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 ~

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

2018 Birthday Post

Today is my birthday. Won't you help me celebrate?

Life IS a circle sometimes and that can be appropriate.

Over 35 years ago, I began learning the Cheng Man Ching (Zheng Man Qing) version of Taijiquan from Carol Yamasaki, who was a direct student of CMC from his New York days during the late '60s and early '70's. After a year or two, life took me in other directions as it sometimes does.

A few years ago, I decided that dusting off that form practice and polishing it was a worthy pursuit of a man my age, and so I began practicing again, to the best of my recollection and with whatever references I could find.

Earlier this year by chance I made the acquaintance of a current student of hers. It turned out that she had a class in the evenings during the week that was not all that far from my office! In May of this year, I started learning from her and my practice has blossomed.

Running was a bust this year.

I like to run but I draw the line in certain places. Since I usually run in the dark, at least during the beginning and end of the seasons, I don't like to run when it's wet or slippery out. I don't like dodging puddles and not being sure where I'm stepping. At my age, healing from injuries takes longer these days.

I also need the temperature to be at least in the mid 40's before I'm going to step outside. I've run when it's colder, but that's something I'm not really fond of.

Winter had hung on for a long time. Where I would normally get started around the end of March, we were heading into April before conditions were leaning my way. But before I could get on the road, I had three weeks in a row of work related travel.

I find that it's hard enough to maintain any good habits when I'm traveling, much less running, so we were into May before I could lace up my shoes and get going.

I dove into it, running perhaps a little too far, too quickly after not having run since last October or November. But wait! There's more to it.

For some stupid reason, I decided to may last year's shoes last a little longer before using my newer shoes. I don't know what I was thinking, but the result was that I badly bruised up the soles of my feet.

I tried letting them heal up and trying again, but it became very clear, very quickly that they needed to heal up over a longer period.

I decided to let it go for this year and to pick it up again next spring. In the meantime, my taijiquan practice has benefited from the break.


You take the bitter with the sweet.

One of my sisters in law was diagnosed earlier this year with brain cancer. There is no known cure yet.

She's relatively young (51), in otherwise good health, and is neither overweight or a smoker. She's got those things going for her while she endures the year long chemotherapy regimen.

She's had a great attitude in facing the long odds against her.

Her husband has been remarkable in how he's been all over everything and has been finding options for her, for any eventuality.

The support that they are getting from family and friends is heartening.

I hope that I will be able to report next year that her cancer is in remission and a cure has been found.


For the rest of us, we have no complaints; how could we?

My wife works three days a week which allows her to help care for her sister two days a week. This year she and I will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary.

To celebrate her 60th birthday, which is the day before mine, She and I, together with our two daughters took a look weekend trip up to Mackinac Island. We had a great weekend.

The older daughter has visited a number of national parks this year. 

My youngest daughter is going to Iceland on vacation next spring.

And I am just fat, dumb and happy at age 61,

Books that I enjoyed over the last year:

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Correct Zanshin

At Kenshi 24/7, there was a post about what is correct Zanshin, what isn't and also a surprising definition of zanshin.

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

The common meaning of ZANSHIN nowadays is exactly as the kanji suggest – 残心 – “remaining spirit.” In other words, once you have struck you have to remain aware of your opponent in case they attempt to strike you back and, if they do so, you should be in a position to counterattack. In modern kendo this usually (for men) takes the physical form of turning around, facing your opponent, and going into kamae after a strike. I’ll explain why this can be slightly odd behaviour further down.

Coincidently, Andy Fisher just recently made an excellent video describing and showing what zanshin is (how it’s supposed to be) today. He also clearly shows postures that can be described as “zanshin-less” (but that we commonly see in shiai, more on that below). His textbook description and demonstration is spot-on, saving me both time and effort! Specifically, please watch the video between 1:27-6:18:

Going back to our topic of discussing what “zanshin” is, did you know that there is an older, more classical, and almost unknown definition of the term? This is something I have puzzled over for years, but I have avoided introducing it on kenshi 24/7 because of both the potentially confusing nature of the definition, and (mainly) because it flies in the face of pretty much everyone’s idea of what “zanshin” is. A recent edition of the magazine Kendo Nippon mentioned it, re-fueling my thoughts on the matter and supplying the impetus to talk about it today.

So, what is this other definition?

