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 ~


Friday, December 30, 2016

The Possibilities for the New Year

As we end this year, perhaps we should look at some of the possibilities going forward.

In January, when my daughter and I were registering for the Disney Marathon, we met a remarkable old man.

He was 87, his back was straight, he stood tall, his eyes were clear and his voice was strong. He didn't begin running until he had retired. He has been doing Disney events every year since 1995.

One of the events is the Dopey Challenge. It consists of running a 5K, a 10K, a half marathon and a full marathon on consecutive days. He's done it four times.

In the past, he had qualified for the Boston Marathon. During the event, he fell and broke his hip. 6 months later he was running in another 5K.

Nowadays, he said, he doesn't feel the need to beat anyone anymore. He just outlives them.

This brings me to an article at BodyBuilding.com, about a 95 year old. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

These remarkable men are role models and suggest what possibilities lie before us, no matter what age.

Charles Eugster may be 95 years old, but he is far from decrepit. He started bodybuilding at age 87 and keeps breaking his own speed records. Learn what he has to say about exercise, aging, and more!
Dr. Charles Eugster grew less and less active as he aged. The athletic glories of his youth gave way to sedentary married life. Summer days rowing and boxing slowly transitioned into couched evenings in front of the telly. For 40 years, Eugster put his athletic pursuits on the back burner as his children and dental practice grew.

But idleness did not sit well with the British sprinting champion, so he began resharpening his athletic edge in his mid-60s. Eugster started skiing and pulling oars again, beginning a remarkable run in sports. For two decades, he went on to dominate senior rowing, winning 36 masters gold medals.

Eugster's efforts rewarded him, but the deterioration of his body eventually became evident. At 85 years old, Eugster was widowed by his second wife, and his muscles had slacked considerably. He had a "pancake butt," as he puts it, and that spurred him into a new pursuit: bodybuilding. Eugster wanted muscle and an Adonis body. He craved strength, a longer life, and the attention of "babes."

So, Charles Eugster began hitting the iron at age 87. He started supplementing with whey protein, lifting weights, and sprinting again. Success soon followed. He won three Stren-Flex World titles, and recently broke the 200 meter and 60 meter world records for the 95+ age group.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Examining the Myths Surrounding the Shaolin Temple



Before we get to the meat of this post, I would like to announce that the 2016 Advent Challenge ends today.

I want to thank everyone who stuck with it, those who fell off the wagon and crawled back on and even those who couldn't finish. There is always next year.

Enjoy your holiday.

Over at Skeptoid, there was an interesting article on the history of the Shaolin Temple. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


Today we're going up into the misty mountains of China's Henan Province, to find an ancient red Zen Buddhist temple. It is the home of the Shaolin, said to be the creators of kung fu, and the very birthplace of Zen Buddhism itself. This ancient and mysterious order of orange or yellow robed monks have studied here for centuries, and are the most accomplished of all martial artists, able to withstand any blow or attack. At least, so the story goes.

Americans got their first big exposure to the Shaolin monks with the 1970s TV series Kung Fu starring David Carradine. In the intro, we see him as a young monk completing a rite of passage ceremony where he had to lift and move a heavy cauldron filled with glowing cinders, and in doing so his arms were branded with a dragon and a tiger. For all his quiet wisdom and serenity, this monk had fighting skills that were unsurpassed. It was a combination that was deeply attractive to Western audiences of the seventies obsessed with the superiority of Eastern enlightenment over Western materialism.

This obsession has not been lost on marketers. Today you can go to virtually any city in the world and find a Shaolin martial arts school. You can go to a theme park or aboard a cruise ship and catch a live stage show of Shaolin masters demonstrating their amazing abilities. Never mind that almost none of these have any connection with the actual Shaolin Temple. China is a land where counterfeit Apple Stores outnumber real ones by hundreds to one; and just as we'd expect, the name Shaolin is exploited every bit as much. But even the real Shaolin Temple licenses its name to anything and everything, even including instant noodles, coffee, take-out foods, tea, car tires, beer, and cigarettes, pulling in untold volumes of cash. The Shaolin Temple itself is little more than a tourist attraction now: take a five-minute group kung fu lesson with everyone else from the tour bus, and pose for your group photo holding your certificate; then stay for the live show, a mind-blowing combination of Cirque du Soleil and New Year's Eve at Times Square. It's little wonder that many serious martial artists hold the modern Shaolin in such disdain: the authentic ones sold out to be pawns for official government public relations, and the inauthentic ones exist only to cheat extra dollars out of naive martial arts students impressed with the venerable name. In short, it's very, very easy to find lots of uncomplimentary things to say about the modern Shaolin.

