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, December 28, 2008

Optimization and Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from an interesting article by Toby Threadgill, who is a senior instructor of Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin-ryu, a koryu bujutsu; that is, an ancient Japanese martial art as opposed to a gendai budo which is a modern martial art like judo, aikido, karate do, etc. The aims and means of koryu and gendai are different. To read the whole article, click on the title of this post.

Recently I was introduced to a gentleman interested in martial arts training. He was not really aware of what I teach or of what constitutes Nihon Koryu Jujutsu. He just assumed that because I taught it, that I must believe it to be “the best”. When I told him I did not believe the art I taught to be “the best”, an uncomfortable silence ensued. I finally broke this taciturn moment by explaining that there is actually no such thing as a “best” martial art. Despite a noble effort to grasp what I was talking about, the gentleman in question eventually regressed, unable to shake the impression that if I was not convinced that what I taught was superior to all other forms of martial arts, that I was somehow unworthy of teaching him. I politely encouraged him to look around, consider what I had said and contact me again if he had any further questions. A few days later I received an e-mail from this gentleman in which he explained that he had indeed found someone convinced that they taught the ultimate style of martial arts. It was called “mixed martial arts” because it embodied only best of all the styles. I just smiled to myself as I politely responded, congratulating him on his fortuitous discovery.

An ultimate martial art, huh? Now there’s an oxymoron for you. Every martial art is ultimately based on assumptions. In fact any training program formulated to address conflict is based on assumptions. It’s kinda like the old joke about bringing a knife to a gun fight. No matter how good you are, your assumptions define your training paradigm. Narrow your assumptions and you specialize, gaining the opportunity to excel at one task. Broaden your assumptions and you might be able address many different situations but at what level of expertise? It’s an intriguing dilemma isn’t it? Specialize, and be defeated by someone outside your strengths. Be a generalist and some specialist will hand you your head on a platter. What’s a martial artist to do?

Years ago my teacher Yukio Takamura taught a seminar which touched upon this topic. The seminar subject was a comparison between sport budo and classical budo. During the lunch break a young karateka & wrestler, I’ll call Donny, loudly dismissed Takamura Sensei’s teachings as antiquated nonsense. In response to this pronouncement Takamura shook his head and chuckled while fiddling with his shoes. Donny, rather brash and full of bravado turned to Takamura Sensei and said, “Now don’t get me wrong old man, your stuff is fun to watch and all but your jujutsu is no match for my karate and wrestling. Takamura flashed a devilish smile at Donny and said, “Okay, show me”. Donny backed off a bit at this unexpected challenge and said “Well, I’m not going to fight you, you’re too old. How about him” pointing at Dave Maynard. Takamura responded “No, you were talking about my jujutsu, not his. I want you to show me.” Rather pensively Donny strolled out onto the dojo mat with Takamura Sensei as a hushed silence overtook the room. At first Donny appeared reluctant to do anything but when he noticed that all eyes were on him he revved up his courage and proceeded to execute a very nice double leg takedown, climbing up on what at first appeared to be a rather startled Takamura Sensei. As Donny attempted to continue his seemingly successful offense we noticed something flick around Donny’s neck. Suddenly, Donny’s tried to pull away, his head turning as red as a ripe tomato. In a few seconds he fell over wheezing. At that point we realized that a shoelace was resting tightly around Donny’s neck. Where had it come from? Takamura had secreted the shoelace in his sleeve and then executed a simple choke with it. As he revived Donny from his impromptu slumber he explained to the stunned witnesses that Donny had missed the point of the seminar altogether and made a dangerous assumption. He assumed that this was a contest with rules and that Takamura sensei was unarmed. The most interesting thing to me about this whole incident was that Takamura had deliberately pulled the shoelace from his shoe, placed it in his sleeve in plain sight and not one of us noticed. What a lesson rich incident this was…..

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow Shoveling on a Winter Evening

When once again shoveling snow (to make room for the freezing rain that's on the way), what better thing to do to put one in the holiday spirit than to compose haiku!

Clearing the driveway
Never see the end

Haiku is a particular form of Japanese poetry. Each haiku consists of three lines, of 5, 7, and 5 syllables. Those are the basic requirements. There are some other considerations that can distinguish a fine haiku. If you go here, you can find out all sorts of things about the aesthetics and history of haiku. It's a very interesting sight.

One of the most famous haiku poets was a Japanese gentleman by the name of Basho. Perhaps his most famous haiku was:

ふる いけ や
かわず とびこむ
みず の おと

Furu ike ya
Kawazu tobikomu
mizu no oto

Old pond
frog jumped in
sound of water.

This poem has been translated from the Japanese countless times.

Basho also kept a diary on a long walking trip which is a work of literature all on it's own.

On various forums where I've participated, sometimes the members played a game of a "chain haiku." The challenge is to create a haiku using the last line of the previous person's poem. The person coming after you has to begin with the last line of your haiku. It can be quite fun.

In response to Basho's frog haiku, I wrote:

Basho's frog went plop!
and never heard from again.
A snapping turtle.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Finding the Fit

Friday we got about 8 to 10 inches of snow where I am. Other nearby places got up to 13. Then the cold set in. Last night it got down to 0F, with a wind chill of -24F.

I guess we can safely say that winter is here. Damn that global warming.

What better to do when it’s so cold outside that your flesh will freeze and the wind will tear it right off of your bones than to read an essay on Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu). This one is entitled “Reflex and Reflectivity: Wuwei in the Zhuangzi.” I placed an excerpt below. The original may be read by clicking on the title of this post.

Enjoy and stay warm!

The Snow Shoveling Daoist, 道士 の 雪掻き

Reflex and Reflectivity:Wuwei in the Zhuangzi
Asian Philosophy, Volume 6:1 (1996), pp. 59-72.
byAlan FoxDepartment of PhilosophyUniversity of Delaware24 Kent WayNewark, DE 19716 USA
go to Alan Fox Home Page
"To live outside the law you must be honest..."

- Bob Dylan
It is impossible to understand Philosophical Daoism, that is, Daoism as found in the writings attributed to Laozi and Zhuangzi, without understanding the central practical principle of wuwei, or "non-action." There are many different intrepretations of this idea, many of which seem to overlook both the overall coherence of the text as well as its many subtle nuances. I propose to offer an different interpretation of this crucial notion, one which differs on some key points from the prevailing interpretation and arguably acknowledges some deeper dimensions of the text and its overall coherence.

In approaching the text, though, we also need to keep in mind its characteristic and well-documented resistance to formulaic or forced behavior. Rather than discovering a new or better formula for behavior, the Zhuangzi emphasizes the benefits of becoming sensitive to a broader and finer range of the subtle demands, constraints, and inevitabilities of unique situations. This sensitivity allows us to respond most appropriately to every unique situation in the way that most or best respects subtleties of novelty and necessity.

Therefore the most effective and efficient mode of human experience is to blend or "fit" (shi) into our surroundings in such a way as to allow ourselves to respond effortlessly and spontaneously to any situation or circumstance, which is simultaneously affected by our presence within it. I suggest that this mode of reflective, and unobtrusive activity is what Zhuangzi refers to as wuwei.

I propose to explicate Zhuangzi's conception of wuwei as it is articulated in the image of the "hinge of dao." This image illustrates several key features of the mode of action of Zhuangzi's ideal person, namely: 1) effortlessness; 2) responsiveness; and 3) unobtrusiveness. First, I will look at and discuss the few actual instances of the term "wuwei" in the Zhuangzi. Second, I will point out that the imagery used by the text to suggest this privileged mode of conduct frequently takes the form of some sort of adaptation or reflection.

