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 ~

Friday, February 29, 2008

Classical Chinese

Having shoveled the snow... AGAIN, my thoughts of course turn to Classical Chinese. While I can read about 500 Kanji, Chinese, especially in it's classical form, may as well be Greek to me.
If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website entitled "Classical Chinese." There, the owner translates and comments on Classical Chinese literature that he has translated. It looks to be truly a work of love. Please pay a visit.

Below is a small excerpt, from Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu).

- The Snow Shoveling Daoist

Butterfly dream


Long ago, Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly. He fluttered gaily, in a butterfly way, all to his pleasure, following his whims ! He did not know Zhou. Suddenly he woke up, and at once was Zhou again. But he did not know whether he was Zhou dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming it was Zhou. Yet, between Zhou and the butterfly, a distinction must be made. This is called the transformation of things.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Troubling News from China

There are a couple of stories that appeared on Yahoo over the last couple of days that are worrisome. I am providing a link and excerpts below.

With regards to the water shortage, maybe this year’s unusual snowfall will have a bright side. When the snow melts in the spring, it will help replenish the water table. Of course, there is only so much water the ground will be able to absorb, and we’ll also see stories about flooding.

It is also fashionable to print stories about how the US is going to be eclipsed by China just around the corner. These estimations leave out one vital fact: we are still the world’s bread basket. I saw a story not too long ago that compared our agricultural output with the rest of the world. I admit the details in my memory are hazy, but were the rest of the world on average put out 2 units (whatever they were) of food per acre, the US was outputting 20.

China will be experiencing some food shortages this year as a result of both the water shortage and the snowfall. In my opinion the government of China wouldn’t normally be too concerned if a few million of her citizens starved to death, but in this year of the Olympics, all eyes will be on China.

China’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics is their big PR event. It could well blow up in their faces.

Pollution turns Chinese river system red

By ANITA CHANG, Associated Press WriterWed Feb 27, 3:17 AM ET

Pollution turned part of a major river system in central China red and foamy, forcing authorities to cut water supplies to as many as 200,000 people, the provincial government and a state news agency said Wednesday.

Some communities along tributaries of the Han River — a branch of the Yangtze — in Hubei province were using emergency water supplies, while at least 60,000 people were relying on bottled water and limited underground sources, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Residents in some towns were getting water from fire trucks, the Hubei provincial government said on its Web site.

Five schools were closed in Xingou township, while others could not provide food to students, the Xinhua report said without elaborating.

The pollution was discovered Sunday when water plant workers from Jianli County found that the Dongjing River, a tributary of the Han, had turned red and foamy, the Hubei Web site said.

Water plants along the river suspended intake and cut tap water to as many as 120,000 people, according to reports on the site. Xinhua said 200,000 people were without water.

Tests showed the polluted waters contained elevated levels of ammonia, nitrogen, and permanganate, a chemical used in metal cleaning, tanning and bleaching, Xinhua said. The pollution apparently flowed down from the Han River, the Hubei government said without elaborating on its source.

Olympics highlight Beijing water woes

By HENRY SANDERSON, Associated Press WriterWed Feb 27, 1:28 PM ET

When 16,000 athletes and officials show up this summer, they will be able to turn the taps and get drinkable water — something few Beijing residents ever have enjoyed.

But to keep those taps flowing for the Olympics, the city is draining surrounding regions, depriving poor farmers of water.

Though the Chinese capital's filthy air makes headlines, water may be its most desperate environmental challenge. Explosive growth combined with a persistent drought mean the city of 17 million people is fast running out of water.

Meanwhile, rainfall has been below average since 1999. The result: Water resources per person are 1/30th of the world average, lower even than Israel.

"To ensure the supply for a short period of time shouldn't be a problem, but to keep the long-term sustainable use of resources is a challenge," said Ma Jun, an environmentalist who has written about China's water issues.

In an attempt to ease the water woes, China has turned to a grand engineering feat. Workers are digging up the countryside south of Beijing for a canal that will bring water from China's longest river, the Yangtze, and its tributaries to the arid north by 2010.

The first part of the project is being accelerated to meet anticipated demand from Olympic visitors. By April, the canal is to begin bringing 80 billion gallons a year — an amount equal to the annual water use of Tucson, Ariz. — from four reservoirs in nearby Hebei province.

"I think one of the things the Olympics is showing is it's desperation time and Beijing has the power," said James Nickum, an expert on Chinese water policy issues at Tokyo Jogakkan College in Japan.

