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

T’ang Dynasty poem

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

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Advent Challenge 2014

Today begins the season of Advent in the Catholic Church. It is a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays prior to Chistmas and ends on Christmas Day. Advent lasts for a little over four weeks.

As a warm up for the Lenten Challenge, I would like to issue the Advent Challenge.

Beginning today and through Christmas, in spite of the business and general insanity of the season, find a way to train every day. Do what you have to; move heaven and earth, but train every day. Even if it's just a little. No excuses.

These challenges are a form of Shuugyou Renshuu, or "Austere Training."

Won't you join me?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Perseverance

Here is another excellent post from The Budo Bum. This time the topic is Perserevance. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

 (にん, Romanized “nin,” pronounced “neen”
This is character for patience, endurance and perseverance.  I was going through some calligraphy my iaido teacher, Kiyama Sensei, had done and given me and came across one piece that was just this character. It’s a popular subject for calligraphy in budo circles, and Kiyama Sensei seems to have a special fondness for it.  He does it often, and he frequently includes at least one copy of it when he gives me batches of his calligraphy.

We’ve never talked about it, but I’m starting to get the message Sensei is sending me. There is a lot of talk about the important characteristics of a good martial artist.  This is certainly one of them. Good budoka all have by the bucket. They don’t expect to master the art in a week.  They keep at it whether they feel like they are progressing or not. These are the students who show up week after week whether the weather is beautiful and practice is comfortable and pleasant, or it’s summer and the only way we survive practice is to drink a gallon of water along the way, or it’s winter and the dojo is so cold that everyone is eager to start just so they can stay warm.  It’s not a flashy characteristic.  This is a quiet characteristic. It’s boring and doesn’t call attention to itself. It can be invisible because others become so accustomed to seeing those with it show up for practice week in and week out that they stop thinking about them.

Most people with nin don’t think they will ever master the essence of their art, but they still come to practice and work at it.  They are patient with themselves and their progress. They keep working at it, grinding away at their technique and polishing their basics. They aren’t inhuman machines that never feel frustrated because they are still working on the same movement they first learned 10 or 20 years ago. They’re quite human, and will often be heard moaning into a post-practice beer “I’ll never get that strike/throw/lock/technique right. It’s impossible.”  They show up next week anyway.

These students aren’t always the most talented. Often they are remarkable for being so very average in their talent. Occasionally they are remarkable for their lack of talent. What they do have is perseverance. They come to practice and they work hard. They go home and work hard there too. They don’t let the little things in life get in the way of training.  In the words of Nike, they “just do it.”   Training happens like the hands of the clock going around and around.  It’s just what they do.

They collect bumps and bruises and sore joints, but the keep coming.  Like everyone, life gets in the way sometimes.  This doesn’t stop the student with from training. They may not train as much as they like but they train when they can. Other aspects of life definitely can be more important than training. Family and friends are critical. Without family and friends, budo is just play, so when the need presents itself good students delay their training or rearrange their schedule so they can train in the spaces in between other obligations.
When these students find themselves traveling down a bumpy stretch of training where progress is elusive and difficult to see, they don’t trade budo for something easier or shinier or newer. They slog away at it, plodding down the path no matter how difficult it seems to be to make progress. There is no final destination on the Way that is budo, so they take satisfaction simply in being on the path.




Monday, November 24, 2014

Training Lazy and Improving Your Game

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at the Four Hour Work Week blog.The full article may be read here. I think there are some ideas here that we can apply to our own martial arts training.

The team was in third place by the time David Heinemeier Hansson leapt into the cockpit of the black-and-pink Le Mans Prototype 2 and accelerated to 120 miles per hour. A dozen drivers jostled for position at his tail. The lead car was pulling away from the pack—a full lap ahead.

This was the 6 Hours of Silverstone, a six-hour timed race held each year in Northamptonshire, UK, part of the World Endurance Championship. Heinemeier Hansson’s team, Oak Racing, hoped to place well enough here to keep them competitive in the standings for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Tour de France of automobile racing.

Heinemeier Hansson was the least experienced driver among his teammates, but the Oak team had placed a third of this important race in his hands.

Determined to close the gap left by his teammate, Heinemeier Hansson put pedal to floor, hugging the curves of the 3.7-mile track that would be his singular focus for the next two hours. But as three g’s of acceleration slammed into his body, he began to slide around the open cockpit. Left, then right, then left. Something was wrong with his seat.