But even if all of that's true, it merely poisons the well of the Shaolin monks' actual history and actual abilities. It's still valuable to know these things; real history offers real insight and real lessons. But we find we quickly come up against a roadblock. It comes in the form of 1500 years of shifting governments and recycled, repurposed histories. It's trivial to look up and read about the history of the Shaolin, but the more scholarly the research, the more likely you are to encounter qualifications like "many historians consider this to be fictional" or "these stories are more accurately considered traditions than facts". But one thing we can say for sure: attempts to nail down the history of the Shaolin past 1928 are fraught with peril.

1928 was a pivotal year for China. It was the end of the warlord era, and the beginning of the reign of Chiang Kai-shek. For several years, growing Republican sentiment had been separating the warlords, but with a complexity far beyond the scope of a Skeptoid episode, combining ideologies, religious differences, and political changes. Suffice it to say that in March of 1928, the Shaolin found themselves with the wrong loyalties at the wrong time, the temple was overrun along with the surrounding city, and some 200 monks were killed. Elements of the National Army spent weeks systematically burning and destroying this symbol of Old China. Modern histories are always quick to point out that this loss included their library; more about that soon.

Prior to the 1928 destruction, the true history of the Shaolin Temple is probably quite mundane compared to its traditional history, which is filled with many more battles and cases of destruction. In particular it's said that the Qing Dynasty, sometime in the 1600s or 1700s, destroyed the Shaolin Temple and caused five fugitive monks to disperse throughout the land, thus creating a surrogate history for some of the other Shaolin temples and the spread of kung fu. Such stories are probably not true. Plenty of photographs of Shaolin Temple taken in the 1920s and earlier still exist, and show that the buildings were very old. Inscriptions can be seen in the photos documenting other parts of its long history of not being destroyed.

Nevertheless, there are times in its history when the Shaolin Temple was ransacked and even abandoned for periods of time, but it does not seem to have ever been destroyed prior to 1928.

Its original founding does indeed mark the probable start of both codified martial arts and Zen Buddhism in China, which is pretty remarkable. In the 5th century, an Indian Buddhist master named Buddhabhadra traveled to China to spread Buddhism, and by the year 477, he had become influential enough that Emperor Xiaowen of Northern Wei built the original Shaolin Temple for him to begin teaching Chinese monks. These are among the few facts of the early Shaolin that scholars generally agree upon.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

The 48 Laws of Power, #19: Know Who You're Dealing With. Do Not Offend the Wrong Person

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 #19: Know who you're dealing with, do not offend the wrong person.

There are many different kinds of people in the world, and you can never assume that everyone will react to your strategies in the same way. Deceive or outmaneuver some people and they will spend the rest of their lives seeking revenge. They are wolves in lambs’ clothing. Choose your victims and opponents carefully, then – never offend or deceive the wrong person.


Monday, December 12, 2016

Grappling in Karate

In the study of applications in karate forms, bunkai, there are numerous opportunities for locks and throws as the video below demonstrates.


Friday, December 09, 2016

The Untarnished Sword

Below is an excerpt from a news story about an unusual sword which was unearthed in Goujian China. After being dug up after 2700 years, the sword was virtually untarnished. The full article may be read here. At the original site, there are several more pictures of the sword.

 The Sword of Goujian  is an archaeological artifact of the Spring and Autumn period (771 to 403BC) found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Forged of copper and tin, it is renowned for its unusual sharpness and resistance to tarnish rarely seen in artifacts so old. This historical artifact of ancient China is currently in the possession of the Hubei Provincial Museum.

More than 2,000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, including a bronze sword. In December 1965, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu, a casket was discovered at Wangshan site #1. Inside, an ornate bronze sword was found with a human skeleton.

In 1965, an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, where more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State were found in Jiangling County. The dig started in the middle of October 1965 and ended in January 1966.

The sword was found sheathed in a wooden scabbard finished in black lacquer. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over 2,000 years

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Paradox in Taijiquan

Today we have a guest post by Greg Knollmeyer. Greg teaches Taijiquan in Ann Arbor, MI. He is also the motive force behind the SE Michigan Push Hands Group where people from all manner of schools and styles get together for some friendly push hands. If you're in the area, please pay a visit!

Rest In Paradox

I love taiji. I’ve been studying and practicing taiji for years. As with any long term relationship, I do find myself frustrated from time to time. The fact that my practice is so indirect frustrates me. While it’s true that I can perform forms or stand when I choose, the actual internal growth doesn’t come from performing forms or standing. It comes from the things that I allow to happen inside of those practices. I cannot force myself to relax. Rather, I can stand with good alignment and allow myself to relax more deeply. When it goes well, my integrity and relaxation feed each other and growth occurs. But often I’ll be seeking growth and will quite literally try too hard.

I’ll get too fixated and my intention puts me in tension. At those times, I’m actually preventing growth. The Dao de Jing 道德經 (Tao te Ching) tells us of this kind of paradox in the first verse. The desire for understanding dynamics often reduces a dynamic merely to its effects.