In mountainous Chicheng county, about 70 miles northwest of Beijing, dried-out corn stalks stick out of the windblown earth. Farmers limit themselves to two buckets of water a day from icy wells. They are prohibited from tapping what's left in the local reservoir.

The farmers have been ordered to grow only corn, which requires less water but also fetches a lower price than rice or vegetables.

The government offered about $30 in compensation, but farmers say not everyone received it. Too poor to buy coal, they carry discarded corn stalks home on their backs for fuel to heat their homes.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Daoist Downloads

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website entitled Hermetica. The author of this website, Bradford Hatcher, has translated an enormous amount of Daoist material (among other things) available for download. Free. Donations are welcome though.

There is a massive translation of the I Ching, the Dao De Jing, Zhaung Zi; and a large number of very high quality links.

Please pay a visit and take a look around. You can also find the link over at the right.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The New Smithsonian Magazine

Having just finished shoveling the snow, AGAIN, the first thing I do when I come in is of course to take a look at the new Smithsonian Magazine. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the online version of the March 2003 issue.

This is a particularly good one. There is an article on how China is sprucing up The Forbidden City in advance of the Olympics. There is also an article on Japanese Hot Springs.

Unfortunately, the Smithsonian does a very good job of locking down their photos. It seems to me there are a lot more in the print magazine than the online one too. Below is an excerpt from the article on the Forbidden City. Enjoy.

- The Snow Shoveling Daoist

Forbidden No More

As Beijing gets ready to hosts its first Olympics, a veteran journalist returns to its once-restricted palace complex

  • By Paul Raffaele
  • Smithsonian magazine, February 2008

I had expected to feel awe as I approached the Meridian Gate guarding what most Chinese call the Great Within—Beijing's Forbidden City—but I'm surprised to feel apprehension, too. After all, it's been a while since the emperors who ruled from behind these formidable walls casually snuffed out lesser lives by the thousands. From 1421 to 1912, this was the world's most magnificent command center—a reputed 9,999 rooms filled with nearly a million art treasures spread over 178 walled and moated acres.

Had I accompanied the Italian Jesuit Matteo Ricci, the first Westerner to visit the Forbidden City, in 1601, I would have seen these pavilions, courtyards and alleyways bustling with courtiers: concubines clad in silk, gold and jade; eunuchs serving as cooks, cleaners, clerks, compilers and companions; and the emperor's hard-eyed troopers bearing curved swords. But when I first visited, in 1973, not a single human voice sullied the silence, though the cawing of crows sounded like warnings and I thought the breeze playing about my ears could be the whispers of emperors past. I spent that first day 35 years ago treading the ancient clay bricks and marveling at the long procession of scarlet pavilions. Most were locked, and there were no guides to tell me their secrets. Mao Zedong was then putting China through his Cultural Revolution, and he had virtually closed the entire nation to outsiders. He had also sent the intellectuals—including, I assumed, the Forbidden City's guides—out to the countryside to toil with peasants in order to clean the dung from their overintellectualized brains.

I fell in love with the Forbidden City that long-ago day, and over the next 18 months visited it often. Back then, I was frustrated by how much of it was off-limits. But when I returned recently for three weeks of indulgent exploration, its formerly hidden glories.

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: To the Tax Collectors ...

The Tang Dynasty was considered a cultural high point in China. Art, especially poetry was esteemed. No occasion was too small to be commemorated by a poem.

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of a famous anthology, The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems.

Yuan Jie

In the year Kuimao the bandits from Xiyuan entered Daozhou, set fire, raided, killed, and looted. The whole district was almost ruined. The next year the bandits came again and, attacking the neighbouring prefecture, Yong, passed this one by. It was not because we were strong enough to defend ourselves, but, probably, because they pitied us. And how now can these commissioners bear to impose extra taxes? I have written this poem for the collectors' information.