In endurance racing, a first place car can win a six- or 12-hour race by five seconds or less. Winning comes down to two factors: the equipment and the driver. However, rules are established to ensure that every car is relatively matched, which means outcomes are determined almost entirely by the drivers’ ability to focus and optimize thousands of tiny decisions.

Shifting attention from the road to, say, a maladjusted driver’s seat for even a second could give another car the opportunity to pass. But at 120 miles per hour, a wrong move might mean worse than losing the trophy.  As Heinemeier Hansson put it, “Either you think about the task at hand or you die.”

Turn by turn, he fought centrifugal force, attempting to keep from flying out while creeping up on the ADR-Delta car in front of him.
And then it started to rain…

David Heinemeier Hansson was in a deep hole. Halfway through his stint, the sprinkling rain had become a downpour. Curve after curve, he fishtailed at high speed, still in third place, pack of hungry competitors at his rear bumper.

LMP cars run on slick tires—with no tread—for speed. The maximum surface area of the tire is gripping the road at any moment. But there’s a reason street vehicles have grooves in them. Water on the road will send a slick tire drifting, as the smooth rubber can’t channel it away. Grooved tires push water between the tread, giving some rubber grip and preventing hydroplaning. The slicker the tires—and the faster the speed—the more likely a little water will cause a car to drift.

That’s exactly what was happening to the LMP racers. As the rain worsened, DHH found himself sliding around the inside of a car that was sliding all over the race track. Nearby, one driver lost grip, slamming into the wall.

Cars darted for the pits at the side of the track, so their teams could tear off the slick tires and attach rain tires. Rain tires are safer, but slower. And they take a precious 13-plus seconds to install. By the time the car has driven into the pits, stopped, replaced the tires, and started moving again, more than a minute can be lost.

DHH screamed into his radio to his engineer, Should I pit in for new tires?

Like I said, DHH wasn’t the most experienced racer. He had gotten into this race because he was skilled at hacking the ladder. A few years into 37signals’s success, and with Rails taking a life of its own, Hansson had started racing GT4—essentially souped-up street cars—in his spare time.
Initially, he finished in the middle of the pack with the other novices. But after studying videos of master drivers, he started placing higher. High enough that after six races, he was allowed to enter into GT3 races (the next level up), despite zero first-place wins. In GT3, he raced another six times, placing first once, third another time. He immediately parlayed up to GTE (the “E” is for “endurance”). While other racers duked it out the traditional way, spending a year in each league, and only advancing after becoming league champion, DHH “would spend exactly the shortest amount of time in any given series that I could before it was good enough to move up to the next thing.”

There’s no rule that says you have to win the championship to advance from GT4 to GT3. Nor is there a rule saying you have to spend a year in a given league before moving up. That’s just the way people did it. Instead, DHH compressed what normally takes five to seven years of hard work into 18 months of smart work. “Once you stop thinking you have to follow the path that’s laid out,” he says, “you can really turn up the speed.”

On the rainy Silverstone course, however, parlays couldn’t help him anymore, and slacking was not an option. DHH had to drive as fast as safely possible, and every microsecond counted. In such tight competition, the only edge a racer had was raw driving skill.

Or, as it turned out, a better platform.

SHOULD I PIT IN? The man who hates repeating himself repeated over the radio. I’m going to end up in the wall!

His engineer told him to tough it out. The rain is about to clear up.

G-force pounding his body, DHH cautiously hugged the curves for another lap, and sure enough, the downpour began to subside. By two laps the course was dry. Heinemeier Hansson’s slick tires gripped the track with more friction than his competitors’ newly fitted rain tires and he sped ahead.
The other drivers now had to pit back in for slick tires, for a total of nearly two minutes’ delay that DHH entirely avoided.

At the end of his leg of the relay, DHH jumped from the car, having demolished the competition.

The slick tires provided DHH a platform advantage, more leverage to drive faster with the same pedal-to-floor effort. And though driving slick in the rain had been risky, his skill learned by imitating master racers kept him alive.

Reflecting on his rapid ascent in racing, DHH says, “You can accelerate your training if you know how to train properly, but you still don’t need to be that special. I don’t think I’m that special of a programmer or a businessperson or a race car driver. I just know how to train.”
DHH had proven he had the skill to race. Videos of master drivers had helped him to learn quickly. His tire advantage had pushed him ahead of equally skilled drivers, and propelled him to the next level. And the advanced racing leagues themselves became a platform that forced him to master the basics—and faster—than he would have at a lower level.

When DHH returned to visit his home race track in Chicago, the same set of drivers still dominated the lower leagues.

