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 ~


Wednesday, April 30, 2014

External and Internal Stretching for Martial Arts


Today we have another guest post by Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan's guest posts have a knack of turning up on the all time favorites list remarkably quickly, and I'm sure this one will do as well.


 On Stretching in the Martial Arts – Conventional and Internal



In this article I shall be explaining the various types of stretching in martial arts, how they are trained and what is their purpose. I will do so in a novel fashion which is unfortunately seldom seen in written form. First, I shall briefly touch upon the conventional take on ‘stretching’. Then, I shall get to more interesting stuff, discussing the stretching methods used in the Internal Martial Arts.  

 Conventional Stretching


Everyone knows this. That is the type of stretching you do at the end or beginning of a martial arts class, and which is also usually included in other sports activities. Common wisdom has it that conventional stretching is made of three different types:

1. Static Stretching:  Holding a static position. Slowly inching towards a more stretched position. Perhaps some sadistic friend is recruited to push or pull to help you suffer and improve. 

2. PNF Stretching:  Very similar to static stretching, only that now you would be using a ‘trick’. You get to a tough position in the stretch. You will then tense the muscle being stretch strongly for a few seconds. Afterwards, it is sometimes easier to stretch a bit more.

3. Plyometric Stretching:  Using explosive movements, which stretch you up with the momentum of the movement. The most common drill is loosening the leg and kicking skyward. 99% of martial artists and sportspeople use plyometric stretching almost exclusively for their legs. Martial arts like Tong Bei, Pi Gua and others use Whipping and Heavy Hands movements which offer plyometric stretching for the hands and torso as well.

 Rules of thumb regarding conventional stretching, based on my knowledge and experience: 

- People will tell you that around 8-10 seconds is enough for a static stretch. This is lazy men’s bullshit. About 8-10 seconds into the stretch you will begin to experience a slight reflex of muscular inhibition, which will allow for more relaxation and the extension into a better stretch. I have worked with many people on static stretching, and I know that to get maximum results, at least 2 minutes are necessary for the holding of a single stretch (that’s 4 minutes if you do front splits – 2 minutes for each side!). Over 5 minutes is even better, though not anyone can take such punishment. Do not overdo it. Stretching is a tool, not a goal.

- People say that plyometric stretching is relatively more dangerous. That is true. The explosive nature of Plyometric stretching carries the risk of a creating tiny tears in leg muscles and otherwise. 

One of the most common injuries is a pulled Hamstring muscle due to a high kick. Be sure that the muscles you are about to use an explosive movement with are warm. An exception would be a movement which you have trained for many months or years and are very used to doing (what’s common among swimmers, cyclists, lions and zebras? None need warmups, because their movements are repetitive and frequently trained).

In the picture:  Master Zhou Jingxuan of Tianjin, China, practicing static stretching. Hayarkon Park, Tel-Aviv, 2010.


Internal Stretching

This is the type of stretching no one is talking about these days. It is most commonly found in the Internal Martial Arts of China (though many External arts use the same methods as well), but only taught under traditionalist teachers with authentic knowledge.

With conventional stretching, you stretch by slowly changing the external position of the body, doing so in a very pronounced way, with large movements. Internal stretching is done by assuming a posture, and then stretching the body from within. Conventional stretching is an open kinetic chain (the body is not fixed, but can move around), while Internal stretching is closer to a closed kinetic chain (the posture does not change much externally).

What is being stretched with internal stretching?

The focus is put on connective tissues. Tendons and Fasciae.

What is a fascia?
A form of connective tissue. Think of it as either a thick or thin and flexible nylon wrap, that envelops everything inside the body. So we have got many of these ‘nylon wraps’, holding everything together. Imagine if every muscle was a sandwich, then we used one or a few fasciae to wrap that sandwich, and quite a few more to pack a bunch of sandwiches together, and then we put all these sandwiches in a box, put that box next to another box of sandwiches and wrapped the both of them together with more fasciae… and so forth. It is a network of springy wraps.  
In the picture:  Thin fascia strips, holding other connective tissues.