I still remember those days of peace --
Twenty years among mountains and forests,
The pure stream running past my yard,
The caves and valleys at my door.
Taxes were light and regular then,
And I could sleep soundly and late in the morning-
Till suddenly came a sorry change.
...For years now I have been serving in the army.
When I began here as an official,
The mountain bandits were rising again;
But the town was so small it was spared by the thieves,
And the people so poor and so pitiable
That all other districts were looted
And this one this time let alone.
...Do you imperial commissioners
Mean to be less kind than bandits?
The people you force to pay the poll
Are like creatures frying over a fire.
And how can you sacrifice human lives,
Just to be known as able collectors? --
...Oh, let me fling down my official seal,
Let me be a lone fisherman in a small boat
And support my family on fish and wheat
And content my old age with rivers and lakes!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chinese Folk Art, Festivals, and Symbols in Everyday Life

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a .PDF file that resides on a server at Berkeley University. It is a 37 page presentation on "Chinese folk art, festivals, and symbols in everyday life." It's a very interesting find.

When you get there, if you edit the browser line to be at a level above the presentation, you'll find an index to all sorts of interesting presentations on different cultures.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Yamahai Warriors

Below is an excerpt from a newspaper on the Yamahai style of sake. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole thing. It's an interesting read, especially if you are a wine lover. Enjoy.

Yamahai warriors

Intense, funky and rich - traditional style of sake appeals to Americans

Yamahai is a great-sounding word, like something samurai warriors could yell when attacking. Yamahai is actually a natural, labor-intensive, somewhat risky style of sake production. Sakes made by the yamahai method can be intense and funky, both richer and more acidic than the great majority of sakes, which are made by more modern industrial methods. They're also likely to be more friendly to Western food - or richer Japanese food like pork-based dishes - than other sakes.

"I love the concept of yamahai because you're tasting the brewery itself," says Beau Timken, owner of True Sake, a store in San Francisco. "The yeasts that have been captured in the old wooden rafters of that building for hundreds of years - that's what you're tasting."

Relying on native yeasts carries risks, as winemakers know well, because there's no way to control what type of yeast is floating around in the air. You might get unique, earthy flavors, or you might get something that smells like a barnyard floor. To take that risk, a sake brewer has to either be an idealist, a seeker of differentiation from competitors, or both.

Very little sake is actually made by the yamahai method - less than 1 percent, says John Gauntner, a Japan-based American sake expert who advises the Japanese government on supporting sake exports. "It's a hassle to make," Gauntner says. "It takes longer, and you've got to make it in a separate room, isolated from all your other sakes. The majority of brewers make no yamahai."

Despite that, yamahai is disproportionately popular among American wine aficionados. Turn a wine geek conversation toward sake and the subject of yamahais inevitably follows.

"Lately we have many customers who ask for yamahai," says Yoshi Tome, owner of Sushi Ran in Sausalito. "They want richer sake. Sometimes they know wine better than sake, but they've had yamahai and they like it."

While most sake is compared to white wine, Tome believes yamahai is closer in body, flavor and complexity to red wine. "Yamahai is much more popular in the U.S. than in Japan," Tome says. "People who live in Japan get used to the Japanese taste - lighter flavors, a little sweetness. Subtle, delicate flavors. American restaurants serve food with very strong flavors. Even Japanese restaurants here serve food with stronger flavors. Yamahai is better with these foods."

Tome recommends them with nimono (meat, fish or vegetables boiled in soy sauce and dashi), some beef dishes and miso-marinated cod.

What exactly is yamahai? Ironically, for a method now seen as a return to the past, it was actually a labor-saving shortcut when originally developed about a century ago. But yamahai has never been the dominant method of production, because less than five years after it was developed, sake brewers invented the industrial "sokujo" method responsible for the overwhelming majority of sake today.

Sake is made from rice, water and koji mold - but in the same sense that wine is made from grapes. Those are the crucial main ingredients, but just as with wine, other things may be added during fermentation to help it along. One such item is lactic acid, found in dairy products. It helps prevent undesirable bacteria from creating unpleasant aromas and flavors and is largely responsible for the milky, creamy flavor of many sakes, though that's mostly a happy by-product of its germ-killing duties.

Brewers who didn't have access to a nice sterile, industrially produced bag of lactic acid - in other words, everyone until about 95 years ago - learned by trial and error to propagate bacteria that creates lactic acid. For about 300 years, until the early 20th century, this was done through the kimoto process, an exhausting, labor-intensive method that required brewers to stand over a starter mash of sake yeast and grind it into a paste with long, flat-headed poles.

Yamahai production dispenses with the poles. Instead, brewers carefully add the right microbes at the right time to build up lactic acid slowly and keep fermentation fizzing merrily along. Most breweries rely on native yeasts in the air, which means your sake might have been fermented by the descendants of yeasts that originally populated the brewery decades or even centuries before. But you don't smell yeast in yamahai - you smell lactic acid.