He came back and effortlessly beat them.

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #54: Tianmu Mountain Ascended in a Dream


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.

Li Bai
TIANMU MOUNTAIN ASCENDED IN A DREAM

A seafaring visitor will talk about Japan,
Which waters and mists conceal beyond approach;
But Yueh people talk about Heavenly Mother Mountain,
Still seen through its varying deeps of cloud.
In a straight line to heaven, its summit enters heaven,
Tops the five Holy Peaks, and casts a shadow through China
With the hundred-mile length of the Heavenly Terrace Range,
Which, just at this point, begins turning southeast.
...My heart and my dreams are in Wu and Yueh
And they cross Mirror Lake all night in the moon.
And the moon lights my shadow
And me to Yan River --
With the hermitage of Xie still there
And the monkeys calling clearly over ripples of green water.
I wear his pegged boots
Up a ladder of blue cloud,
Sunny ocean half-way,
Holy cock-crow in space,
Myriad peaks and more valleys and nowhere a road.
Flowers lure me, rocks ease me. Day suddenly ends.
Bears, dragons, tempestuous on mountain and river,
Startle the forest and make the heights tremble.
Clouds darken with darkness of rain,
Streams pale with pallor of mist.
The Gods of Thunder and Lightning
Shatter the whole range.
The stone gate breaks asunder
Venting in the pit of heaven,
An impenetrable shadow.
...But now the sun and moon illumine a gold and silver terrace,
And, clad in rainbow garments, riding on the wind,
Come the queens of all the clouds, descending one by one,
With tigers for their lute-players and phoenixes for dancers.
Row upon row, like fields of hemp, range the fairy figures.
I move, my soul goes flying,
I wake with a long sigh,
My pillow and my matting
Are the lost clouds I was in.
...And this is the way it always is with human joy:
Ten thousand things run for ever like water toward the east.
And so I take my leave of you, not knowing for how long.
...But let me, on my green slope, raise a white deer
And ride to you, great mountain, when I have need of you.
Oh, how can I gravely bow and scrape to men of high rank and men of high office
Who never will suffer being shown an honest-hearted face!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Taekkyon vs Capoeira

Capoeira is a well know Brazilian martial art that emphasizes kicking. The training is often conducted to music.

Taekkyon is a traditional Korean martial art that may be the forerunner of Taekwondo, and is also paired with music.

After seeing videos of Capoeira and Taekkyon, I thought it would be really interesting to see a video of a match between them.

I looked for a long time but couldn't find anything.Then this one turned up on a martial arts forum that I follow.

I don't speak Korean so I am guessing here. This seems to be an exhibition match between a Korean Taekkyon school and a Korean Capoeira school (that has a few foreigners as members). The matches seem to be from the least to the most advanced in the respective schools.

Enjoy



Saturday, November 15, 2014

Improving Your Martial Arts Practice

Below is an excerpt from an interesting website, Fierce Gentleman. It's about self improvement in general, but the concepts can't help but improve your practice specifically. The full article may be read here.

Changing your behavior is hard.

Luckily, there is a scientifically proven way to do it that gives you the best chance of success.

Anyone who is trying to change their behavior without understanding this science needs to stop, now.

Read up on the science. Learn to do it the more effective way.

Then, start again, with better strategies, and create the life you’ve always wanted.

Here’s the other thing you should know: behavior change is hard. Hard like algebra. You will work on it for “a while” before you get to that dream-life. What is “a while”? Years.

But that’s okay. The secret of self-development is that everybody has to work hard and put in a lot of work, if they want to achieve something great.

It just so happens that here at Fierce Gentleman we believe that every man is destined for greatness.

So, below we give you the keys to greatness: 23 scientific keys you need to change anything in your life.

Of course, information alone does not lead to life change. (That’s one of the keys.)

