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 ~

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Full Contact Martial Arts

At Masters of the Internal Martial Arts blog, there is a great article about the 1928 Hangzhou Leitai Tournament, which was a watershed in martial arts. Hundreds of contestants, some of them the greatest names in Chinese Martial Arts competed in full contact fighting. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

1929 Hangzhou Leitai Tournament

Posted by yosaku on August 16, 2009

My recent translation of an article on Pei Xirong sparked my interest in the 1929 Leitai tournament in Hangzhou, which seems to have been the largest bare-hand Leitai competition in recent history. The following translation draws on several sources, mainly here and here .

“In early 1929, the vice-dean of the Central Martial Arts Academy, Li Jinglin, wrote to the heads and gatekeepers of various martial arts from around the country, intimating that he wished to organise an ‘All-China Martial Arts Gala’, in order to inspire more Chinese people to learn martial arts. His proposal was eagerly received. On 3 May 1929, the Zhejiang provincial government decided that in November of that same year, they would hold a ‘Zhejiang Guoshu & Entertainment Gala’ (popularly dubbed the ‘National Leitai Tournament’) in Hangzhou. In August of that year, the Zhejiang Guoshuguan was established and took on the responsibility of organising the tournament. The Organising Committee was set up on 11 Oct. Chen Tianshen, at the time a Guoshuguan student, wanted desperately to take part, but was too young, and so instead was allocated to help out the organising committee.

On 9 November, the promotional activities for the Leitai tournament reached a crescendo, with decorative archways being erected in front of Qinghua and Qingtai hotels located in Hangzhou city centre. Red silk banners reading ‘Guoshu & Entertainment Gala Hostel’ were strung up in front of the archways whilst Chen and his kungfu brothers distributed flyers on the streets. The next day, participants from all over the country started pouring into Hangzhou. The oldest entrant was Ruan Zenghui from Fenghua at 68 years old, whilst the youngest was Lin Biao, from Wenzhou, aged only 7. The original number of performers swelled from 270 to 345 people whilst there were 125 entrants for the free-fighting competition. All the while, ‘fans’ from all over the country poured into Hangzhou, filling its hotels to bursting.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Dao in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from an interview with aikido shihan Endo Seishiro, where he explains the "Tao" in martial arts. The full article may be read here.

We previously inquired about sensei's aikidô training about ten years ago (issue 106). This time we would like to ask about sensei's changes in his thoughts about aikidô since then, from the viewpoint of "dô" or Tao.

Japanese people have a tendency to attach "-dô" to everything. This can be seen not only with budô but also with sadô (or chadô, the art of tea ceremony) and kadô (the art of flower arrangement), for instance. We even hear of sumô-dô, salaryman-dô, keiei-dô (the way of business). People attach "-dô" to various aspects and activities of our lives in order to give them special meaning or to distinguish them as areas of mastery. Yet, I don’t think many people, including myself, really know what "" is. At some point I began to wonder why there were to ways to say one thing e.g. budô/bujutsu, kendô/kenjutsu, jûdô/jûjutsu, aikidô/aikijutsu, and thus started to explore the difference in meaning.

I feel I more or less have a grasp of the meaning of "jutsu," but when it comes to "," I feel it means something immense, deep, wide, and unclear. In my desire to somehow make it clearer, I sought books relating to Taoism, Lao-tzu (Lao-zi) and Chuang-tzu (Zhuang-zi). Tao can also be found in Confucianism and its virtues: Jin (, humanity), Gi (, righteousness), Rei (, propriety), Chi (, wisdom), Shin (, faithfulness). It is said that Tao is to seek and realize, and thereby equip the self with, these virtues. We might say that this is "Tao for the people."

According to Taoism these virtues comprise a Tao as conceived by humans, and true Tao is that which has existed before this artificial Tao ever came into being. Lao-tzu expressed as follows: "The path that can be regarded as The Path is not the great eternal Path. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name1." This means that Tao is a fundamental, universal principle that has always existed before any artificial Tao came into being.

In Chuang-tzu's book of "Chi-hoku-yû" (荘子 知北遊篇)2, it is written, "There is nowhere that Tao is not. It is everywhere." The entire universe is Tao, and it is ki that gives birth and life to all the phenomena in the universe. It is also said that in order to know that ki and the flow of ki, one must know Tao. It appears that this is the origin of the words, "Seeking Tao," and "Mastering Tao." Lao-tzu referred to one who has mastered Tao as "mu-i-shi-zen" (無為自然, natural and unaffected). Chuang-tzu interpreted this as "emptiness unlimited" or "absolute nothingness3." When one grasps and masters the flow of ki of all the phenomena in the universe as it is, one is in the state of "mu-i-shi-zen" and "absolute nothingness." To strive to attain such a state is a true way of life for humans. This is what Taoism teaches.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

There is only one taijiquan

It is said that the multiplicity of styles in Taijiquan is an illusion; that there is only one Taijiquan. There is a recent article at Classical Tai Chi Blog on this topic. There is an excerpt below. The full article may be read here.

