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 ~

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Boundless Road Is Narrow and Far

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original article, which contains some pictures.

The Boundless Road Is Narrow and Far

Memories of Zhang Yefei, Disciple of Zhang San Feng Taijiquan
by Feng Wu (translated by Chen Bi)

A rich monk and a poor monk were good friends. One day, the poor monk told the rich one, "I want to roam all over the world." The rich one had wanted to do that for many years, but he wasn't mature enough to be ready yet.
Hearing the poor monk's words, he asked, "What will you rely on for roaming?" The poor monk replied, "A cassock to keep warm, a crutch and an earthen bowl. That's enough." The rich monk was surprised and doubted his words. Ten years passed; the poor monk
succeeded in roaming the world. The rich one was ashamed of never having accomplished such a feat.

This old story shows that success is based not only on conditions but one's ambition. As the expressive phrase goes, "Where there is a will there is a way."

My friend Zhang Yefei had such ambitions in the martial arts. He was often teased as a child, which motivated his study. His grandfather had been a lord, and although the political stigma should have ended with his elder, it still affected Zhang. His parents
were both honest, so whenever their children were assaulted, the parents directed them to avoid the bullies. Unfortunately, avoidance was not always possible, so they were bound to take occasional beatings.

The idea of studying martial arts came gradually to Zhang. At the very beginning, without a teacher, he often ran into the woods to kick and hit ! the trees. The bark broke with his strikes, which caught the attention of a famous Ziranmen master, Wan
Laishen. Eventually Zhang knelt before Wan, knocked his head on the ground, and took vows to become Wan's disciple. But shortly thereafter his elder brother got married, which forced him to return home to take care of his family.

Zhang Ye Fei's family was of low status. He had to work hard to earn a living like the
other villagers. He did manual labor in 1994 in Shenyang City. Throughout these hard years, martial arts became part of his life. Indeed, it became his very heart's blood. The purpose for martial arts was not just for self defense. It was much more.

In his spare time, Zhang often visited teachers and friends, determined to research the essence of martial arts. He had the opportunity to meet the great master Li, descendant of another branch of Ziranmen, who was a private folk master. Zhang's understanding of
Ziranmen deepened. He also studied anticlastic-joint-wrestling from another teacher. And
he met his future wife, who shared his love of martial arts. Together, they took to the road to seek the essence of martial arts.

One day, Zhang was doing his regular morning exercises when he saw a middle-aged man practicing some martial arts. He had never seen such a style before and sensed
that it must be very special, since it had no set or regular postures. Was it still a kind of martial arts?

He consulted Master Li, who was with him at the time. Master Li would only say, "He is a master-hand."

A master-hand? Zhang was curious, so he moved closer to investigate. The master discerned his intention and asked, "Do you want to have a try?"

Zhang replied, "How to try?"

"You may hit me," he said. Curious, Zhang tried his best. Though time and again his fists almost reached the master's body, none ever landed! The master's fists answered back, stopping just short of vulnerable points, especially Zhang's face. It was like a man
playing with a child.

In all his years of actual combat experience, Zhang had never encountered anything like this. In those years, he had seen a great many "personalities," but this was the first
person - with the exception of Master Wan Laishen - whose kung fu was truly mysterious. But unlike Master Wan, this man was unknown amongst martial circles. He
had never heard of him.

Feeling lucky to have met such an expert, Zhang was eager to study under him. He could barely contain his excitement when he asked the master to teach him. The master replied with an unconcerned tone, "I have never taken any apprentices. There are so many teachers here. What's it matter who you learn from?"

"Your's is practical," Zhang insisted.

"Practical? Do you mean fighting?" asked the master.

Zhang nodded.

"One needs no study for fighting," replied the master. "Like riding a bicycle, over long periods of time, one can ride it naturally."

Zhang persisted, though his requests for discipleship were denied.

