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 ~


Sunday, February 25, 2024

Baguazhang's Single Palm Change


The Single Palm Change is the fundamental technique in Baguazhang. Below is an old video of a teacher demonstrating many facets of the SPC.


Thursday, February 22, 2024

Monday, February 19, 2024

Practice and Resistance


The author Steven Pressfield (author of Gate of Fire and the Legend of Bagger Vance) frequently writes about topics that while specifically are about writing, apply more widely to art in general and to martial arts. Below is an excerpt from a post about Practice and Resistance. The full post may be read here.

Why do we have a practice at all?

I have my own reasons, some of which definitely go deep into the airy-fairy, but the most obvious and the most practical is this:

We have a practice in order to confront and overcome Resistance.

A practice by definition defeats Resistance because it produces work every day with total focus and dedication. And a practice is lifelong, so we know we’ll never quit.

One could say that a practice is “habit.” But in truth a practice goes way beyond that. A practice enlists habit. It implies habit (if we have a practice, we do it every day, i.e. it can be called a habit) but it is habit only in the sense that giving birth is exercise.

Likewise, if we said the purpose of a practice is to overcome Resistance, we would be vastly understating the depth and effect of having a practice.

Overcoming Resistance is a side-benefit of having a practice. 

For myself, I was years into the act of having a practice before I even thought about its efficacy as a strategy to overcome my own Resistance. Resistance was (and is) a given for me. It wakes up with me. I know I will have to face it every day, and I know it will never diminish or relent or go away.

But I have a practice. That’s all I need to know. I know at a certain time of day I will go into a certain room. I will enter with a very specific mindset, i.e. “Leave your problems (and your ego) outside.” And I will engage in a very specific (though infinitely varied in the moment) enterprise.

 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Norimitsu Odachi


The Norimitsu Odachi is a huge katana. I don't believe it was ever intended to actually be used, but rather a showpiece by the sword smith or perhaps a piece of artwork for some daimyo. Below is a short video.

 

 


Saturday, February 10, 2024

Some of the Inner Work of Practice


As martial artists, we can learn from other, non-martial activities, which I refer to as "Budo with a small B." Among these is weight lifting.

Like martial arts, weight lifters can ride on the surface of what their discipline has to teach, or they can go more deeply and plumb the depths.

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Jordan Castro, which appeared at Harpers, who is a novelist and happens to take his weight training very serioudly. The full article may be read here.

...

Now comes the best part: The reason I came to the gym in the first place. I experience a sensation I think of as “opening up.” I receive new eyes. When blood flows into your muscles it changes your eyes—like wearing glasses. It starts in your blood and stretches out over the world, where everything remains the same, but different. It’s as if each color contains a deeper, richer layer of itself, invisible during the rote machinery of life—working on my laptop, making food, driving my car—which only gets revealed when blood makes muscle thick and full. Before, I saw colors, but now I can actually see; before, I could breathe, but now I can actually breathe. Anxiety disappears; stress disappears; the stories that I tell myself in language disappear. I experience something like pure phenomenological Life. And just as Life can only be understood in and through Life—revealing itself in the living ongoingly—the pump can only be understood through the pump. One cannot theorize or think their way into a pump; my pecs quiver; the neon red sign that reads the montanari bros. new haven the super gym becomes redder; the black floor and black weights become blacker—everything becomes both sharper and softer; clearer and warm; the taste of iron fills my mouth; I shake my arms and check the clock so I know when to begin my next set. When a minute passes, I lay back down and disappear.

This, in so many words, is the activity that increasing numbers of us engage in on a regular basis—that has changed the lives of millions of Americans in recent years. Roughly half of Americans say they exercise at least a few times a week. Since 2010, the number of people with a gym membership has increased by 32 percent, to 66.5 million people, a growth that is expected to continue. And weight lifting is now the second most popular form of exercise in gyms in the United States. More people are exercising, and the way they are exercising has changed.

I will stick to “lifting” to describe what is in reality several types of exercise, each with its own distinct methods and goals, but with enough in common to be comfortably grouped together. Each involves moving one’s body against some kind of resistance (weights, exercise bands, bars, the floor), with the intention of changing one’s body (usually to become stronger, leaner, or both). There is Olympic weight lifting, which focuses on two barbell lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk); bodybuilding, which focuses on aesthetics (size, conditioning, and symmetry); powerlifting, which focuses on trying to lift as much weight as possible with the squat, bench press, and dead lift; “powerbuilding,” a mix of powerlifting and bodybuilding; calisthenics, which primarily utilizes body weight exercises like push-up and pull-up variations; high-intensity resistance training; and more.

Until recently, lifting was associated almost exclusively with a specific kind of meathead: crude, tattooed, ragey, offensive. Gyms were viewed as “sweaty dungeons,” and lifters seen as “unintelligent,” Natalia Mehlman Petrzela writes in her book Fit Nation. When my dad lifted in the early Eighties, as he tells it, men at the gym would openly shoot steroids while sitting on old equipment. But now, all kinds of people lift. Daniel Kunitz, author of the book Lift, has written about authors and their exercise routines: Kant, Thoreau, Hemingway, Nietzsche, Roth. Most enjoyed cardio, such as walking—or they engaged in some oddly specific movement, like Jack Kerouac, who said he would “stand on [his] head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with [his] toe tips, while balanced.” It’s only recently that more people have begun to lift weights, and that the older mode of hypermasculine aggression has been replaced with—or at least accompanied by—something cleaner and more health-conscious.