What is internal stretching used for, as opposed to conventional stretching?

Conventional stretching is used mainly for the following purposes:

1. To increase one’s range of motion in stillness and movement, for daily or martial use.
2. To maintain healthy connective and muscular tissues.
3. To prevent and heal injuries to and in muscles and tendons.

Internal stretching is used mainly for the following purposes:

1. To increase one’s range of motion in stillness and movement, for daily or martial use.
2. To develop a body structure that is more springy and reactive to pressures.
3. To teach oneself to manipulate parts of the body which are not normally under conscious control. This in turn has health benefits, but is mostly used to add momentum to explosive movements, and to allow the body to expand and shrink upon contact in minute ways which can aid in combat.
4. To improve striking and explosive power (fa jin). The ability to stretch one’s ‘frame’ or ‘structure’ sets a broader physical limit to one’s movement. When striking with explosive power, the practitioner can then pushes his bodily structure or collapse it into the furthest or tightest frame possible. A fraction of a second after that, the body strives to return to one’s ‘normal’, unstretched setting. The more the body can stretch from within, the further it can expand or collapse while still holding the same posture. This adds to one’s range of motion slightly, but more so to the ability to issue fa jin.

How are tendons and fasciae being stretched from within?

By pulling on them with muscles in the opposite direction, or relaxing muscles whilst letting the body lean with gravity, which in turn requires the tendons and fasciae to hold the more weight, and in so doing they stretch like a rubber band stretches when you hand a weight from it.

To manifest internal stretching, imagery must be used. It can be used in movement, but for the purpose of stretching alone it is more effective to hold a fixed posture (such as trained in Zhan Zhuang).
Intent in the Tuo Xing of Xing Yi Quan

Many of the common instructions in traditional Chinese martial arts are meant to manifest internal stretching. One of the best examples is that of the postural demand of “Hanging the body from the Băi Huì 百会 point at the top of the head as if being a piece of clothing dangling from a clothes-hanger”, “sucking in the Huì Yīn 会阴 point slightly” (located between the gonads and anus), and “stretching the spine like one would stretch a pearl necklace”. All of these are meant to realign the spinal vertebrae column, stretch the intra-spinal musculature, and also stretch one of the biggest and most important fascia in the body – the Thoracolumbar fascia, which in turn helps transfer power from the legs, hips and dantian to the upper torso and hands. This, again, is more easily trained whilst holding a fixed posture.

In the picture:  An illustration made by my teacher, shifu 

Nitzan Oren. It demonstrates the correct Yi (Intention) used in the Tuo Xing (鼍形) movement in Xing Yi Quan. The feeling is as if the back and arms are hollow rubber pipes, and have water flowing inside of them, pushing in all directions. This imagery is extremely useful and important for manifesting the correct type of internal stretching, and building the right type of physical martial structure.

Why is it that we so rarely hear or get to read about ‘internal stretching’, and that most people do not practice it well, or at all?

Because it demands authentic, accurate instruction and intentful practice.

Everybody knows a person who has trained in something for 30 years, and still does it badly. Why? 

Usually, it is because that person lacks intentful practice. He or she is not willing to make the extra effort with each practice session, and lacks introspection to point to their own faults and correct them. They lack the ability to focus on something when it gets difficult, so they never advance past a certain comfort zone. Or maybe, they just do not train enough.

Additionally to that, internal stretching is a very personal experience. It is difficult to gauge how well you are stretched from within. Often, only you can tell. That is why with internal stretching, it is key to feel the teacher’s body as he stretches, and be able to embed the correct sensation into your body while training alone. Such tactile teaching is the hallmark of quality teaching in all the traditional Asian martial arts.



Wherein you liked this article, please take a look at shifu Bluestein’s ground-breaking book – Research of Martial Arts:    http://www.researchofmartialarts.com
________________________________________________________________________________

Shifu Jonathan Bluestein is the head of the Tianjin Martial Arts Academy, and teaches Xing Yi Quan and Pigua Zhang in Israel. He is also a martial arts author and researcher. If you liked this article, please ‘like’ the page of shifu Bluestein’s book on Facebook:
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Shifu Bluestein conducts worldwide seminars, teaching Xing Yi Quan, Pigua Zhang, the weapons of these arts, Nei Gong, Qi Gong and more. You can arrange to study with him by reaching out through facebook or email at:   jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com      or    Facebook.com/Bluestein    .