But never before has so much high-quality, scientifically-validated information been available for free, to anyone, to get their path started:

23 Scientific Keys to Change Any Behavior

  1. Willpower is weak. Environmental influences are much more important than willpower.1,2
  2. Information does not lead to action. Emotions lead to action. (Tweet this) This one is harder to back up with scientific studies, but it has long been my personal experience….over 8 years of studying both my own behavior, and the behavior of others who I’m trying to help. Information allows us to know in which direction we can go, but ultimately, emotions motivate us to take action. See also 2
  3. The Internet destroys your ability to focus. Unless you’re reading higher-level long-form articles, like this one. Read the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.
  4. Facebook makes you unhappy. Delete your account (unless you’re using it for business.) 3
  5. Today’s processed foods are engineered to flood the reward centers of your brain, and potentially trigger food addictions that will wreck your health and wellbeing. Eat vegetables instead. 4,5
  6. Exercise makes your brain bigger. It also gives you more self-control, lifts depression, and stamps out anxiety. 6
  7. Meditation makes your brain bigger. It also gives you more self-control, lifts depression, and stamps out anxiety. 7
  8. Alcohol makes you stupid. Also, fat, sick, ugly, weak of will and — eventually — dead. Give up alcohol. (Personal experience, common sense.)
  9. Take time off work. Overwork drains your willpower and makes you stressed and sick. (Personal experience, common sense.)
  10. Maximize neurotransmitters oxytocin, GABA and serotonin. Minimize activities that have you “chasing the dopamine dragon.” Activities that stimulate dopamine: shopping, gambling, pornography, binge eating. Activities that stimulate serotonin, oxytocin & GABA: getting a massage, swing in a hammock, spending time with loved ones, meditating, praying, listening to music, reading. (See The Willpower Instinct.)
  11. 60% of our daily decisions are habitual. That means that changing our habits is critical to changing our lives over time. (See BJ Fogg’s Persuasion Lab at Stanford University and The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)
  12. Changing habits start small. We call this a “wedge” that we can drive into your life patterns to get leverage for further improvement. The smaller the initial change, the higher the likelihood of success. (See The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg)



Sunday, November 09, 2014

Building Inner Strength


A Chinese story, kind of a Taoistic story about a philosophic farmer.
 
One day, the farmer’s horse ran away, and all the neighbors gathered in the evening and said ‘that’s too bad.’
 

He said ‘maybe.’
 

Next day, the horse came back and brought with it seven wild horses. ‘Wow!’ they said, ‘Aren’t you lucky!’
 

He said ‘maybe.’
 

The next day, his son grappled with one of these wild horses and tried to break it in, and he got thrown and broke his leg. And all the neighbors said ‘oh, that’s too bad that your son broke his leg.’
 

He said, ‘maybe.’ The next day, the conscription officers came around, gathering young men for the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. And the visitors all came around and said ‘Isn’t that great! Your son got out.’
 

He said, ‘maybe.’

Not internal strength, aka internal power as in Internal Martial Arts; rather, strength of character. The type of mindset of the Stoics or the Wuji of Zhuang Zi. That kind of internal strength.

This article appeared at Fulfillment Daily. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here

It's an interesting list. You could do worse.

The Challenge: We all want (and need) inner strength, yet few know how to find it.
The Science: Science suggests 9 keys to developing inner strength that keeps you smiling.
The Solution: Integrate these 9 keys to inner strength in your life for greater fulfillment.

In 1914, Thomas Edison’s lab burned down, and years’ worth of his work was destroyed. This could easily be described as the worst thing to happen to Edison, but the inventor instead chose to see it as an energizing opportunity that forced him to rebuild and re-examine much of his work. Edison reportedly said at the time: “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start again fresh.”

“In a world that we don’t control, tolerance is obviously an asset,” Ryan Holiday, author of the forthcoming The Obstacle Is The Way, told The Huffington Post. “But the ability to find energy and power from what we don’t control is an immense competitive advantage.”

He’s talking about mental strength, a difficult-to-define psychological concept that encompasses emotional intelligence, grit, resilience, self-control, mental toughness and mindfulness. It’s something that Edison had in spades, and it’s the reason that some people are able to overcome any obstacle, while others crumble at life’s daily challenges and frustrations.

The ability to cope with difficult emotions and situations is a significant predictor of our success and happiness. The most capable individuals in this way are able to turn any obstacle into a source of growth and opportunity. And while much has been made of what mentally strong people avoid doing — things like dwelling on the past, resenting the success of others and feeling sorry for themselves — what do they actually do? What tactics do they use to overcome adversity time and time again?

“Things that we think are obstacles are actually opportunities to do something,” says Holiday. “[To] be rewarded in some way that we never would have expected, provided that we address and don’t shirk from that obstacle.”

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Gozo Shioda Yoshinkan Aikido Demonstrations

A compilation of demonstrations done by Yoshinkan Aikido founder Gozo Shioda from 1978 to 1981. At  the time, Shioda would have been in his mid 60's.

I don't like some of the behavior of the ukes, but the power and timing of Shioda is unmistakable.