As in Hong Kong reports:"In 1916 Grand Master Wu Chien Chuan, along with other famous Wushu experts of the time Yang Shao Hou, Yang Cheng Fu, Hsu Sheng Chi Tzu Hsiu, Sun Lu T'ang, Liu En Shou, Liu Tsai Chen, Chang Chung Yuan, Tong Lian Chi, Chiang Teng Tsui, Hsing Shih Ju and others established the Beijing Institute of Physical Education."

These most famous teachers from "Yang Style", "Wu Style", etc., taught under the same roof. If I had to venture an opinion, I would say the teachers themselves were not going around saying, "I'm teaching Yang Style and because of that, the correct way to stand is perpendicular to the ground". My other opinion would be that it was not teachers but it was students who came up with the names, like: "I'm studying something from Yang", "I'm studying something from Wu". I would also venture another opinion and say, those gentlemen did not develop their arts in a vacuum...they also trained with each other, compared arts, pushed hands with one another, etc. That itself has profound implications.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Below is an excerpt from an article by Rob Redmond at 24Fighting Chickens. It's a little story he wrote about the difference between excellent performance and mastery. The full article may be read here.

The Master and the Champion
by Rob Redmond - October 15, 2005

A long time ago, in a land far, far way, there lived two boys. The two boys were fast friends, and they could be seen together every day. When one of them wanted to swim in the river, the other went with him. When one of them wanted to ride horses, the other went with him. When one of them had chores to do, the other one helped him. They were always together in everything that they did.
One afternoon, while the boys were down by the river skipping stones, some other boys a little older than they were came walking by. They saw the two boys standing by the river laughing and throwing rocks, and they decided that since no one was around, they could do as they pleased.
They walked up behind the two boys and said, “You two! Turn around. We want to talk to you.”
The two boys dropped their rocks and turned around. They were facing three older boys. The one in the middle was the one doing the talking. He said, “Do you have any money?”
The two young boys were frightened, but they answered him firmly, “Yes, why”?
The older boy said, “Give it to me.”
The boys answered, “No. You get your own money.”
At this the older boys looked at each other in shock. How dare these two speak to them in such a defiant tone of voice! The two boys were younger and smaller than they were. They would teach the two boys a lesson.
The older boy said, “You should not have said that!” And he ran at them with his friends. The two boys held up their hands and tried to struggle, but the older boys pushed them down on the ground and began kicking them.
The kicks hurt terribly, and two boys screamed for the older boys to stop kicking them while they lay on the ground. The older boys laughed and continued kicking until the young boys were beaten soundly. Then the older boys took their money, and walked away.
After that day the two boys decided that they would learn the art of karate. They walked together to the home of a man who they knew was a master instructor of karate. They knocked on his door together, and they waited together while they heard the shuffling of someone’s feet coming to the door.
The door opened slowly, and behind it was an old man with grey hair. He said, “Hello, boys. Why are you here?”
The two boys looked at each other, nodded, and then said at the same time, “We want you to teach us karate. Would you please, sir?”
“Why would you wish me to teach you karate?” He asked.
The boys answered, “We were beaten down by the river. We need to be able to protect ourselves.” They nodded after they said this, emphasizing that they were very ready for karate lessons.
The old man said, “I see. Very well. Come inside why don’t you, and we will begin your lessons at once.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

'Beauty is a reminder of the preciousness of life'.

I previously posted an article about an art exhibition entitled The Lords of the Samurai. Heres another article, but from a different perspective. The writer who authored the introduction to the exhibition's catalog is none other than the famous translator, Thomas Clearly. Below I have an excerpt, the full article may be found here. The painting is from the article, and is a folding screen painted by the famous swordsman Musashi.

Samurai hold lessons for modern warfare

At first glance, Thomas Cleary is an unlikely expert on war, weaponry and man's ability to destroy.

The Oakland author and translator of some 80 spiritual texts is gentle and soft-spoken, perfectly suited for poring over ancient works in hushed libraries. Cleary reads in nine languages, and his career has focused on Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim and Confucian classics. Through his studies, though, Cleary's understanding of war spans the ages, from Japan's warrior class to the world wars and the military assaults of today.

"All campaigns for war focus on creating fear," said Cleary, known by many for his translation of Sun Tzu's Chinese classic "The Art of War." When Cleary watched the buildup to the Bush administration's invasion in Iraq and its assertion of imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction, Cleary thought "it was all too predictable."

In his writings and translations, Cleary hopes to increase "intelligence and thoughtfulness," and bring added awareness to the human condition. Much is to be learned, Cleary says, from studying the warriors of Japan - the samurai, who strove to balance truculence with culture.

