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 27, 2009

Interview with Wu Style Taijiquan Legend

A friend sent me this. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a YouTube video of a short interview with the Legendary Ma Yueh Liang.

From the Wikipedia article:

Ma Yueh-liang (Chinese: 馬岳樑; pinyin: Mǎ Yuèliáng; August 1, 1901 - March 13, 1998) was a famous Chinese teacher of Taijiquan. He was the senior disciple of Wu Jianquan, the founder of Wu style Taijiquan, and married Wu's daughter Wu Ying-hua in 1930. Ma Yueh-liang was also a medical doctor who graduated from the Beijing Medical College in 1929 and specialized in Hematology. He established the First Medical Examination and Experiment Office and ran the blood clinics at Zhon Shan Hospital in Shanghai. Like Wu Quanyou and Wu Jianquan, Ma was of Manchu descent. Ma Yueh-liang had roots both in the traditions of China and in Western science.

There are accounts that Ma Yueh-liang was a gifted martial artist in his youth. He had studied a number of Chinese martial arts including, Shaolinquan, Three Emperors Pao Chui, Baguazhang and Tong Bei Quan. However, Wu Jianquan would accept Ma as a student only if he concentrated on Wu Style Taijiquan. From about age 18, Ma Yueh-liang exclusively studied Wu style Taijiquan. Wu Jianquan started the Jianquan Taijiquan Association (鑑泉太極拳社) in Shanghai in 1936, and Ma became the deputy director of the Association. Ma studied Taijiquan with Wu Jianquan until the death of his teacher in 1942. The Jianquan Association still exists today internationally and remains a resource for the study of Wu style Taijiquan.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of Ma Yueh-liang and his wife in the emergence of Wu style Taijiquan after the Cultural Revolution in China. Even at an advanced age, Ma Yueh-liang was chosen as one of the 100 Best Martial Artists in China. Wu Ying-hua and Ma Yueh-liang continued to teach in Taijiquan until their deaths. They taught a large number of students in Shanghai and in their travels to New Zealand, Germany and elsewhere. They published several books on Wu style Taijiquan. Ma Yueh-liang and Wu Ying-hua's Wu style sword/weapons book includes a family picture with several of their closest students. Ma Yueh-liang also publicly practiced a number of formerly closed door (private or family secret) forms and methods so that that they would not be lost. In public, Wu Ying-hua would often demonstrate the Wu style Slow Set and Ma Yueh-liang would follow by demonstrating the Wu Style Tai Chi Fast Form. Ma Yueh-liang taught many high level students, among whom was Fei Gua-ching who is still active in the Jianquan Taijiquan Association in Shanghai.

Ma Yueh-liang and Wu Ying-hua are survived by their children and grandchildren, including: Ma Jiangchun (b. 1931), Dr. Ma Hailong (b. 1935), Ma Jiang-bao (b. 1941) and Ma Jiangling (b. 1947). Ma Jiang Bao lives in the Netherlands and teaches traditional Taijiquan throughout Europe. Their adopted daughter Shi Mei Lin now lives and teaches Wu style Taijiquan in New Zealand. She also has students in France and in the United States (Tucson, Arizona).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Clarity in Your Training

I brought up the idea of the different between a classical martial art and a martial art sport in the post, Optimization and Martial Arts. I'd like to explore that a little further, especially after reading a very good post at Ikigai Way on Knife Self Defense. Please read the post at Ikigai Way and watch the videos, they are mind opening.

Martial arts can be practiced as a type of Budo, a sport, or for self defense. These areas overlap, and are not mutually exclusive, but they are certainly not all the same.

I thought the Krav Maga videos gave the best advice on what one could do facing a knife. Bursting. I find it interesting that I think that's the way I imagine the taijiquan I study would be expressed in a live situation. In the form I practice, I see a lot of simultaneous attack and defense movements.

Here is a video clip of Eddie Wu, the Gatekeeper of the Wu style of Taijiquan giving a seminar in Hong Kong. Unfortuneatly it is in Cantonese, and may as well be Greek to me. However, at about 1:10, Sifu Wu demonstrates a movement from the beginning part of a reoccuring posture in the Taiji form, Brush Knee and Push. Here we see that simultaneous movement that the Krav Maga guys used so effectively.

