Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, 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, June 05, 2023

Kung Fu Masters of Taiwan

Below is a short documentary which is a visit to a bookstore in Taiwan, where the owner has a huge collection of martial arts books and recounts the history of martial arts practiced in Taiwan.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Modern Han Dynasty Style Chinese Swords

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

For aficionados of Chinese swordsmanship, it’s a good time to be alive. Present day sword makers are reproducing some of the finest authentic replicas of historic Chinese swords that we’ve ever seen. Magnificent replicas have been coming from Chinese master craftsmen like L.K. Chen, Hanbon Forge, Shen Guanglong Sword The Art of Fire & Iron, among others. And these are live blades with properly tempered steel. Many are even making blades that are pattern-welded. Some of these masterpieces command prices over $25,000. Others are more affordable, only costing a few hundred dollars, just slightly more than the average prices for most Chinese weapons nowadays.

Several factors are contributing to this surge in fine swords. China has become more affluent in recent years, resulting in the flourishing of its cultural inheritance. Collectors are now recovering history thought lost during the Cultural Revolution and bringing it forward to share across the internet. Additionally, accessibility to better manufacturing tools has improved for China’s swordmakers. When I visited some of the sword forges at Shaolin years ago, they were doing everything the old-fashioned way – all by hand. Now makers have modern power hammers and CNC machines (CNC stands for ‘computer numerical control’). A CNC device can carve sword fittings to exact specifications from solid metal, which is a vast improvement to filmsysword fittings that have proliferated modern Kung Fu weapons ever since they went into modern mass production.

Beyond inferior blades, the bulk of today’s mass-produced Chinese swords are not constructed with fittings that can withstand the rigors of actual combat. Most sword guards and pommels are made from cast pot metal or braised brass sheets over wood. These can be so fragile that they’ll break if you drop them. And the blades are often just light spring steel, not tempered to withstand impact. Few are even sharp. The old blades don’t even compare to the refined beauty of pattern-welded steel. These newly made blades are gorgeous and built to cut, like any true sword should be.

Making the Cut

Beyond better sword making technology, another major factor contributing to the interest in more authentic swords is the rise of HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, as well as other similar reenactment groups. European martial arts weren’t passed down to the modern age in the same way that Asian traditions have been, however there is a significant body of literature and documentation. HEMA aficionados have been assiduously reconstructing history, and within that, sword cutting has become a popular pastime.

Japan has a longstanding tradition of cutting practice known as Tameshigiri. This is the classical sword cutting art where rolled tatami mats are sliced up to test the quality of the blade and how true your cut can be. The tatami mat roll is allegedly the best simulation of the resistance met when cutting human flesh. HEMA enthusiasts have made their own forays into revitalizing of cutting, appropriating tatami rolls and adding other cutting targets like pool noodles and water-filled plastic soda bottles, all to deepen their understanding of how blades really work. Not to be left behind, there’s a growing movement amongst some Chinese martial arts practitioners towards test cutting.

Beyond being constructed well enough to make a cut, themost intriguing quality about these next gen Chinese sword offerings is that they are historically accurate. Makers like L.K. Chen are now actively researching genuine archeologic examples held in museums and antique swords kept in private collections. By taking precise measurements of the originals, Chen is using a CNC machine to reproduce the exact proportions and details of swords that actually saw combat. His swords are working weapons, as close as the originals as most practitioners can get. And Chen challenges his clients to test his work by cutting. His website includes testimonial videos from practitioners all around the world as they cut stuff and rate the performance.

Surprisingly, cutting in Chinese martial arts is revolutionary. It's staggering to discover how many self-proclaimed Chinese masters of swordsmanship have never cut anything, or even worked with a live edged blade. The emerging trend of cutting with Chinese blades is a fresh shift and a solid step towards authenticity. Today Chinese martial arts are entering an era where real swords are available again, swords that are both cut worthy and based on authentic designs.



Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Top 7 Metrics for Martial Artist's Fitness

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Falling Leaves Kung Fu on the top seven metrics for fitness among martial artists. The full article may be read here.


Are you ready to unlock your full potential with your martial arts and fitness training? It all starts with tracking the right metrics to improve your performance, prevent injuries, and achieve your goals. But which metrics should you track, and how can they help you reach your full potential? The truth is, many martial arts and fitness myths and a “bro-science” floating around could hinder your progress.

In this article, we will reveal the key metrics that every martial artist and fitness enthusiast should track to maximize their performance. By the end of this article, you will have a clear understanding of how these metrics can help you achieve your goals and reach your full potential.

Martial arts and fitness are intimately connected. Being fit to fight is crucial, and all cultures across history have recognized the importance of conditioning their soldiers. A martial artist must have the discipline, concentration, and physical ability to execute techniques with power and explosiveness while maintaining balance and center. For self-defense, the penalty for failure can be catastrophic. Individual fitness and physical performance could mean the difference between life and death, especially for soldiers on the battlefield.

From Sparta To Modern Day

The ancient Greeks placed a high value on developing a strong mind and body. The Spartans, in particular, were renowned for their rigorous physical training and discipline, which were seen as essential for producing elite warriors. They believed that a strong body was necessary for a strong mind and that physical fitness was integral to mental well-being. The ancient Greeks had it right all along!

Without a high level of aerobic and anaerobic capacity, muscular endurance, and strength, a fighter will struggle to last long in a fight or deliver effective strikes and blocks. Being fit to fight helps prevent injury, as a strong and healthy body is less prone to injury and can recover faster.

It’s understandable to feel overwhelmed with all the conflicting information out there. Many people fall prey to common myths and bro-science, leading to wasted time and effort. But fear not; by focusing on proven strategies outlined below, you can achieve your fitness and martial arts goals more efficiently and effectively. Discover the truth about what really works and what doesn’t. Get ready to level up your game with these secrets.

Before we dive in, it’s important to note that this article is not a specific fitness program. Rather, it serves as a guide to help you focus on key areas, evaluate your current fitness level, and set achievable goals. Please consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any new exercise program or making significant changes to your current routine.


Saturday, May 27, 2023

Hung Gar Kung Fu and Buck Sam Kong

Bucksam Kong is a giant in the world of Hung Gar Kung Fu. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Black Belt magazine about him. The full post may be read here.

Bucksam Kong started studying eagle claw kung fu at age 6 with his mother as a means to ward off colds and fevers. Today, he is a master of hung gar kung fu and runs the Sil Lum Pai Gung Fu Association. explores his path.

Bucksam Kong is one of those names that martial artists have heard for years — even decades. As one of the first masters to teach hung gar kung fu in the United States, he is recognized as a pioneer in the history of Chinese martial arts. In 1974 Bucksam Kong was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame as Instructor of the Year. He currently runs the Sil Lum Pai Gung Fu Association, based in Los Angeles.

Hung gar kung fu master Bucksam Kong was born and raised in Hong Kong, a city (and former British colony) tacked onto the southern part of the People’s Republic of China. Unlike a lot of martial artists who tell stories about street fights and running battles with the police, Kong says that because he was so young, he never really felt threatened.

That’s why Kong ended up starting his martial arts training not for badly needed self-defense skills but for the often-overlooked health benefits.

“When I was young, I was sick all the time,” he says. “I would catch colds and get fevers. That’s why my mother wanted to start me in kung fu.”

And Kong did start training — with his mother as his instructor. “She started teaching me eagle claw kung fu when I was 6,” he says. “She had been learning that art for a long time, but she didn’t teach anyone — except me.”

At first, the young martial artist and future hung gar master wasn’t really sure if he liked eagle claw or not. If you’ve ever been forced by your parents to take any kind of lessons, you’ve probably been in the same boat.

“But as I grew older, I started loving it,” Kong says. “I kept practicing with my mother for a couple years.”

