Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


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, September 15, 2019

The Foundational Kata

The Sanchin Kata is the foundational kata for several styles of karate and kung fu. I have previously posted a video of 3 karate and one white crane master simultaneously demonstrating their version of Sanchin.

Below is a demonstration of the Goju Ryu karate version.



Thursday, September 12, 2019

Improving Your Pushing Hands Practice

Below is a post that appeared at Tai Chi Notebook. The full post may be read here.

Today’s Tai Chi tip is all about how to get better at push hands simply by adjusting your posture.

Push hands should really be an exercise in which we get to test our ability to absorb Jin from an opponent and project it into an opponent as required, to uproot them.

It shouldn’t devolve into a pushing and shoving match to see who can ‘win’. Once it turns into that then I don’t think anybody is learning anything anymore. There are far superior methods of grappling and I think you’d be better off spending your time learning those if your goal is simply to win a grappling exchange.

But before we can focus on using Jin we have to get our body in a position where it conforms to the Tai Chi principles of posture, where we’re not fighting it all the time, and it’s working to our advantage instead.

It is said, “Jin does not flow through tense muscles

So, we need to get our body into a structural position where we can be as relaxed as possible, without collapsing, yet still maintain our connection to the ground. In Chinese terms you would call this a posture where your “qi is strong”, but you are not tensing muscles more than they need to be.

Of course, this optimum qi structure is one of the first things to go out of the window once we start push hands. In push hands we get to test our Tai Chi under a limited amount of pressure. Faults that lie dormant in the form rise to the surface like bubbles.

Here we’re going to go over a few.

1. Head position and leaning

Head position in the form goes hand in hand with the issue of leaning. Some styles of Tai Chi, like Wu style and Yang Cheng-Fu’s Yang style, opt for a slight angling forward of the torso in forward-weighted bow stances. Other styles like Sun style, Chen style and Cheng Man-Ching style all keep an upright posture as often as they can, even in front-weighted stances. (See pictures below)

But the thing is, all styles are upright in their back stances (or should be). And even styles that maintain an upright stance, have to lean forward to do throwing techniques that take the person to the ground like Needle at Sea Bottom or Punch to the ground, for example.

I think it’s time to get to the point of all this:

It’s not the lean itself that matters.
It’s maintaining an unbroken spinal alignment that is the key issue!

All these practitioners have one thing in common, they are not letting their heads droop, and they are not looking at the floor when they don’t need to.

For example, when even a practitioner who is famous for his upright posture does Needle at Sea Bottom, he or she bends forward, she just doesn’t break the alignment of the spine.

The Tai Chi classics talk a lot of carrying the head as if “suspended from above”. If you let your head droop you break the spinal alignment. You are easy to off-balance in push hands because your posture is broken. But if you hinge properly from the hips then you can still keep this spinal alignment even when you bend forward.

Think of the spine as including the neck (which anatomically, it does of course). If the neck goes offline in relation to the spine then the weight of the head has to be compensated by muscles elsewhere in the body. And this extra tensing of muscles results in a less efficient transfer of Jin from (or too) the ground.

Because we are quite used to this happening while standing or sitting, we don’t really feel our head being off centre so much. Switch to working on the ground, in a yoga posture for example, and you can instantly feel the difference your head position makes.

On a technical level, if you are using Jin you should be able to let the solidity of the ground be apparent at the point of contact with the opponent. If you have to use too much muscle then your pure Jin starts to turn into “Muscle Jin”. Muscle jin, isn’t as adaptable to change as pure jin. You can’t easily change direction, for instance. It also just doesn’t feel as it should. It might help you win a push hands competition, but you’ll find it lacking when it comes to martial technique.

And when it comes to the thorny issue of leaning, I’d recommend trying to stay upright in push hands. As I said before, the leans you tend to see in Tai Chi forms are to do with the application of a technique. Sure, you can lean to apply power according to a technique (just make sure you keep your spine aligned) but for the usual back and forth of push hands I’d recommend trying to keep as upright as possible. You’ll find it gives you more freedom of movement in the horizontal axis.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Learning Taijiquan Through the Process of Body Mechanics

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Thoughts on Tai Chi. The full post may be read here.

When you start learning Tai Chi, you start learning as a person who is used to mostly be aware about your head and hands. For some people, the process of starting to learn Tai Chi can be painful. You will become painfully aware about all of your mistakes and flaws, how bad your balance is, how bad your coordination is and how hard it is to coordinate the body with awareness in the most simple ways. Now you will start to use your nervous system in another way than you are used to in daily life’s movements. Through the time, you will deepen your knowledge about yourself. It will be a long journey with plenty of rewards ahead.
  1. Balance and the central axis.
  2. Understanding feet and legs
  3. Use of the kua 
  4. Understanding the lower Dantian
  5. Coordinating of kua, dantian and waist
  6. Opening and closing the lower ribs
  7. Opening and closing scapula 
  8. Coordinating lower ribs, spine and 
  9. Coordinating lower and upper body and all of it together 
  10. Everything moves together spontaneously without focus on any part starting/initiating movement
So, let’s explain these steps further:

Stages 1 & 2 – Balance and centerline

  • Balance and the central axis.
  • Understanding feet and legs
First, you will need to learn how to separate full and empty by weight shifting and moving from posture to posture. You do this while keeping your body straight while getting acquainted to the use of turning around the central axis. You will learn how to use your center and balance.

Now, after learning the basics, you’ll need to learn to become more aware about your feet and legs, not only how to shift weight but to move your body with the feet and legs. You need to try to be as passive as possible with your arms, letting the body push the arms and pull them in. 