A full list of shifu Bluestein's articles is available at the following page:

Be sure to subscribe to shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly update with rare and fascinating martial arts videos:  
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All rights of this article are and the pictures within it (with the exception of the Fascia image) are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein. Jonathan may be contacted directly via email:  jonathan.bluestein@gmail.com .
 


Sunday, April 27, 2014

Living the Way of the Bow

Below is an excerpt from a great post from Gaijin Explorer. The full post may be read here.

Today I met a 90 year old man who practices kyudo.

When he first came in, I could tell he was pretty old, but was lively and cheerful. He started chatting to me in English, and I was surprised at his ability. He was better than most younger Japanese people and could keep a conversation going. He said he was 90 years old and still doing kyudo ... 90 YEARS OLD AND DOING KYUDO!!! Kyudo is no soft art, and pulling a bow at that age standing up straight and straining your muscles and will is no small feat ... for anybody. That surprised me, and he walked away for a minute, and came back with some small Japanese treats for me. (I think every aged person in Japan is always carrying around sweets to hand out to foreigners, because this happens most everytime! Maybe it's a habit I'll start soon.)

So we chatted more, he left, and then came back again with a postcard with him on it and a printout in Japanese that looked like it was from a newspaper and gave it to me. He said it was from about 20 years ago when he was 70, and he looked super strong and healthy ... at 70! At that time I was in elementary school trying to hide picking my nose from other kids on the school bus. He said he was in the coastguard and liked building radios. At that time I was changing ready to head out for work so I didn't see him shoot unfortunately.

After that I went home for a minute and showed the postcard and printout to Satomi and she was super impressed. Curious as to what she found out I started reading the printout on my own.

He started kyudo when he was in middle school, which means he started kyudo about 75 years ago (though he said he's been practicing for 60 years, which probably means he took time off when he was working, not sure). That's unbelievable to me. I can't possibly imagine doing anything for that long. I suppose if I'm lucky enough, I can say that I've practiced kyudo for 60 years one day.

But then, the part that really impressed me was that he pulled a 37 kilogram bow in his prime.

37 KILOGRAMS!

If you don't practice kyudo then that probably doesn't have much context, but the strongest bow I've pulled is 17, but now I'm using a 15 (I think). A lot of perfectly skilled teachers use 20 kilogram bows. Using a 25 km bow is considered really strong. I've never met someone who could pull a 30kg bow, and now I just met this dude who used to pull a 37 kg bow. That's crazy. Apparently he's been dropping the weight as he's gotten older, but I think he pulls a 20 kg bow now at 90, which is impossible for me now at 28.

The numbers are just too much for me, I'm dumbfounded and impressed. In a way I feel like continuing is pointless because I'll probably never be able to pull a 37 kg bow like him, but then I'm also motivated because the only important thing is continuing with a genuine effort. Without that there is nothing. With that, you can do anything ... including doing kyudo for 60 years and pulling a strong bow.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tradition of Excluding Foreigners from Chinese Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from another excellent article published at Kung Fu Tea. The full article may be read here.

“Anti-Foreignism” and the Southern Chinese Martial Arts



Introduction: Anti-Foreignism in Republican Guangdong

Students of the traditional Chinese martial arts are frequently reminded that until very recently these systems were “closed” to outsiders.  Then, in the wake of Bruce Lee, Kung Fu masters around the world decided to magnanimously open their schools to foreigners.  Needless to say this was very different from the “good old days” of the 1920s-1930s when the traditional hand combat systems were used to protect the Chinese nation and fight imperialism.