Free from desire, you realize the mystery.          
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations

So practice seems to be a paradox. If I practice with a desire to improve, I’ll flatten the dynamics and end up with empty forms.

If I don’t want to improve, why practice? The opening lines of the Dao de Jing tell us that the paradox of indirectness is built into the universe. It tells us that its subject is actually unsayable.

The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.   

A literal student would put the book down. If it can’t be said with words, why read a book about it? But the book continues for another 80 chapters. So something more must be going on here. Perhaps something might be gained in trying to understand the ineffable through words when we don’t hang on too tightly to the words. If we begin knowing the truth itself cannot be adequately expressed, perhaps we can pick up some hints as we explore the text. Practice seems like this. If I don’t hang on too tightly to the forms or the stance, but use them to explore internal dynamics, perhaps I’ll find something.

Often I joke with students that much of what I say are “lies pointing in the direction of truth.” There is an inherent limitation in description—particularly when it comes to internal dynamics. How would an opera singer describe the internal sensation of singing and holding a perfect note? We can definitively name what syllable and note are being sung. But it is impossible to express that same definitive quality in the singer’s description of how s/he generates the sound. 

As students advance, taiji increasingly reflects these paradoxes. At the beginning, many things can be communicated in a direct and specific way. Putting feet in the right place for a proper stance can be communicated easily. But to get to real health and martial benefits we need more than that. We need internal skills and deep relaxation while having good integrity. Relaxing into the earth in this stance cannot be communicated very directly.

Nonetheless a good teacher will work hard to make subtle dynamics as observable as possible. In the example of rooting, a teacher might do pressure testing with students so they can feel differences or drop root with a student so the dynamic is more palpable.

An attitude of exploration seems the most effective way to participate with teachings while resting in paradox. If I’m exploring root, I might put myself in proper alignment and then explore my body for tensions and release those. Then I might send my awareness as far down into the ground as I can and try to find new ways of sinking my root. I might try different images—What would it feel like if I imagined I was in an elevator sinking down to the center of the earth?

Exploring that image and its sensations may also provide growth. Eventually I might find paradoxical experiences. Often the feeling of being heavily rooted is accompanied by a sense of extreme lightness in the body. These contrary sensations co-exist quite nicely in a way that is very hard to describe. But focusing on exploration to discover new awareness and new dimensions in practice can help you rest in paradox. Exploration is a wonderful antidote to frustration.

About the Author Sifu Greg Knollmeyer has spent more than fifteen years studying Taiji with world renowned teachers. He teaches taiji at The Spiral Chi Center as well as at hospitals, senior centers and businesses. For the last several years he has been studying with Sigung Richard Clear.

Previously, he studied with Master Wasentha Young and he has also attended classes with Grandmaster William CC Chen, Benjamin Pang Jeng Lo, and some of their senior students. Greg has certifications in several healing techniques and helps clients in his office heal and evolve.

While making instructional taiji videos, Greg also discovered a passion for video. His editing skills in particular have been sought after and he occasionally takes on video projects. You can find out more at www.GregKnollmeyer.com

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Book Review: The Structure of Wing Chun



I like this book a lot. It’s very readable and I like the way it is written.

Alan Orr teaches a branch of Wing Chun that is firmly based about six core elements. His is a system of principles rather than techniques.

Orr begins with some personal history, something about various martial arts he has trained in or exposed to, a little about his teachers and a brief mention that his method of teaching and training is based upon some first principles.

He then continues to spiral with more about his martial arts journey, more about his teachers and how he was exposed to the principles.

Orr feels very strongly that if you are learning about combat, that you have to fight. Beating people up in the street is frowned upon, so his students regularly participate in MMA matches. There are vignettes by his students who have trained with him and fought in MMA matches. Some of these students have gone on to teach others as well.

To do this, he’s had to add grappling to his repertoire and so has learned BJJ. Orr is a master within his system of Wing Chun as well as a legitimate BJJ black belt. One of the things I have admired about Judo is that there is a consistent philosophy in both standing and grappling situations. Orr’s take on BJJ fits his Wing Chun philosophy like a glove

We read about Wing Chun history and how it fits in with today’s interpretations. Orr trains with all the traditional forms, weapons and tools as well as the latest in modern methods. Orr doesn’t make a big deal out of it, but I think that it’s worth pointing out that the “traditional” methods that some of us revere WERE the latest in available technology to those who came before us.

Orr writes about the philosophy behind the forms, which is something I have not really encountered before and again ties everything together with the six core elements.

More personal history, more from his students, from his teachers in the form of interviews … and the table is set. By the time we get to the latter half of the book, the table has been thoroughly set for his to explain his six core elements, learn some drills and begin to work with this stuff.

Orr offers some on line options to learn from him, or at least learn more.

I am not a Wing Chun student, but I really liked this book and felt that I learned something from it. I think this book and it’s approach could well be a model for how martial arts books are written in the future.