I was a bit troubled by the aikido videos, coming from an aikido background myself. I can't believe for a second that the techniques we practiced in our study of budo on the mat would be meant to be applied so literally against a real weapon. In fact, I know of an aikido student who was confronted with a knife in a parking lot once. He tried to use the evading movements without any soft of "bursting." He was stabbed in the leg. His attacker must have been shook up by it as well because he ran away.

As the character Buddha Hat (who provided "security" to a drug dealer) said in the book Clockers, when explaining why he preferred a gun to a knife, knifing a guy is really personal.

When I trained in aikido, virtually every technique we practiced began with the same format. The uke (the attacker and person who received the technique) would attack, and be met with a simultaneous strike to the face, and the initial movement of a response. Sensei said that this strike was a distraction, but if the distraction was strong enough, maybe the technique didn't have to be completed. I think he was hinting at bursting. Thinking about those techniques, I'm sure of it.

Another martila art that is more purely a budo is archery. At Zen's Sekai I, there have been several recent posts on the art of kyudo. I think there would be little doubt about applying archery literally to self defense, except for the training in keeping a clear mind. I'm certain that would have direct application.

Well, my point is not to be mistaken in what youre training for. You make be a killer MMA fighter in the ring, but those skills aren't likely to get you anywhere except maybe a knife in the neck.

Here's a thread from the Rum Soaked Fist forum, regarding a movie entitled The Hunted, in which a realistic depiction of knife fighting is featured. Watch the video. How do you think your current training would stack up?

For myself, I train in Taijiquan because it's an activity I find engaging. It's something that I can hopefully continue to participate in, well into my doterage, and that practice will help me keep going longer. It helps me clear my mind, stay strong, and flexible. It helps me relax.

I think that if you study a martial art, the litmus test is that you have to be able to fight with it. If you can't, you're not doing it right. I can't do that with taijiquan yet, I don't think. I have a way to go yet, but I'm clear about that.


For those of you who are going to join me on the Lenten Challenge, I just wanted to remind you that it starts tomorrow.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Want to Quit?

Ever feel like quitting? At the Aikido Journal, there is a good article about the doubts we all encounter in our training. I've excerpted a portion of the article below. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the full article.

“Doubts about continuing training?” by Bruce Baker

Do you ever have doubts about continuing training? Maybe you show up at work one day with a spain, or a limp, or some injury due to training and your boss tells you to choose between your job and your hobby? It happens. What do you do when it does?

Everyone has a choice to make. What is best for your future, for your present, and what compromise can you make to get what you want verses what others around you want. It is the continuing struggle to please everyone around you and yourself too. Most people compromise, or they choose their job, and maybe that is why I have seen so many people come and go during my time with Aikido.

I can only talk about my situation, and maybe that will be of some help, but then again maybe not.

HAVE NO DOUBT … there will come a day when most everyone will not conform to normal training regimens if they live to become old enough.

Realizing that you only have a limited window of opportunity to train might be one of those motivating factors to train as long as possible for the other circumstances in you life that sometimes over-ride your wants.

I, myself, have contributing physical illnesses besides financial factors that contribute to my own doubts about continuing formal training within the structure of a formal class. And yet, four or five times a year I still find myself watching a class and thinking to myself how some of the student need to work on their form, improve their understanding of the basics as they seem to be in too much of a hurry to look good by being fast, instead of being good by having mastered the basics. Well, I probably shouldn’t talk out of turn … I have learned many things from other types of studies other than aikido, but it all applies by going back to the basics of Aikido just the same. Every time I show someone in Aikido something I have learned somewhere else it is applicable to advanced training in aikido, and every time I show someone something I have learned in aikido it is applicable to advanced training in their style too, go figure.

Do you have doubts about Aikido?

Then take some time to realize where your aikido training fits into your life, your goals for training, and how it will probably be a lynchpin for you in your later years when youth fades away! Yep … those days will come, and when they do … I guarantee you …. everything you have learned in aikido will be means to improve your quality of life as well as maintain a connection to all the skills you might learn in any of your pursuits during your youth. It might have to be adapted to your old man/old woman type of martial arts but such is life.