Such accounts have become accepted as basically a “common sense” interpretation of the popular history of the Chinese martial arts within the global market.  Yet Prof. Thomas A. Green has pointed out that we should be cautious when approaching such stories.  In his 2003 essay “Sense in Nonsense: The Role of Folk History in the Martial Arts” he points out that many of these accounts bear all of the markers that one would expect to see in “popular legends.”  These stories serve an important social function (reinforcing group solidarity and passing along a shared world view) while at the same time enrobing the styles that pass them along in the halo of ancient and exotic achievements.  Rather than complaining about strenuous training practices, modern students should be grateful that they even have access to such secrets at all.  It wasn’t always the case.

Of course this does not mean that some teachers might not have carried a genuine antipathy towards the west, or foreign things in general.  Yet the frequency of these attitudes is something that should be studied, rather than simply assumed from the handful of (mostly post-WWII) accounts that we usually discuss.

Virgil K. Ho has recently argued that historians tend to vastly overstate the strength of anti-western and anti-foreign sentiments in Guangdong province during the Republic period.  Both western and Marxist historians have tended to favor a few stridently vocal nationalist voices which are readily apparent in the written historical record, while ignoring the opinions of the vast majority of the areas citizens and business owners. These individuals generally had a more nuanced, and positive, assessment of the foreign districts of Guangzhou (Shameen) as well as western dress and custom.  

Hong Kong’s relative political stability and dedication to the “rule of law” was often held up by middle class citizens of Guangdong who tired of the KMT’s corrupt business practices and frequent expropriations of private wealth to make up government budget shortfalls.

This is not to say that Guangdong was unimportant to the formation of Chinese nationalism, or that there were not real periods of tension (and even violence) between the western powers and the local communities in southern China.  There certainly were.  The Hong Kong strike of 1925-1926 comes to mind as one such example.

Rather Ho’s point is that it is dangerous to generalize from these exceptional cases.  Most citizens of southern China had no problems separating their anti-imperialist concerns from a more generalized feeling of “anti-foreignism.”  After all, the local economy was deeply impacted by globalization.

In Ho’s words, the population had learned that there were both friends and competitors within the international sphere.  Of course this degree of nuance (or perceived indifference) did not always sit well with the more strident May 4th Reformers and nationalist thinkers.  [For more on this topic see Virgil K. Ho. “The Limits of Hatred: Popular Attitudes Towards the West in Republican Canton.” in Understanding Canton: Rethinking Popular Culture in the Republican Period. Oxford University Press. 2005. 49-95].

Ho makes a number of interesting points.  Yet his reassessment of the degree of anti-foreignism in southern China could probably be expanded.  One might start by considering the historical record left by the explosive growth of the martial arts in the area during the Republic era.  This renaissance was getting underway precisely during his period of study.  Further, the many links between the local martial arts schools and the region’s political and economic debates suggest that if you wish to understand the development of nationalism in southern China during the 1920s and 1930s, this would be a good place to start.




Monday, April 21, 2014

An Interview with Gozo Shioda and Masahiko Kimura


The Aikido Sangenkai Blog recently published a translation of an interview conducted years ago with two giants of Japanese martial arts: Gozo Shioda, the founder of Yoshinkan Aikido and Masahiko Kimura, one of the greatest judoka that ever lived and the man who famously defeated Brazillian Jujutsu founder Helio Gracie.

Below is an excerpt. The full interview may be read here.





Aikido and Judo – Interview with Gozo Shioda and Masahiko Kimura

 
 
Full Contact Karate Magazine – December 1987

More Full Contact Karate at the Aikido Sangenkai! Previously we presented a translation of the article “Secret Technique: The Secret of Aiki” (秘技・合気の秘密) from the  January 1996 issue of the Japanese magazine “Full Contact Karate” (フル・コンタクト・カラテ). This time we’re happy to present the English translation of an interview with Yoshinkan Aikido Founder Gozo Shioda (塩田剛三) and legendary Judo champion Masahiko Kimura (木村政彦) that appeared in the December 1987 issue of Full Contact Karate.

Gozo Shioda was born in Shinjuku, Tokyo in 1915. He began training with Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba O-Sensei in 1932 and trained under him for eight years before the war. After World War II he established Yoshinkan Aikido and became one of the major figures in the post-war Aikido world.

