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 ~

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Tang Dynasty Poems, #78: A Song of Peach Bossom River

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 #78: A Song of Peach Blossom River.


A fisherman is drifting, enjoying the spring mountains,
And the peach-trees on both banks lead him to an ancient source.
Watching the fresh-coloured trees, he never thinks of distance
Till he comes to the end of the blue stream and suddenly- strange men!
It's a cave-with a mouth so narrow that he has to crawl through;
But then it opens wide again on a broad and level path --
And far beyond he faces clouds crowning a reach of trees,
And thousands of houses shadowed round with flowers and bamboos....
Woodsmen tell him their names in the ancient speech of Han;
And clothes of the Qin Dynasty are worn by all these people
Living on the uplands, above the Wuling River,
On farms and in gardens that are like a world apart,
Their dwellings at peace under pines in the clear moon,
Until sunrise fills the low sky with crowing and barking.
...At news of a stranger the people all assemble,
And each of them invites him home and asks him where he was born.
Alleys and paths are cleared for him of petals in the morning,
And fishermen and farmers bring him their loads at dusk....
They had left the world long ago, they had come here seeking refuge;
They have lived like angels ever since, blessedly far away,
No one in the cave knowing anything outside,
Outsiders viewing only empty mountains and thick clouds.
...The fisherman, unaware of his great good fortune,
Begins to think of country, of home, of worldly ties,
Finds his way out of the cave again, past mountains and past rivers,
Intending some time to return, when he has told his kin.
He studies every step he takes, fixes it well in mind,
And forgets that cliffs and peaks may vary their appearance.
...It is certain that to enter through the deepness of the mountain,
A green river leads you, into a misty wood.
But now, with spring-floods everywhere and floating peachpetals --
Which is the way to go, to find that hidden source?

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Modernity vs Tradition

There has always been a constant tension between "Modern" martial arts vs "Traditional." 

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kung Fu Tea on this topic. Specifically, it has to do with the development of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu during the 30's in response to the advances of Kodokan Judo. The full post may be read here.


This article analyzes the transformation of a modernized Japanese school of martial arts, jujutsu (柔術), also known as jiu-jitsu, jujitsu and/or Kodokan judo, into a Brazilian combat sport. In the 1930s, the Gracies, supported by a nationalist regime, launched a comprehensive process of jiu-jitsu reinvention that evolved into a local combat sport at the same time as the inauguration of the Estado Novo dictatorship in 1937. This study argues that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the direct outcome of clashes pitting the Gracies and Japanese immigrants that occurred against a background of radical nationalism, violence and ideological polarization. The creation of a local jiu-jitsu encompassed a wide range of changes in techniques, philosophy and rituals borne from the clash between tradition and modernity.


Around World War I, a branch of a Scottish-cum-Rio de Janeiro family with genteel pretensions, joined a troupe of Japanese martial artists and adopted jujutsu (hereafter, jiu-jitsu) as part of their circus act. The surname of this family was Gracie. After having moderate success in the Amazon, they faced economic hardship in the 1920s upon their return to Rio de Janeiro. In the face of this, the Gracies sought to use their jiu-jitsu skills to meet the challenges posed by their failing social status during the transition from the ‘Old Republic’ to the Getúlio Vargas regime. Their trajectory might be taken to confirm the identification between the new regime and the emergent middle class, as suggested by Michael Conniff [1981]. However, the Gracies were not part of the emergent middle classes. 

Rather they can be said to fit better into Brian Owensby’s characterization of Brazilian society of the 1930s: this proposed a category of déclassé aristocrats, ‘descendants of traditional families struggling to adjust to the challenges and uncertainties of an increasingly competitive and diversified social order that had eroded the social hierarchy of mid-nineteenth century slave society’ [Owensby 1999: 45–46]. Nonetheless, the Gracies’ trajectory certainly shows that, in modern Brazil, white or light-skinned individuals from the ranks of once elite groups still enjoyed privileges within the new regime.
This context played a crucial role in the creation of what is today widely known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), an internationally successful, rapidly globalizing martial art and combat sport, which was pioneered and promoted by the Gracie family throughout the twentieth century. In the twenty first century, the Gracies are still closely – almost indelibly– associated with BJJ. 

