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 ~


Friday, July 30, 2021

William CC Chen and Taijiquan in America in the 60's.

William CC Chen is a famous name among Taijiquan masters. He was the youngest student of Cheng Man Ching in Taiwan. He came to the US, set up his own school in New York and teaches to this day. If you look, you'll find dozens of schools tracing their lineage back to Master Chen all over the US (if not the world).

However, I've always had the sense that he was a little "off to the side" coming from a mainstream CMC lineage myself. It's not that he established his own school early on in NY, but he created his own long Taijiquan form, rather than continuing to teach CMC's 37 form. The "family resemblence" is certainly there.

My own teacher (a direct student of CMC in NY) once told me that she considered that Chen was doing CMC's form, but it was expressed differently. From what she told me, there was no conflict.

Below in an excerpt from an article that was published at Kung Fu Tea on WCC Chen's early days, demonstrating Taijiquan in the US. The full post may be read here.

Introduction: The “Barnum Brawler” Brings Taijiquan to New York

I recently came across a file that turned up in an estate sale. It appears to have been part of the archives of a now defunct local newspaper that covered events in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights and Riverside neighborhoods in the 1960s and 1970s. This particular file caught my attention because it contained two press photos taken at one of Master William Chen’s very first Taijiquan demonstrations in New York City, as well as a (partial) clipping of the article that covered this event.
Both William Chen and his teacher, Master Zheng Manqing, played a critical role in the introduction and spread of Taijiquan in American popular culture during the 1960s and 1970s. As such I was thrilled to run across a first hand account (with photos!) of one of Chen initial demonstrations during the summer of 1965. Perhaps a few dates will help to put all of this into its proper context.
Chen’s performance was not the first exhibition of Taijiquan in New York City. That honor goes to Sophia Delza, a professional dancer and student of the renowned Ma Yueh Liang and his wife Wu Ying Hua who taught Wu style Taiji in Shanghai. She first hosted a Taiji exhibition at the MOMA art gallery in 1954 and by 1956 was teaching classes at the UN. In 1960 she graced the pages of Popular Mechanics (which occasionally covered the martial arts) and gave the first televised demonstration of Taiji in North America. Later in 1961 she published one of the very first English language books on the Chinese martial arts. Still, outside of a relatively small circle of martial arts students in New York, California and Hawaii, very few Americans knew much about the Chinese fighting systems, including Taijiquan, in 1965.
This was more than half a decade before the Bruce Lee inspired “Kung Fu Fever” that would bring the martial arts into mainstream popular culture. And even within the martial arts world, actual information on the Chinese styles remained limited. Black Belt magazine first featured a Chinese master on its cover (Wong Ark Yuey) in January of 1965, and it only started to feature regular article about these systems in the next few years. Nor would Bruce Lee appear on national television until 1967. The account presented below captures an important early moment in the popularization of the Chinese martial arts in North America.
Yet something other than the date caught my attention as I reviewed the file. It was the sheer strangeness of the photos. Over the years a few standardized “scripts” have developed for how we discuss and think about the Chinese martial arts. Hard qigong feats (while quite popular in public demonstrations in China) never seem to have become a central part of the western understanding of the meaning of these fighting systems. Yet the very first photo in the group showed William Chen, face covered with a towel, having a large stone broken across his abdomen. Nor, as the attached article makes clear, was this exhibition incidental to his attempts to demonstrate what Taijiquan was to an American audience.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Scourge of Keishicho


Over at Kenshi 24/7, there was a fascinating article on a period of kendo history. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The political revolution that occurred in Japan across the entire second half of the 19th century brought in a slew of changes in all aspects of life for everyone in the country. The coup d’etat on the 3rd of January 1868 was the principal political event of the Meiji Restoration, but it took decades after that for the new nation to become a fully functioning modern industrialised country.

Kendo-wise, it is a super interesting period. Prior to the restoration event, there were professional kenjutsu instructors: some were samurai who taught bujutsu in their domains while others ran private dojo in cities and towns (and even taught commoners). After the restoration kenjutsu suffered badly (domains were dismantled in 1871), with most people giving it up completely. Sakikibara’s Gekken Kogyo, first held in 1873, was the spark that lit a new interest in kenjutsu, but it was Kawaji Toshiyoshi’s 1879 Gekken Saikoron, which led to kenjutsu instructors being employed in the fledgling Keishicho starting in 1881, which really saved things. 