These first two steps, the very beginning of learning Tai Chi properly, occur mostly while learning a form. The process of learning a long form might take one or two years of study. If you study a long traditional form, you will probably need to learn it first before being able to deepening your body method further.


Friday, September 06, 2019

The Origins of the Kyoto Taikai and it’s Place in Kendo Today

Below is an interesting excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7

The full post may be read here.


From the very founding of the Butokukai in 1885, there has always been a gathering of budoka in Kyoto once a year for a Butokusai, or a martial arts demonstration. This included not only kendo, but (events changed over time) kyudo, judo, marksmanship, swimming, sumo, naginata, koryu (see below) etc. This has continued over the past nearly 135 years except for exceptional circumstances (Tenran-jiai or war).

Although the main art demonstrated has always been kendo (judo being a close second), nowadays it has become an almost exclusively kendo event (with some ZNKR iaido and jodo).

In the past, the Kyoto Taikai served as THE event that brought disparate and far-flung groups of practitioners together. It was there that shogo (seirensho/renshi, kyoshi, hanshi) were awarded and grades decided (pre-war that would have been up to godan, post war up to judan). Nowadays there are far more people doing kendo, and gradings and shogo are decided across the country, so the Kyoto Taikai’s influence here has been vastly reduced (in the past, shogo and grades were awarded AFTER your tachiai, nowadays it is before).

Today, the Kyoto Taikai serves as a central event for experienced practitioners to meet, do kendo, and socialise. People who are not yet eligible to do a tachiai not only have the opportunity to watch famous kenshi from across the country (world) do their tachiai, but they may even get the chance to keiko with them.

Money-wise, the taikai is a massive source of income for the ZNKR. Thousands of people compete, each paying around 3,000 yen for the privilege.

When thinking about the culture of kendo, however, talk of money goes out the door: doing a tachiai (whether kendo or whatnot) in the Butokuden is a direct link to the history of kendo, and being part of the taikai itself is seen as an honour.


The point of embu

As stated above, initially this particular embu was one to not only friendship and to show your skills, but also served as an event where you could be promoted within the organisation (Butokukai). This has changed over time as gradings have become more democratic, have been moved to other locations as well as placed before the embu itself in Kyoto,

However, some people reading this might think of an “embu” as something where koryu are demonstrated rather than kendo, and usually – but not always – in a shrine or temple. As this is the norm nowadays I can understand why people believe this, but in fact, the whole concept of “koryu” or “kobudo” really only started in the 1920s and 30s in Japan, a good 30-odd years after the Butokukai began it’s embu event. Koryu embu were for self-promotion, that is, to attract people to study the arts so that they didn’t die out completely. They also served as motivation to study about and polish your own ryu-ha’s skills (seemingly, the state of koryu at that time was dire).

So, kendo-wise the point of holding the embu in Kyoto has, since the grading element has been removed, become more of a traditional event. People from all over meet up, do some kendo, and socialise. Koryu-wise, the initial motivation was to basically ensure the survival of the arts (they were about to be eclipsed by kendo, judo, et al), but expanded to include serious historical and technical study.


Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Mental Traps in Taijiquan Practice

"Stop setting snares for yourself. Relax and see where it takes you." - Daoist Drinking Song

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post at Slanted Flying. The full post may be read here.


...Since we were toddlers, we have trained ourselves to lean into, or brace, against force. When first trying to push something, toddlers push themselves away instead, ending in them seated on their diapers. Leaning into the object allows toddlers to use whatever weight they have against the object that they try to push. Our minds have therefore become accustomed to replying to force by applying more force, and to lean or brace when doing so.

But Taijiquan teaches the opposite; to avoid using force against force! We train to issue force from the ground – from our feet, developed by our legs, directed from our waist, expressed in the arms. In push-hands (推手tui shou), interacting like a “butting cow” (顶牛ding niu) is considered to be an error indicative of poor quality Taijiquan. Butting against a partner or opponent reflects our lifetime habit (since we were toddlers) of leaning and bracing, and resisting force with force.

We instead want to “receive” force into our “root” (into the ground). We want to remain comfortable and aligned, and if we conduct incoming forces downward (e.g., by bending our back leg) rather than bracing backwards (e.g., straightening the rear leg), then the incoming force is more aligned with gravity, which healthy human bodies are comfortable with due to naturally “resisting” gravity every time that we stand.

We have habitual mental images of responding horizontally, pushing forward and pulling backwards, instead of pushing/projecting up from, and pulling/absorbing down into, our feet. The horizontal tendency is what produces the “butting cow” posture during push-hands practice. The “butting cow” loses the resiliency of the rear leg which stiffens instead. One would then lose the quality of “loading the spring” (compressing into one’s root – the ground) that is more appropriate for Taijiquan.

When one’s joints stiffen or lock in response to force (either incoming from an opponent, or outgoing from one’s own issuing of force), the body loses its changeability. We may appear stronger (at least in the one direction that the force/resistance is directed towards), but we also become less adaptable.

Taijiquan seeks to maintain changeability/adaptability even when under pressure; we want to maintain the openness of our joints, like they are well oiled and free to move, rather than locking/tightening them in place.

Many people when they want to bend lower or raise their leg higher for example, try to use force or momentum to do so rather than trying to relax more. This “try harder” or “do more” approach seems to be what humans have learned to do rather than relaxing (doing less). Unless someone is taught stretching or yoga, or something similar, the tendency is to bounce harder and harder in order to force a greater range of motion.