Masahiko Kimura was born in Kumamoto in 1917. At the age of 18 he became the youngest Judo 5th Dan in history, after defeating eight opponents in a row at Jigoro Kano’s Kodokan Dojo. It is said that he was defeated only four times in his professional career, one of those losses to Aikido student Kenshiro Abbe (although Abbe would not begin studying Aikido until some years later). He is most well known in the Western world for the famous match in 1949 in which he defeated Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Founder Hélio Gracie.

Gozo Shioda and Masahiko Kimura were classmates at Takushoku University, which also counts such famous Karate instructors as Masatoshi Nakayama and Mas Oyama among its alumni.
 
Interviewer: I’ve heard that you were classmates at Takudai (Takushoku University / 拓殖大学).

Shioda: In Takudai at that time I and Kimura and one other Karate practitioner, Fukui (福井功 / Isao Fukui), were called the “Three Crows” of Takudai (拓大三羽烏). (Translator’s Note: this is a common way of referring to three pre-eminent proponents of a certain skill) Kimura was shy and wouldn’t speak to Fukui, but for some reason I hit it off with both Kimura and Fukui and became friends with the two of them.

Kimura: Was Fukui that strong?

Shioda: Fukui started the Karate Club at Takudai along with Mr. Masatoshi Nakayama (中山正敏) and Mr. Masatomo Takagi (高木正朝). He was a strong fighter, but he had a strong personality and said that Judo or Aikido would be no problem for him.  So I said that I would take him on, and the two of us did it in the gymnasium. He combined a right Seiken-zuki (“forefist punch” / 正拳突き) with a Mae-geri (“front kick” / 正拳突き), but I slipped right past him on the left, sandwiched his fist under my right forearm, and when I hit Fukui’s right elbow with my left forearm he just flew away. That guy’s elbow hurt for awhile, you know, and they took me in, just an unknown at the time who had been training in Aikido, as one of the Three Crows. (laughing)

Kimura: Shioda and I played at arm wrestling back then. Ahh, he was really strong. I was 170cm (5′ 6″) tall and 85 kg (187 lbs), and Shioda was 154 cm (5′) tall and 47 kg (103 lbs).

Shioda: Somewhere Kimura said that he lost ten out of ten times, but actually we did it three times and I only won the first two times. At most, he slipped his hand out the third time. (laughing)

Interviewer: Shioda sensei, were you doing some special kind of conditioning?

Shioda: No – in Aikido, in order not to create stagnation in the body, you mustn’t build up your muscles. However, I didn’t understand that when I was young, so I would hide from Ueshiba sensei and lift weights. When he found out I’d really get scolded. Of course it’s natural to want to make your body strong when you’re young, and logic comes later. Anyway, you should just train as much as you can. I trained everyday from five in the morning until nine at night! I think that kind of period is important to have when you’re young. Kimura over here was called the “Training Ogre” (稽古の鬼). There’s a famous phrase, “triple effort” (3倍の努力), but he really went through that.

Kimura: Well, you can’t just lie around sleeping like everybody else. Before the Emperor’s Games (天覧試合) in Showa year 15 (1940) I didn’t even have time to sleep because I was practicing ten and a half hours every day. In my university days I would get up at 4:30 and clean, since I was one of the private students of Ushijima sensei (Translator’s Note: Tatsukuma Ushijima / 牛島辰熊, colloquially known as “Ogre Ushijima” and famous for his intense workouts), and then strike the makiwara from the left and right a thousand times each. You see, when you strike the makiwara you grip the thumb firmly, and when you strike the arms, elbows and wrists also become strong. Then I would go to the Police Department and train from around 10:00. For just about an hour. Then training at Takudai for about three hours, then at the Kodokan from 6:30 and from 8:00 to 11:00 at a local dojo in Fukagawa.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The 48 Laws of Power, #10: Avoid the Unhappy and Unlucky

First of all, the 2014 Lenten Challenge is finished! I hope that everyone who participated got as much out of it as I did. 

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.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today we have #10: Infection - Avoid the unhappy and unlucky.