Third, I will analyze the metaphor of the hinge, and show how centralizing this metaphor can illuminate Zhuangzi's notion of wuwei and the realized person who acts according to this principle. It will be seen that the image of the hinge is used in the Zhuangzi to represent the way in which the ideal person responds to inevitability. In this way, I will argue that Zhuangzi's ideal person could be described as "perfectly well-adjusted."

Finally, I will demonstrate that this reading of the text offers new meanings and textures to materials which have for so long been read in only certain ways. Most of the translators and commentators who have brought the text to our attention have characterized it, somewhat unfairly, as "mystical," "skeptical," "escapist," "purposeless," and so on. I will show that this kind of reading, to a certain extent, misses the point of the text, and so its truly unique contributions are overlooked.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Who Needs Fiction: Pirates

It’s been really hard to read or listen to the news for the last month or so. I can barely stomach getting through the headlines. We have all the insane things happening to the economy and what else pops up in the news with some frequency? Pirates. Friggin’ pirates.

You can’t make this up. What’s next? An invasion of space aliens? Who needs fiction?

Alright. If the topic of the day is going to be pirates, so be it. You’ll find below excerpts from an article on Chinese pirates in history. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the full article.

I wonder how you say “Ahoy Matey!” in Cantonese?

Pirates are not only interesting but significant for what they can tell us about Chinese history.
Between 1520 and 1810, China witnessed an upsurge in piracy all along the southern coastfrom Zhejiang province to Hainan Island. This was China’s golden age of piracy. During that time there were three great pirate cycles: first, the merchant pirates of the mid-Ming dynasty from1520 to 1575; second, the rebel-pirates of the Ming-Qing transition between 1620 and 1684; and third, the commoner pirates of the mid-Qing dynasty from 1780 to 1810.

For no less than half of those 290 years pirates dominated the seas around South China. Never beforein history had piracy been so strong and enduring. While in the West the heyday of piracy was in decline by the early eighteenth century – the pirate population at its peak never exceeded 5,500 men – thenumber of pirates in China at its height was no less than 70,000.

On the one hand, pirates brought havoc to many local communities and disrupted the economy; on the other, they contributed to the economic, social, and cultural development of early modern China.

Although many scholars agree that early modern China was becoming more culturally homogeneous, this was not the case among some segments of the laboring poor, whose culture was in many respects the antithesis of Confucian orthodoxy. Pirates, and seafarers in general, existed uneasily on the fringes of respectable society. They were social and cultural transgressors, who stood in marked defiance of orthodox values and standards of behavior.

Forged out of hardship, prejudice and poverty, pirates created a culture of survival based on violence, crime and vice, characterized by excessive profanity, intoxication, gambling, brawling, and sexual promiscuity.

Mobile seamen carried their ideas and values from port to port and between ships. The mobility of crews helped to ensure social uniformity and a common culture among pirates and other seamen. The culture of pirates and seafarers did not share the dominant Confucian values of honesty, frugality, self-restraint,and hard work, but rather espoused deception, ambition, recklessness, and getting ahead by any means.

In a society that was becoming increasingly polarized, restless and contentious, poor sailors and fishermen had to devise their own lifestyles, habits, and standards of behavior to survive. For many sailors, piracy was a normal, rational, and even legitimate means of maintaining minimal standards of living, perhaps a wayout of poverty. Their socio-cultural world was significant because it challenged the mainstream Confucian model and offered a viable alternative for China’s poor and discriminated.

Female pirates represented the most radical departure from dominant society and customs, defying acceptednotions of womanhood, breaking with established codes of female propriety, virtue, and passivity. Unlike their counterparts on Western ships, Chinese women pirates did not have to disguise themselves as men. They lived and worked openly as women aboard ships.

From the perspective of the Chinese state, such women who behaved like men perverted the social order and normalgender relationships, turning Confucian orthodoxy on its head. Indeed, they challenged the patriarchal hierarchyupon which both the state and society rested. For seafaring women, piracy presented opportunities to escape frompoverty and the rigid restraints placed on females. It gave them the chance for adventure and freedom unheard of formost women on land.

Large-scale piracy acted as a state within the state. Pirates established their own regime of military power, taxbureaus, and bureaucracy, which existed side-by-side with, but independently of, the Chinese imperial state and localelites. Pirates and seafarers created their own underworld culture of violence, crime, and vice. It was a survival culturesignificant because it was distinguishable from that of the dominant Confucian culture. For men and especially for women, piracy offered an important alternative way of life.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The 47 Ronin

306 years ago, during the evening of Dec 14th 1702, 47 of the former retainers of the late Lord Asano infiltrated the estate of of his nemesis, Lord Kira, to extract their revenge.

Thus begins the story of the 47 Ronin. The story of the 47 Ronin is one of the most famous in Japan, and has been told in many forms. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Wikipedia page on them.

The story is about to be told one more time. Keanu Reeves will play in a new movie version of the story of the 47 Ronin. It will begin shooting next year.

Check out the links!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Understated Eloquence

Shibumi is a Japanese word that means understated good taste. This is an example of shibumi itself as the word actually means a whole lot more. Rather than attempt this on my own, I’ll lean on the words of others. There is a Wikipedia page on Shibumi, and if you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to it.

The following excerpt is from Shibumi by Trevanian. Published by The Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright © 1979 by Trevanian. ISBN 0-345-31180-9 Book reviews of Shibumi are available from Books.

,,a part of a dialog ""... "Oh, vaguely. And incorrectly, I suspect. A blundering attempt to describe an ineffable quality. As you know, shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is . . . how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that.""

The quote mentions a couple of other Japanese aesthetic terms, wabi and sabi.

Again, from Wiki articles:

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; sabi meant "chill", "lean" or "withered". Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations.[1] Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.
From an engineering or design point of view, "wabi" may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then "sabi" could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust.
[edit] Wabi-sabi in Japanese arts
Many Japanese arts over the past thousand years have been influenced by Zen and Mahayana philosophy, particularly acceptance and contemplation of the imperfection, constant flux, and impermanence of all things. Such arts can exemplify a wabi-sabi aesthetic. Here is an incomplete list:
honkyoku (traditional shakuhachi music of wandering Zen monks)
ikebana (flower arrangement)
Japanese gardens, Zen gardens, and bonsai (tray gardens)
Japanese poetry, particularly haiku
Japanese pottery, notably Hagi ware
Japanese tea ceremony
Bonsai the Japanese art of miniature trees
And finally, the term “iki.”

Iki (いき, often written ) is a traditional aesthetic ideal in Japan. The basis of iki is thought to have been formed among commoners (chonin) in Edo, pre-modern Tokyo. Among those who are not familiar with Japanese culture, some tend to misunderstand iki as simply "anything Japanese." Iki, however, is one of Japanese aesthetic ideals and requires specific conditions. Samurai are typically thought as devoid of iki (see yabo).
While other Japanese aesthetic ideals, such as wabi-sabi, are almost extinct in today's Japan, iki is widely applied today. An average modern Japanese would find it difficult to translate what wabi-sabi means into English, because its definition relies on certain cultural assumptions. Wabi-sabi continues to influence Japanese culture, although its influence is far less than in pre-modern times. On the other hand, iki is commonly used in conversation or publications.
An iki thing/situation would be simple, improvised, straight, restrained, temporary, romantic, ephemeral, original, refined, inconspicuous, etc. An iki person/deed would be audacious, chic, pert, tacit, sassy, unselfconscious, calm, indifferent, unintentionally coquettish, open-minded, restrained, etc.
An iki thing/person/situation cannot be perfect, artistic, arty, complicated, gorgeous, curved, wordy, intentionally coquettish, or cute.
Iki can be used for almost anything, but especially for people (and their personality and deeds), situation, architecture, fashion, design, etc. It always describes something to do with people, or their will. Iki is not found in nature itself, but can be found in the human act of appreciating the beauty of nature.
Finally a pointer to a MA Thesis on Iki and everyday life

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Traditional Winter Training

It's not quite winter yet according to the calender, but here in SE Michigan it's cold, it's been snowing, and it looks like it's going to stick around for a while. I had to clear the driveway this morning for what I am sure is the first of many repetitions. It's certainly close enough for me to call it winter.