Although I had done articles in the past or talked about many of the “first batch” of modern kenshi, e.g. Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Takano Sasaburo, and the like (i.e. Butokukai/Busen and Koshi related; sons of samurai who taught at domains but who never did themselves), I’d like to expand on that by introducing, now-and-again, the generation before – those that were actually domain kenjutsu instructors during the upheavals, somehow weathered the process, and directly influenced people like Naito and Takano. 

Today’s article is a brief bio of Takayama Minezaburo

September the 3rd 1865 (or 67), about 4pm. Two students of Momoi Junzo’s Shigakukan, Takayama Minezaburo and Akiyama Takichiro, were out shopping for the dojo (live-in students had to clean the dojo and cook for themselves) when they spotted a commotion. Listening in, someone said:

“Momoi dojo’s Ueda-san cut someone down in Matsuda!!!!” 

(Matsuda was the name in a restaurant in an area which is now Ginza)

They ran to restaurant as fast as they could only to be greeted with a lot of Shinchogumi guarding the vicinity, at least one of whom they knew:

“Don’t worry, Ueda-san is safe.”

On hearing the news Takayama ran back to the dojo to tell Momoi, who shook his head and said:

“What?! Again?”

(Ueda Umanosuke killed two drunk samurai: one was cut in the head and died instantly, the second was impaled on the end of Ueda’s sword and died shortly after. He spent three years in the gaol for the incident but it didn’t hurt his future career as a top police kendo instructor at Keishicho).

Takayama Minezaburo 

Takayama Minezaburo was born in 1832 (or 35 depending on the source*) in Ozu domain, Ito province (now Ehime prefecture in Shikoku) to a samurai family who taught Confucian Studies. When he was seven years old his father was relocated to Edo and brought his son with him. 

*(Note that it has been difficult to pin-point 100% accurate dates for this article, and some sources have been contradictory and/or confusing. I have tried my best to unravel things.)

At some point Takayama started to learn kenjutsu under Fujikawa Yajiro (Jikishinkage-ryu) before eventually studying with Kondo Yanosuke (Itto-ryu Chuya-ha), and finally with Momoi Junzo at Shigakukan (Kyoshin meichi-ryu; many famous Meiji-era kenshi would spend time at Shigakukan). The exact length of study and dates are unknown, but what we do know is that Takayama made the switch to Shigakukan at quite a late age – sometime in the early 1860s. He would’ve been around about 30, unmarried, and lived in the dojo – a rare combination for someone his age. 

The politics of Japan at the time are very complex and those trying to make a living via swordsmanship faced tremendous difficulty, especially after the events of 1868, and things for Takayama were no different. 

At some point after the event at Matsuda described above in 1868, Takayama relocated to Kyoto and started to instruct kenjutsu at Toda Ishinsai’s very large and very popular dojo in Kawaramachi. It is during this time that Takayama would make a connection that would shape his entire life. 

Meeting

Takayama was from the same province as Toda, as well as also being a Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman. As Toda was older and didn’t teach much anymore, he soon allocated the daily instruction role to Takayama, who by that time was a skilled fencer. 

The dojo, based as it was in centre of Kyoto (which was still, for a time, the seat of the imperial court) was a mecca for kenshi from all corners of the country, many of whom were ronin and (soon to be ex-) samurai. There was much political talk going on, and not a little intrigue. Here a young ambitious samurai from Hirado province (now Nagasaki prefecture), Kuwata Gennojo, was sent to collect information (and gossip). He wasn’t the most committed of spies though. 

Kuwata (Shingyoto-ryu, later Muto-ryu) loved kenjutsu so much that it was almost as if his mission was forgotten – he went to the dojo daily and practiced with earnest. He was especially inspired by Takayama, who was tall and lean – Kuwata was small and stout – and at least five years his senior. Kuwata’s kenjutsu was no match for Takayama’s either and the relationship (despite Kuwata already having a Menkyo-kaiden in Shingyoto-ryu) was very much a teacher-student one. 


 

 


Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Martial Arts of Minoru Mochizuki

Minoru Mochizuki has a unique place in modern Budo training. He achieved high dan rankings in Judo from the founder Jigoro Kano, Aikido from Morihei Ueshiba and Karate from Gichin Funakoshi. He went on to found his own martial art, combing what he learned, which he called Yoseikan Budo.

Below is a short video. Enjoy.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

High Performance Through Relaxation

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Art of Manliness. It has to do with relaxation and high athletic performance. The full post may be read here.