"When you smell a vat of yamahai, you smell a dairy product," Timken says. "It smells almost like yogurt."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Prepare to Die

No, I'm not quoting The Princess Bride, a terribly funny movie with some of the best fencing to be found in a modern movie; and one of the few instances of where the movie outshines the original book.

A martial art is about fighting and there's no denying that. Even if your whole practice is based on a health practice, you can't forget that your martial art was based on the struggle of life and death.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the Aikido World Journal. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole article. It is thought provoking and well worth reading.

Life and Death

About 20 years ago, I remember Mitsugi Saotome, Shihan said in an Aikido class here in Chicago:

Budo prepares you how to die ...

Hearing him say this on the mat I was intrigued to know more of this interesting perspective. I recall that my sinuses suddenly cleared in spite of the hay fever season and I listened very intently. Budo is the preparation for death. But in learning how to die, you learn how to live, respect, and appreciate life. Martial arts is combat, and there are only two options: survive and live on ... or die.

To press further, some people shun the martial art aspect of Aikido. While there are many that wish Aikido to a be a peaceful and beautiful recreational activity, it is my belief currently at this stage of my life that to fully understand Aikido is to accept it in its totality. To deny Aikido its martial arts side is to disrespect Aikido itself.

To try to dissect Aikido from its martial arts or Daito-ryu roots is to ignore the meaning of Aikido. It is a martial art --- a form of combat. And to study both aspects, should not depreciate Aikido but rather add to its understanding and meaning, in pursuit of serious study. To do this you must indulge in what made Aikido work and what essences it took on during it's evolution to Aikido.

In the case of refusing to recognize the "martial" of Aikido, we can look at different aspects of life to find out why doing so is so very much a hypocitical stand for those that say they are Aikidoists and practice Aikido. For instance, just because someone doesn't like the way the rind of the orange tastes, doesn't mean you throw away or forsake eating the orange itself. There is always something to learn from the things that one is more apt to avoid and dislike immensely. In our culture, we like to dissect things. We dissect thoughts and all sorts of things into two classes: things we like and are comfortable with ... and those things we don't understand, dislike and fear. We dissect animals too, but when we do ... we kill them at the same time, by doing so. It is much the same when we try to take off the "martial" from Aikido --- we take away its life and meaning.

In life, it is not unnatural for the female wolf to fight to protect her young. Furthermore, when an animal is cornered, normally it will not submit with its underside upwards but will attack with its last breath of life. Even the most smallest of animals will display this type of behavior. I have seen it rats and dogs. This is purposeful combat, meant for survival and the preservation of life.

Sometimes in learning how to fight and kill, you discover how important and fragile life really is. Unfortunately, there is no better lesson to this unless you have witnessed someone being hurt or abused, murdered, or have watched someone pass away in front of your eyes as a result of an accident. It is good to feel remorse, regret, and sadness. It brings you that much closer to appreciating life, nature and all living things. Death is as much a part of living --- as life is as much a part of death. They are diametrically opposed, but yet ... are so very much dependent upon one another. Without death, we would not appreciate life. We would not grieve. We would not have regrets at death. We would not have deep compassion for living without death as a reference, and visa-versa. They both compliment one another.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I Ching Resource

I find the study of the I Ching to be bewildering. Never the less, it's a book that I want to someday study in depth. I've found a resource here that might just help me get started. You can also click on the title of this post to be directed to the I Ching with Clarity web site. Please pay a visit.

An excerpt from the website:

People have turned to the I Ching for some 3,000 years to help them uncover the meaning of their experience, to bring their actions into harmony with their underlying purpose, and above all to build a foundation of confident awareness for their choices.

Down the millennia, as the I Ching tradition has grown richer and deeper, the things we consult about may have changed a little. But the moment of consultation is much the same. These are the times when you're turning in circles, hemmed in and frustrated by all the things you can't see or don't understand. You can think it over (and over, and over); you can 'journal' it; you can gather opinions. But how can you have confidence in choosing a way to go, if you can't quite be sure of seeing where you are?

Only understand where you are now, and you rediscover your power to make changes. This is the heart of I Ching divination. Once you can really see into the present moment, all its possibilities open out before you - and you are free to create your future.

Friday, February 15, 2008


If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a page on Chinese Dragons. Below are some excerpts.