Many traditional Japanese martial arts have or had a special winter training (as well as a special summer training). In some schools, this would be a week long training during the coldest (or warmest) week of the year. There are many variations of this.

When I trained in aikido we used to "end the year right" by doing 365 back breakfalls to finish our training off for the year. If you've done any back breakfalls, you'll immediately get an idea of what kind of effort this entailed.

Below is an excerpt from an article on the special training the author underwent. As usual if you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the entire article.
The Snow Shoveling Daoist
道士 の 雪を掻いて

Traditional winter training in Japan: The Kashima jodo gasshuku

By Deborah Klens-Bigman, Ph.D.

I was surprised by the cold. I had been warned, of course, to bring extra clothing, to bring layers, tabi (traditional footwear) and, importantly, long underwear, but I had not been expecting its deep penetration, its constant thereness. Like an animal, after awhile all I wanted was to find something - a patch of sunshine on the floor, a hot can of tea - to warm me up.

For those unfamiliar with this martial art form, jodo (lit. "the way of the stick") is a method of non-lethal control of a sword-wielding assailant. Though its antecedents probably go back hundreds of years, jodo became a law enforcement method in the 18th century. To this day, the largest group of practitioners in Japan are policemen, who learn modern jodo tactics in addition to traditional training. In practice jodo involves kata that pits a pole 128cm long by 2.4cm in diameter against a wooden sword. Kaminoda Tsunemori is headmaster of a branch of Shindo Muso Ryu jodo, a very prominent teacher in the most-popular style.

After years of listening to Peter Boylan talk about Kaminoda Sensei's jodo gasshuku (which translates, roughly, as the now much-maligned expression "training camp"), held twice a year in Kashima, about an hour outside Tokyo, I was there. And it was all true - the spartan feel, the simple, hardy food, the long hours of all-consuming practice and the cold, cold, cold.

The 2008 winter gasshuku was held on February 9-12. Since the weekend included a holiday, the regular practice this year began on Saturday and did not end until Tuesday afternoon. We trained in mostly in Shinto Muso Ryu jodo, though also in related koryu budo - kenjutsu (sword partner kata), hojojutsu (rope tying) and for the advanced students, kusarigama (a ball and chain or length of rope attached to a hand-held sickle).

Though the gasshuku followed a set pattern laid down over the years (for a traditional outline, see Sosnowski 2005), this year's holiday schedule meant some variation on the theme.

A gasshuku is not a public training session. One attends by invitation only, and attending one is a privilege. Attendees are expected to keep up with the training, barring any illness or injury. No whining, no complaints; after all, everyone is a volunteer. The good part is that the cost is also low - profit not being the motive for holding an intensive session (a true mark, to me, of a traditional style, as opposed to a business-oriented one). Attendees are expected to be polite and helpful, cooperating with group chores and expressing deference to senior students and teachers.

As a first-time, unranked participant, I was on the very low end of this arrangement, so it was actually pretty simple to comply with all the rules and regs and deferential behavior, since I was oblivious to whatever political undertones such a large gathering can entail. And in fact, there was very little factionalism evident. Whatever people's differences might have been, they were not expressed here. Serious discussions evolved on differing opinions of technique or meaning. To a junior student to be able to overhear such discussions was like gold, but all talk would cease with the appearance of Kaminoda Sensei on the floor. At that point interpretation took a back seat to practice, regardless of rank.

I wondered beforehand whether I could handle the several days of training. I am not particularly young, and like a lot of people who have practiced martial arts for a long time, experience was being tempered with various, though minor, aches and pains. The word "gasshuku" implies intensity. Forget jet lag: my only concern was whether I could keep up with everyone else and not make a fool of myself in the process; or tear anything; or lose anything.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Ranking System of Japanese Martial Arts

Taiki Shisei Kenpo has an pointer to an article by the late Donn Draeger on the origin and meaning of the ranking system used in both traditional and modern Japanese martial arts. An excerpt from the article is below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole thing.

Ranking Systems in Modern Japanese Martial Arts:
Modern vs. Classical

Donn F. Draeger
Lecture on April 1, 1976

It began as far as we know with Kano Jigoro of Kodokan, and the first date probably 1883, about a year after he founded the system. He awarded proficiency ranks to his Judo men, his exponents, on the basis of kyu, which translated as "class" or "ungraded" ranks and "dan". These are, you can say "degrees" if you want and ranks. So that is the beginning of the black-belt system.

The dan are the so called "black belts". The people who have black belts are called, by the way, yudansha. The kyu are mudansha: mu means "nothing", literally.

Now, the black belt system is the product of the peasant class, not the warrior class. The commoners. Dr. Kano was a commoner, a wealthy commoner. His family owned a sake mill. He was a merchant, the lowest social class. Had he taken part in Tokugawa Japan, he would have been at the bottom of the social level. So, any attempt to rationalize dan (black belts) with martial training in Japan is erroneous on the basis of history. You can recognize a modern art by the very fact that it does give black belts and other kyu grades. That is one of the unfailing recognitions. Not all of them. Some of them have deliberately avoided it because of all the nonsense and politics that goes with it.

The classical arts do not use the black-belt system. Now, classical arts you must recall, run between the 8th century and 1877. But what did they use, because the Japanese, like any society, are rank and prestige conscious. As they learned from China, court ranks and so on were important in social structure. So, they used this system which they called the menkyo system. The exponents of classical arts receive menkyo and their evidence is shown on a densho or makimono. That would be a certificate of your proficiency at a certain level.

Now, there are different levels of menkyo but far fewer than black-belt. Black belt is very finely divided as are the kyu below it. The basis of it, the basis of the kyu and dan system is commercial. Don’t think it isn’t. Even in Japan. It was created for prestige and recognition, true, but for commercial purpose to keep Kodokan in business, originally. It has grown out of proportion today, not only in Japan but in the West. Many misuses and abuses, but that is not our thing to talk about today.

The menkyo system has a great integrity. There are far fewer levels. Generally there will be between three to five levels of menkyo over the whole life span. Compare that to modern systems. Depending on the system, there could be as many as ten kyu in some systems and ten different grades of dan. So there is already twenty subdivisions under the present system. The warrior system, from three to five; I have heard of one with nine and I have heard of one with two. So, my experience is, they will range from two to nine levels; far less than the kyu or the dan system. So, what the kyu and dan system means is, no big thing.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #29, A Poem to a Taoist Hermit

The Tang Dynasty was regarded as a golden age of Chinese culture. The arts, epecially poetry was held in high esteem. No occasion was too small to be commerated in a poem. The finest works of this age have been collected in a famous anthology, The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. If you click on the title of this post, you'll e directed to an online version of this classic. Below is #29. enjoy.