When Kong turned 8, he began training under a hung gar kung fu instructor named Lum Jo. The boy must have liked hung gar because he stayed with Lum Jo for more than 17 years.

“The training then was a lot different from the way I train people now,” Kong says. “Classes were very strict. The sifu (master) always emphasized very low stances. We had to put a lot of force into every movement.

“We spent long periods of time learning each technique until we became very good at it,” the hung gar master continues. “Only then would the sifu teach us something else. If an instructor tries to do that these days, a week later he’ll have no students.”

Lum Jo ran a clinic in which he set broken bones and administered other medical treatments. So he probably didn’t care how many students dropped out of his hung gar classes because the training was too severe.

“He never had a lot of students,” Kong says. “Nobody in Hong Kong did because the place was so small that getting 15 or 20 people into any room was hard.”

Because it was so crowded in the hung gar training hall, Kong and his classmates practiced a lot on their own out of doors. “We learned all the forms first in class because they taught us how to apply the techniques,” Kong says.

“Then some classmates and I would get together and play around doing the forms and sparring. Sometimes it got pretty rough, but there weren’t a lot of injuries because we always used a lot of self-control.”


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

The Spirit of Shotokan

Below is an episode from a series of videos by Richard Amos, entitled The Spirit of Shotokan. Enjoy.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Tai Chi, The Watercouse Way

Back in the 80's, Chungliang_Al_Huang did his part in popularizing taijiquan within the Human Potential movement. 

After the death of his friend Alan Watts, Huang finished his book, Tao, the Watercourse Way.

Below is a ~18 minute documentary on Huang and his Taijiquan.


Thursday, May 18, 2023

Reflections on Claims of Martial Virtue

Over at Ellis Amdur's excellent Kogen Budo blog, there was a guest post regarding the internal stories martial arts styles have. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Recently, The Secrets of Ittō-ryū (Vol 1) by Sasamori Junzo was published in English translation by Mark Hague, a senior practitioner of Ono-ha Ittō-ryū. The history of this remarkable martial tradition is described within, in great detail. One topic of note includes the claims that the founder, Itō Ittōsai, defeated famous swordsmen Kamiizumi Ise no Kami and Tsukahara Bokuden in duels, and that his successor, Ono Tadaaki, defeated Yagyu Munenori upon meeting him, thus securing his post as instructor to the shōgun.

There are some English translation and summaries of chapters of the famous Honcho Bugei Shoden available at, where several famous ryūha and swordsman are described. Those duels from The Secrets of Ittō-ryū are not mentioned in this neutral, non Ittō-ryū source. I find them, therefore, somewhat suspect. I would like to cross-reference Sasamori’s statements against the history of fencing written by Yamada Jirokichi, but this will have to wait for that work to be translated.

I think there is a small lesson here, that each style will have its own internal stories about its founders and past practitioners, and those might serve an internal almost mythical function, indicating the quality of martial virtue or skill its adherents still aspire to. In addition, each art is itself also a political entity, and not immune to viewing itself in comparison to other approaches. We see this even in the Ono-ha Ittō-ryū, one of the most illustrious styles of Japanese fencing. So, one way to gloss the official Ittō-ryū history is that the art views Kamiizumi, Bokuden, and Yagyu Munenori as having been excellent swordsman, worthy of mention, worthy to measure oneself against.


JSTOR also has an an article entitled:

Initiation to the art of war: A preliminary text of the Takenouchi school” by Szabo, B. in Acta Oreintalia Academia Scientarim Hung. Vol 66 (1) 95-107 (2013). DOI: 10.1556/AOrient.66.2013.1.6]

The author analyses a Takenouchi-ryū initiation scroll titled Takenouchi-ryū Bugei no jo from 1844. There are several sections to the scroll. One quotes different military classics and, in addition to the almost obligatory Sun Tzu, there is a passage from Qi Jiguang’s famous Jixiao Xinshu or “New Treatise on Military Efficiency: Introduction to Martial Arts,” from the section Toryū tai or “Essence of the Style.” I am familiar with this work from my Chinese martial arts studies, and it is interesting to encounter it quoted in a Japanese late medieval-period text.