From The 48 Laws of Power Blog:

You can die from someone else's misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. 
You can die from someone else's misery—emotional states are as infectious as diseases. You may feel you are helping the drowning man but you are only precipitating your own disaster. The unfortunate sometimes draw misfortune on themselves; they will also draw it on you. Associate with the happy and fortunate instead. - See more at: http://48laws-of-power.blogspot.com/2011/05/law-10-infection-avoid-unhappy-and.html#sthash.XwJSxmEW.dpuf

The infector possesses an inward instability that radiates outward drawing disaster to all that they touch. Marie Gilbert A.K.A Lola Montez of Ireland was one such person. Lola found herself in the role of a courtesan (prostitute of the royal court). In today’s society Lola would be considered a gold-digger. She only sought out men with high social standing in the community that she could use for her own gain.

Once she would have her hooks in these men, their slow demise began. One of her victims was king Ludwig of Bavaria, who felt compelled to help Lola yet once he was warned of the dangers of his affair with her, he could not seem to resist Lola’s aura and almost found his once peaceful country in a state of civil war. It was not until then that the king finally ordered Lola to leave but a month after she left King Ludwig was forced to relinquish his throne.

There are many men who suffered because of their association with Lola Montez.

King Ludwig said that he was “bewitched” by Lola. Lola was an unstable, incurable and infectious character type. This is not to say that these characteristics are only restricted to women, this is to say that there are some people whose emotions are so powerful that they infect the very soul of the people that they touch.

5 Ways to Affect Positive Change through Your Associations

1. If you are miserly by nature, associate with the generous and they will infect you, opening up everything that is tight and restricted in you. Only generous souls attain greatness.

2. If you are gloomy, gravitate to the cheerful.

3. If you are prone to isolation, force yourself to befriend the gregarious.

4. Never associate with those who share your defects—they will reinforce everything that holds you back.

5. Only create associations with positive affinities.

Your rule for life…

Recognize the fortunate so that you may choose their company and the unfortunate so that you may avoid them. Misfortune is usually the crime of folly, and among those who suffer from it there is no malady more contagious: Never open your door to the least of misfortunes, for, if you do, many others will follow in its train… Do not die of another's misery. (Baltasar Gracian, 1601-1658)

More precious than all the therapy in the world...


The infector possesses an inward instability that radiates outward drawing disaster to all that they touch. Marie Gilbert A.K.A Lola Montez of Ireland was one such person. Lola found herself in the role of a courtesan (prostitute of the royal court). In today’s society Lola would be considered a gold-digger. She only sought out men with high social standing in the community that she could use for her own gain. Once she would have her hooks in these men, their slow demise began. One of her victims was king Ludwig of Bavaria, who felt compelled to help Lola yet once he was warned of the dangers of his affair with her, he could not seem to resist Lola’s aura and almost found his once peaceful country in a state of civil war. It was not until then that the king finally ordered Lola to leave but a month after she left King Ludwig was forced to relinquish his throne.
There are many men who suffered because of their association with Lola Montez.
King Ludwig said that he was “bewitched” by Lola. Lola was an unstable, incurable and infectious character type. This is not to say that these characteristics are only restricted to women, this is to say that there are some people whose emotions are so powerful that they infect the very soul of the people that they touch.
- See more at: http://48laws-of-power.blogspot.com/2011/05/law-10-infection-avoid-unhappy-and.html#sthash.XwJSxmEW.dpuf

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Set Your Troubles Aside

One of the things I like about martial arts training is that it is a concrete opportunity to take your cares and woes and put them on a shelf for a while. You have to set them aside to concentrate on what you are doing. Having set them aside, you give yourself a respite, create a little distance from them and gain some new perspective.

Recently at Steven Pressfield's blog, there was a post on this very topic. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

“Leave Your Problems Outside”
By Steven Pressfield | Published: December 25, 2013
Leddick ballet

David Leddick in Met Opera days

    I studied ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera when Antony Tudor, the famous choreographer, was the head of the ballet school. In fact, Margaret Craske was the teacher most students considered to be more important. She had danced with Pavlova in the ’20s.