Wei Yingwu


My office has grown cold today;
And I suddenly think of my mountain friend
Gathering firewood down in the valley
Or boiling white stones for potatoes in his hut....
I wish I might take him a cup of wine
To cheer him through the evening storm;
But in fallen leaves that have heaped the bare slopes,
How should I ever find his footprints!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wu Style Taijiquan Training

There’s a lot going on with my taijiquan class these days. There is a weekly weapons class that has become a fixture. They are studying the saber form there. Our teacher likes to hold more or less monthly workshops on a variety of topics. Recently there was one on taijiquan applications, and she’s planning another one for January.

While I would like to learn all that stuff one of these days, I’m not in a hurry. I think that I am further ahead by instead really trying to refine my practice of the 108 Standard Form.

For starters, when we do the form in class together, I still have a tendency to get ahead of the group, especially towards the end. This is a common error. So my assignment is to actually try and be a half step or so behind the rest of the class to break that habit. I’m sure it will be challenging, but I’ll benefit from it.

From my practice at home, after some discussion with my teacher, I have six attributes I am working on now whenever I practice at home.

The first is implicit, doing the sequence correctly, with all the little bits and pieces present every time. Do this, then that, then that; omitting none of the little sub sequences that I’ve been taught so far. It’s easier said that done. While working on the Short Round Form, which does some of the movements a little differently, I “smoothed out” a whole section of my Standard form. The result was that I skipped some movements and that’s one reason I got ahead of the class.

The next one is to do the form from a lower stance. This is a lot of physical work. To sit even a little lower and still maintain the correct postures isn’t easy. My legs are screaming at me, and it’s so easy to just stand up. The effect is that my body is pumping a lot of blood around from the flexing of my legs, and I’m breathing very deeply.

My teacher says that this practice is very good for me, but that it takes a long time. When I get past having to use strong muscles to hold myself up, I’ll really be getting somewhere. Doing the form like this is quite a work out. I am as drenched as I would be on the treadmill for an hour when I’m really pushing myself.

The next attribute is to practice slower on my own. It’s our tendency, or monkey mind, to want to rush through the form even when we’re on our own. This is related to the first point, but there I’m practicing with other people; here, I’m practicing alone. Going more and more slowly allows the monkey mind to settle. While it’s not the same as Zen, I think it’s the same sort of thing.

Closely related to going more slowly is to practice the pace more evenly. Again related to #1, we tend to want to speed up towards the end; to get it over with.

The Wu style of taijiquan requires 100% weighting in many of the stances. Well, there’s what you think is 100% weighting when you standing there, then there’s really being 100% weighted on one foot. Couple that with the lower stances, and you’re really working. An interesting aspect of this is seeing how solid you can feel even standing with all of your weight on one foot if you do it correctly.

The last point is to relax my lower back which flattens it, and in fact rounds it. Since I’ve been practicing this, some things have been loosening up in my back; I’m allowing to let it relax more. My lower back has not only felt very strong, but I feel like there’s a great deal of support there. It’s almost like the feeling of wearing one of those belts you see weight lifters or movers with. I distinctly feel stronger there, but I don’t think it’s at all to do with building muscle, but loosening up so my connective tissue is not working at cross purposes with my muscle.

My plan is to not be distracted with all the other things there are to practice in the Wu style, and there’s quite a lot. I’ll continue to go to class and soak up as much as I can about the complete art, but for my own advancement, I’ll concentrate on the 108 Standard Form and these six attributes. I’ll give it some time and see where it gets me. I could do worse.

To the extent that I can refine my practice, my practice will refine me. At least that's my theory.

Below is a video of the Wu style Taijiquan Saber form, performed by Kevin Steele at a large gathering of members of the Wu style in Asia some years ago. Mr. Steel is a disciple of the late Wu Tai Sin. Wu Tai Sin was the 4th generation head of the Wu family and was particularly known for his straight sword and saber forms. He was the uncle of the present head of the Wu family, Wu Kuang Yu (“Eddie”).

If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the original YouTube video.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

China's Economy

I found this article at It's about the current state of the Chinese economy. They are not untouched in the world wide recession. Furthermore, because China has so many people, and all the numbers are so large, they have very little margin for error and they plot their course for the future.

I've placed an excerpt below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Crash and Burn

How the global economic crisis could bring down the Chinese government

Joshua Kurlantzick, The New Republic Published: Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Normally, the Pearl River Delta, a manufacturing hub in southern China, whirs with the sound of commerce. Alongside massive new highways, clusters of factories churn out toys, electronics, and other consumer products for the world; in Pearl River cities like Guangzhou, nouveau riche businesspeople cut deals at swank hotels.

But in recent months, the Delta has started to seem more like Allentown, circa 1980s. As the global financial crisis hits Western consumers' wallets, orders for the Delta's products have dried up. And angry factory workers, many owed back pay, have taken to the streets. In one recent incident, some 300 suppliers and creditors "descended on the River Dragon complex [a factory where the owners vanished] looting warehouses in the hopes of salvaging something," As USA Today reported.

This unrest is likely to spiral. As the Chinese economy sours for the first time in years, the government this week announced a $586 billion stimulus package. But in some ways, much more is at stake: While, in the U.S., a financial failure would simply mean another dent in George W. Bush's reputation, in China it could mean the breakdown of the entire political order.

For years, the Beijing regime has stayed in power using a basic bargain with its citizens: Tolerate our authoritarian rule and we'll make you rich. And for years, this seemed to work, leading many China-watchers (myself included) to conclude that Beijing was rising into great-power status. But as the financial crisis shows, that bargain rests on weak foundations. And if Beijing breaks its end of the deal, its people, already holding rising numbers of protests, may well break theirs.

Despite its reputation, Beijing's autocracy is anything but absolute. The government long ago abandoned real communist ideology, and its current leader, Hu Jintao, a cipher with a background as a rural bureaucrat, has about as much revolutionary charisma as Bob Dole. And while China's security apparatus is sophisticated, the country is too large, with too many educated, Internet-savvy people, for Beijing to brainwash its citizens the way Kim Jong-il has in North Korea. Most urban Chinese I've met are knowledgeable about their leaders' strengths and flaws, and certainly don't see them as some kind of gods, the way Mao was viewed in the 1950s and 1960s.

So, since the late 1970s, when China's leaders began opening its economy, they have placed their bets on their ability to deliver continued economic growth. "At the time of the Tiananmen protests in 1989"--a time of economic downturn--"China's urban educated populace had good reason to be angry," notes China expert Jonathan Unger, in a study of China's middle class. "Their salaries were low, and sour jokes circulated about private barbers earning more with their razors than hospital surgeons with their scalpels." But as China's economy has grown at explosive rates in recent years, he writes, "there has been a deliberate government policy to favor [this urban population] through their pay slips and perks." China's leaders channeled foreign investment to the urban east coast, created social welfare policies that favored the cities, and, for years, prevented rural people from migrating to the cities, thus keeping the job market open for young urbanites. Deng Xiaoping himself, the author of China's economic reforms, made clear the strategy of favoring the middle class and making growth equal stability. "Let some people get rich first," Deng famously declared.

For the most part, their gamble succeeded. For three decades, China has posted annual growth rates of over 10 percent, and this nominally communist country now seems more capitalist than Wall Street. Even in small provincial cities like Lanzhou, where I visited last year, massive malls, open-air markets, and new skyscrapers dot the downtown.