Yet remarkably little scholarly research has been carried out into the socio-cultural and political context of its historical formation. This article seeks to redress this balance.
In the early 1930s the Gracies used their martial arts skills to replenish their cultural capital and regain social status. They did this by introducing the practice of jiu-jitsu into the newly created paramilitary gendarmerie, known as Polícia Especial (Special Police). The provisory government, headed by Getúlio Vargas, had created the Special Police (Polícia Especial) in 1932 as a branch of Rio’s police department as part of comprehensive reform which restructured the state security apparatus [Vargas 1938: 34-35]. The raison d’être of this Fascist-inspired unit was ousting Getúlio Vargas’ representative in São Paulo. The casus belli was the new regime’s failure to comply with the demands of São Paulo’s oligarchies for constitutional rule [Burns 1993: 351-352]. Also in 1932, a coalition of landowners and industrialists politically sidelined by the coup d’état in 1930, deposed Varga’s interventor (appointed state governor) and declared war on the authoritarian regime. 

After nearly three months of military engagements, federal armed forces defeated São Paulo’ troops, which were made up of state militias and volunteers. In order to avoid any repetition of such an event, the new regime organized storm trooper squads, fully devoted to Getúlio Vargas, whose primary mission was to protect the regime [Bonelli 2003: 14]. Physical prowess and martial arts skills were the most important requirements and considerations when it came to drafting new recruits, and the unit worked in combination with the political police (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social –D.O.P.S.). Throughout their existence, both forces were deadly efficient and infamously identified with the more repressive facet of Vargas’ authoritarian regime.1

As a result of their insertion into Getúlio Vargas’ security apparatus, the Gracies enjoyed protection under the new regime. In this article, I analyze how they launched a process of reinventing Japanese jiu-jitsu within a context of growing nationalism and the active construction of national identity, most notably during the implementation of the Estado Novo dictatorship after 1937.
Strongly supported by the regime, the Gracies ran their jiu-jitsu operations in Rio de Janeiro only a few blocks from the presidential palace. By contrast, rival martial artists settled in the epicenter of Japanese immigration, 400 kilometers away, in São Paulo. The rivalry between the Gracies and the Japanese martial artists reflected the existence of two competing projects for modern Brazil. The Gracies came to represent the nationalist alliance between Rio’s old elite and the new power holders hailing from oligarchies established in peripheral Brazil – an alliance that was not without xenophobic overtones. Conversely, the Japanese martial artists symbolized São Paulo’s agro- industrial elite option for immigration and multiculturalism.
The dynamic of the rivalry between the Gracies and the Japanese fighters reveals the ambiguities within in the discourses just mentioned. The Navy was the branch of the military that had pioneered the practice of jiu-jitsu, and it sponsored some of the best Japanese
martial artists in Brazil during the 1930s. At the same time, the Navy traditionally recruited officers of genteel background. In this context, their antagonism toward the Gracies reveals an inter-elite dispute within the bureaucratic apparatus created by the new regime [Beattie 2004: 91]. Accordingly, in this article, I analyze the genesis of Brazilian jiu-jitsu using two conceptual frameworks. For, the creation of a Brazilian national identity took place, on the one hand, in a context of growing foreign immigration and, on the other, in terms of a nationalist influence [Lesser 1999]. During the 1930s, the Gracies found themselves in a quasi-Hobbesian state of war against all challengers. When fighting Brazilian wrestlers, the Gracies were simply seeking to enhance their status and prestige within the new political establishment. But when fighting the Japanese, they were in a more complicated way becoming figures of national identity and simultaneously representatives a distinct local fighting style.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

A Martial Arts Vow of Poverty?

Today we have a guest post from Jonathan Bluestein on the idea that somehow, martial arts teachers should be modest to the point of poverty. Enjoy.

Do Martial Arts Teachers Vow to be Poor?

There are many myths pervading in the public about the martial arts, as a result of people having watched one too many a movie about them. One of the worst is the idea that a martial arts teacher must be modest, to the point of being poor.   