Chinese General Qi Jiguang is said to have studied a variant of Kage-ryū (the link here connects to a descendent, Hikitakage-ryū) practiced by wakō pirates, taught within coastal Chinese territory occupied and raided by Japan during the 16th century. He later used those methods, especially, it is believed, the odachi (long saber) called miao dao in Mandarin, to revitalize Chinese sword methods and teachings. This revitalization, as well as his principles of formation and combined-arms warfare (described in the same work), and his emphasis on using body conditioning exercises from extant pugilistic and grappling arts for basic training for soldiers, are said to have enabled Qi Jiguang to eventually succeed in driving out the wakō.

Pictures from Qi Jiguan’s book were later used by some martial arts styles in China as a basis for their practice. There are sets of images of postures designed to be preparatory practices for fit soldiers. It should be understood that Qi did not feel they are appropriate for actual battlefield use – and that particular passage is recorded, according to Szabo, in the Takenouchi-ryū text.

It is interesting to see Qi’s treatise providing inspiration in Edo-period Japan, and it provoked some further thoughts I would like to share.

In modern budō or bujutsu circles, we often hear about Japanese koryū being battlefield arts, although large scale warfare ended in Japan with the sieges of Osaka castle in 1614-1615 (and a final, rather inglorious, postscript in the 1638 Shimabara rebellion). We also read in Japan-centric martial arts writings the view that most Chinese combative systems are “civilian” martial arts. While it is true that China regulated the use of arms by civilians in its populace under the Mongol’s Yuan Dynasty, (well before the banning of the wearing of swords in Japan at the end of the Edo period), I think a finer distinction should be made in comparing arts and practices between the two countries. For example, commoners might not have had access to high quality weapons in parts of China, but the military did. This was similar to Japanese samurai having access to field weapons and long swords, while commoners, generally speaking, did not.

In fact, instead of weapons-centric system dying out writ large in China, several merged with existing traditions of pugilism. One example is the famous Liuhe (Six Harmony) spear tradition, which merged into traditions of Bajiquan (Eight Extremes Boxing), which maintains a fierce spear practice to this day. Other examples abound as a counterpoint to the tendency for standardization and performance (e.g., state developed forms, form competitions, etc.) in modern day.


Monday, May 15, 2023

Shaolin Animal Forms

Over at Black Belt magazine, there was an article on the animal forms of Shaolin Kung Fu. At excerpt is below. The full article may be read here. At the end of this post, I placed a video of master Ark Wong performing the Leopard form.

If you're on the prowl for new ways to improve your martial arts skills and expand your knowledge base, the five animals of Shaolin kung fu are for you. By studying the fighting methods of the snake, crane, tiger, leopard and dragon, you'll glimpse kung fu through the eyes of its legendary masters of yesteryear. Like them, you'll be able to tap into the mental and physical characteristics of those denizens of the wild kingdom in a way that's guaranteed to benefit all aspects of your training. The concepts of the five animals is thought to have originated early in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) at Shaolin Temple, located on Song mountain in China's Henan province, says Black Belt Hall of Fame member Eric Lee.

“The animals of Shaolin made a huge impact on the development of kung fu and are still doing so today. That's because the animals, like nature, offer the same insights today as they did centuries ago. “In the beginning, the old masters studied the animals and adopted many of their habits. Those habits included how they rested, how they gathered and released their chi (internal energy), how they stalked their prey and how they fought. The five animals were chosen for their superior attributes for fighting and defense and for other mannerisms that contribute positively to human life." Practicing kung fu with the attitude of one of the five animals can help you see things more clearly, says Eric Lee, who began teaching the Chinese arts in Oakland, California, in 1970.“You'll be more aware, and you'll be more in balance internally and externally. The animals help you express yourself wholeheartedly in any direction. They'll help you know what it's like to be anything you want to be. If you let nature be your teacher, good things happen." 