Since the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, China's urban middle classes have bought into this growth--and the regime. In one Pew poll, over 80 percent of Chinese said they were satisfied with conditions in their country, almost three times the percentage of Americans who were satisfied with conditions in the U.S. (To be sure, this figure relied primarily on surveys from urban, eastern China, where satisfaction is higher than in poorer, rural areas.) Indeed, when I have interviewed young Chinese professionals in cities like Shanghai, I've found little interest in political change. "There's no point in talking about [politics] or getting involved," one yuppie Chinese told Time magazine for an article entitled "China's Me Generation" last year.

Now, that bargain is breaking down. Exports constitute nearly 40 percent of China's GDP--far too high a figure. (By comparison, in the U.S., exports account for about 10 percent of GDP most years.) And the global financial slowdown is already taking a terrible toll. Some 10,000 factories in southern China's Pearl River Delta area had closed by the summer of 2008. Gordon Chang, a leading China analyst, estimates that 20,000 more will shutter by the end of this year. In the third quarter of 2008, Beijing also reported its fifth consecutive quarterly drop in growth, and several private research firms expect a sharper slowdown next year. Additionally, unemployment is skyrocketing; in Wenzhou, one of the main exporting cities, about 20 percent of workers have lost their jobs, Reuters recently reported.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A Walk into Chinese History

A friend sent me this article. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Hiking Into Chinese History

PEOPLE do not usually think of outdoor activities when you mention Beijing. But the city is surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains, nearly a mile high, and fall is the perfect season to visit them.

The mountains protected the city from barbarians on the plains to the north, west and east, and that was one of the reasons why Kublai Khan established his capital there in 1267, starting what the Chinese call the Yuan Dynasty. The city was then called Dadu. You can still see some ruins from that time at Beijing's Dadu Ruins Park between the Third and Fourth ring roads north of the city center. The park contains some replica stuff, and an old mud wall that dates from Kublai Khan's time.

But there is much more Mongolian romance to be found outside of the city in the mountains, where you can combine historical pursuits with some of the finest day hiking in China.

The area around the village of Fanzipai in Miyun County to the north of Beijing is mountainous and wild. There are villages like Fanzipai in the valleys, and you can use them as jumping-off points for hikes into the mountains.

Fanzipai — which means foreign writing sign — also has a Yuan Dynasty relic: some large rocks engraved with Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist verses. The carvings were probably made by traveling monks — Tibetans, Mongolians and other central Asians. The rocks are behind a gate, which is usually locked, but you can walk around the back to view them. There are signs in Chinese and English with a brief note about the rocks. No ticket is necessary.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The Purpose of One's Life

The Japanese have a term for one's purpose in life, ikigai ( 生き甲斐 ). This is also the name of a martal arts blog. You can find this blog by clicking on the title of this post, or by finding over on the right. There are loads of articles there. Please pay a visit. I'm sure you'll find something you'll like.

Good news! My oldest daughter found a job. She's the marketing coordinator for the public transportation agency. It's not her dream job, but it's a paycheck in a time when they're getting harder and harder to come by. Besides earning a paycheck, she's gaining some experience and in a few years will be able to move to something more of her liking.

Volleyball is still going strong for my youngest. They came out on top in the first stage of the state championship playoffs by winning their district; a mini tournament consisting of 6 teams. They are one of 32 remaining teams in their class in the state. There is a mini tournament for 4 teams next week called the regionals. It will be competitive, but they are the favorites going into that.

Right now I'm reading Sit Down and Shut Up by Brad Warner. It's an autobiography as well as an explanation of a Zen classic, the Shobogenzo. His prose is really in your face, but he has a knack of getting across what Zen is about.

I haven't mentioned my Japanese language study in a while. I've been concentrating on my study of kanji, which I intend to continue for a while. Then I want to re copy my notes from the beginning of my study, but this time instead of romanji or hiragana, I want to use the correct kanji for all the Japanese parts. What I am hoping to get out of this is to recongize common words made of multiple kanji.

I'm also reviewing Japanese Grammar by Carol Akiyama. It's a very handy book to keep in your pocket when you're in Japan. It covers the breath of the subject in a very concise format.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Modern Aikido is derived from a traditional Japanese martial art, Aikijujutsu. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a blog entitled Striking Thoughts which has as part of it's current lead article, Martial Arts Devotion, a nice video clip on Aikijujutsu training.

You can also click on the link over at the right to be directed over there. Please pay a visit.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Self Defense and Current Events.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a post at the Aikido Journal, which has some pretty good advice for everyday self defense. I have posted a portion of the article below. Please pay a visit.

As for current events, my oldest daughter got a job! After over 6 months of looking and some 500 resumes sent out, she finally got a job in marketing with the local public transportation company. It's not her dream job, but it's a paycheck and those aren't easy to come by these days.

The important thing is that she's off of Dad's payroll. She'll start accumulating some experience on her resume that will help her get something more of what she'd like to do. Now she gets to move on with her life.

The younger daughter is receiving acceptance letters from some of the universities she's applied for. If volleyball doesn't work out for her she'll still be able to have her choice of schools.

I just noticed that Cook Ding's Kitchen has surpassed 30,000 hits! Thank you for coming by.

Closing this post is a film clip of an older Hapkido master. I don't know who this guy is. I was about to say that I hope to be half as agile as he is when I'm his age, but honestly, I'd be happy to be half as agile as he is right how!

Ok, here's the excerpt from that article on self defense:

Coping In A Violent World

by Dennis Fink

Aikido Journal #102 (1995)

Random acts of violence seem to be on the increase, at least in the United States. Although many of us hope to improve our self-defense skills as part of our aiki training, just how realistic is this hope? Aikido Journal has asked four law enforcement professionals to answer a series of questions about how each of us can cope when confronted by violence. Using as a starting point the December 1993 Long Island Commuter train incident, in which a gunman gone berserk killed and wounded dozens of his fellow passengers, we asked our experts the following:

What advice would you give to a passenger seated in a train car in which someone has begun shooting?

Should the untrained individual attempt to disarm the gunman?

What steps might you personally take to deal with the gunman?

Are there any distracting maneuvers that could divert the gunman’s attention in another direction?

Are there techniques taught in the dojo that might be of use in such a situation?

What steps should be taken by bystanders afterwards, while waiting for the police and emergency personnel to arrive?

Is there any way to minimize the panic among passengers?

What common sense steps can we take to protect ourselves in crowded public places such as a train, subway, or bus?

Do you favor banning or placing restrictions on the sale of handguns in an effort to reduce the number of gun-related incidents?

What should people traveling abroad keep in mind when visiting large cities with frequent violence?

If you find yourself in this situation

Depending on the configuration of the train car utilize cover and concealment, if possible. Immediately take cover behind a seat or any other available object that might provide protection, or take advantage of concealment (any object that hides you, but does not provide protection-for example, hiding behind a curtain). This would apply in all three cases, especially if the distance between you and the gunman is too great. If the distance is close, the techniques demonstrated below may be attempted as they apply to each of the three cases indicated.

Should untrained people attempt to disarm?

In most cases, no. In the Long Island Railroad train incident the gunman was captured by untrained citizens, subsequently saving lives. This is, however, a judgment call that has to be made at the time.

The professional response

Please refer to the photos presented. However, nothing is engraved in stone. You cannot prearrange or choreograph a REAL situation. Each is unique.

Distracting the gunman?

The scenario specifies a berserk gunman. To distract a drug-crazed or berserk individual is difficult at best, if not impossible. They develop tunnel vision and are in somewhat of a trance.

