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 ~


Monday, October 28, 2019

The Weapons of Wing Chun

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Tea, regarding the weapons practice of Wing Chun. The full article may be read here.

From time to time I am asked why Wing Chun teaches only two weapons. For those unfamiliar with the system these are the long single-tailed fighting pole, favored by a number of southern Chinese styles, and the butterfly swords. Most of Guangdong’s more popular styles have extensive arsenals.

The straight sword (jian) and broadsword (dao) are commonly seen throughout the region as are the trident, iron ruler, spear, fighting chain and rattan shield.

Such a question may well be impossible to answer. One suspects that many of the explanations that are given are basically post-hoc justifications. It could be that the focus on only two weapons reflects the style’s dedication to “parsimony” and its “concept” rather than “technique-based” approach to fighting. Or this could all simply be a matter of coincidence. If you examine the historical record it is not difficult to locate accounts of Republic period Wing Chun enthusiasts who took an interest in a more diverse set of weapons.

Still, there is something undeniably unique about the pole and double swords. While arts like Hung Gar, White Crane and Choy Li Fut teach a greater number of forms, these two are often the first weapons actually introduced to students.

There is also a longstanding tradition (which one can see in the written literature on the Chinese martial arts as far back as the Ming) justifying the long pole’s special place in military training. It was favored by instructors as it could both physically strengthen students and introduce them to techniques that would aid their study of other weapons.

Meir Shahar has argued that it was this idea, rather than any Buddhist prohibition on bladed weapons, that explained the Shaolin Temple’s specialization in cudgel fighting throughout the Ming era. Thus there may be concrete historical reasons why these particular instruments came to be favored as the foundation of 19th century southern weapons training.

We have already seen that the pole and the hudiedao (butterfly swords) came to constitute the core of Guangdong’s 19th century training for gentry led militias and other paramilitary groups. These forces cannot be dismissed as peripheral to the area’s history. They carried out a great deal of the actual fighting that occurred during the Opium Wars and the Red Turban Revolt.

The provincial government was also extensively involved in financing and procuring the arms that these groups used. While some authors have dismissed the hudiedao as an eccentric toy for martial artists, in fact these weapons were critical to southern China’s military identity throughout the 19th century.

This might be one way of understanding modern Wing Chun’s parsimony in the realm of weaponry.

The forms it taught would allow a martial artist from the Pearl River Delta region to pick up and competently use the two weapons that they were most likely to be given in the case of a community crisis. Other weapons, such as spears or daos, were (rightly or wrongly) considered close substitutes.

Yet when we look at the martial arts as they developed during the final years of the Qing and Republic periods, we are primarily discussing civilian fighting traditions which were taught in a non-military context. Do we have any witnesses to the use of these specific weapons in a civil setting?

How common were they compared to other traditional weapons which were available in Chinese communities during the middle of the 19th century?



Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Wude: Martial Virtue

Related, but different from the Japanese concept of Budo is the concept of "Wude" in Chinese martial arts, or martial virtue.

Below is an excerpt from a post at Cold Mountain Internal Martial Arts on Wude. The full post may be read here.

Tai Chi discussion sites on the internet can be depressing.  I've participated on many but usually they become toxic as personality clashes develop and one lineage or another strives to assert its superiority.  When this happens and the slagging starts, a central factor is an absence of wu-de,  the martial arts code.

 Ideally, Tai Chi is a philosophy. The word 'philosophy' refers to the love of wisdom.  The essence of wisdom, as the ancient Greek philosophers put it, is knowledge of oneself.  Wu-de, the behaviour code of the martial arts, is based upon the philosophy taught by an ancient sage – ‘Confucius’ (to Westerners) or Kong-tse,  'Master Kong'.

“The Master”, as he is known to countless East-Asians, lived in the troubled later years of the Zhou dynasty (1046 - 256 BCE), a time of warring kingdoms, environmental degradation, famine, genocide, corruption, and a lack of either public or private morality.

Seeing the chaos into which the land had descended, he taught a system of morality based upon the principles of natural order as he saw them outlined in the I Jing (Book of Changes).

To reform society, The Master proposed to start small – with the individual. If the individual cultivated morality within himself, then he could influence his family. In turn, a cultivated family might have a reforming influence upon their neighbourhood, which in turn might, by example, reform the community. Then other communities might be reformed, next the province, then finally the state. Thus, a great responsibility rested upon individual initiative. Personal morality was a matter of social and cultural responsibility.

The Master’s objective was to encourage the development of cultivated individuals whose minds and emotional make-ups had been refined through education. This sort of education he saw as a moral duty, having as its outcome both individual fulfillment and the moral enhancement of all those groups of which the individual constituted a part.

This is the root of the Martial Arts Code.

Confucianism was patriarchal and is now outmoded in terms of many of its assumptions.  But, if cleansed of its assumptions about gender and authority, it can have much to teach us.