Lloyd “Bud” Winter ranks as one of the greatest running coaches of all time. During his three-decade career at San Jose State College (now University), his track and cross-country teams won several national championships, placed in the top ten over a dozen times, and produced 102 All-Americans (27 who went on to become Olympians). His athletes set 37 world records. As the result of his success, SJSC’s track stadium was known as “Speed City.”

But before he was an illustrious coach of track and field achievement, Winter served as a facilitator of aviation success.  

During World War II, the U.S. military was concerned about the number of pilots who were cracking under the stress of aerial combat. The high tension and high stakes of the job were causing too many lost planes and lost lives.

Winter, who had previously studied the psychology of performing under pressure, was brought into the Del Monte Naval Pre-Flight School to head up a research program designed to help the school’s cadets relax.

Winter spearheaded the creation of protocol that aimed at alleviating mental and physical tension and was built around teaching the cadets to relax every part of their bodies – from the toes of their feet to the muscles around their eyes. The exercises were designed to help the pilots-in-training stay calm and cool in the cockpit, and also to fall asleep fast in their off hours, so that they could be better rested and less fatigued.

The program was a phenomenal success: the cadets who received the relaxation training improved their scores in both the classroom and on the playing field, and heightened their focus, increased their reaction time, and elevated their speed and stamina. 96% also learned how to fall asleep in two minutes or less, no matter the circumstances. (Click here to learn the technique Winter taught the cadets for falling asleep at the drop of a hat.)

After the war, Winter applied the tension-relieving techniques he had helped develop for combat flyers to creating world-class athletes. He wrote of his time at San Jose State College: “We preached relaxation from the time the athletes started their warm-up until they unlaced their shoes at the end of the workout.” Winter believed that trying too hard actually hurt performance, and that an athlete did better when he was going at nine-tenths effort rather than 100% all-out. His watchword for all his track and field athletes, from sprinters to shot putters, was “stay loose.”

With his distance runners in particular, he made their daily chant: “Let the meat hang on the bones.” By this he meant letting go of physical tension and allowing their “antagonistic” muscles — all the muscles not in use at a given moment — to relax. E.g., when you’re using the muscles involved in swinging an arm forward, you let the muscles used to swing it back relax.  

Of course, it’s a little hard to keep track of which muscles are and aren’t in use while you’re in motion, so the two biggest cues Winter impressed on his runners over and over again were “loose jaw — loose hands.” Winter thought that relaxing your jaw and hands “tends to keep your entire body relaxed,” and that this was especially true in regards to the former body part: “Relaxing your jaw is one of the keys to relaxing all over. If your jaw is relaxed, it is a good bet your whole upper body is relaxed.” Winter constantly reminded his runners to let their jaw sag, to let their whole mouth, even their lips and tongue, relax, and go for a “brook trout look.” And he’d get on them to let their hands go limp, instead of being tensely balled up.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The 48 Laws of Power, #37: Create Compelling Spectacles

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. 

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 #37: Create Compelling Spectacles.

Shock and Awe is one aspect. A larger than life extravaganza. We're just sucked into it.  The flyovers, the fireworks. Think about product or movie premiers. 

There is just something about a huge event that is disarming, where we let our guard down and are open to the message that follows. The message takes on the size of the spectacle and itself becomes gigantic.

When you have an important message to deliver, you can make it even bigger by pulling out all of the stops.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Conservation of Movement in Budo Training

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full article may be read here.


Most people don’t know it, but there is a  Budo Law of Conservation of Movement. Budo is conservative at its heart. We want to conserve movement, conserve energy, conserve time. The Budo Law of Conservation of Movement is:

One movement to do a hundred things, not a hundred movements that accomplish the same thing.

Why learn a hundred ways to do something when one will do the job? There are a number of different ways to cut with a sword, but I don’t know any classical art that teaches more than one of them. The same with sticks. There are lots of ways to swing a stick, but I don’t know of any martial art that teaches more than one (to the Shinto Muso Ryu people who are raising your hands to object, all those different strikes utilize the same body mechanics. There’s really only one strike and one thrust in Shinto Muso Ryu).  