Put away your doubts. Do what you can. Steal whatever knowledge you can from people who are willing to give knowledge away. Realize it is not just for themselves they pass this knowledge on to you, but to improve the quality of life for those around them because in doing this they improve the quality of their own life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

2009 Lenten Challenge

Every year, I throw out the Lenten Challenge to my martial arts buddies. It has nothing to do with Christianity or religion. We are simply using this time as a convenient reminder to rededicate ourselves to our training. It’s kind of hard to miss either Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras, the last day before Lent, which is also Paczki Day!) or Easter Sunday (Bunnies, candy, colored eggs; that stuff). Several of us have been doing this for years now.

The challenge is this: from Ash Wednesday (Feb 25) until Easter (April 11 or April 19th for the Eastern Orthodox Church), train every day, without fail, no excuses. Simple enough said.

It's not as easy as it sounds; things come up. Some days, you might only be able to get a few minutes of training in; but the point is to do it everyday, no matter what.

It doesn't have to be martial arts training either. Whatever it is that you need to really rededicate yourself to: studying, practicing an instrument, walking, watching what you eat; anything - do it every day, without fail.

In the past on some forums, people have posted what they’ve done everyday. I think everyone who’s done that has become tired of writing, and the others get tired of reading it. How about you just post if you’ve had some breakthrough, or you’ve had to overcome some unusual circumstance to continue your training? Maybe just check in every once in a while to let everyone know you’re keeping at it, or to encourage everyone else to keep at it.

If you fail, we won’t hate you. If you fall off of the wagon, climb back on board.

For those of you who insist that you really do train everyday anyway, by all means continue and be supportive of the rest of us. For the rest of us who intend to train everyday, but sometimes come up short due to life’s propensity for unraveling even the best laid plans, here is an opportunity to put a stake in the ground and show your resolution.

As a gesture of solidarity with my Orthodox friends, I’m going to keep it up through their Easter celebration.

Won't you join me?

Best Regards


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Early Jujutsu Demonstration

If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a short article at the Aikido Journal, which includes a video clip from a jujutsu demonstration in Europe from just after the turn of the 20th century. I've included a bit of the text below. The video is great fun to watch.

This was the picture of Jujutsu which the Swedish physiotherapist, boxer and elite-sportsman Viking Cronholm took with him when he travelled to South-Africa in 1904. It was there that a few years later he was taught Jujutsu by an English officer. He returned to Sweden, and immediately introduced Jujutsu to his old boxing friends.

The first official Jujutsu exhibition followed by a course in self-defence, was held in January 1908. Cronholm continued his studies with various Japanese Jujutsu masters, probably those who had started the Jujutsu institute in London. His first Jujutsu demonstration in Stockholm was given immense attention, and he gained great interest and support from the most prominent sporting leaders in Sweden, amongst others the “father of modern sport”, the General and head of the Central Gymnastic institute, Viktor Balck.”

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain (風林火山)

Fuurinkazan means Wind, Forest, Fire, Mountain in Japanese. This four character proverb is quoted from Sun Tzu's Art of War: "Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain."

It was adopted as the motto of the great samurai warlord, Takeda Shingen; the Tiger of Kai.

Takeda Shingen was the subject of Akira Kurosawa in his movie, Kagemusha (Shadow Warrior). The premise of the movie is while his domain is surrounded by enemies, Takeda falls ill and dies. A common thief who has an identical appearence to Takeda is forced to assume his identiy until the danger subsides. At a key meeting with underlings who weren't in on the secret, where they are looking to the conterfeit Takeda for guidance, the imposter simply sits there. One of the advisors who IS in on the secret refers to the four character proverb stating that they should follow their leader's apparent example, and cuts the meeting short.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


An important type of training in internal martial arts is stance training. One of the forms is called the wuji stance.

So what is wuji? I’m sure you are familiar with the taiji diagram. Taiji is the moment that the universe begins to differentiate between light and dark, dry and moist, and so on. Wuji is the instant before that, which represents stillness and limitless potential.

One of the important benefits of wuji stance training is allowing oneself to relax and to let the “monkey mind” settle into quietness. This quietness is a well of great wisdom and strength. The quietness allows us to find our own center and to not be affected by what happens around us. This is the wuji state of mind.

In our Taijiquan class, there is a time when all the students, beginners and the more experienced a like, practice the standard form as a group. The beginners are in the process of learning the form and drop out as each of them runs to the end of the material they know. The difference between group practice and individual practice is that you have to learn to adjust to the space available and the pace of those performing the form around you.

