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 ~

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Intent (yi) in Taijiquan

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Tai Chi Notebook that discusses three views of intent (yi) in Taijiquan practice. The full post may be read here.

I’m writing this as a kind of follow up to my previous article on 3 views of qi in Tai Chi. That article contained the 3 different things I think people really meant when they talk about qi in Tai Chi. This article aims to do the same thing with yi. I don’t consider myself an authority on either matter, but I have had some skin in the Tai Chi game for a while now, and I’ve read enough of other people’s writings to come to some conclusions about what I think they’re talking about. Hopefully you’ll find these definitions helpful, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Yi gets a few mentions in the Tai Chi Classics, and is usually translated into English as “intent”, or “mind-intent”, a translation which I think can be problematic because there are at least 3 different things that people mean when they say “intent” in Tai Chi, and while the three are obviously related, they’re also quite distinct from each other.

Before we get into the definitions, let’s have a look at what the Tai Chi Classics have to say about yi:

The most quoted line regarding Yi is in the Tai Chi Classic: “All movements are motivated by yi, not external form”, which can also be translated as “use the mind, not force”. In no.6 of Yang Cheng-Fu’s 10 important points he says:

“6.) Use the mind instead of force. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say, “all of this means use I [mind-intent] and not li.” In practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan the whole body relaxes. Don’t let one ounce of force remain in the blood vessels, bones, and ligaments to tie yourself up. Then you can be agile and able to change. You will be able to turn freely and easily. Doubting this, how can you increase your power?”

So, here the emphasis is on relaxing and not using “force”, but why? And What does that mean? I will explain later.

Interestingly, right after that line, the Tai Chi Classic then goes on to say:

“If there is up, there is down;
when advancing, have regard for withdrawing;
when striking left, pay attention to t
he right.

If the yi wants to move upward,
it must simultaneously have intent downward. “

Definition 1: Martial intent

Given the lines quoted in the Tai Chi classics above I find it strange that the most common interpretation of yi in Tai Chi is as a kind of martial intent. Here intent is “your intent to do something”, and in Tai Chi people generally mean a martial intention that needs to be contained within every particular posture or movement. So, for example, when you do the ward off movement, you need to have the intention of deflecting a blow away. If you movement lacks that intention, it is said to be empty.

Now this may all be true, and not knowing the martial applications of a movement inevitably leads to it becoming too abstract and unfocused, but this understanding of ‘intent’ is clearly not what is being talked about in the Tai Chi Classics when it admonishes us to “use the mind, not force”. If all it meant was to have a martial intention behind the movements, then it’s impossible to see how that can match up with lines from the classics like:

“If the yi wants to move upward,
it must simultaneously have intent downward.”

What has that got to do with martial intent?

Clearly this is talking about something else. Yes, a martial spirit is obviously important for Tai Chi, and some Chinese teachers refer to an “eye spirit” which his making sure you are focussed and looking in the right place in form performance, and you look like your actions are martially proficient, but I don’t really think this is what is specifically meant by yi in the Tai Chi classics.




Sunday, October 02, 2022

Kung Fu, the Orginal TV Series Documentary

When I was a teenager, the pilot for the Kung Fu (original) TV series; Way of the Tiger, Sign of the Dragon, aired on ABC. I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to train in martial arts and study philosophy. That show had a huge influence on my life.

Below is a documentary on the development of the show. Enjoy.


Thursday, September 29, 2022

The Skill of Strength

At the Art of Manliness, there was an article called "Greasing the Groove," about how building strength is a skill. Below is an except. The full post may be read here.

How to Practice the Skill of Strength: Greasing the Groove

There are two primary ways to get strong. With the first, you lift progressively heavier weights, which causes micro trauma (tiny tears) in the muscle fiber itself. The muscle fibers recover and then adapt to the load, so that they rebuild stronger than before.

The other way to get stronger is by regularly doing strength exercises with lighter reps and weight, but doing them more often than you would a heavy workout. This teaches your muscles to fire more efficiently, or in other words, “greases the groove.”

