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, June 19, 2018

The 48 Laws of Power, #25: Recreate Yourself

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 #25: Recreate Yourself.

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

To Hit the Mark

At the JMCU Official Blog, there was a very interesting post explaining how many common Japanese phrases are derived from Kyudo. Below are a few example. The full post may be read here.

はず (hazu, “supposed to be the case”)
筈 (hazu) is the nock of an arrow. Naturally, an arrow nock is supposed to fit on a bowstring.

Monika wa kinou juujikan benkyoushita to itte ita kara, kyou no shiken wa yoku dekita hazu da.
Since Monica said that she studied for ten hours yesterday, she must have done well on the exam today.

的を射る(mato o iru, “right to the point”)

的 (mato) and 射る (iru) means “target” and “to shoot with a bow,” respectively, so the literal translation is “to hit a target.”

Shachou no setsumei wa nagasugite wakaranakatta ga, hisho no mato o ita shitsumon no okagede, kijiroku o matomeru koto ga dekita.

Although our company president’s explanation was too long for us to understand, thanks to the secretary’s on-point questions, I managed to put the meeting minutes together.

On the flip side, 的外れな質問 (mato hazure na shitsumon) means “questions beside the point .”

手の内 (te no uchi, “to keep hidden”)
手の内 (te no uchi) literally refers to inside the hand, and it can mean “how to hold a bow” in the context of kyudo. The way of maneuvering a bow is one of the most challenging aspects the art.
  • 手の内を見せない/隠す
    Te no uchi o misenai/kakusu
    Hold one’s cards close to one’s chest
It is said to show how good or bad a particular shooter is, and one can spend years to acquire a good form. Thus, it was not uncommon for techniques and each individual schools’ instructions to be kept secret.
  • 各研究所は、激しい競争に勝つために、実験の結果を発表するまで、手の内を決して見せない。
    Kaku kenkyuujo wa, hageshii kyousou ni katsu tame ni, jikken no kekka o happyousuru made, te no uchi o kesshite misenai.
    In order to win fierce competitions, each research institute never discloses what is important until it presents the results of their experiments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Documentary on Taikiken Founder Kenichi Sawai

Kenichi Sawai studied Yiquan in China during the Japanese occupation during WWII. The actual details of his study is accompanied by much controversy.

After the war, he transported what he learned to Japan and founded Taikiken. He was great friends with the founder of Kyokushin Karate, Mas Oyama; where each had some influence on the development of the art of the other.

Below is a short documentary on Kenichi Sawai. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Out of Time