Monday, November 03, 2014

The Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu

At Meerkatsu blog, there is a review of Choque: the Untold Story of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil 1856 - 1949. At 744 pages, it must be quite a book and is certainly on my wish list. 

An excerpt is below and the full review may be read here.

Book review: Choque: The Untold story of Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil 1856-1949


Summary
Writer Roberto Pedreira delves into Brazilian newspaper archives in a quest to uncover as much verifiable information about the origin of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Along the way, he uncovers some uncomfortable truths that may alter your perception over who did what, where and when between 1856 and 1949.  At 744 pages, it is a weighty volume and much of it consists of lists of names, fights and other accounts of raw data culled from newspaper reports and adverts. 240 pages are dedicated as an appendix and this includes numerous photographs and press clippings. It all adds up to an essential read for any self respecting BJJ enthusiast and sets the scene for an eagerly anticipated Volume 2.



Information
Available from: Amazon in paperback or digital format
Pages: 744 (240 pages of which form the appendix)
Price: £10.68 book, £6.19 Kindle
Language: English
Print version weight:  1.2kg




Introduction
What was the actual truth to events that happened a long time ago? Reading Choque, this question popped up into my mind frequently. Clearly, if you believe what you read from the internet, the alleged story of how Brazilian Jiu Jitsu came to be born will yield a variety of versions - hardly any of them accredited to verifiable sources. There is of course the book by Kid Peligro called The Gracie Way. It is extremely interesting to re-read The Gracie Way in the light of the content within Choque - a subject that perhaps for another post.

I can't imagine how time consuming and laborious it must have been to wade through the dusty archives of Brazilian newspapers and interpret events that happened over 100 years ago. With no living witnesses who can verify events, Pedreira is left to interpret the newspaper articles and opinion pieces in his own way. A lot of reports were simply spin doctored press releases, some were more analytical, others were just adverts to promote a fight event. Throughout these scattered pieces of data, Pedreira picks up the story and charts the progress of the key players in Brazil who all contributed towards the sport that we know today. It's a pretty bumpy ride. A lot of preconceptions about who did what and when are overturned in Choque. Amidst the wealth of sports coverage, the drama and incidents all play out like a long-running TV soap drama.


About the author
I don't know anything about Roberto Pedreira. I don't even know if that is his real name. The only interview with him has since been deleted, but thanks to Wayback machine, you can read it here.


Paperback book
The version I have was printed in Great Britain under Amazon's own book publishing brand. The version in the US is published by CreateSpace, which is also owned by Amazon. The paper quality is good with print quality crisp. The paperback cover does curl easily, mainly because of the hefty size of the book, it's impossible to read without it suffering wear and tear. The typesetting and fonts used are rather simple and if I was being honest, it's not a pretty book to look at. But the content is what is King here.


Writing style
The format chosen by Pedreira is to write in chronological order. Paragraphs are written with a recall of the facts as they would have appeared in the original newspaper article. Pedreira then fills in between with his thoughts on what may or may not have happened. Often, the author has to introduce certain key people and jump around with dates in order to explain a certain fact or event, but largely, he sticks with the year in question. Quite often, in subsequent chapters, Pedreira will repeat a fact or explain something that he has already explained before. I actually found this useful since there is so much to digest within each page.


Pedreira's writing is sometimes less that fluid but far be it for me to critique his writing for he has had work published in numerous English language magazines and is the author of the popular title "Jiu Jitsu in the South Zone" as well as probably being the very first BJJ blogger with Global Training Report which was established in the year 2000!


Accuracy
The difficulty with writing any historical account is the reliability of the source information. Pedreira's exhaustive research into the newspaper archives and examination of other written sources, eg the Carlos Gracie biography and the Playboy interview with Rorion Gracie suggests he has at least tried to cover as much ground as humanly possible. The skill of the historian is with the interpretation of the facts and here, Pedreira fills in the gaps with as much plausible speculation as he will allow.

By his own admission, many newspapers of the time (as they do now) tend to accept source reports and quotations from interviewees without much critical analysis. Like any good academic textbook, Choque is stuffed full of citations with the original sources. I doubt the basic reader (like me) has the time or energy to verify any of these sources so I'll have to take the author's word that these are all accurate and accountable.

There are a number of spelling errors littering the chapters. Some are intentional - as the author explains, newspapers at the time were rather lax about how certain words and names were spelled. But Pedreira himself misses out on many common English words that a decent proof reader (human, not a computer) would probably have picked up a lot better. Still, given the sheer weight and length of the volume, it's something I could overlook whilst reading.