“Greasing the groove” (GtG) is a phrase Pavel coined to describe what you’re doing when you consistently practice a specific strength skill. The more you practice, the more of a pathway forms between your muscles and your nervous system. Or in other words, the more you practice, the more you “grease the neurological groove.” By regularly doing strength movements, we help the myelination process along, and increase the efficiency of the neuromuscular connections involved in those exercises. The more efficiently you can perform an exercise, the more reps you can do, and the more reps you can do, the stronger you become.

By regularly doing proper pull-ups, for example, you’re “greasing” the neurological groove that allows you to fire the muscles that are involved with performing pull-ups efficiently and effectively. Likewise, continually greasing the groove will make doing perfect push-ups feel more and more natural and easier, allowing you to gradually do more reps and building your strength in that exercise.

If you want to implement the GtG tool into your strength-building arsenal, here are the basics:

Pick an exercise in which you want to become stronger. Bodyweight exercises like pull-ups, push-ups, and dips are best for greasing the groove as they’re easier to do on a regular basis than, say, barbell exercises.

Perform the exercise several times a day at low reps. When you grease the groove, you are NOT exercising to failure. That will only lead to overtraining and would get in the way of your main strength training program and overall progression. In fact, you don’t even want your GtG session to induce fatigue.

Rather, with greasing the groove, the goal is to do lots of reps a day, spread throughout the day. If you’re using a kettlebell, you want to keep the weight relatively low. You want to practice the skill of strength, but not become fatigued by it. You shouldn’t even break a sweat. Some folks recommend doing 40% to 50% of your max weight/reps, while others say 50% to 80%. My recommendation is to start conservatively, and gradually add volume and intensity throughout the weeks and months as your groove gets ever greasier.

There’s no fixed recommendation for how many sets of an exercise you should do a day. Instead, Pavel recommends “training as often as possible while being as fresh as possible.” That sweet spot is going to differ from man to man.

Here’s an example of how a greasing the groove routine could work. Let’s say right now you can do 10 pull-ups. To get going with GtG, you’ll start off doing 40% of that, or 4 reps. You might decide to do 5 sets a day or 20 pull-ups altogether. In a couple weeks, add another rep to your sets. A few weeks later, add another. Now you’re up to 30 pull-ups a day. You’ll know if you’re adding too much too fast if you feel fatigued at the end of your set and/or the end of the day. Because you kept far from failure when you performed the exercise and you had more than adequate rest time between bouts to recover, you shouldn’t feel tired or over-trained. Instead, you should feel stronger.

Decide how to implement your GtG sets. How you decide to break up your reps throughout the day is all a matter of preference. The goal is to make greasing the groove so easy to do that it just becomes part of your daily routine.

You could have something structured like an every-hour-on-the-hour routine in which you perform your reps at the top of every hour.

Or, if you use the “Pomodoro Technique” in which you work intensely for 45 minutes and then take a break for 15, you could do your exercises at the beginning of your break. I did this during law school. When I was down in the library studying, I’d work for 45 minutes and then crank out 5-10 push-ups during my 15-minute break.

If you prefer something a little less structured, just set some conditional rules that will determine when you grease the groove. One could be: “Before I sit down in my office chair, I must perform five push-ups.” If you get up multiple times during a shift, you’ll easily crank out 50-60 push-ups a day.

You could also put a pull-up bar or kettlebell somewhere in an area of your office/house that you frequently walk by. Your rule could be: “When I walk under the pull-up bar, I must perform two pull-ups.” Or: “When I walk by the kettlebell, I must perform 10 swings.” Pavel’s 60-year-old father-in-law had a similar system in place. Whenever he went down into the basement, he had to perform 5 chin-ups. He averaged anywhere from 25 to 100 reps a day, depending on how often he went down to the basement. When he tested himself a few weeks later, he was able to perform 20 consecutive reps, something he hadn’t even been able to do as a young Marine.

With the more unstructured greasing the groove routine, the reps you perform each day will vary. Sometimes it will be a lot; sometimes it won’t. That’s completely fine, as long as you’re not doing so many that you get fatigued. Remember, the goal isn’t to go to failure. It’s to practice the skill of strength so that our neurons learn to fire our muscles more efficiently and effectively.