Techniques to use

I cannot speak for all dojos. However, I believe that in most legitimate dojos, yes, there are useful techniques. They may need to be modified to meet today’s needs, as indicated in the techniques I demonstrate in this article.

The aftermath

Try not to have too many chiefs, which can confuse the situation further. Clear direction is needed at times like these. Call and wait for police and other emergency services to arrive. Avoid disturbing the crime scene (touching or moving things), assure victims that help is on the way and that everything will be okay. If possible, do not let victims (or family members) see wounds (cover with blanket/coat, etc.). You should be concerned with blood-borne diseases such as AIDS.

Minimizing panic

Attempt to help take charge and assure everyone that the situation is under control. Reassure people that the gunman has been subdued and encourage them to stay calm until help arrives.

Common sense self-protection

Be alert with regard to your surroundings (suspicious characters, gangs or groups of youth, etc.). Avoid confrontations, and whenever possible travel in groups of two or more. Keep jewelry, money, and other valuables unexposed. Avoid empty train cars. If possible, sit in a car with a conductor or motorman. Do not stand near the platform edge in train stations.

Does gun control help?

No. New York City is a perfect example. In New York almost all gun-related crime is committed with illegal, unlicensed guns. New York City has the toughest restrictions on gun permits in the country and has one of the highest incidences of gun-related crime.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Dao De Jing #28: Becoming

The Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) is one of the world's literary treasures. It's also one of the foundational texts of the philosophy of Daoism (Taosim). If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version. In the meantime, here is Chapter 28, Becoming.

28. Becoming

Using the male, being female,
Being the entrance of the world,
You embrace harmony
And become as a newborn.

Using strength, being weak,
Being the root of the world,
You complete harmony
And become as unshaped wood.

Using the light, being dark,
Being the world,
You perfect harmony
And return to the Way.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

American Buddhism

A friend sent me an article from the New York times about Buddhism in San Francisco. It's very nice article and I've placed an excerpt below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. There's a nice slide show that goes with it that you don't want to miss.

In Buddha’s Path on the Streets of San Francisco

A BLOCK off Grant Avenue in San Francisco’s Chinatown — beyond the well-worn path tourists take past souvenir shops, restaurants and a dive saloon called the Buddha Bar — begins a historical tour of a more spiritual nature.

Duck into a nondescript doorway at 125 Waverly Place, ascend five narrow flights and step into the first and oldest Buddhist temple in the United States.

At the Tien Hau Temple, before an intricately carved gilded wooden shrine and ornate Buddha statues, under dozens of paper lanterns, Buddhists in the Chinese tradition still burn pungent incense and leave offerings to the goddess Tien Hau in return for the promise of happiness and a long life.

Established in 1852 by Chinese immigrants who came to California during the Gold Rush and named for a 10th-century provincial woman who protected people at sea, the original temple burned down in the fire set off by the 1906 earthquake but eventually found its new home in this three-block-long alley.

Over the next 150 years, San Francisco would continue to water those early seeds of Buddhism planted in America, as geography, social history and waves of immigrants made it fertile ground for a once esoteric tradition now grown so popular that the Dalai Lama regularly fills football stadiums.

“Since the 1800s, San Francisco was the most important gateway for people coming from the Pacific Rim,” said Charlie Chin, artist in residence at the Chinese Historical Society of America in San Francisco, who also leads tours and gives lectures. “They weren’t proselytizing Buddhism, but they brought it here with their other cultural beliefs and practices.”

Today, a spiritual tourist, whether Buddhist or not, can find inspiration if not enlightenment following in the footsteps of American Buddhism on a pilgrimage throughout the Greater Bay Area.

The Buddhism the Chinese brought was a spiritual mix of traditional folk beliefs, Taoism, Confucianism and Chan, the antecedent of Japanese Zen. Though there are differences, central to both Chan and Zen is meditation, or zazen in Japanese, as well as the Buddha’s basic lessons of compassion, impermanence and awareness of the present moment.

Japanese immigrants arrived in San Francisco in the late 19th century as agricultural laborers, bringing Zen and its variations. In 1898, they founded the Buddhist Church of San Francisco in the downtown district. Based on a sect of Buddhism called Jodo Shinshu (Pure Land), America’s first Japanese Buddhist temple also burned down in 1906 but was re-established in 1913 at 1881 Pine Street, not far from the current Japantown.

Now part of the Buddhist Churches of America, whose national headquarters are nearby at 1710 Octavia Street, the San Francisco center has pews in its worship hall that make it look like a Christian church or Jewish synagogue — that is, until you catch sight of the elaborate altar with a golden statue of the Buddha in the center. On the roof of the church is one of the most sacred Buddhist monuments in San Francisco. Housed in a domed tower (stupa in Sanskrit) that is topped by a spiral that looks like a braided hair knot is a small box containing what are said to be a bit of the Buddha’s ashen bone relics, a gift sent in 1935 by the ruler of Siam. Visitors may ask to view the box.

It was not until the 1950s that interest in Buddhism grew with the next wave that migrated to San Francisco. Though these immigrants were not Asian, they did settle in downtown at the edge of Chinatown, where an intrepid pilgrim can continue to follow their footsteps.

In fact, starting in the mid-50s and continuing into the 1960s, a series of events and trends turned San Francisco into a hothouse for new varieties and strains of American Buddhism.

As unlikely as it sounds, it started at a cluttered little independent bookshop that itself seems like a throwback to another era.

At the busy intersection of Columbus Avenue and Broadway, which separates Chinatown from the bohemian-style cafes, neon-lit Italian restaurants and the block-long red-light district of North Beach, the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti helped found the City Lights Bookstore in 1953 as the first all-paperbound bookshop in the country. Across from where entertainers like Lenny Bruce worked out new material at the Hungry i (now a topless club) and the Purple Onion (still showcasing comedy), Mr. Ferlinghetti published Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl and Other Poems” in 1956. City Lights became an unofficial headquarters of the Beat literary movement, the hangout of Mr. Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gary Snyder, Philip Whalen and many other authors who were reading, practicing and writing about Buddhism.

“I made a beeline to City Lights as soon as I moved to San Francisco in the 1960s,” said Wes Nisker, a Bay Area FM radio commentator who now teaches and writes about Buddhism and performs the one-man musical “Big Bang, the Buddha and the Baby Boom.” “It was the epicenter for a radical new kind of Buddhism that was beginning to flower in America. As a budding Buddhist myself, I had to make it the first stop for my own personal pilgrimage.”

In 1959, Shunryu Suzuki, a Buddhist priest from Japan, came to San Francisco to teach Zen to ethnic Japanese in the city’s Western Addition and Japantown. But so many Westerners were attending his talks that three years later Suzuki-roshi (roshi means teacher) established a separate Zen center on Page Street, down the hill from Haight and Ashbury Streets, crossroads of another ’60s movement also in search of peace, love and happiness.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Forms Training in Martial Arts

Most traditional martial arts training methods are build around forms practice, or "kata;" prearranged sequences of movements.

Ellis Amdur, a well known martial arts writer attempts to explain the benefits of forms training with regards to a specific practice, called iai in Japanese, in an article of The Aikido Journal. I've excerpted some of the article below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the complete piece. Please pay a visit.