The master was Zhao Zhenjiang, and what he practiced was Zhang San Feng Taijiquan, a style very different from any other kind of popular Taijiquan. According to what Master Zhao said, this style of Taiji was handed down to his ancestors by Zhang San Feng, the
originator of Taiji (thus the name). Passed down within the Zhao family, it was never shared with other clans, perhaps out of strict conservation. "Should not be passed to other families" and "Should not be lost" were the ironclad rules of the Zhang family.

Zhang Yefei stayed in contact with Master Zhao, and they later became friends. During those days, Zhang saw another famous Taijiquan master who often implored Master Zhao to teach his arts, but Zhao politely refused. According to Zhao, even though they were
friends, the ancestor's rule could not be broken.

Once, an affluent martial arts aficionado visited Zhao with a huge amount of money in hand and kneeled down to beg to be accepted as a disciple. Zhao at first denied any knowledge of martial arts, but the would-be student wasn't fooled. He continued to kneel and said that if the master wouldn't accept him, he would kneel forever. Hearing this, Zhao shouted at him, "This is my ancestor's rule! It is useless, no matter how long
you kneel."

Over a year later, Master Zhao began discussing kung fu with Zhang Yefei, but only in reference to what Zhang had practiced. He asked which was good and which was bad. When delighted, he would talk a lot, but when unhappy, he said little. Another year passed, and Zhao finally began to talk about his own boxing style. It was called Zhang San Feng Taijiquan, Wu-style Taijiquan, Taiji Long Quan and Taiji Sanshou. But he
pointed out that Zhang's Wu-style was different than the typical Wu-style Taiji.

Of the five major Taiji styles, the name Wu is derived from the surname of its founder, but the Zhang family Wu means "force" or "strength." His Taiji Long Quan required acts that followed up with sticking, attaching and circling naturally. Taiji Sanshou meant boxing skills with no fixed series or sets. This style had a special method of practice. Zhang sensed that Master Zhao was dropping hints that he might teach him.

But Zhao's temper was something like an old, naughty boy. He was seldom serious in his talk or his teaching of kung fu. In the beginning, he would often quote some pithy martial arts saying, such as, "Taiji is combined with yin and yang - the two each has six. Five methods mix together to be thirteen methods."

If Zhang didn't quite catch what Zhao said, Zhao wouldn't repeat any more. Master Zhao only explained the contents if Zhang was clear on what he said. Zhang habitually listened very carefully to every word from Master Zhao. Over a long period of time, Zhang could
remember nine out of the ten words rushed from Master Zhao's lips.

"Practicing martial arts is a simple thing essentially, that is to develop something you already have," Master Zhao often said. Zhang came to realize this deeply. After more than a year of study, Master Zhao told Zhang, "What I know has taught you... almost. You should go about outside."

He suggested that they visit some teachers and friends. Master Zhao discussed his own experiments. He said that, as a child, he had felt he should learn from some other
teachers that were good at martial arts. He remembered seeing his father practice and thinking that the style was just so ordinary. His father never told him about
those arts at all. He never asked either, and never thought of learning from his father.

When nearly twenty years old, he was rather familiar with what he had studied. Once, he was practicing as his father watched. After finishing, his father said, "It is no use." Zhao was shocked and had a try at his father.

When he did, his father stretched out his hand and his fingers were ready to prick his son's head. Only then did he realize that the martial arts of his family were so good. He also understood why his father had not taught him yet. His father wanted him to enlarge
his perspective by learning from others.

Ever after, Zhao devoted himself to his family style. Zhao said, "You can come back if you still feel my martial art is the best...after five years."

Being poor, it was hard for Zhang to last those five years, but he struggled to follow his master's directions. He and his wife did some odd jobs to stay fed, and now they had a child. The money they earned never seemed to make ends meet. All the while, Zhang
visited teachers and friends, roaming over much of China. What's more, good and bad "experts" in wushu were intermingled, so while he met many good masters, there was a lot of bad too.

With the constant ups and down, his martial skill had gradually matured.

