intention” is of far greater value than most martial artists think.  In some respects, I see it as the cornerstone of all effective martial training.

After all, what is it that differentiates MMA champions like Georges St Pierre and Anderson Silva from any number of rivals?  Is it their size, strength or speed?  I would say no: there are many fighters who are larger, stronger and faster than either of those champions.

Is it their overall skill and athleticism?  Again, I would say no: there are many fighters who have pinpoint accuracy, excellent technique, efficient movement, etc.

I have gone some way to suggesting that champions have better defence - but even that comprises just another set of skills in movement - skills that many fighters have.

Now we could go all “vague” and say “champions have better timing” but that just delays a further question: what is it that makes their “timing” better?

I think the answer is simply this:

    They are better able to translate “intention” into “action”.

In other words, the psychology of the fighters makes all the difference: how you think affects how you feel, which affects what you do, which affects what you become.

This should come as no surprise: the notion that our minds and bodies are somehow separate is manifest nonsense.  Cartesian dualism has always been, in my opinion, a con.  Rather, each of us comprises one single, connected organism.

So the answer to why champions are better than their rivals is, I think, summed up in this way:

    Champions are better than their rivals at channelling their intention. 

I think the Chinese ancients tried to describe this channelling of thought into efficient action as the “guided flow of qi”.

However if it is true that the ancients used "qi" to describe what are basically mental processes, why didn’t they just use the expression "guided thoughts"?  I suspect it is because they intuitively understood that thoughts are not separate, “non-physical” processes. After all, the whole "mind-body dualism" is a Western conceptualisation that wasn't part of the east Asian world view to begin with.  And in the absence of modern science - in particular, understanding the functions of neurons and electro-chemical signals, fascia, muscle tissue etc. - they devised a suitable, internally consistent paradigm to cover these processes as one single, unified system they called "qi".

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Finding Time to Train

A common problem for martial arts students is finding the time to train. Actually, that's the first of two problems. The second problem is filling that time in a meaningful way.

I'm of the opinion that we have the time and resources to do what we want. The obstacles that life throws in front of us serves to help us distinguish between what we really want and what we only think we want.

I don't like getting up early. I like NOT practicing even less, so I get up a little early every day for my own practice.

Some years ago, I read a wonderful little book on time management entitled The Art of Time. After all of the obligatory tips and tricks to get a handle on your time, the author got down to the heart of the matter.

Have you ever noticed that no matter how busy you are, when an unexpected but serious event happens, you can magically clear the decks and make the time? You make the time for what you love the most. That I think, is the secret and it is so obvious.

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Classical Budoka, which is an outstanding blog. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

104. Finding the Time for Budo

November 12, 2013

A reader recently asked me to comment on how one finds the time to train. We live in a day and age, he noted, that puts a stress on how many waking hours we have to devote to training in budo. How did the great masters of the past manage to train so much? How can we devote all the time we really need when we have jobs, families, and other responsibilities?

It’s not a minor question. Surveys show that we Americans, at least, are working more hours and getting paid overall less (figuring in inflation) than a decade or two ago, and stereotypes notwithstanding, we work more productive hours than almost any other country, including the vaunted Japanese worker. All that work and then having to deal with daily family life will, indeed, put a crimp on training time. Surely, if you’re an adult with a job and a family of any sorts, you can’t be going to the dojo five nights a week to train for five or six hours. It just ain’t gonna work.

First comment: an author I admire and respect (plus, he’s my bud), Dave Lowry, addressed this issue in, I think, a past column in Black Belt magazine. So what I say is nothing new, and much of it is cribbed from his own article, since I pretty much agree with his observations.

Second: We’re not alone in our predicament. Every generation has had to struggle with figuring out how to balance training with living a realistic life.

When the earliest martial systems were founded in Japan and China, they still provided a modicum of practical application for life-and-death situations. Learning to handle a spear or sword, or grapple to the death (or for subduing criminals) were skills a hereditary warrior had to know to better survive if called upon to serve in a war or police action. So it wasn’t much of a choice between pastime or work. Learning the bugei WAS part of one’s occupation. There was no conflict of time between pastime and work.