Blast the groove. On the last rep of your greasing the groove sets, Pavel recommends that you “blast the groove” by performing the negative part of the movement (e.g., lowering yourself down on a pull-up) nice and slow. This creates an intense contraction and stimulates “synaptic potentiation.” I talked to my strength coach and buddy Matt Reynolds about this and he recommended limiting how often you blast the groove; the negative, or eccentric, part of a movement creates the most muscle damage and inflammation. This could get in the way of your recovery for your regular training. So just blast the groove on the days you’re not doing other dedicated workouts, or after the primary workouts themselves.

Focus on perfection. Greasing the groove is how we practice the skill of strength, and as we know, practice doesn’t make perfect — perfect practice does. You want to “program” the movement into your neuromuscular system as perfectly as possible, so perform the reps of whatever exercise you’re performing perfectly. If it’s the pull-up, then do a strict, controlled pull-up. If it’s a kettlebell swing, do a perfect, crisp swing. This is yet another reason you don’t go to failure or even let yourself get overly fatigued when you’re greasing the groove — if you did, your form would suffer.


Monday, September 26, 2022

92 Insights into Kendo

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kenshi 24/7. In the article, the writer describes the history of a vintage book written on Kendo, and the author's "92 bits of wisdom."

I think this list would be of interest  to all martial artists. The full article may be read here.


1. Kendo is about striking the opponents heart with yours.

2. In shiai, neither wait nor rush, go with the flow.

3. Kakarigeiko should be short and executed at full throttle. 

4. A good maai is one in which the opponent feels close to you yet they feel it far; you should be able to strike at anytime with ki-ken-tai.

5. Both legs should act in tandem; striking with your whole body from your legs is the basis of good kendo.

6. When initiating a strike, your opponent will telegraph their intention; strike their intention.

7. The eyes are a window to the heart; when your opponent intends to strike their eyes will signal their intention - strike in that instant.

8. True strength lies in good technique, not in strong strikes.

9. Doing keiko every day is like the piling up of daily delivered newspapers.

10. A kodansha who does un-spirited keiko is inferior to a shodan.

11. If you enter tsubazeriai quickly strike and move away; in tsubazeria be careful to relax yet not be careless. 

12. The moment after a mutual-strike (ai-uchi) is decisive.

13. During keiko, always aim to get shodachi.

14. Watch the opponents movement careful and strike when they either enter in or step back.

15. Chudan kamae is the state where your heart is true with no wicked thoughts in mind; be sure you are gripping the shinai correctly.

16. Maai exists in physical space as well as mentally; from there you should be able to strike anytime in ki-ken-tai.

17. When facing an opponent you must first read the opponents mind and strike them first.

18. When facing an opponent if you have no confidence or are unsure whether to strike but do so anyway, your strike will fail.

19. In kendo you should not only think about winning or losing, but seek to understand the spiritual depth found through practice itself.

20. You shouldn’t try to forcibly attain grades, rather, through keiko you will naturally acquire status (respect).

Friday, September 23, 2022

Leopard Kung Fu

Leopard Kung Fu is one of Five Animal Styles of Southern Kung Fu.

Below is a video showing some training, conditioning and techniques of this interesting style.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Early 20th Centuy Teahouse Girls in Japan

Below is an excerpt from the Japanese History and Culture blog, regarding early 20th century hotels and tea house girls in Japan. The full post  may be read here.

Pre-war Japanese society and social classes were very different to today.  A distinct class of domestics that were filled predominately with women were in the service industry such as hotels, tea-houses, and restaurants.  Here the hours of labour were very long, from four or five in the morning till midnight, or later.  Rarely do these girls get five hours of rest, frequently there are not more than three hours.  They must open all the amado (sliding wooden shutters which protect the paper “windows”), and get the general cleaning done before the first guest rise, and must continue their service until late into the night, answering the calls of the guests, till the last one has retired.  In addition to the usual cleaning of the rooms, which is really not much of an undertaking, these girls carry all the meals of all the guests from the kitchen on the ground floor to their rooms on the second or third floors, serve them while they eat, and carry away the trays when the meal is completed.  In preparation for the night the girls bring out the heavy futon (quilts) and make the “beds” on the floor and in the morning remove, fold, and lay them all away in closets. The workload in a traditional Japanese hotel is relatively heavy due to the number of guests, but that which is most taxing are the long hours of service and the insufficient time for rest.  As in the poorer homes of Japan reflect the same conditions of the poorer and smaller hotels, the girls have no private rooms, but sleep in entryways and reception-rooms.  Of course they have neither time nor opportunity for personal culture, nor even for recreation and from the nature of their occupation, is it strange if they sometimes yield to the solicitations of guests?