I first met Zhang Yefei in 1999. He and his wife took their three-year-old child to Fuzhou. They lived in a poor house. Their child was ill. All their money was draining away and they were looking for work.

Five years have passed already. Master Zhao Zhenjiang taught them Zhang San Feng Taijiquan by the numbers and permitted them to teach it to others. But this was just the beginning. Zhang Yefei has many ideas. He feels it's not enough to only inherit the method; he should develop it as well, for the fighting arena. He hopes to bring up some students to win the championship titles at an arena near him. The traditional system of Zhang San Feng Taijiquan is not suited for the nation today. Now he wants to evolve it
so that it can be practiced by all the masses and all ages. Though Zhang Yefei has a long way to go, he is following his convictions.

About Feng Wu (translated by Chen Bi):
The author Feng Wu is a martial arts master of China. In recent years, he has devoted himself to researching the theories of traditional martial arts and excavating and classifying the folk tradition styles.

He has written dozens of other articles on both internal and external styles. Master Feng can be contacted at

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dao De Jing: Chapter 12

The Dao De Jing, besides being one of the foundational books of philosophical Daoism, is one of the world's great works of literature. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online translation. Here is Chapter 12.

Too much colour blinds the eye,
Too much music deafens the ear,
Too much taste dulls the palate,
Too much play maddens the mind,
Too much desire tears the heart.
In this manner the sage cares for people:
He provides for the belly, not for the senses;
He ignores abstraction and holds fast to substance.

Japanese Language Study

Today at work, I was trying to get out early. This weekend my youngest daughter has a volleyball tournament, and we're leaving in the morning. But that's another story.

Predictably, I was busier than 3 cats in a sack today. I had to put together a spreadsheet describing a number of new parts my company is coming out with for a customer who has a new program starting up. Of course these are parts that I'm not very familiar with.

I sent the spreadsheet off to my boss (who is on the other side of the country) to check out. He calls me up telling me that he has the latest information on these parts from Japan, and it needs to be included, but he's headed off to a meeting. Fine. Give me the information, and I'll put it in the spreadsheet. No big deal.

The trouble is that the information was in a short presentation, in Japanese. I gave it a go. Most of the technical stuff was either in romaji (roman characters), or katakana (a phonetic type of writing). In addition, there is about 100 or so kanji (Chinese characters) that I know.

I figured out what I needed. The study of Japanese is coming along.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Who needs fiction: The proverbial 10,000 monkeys at keyboards ...

You've heard that if you put enough monkeys at keyboards to pound away randomly, they'd eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare, or some such.

Click on the title of this post, and check it out ...

Who needs fiction: Who knew? Desi Arnaz was ahead of his time.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website which chronicles a 4th year computer networking course project: TCP/IP (what the internet runs on) over bongos. They did it and it works.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Japanese Language Study

I've been learning kanji, Chinese characters, lately. I can recognize the meaning of about 100 of them, even if I can't always remember how they are pronounced. To put 100 kanji in perspective, a Japanese high school student will know just under 2000. However, the proverbial journey of 1000 miles ...

Since the kanji I've learned are very basic ones, they turn up all of the time. Also, since this is something I've been working on recently, I tend to notice kanji when I run across them more now than I ever did before. Do I know a given kanji, do I recognize any of the elements, and so on.

Right now I'm reading a book entitled Hiding the World in the World. It's a collection of essays about the Zhuang Zi. Throughout the book, the authors have included some chinese characters when they are making specific points.

The character for 'zi' (master, sage, something like that) stood out when I came across it. It was a character I knew. I looked up the Chinese for Laozi, Sunzi, Mozi, and many others. The 'zi' character was a constant.

The meaning I learned for it was ... child. Can it be a coincidence that the character for child and for master are one and the same?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Top Ten Beasts and Dragons: How Reality Made Myth

The following is the lead page of an article at about how real animals served as the prototypes for the legends of dragons. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed there.