The Confucian virtues are:

1. Humanity - which can be understood as involving respect, magnanimity, truthfulness, acuity and generosity. It is the foundation of social order and is based on the love of people. This can be interpreted as the selfless desire to be of benefit to others.

2. Justice - which means duty, principle and motivation. It does not involve unquestioning obedience to authority, but rather an unswerving devotion to moral principles. A further principle of justice is that it should be available to all equally, regardless as to social class. Emperor and peasant should be considered as equally answerable for their actions. 

3. Propriety or Etiquette - is based on a sense of due deference and is indicated by courtesy and respect manifested toward others. It relies on an essential sincerity, rather than just the observance of outward forms. 

4. Education or Knowledge - is a moral imperative. It can be defined as mental development dedicated to the cultivation of Humanity, Justice and Propriety. Education allows us to understand others and their needs. Self-improvement and education is something we owe to ourselves and others.

5. Sincerity or Trustworthiness  - consists of faithfulness to the ideals of Humanity, Justice, Propriety and Education. It is seen in a character which is well-informed, reliable and non-dissimulating.

These virtues work together. Thus -- Education may externally result in the acquisition of Knowledge and an ability to marshal facts but, if informed by the other virtues, can result in Wisdom. Similarly, the virtues, when cultivated in an informed way, result in the “Superior Individual” - a person possessing sincerity and deep character who can be of great service to society and able to further the goal of its eventual enlightenment.

This is our model for a martial artist.



Saturday, October 19, 2019

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #73: The Han Monument

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

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. Today we have #73: The Han Monument.


THE HAN MONUMENT

The Son of Heaven in Yuanhe times was martial as a god
And might be likened only to the Emperors Xuan and Xi.
He took an oath to reassert the glory of the empire,
And tribute was brought to his palace from all four quarters.
Western Huai for fifty years had been a bandit country,
Wolves becoming lynxes, lynxes becoming bears.
They assailed the mountains and rivers, rising from the plains,
With their long spears and sharp lances aimed at the Sun.
But the Emperor had a wise premier, by the name of Du,
Who, guarded by spirits against assassination,
Hong at his girdle the seal of state, and accepted chief command,
While these savage winds were harrying the flags of the Ruler of Heaven.
Generals Suo, Wu, Gu, and Tong became his paws and claws;
Civil and military experts brought their writingbrushes,
And his recording adviser was wise and resolute.
A hundred and forty thousand soldiers, fighting like lions and tigers,
Captured the bandit chieftains for the Imperial Temple.
So complete a victory was a supreme event;
And the Emperor said: "To you, Du, should go the highest honour,
And your secretary, Yu, should write a record of it."
When Yu had bowed his head, he leapt and danced, saying:
"Historical writings on stone and metal are my especial art;
And, since I know the finest brush-work of the old masters,
My duty in this instance is more than merely official,
And I should be at fault if I modestly declined."
The Emperor, on hearing this, nodded many times.
And Yu retired and fasted and, in a narrow workroom,
His great brush thick with ink as with drops of rain,
Chose characters like those in the Canons of Yao and Xun,
And a style as in the ancient poems Qingmiao and Shengmin.
And soon the description was ready, on a sheet of paper.
In the morning he laid it, with a bow, on the purple stairs.
He memorialized the throne: "I, unworthy,
Have dared to record this exploit, for a monument."
The tablet was thirty feet high, the characters large as dippers;
It was set on a sacred tortoise, its columns flanked with ragons....
The phrases were strange with deep words that few could understand;
And jealousy entered and malice and reached the Emperor --
So that a rope a hundred feet long pulled the tablet down
And coarse sand and small stones ground away its face.
But literature endures, like the universal spirit,
And its breath becomes a part of the vitals of all men.
The Tang plate, the Confucian tripod, are eternal things,
Not because of their forms, but because of their inscriptions....
Sagacious is our sovereign and wise his minister,
And high their successes and prosperous their reign;
But unless it be recorded by a writing such as this,
How may they hope to rival the three and five good rulers?
I wish I could write ten thousand copies to read ten thousand times,
Till spittle ran from my lips and calluses hardened my fingers,
And still could hand them down, through seventy-two generations,
As corner-stones for Rooms of Great Deeds on the Sacred Mountains.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Birthday Post




Months pass, days pile up
like one intoxicating dream
an old man sighs.
- Ryokan
 
Today is my birthday. Won’t you help me celebrate?



Today I am celebrating another successful trip around the sun. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for all of my loved ones. 2019 has been a rough year on the family.

We lost my father in law and a brother in law due to old and and extended illnesses. There were a couple of distant relatives who passed as well.

What was harder to take was the passing of my sister in law whom I wrote about last year. She had Glioblastoma, the brain cancer that afflicted Sen McCain. She passed 14 months after her diagnosis, which is about average for the general population.