These girls are of course neither professional prostitutes nor geisha. Yet, assured by a provincial chief of police, some years ago when making investigations, that, in the eyes of the police, three fourths or four fifths of the girls in hotels and tea-houses are virtually prostitutes, though of course they have no licenses and are subject to no medical inspection.  Occasionally they are arrested for illegal prostitution, at the instance however of brothel keepers.  Hotels and tea-houses take pains to secure pretty girls for servants, in order to make their service attractive.  It is a dreadful statement to make, but, if I am justified in judging from such facts as have come to my knowledge, it would appear that few traveling men in Japan feel any special hesitation in taking advantage, with financial compensation of course, of such opportunities as are afforded them.  Hotels give the girls their food, perhaps two kimonos yearly, and generally a small payment in cash, but their principal earnings come from tips.  This makes them attentive to the wants of the guests.

There are many first-class hotels throughout the country, but chiefly in the principal cities, to which geisha are not admitted, but in those hotels to which they are admitted the green country girls soon learn from them the brazen ways and licentious talk that are evidently pleasing to many of the guests.  All in all, the life and lot of the hotel and tea-house girl are deplorable indeed.  She does differ from the geisha and licensed prostitute, however, in that she can leave her place and retire to her country home at any time, being held by no contract or debt.  Hotel and tea-house girls are recruited largely from the families of artisans and small tradespeople, living in interior towns and villages, they do not often come from farming families, since they would lack the regular features and light complexion desired by hotels. Their family pedigree explains in part this easy virtue. They are saved from more disaster than they actually meet, because geisha and prostitutes abound and are more attractive.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Putting Martial Arts Teachers on a Pedestal

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

“His technique surpassed human ability.”

“This is exactly how ****** Sensei did it. We want to do it exactly as he did.”

“Nobody can ever equal ******* Sensei.”

“My karate teacher’s teacher was the best ever, that’s why our system is the best!”

“******* was unbeatable.”

“He was a living kami.”

“If he says it works, it must work.”

Teachers who can’t be questioned, for whatever reason, are dangerous to their students and themselves. They seem to inexorably fall into the trap of believing their own propaganda. It happens all the time, in all sorts of arts. As soon as students start going along with whatever sensei does because sensei’s technique is the ultimate, the perfect, the divinely inspired (take your pick), teachers are trapped in an ugly downward spiral.

 The problem for the teacher is that since their students always go along with sensei’s technique, the sensei stops getting honest feedback with regard to their training and teaching. As a result, the teacher’s technique inevitably begins to deteriorate. They can’t avoid it. Any time their technique wasn't right they would feel more resistance, which would tell them they need to sharpen fundamental practice and technique. When their students always go with the flow, the sensei never gets that feedback, and therefore never experiences a technique working less than perfectly. As a result, the sensei has no way to know if their skills are sharp or dull.

 The result is the teacher’s technique gradually becomes duller and duller. However, this can’t be blamed entirely on the teacher. The students are lying to themselves and their teacher about the quality of the techniques. Without opportunities to train with people who recognize a teacher’s imperfections, the only possible result is a slow deterioration of the teacher’s skills. 

 This is sad for the teachers and the students.

 There is a phenomenon in martial arts of students deifying teachers. It can happen in any art with superlative practitioners and teachers. In the world of Japanese budo I’ve seen it in both gendai and koryu arts, and it’s a sad phenomenon no matter where it happens. Budo teachers are human, maybe especially human.