Solo Training - Why Iai?

by Ellis Amdur

Published Online

Some practitioners of modern martial arts deride kata training, claiming that an adherence to form is inherently weak. They claim that one trains stereotyped responses by rote and repetition, thereby rendering oneself unable to respond with freedom to an unpredictable, random attack. On the other hand, one’s freedom is limited by one’s neurological organization — stereotypical patterns of action and reaction entrained through another type of kata training — the repetitive, habitual patterns of movement one arrives at simply by living. Proper kata training is, in fact, a means of teaching one’s nervous system new patterns of response. Without sufficient repetition — ideally, mindful aware repetition - the nervous system will not develop new interconnections to coordinate new patterns of response. It is, paradoxically, through limitation and delineation, that one is able to approach freedom.

There is no doubt that kata are limiting in one sense, but concentration and limitation also cause the creation of skills that would otherwise never even develop. For example, the hook would probably never have occurred to anyone, had cross-hip throws, which were a devastating counter to crude roundhouse punches, not been eliminated from boxing. Similarly, an upright posture, which gave impetus to the development of the so many of the sophisticated throws of judo, far superior to the cruder throws of older jujutsu systems, was in part, a product of Kano Jigoro’s ideals for the moral/physical education of the sport’s practitioners.

In comparison to many other cultures’ fighting traditions, solo training is not emphasized in Japanese martial arts. Chinese martial arts are an exemplar of the latter. I’ve recently become passionately re-involved with xingyi, training about two hours a day minimum. Xingyi, which literally means “form directed by the will” is, very definitely, a neurological retraining system. The most important method of practice of xingyi is solo practice. (It is true that, at higher levels, partner practice and later, sparring is considered essential, but even so, the solo form is considered the primary). I find that the incessant mindful repetition of the same movements has begun to change my “instinctive” response to unrehearsed or random opposition, i.e., sparring.

This then leads me to contemplate iai, that rather peculiar practice of isolating out a single aspect of sword play — unsheathing and resheathing the weapon, and making it either a specialized study within a ryu, or a complete study in-and-of itself. In the oldest ryu, iai was an auxiliary training method. But why was it even included in the curriculum? Many other sword-bearing cultures have never made such practice a part of their training.

Typically, iai is described as a training method to deal with surprise attack, night infiltration, or fighting in a crouch in low-ceiling rooms, etc. This is surely part of the truth, but iai served an even more important purpose. First of all, it’s a damn sight more interesting solo practice than suburi, both for its practical utility and complexity — thus, the solo practitioner had a means of maintaining interest in long periods of practice, as well as doing an activity more complex than suburi, and less contrived than practicing “one-half” of a kata against an imaginary opponent. Furthermore, it was the equivalent of a gun-safety course. There, in the preparation for the forms and the forms themselves, is the equivalent of gun cleaning, checking your load, weapon awareness and retention, etc. It was so essential that it was included in most early bujutsu, and in many systems, its absence was considered such a lack that it was later added.

Like many activities, its practice became its own reward, and iai eventually became iaido, a specialized training that, through its limitation, led to the same kind of advanced sophisticated techniques that similar limitation engendered in the aforementioned judo and boxing. It is true that such specialization only occurs in peacetime. Sophistication is a luxury. Some koryu scholars and practitioners deride more modern specialized disciplines as a manifestataion of degeneration. But how fortunate a society that has enough peacetime that its members can afford the time to create sports or disciplines of self-study out of purely pragmatic fighting methods.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tender Years

Eddie and the Cruisers is one of my favorite movies. The movie represents one of those rare instances where a movie is better than the book that inspired it. No wonder. The story revolves around the music of the early days of rock and roll. It's tough for a book to capture that.

The sound track was created by John Cafferty. It's a classic. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

3 in the Morning, 4 in the Afternoon

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. - Thoreau


Three in the Morning, Four in the Afternoon

There was a man who liked monkeys. He had a lot of them in his house. He understood his monkeys and the monkeys understood him. It cost a lot of money to care for all these monkeys, but he was afraid to stop buying them food in case they get upset. So he tried to reason with his monkeys.

“I’ll give you three chestnuts in the morning and four in the afternoon,” he told them. But they didn’t like that.

“Then I’ll give you four in the morning and three in the afternoon.”

The monkeys were happy.

This morning, my wife had to leave the house early. A fine Saturday, I had planned to work on the landscaping, then watch football this afternoon, while helping my youngest daughter build a bridge out of toothpicks for her physics class.

She left me a note asking me to additionally clean the floor under the washer and dryer. This is the single chore around the house I dislike the most.

At first, I just didn't want to do it. I had already made my plans. I could clean the floor on Sunday. then I thought about it. What's really the difference. It has to be done.

I cleaned the floor, I got my yardwork done, I found I even had enough time take some stuff to the recycling center. I worked on the bridge and watched my football games, and my wife was happy.

Any conflict was all in my head. Am I any wiser than the monkeys in the Chinese story?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Japanese Gadgets

A friend sent me this article. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the original. The link also exists at the bottom.

Go quietly among the gadgets Graeme Philipson
September 30, 2008

Not only do the Japanese make the best unuseless objects, they know how to use them.
My travels draw me back to Japan. I've been coming here for more than 20 years, mostly for reasons related to the computer business, but this time I'm having a holiday.

The place never ceases to amaze. The Japanese like to think of themselves as unique. In many ways they are. Behind their polite exterior they have strong sense of racial superiority. Perhaps they are right. They do some things extremely well, and others not so.

Japanese politics is dysfunctional, the economy has had the problems for 10 years that the rest of us are having only now, and teenage suicide rates are abnormally high. The place is, on many levels, seriously weird.

But they have the world's best train system and they make the world's most reliable cars. They have definitely the healthiest and probably the tastiest cuisine, and they certainly make the sharpest knives.

But the thing they do best of all is gadgets.

I have in my possession back in Australia an amusing little book called 101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions by Kenji Kawakami. (I also have its sequel 99 Unuseless Japanese Inventions).
This is one of the funniest books I have ever seen. It is devoted to "chindogu", which roughly translates as "the art of the unuseless idea".

The products it describes are hilarious. A T-shirt with a grid pattern printed on the back so you can easily tell someone exactly where to scratch your back. Slippers for cats so they can polish your floor as they walk around. Umbrellas for your feet. Spectacles with wide-angle lenses so your apartment looks bigger.

You get the idea. Just because the are "unuseless" doesn't make them "useful".

Recently, I took a stroll around Akihabara, the "electric town" suburb a few subways stops north-east of downtown Tokyo. "Gadget town" would be more appropriate - if you or your teenage children can't find something totally bizarre and "unuseless" in this place, you're simply not trying.

The miniaturisation of electronics, and their vastly reduced price, has been a boon to the Japanese gadget industry. Now virtually anything is possible - limited only by the imagination, as they say.

Let's start with the range of things you can plug into your computer USB port. Most them aren't particularly electronic - they just use the USB as a power source - but it is the sheer diversity that astounds.

My favourite is the USB Humping Dog, a small plastic canine that tries to have its way with the side of your computer. Those with more sensitive tastes might prefer the USB Stretching Dog, which merely does sit-ups.

Or you might fancy a USB shirt cooler. Or USB barbecue. Or the USB Hamster Wheel, which is "an utter delight. Plug it into your USB port, load the software from the CD provided and get typing. As you type, the hamster gets running, spinning the hamster wheel around in the process - the faster you type, the faster he runs."

What fun!

What is it with Japanese and their gadgets? When I first visited in the early 1980s, a western friend who lived there told me that our Nipponese cousins like their gadgets because most of them live such cramped lives, in cramped apartments in vast cities.