Top 10 Beasts and Dragons: How Reality Made Myth
by Ker Than

Dragons are awe-inspiring patchwork creatures found in the myths and legends of cultures all around the world. In Europe, they are nightmarish fire-spewing reptiles, large and lizard-like, with the forked tongue of a snake and wings like a bat. In the legends, they are reviled and feared because they liked to imprison maidens, destroy villages and hoard over mountains of gold.

In the ancient cultures of Mexico and South America, a divine feathered serpent known by various names was believed to renew the world after each cycle of destruction.

In China, dragons are amphibious creatures that dwell in oceans, lakes, rivers and even raindrops. They are revered as life-giving symbols of fortune and fertility, capable of unleashing rain in times of drought. They are animal mosaics, possessing the body of a snake, the scales of a fish, the talons of an eagle, the antlers of a stag, and the face of a gilin—another mythical creature that resembles a deer but whose body is wreathed in flames.

Despite their differences, many of the mythical dragons found throughout the world all began as vague serpentine ideas modeled after real creatures, beginning with a snake or some other fearsome reptile. Over time, they acquired more definite and exotic shapes as they absorbed the hopes and superstitions of the local people and borrowed the traits of local animals.

Our short list of creatures and natural phenomenon reveal what may have inspired the look of dragons as well as creatures that are truly dragon-like.

-- Ker Than

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Fox Borrows the Tiger's Terror

What follows is the story behind a Chinese idiom. If you click on the title of this story, you'll be directed to a whole page of links to stories.

About this one; perhaps it is another application of 'borrow a sword to kill another'?

The Fox Borrows the Tiger's Terror

In the Warring States period, the Chu State had a very capable minister called Zhao Xixu. He was well respected and held in awe by the people of other countries as well as his own. One day, the king asked his ministers "I hear every state in the north is afraid of our minister Zhao Xixu, is that so?" At the question, almost all the ministers kept silent except one called Jiangyi, who liked to curry the king's favor very much. He lost no time to seize the opportunity and said, "Your Majesty, you know, it's you who people awe and respect, not him! Have you ever heard the story The Fox Borrows the Tiger's Terror?" Well, here is the story.

One day a tiger was hunting around in a forest. An unlucky fox was met and caught by the tiger. For the fox, the inescapable fate was very clear -- death. Despite the danger, the fox thought hard to find a way out. Promptly, the fox declared to the tiger, "How dare you kill me!" On hearing the words the tiger was surprised and asked for the reason" The fox raised his voice a bit higher and declared arrogantly: "To tell you the truth, it's I who was accredited by God to the forest as the king of all the animals! If you kill me, that will be against the God's will, you know?" Seeing that the tiger became suspicions, the fox added: "Let's have a test. Let's go through the forest. Follow me and you will see HOW THE ANIMALS ARE FRIGHTENED OF ME." The tiger agreed. So the fox walked ahead of the tiger proudly through the forest. As you can imagine, the animals, seeing the tiger behind, were all terribly frightened and ran away. Then the fox said proudly: "There is no doubt that what I said is true, isn't it?" The tiger had nothing to say but to acknowledge the result. So the tiger nodded and said: "You are right. You are the king."

When Minister Jiangyi finished the story above, he added to the king: "It seems as if the northern neighbors were afraid of Minister Zhao xixu. In fact, they are afraid of Your Majesty just as the animals were afraid of the tiger not of the fox." The king was very pleased at Minister Jiangyi's words. And never doubted its truth.

The idiom is often used to analogize with those who take advantage of one's or somebody else's power to bully people.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

What is Zen?

Click on the title of this post to be directed to "A Touch of Zen" website, from which the excerpt came...

Let us start with the question: “who is the founder of Zen?”

Bodhidharma came to China in the 6th century and it was he that was generally credited as the founder of Zen. Some say that this was not the case. They say that Huineng was the real founder of Zen in the 8th century. Huineng’s enunciation that prajna and jhana should go together and that one should not practice jhana first until proficient was a startling reversal to the previous Patriarchs. One cannot have jhana without prajna and vice versa. Prajna is intuitive wisdom, which is equivalent to enlightenment.