Her life was never the same since the day she felt that she needed to see a doctor. I’m sure that she had her private moments, but we never saw her complain. We never saw her ask “why me?”

Instead she was thankful for the time she could spend with her family and friends. She only showed endless gratitude.

The day that will stick with me the most was Opening Day for the 2019 Detroit Tigers baseball season. She was a great baseball fan.

My wife and I stopped over to see her. It was a beautiful day. She was watching the game with her husband. The window was open and it was as pleasant as it could be.

Unplanned, several of her closest friends stopped over as well. Her husband and I retreated to the garage to sit outside, enjoy a beer and listen to the happy chatter and laughter coming from her bedroom. She had a great day.



A few years ago, the company I worked for decided to close the division that employed me and I ended up with a job at a small trade association. We had a staff of four and a board of directors made up of members to provide oversight.

I leaned that November that the board of directors wanted to “shake things up.” When you have a staff of only four people, any shaking resembles an earthquake. I knew that I needed to begin looking for another job.

It’s not easy looking for another job when you’re in your 60’s. At least doing a job search while I had one helped, but it was tough going. I had plenty of interviews and a few offers, but I typically low-balled. It was discouraging.

I finally began talking to two companies in particular in Spring. I had worked for one of them before, about 10 years ago. I knew them. They knew me. It would be easy to slide right in there. The office was actually closer to home than the trade association.

The other was a European based company with a small staff in the US. I’d work from home. I’d have to prove myself all over again, but there was the allure of going to Europe a couple of times a year.

Around the fourth of July, the board of directors eliminated the position of one of my colleagues. I knew that I was next, so I needed to close the deal with one of these two companies, but which one?

My Dad once told me that in a situation like this, I should flip a coin and see how I felt about it. I decided to do Dad a few times better and throw three coins, six times. This seemed to be a perfect question for the I Ching. Whatever came up would have to be interpreted by me, which would help me to clarify my thoughts and feelings.


Iching-hexagram-24.svgIching-hexagram-01.svgThe hexagram I threw was #24, Return, with all the broken lines moving. This resulted in the final hexagram #1, Creative.


I chose the company that I used to work for. I began my new position as a field application engineer around the end of July. I am enjoying myself a great deal. They didn’t have this position before and I am having an impact. All the signs say that this was a good move.

 



I wrote a year ago that I had reconnected with my original taijiquan teacher who was a student of Cheng Man Ching in New York, back in the 70’s, Carol Yamasaki. I showed up just in the nick of time. Due to some health issues, Carol has recently turned teaching over to one of her senior students, who is well regarded teacher in his own right, Bret Hall. Unfortunately, I only seem to be able to make it out to class is once or twice a month.

For the last year, I’ve also been supplementing my practice with exercises and drills from another branch of the CMC lineage which can be found at Adam Mizner’s Youtube channel, along with renewed focus on the standing practice, or zhan zhuang. Mizner also has a distance learning course that is well thought out and presented.

Practice continues to go well. I’ve found that life just works better when I’m practicing regularly.

I would normally wake up an hour before I really needed to get ready for work to drink my coffee at a leisurely pace, watch the news, catch up on social media, etc. For the past several years I have been getting up an extra hour early to either run (which I since dropped but may return to) or practice taijiquan.

I’ve recently begun making that an extra 90 minutes early to make certain that I can consistently work on all of that material I want to practice.

I mentioned that I had dropped running. At my previous job, I didn’t have either short or long term disability insurance. I began to worry about doing damage to my joints that would require some sort of medical intervention after messing up my feet the previous year. Fine, I stopped running but put my focus into taijiquan.

Recently the Mrs has been wanting to find a health club with a real track that we could both go to for the winter. She likes to walk, and I could begin running again on a surface that would be much better for my joint health than the streets and sidewalks. So far, we haven’t turned anything up, but will keep looking.



Writing of the Mrs, this month we are going to celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary. Somehow, I think that we must be doing something right.

I have come to the conclusion that the secret of a long, happy marriage is this: Every morning I look my wife in the eye and tell her: “I’m sorry, I was wrong and it will never happen again.” Then I leave the house for the day.

My two daughters are healthy, happy and prosperous. As I write this, the younger one is a few days away from running a half marathon with a broken little toe.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Judo Book Review

Below is an excerpt from a book review by Dr AnnaMaria De Mars, 7th Dan, PhD.

Dr De Mars won a world's championship as a judo competitor in the 80's. She's also the mother of Ronda Roussey.

The full review may be read here.

I can think of four types of people who would like this book a lot.

First, coaches who have a more analytical approach to judo. I don't coach competitors any more, but when I did, this was totally me. When I saw everyone losing to a specific technique, say, sankaku jime, I would go home and work until I came up with a counter to it and my players wouldn't lose the same way again. I never could understand why other coaches didn't do this and their players lost the same way over and over.  This isn't to say the book is all discussion. I loved the section in Chapter 8 on using the head as a third arm and the section on combinations in Chapter 6.