At the same time, she said, they had large disposable incomes. They had to spend their money on something, and those things had to be small, because of their constricted living conditions, hence the gadget craze.

I'm sure that's partly true, but I think there's more to it.

This is a country where toilets can resemble the bridge of the Starship Enterprise, where cab doors spring open to meet you, and where the cities resemble something out of Blade Runner. It's not just personal space - Japanese are simply technophiles.

Mobile phones are, as you might expect, ubiquitous.

But you never see people using them on trains, except to play games or send or receive text messages. They are only rarely used while walking on the street, and never in restaurants. Receive a call in an eating establishment, and you run outside in great embarrassment. Rude, you know.

The Japanese combine a mania for technology with a respect for the primacy of other people's space. We could learn a lot from this in the digital millennium.

I once asked a fellow westerner why he chose to live in Japan. "I like it because it's quiet," he told me. "Quiet?" I said, motioning my hands at the cacophony that is Tokyo.

"I don't mean physically quiet," he told me. "I mean spiritually quiet. You can live your own life in Japan and nobody gets in your way."

I often think of his comments when I am in this wonderful country. I thought of them as I walked the chaotic streets of Akihabara.

Japanese embrace technology for its own sake, even if it is "unuseless". But they do not let it rule their lives, nor do they let it get in the way of their innate respect for their fellow man.

Technology and good manners can co-exist. I wish a few mobile phone users in the western world would get the message.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Donn Draeger

Below are excerpts from an article in Black Belt magazine on the late Donn F. Draeger, who was a legendary American martial artist. He was an early pioneer. His three volume "Martial Arts and Ways of Japan" remains a classic. You can read the entire article by clicking on the title of this post.

Donn F. Drager: The Life and Times of an American Martial Arts Pioneer by Paul Nurse

Almost 25 years ago, the martial arts world lost one of its most dynamic and charismatic figures. On October 20, 1982, Donn F. Draeger, USMC (retired), budo kyoshi (full professor of Japanese martial arts and ways) and ranked martial artist in perhaps a dozen combative systems, passed away from cancer at age 60 in his home state of Wisconsin.

Draeger is remembered today chiefly as the author of more than 30 books and numerous articles about the Asian martial arts, as well as for being one of the best-qualified and most experienced Western exponents of the combative arts. The oft-repeated legend that he either had or possessed the equivalent of some 100 black-belt ranks is perhaps apocryphal, but he no doubt was among the most accomplished martial artists of his generation, perhaps of all time. He held a sixth-degree black belt in judo; a seventh degree in jojutsu (Japanese stick fighting), kendo and iaido; and a menkyo license in the tenshin shoden katori shinto-ryu of bujutsu.

During the Great Depression, the 15-year-old Draeger joined the U.S. Marine Corps, continuing his education—and eventually earning a master’s degree in electrical engineering—so he could become a career officer. He saw combat in the Pacific and Korean Wars and served for a time in Manchuria. He was also in the Shanghai area of China, although his mission there is unclear. From a mention in C.W. Nicol’s classic 1975 memoir Moving Zen, it seems a virtual certainty that Draeger was on Iwo Jima during the celebrated February-March 1945 battle that saw almost 26,000 American casualties and more than 22,000 Japanese killed.

After the war, as a young Marine lieutenant and judo black belt, Draeger made his first visit to Japan as part of the occupation forces. Although most Japanese martial arts were proscribed in the immediate postwar period, he sought out highly regarded exponents such as the legendary judoka Kimura Masahiko, with whom he hoped to train. Years later, he studied directly under Mifune Kyuzo, Sato Shizuya and Ito Kazuo (becoming the uke in the illustrations for Ito’s famous English-language book, This Is Judo).

His judo background also led to his being on the official military board of the Supreme Command of Allied Powers in Japan, where he helped decide the status and political responsibility of the various Japanese martial systems. Most of the arts that were demonstrated were banned for having been associated with militarism, although karate-do, curiously, seems to have been exempt.

An anecdote tells that while a member of this board, Draeger watched as karateka under Gichin Funakoshi demonstrated their kata at a deliberately slow pace to make it seem like a form of exercise along the lines of Chinese tai chi chuan. As the only member of the board who understood karate-do’s true nature and intent, Draeger later claimed he allowed it to pass without the other board members’ knowledge.

During his own early years on the Japanese islands, Draeger began training in the classical martial arts and was permitted to join the Kobudo Shinko Kai, the Classical Martial Arts Preservation Society, a research organization in which he was the sole international component. Believing the society’s focus too narrow, however, he eventually broke away to form what became known as the International Hoplology Research Center, now the International Hoplology Society.

A yondan in judo by the time he arrived in Japan, Draeger spent his years in the Pacific Rim living a life that would later read like an entry in a who’s who of martial arts accomplishments. Delving more deeply into the Japanese combative ethos than any Westerner before or since, he became the first non-Japanese judo instructor at the Kodokan Judo Institute (Foreigners Section); the first non-Japanese to demonstrate kata at the All-Japan Judo Championships and the 1964 Tokyo Olympics; the first non-Japanese to compete in the All-Japan High-Dan-Holders Judo Tournament; and one of the first non-Japanese—and definitely the first Caucasian—allowed to enter the koryu. He also became the first foreigner permitted to compete in Japanese jukendo (mock bayonet) tournaments, eventually winning so many events that he was no longer allowed in.

But Draeger was more than a highly trained and skilled martial artist. As an author and researcher with several dozen books to his credit, he crafted works that are considered the most reliable and often the only texts on Asian combative systems in foreign languages. His most famous books are Comprehensive Asian Fighting Arts (co-authored with friend and colleague Robert W. Smith) and his celebrated three-volume Martial Arts and Ways of Japan (a series composed of Classical Bujutsu, Classical Budo, and Modern Bujutsu and Budo). At different times, Draeger also served as a contributing editor for Judo Illustrated, published several issues of a journal called Martial Arts International and established Hoplos, the official organ of the International Hoplology Research Center.

While in Japan, Draeger made ends meet by living on his military pension, teaching English conversation, instructing at the Kodokan and occasionally serving as an extra, stuntman or stunt coordinator for Japanese and foreign films. While his most famous “role” was as Sean Connery’s stunt double in the James Bond opus You Only Live Twice (1967), he also took some falls for John Wayne during the comic jujutsu scene in John Huston’s Barbarian and the Geisha (1958).

While trying to establish hoplology as a recognized academic discipline, Draeger taught as a guest lecturer at the University of Maryland and the University of Hawaii. He also spent approximately four months a year on field trips in Asia teaching, visiting schools and studying combative methods, which he subsequently analyzed, recorded and sometimes published.

During the last of those journeys in 1979, misfortune struck Draeger and his team on the island of Sumatra. Visiting the Atjeh tribe, it appears that the entire group was somehow poisoned—perhaps deliberately—and as a result developed severe amebic dysentery requiring hospitalization. Although he recovered from the illness, Draeger began losing weight and grew increasingly weak. His legs swelled, causing great pain, and he found it difficult to walk or stand for very long. Serious training became difficult, then impossible.

After repeated visits to Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu, it was discovered that Draeger had cancer of the liver. Returning to his home state to die, he stayed first with his half brother before moving into a veteran’s hospital. It was there, on October 20, 1982, exactly 92 years after his hero, Sir Richard F. Burton, died, that Donn F. Draeger passed away from metastasized carcinoma. He was buried at Wood National Cemetery in Milwaukee, a 50-acre final home to more than 37,000 American veterans. Draeger’s grave lies in Section 4, Site 377.