 

 

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Chunliang Al Huang Documentary


Over at Bloke on the Path, a documentary about Chunliang Al Huang was posted in two parts. Mr Huang helped promote taijiquan as a part of the Human Potential Movement in the 70's and 80's. The first part is below. The second part may be watched here.

 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

A Scientific Approach to Taijiquan Practice


Over at Thoughts on Tai Chi, there was a post about applying the scientific method to ones practice. An excerpt is below. The full  post may be read here.

 

I was thinking about healthcare in ancient China, not necessarily in terms of “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, or “TCM”, but more how advanced the overall healthcare was in older times. I thought I should do some digging to find more about this subject and luckily I stumbled on some very interesting articles covering the Han dynasti, the same time as the Huangdi Neijing and the Suwen, which is the most important of the historical texts on Chinese medicine. So I read more about this time era, and was surprised by my findings. I bet you can’t even imagine how advanced China was at this time.

I will reveal more of my findings, but first I think I should explain more about why this era is important. The Han-dynasty stretches from 202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD, and preceded by the short lived Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE) starting with the reign of the person we here call “the Yellow Emperor,” or Qin Shi Huangdi.

This period, with these two dynasties especially, were very important for the future of whole China. Huangdi means “Yellow Ruler” in Chinese, or “emperor”. This was the first emperor of China, who united the country. Amongst other things, he standardized the Chinese characters, units of weight and measure, built roads, and started to unite guard towers together into what today is known as the Great Wall.

His own time and the following dynasty was a time of development and science. A lot of thoughts and science from that time influence Chinese people even today, especially when it comes to attitudes to foods, exercise and general health. Much of the philosophy of Chinese medicine and “internal exercise” as what is today called qigong and neigong stems from this time as well.

So why is all this important? Well, because the philosophy around Tai Chi Chuan is influenced by this time era as well. A lot of concepts, terms and ideas are found in different kinds of practice and ideas of neigong, qigong and Tai Chi can also be found in the Huangdi Suwen.

But it’s more to this, and it’s here where the rest of the story fits in. You see, science, medicine and healthcare, were all much more advanced in this time than what most people here understand. What is called TCM today is just a part of a much bigger picture. There was indeed some of the traditional Chinese medicine and the same kind of philosophy we still find today in TCM, the foundations of TCM. But at the same time, the scientific approach and methods we can find in Western medicine and healthcare were also prevalent.

Already in the Han dynasty, there were not only hospitals, but they also had mobile teaching and research units, and health stations. They had an advanced understanding of anesthesia, and aseptic techniques were also quite advanced for their time. This also made surgeries possible. Surgeries 2000 years ago? Really? Yes, they had medical surgeons performing surgeries like cesarean sections, dental extractions, and even the removal of tumors. They recorded the patients and maintained detailed medical records for patients.

They also develop sophisticated diagnostic techniques and they used dietary therapy amongst other things. But when it comes to diagnostic techniques, herbal medicines and diet, the so called “Chinese traditional medicine” is present as well.

In fact, back in those times, “western” type of medicine and “traditional Chinese medicine” were not separated. It all existed as a whole. There was a scientific understanding and a holistic approach together at the same time.

So what is good to know is that the separation into a “western medicine” on one hand and a “traditional Chinese medicine” on the other hand, is in fact a relatively modern, new “thing”. Originally, they were parts of the same whole and it was never supposed they would be separated like this.

So what does this mean for us studying Tai Chi and similar “stuff”? Well, it means that the philosophy and concepts we use in our own practice were never meant to exist in a vacuum or as an autonomous system of thought. Instead, this terminology, or what we call “philosophy”, was meant to be used together with, and as tools for, a scientific approach. And for many hundreds of years ago, it was used in science.

 


Thursday, January 25, 2024

Leave Your Troubles Outside


As martial artists, we can learn from other athletes and artists. Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Steven Pressfield's blog (author of Bagger Vance and Gate of Fire). The full post may be read here.

My great friend and mentor (and also my first boss), David Leddick, spent several years as a ballet dancer with the Metropolitan Opera. David trained with a celebrated teacher named Margaret Craske.

Here’s what he wrote in his book, I’m Not For Everyone. Neither Are You.

I studied ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera when Antony Tudor, the famous choreographer, was the head of the ballet school. In fact, Margaret Craske was the teacher most students considered to be more important.  She had danced with Pavlova in the ’20s. 

Miss Craske instructed us: “Leave your problems outside the classroom.”

Such good advice. And in that hour and a half of intense concentration on every part of your body, the music, the coordinating with other dancers—you really couldn’t think about your troubles and it was great escaping them. You emerged much more relaxed and self-confident.

We worked hard. We never had a sick day. You went on even if you had to lie down in the wings until you were needed. No one thought this was unusual. 

At the Met, the powers that be were only interested in two things: how well you sang and how well you danced. Your race didn’t count, your background, sexual preferences, family, none of that mattered. You had to deliver.  That was the sole standard. It was great.

In later careers, all of this has stood me in good stead. I never had to work that hard in any of the various worlds I entered. I knew the quality of the work I was doing. Dancing at the Met was a wonderful experience and a wonderful preparation for the rest of my life.