Shaolin Kung Fu: Snake Form

Full-body awareness gives the snake a heightened sensitivity, and that allows it to use all its resources to accomplish its goals. The animal coils its body for speed and power, then strikes without hesitation or fear. It's a relentless hunter that uses every muscle to push, slide, penetrate, wrap and eventually control its prey. The snake is a natural ground fighter— which is why grapplers often find its movements to their liking.

The snake hand, in which all four fingers are extended to strike like a spear, is the primary weapon. “You can move the snake hand up, down or from side to side using it or your arm to block, then you can strike your opponent's throat or another vital area with the same hand," Eric Lee says. “When doing snake moves, you can strike and lock simultaneously. Offense becomes defense, and defense becomes offense."

A useful snake technique entails raising your hand like a cobra lifting its head, then relaxing your arm and shooting it out and back for a lightning- fast strike, Eric Lee says. In super-tight quarters, he adds, you can increase your effectiveness by switching to the snake tongue: Extend your index and middle fingers and hold them together as you jab them into a pressure point.



Friday, May 12, 2023

Isshinryu Karate Precepts

Over at Okinawan Empty Hand, there was an article about the twelve precepts of Isshinryu and a discussion of the philosophy behind them. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Aita-te Do Kyōkun [開いた手道教訓]

A direction given as a rule of action or conduct for the practical and moral application and study of the art of the open hand or karate for defense. Inspired by the ancient classics and ancient way of the Japanese Samurai.

12 Precepts

Ju-ni Kyōkun [十二教訓]

Character (Seikaku [性格])

Personality (Jinkaku [人格])

Commitment (Kenshin [献身])

Responsibility (Sekinin [責任])

Dedication (Kenshin [献身])

Faithfulness (Chūjitsu [忠実な])

Honor (Meiyo [名誉])

Courage (Yūki [勇気])

Integrity (Igen [威厳])

Compassion (Omoiyari [思いやり])

Modesty (Kenkyo [謙虚])

Courtesy (Reigi [礼儀])

12 Precepts Explained

Character (Seikaku [性格]): a person, especially with reference to behavior or personality: moral or ethical quality: of honesty, courage, or the like.

Personality (Jinkaku [人格]): a person as an embodiment of a collection of qualities: the visible aspect of one's character as it impresses others: the sum total of the physical, mental, emotional, and social characteristics of an individual.

Commitment (Kenshin [献身]): the act of committing, pledging, or engaging oneself: a pledge or promise; obligation.

Responsibility (Sekinin [責任]): having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action: answerable or accountable, as for something within one's power, control, or management (often followed by to or for): having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action: able to discharge obligations.

Dedication (Kenshin [献身]): to devote wholly and earnestly, as to some person or purpose: to set apart and consecrate to a deity or to a sacred purpose: to set aside for or assign to a specific function, task, or purpose: 

Faithfulness (Chūjitsu [忠実な]): the fact or quality of being dedicated and steadfast in performing one’s duty, working for a cause, etc.: the fact or quality of being true to one’s word or commitments, as to what one has pledged to do, professes to believe, etc.

Honor (Meiyo [名誉]): honesty, fairness, or integrity in one's beliefs and actions: high respect, as for worth, merit, or rank: high public esteem.

Courage (Yūki [勇気]): the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery: to act in accordance with one's beliefs, especially in spite of criticism.

Integrity (Igen [威厳]): adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.

Compassion (Omoiyari [思いやり]): a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.

Modesty (Kenkyo [謙虚]): regard for decency of behavior, speech, dress, etc.: simplicity; moderation: freedom from vanity, boastfulness, etc.

Courtesy (Reigi [礼儀]): excellence of manners or social conduct; polite behavior: a courteous, respectful, or considerate act or expression: favor, help, or generosity.

The precepts introduce meaning behind the following philosophical rules.