"When your mind is full of death all the time, beauty is like an intense experience of life," said Cleary, sitting on a sofa in an apartment in Oakland where he sometimes goes to work. "The samurai tried to find balance."

That fragile, meticulously constructed pursuit of balance is on display at the "Lords of the Samurai" exhibition at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Cleary, who has written six books on the samurai, wrote the introduction in the show's catalog. The warriors' suits of armor in the show are made like haute couture, with colorful silk lacing and exquisite detail and ornamentation. Lethal swords of forged steel are displayed near beautiful scrolls and screens with pale pink tree peonies.

"All of this is a reminder of the idea that when you bear a deadly weapon, you ought to be careful about using it," said Cleary, speaking to the juxtaposition of beauty and lethality in the museum show. "Beauty is a reminder of the preciousness of life."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Favorite Quotes

Some of my favorite quotes includes:

If you can't find the truth right in front of you, where do you expect to find it?
 - Zen Master Dogen

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning.
 - Thoreau

Empty your cup.
 - From a Zen story

All's well that ends well.
 - title of a play by William Shakespeare

What are some of yours?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tomiki Aikido

I found this article from which I've posted an excerpt below. If you follow the link, you'll be able to find a couple of essays by the founder of Tomiki Aikido. Enjoy.

Tomiki Sensei’s Writings

Tomiki Sensei, in addition to being a superb martial artist, was also a man of letters and arts. Tomiki Sensei was a graphic artist of a high caliber and his calligraphy and brush paintings are highly sought after by collectors to this day. (A picture of one of his calligraphic works is below.)
As a man of letters, Tomiki published numerous articles on Judo, Aikido, the relationship between the martial arts and Eastern religious and philosophical traditions, articles on the proper place of the martial arts in the modern world, and of course articles on the technical aspects of various martial arts techniques.
His masterwork is entitled Budo-ron, or The Theory of Budo. This book is widely acknowledged in Japan to be one of the the most significant 20th Century contributions to martial arts theory and thought. Unfortunately, it remains to be translated into any Western language. Below, however, please find links to two of Tomiki Sensei’s more influential essays. These, fortunately, have been translated.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Correct Posture in Classical Tai Chi

Continuing with good posture, today I am pleased to publish a guest post by Mr. Jim Roach. Mr. Roach is the senior student of Dr. Stephen Hwa, who in turn was the senior student of Yang WaBu. Yang WaBu was a direct student of the founder of the Wu style of Taijiquan, Wu Chien Chuan.

Mr Roach publishes many thoughtful articles on Classical Tai Chi at his blog. Please pay a visit.

Regarding posture and speaking only for  the postures of Classical Tai Chi, it uses a very, very small frame or what one calls step size. So, stating that tucking  is incorrect is not applicable in speaking of such small or even compact frame of Classical Tai Chi . In addition, tucking the rear end will not round the shoulders if one stretches the top of the head up.  As though suspended from above, the cervical vertebrae are stretched up.  It also goes without saying that  one will see the buttocks not tucked under in statues which are portraying a static posture.  In Classical Tai Chi, the tuck is not static or a frozen portrayal of posture, it is fluid… The tuck and stretch can be done in both aspects of a Tai Chi posture, when one "sits back" and when one "leans forward" (figure 4 & 5).  The sit back tuck however is deeper.  The skill one learns  is to remain fluid between the 2 postures, not trying to maintain a frozen rope, tuck then relax/release, tuck, then release/relax in the midst of shifts in the weight.

Regarding posture, it is interesting that the  showing of martial applications” in Tai Chi, many of them are on Youtube,  still  end up tilting the body forward (ox-plowing posture) after each of their applications.  It raises some interesting  questions for students to ponder: I'm wondering what does that say for the well held axiom in styles  of Tai Chi that the body needs to constantly be held perpendicular to the floor at all times?  What is this difference so pronounced between form and application?  Someone who owns a large Judo establishment once stated to me that "the human body can only form a straight line if it is held perpendicular to the ground".  I said, "ok, I'll bite...why?"  She said it was because "we have hips".  Included with that was the statement, "I know because I studied Tai Chi for several months with someone".  Think of the implications of this...

One also does not “push off” when walking in Classical Tai Chi, that generates much momentum thus raising the question:  If Tai Chi is constantly extolled as being a defensive and not offensive martial art, what is the need for a lot of momentum?  The energy for movement is coming entirely from the legs with such momentum.   We pull with the front or rear foot depending on which direction we are headed.  In what is considered “normal walking” even as we see them in various cultures, the push off is used no matter what one can say about the tuck or lack of tuck.  Also, one simply finds it very difficult to tuck the behind when generating more and more momentum, consider the lengthy steps of normal walking or what one Neurosurgeon called “controlled falling”.   In a smaller frame or smaller step where one pulls the body forward, it is much easier to tuck the behind.  In fact such tucking is an integral component of generating internal energy in  all movements…how else is it to reach the legs from the torso?