There was a very good post about our perception of how much time that we think we have when it comes to martial arts training in particular and in life in general at Kogen Budo. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Throughout my career in martial art training, I would say that the majority of people I’ve met–my fellow students, my peers or acquaintances,  are people who are happy to train with what they think is an exemplary teacher. For a number of reasons, however, (lack of drive, humility, reticence to push themselves forward .. .  . .), they act as if they have an endless amount of time to learn the system.
That’s not so. Your teachers age, and as they do so, invariably, they cannot move as they once did. Some not only lose skill, but they lose knowledge. Others lose wisdom itself. Still others change: what seemed so important once is irrelevant to them as they approach, ever closer, to death, and their students’ mastery of their particular combative art no longer seems that important. In other words, their fire has burned out.
Some teachers continue to burn, training themselves rigorously even into old age, still discovering new aspects of their art. However, even if aspects of their art become more sophisticated and deep, there are often certain physical actions that they can no longer perform. Yet the student, quite naturally and sincerely, imitates the teacher, as they are now–particularly if they’ve no memory of him or her in earlier days. For example, when I first went to Japan and met Donn Draeger, he invited me to train in Shindo Muso-ryu. (it was, in a sense, the ‘entry level’ koryu for young people he was mentoring). There were a number of reasons I chose not to enter Shindo Muso-ryu or establish such a close relationship with Donn (I hadn’t travelled half-way around the world, giving up the life I knew, to land easily within the protective tutelage of someone who had been ‘there’ first…I wanted to find my own ‘there,’ different from his). In any event, the most important reason was watching Shimizu sensei, already old, shuffling his feet in 15 cm steps, and watching huge guys copying him, shuffling their feet and swinging their jo and sword much like their rotund elderly teacher.
I recently got a bad hip injury – it’s improved somewhat, but it’s unclear at this point if I’m going to make a full recovery on this latest injury. After a month-long break, I’ve been training for a week and I’m crippled in regards to certain movements. For example, I cannot do a ke-ashi, the emblematic kick of Toda-ha Buko-ryu. So when people ask me how to do this technique – or any one of a number of others that I can’t (at least right now) accomplish, I can merely explain it (but verbal explanations may well be inadequate) or refer them to archival films on our website of myself or my teachers in earlier days. But my understanding may well have changed since that film, and anyway, that is not even close to the experience of observing your teacher in the flesh, or even more important, experiencing them use a technique to ‘kill’ you over and over. Learning with the flesh is not the same as learning with the eyes or ears.
My point is: do not be complacent. Do not approach learning at a leisurely pace. Train as if your life depends on it (it may), and as if  this may be the only opportunity to learn this particular bit of information (that may be true). If you don’t hear it, perceive it, embody it now, the opportunity to learn it may never come again. Or without seeing  your teacher perform the technique, without an opportunity to feel yourself impacted/defeated by it, you will never conceive of what it really means. As those in my Valencia Dojo can quickly recall this week, I taught a nuance in the use of the sword vs naginata that an outside observer will never perceive, but a practitioner, weapon-to-weapon, will definitely experience. It radically changes your effect on shitachi, allowing you to have time and space to accomplish taisabaki (body-displacement) to get in an advantageous position. It’s something I just discovered myself, after struggling with this technique for almost forty years. However, what if, a few years from now, I can no longer do it? If not learned now, lost forever.

Thursday, June 07, 2018

Review: Cobra Kai

I saw that YouTube had an original production of a sequel series to The Karate Kid, named Cobra Kai. It takes place in our current time, some 30 years after the events of The Karate Kid series of movies and lets us catch up with the lives of Daniel and Johnny.

I was pleasantly surprised with how good it was. This first season consists of 10 episodes, the first two of which are free on YouTube, with the rest requiring a subscription to YouTube Red.

The writing is tight. They pack a lot of story telling in each ~30 minute episode. Every the scenes with Daniel's goofy cousin Louie serves to advance the story.

The characters aren't the black and white cartoon characters we saw in the movies. We see that each of the major characters has a lot going on in their lives and is carrying a lot of baggage.

There as a lot of storylines playing out in the series and as in real life, they aren't quite separate. They bleed into each other to create new complications.

I really enjoyed it and I think that you would to.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Book Review: Laoshi and Laoshi's Legacy

"Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning." - Thoreau

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. To internalize what one has learned. Easy enough said, but how do you do this?

For many of us, we are attracted to our martial arts practice "for the philosophy," which may be difficult to articulate and even more so to bring into our everyday lives.

Luckily we have the book, Laoshi by Jan Kauskus, and his new book Laoshi's Legacy to help us along the way.

In each of these books, Kauskus has taken conversations and episodes from his training under his teacher, Laoshi, as both life lessons and Taijiquan based upon his Taijiquan practice. He's given these chapters only a light touch of artistic license facilitate continuity and smoothness in the narrative.

These books are about internalizing the philosophy of Taijiquan in general and the Taijiquan of Zheng ManQing (Cheng Man Ching) in particular. Having studied ZMQ Taijiquan under a direct student of The Professor myself, I can state that the words as they flow off of the page resonate with the stories I've heard and lessons I have learned.

Laoshi primarily centers on Kauskus' time as a student, while Laoshi's Legacy focuses on the period when he took over a few classes for his teacher, then grew into a teacher in his own right as his teacher retired to focus on his own practice.

The topics aren't airy topics discussed in a bamboo grove over tea, or maybe they are - the tribulations of trying to support one's self by teaching Taijiquan, recruiting students, dealing with money, fencing, characters in the training hall, push hands, dealing with whomever should walk in the door, getting your life in order, the perils of practicing in the park, difficult people, jealousy, envy, expectations; it's all in there.