Zanshin and Sutemi

Here we go:
“Zanshin is the consequence of striking with full spirit (without attempting to leave anything behind).”
In other words, ZANSHIN IS THE RESULT OF SUTEMI. If you do not attack with full spirit (sutemi), that is, if you try to force “zanshin” or try to keep something back, then not only will you not have any real zanshin, but your attack will be half-baked.
“If you imagine you have a cup full of water. In one swift motion you flick your wrist and the water flies out at speed. Looking in the cup you will see a little bit of water left. This is zanshin.”
By attacking with sutemi…
“… not only will you naturally be ready to face any counter-attack by the opponent but, in fact, no opening for your opponent to strike will appear.”
So, our two definitions might look different, they might even seem like they are saying the opposite thing, but the end result is more-or-less the same.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The First Duel

The Duellists was a terrific movie. Based upon a pair of actual antagonists, which Joseph Conrad used as the basis for his short story The Duel (AKA "Point of Honor), it chronicles two French officers during the Napoleonic era who had a beef with each other and fought about 30 duels over a period of about 20 years.

From Wikipedia:

The Conrad short story evidently has its genesis in the real duels that two French officers fought in the Napoleonic era. Their names were Dupont and Fournier-Sarlovèze, whom Conrad disguised slightly, changing Dupont into d'Hubert and Fournier into Feraud.

In The Encyclopedia of the Sword, Nick Evangelista wrote:

As a young officer in Napoleon's Army, Dupont was ordered to deliver a disagreeable message to a fellow officer, Fournier, a rabid duellist. Fournier, taking out his subsequent rage on the messenger, challenged Dupont to a duel. This sparked a succession of encounters, waged with sword and pistol, that spanned decades. The contest was eventually resolved when Dupont was able to overcome Fournier in a pistol duel, forcing him to promise never to bother him again.[2]

They fought their first duel in 1794 from which Fournier demanded a rematch. This rematch resulted in at least another 30 duels over the next 19 years, in which the two officers fought mounted and on foot, with swords, rapiers, and sabres.

The Duellists stands out for the realism of the fighting. Below is a clip of the first duel.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Aesthetics of the Dojo

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post at appeared at The Dragon's Orb, regarding the influence of Zen aesthetics on the traditional dojo. The full post may be read here.

In the training halls that come from the Japanese martial lineage we find what was once simple and crude acts of violence elevated to a a high art form that transcends the physical techniques and moves us towards a far deeper practice. These arts that have sprung from Japan emerge from a rich and formal artistic tradition. The formality of Bushido culture, the Zen artistic aesthetic and the rich religious and social philosophies of the East all shape the character of the fine arts that comprise 武道 budo - the martial way. Fredric Lieberman wrote, "To Occidentals, the physical world was an objective reality--to be analyzed, used, mastered. To Orientals, on the contrary, it was a realm of beauty to be admired, but also of mystery and illusion to be pictured by poets, explained by myth-makers and mollified by priestly incantations. This contrast between East and West had incalculable influence on their respective arts, as well as on their philosophies and religions."

武道 Budo was birthed from the Japanese artistic tradition and is directly shaped, like so many of the Japanese arts, by 禅 Zen aesthetic principles. Aesthetics can be seen as an attempt to define principles concerning what is ‘beauty’. I distinctly remember during my time in Japan a calligrapher telling me that in the art of the brush, one must often be taught "what beauty is." I feel strongly that the process of the study of aiki, we are not only learning a martial skill, we are being shown, "what beauty is." We are being educated in a physical embodiment of a philosophy. Everything from the formal training dojos, to the uniform, rankings, calligraphy on the walls, and yes, the character of the techniques themselves are in some large way shaped by the Zen artistic tradition.

Sokyu, in my opinion, writes the most succinct description about the Zen process and how it emerges in the practice of budo.

“Japanese Buddhism teaches the attainment of detachment by the removal of self-consciousness through spiritual concentration. A technique for this is the repetition of a kata (form)…. In essence…practicing an action a certain way, time after time, so that in the end we come into contact with our true nature.”

Despite Sokyu's wonderful insight, I still want to go deeper down the rabbit hole and take a look at the work of Hisamtsu Shinichi , who more clearly defines the characteristics of the Zen aesthetic. Hisamtsu Shinichi (久松 真一 June 5, 1889 – February 27, 1980) was a philosopher, Zen Buddhist scholar, and Japanese 茶道 tea ceremony master. He attempted to break down the aesthetic principles of Zen. These principles can be seen in all of the major classical 道 - do, spirituality through art form. Shinichi Hisamtsu wrote, “The seven characteristics (of Zen aesthetics) are not limited to art in the narrow sense, but rather they include the whole of human existence.”