Chinese Dragons

The Chinese dragon is a symbol of wisdom, power, and luck in Chinese culture. Unlike Western dragons, oriental dragons are usually seen as benevolent and kind. Dragons have long been a symbol in Chinese folklore and art. Temples and shrines have been built to honor them.

Through the symbol of the dragon, many Chinese see divine attributes which they aspire to themselves. In fact, the Chinese are sometimes referred to as "descendents of the dragon." The dragon is held in reverence and respect in Chinese culture. It is unseemly to defile a depiction of a dragon. Dragons are referenced by several Chinese proverbs.

Chinese dragons control the rain, rivers, lakes, and sea. They can ward off wandering evil spirits, protect the innocent, and bestow safety unto all. They are called lung or long in the Chinese language.

They fly in the sky among clouds. Most pictures of Chinese dragons show them playing with a flaming pearl. Legend has it that the pearl gives them their power and allows them to ascend into heaven.

The Legend of the Carp says that a carp able to leap over the mythical Dragon Gate will become a dragon. Many have sought out the true location of this Gate, but none have found it. Several waterfalls and cataracts in China are believed to be the location of the Dragon Gate. This legend is an allegory for the drive and effort needed to overcome obstacles.

Chinese dragons have serpentine bodies, four legs, and are usually without wings. They are said to be a composite of various other animals-the body of a snake, the antlers of a deer, the talons of an eagle, the soles of a tiger, the scales of a carp, and the eyes of a demon. It is said that Chinese dragons have 117 scales.

They are usually depicted with four toes. In the traditional symbol of the emperor, the dragon is depicted with five. In Japan, dragons are depicted with three toes.

There are nine types of classical Chinese dragons. They are as follows:

  1. Tianlong, the Celestial Dragons, are the celestial dragons who pull the chariots of the gods and guard their palaces.
  2. Shenlong, the Spiritual Dragons, control the wind and the rain.
  3. Fucanglong, the Dragons of Hidden Treasures, are underworld dragons which guard buried treasures, both natural and man-made. Volcanoes are said to be created when they burst out of the ground to report to heaven.
  4. Dilong, the Underground Dragons, are earth dragons whose task it is to preside over rivers and streams. According to some accounts, they are the female counterpart of the Shenlong and they fly only in order to mate.
  5. Yinglong, the Winged Dragons, are the oldest of all eastern dragons and the only kind with wings.
  6. Qiulong, the Horned Dragons, are considered to be the mightiest dragons.
  7. Panlong, the Coiling Dragons, are water dragons believed to mostly inhabit the lakes of the Orient.
  8. Huanglong, the Yellow Dragons, once emerged from the River Luo and presented the legendary Emperor Fu Hsi with the elements of writing. They are known for their scholarly knowledge.
  9. Lóng Wáng, the Dragon Kings, are rulers over each of the four seas, those of the east, south, west, and north. Although their true form is that of a dragon, they have the ability to shapeshift into human form. They live in crystal palaces guarded by shrimp soldiers and crab generals.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Daoist Immortal

Maybe becoming a Daoist Immortal is a bit of a stretch goal, but perhaps living to be 100 in good health isn't. Below is an excerpt from a newspaper article discussing this. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

Even some with chronic disease can live to 100, thanks to aggressive treatment

February 13, 2008

CHICAGO - Living to 100 is easier than you might think. Surprising new research suggests that even people who develop heart disease or diabetes late in life have a decent shot at reaching the century mark.

"It has been generally assumed that living to 100 years of age was limited to those who had not developed chronic illness," said Dr. William Hall of the University of Rochester.

Hall has a theory for how these people could live to that age. In an editorial in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine, where the study was published, he writes that it might be thanks to doctors who aggressively treat these older folks' health problems, rather than taking an "ageist" approach that assumes they wouldn't benefit.

For the study, Boston University researchers did phone interviews and health assessments of more than 500 women and 200 men who had reached 100. They found that roughly two-thirds of them had avoided significant age-related ailments.

But the rest, dubbed "survivors," had developed an age-related disease before reaching 85, including high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes. Yet many functioned remarkably well — nearly as well as their disease-free peers.

Overall, the men were functioning better than the women. Nearly three-fourths of the male survivors could bathe and dress themselves, while only about one-third of the women could.

The researchers think that may be because the men had to be in exceptional condition to reach 100. "Women, on the other hand, may be better physically and socially adept at living with chronic and often disabling conditions," wrote lead author Dr. Dellara Terry and her colleagues.