By way of comparison, I haven't enjoyed reading such martial arts memoirs since Wolfe Lowethal's books about his days of training under The Professor.

If you are interested in letting the philosophy of the martial art that you practice becoming a part of who you are, I think that you'll be doing yourself a favor by reading both Laoshi and Laoshi's Legacy by Jan Kauskas.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Kung Fu Pioneer, Lau Bun

One of the first Chinese Kung Fu masters to openly teach non Chinese, was Lau Bun in San Francisco. 

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Tea. The full post may be read here.


Most observers of the Chinese martial arts agree that Lau Bun was the first individual to open a permanent, somewhat-public, Chinese martial arts school on the American mainland.  That fact alone makes him an important figure to know about.  However, the details of his life are fascinating for other reasons as well.  As well as illustrating many aspects of the Chinese American experience, his career demonstrates the many ways in which the martial arts intersected with, and were useful to, the broader political-economy of immigrant communities.

Whether it was providing physical protection, settling disputes, or creating a sense of cultural continuity, Lau Bun’s life provides us with an interesting window into how the martial arts interacted with, and were used by, the broader Chinese society in the early 20th century.  For that reason I felt that a brief biographical sketch of his career would make a valuable contribution to our lives of the “Chinese Martial Artists” series.


Lau Bun’s career is interesting precisely because it spans two eras.  When he first arrived, dominant white society had adopted a stance of active hostility towards Asian Americans.  Lau Bun was fiercely loyal to his community, and drawing on the tradition of the Foshan Hung Sing Association (which was famous in the 19th century for its “Three Exclusions” policy), refused to teach Kung Fu to non-Chinese individuals.  Still, given the active hostilities between these communities, and the general lack of knowledge that the Chinese fighting arts even existed, one suspects that that beatniks from San Francisco were not exactly knocking down the door of the Wah-Keung Ckung Fu Club demanding instruction.

In the late 1950s and 1960s things were different.  Lau Bun was now in his 70s.  Both his reputation and school were well established.  The “yellow peril” that had dominated the 1920s and 1930s had all but disappeared from the public discourse.  In some ways community relations were much freer than they had ever been in the past.

And now a new generation of young adults actually was banging on the door of the Hung Sing Association asking to be admitted as students.  Bing Chan was the first of the San Francisco instructors trained by Lau Bun to begin to openly admit non-Chinese students to his classes.  Jew Long, who was Lau Bun’s actual successor, also began to work with Caucasian students at almost exactly the same time.

Students of Choy Li Fut and martial historians are lucky to have some home movies shot at a public demonstration, probably sometime in the early 1960s.  The atmosphere in these films is festive.  They record Lau Bun performing a butterfly sword routine, which is probably the earliest footage of the hudiedao being used in America that I have seen.  A wide variety of other demonstrations are also performed by second and third generation students.  It is interesting to note that not all of these students are Chinese. Larry Johnson, a student of Jew Long, can clearly be seen demonstrating the Tiger Fork in one section of the film.


Lau Bun opened the first known school, and his students (along with Ark Yuey Wong) were among the first individuals to openly teach the Chinese martial arts to all races in the US.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to reduce his life to a series of “firsts” or colorful anecdotes.  I prefer to focus on the ways that his biography demonstrates how the martial arts interacted with other elements of Chinese society, both in Guangdong and throughout the diaspora.

His life experience points to the importance of globalization as a central force in the social destiny of both southern China and the Chinese martial arts.  Further, I find it fascinating that within his lifetime the martial arts were used both as a tool to police the boundaries between communities, and as a doorway to bridge them.  That is a valuable lesson to remember as we think about the shifting relationships between the traditional Chinese martial arts, identity and nationalism today.

If you were looking for a figure to act as the foundation for a major martial arts film franchise, Lau Bun’s life would provide plenty of material.  If instead you are interested in the development of modern Chinese martial culture, his biography would also make for interesting reading.  I hope that this brief sketch inspires other academic students to start to investigate and write about the history of Choy Li Fut and its leading figures both inside and outside of China.