Yesterday I was conversing with a very esteemed intellectual, someone whom I do not know well, but I respect. That person wrote to me the following: "There is also, however, another polarizing issue common in the martial arts world - publicizing one’s teacher on a public forum".   
I was haunted by that statement for a few hours, having written by such an otherwise knowledgeable and respectable person. He had come to believe that martial arts teachers should not advertise their skills and teachings - not even by proxy through their own students. I am here to tell you, that such a point of view is not only technically mistaken, but is also inherently inhumane, for several reasons:   

Firstly, I have been in the martial arts for many, many years. As a teacher and author, I get to speak with dozens of other martial artists every week. I do believe that people who share an idea as expressed above, are not even one in a thousand. It is not a popular opinion in our time.   
Secondly, such a notion completely negates the need for a professional to make a living in a respectable manner. The world of the 1960s and 1970s, when people could gain a clientele solely by word of mouth, is gone. This is an impossibility for the majority of self-employed persons and professions, especially martial arts teachers. In a market wherein everybody competes over advertising, and often put much money into it also, one cannot afford to sit at home and wait for income 'to happen'.       

Thirdly, that this mode of thought belittles and depreciates the profession of the martial arts teacher, relative to others. No one would dream to demand of a lawyer, a doctor or even a carpenter, that they ought not advertise their service, or order their clients to refrain from writing good things about them in public. Why then, expect such things of a martial arts teacher?

Fourth, that this contrasts with the basic humane values of a family. In traditional martial art instruction, wherein there are good relationships, the students gradually become almost like the family of the teacher. What in life gives one more pride and joy, that one’s offspring going about the world and happily share their positive impressions of the person who taught them skills and virtues? Would that not be the delight and pleasure of any parent, that their children demonstrate such devotion, affection and allegiance? This is one of the humane pleasures we experience in life, and to view this as being ‘wrong’ is an insult to the nature of our species.

The teachings of martial arts must follow virtues in a commonsensical manner. When a notion such as modesty overrides one’s ability to put food on the table, it becomes a moot point. We must not only refrain from acting in such ways that are contradictory to success and happiness, but also endeavour to educate the general public, that they ought not expect us to be silly, just because it appeals to their mistaken conception of what a martial arts teacher ought to be.

We should remember also, is that Modesty is an extreme – the opposite of Vanity. What is to be expected by the virtuous person is not the worship of Modesty, but the application of Propriety. That is, being appropriate relative to the circumstances. Is that not one of the main lessons derived from the practice of any martial art?

Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. Check out his website for more information about his books and the martial arts taught by his organization:
You may also subscribe to Shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly updated with rare and fascinating martial arts videos and lectures:

All rights of this article are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein © 2020. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Etiquette in the Dojo

Dojo etiquette, the way we behave in our training hall, isn't just ritual for the sake of ritual. There is meaning behind it. By conforming to the norms of the dojo, we put ourselves into a certain state of mind to train and study. More practically, our observance of etiquette insures that everyone is in a safe, stable state in potentially dangerous situations, like when edged weapons are being used.

Below is an excerpt from a post at The Dojo Shorinkan blog on dojo etiquette. The full post may be found here. Enjoy. 

One of the most unusual and hard things for both students and parents to adjust to when beginning martial arts training is the etiquette in the dojo. A dojo is a place of learning in which students as well as instructors place a great amount of emphasis on what can be referred to as traditional values. Most authentic and good dojo will have their Dojo Rules poster somewhere that is visible to both students and visitors in their dojo. To help new students / parents to the dojo understand how things are handled in the dojo it is important to cover several topics on this.
First understand what a dojo is. A Dojo is not a gym. It is not a place a student comes to the hang out or play. Students are there to train, improve and build self confidence, self discipline and perfect their martial art. It is also not a soccer field where parents can yell, complain and tell the coach what to do. 