Rosa McGee is one of the healthy women in the study who managed to avoid chronic disease. Now 104, the retired cook and seamstress is also strikingly lucid.

"My living habits are beautiful," McGee said in an interview at her daughter's Chicago apartment. "I don't take any medicines. I don't smoke and I don't drink. Never did anything like that."

Until late 2006, when she fell in her St. Louis home, McGee lived alone and took care of herself. Now in Chicago, she is less mobile but still takes walks a few times weekly down the apartment building hallways, with her daughter's help.

McGee credits her faith in God for her good health. She also gets lots of medical attention — a doctor and nurse make home visits regularly.

Genes surely contributed — McGee's maternal grandparents lived to age 100 and 107.

But while genes are important, scientists don't think they tell the whole story about longevity.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Free Yiquan eBook

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a website entitled J.P.Lau's YiQuan Research. There you will find a free eBook on Yiquan available for download.

The author says right up front that this book is no substitution for live instruction. At around 300 pages, however, it looks like a very thorough overview of the training methods and aims of Yiquan.

Mr. Lau is a student of Yao Cheng Rong, whose father was the named the successor of the founder of Yiquan, Wang Xiang Zhai.

If you have any interest at all in this martial art, the book is well worth checking out.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ma-ai: The Importance of Distance

Ma-ai (間合い) which is translated as "Distance" or "Interval" is a very important concept in Japanese martial arts. Below is an article from the Aikido Journal on this topic. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the whole article. Enjoy.


by Diane Skoss

My cousin, who runs a karate school in San Jose, California, says that the one who controls the distance in an encounter is the one who controls the situation. One of the shihan of the Japan Aikido Association, when asked about how, using aikido, to deal with a karate practitioner, replied simply, "Maai."

We've all heard similar statements and all have been admonished during training to be aware of the maai, often translated as combative engagement distance, but perhaps more accurately rendered "combative interval." When I first heard the word in a Tomiki aikido dojo in the U.S., I thought it referred to a simple spatial relationship-the distance at which I could, in a single movement, reach an opponent with my attack. Conversely, I also discovered, it was the distance at which an attacker could reach me!

What I didn't quite get at first was the extent to which this was not one, but two, sometimes vastly different, distances. When my then training partner, Meik Skoss, casually remarked, over coffee and donuts after jukendo (bayonet Way) training one morning, "Of course, you know that my maai in relation to you, will always be different from yours to me--even though the distance between us is constant," I nodded, and pretended to have the foggiest notion of what he was talking about. It became clearer soon after when I ran into my friend Bill, who is over six feet tall, in the company of his girlfriend, who is five foot nothing. If the two of them were to stand side-by-side facing me, at (Bill's) arms length away, I would be fully within Bill's maai, and just outside of his girlfriend's. They would both be in my maai. If Bill took one step back, he might very well be out of my maai, yet I would still be within his. These differences are naturally based on the length of each individual's arms and legs. Two more elements, speed and timing (hyoshi) can also affect the effective combative interval. What it all adds up to, is judging the constantly changing maai, different for each individual and each type of attack, is incredibly complicated. And of course, our teachers tell us, we must learn to make this evaluation virtually subconsciously and instantaneously.

Thursday, February 07, 2008


Unique to Japan are small functional sculptures called Netsuke. A netsuke was used to secure the cords of a pouch back in the days when men did not carry wallets. Below is an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on netsuke. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article. Please do, as there are some pictures there of many more netsuke.

As today is the Chinese New Year, I added a picture of a rat netsuke to accompany the article.

Japanese artists starting in the 17th century cleverly[citation needed] invented the miniature sculptures known as netsuke (Japanese:根付) to serve a very practical function. (The two Japanese characters ne+tsuke mean "root" and "to attach".) Traditional Japanese garments - robes called kosode and kimono - had no pockets. Men who wore them needed a place to keep personal belongings such as pipes, tobacco, money, seals, or medicines.

The elegant solution was to place such objects in containers (called sagemono) hung by cords from the robes' sash (obi). The containers might take the form of a pouch or a small woven basket, but the most popular were beautifully crafted boxes (inro), which were held shut by ojime, sliding beads on cords. Whatever the form of the container, the fastener that secured its cord at the top of the sash was a carved, button-like toggle called a netsuke.