Second, the competitor who has an intellectual approach to judo. That doesn't mean necessarily the player with the most education or highest IQ and it doesn't mean  that those competitors don't work out hard physically. Again, this was me when I was competing. I was always watching my own matches (once videotape became available), planning matches, analyzing why people won and lost. This doesn't mean I wasn't training my ass off, because I was, but the thinking about judo part and looking at it from every angle was yet one more tool to help me win. At the same time, I knew some highly educated people that just went into the dojo and did 1,000 uchikomis and ten rounds of randori and never got any smarter about why they were not able to throw their opponents.

Third, the older adult judo players - and by this I don't mean only senior citizens, but really, anyone who qualifies for masters divisions. These are people who have to show up at work on Monday and aren't doing the competitive circuit but they are interested in judo as an intellectual challenge as well as a physical one.There are a ton of people who love to talk about their ideas about judo. This book is for you, not only to give you more fodder for those discussions, but to enjoy when your friends aren't available and you still have judo on the brain.

If you are one of those people who talk about judo with your friends all the time - why person A is going to beat person B, what happened in the tournament last week and why the same team is going to win again - this is your book. 

So, am I saying  that this is "just a book for brainiacs"?  Well, no, I am saying, those people will LOVE The Judo Advantage.




Saturday, October 12, 2019

Who Needs Fiction: The Worst Martial Arts Instructors

If you type "Worst Martial Arts Instructors" into the search box on YouTube, you'll find a lot of entertainment.

There is nothing I can add to the spectacle.

A sample of the genre is below. Enjoy your browsing!







Wednesday, October 09, 2019

The Way of Karate

Below is an  excerpt from a post at Okinawan Karate on the meaning of "Karate Do. The full post may be read here.

Yep, you got it, another inspiration to write an article on my favorite subject, martial arts and in particular karate for self-protection. This time, as you can imagine, it's about the proverbial belief that one who practices karate, or any martial art for that matter, as a way of life. 

First, karate-do (空手道) as defined at tangorin.com is translated into an English definition of, "the way of karate; karate." What is, exactly, the WAY of KARATE? For every karate-ka in the martial arts communities there are as many different definitions and philosophies as to what the way of karate means. 

What does the "Way of Karate" mean, simple - it depends. Like all philosophical beliefs that philosophy depends on a slew of factors to each individual. It is something you already thought of but there are a slew of factors each of us will use to decide what it all means. 

To start, here is a link to a vBlog by Iain Abernethy Sensei on this very subject. It is short and to the point. And with everything Abernethy Sensei does, it is done well… you might say it is done with flair, personality and dedication and a love for the art and way that is karate, a martial art. 

Now, back to MEEEE, hehehe, I take a literal look at the phrase and ideograms/characters in that the way, the path of karate if you will is literally about the study, practice, training and application of karate or empty hand. There are no real philosophical concepts to the root practice because it is a physical endeavor that people involve themselves in for a variety of reasons with one that stands out. The ‘one’ is learning how to fight, how to defend and protect against an aggressive adversary bent on doing you harm, grave harm. 

It wasn’t till the time of Funakoshi Sensei and his compatriots in the world of Okinawan karate that a more philosophical aspect was born, i.e., late 1800’s maybe and surely the early 1900’s along with the educational versions being implemented for social and political reasons in a time of war or near war. 

All martial arts originally were simply a means to do harm to others before they did harm to you and add in all the ancient political and social reasons you can readily visualize the brutality and deadly need for such systems of martial skill and prowess. 

So, if that and other concepts are acceptable then we must ask the question as it relates not to ancient times but to modern times, times that began with Funakoshi Sensei and his morphing of Okinawan karate to Japanese karate. 

Funakoshi Sensei kept it pretty simple, “The ultimate aim of karate lies not in victory or defeat but in the perfection of character of its participants.” Quoted in Abernethy Sensei’s Facebook vBlog presentation. 




Sunday, October 06, 2019

British Bare Knuckled Boxing

There was a series of photos published in the British publication The Sun, from a bare knuckled boxing tournament held in Manchester, in March 2019.

The article may be found here. It's not for the faint of heart.




Thursday, October 03, 2019

Wu/Hao Style Taijiquan Documentary

There are two styles of taijiquan that goe by the name "Wu." There is the Wu family style that comes from Wu QuanYou and Wu Jianquan, and the Wu/Hao style that comes form Wu YuXiang and Hao Weizhen.

The Wu family style is very well known. The Wu/Hao styles, less so.

It is from the Wu/Hao style that Sun Lu Tang developed the Sun style of taijiquan.

Below is a documentary on the Wu/Hao style of taijiquan.