The Noble Eightfold Path is composed of three disciplines: 1) moral precepts, 2) meditation (jhana), and 3) prajna (transcendental wisdom). So with Huineng’s teachimg, prajna (enlightenment) is synonymous with jhana (meditation). This is Zen Buddhism. Whereas before Huineng, meditation comes first, and when meditation succeeds wisdom and enlightenment arise. But prajna cannot be attained with discursive knowledge. It is intuitive knowledge. In other words, while we are thinking, talking and feeling, Zen and prajna are present at the same time. Zen and prajna are not two different items: they are one and the same thing. When one sees a flower, the flower must see one as well. This is then the real seeing. Also knowing alone is not enough. Seeing must come with knowing: seeing is direct experience and knowing is philosophical, knowing about. So in Zen context, the seeing and knowing must move up to a higher plane, and this intuitive seeing becomes prajna, which is jhana. When Zen talks about feeling and desire it should be reminded that these feelings should not refer to the selfish relative self. It should refer to something higher, so that it becomes intuition---enlightenment. It must also be collective or total intuition, which becomes real understanding of reality i.e. enlightenment. This is what Zen tries to achieve. In practice, Zen means doing anything perfectly: making mistakes perfectly etc. In other words, there is no egoism in what we are doing. The whole activity is harmonious. The perfect pain that we suffer is universal pain. The joy is universal joy.

Zen has no dogmas, no ritual, no mythology, no church, and no holy book. In all its varied and deep experiences of life and culture, there is usually a similar taste of depth of oneness. But there is also separation. Egolessness and ego are also absorbed in this depth of voidness. Zen is interesting and has good taste. Its mountains are more mountainous. Actually nobody understands Zen. Nobody can explain it. Zen arises spontaneously out of the human heart: not a special revelation to anyone. When goodness, truth and beauty are all present, as one, there is Zen. To grasp movement in stillness, and stillness in movement, this is Zen.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kung Fu, the Original Series

When I was a teenager, in the 70's, a radically different tv show came on the air. It's name was Kung Fu, and I was hooked immediately. The story is well known. Looking back, the fight scenes are hokey by todays standards, but what hooked me was the attempts at philosophy (and what the show had to offer was a mishmash from many different sources). The exchanges between young Caine and Master Po (Master Kan as well) were priceless.

Still, that show was the number one thing that got me hooked on martial arts and other asian things.

"Listen for the color of the sky. Look for the sound of the hummingbird's wings. Search the air for the perfume of ice on a hot day. If you have found these things, you will know."

-Master Po

Monday, March 06, 2006

Today felt like spring was just around the corner.

Today felt like spring was just around the corner. Perhaps it was because I hear a mourning dove for the first time since before winter.

Of green
dreams in winter,
thawed brooks purl anew.
Phantom sunflowers touch the sky

Dao De Jing: Chapter 11

The Dao De Ching (aka Tao De Ching) is not only one of the world's classics, it's the foundation of philosophic daoism. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a complete online version.

Chapter 11: Tools

Thirty spokes meet at a nave;
Because of the hole we may use the wheel.
Clay is moulded into a vessel;
Because of the hollow we may use the cup.
Walls are built around a hearth;
Because of the doors we may use the house.
Thus tools come from what exists,
But use from what does not.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine

The Itsukushima Shinto Shrine has been designated by the UN as a World Heritage Site. It dates from the 6th century, and has been in it's present form since the 12th century.

The most recognisable feature of the shine is the seemingly floating torii (a stylized gate).

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a wikipedia article on the shrine, which contains more pictures of it.

Sizzling rain

We have freezing rain today in the Detroit area. When I pulled up into the parking lot at work this morning, and got out of my car, I could hear the icy rain coming through the branches of the woods which borders the lot.

It sounded like something sizzling.