Go down a bit more in time and, in Japan at least, there was an extended period of relative peace of the Tokugawa hegemony. But early in that period, civil war was still a relative possibility and so martial artists who were skilled at their craft could parlay their prowess into being hired by a feudal lord as part of his retinue or as an instructor. The martial arts were still practical skills that could, in fact, be utilized to save your life during the execution of your duties as a warrior.

However, if you study the records and proclamations, much of the martial ardor and pugnacity of the Sengoku bushi (Warring States samurai) faded as two centuries of peace ensued. Several Tokugawa shoguns had to write public admonitions to the samurai class to continue to practice martial arts and study strategy because as bushi, that is what their station in life was supposed to be about, never mind that the wars were over. So as the samurai became bureaucrats, administrators, teachers and lawmakers, they, too, struggled with balancing work, family and budo training. The problem of finding the time to train is nothing new. The issues are the same.

Here’s my own opinion: if you can’t commit a reasonable amount of time to your training, then perhaps your life is full as it is already and you may have to forego it, at least for the time being. The two koryu master teachers who I admired as my main teachers in Japan both said the same thing: there is a hierarchy of values, and never let your love of martial arts eclipse the other responsibilities you have, or in the end you will be left with nothing. You have to put in adequate time for family, first, because without the support of your family, your life is meaningless. Whether family is just a spouse or significant partner, or ten kids, a wife and three ex-spouses who receive alimony, you have to shoulder the responsibility you took on, and spend the time and effort with family, and extended family, to make sure the family endures, and you as an individual in that family contributes your fair share. That is what being an adult is about. You no longer take everything. Now you have to give.

Second, of course, is your job. Without a stable job and income, you really will have a hard time paying to train. You need to pay dues, room rent, buy new training gear when the old ones wear out, be able to pay for travel expenses to attend seminars and workshops,and pay for medical bills if you fall the wrong way or get hit in the head by a wayward stick. So you have to do your best at your job and to secure a decent wage for a decent days’ work.

Finally, if all the above is working relatively well, you can enjoy budo as a pastime. With a supportive family and good job, doing budo is a plus, a way to keep yourself mentally and physically healthy, a way to engage in an activity that you enjoy with others who enjoy it with you, a way to develop bonds and friendships outside of family and work. Having the mental and physical health that comes out of good budo training will add to your abilities at work and in your  family and social life, but all these parts have to work together and you should never use budo training as an escape to avoid dealing with your responsibilities in the other two spheres of your life.



Saturday, March 01, 2014

To be Human is to Suffer



I don’t think that it is likely that after you have your enlightenment experience, that your suffering will end. You are not instantly going to find yourself making all the green lights, not having to worry about rotating your tires or flossing your teeth.


To be human is to suffer. You can either be crushed or you can soldier on.


I have excerpts for you from two columns. One is from an opinion piece by Pico Iyer. The other is from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits.


Before getting to the meat of this post, I want to make readers aware of the upcoming Lenten Challenge.

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion (unless you want it to). We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.
The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Mar 5) until the day before Easter (April 19), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat, immersing yourself in something new; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it.


If you fail, no one will hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board. Start anew.
For those of you who already train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

Won't you join me?
First, from Pico Iyer. The full article may be read here.

September 7, 2013

The Value of Suffering

 ...

MY neighbors in Japan live in a culture that is based, at some invisible level, on the Buddhist precepts that Issa knew: that suffering is reality, even if unhappiness need not be our response to it. This makes for what comes across to us as uncomplaining hard work, stoicism and a constant sense of the ways difficulty binds us together — as Britain knew during the blitz, and other cultures at moments of stress, though doubly acute in a culture based on the idea of interdependence, whereby the suffering of one is the suffering of everyone.

“I’ll do my best!” and “I’ll stick it out!” and “It can’t be helped” are the phrases you hear every hour in Japan; when a tsunami claimed thousands of lives north of Tokyo two years ago, I heard much more lamentation and panic in California than among the people I know around Kyoto. My neighbors aren’t formal philosophers, but much in the texture of the lives they’re used to — the national worship of things falling away in autumn, the blaze of cherry blossoms followed by their very quick departure, the Issa-like poems on which they’re schooled — speaks for an old culture’s training in saying goodbye to things and putting delight and beauty within a frame. Death undoes us less, sometimes, than the hope that it will never come.