In a good dojo there will be none of that and most parents struggle with this ideal but this is Karate, not kiddie sports. A Dojo is a sacred place full of etiquettes, tradition, sweat equity and improvement. It is held sacred to every student and black belt that trains there. Students and visitors will adhere to strict guidelines, treat the Sensei with respect at all times and help keep the dojo looking clean and in good repair. A Dojo is considered the home of the Sensei so it is important that students and visitors act accordingly.
In any good Karate dojo one of the most important rules is etiquette. We are human and we learn by trial and error. Many things in the dojo are forgiven when it comes to training but misbehaving, disrespect and unruliness are definitely not forgiven nor taken lightly. This rule applies to every student from the white belts to the black belts equally. In fact the higher rank a student becomes the more strict the guidelines for etiquette are held. It is the responsibility of each student to make sure those who follow behind them do so in proper fashion and with great respect to the etiquette rules of the dojo. It is important to note that corrections to one’s behavior comes from the top down, never from the bottom. In other words the Sensei is in charge and no one else should assume they can discipline a student without the Sensei’s permission.

The first lesson a student will learn is proper placement of their shoes and how to enter the dojo. As we stated earlier the dojo is a very highly respected place. A new student will be lead to the entrance to the dojo by their Sempai (Senior). They will receive instruction on how to bow before entering and exiting the dojo. This is the first lesson as all Karate training begins and ends with respect, no exceptions. The next lesson is learning how to “bow in” before class and “bow out” after class. This can be both informal and formal depending on the class structure and what is taking place that day in the dojo. Regardless of the level of formality a student should always bow their best, most humble at all times.
To bow the student stands with their feet together, placing their hands at their sides. The bend at the waist (no hunching) to a 45 degree angle with their eyes looking downward. The only time we maintain eye contact is when we Kumite or do not trust the person across from us. Looking a senior rank in the eyes while bowing is very disrespectful. The second way we bow is in Seiza, or kneeling posture. To sit in seiza one steps backward to their right knee, followed the left knee. Males sit with their knees apart and females with their knees together. The belt is placed on the outside of the thighs. 

Hands rest on the thigh and the back is upright in posture. To bow your left hand touches the mat first and the right hand touches second forming a small triangle. You bend at the waist getting close to your hands but you do not have to touch them. Standing up from seiza is the reverse of kneeling…left comes up then right and stand up.
If you find yourself in a large group of students studying and class is over always be patient, allow senior ranks to exit first and then take your turn. Never cross in front of senior ranks or push, shove your way to leave the dojo. This is very rude, discourteous and will result in discipline measures by the Sensei. It is important to remember that every bow is done with the utmost courtesy and humbleness. Anything less is never acceptable.

Yes we live in a hustle and bustle society but that never is an acceptable excuse for poor manners. 

Arriving late for scheduled things is considered disrespectful both inside and outside of the dojo. 

Proper manners dictate you arrive early, at least 10 minutes before class. You should have your required uniform and items for classes ready before the bow in of the day’s session. If, for some reason, you are to arrive late wait at the door until you are permitted to join in the session by the Sensei. Never just walk into the dojo because you may walk into a punch, kick or worse…a weapon strike. This is a safety measure, not a disciplinary one.

About a minute before class is set to begin the senior student will call out for everyone to line up. 

Lining up for classes consists of the junior ranks in the front and the most senior in the rear facing the front of the dojo where Sensei stands. It is also important to note that the lowest ranking student stands to the right in each line. If you are the same rank as others just get in line…it doesn’t matter who earn it first! Taking too long to get into line up position is not respectful and can result in the entire class being issued discipline by the Sensei. This happens mainly because you are wasting valuable class training time which is a major do not do in the dojo.

Many people fail to understand this concept but in Karate there is NO other way for you to learn. 

Upon joining the dojo you will quickly find out that no one gets favored or special treatment. Even if the Chief Executive of a major business joins a dojo they will begin at the bottom. Whatever they have accomplished outside of the dojo has no bearing on their training and they are no better than each student standing next to them. Like I said everyone begins at the bottom in the dojo…no exceptions.

Mokuso is a meditation time before class and sometimes after class. During this procedure, which can be done kneeling or standing, students are to close their eyes, relax their breathing (in nose out mouth) and allow their mind to prepare to receive instruction. When done at the end of class the mind is to focus on retaining what the lessons of the day were about. During this time we learn to “quiet our mind”. This is a time to dispel negative thoughts, fears and to build our focus and attention.