Each koryu has its own way of doing things, and a real student of the ryuha imprints that way into their mind, their muscles and their bones. This is true whether you’re doing Shinto Muso Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, or any other koryu. You won’t find classical systems with an overabundance of techniques or principles to master. Each ryuha takes a few basic concepts and teaches you to apply them to a variety of situations. Again, look at Shinto Muso Ryu. It’s commonly taught that there are four strikes in SMR, but all of  them are variations on the same strike. That’s it. One strike. Add one way to thrust and one trap and you have it.


Each ryuha has one way of doing things. Shinto Muso Ryu and its fuzoku ryu incorporate jo, tachi, kodachi, jutte, tanjo, and kusarigama.  That’s a wide variety of weapons, yet the principles and movement are the same. The student isn’t learning six discrete weapons. She is learning to apply one set of principles to a variety of weapons. Once the principles of movement, spacing and timing are internalized, it doesn’t matter what she picks up. She’ll apply the principles she learned on the jo the first time she picks up a tachi. Working with the tachi deepens the understanding developed while training with the jo. By the time she picks up a tanjo or a jutte, the teacher doesn’t have to teach her how to hold the weapons or how to swing them. She already knows the principles. She just needs a little practice to get used to the specific spacing and timing required by the new weapon, along with the specific patterns of movement that make up the kata. By the time she’s practiced with all of the weapons, she can pick up just about anything and intuitively understand how to use it applying the principles of Shinto Muso Ryu.

At that point the techniques just happen. The student has soaked herself in the principles of the arts. There isn’t any thought.  To move in a manner other than that of Shinto Muso Ryu would require concentration because by that point the Shinto Muso Ryu principles have been absorbed so deeply that they have become part of  her natural movements and responses.


Friday, July 09, 2021

Chen Xiaowang and Chen Liqing Demonstrating Chen Family Taijiquan

Introductory part of the movie "Taichi Boxer" (also called "Tai Chi Chun") 太极神功 released in 1985, showing Chen Xiaowang and Chen Liqing demonstrating Chen Family Taijiquan (Chen Liqing was one of the leading representatives of Small Frame). Both CXW and CLQ served as martial arts consultants in the production of the movie, but did not act there.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Sports as Budo with a small ‘b.’




Below is an excerpt from an article at The Art of Manliness blog on the positive and important aspects of sport. Approached correctly, I liken sport to "Budo with a small b." The full post may be read here.



Organized sports, from college athletics to local Little League teams, are slowly coming back to life after being on lockdown. There are those who will say that these activities aren’t “essential.” But they’ve been saying that since before the pandemic. And they couldn’t be more wrong.

There are folks who have long argued that sports are just escapism. Plenty of teachers and professors think athletic teams are nothing but a distraction from serious learning, and even an encouragement to bad behavior.
 
There are now politicized critics who whine that high-level sports foster too much competition. That they are too militaristic. Too violent. 
 
One super-trendy claim is that athletic competition encourages “toxic masculinity.” 
 
Those complaints miss fundamental truths about sports, for males in particular. For many boys and young men, classrooms are uncomfortable places. Athletic teams are often a saving compensation. 
 
When I first arrived on a college campus, I had a bad reaction. I didn’t appreciate the smugness and sense of superiority that I encountered among lots of smart people at an Ivy League university. I didn’t like the softness of many scholars, and their disconnection from the hard knocks and grueling demands that life places on less coddled citizens out in the real world. I didn’t see much respect on campus for the people I grew up with — who value grit, humility, and hard work much more than philosophical navel-gazing.


To escape some of the things I didn’t like about academic life, and to get closer to people I could admire, I poured myself into sports. I originally played on the Yale football team, then shifted to rowing. I sometimes tell people that I majored in rowing in college, and that’s only partly facetious. 


Eventually I found an academic path that excited me, and managed to create a life of the mind that I’m proud of. But I retain a deep respect for the life of the sweaty, bruised, and exhausted body, as well. 

Because, done right, sport is not just play. It is not trivial. When undertaken as a discipline (which of course is completely different from watching as a spectator) sport can be one of the most formative activities any human ever takes part in. 

It wasn’t in a classroom that I discovered the power of resilience and stamina. It was in sports. That’s where I learned to keep going despite hard blows. That’s where I accepted the necessity of drudging labor, and the irreplaceable value of preparation. 

Sport is where I learned the very most vital lesson of my entire life — which is that in any really fierce battle, the competition is not the person across from you. The competition is your own pain threshold, your internal discipline, your perseverance. Can you defeat your own weaknesses and go beyond your comfortable limits?

So much for athletic competition not being educational.