    Miss Craske instructed us: “Leave your problems outside the classroom.”

This excerpt comes from an upcoming book by my mentor, David Leddick. David continues:

    Such good advice. And in that hour and a half of intense concentration on every part of your body, the music, the coordinating with other dancers you really couldn’t think about your troubles and it was great escaping them. You emerged much more relaxed and self-confident.

    We worked hard. We never had a sick day. You went on even if you had to lie down in the wings until you were needed. No one thought this was unusual.

    At the Met, the powers that be were only interested in two things: how well you sang and how well you danced. Your race didn’t count, your background, sexual preferences, family, none of that mattered. You had to deliver. That was the sole standard. It was great.

    In later careers all of this has stood me in good stead. I never had to work that hard in any of the various worlds I entered. I knew the quality of the work I was doing. Dancing at the Met was a wonderful experience and a wonderful preparation for the rest of my life.

2013 is almost over. How will you and I handle our work in 2014? What’s so great about “Leave your problems outside” is it’s applicable even if we’re only going to have one hour a day to pursue our artistic dreams.

One hour is plenty if we banish all distractions at the doorstep.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

From Whom Can You Learn Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from the December 2013 Newsletter from The Center for Taiji Studies. The whole post may be read here.

Since this issue is near the holidays when people tend to reflect on the past and make adjustments for the future, I would like to share a famous saying by Kongzi (Confucius, 551-479 B.C) regarding a way to improve one’s self. This saying can be applied to our taiji studies as well as to daily life. A translation is as follows:
Three people travel together; at least one of them can be my teacher. If this person demonstrates merits, I shall learn from him. If bad behaviors, I can use them as a mirror to check myself. If I have a similar undesirable quality, I change it; if not, I can use it as a reminder to avoid this behavior in the future.
It is such a good attitude: that of going beyond criticizing others, a common habit when we run into poor traits. Instead we can improve ourselves and stay positive toward every interaction we have with the world.

When it comes to taiji/qigong practice, we can look to the master practitioners and ask a simple question: how did they achieve such a high level? Their accomplishment can be attributed to the following factors: 1) they had knowledgeable and generous teachers, 2) they practiced all components of the traditional curriculum (mind, body, and spirit), and 3) they studied and practiced seriously, and wisely (and therefore efficiently and effectively).

On the other hand, we can also look at practitioners who have practiced for years but remain empty, or have even hurt themselves. Why did it happen? Why are the deeper meaning and benefits of the art still hidden from them; why did they injure themselves; why did they gain so much weight; why are they unhappy, or arrogant, or critical of others? The answer can often be attributed to at least one of the following factors: 1) lack of knowledge or withholding of key information from a teacher, 2) failure to pay sufficient attention to sincere advice from a knowledgeable teacher, 3) failure to practice the mental/spiritual components of the art, especially wuji/static qigong, 4) failure to follow the foundational principles of nurturing and moderation, and/or 5) they have been close-minded and not open to learning new things. Kongzi’s advice above directs us to a higher level: am I making similar mistakes? How can I correct or avoid similar mistakes in the future?
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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Life Lessons

The following is an excerpt from a post at The Daily Runner Page. The topic is 10 lessons that running teaches you about life. I think that they apply equally well for martial arts training. The full article may be read here. Enjoy.

10 Lessons Running Teaches You About Life

1. When things get tough, just keep going.


2. Consistency creates habit.


3. You’ll have to get through hell before you get to heaven.


4. Reaching your goals will take a lot of work.


5. Every aspect of life is mental.


6.  You do have time– you just have to make it.


7. You define your own limits.


8. If you wait for the right conditions, you’ll never get anything done.


9. Go beyond your limits every day and watch the magic happen.


10. There is peace even in the most chaotic times.





Thursday, April 03, 2014

Beautiful Aikido Techniques of Christian Tessier

Christian Tessier is a 7th Dan in France. The only reason he isn't an 8th Dan is due to European Aikido politics. Look how his techniques flow. This is simply beautiful.