The beginners move differently than the more experienced students. When one of them wobbles or moves off rhythm, you can feel it and even see ripples move through the whole group. It’s really noticeable when there are a ot of beginners. As they drop out, you can also feel the group become more solid in their form.

The beginners are beginners, and they have to become more experienced. What is happening with the more experienced students is that they have a varying grasp of their own centers. The ripples show how much farther the more senior students have to go. If each of them was really centered in themselves, they would be unaffected by what the person next to them was doing. In fact if they were well centered themselves, they would help stabilize the beginners!

In recognition of this, among other reasons, the teacher and the most senior students are placed at the “corners” of the group to help stabilize the whole.

This is fine for practicing in class, but there’s a whole lot more to life than practicing your form in class (unless you’re a dojo nerd). By finding your center and strengthening your ability to maintain it, you’re better suited to come face to face with what life has to dish out.

We live in tumultuous time. I recently learned of the wife of yet another friend getting cancer. Massive job layoffs are happening all around us. The financial world is in disarray. Not to stand like a post, but to be able to see everything around you calmly, so that you can think clearly and put the decisions and actions you must take in their proper perspective makes all the difference between being swept away by a tidal wave, or surfing it. Maintaining the wuji state no matter what you’re facing is a worthwhile goal.

Maintaining the wuji mind is a training goal for me, and tested easily enough whenever I go to my class. I can deliberately line up with some beginners when we do the group form practice and test how well I maintain my own center. I am making progress, but have room for improvement.

Let me close with a chapter from The Inner Chapters by Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tsu) . This is one of my favorites. The translation is by Thomas Merton, the famous Catholic writer and Trappist monk.

From The Way of Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton

The Fighting Cock

Chi Hsing Tzu was a trainer of fighting cocks
For King Hsuan.
He was training a fine bird.

The King kept asking if the bird was
Ready for combat.

"Not yet," said the trainer.
"He is full of fire.
He is ready to pick a fight
With every other bird. He is vain and confident
Of his own strength."

After ten days, he answered again:
"Not yet. He flares up
When he hears another bird crow."

After ten more days:
"Not yet. He still gets
That angry look
And ruffles his feathers."

Again ten days:
The trainer said, "Now he is nearly ready.
When another bird crows, his eye
Does not even flicker.
He stands immobile
Like a cock of wood.

He is a mature fighter.
Other birds
Will take one look at him
And run."

Monday, February 02, 2009

The 36 Strategies: #29 Make Flowers Bloom on a Tree

The 36 Strategies: #29 Make Flowers Bloom on a Tree

While Sun Tzu’s Art of War is probably the best known book on strategy to come from the East, second place surely belongs to The 36 Strategies. Where the Art of War gives an overview of the whole subject of strategy, the 36 Strategies tries to impart the habit of strategic thinking through it’s maxims. It’s just another approach.

#29 is Make Flowers Bloom on a Tree. You dazzle and deceive your opponents with a showy display. Another way to put it would be to “Deck the tree with bogus blossoms.”

Here’s a story.

A crafty fox caught by a hungry tiger protested, "You dare not eat me because I am superior to all other animals, and if you eat me you will anger the gods. If you don't believe me, just follow me and see what happens." The tiger followed the fox into the woods, and all the animals ran away at the first sight of them. The awed tiger, not realizing he was the cause of alarm, let the fox go - Chinese Fable

I believe “shock and awe” could fall into this category as well. That is, putting on such a brilliant display of capability that the opponent is disheartened, and is put on his heels before battle is joined.

Accounts of the Spartans going into battle using this strategy helps to explain how their relatively small numbers managed to prevail. Polished, heavy armor, identical red cloaks; professional soldiers moving silently and with precision. Their opponents were generally ordinary citizens who trained together a few weeks a year not unlike our National Guard units. It would be clear to the opposition that they were absolutely outclassed before the battle.

The Spartans would enhance t heir own reputation when helping out an ally. What they would do when an ally asked for help, was to send a single general (and his staff). The general would take over management of the ally’s military affairs and “coach them up” to a point where they would prevail. The message was that the Spartans didn’t even actually have to be there in numbers for their power to be felt.

The author Steven Pressfield (Legend of Bagger Vance) did a great job in researching the Spartan way of war for his books Gates of Fire and Tides of War. Although historical fiction, they are well worth reading.