Zen Aesthetic Principles
不均齊 Fukinsei - creating asymmetry "dynamic relationships"
簡素 Kanso - simplicity
考古 Koko - austere yet bare essentials, basic, weathered
自然 Shizen - naturalness, absence of pretense
幽玄 Yugen - subtly profound grace, not obvious
脱俗 Datsuzoku - unbounded by convention, free
静寂 Seijaku - quiet, calm

Friday, October 05, 2018

Martial Arts Terms

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kenshi24/7. The full post may be read here.

wandered into the dojo a week or so back, and overnight my sensei had written and taped some kendo-specific kanji to the wall (see picture above).
The terms are very commonly used when talking about or describing kendo, but I thought I’d use this this opportunity to go over them here. As an added bonus, his handwriting is beautiful – enjoy!
For each term I will present the ‘official’ translations available from the Japanese-English dictionary of kendo where available (italicised), then supplement my own additions after that. The final version of my additions became somewhat larger than I intended, sorry!
The descriptions of the words are written below as the appear on the picture from top-bottom and right-left (the traditional direction of Japanese writing). Pay careful attention to the order that the vocabulary are presented in, as its not random.
The act of vocalising. The act of shouting at the opponent when facing each other. The act of shouting kote, men, do, when striking.
KIAI (気合)
The state where one is fully focused on the opponents move and one’s planned moves. Also, it refers to the vocalisations one produced when in such a state of mind.
The words hassei, kiai, and (not mentioned above) kakegoe, are three – at times – overlapping and interrelated words that we in the English kendo community commonly package (mistakenly) into single word: kiai. Why is this mistaken? Basically, kiai refers to a feeling of focus and determination, an internal will or drive to do something (e.g. desire to pass an exam, determination to ask a girl you like out on a date, etc). Sometimes (though not always) this is expressed vocally as a shout. We are in the habit of calling this kiai, but its probably more correctly termed kagekoe. Hassei is the act of doing kakegoe.
The strength of spirit to face any situation. Also called ki-gai. A strong mind capable of responding properly to a pressing matter or an attacking opponent.
To express kihaku in your kendo you would stand up and face your opponent without wavering. A power, both mental and physical, with which you face adversary. If your kendo lacks kihaku, its empty.
KI O KOROSU (気を殺す)
An important teaching concerning three ways to overwhelm an opponent. The three ways are ‘killing the ki (spirit),’ ‘killing the sword,’ and ‘killing the waza.’ Killing the ki means that one’s ki overwhelms the opponents ki, thereby forestalling his/her attack. Killing the sword means that one controls the movement of the tip of the opponent’s sword by restraining or deflecting the sword. Killing the waza means that one anticipates the opponent, giving him/her no chance to attack.
The order of the terms in the ‘official’ description above is misleading, and the descriptions simplified. The order that my sensei wrote it shows a flow of progression to maturity. When kenshi are in an immature stage they tend to attack their opponents by hitting their sword away, pushing and/or slapping it up or down, left and right, and jumping suddenly in to attack. As they become more experienced they start luring in the opponents attack and defeating them as they attempt to strike. The final stage of this progression, of the truly mature kenshi, is when they are able to overwhelm and control their opponent through mental power alone. It sounds a little bit fantastic but, as any experienced kenshi knows, it happens.
SEME (攻め)
To take the initiative to close the distance with the opponent in full spirit. This puts the opponent off balance mentally and physically and prevents him/her from moving freely. This enables one to maintain a constant advantage over the opponent. In kendo its important to intentionally attack and strike, not to just strike by chance. The back and forth action of offense and defense involved in seme (attacks) and seme-kaesu (counterattacks) not only improves the skill of both players but also develops their minds and bodies. All of this leads to the mutual self-creation of both people and to the building of human character.
Here, my sensei has broken the act of seme into three parts. Seme-komu is the act of driving in for the attack. This can be in a physical or mental sense. Seme-kiru is the act of finalisation of the strike, and Seme-katsu refers to victory as consequence of the attack. Seme is not something singular but, rather, has its own progression. Seme without seme-kiru or seme-katsu leads to nothing.
KOKYU (呼吸)
The act of inhaling and exhaling. In kendo this term also means to predict the opponent’s movement and adjust one’s moves accordingly as part of the interaction with the opponent.
KI (気)
The basic energy which exists in all matter that is born, develops, and dies. In human beings, it is the source of the kinetic energy responsible for perception, sensation, and instinct. In kendo, it refers to the environment surrounding one’s self and one’s opponent, and it is the basic energy in making the functioning of one’s body and mind full and harmonious.
Breathing is taught little in modern kendo circles nowadays, mainly because even some of the most senior teachers aren’t schooled in the traditional breathing methods. AUN NO KOKYU is usually mentioned at this juncture. It is a method usually associated with zen meditation (and sometimes yoga) which refers to not only breathing, but a sort of mental harmony between you and your partner, with the goal being a unification with the entirety of existence.
Looking at the description of kokyu and ki above, you can see that kokyu’s function is to tap into ki. This results in gaining access to all the energy in the universe, becoming one with it. In other words, kendo is simply a physical activity (any activity would actually do) who’s purpose is to unite you with the universe. Your partner helps you with this… they are not the enemy, and winning/losing are irrelevant. Kendo’s final goal is revealed through kokyu.