Finally, my teacher, Master Stephen Hwa states:  “ In one of the early writings about Tai Chi, there is a sentence “the body has to be straight like a flag pole”. The Chinese word “straight” has two meaning, one is “straight”; the other is “perpendicular”. The latter is the argument used by some to justify that the body has to be perpendicular to the ground. I have not heard any functional justification for this body posture. The posture of body leaning forward and forming a straight line with the back leg (see picture above at left) does require the practitioner to be mindful of his center of gravity to make certain that it stays at or behind the ball of the front foot. If it reaches the front toe, its too far forward and easily tips forward by the opponent’s pulling force. As such, some students are uncomfortable with this posture in the beginning until he or she can master the placement of center of gravity."

"It is also important to “tuck in the behind” by tightening the stomach muscle. If a person has a very large girth or heavy upper body in contrast to lower body, than one can only achieve the right position of center of gravity with smaller step size."

"The sit back move requires you to fully tuck in the behind by energizing the abdomen and at the same time you have to be able to turn at the waist with ease and with power to ward off opponent' s attack", Figure 9

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Correct Posture

A friend sent me this. It's an interesting article on your back and posture, which is an essential element to your good health and for martial arts. Below is an excerpt. The full article can be read here.

Esther Gokhale's hunt for perfect posture

Monday, July 27, 2009

Esther Gokhale is not a stalker, but she has pursued hundreds, even thousands of people around the world, mimicking their body alignment and walking style until her shadow matched theirs. She has studied men and women in isolated African, Brazilian and Indian villages where back pain is virtually unknown, despite long hours spent harvesting, weaving, cooking and toting heavy loads.

What she learned inspired her to open the Esther Gokhale Wellness Center in Palo Alto a decade ago, to help others better understand the difference proper posture can make.

Over the years, she has become a "back whisperer" of sorts, winning over tech execs at Google and Cisco Systems, Stanford academics, working moms and medical doctors - including one who described her as "nothing less than the Michael Pollan of posture."

While many are quick to blame stress, sedentary lifestyles and biology for back pain - she found a simpler answer: We have forgotten how natural posture looks and feels.

Even Gokhale, who was born and raised in India and spent summers in yoga ashrams and began teaching yoga as a teenager, was not immune to back pain.

"Yoga teachers in India did not notice my sway back," she says. "I was extremely flexible, but not quite in the right place."

Spinal surgery

After her first pregnancy, at 26, severe pain finally resulted in spinal disc surgery.

That experience spurred Gokhale, who studied biochemistry at Harvard and Princeton and acupuncture at the San Francisco School of Oriental Medicine, to take an anthropologist's approach to finding a better way to treat - and ideally prevent - back pain.

In her light-filled Wellness Center, photos of men, women and children she has studied on her global treks line the walls, statues from India cluster on bookshelves, and mobiles of tiny figures from Africa hang from the ceiling all illustrating one of Gokhale's primary beliefs about posture: It's all about the pelvis.

"Ducky butt, not tucky butt," she said, "Picture Donald Duck." She knows her admonition to "get our behinds behind us," contradicts the "tuck your tailbone" instructions of many yoga, dance and fitness teachers; but as a 30-year yoga instructor, she is convinced of its effectiveness.

"Tucked tailbones create depressed postures, rounding the shoulders and upper back," she says. "Like a dog when it's anxious, with its tail between its legs. Better structure means less pain, more confidence in your health. You look better and people respond to you differently."

It may sound simple, but for many Western bodies, it is not intuitive, which is why Gokhale holds sessions of six weekly classes or three-day intensive classes (both $450) where she practices her three-pronged approach to perfecting posture - showing, demonstrating and repositioning with gentle hands-on manipulation. Single sessions ($165) and Skype classes are available, and she offers free classes at schools for teachers and students.

"I really want to reach this audience, " she said. "Good posture can alter the trajectory of a young person's life."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

300 Tang Dynasty Poems: #32 East of the Town

The Tang Dynasty was considered a cultural golden age of China. Especially esteemed was poetry. The finest poems of that era are collected in an anthology entitled The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. If you follow the link, you'll be directed to an online version.

In the meantime, below is #32, East of the Town

From office confinement all year long,
I have come out of town to be free this morning
Where willows harmonize the wind
And green hills lighten the cares of the world.
I lean by a tree and rest myself
Or wander up and down a stream.
...Mists have wet the fragrant meadows;
A spring dove calls from some hidden place.
...With quiet surroundings, the mind is at peace,
But beset with affairs, it grows restless again....
Here I shall finally build me a cabin,
As Tao Qian built one long ago.