As a boy, I’d learned that it’s the Latin, and maybe a Greek, word for “suffering” that gives rise to our word “passion.” Etymologically, the opposite of “suffering” is, therefore, “apathy”; the Passion of the Christ, say, is a reminder, even a proof, that suffering is something that a few high souls embrace to try to lessen the pains of others. Passion with the plight of others makes for “compassion.”

Almost eight months after the Japanese tsunami, I accompanied the Dalai Lama to a fishing village, Ishinomaki, that had been laid waste by the natural disaster. Gravestones lay tilted at crazy angles when they had not collapsed altogether. What once, a year before, had been a thriving network of schools and homes was now just rubble. Three orphans barely out of kindergarten stood in their blue school uniforms to greet him, outside of a temple that had miraculously survived the catastrophe. 

Inside the wooden building, by its altar, were dozens of colored boxes containing the remains of those who had no surviving relatives to claim them, all lined up perfectly in a row, behind framed photographs, of young and old.

As the Dalai Lama got out of his car, he saw hundreds of citizens who had gathered on the street, behind ropes, to greet him. He went over and asked them how they were doing. Many collapsed into sobs. “Please change your hearts, be brave,” he said, while holding some and blessing others. “Please help everyone else and work hard; that is the best offering you can make to the dead.” When he turned round, however, I saw him brush away a tear himself.

Then he went into the temple and spoke to the crowds assembled on seats there. He couldn’t hope to give them anything other than his sympathy and presence, he said; as soon as he heard about the disaster, he knew he had to come here, if only to remind the people of Ishinomaki that they were not alone. He could understand a little of what they were feeling, he went on, because he, as a young man of 23 in his home in Lhasa had been told, one afternoon, to leave his homeland that evening, to try to prevent further fighting between Chinese troops and Tibetans around his palace.

He left his friends, his home, even one small dog, he said, and had never in 52 years been back. Two days after his departure, he heard that his friends were dead. He had tried to see loss as opportunity and to make many innovations in exile that would have been harder had he still been in old Tibet; for 

Buddhists like himself, he pointed out, inexplicable pains are the result of karma, sometimes incurred in previous lives, and for those who believe in God, everything is divinely ordained. And yet, his tear reminded me, we still live in Issa’s world of “And yet.”

The large Japanese audience listened silently and then turned, insofar as its members were able, to putting things back together again the next day. The only thing worse than assuming you could get the better of suffering, I began to think (though I’m no Buddhist), is imagining you could do nothing in its wake. And the tear I’d witnessed made me think that you could be strong enough to witness suffering, and yet human enough not to pretend to be master of it. Sometimes it’s those things we least understand that deserve our deepest trust. Isn’t that what love and wonder tell us, too?

 And now from Leo Babauta at Zen Habits. The full post may be read here.

The Pain & Beauty of Life Changes

By Leo Babauta
The reason for our suffering is our resistance to the changes in life.

And life is all changes.

While I resist change (and suffer) just like anyone else, I have learned to adapt. I’ve learned some flexibility. I’ve realized this:

Everything changes, and this is beautiful.

The Pain of Life’s Changes

What do I mean that our suffering comes from resistance to the changes in life?
...
That’s just a start. Things change all the time, and we resist it. Our day changes, our relationships change, other people don’t act the way they should, we ourselves are changing, constantly, and this is hard to deal with.
So this is the pain of change, of not being in control, of things not meeting our expectations.
How do we cope?

The Beauty of Life Changes

We can cope with the pain in numerous ways: get angry and yell, drink or do drugs, eat junk food, watch TV or find other distractions. We can find positive ways to cope with the stress and hurt and anger: exercise, talking about our problems with a friend, or trying to take control of the situation in some way (planning, taking action, having a difficult conversation to work out differences, etc.).

Or, we can embrace the changes.

If changes are a basic fact of life (actually life is nothing but change), then why resist? Why not embrace and enjoy?

See the beauty of change.

It’s hard, because we’re so used to resisting.

Let’s put aside our resistance and judgments for a few minutes, and look for beauty in life’s changes:
 ...
The possibilities of finding beauty in our struggles with change are endless. And, I believe, that’s beautiful in its own way.