Such objects, often of great artistic merit, have a long history reflecting important aspects of Japanese folklore and life. Netsuke production was most popular during the Edo period in Japan, around 1615-1868. Today, the art lives on and carvers, a few of whose modern works command high prices (US$10,000 or more), are in the UK, Europe, the USA, Japan and elsewhere. Prices at auctions in the USA for collectible netsuke typically range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand. Inexpensive molded, faithful reproductions are available in museum shops and elsewhere for $30 or less.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Gentle Persistence

This post is about some observations I’ve made regarding my Taijiquan teacher over the past several months. She is Sifu Genie Parker, and she’s been at this for 20 years. If you click on the title of this post, you’ll be directed to the school’s website.

The single quality of hers that strikes me over and over again is her gentle persistence, which I consider Daoism put into everyday practice.

She has her goal in mind: to teach us Taijiquan. But there are obstacles, chief among them being our unwillingness to incorporate the refinements to our form and practice that she teaches. She’ll even make reference to “rubber corrections.” She’ll teach us something, and we wont’ do it. She’ll teach it again, and we still won’t do it. So she teaches us again…

She has a gentle persistence. “At this point of the form, check where you foot is. If it’s in the wrong place, put it in the right place. If you do this enough times, eventually it will go to the right place and you can correct something else.” If you didn’t practice yesterday, practice today. Eventually, if we keep at it, we’ll do it the right way.

Of course as time passes, the GM of our style will change the way the form is done, and we’ll have to learn a different way to emphasize something else, so we’ll to change our practice. Another lesson.

She doesn’t worry about things over which she has no control. For example, we get new people showing up to study all of the time. Few of them stick around more than one or two lessons. This is normal at any martial arts school. At the beginning, the fall out rate is huge. Still, she spends time with every new beginner, giving them every bit of attention. She doesn’t seem to regret what many would consider this investment in futility. Of those who decide to stick around, they seem to stick around for a very long time. This is a sign of a healthy school. That is the yin and yang of things.

She doesn’t really lecture on Daoism or philosophy. She doesn’t need to. She provides with an example each time we come to class.

Thoreau said: Philosophy practice is the goal of learning. I believe my Taijiquan teacher has achieved much.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Zen and Culture.

This is an excerpt from an article at the White Wind Zen Center website. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the entire entry. I found it through the Zenfilter blog. Enjoy.

"Some people think that Japanese culture is the same as Zen and that Zen is a Japanese thing. These people understand nothing. Zen is originally Indian. It is also Chinese. And then it was practised in Japan when Dogen zenji opened Kannon-dori-in. There is also Korean Zen. Now Zen is in Canada, America, Europe. Zen is about the art of being human, not any culture. Mind and body have no culture. Zen has no place because all places, all lands, nations, mountains and rivers are in the Mind of the Buddhas and this Mind is Zen."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Having just finished shovelling the snow

Having just finished shovelling the snow, one's thoughts turn naturally to ... Flower Arranging!

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Aikido Journal, specifically to a blog entry by Dave Lowry. Mr. Lowry is a senior practictioner of Classical Japanese Martial Arts, and was taught ikebana (flower arranging) by the wife of his kenjutsu sensei. There is an excerpt below. Also, if you click here, you will be directed to the Wikipedia article on ikebana. Enjoy.

Of all the requisites faced by the budoka (“martial artist”) contemplating the construction of a new dojo or training facility, the tokonoma (“alcove”), with its space for the display of arranged flowers, could rank in importance somewhere between solar-powered showers and cashmere mats. Pragmatism must sometimes take precedence over aesthetics. Safe, durable training floor surfaces, adequate dressing facilities, and so on, are more apt to concern dojo builders than will a shelf devoted to flower arrangements. Later on, the tasks of training, teaching, and maintaining the dojo are more likely to occupy its inhabitants than are such matters perceived solely as decorative like the arranging and display of flowers. This is reasonable. But it also risks the development of dojo—and we need not look far to find examples of these—that are physically healthy but seriously lacking in their collective soul. They are filled with budoka who are learning well the outer, physical aspects of their art. Yet something seems missing, something internal, unidentifiable in words by the students perhaps, although palpable if by no other sense than by its absence. A good many trends that today surface in budo (“martial Ways”) training, the recent interest in some of the spiritual aspects of the martial Ways, for example, appear fundamentally to be efforts at nurturing or reestablishing this spirit, this attitude, this matter of what we might call the budo’s “soul.”