 To be a martial arts teacher is to have a high degree of skill.  Being skilled at martial arts means possessing a certain type of power. Those with skill are seen as being able to subdue, control, or just plain beat into the ground anyone who threatens them. A few people with bad attitudes and/or impulse control problems are even seen as being dangerous to just about anyone because they won’t wait to be threatened. They’ll pick the fight just because they are confident they can do it without getting hurt themselves.

 As a kid growing up, the power to physically subdue someone, or pound them into the ground, was a very attractive power. I was a skinny kid with allergies and not a clue how to relate to other people, so I was picked on. A lot. I didn’t realize it then, but later I figured out that I caused a lot of the issues just by being so socially inept. That doesn’t make the schoolyard abuse any better, and while I was going through it I fantasized about having the superpower of being unbeatable. It was a wonderful daydream.

 The temptation to revel in power is strong. I understand that temptation. When I started training Kodokan Judo in college, the realization that I was becoming good at grappling was shocking, and the temptation to abuse this ability was powerful. In my case, my friends and sempai were more than happy to remind me that I was thoroughly human and quite beatable. As I moved through the kyu ranks, it was easy to idolize my teacher and attribute more than normal wisdom to him. He was very human though, and he never implied that anything he did was perfect or that we should blindly copy his technique or his life.

 When I see students of any teacher proclaim that their teacher’s way is absolutely correct and that one should not deviate from the teacher’s example even a little, I worry about those students and that teacher’s legacy. When students start idolizing a teacher and idealizing the teachings, I can only see bad things happening. A teacher who is never questioned and never challenged in any way is trapped. That teacher can’t sharpen their skills by practicing with their students.


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Gene LaBell and Donn Draeger

Over at Ellis Amdur's wonderful Kogen Budo blog, there was a guest post by author Mark Jabobs on the relationship between the legendary martial artists Gene LaBell and Donn Draeger. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here. Ellis Amdur's many books may be ordered here.

Some time ago, Ellis Amdur asked me if I’d be interested in contributing a guest post for the site. Knowing of my friendship with the renowned grappling expert, “Judo” Gene LeBell, and aware of Gene’s past relationship with the famed budoka, Donn Draeger, Ellis thought I might be able to offer some of Gene’s recollections to provide a different-than-usual take on Draeger, and the martial arts of a bygone era.

While Gene’s memory for details has faded a bit with time, I’ve had a number of extensive conversations with him in the past for various magazine articles, not to mention an aborted collaboration on his first attempt at an autobiography years ago. So I’m probably as qualified as anyone to share his impressions on these matters.

As far as Draeger goes, Gene always spoke very highly of him. “A great judo man” and “the best with weapons” was how he described Draeger to me on one occasion, opinions which probably won’t surprise anyone familiar with Draeger’s career in the martial arts. A generation older than Gene, Draeger came out of that pre-war school of judo which the early Japanese instructors in the West employed. My sense of that type of judo, both from talking to Gene and my own research, is that it was a somewhat more combative style, one laced with a bit more groundwork than would come to be the norm in the postwar years. That’s the style Gene appreciated, and I think he respected that “hardcore” approach in Draeger’s style.

The admiration was apparently a two-way street as Draeger expressed his respect for LeBell’s skills in letters to his longtime collaborator, Robert W. Smith. On one occasion, when Gene was scheduled to come into Tokyo to referee the infamous boxer vs. wrestler match-up between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki, Draeger wrote to Smith that, while he thought the bout itself would be a farce, he was looking forward to getting a chance to visit with LeBell.

Draeger went so far as to offer the opinion that the best man in the ring that night would be Gene, who could take either of the two headliners in a fight. As an interesting aside, one of Inoki’s cornermen for the match was legendary catch wrestler, Karl Gotch, known in Japanese pro wrestling circles as Kamirasu, “the god of wrestling.” Years earlier, Gotch had been one of Gene’s main grappling coaches and, while Draeger thought Gene could take either Ali or Inoki in a fight, Gene once commented to me that what no one watching the match realized was Inoki’s cornerman, Gotch, could have taken both men at the same time!