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 ~

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Japanese and Chinese Swords

A friend sent me this link to a sword manufacturer in China. There are plenty of pictures of some very nice looking swords in a variety of styles, both Japanese and Chinese.

Click here to take a look.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Tang Dynasty Poems, #34: Reading Buddhist Classics...

The Tang Dynasty is held to be one of the high water marks of Chinese culture. 300 of the finest poems of that era have been collected in The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. If you follow the link, you'll be directed to an online version of this classic work. Below is #34, Reading Buddhist Classics ...


I clean my teeth in water drawn from a cold well;
And while I brush my clothes, I purify my mind;
Then, slowly turning pages in the Tree-Leaf Book,
I recite, along the path to the eastern shelter.
...The world has forgotten the true fountain of this teaching
And people enslave themselves to miracles and fables.
Under the given words I want the essential meaning,
I look for the simplest way to sow and reap my nature.
Here in the quiet of the priest's temple courtyard,
Mosses add their climbing colour to the thick bamboo;
And now comes the sun, out of mist and fog,
And pines that seem to be new-bathed;
And everything is gone from me, speech goes, and reading,
Leaving the single unison.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Don't Train

"Practice is not easy. It WILL transform our life. But if we have a naive idea that this transformation can take place without a price being paid, we fool ourselves. Don't practice unless you feel there's nothing else you can do. Instead, step up your surfing or your physics or your music. If that satisfies you, do it. Don't practice unless you feel you must. It takes enormous courage to have a real practice. You have to face everything about yourself hidden in that box, including some unpleasant things you don't even want to know about."

--Charlotte Joko Beck

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Standing Stake, or Zhan Zhuang Practice for Internal Martial Arts

Standing Stake practice, or zhan zhuang, is both a foundational and advanced practice in many Chinese martial arts traditions. It sounds so easy, but it isn't. Standing for 10 minutes, 20, 30, an hour or two is anything BUT easy, and many beginners are ready to jump out of their skins after just a few minutes.

ZZ practice has many benefits. Among them, the practice provides a framework in which one can learn to truly relax. To stand correctly, you must learn to use fewer and fewer of your muscles to hold you up. The muscles you can "disengage" finally have a chance to learn to relax.

In a martial sense,  one of the benefits of relaxation is to learn to be more effective. If you want to throw a punch for example, you want to use only those muscles that are indeed needed to throw the punch. Any other muscle that finds itself involved, ie not relaxed, works at cross purposes to your intent.

The ZZ practice also teaches alignment. If you are using fewer and fewer muscles to hold yourself up, one of the things  you need to get a knack for is to stack your skeleton up so you don't need those extra muscles anyway. A benefit of being aligned well is that your internal organs get lined up the way they were meant to be, and so work better.

For years the heels of my shoes used to wear like this: /\ Whatever it was that I was doing to walk and stand like this, there would surely be a price to pay when I got older. However since several years of standing practice, my heels now wear evenly.

Yet a third benefit of the standing practice is that it gives one's mind a chance to settle and to become quiet. In this regard I think ZZ has much in common with the zazen (sitting posture) of Zen. For me, standing stake is my Zazen practice.

I find that when I've been practicing regularly (this holds true of practicing taijiquan as well as zhan zhuang), my mind is more clear. Time doesn't actually slow down so much as I have the experience of having more time to respond (rather than react). Also, I am much better able to read people. As a salesman, I can read the currents swirling around in a room and pick out the threads that are most useful to me. It's not just body language; there's something more to it.

If you click here, you will be directed to a series of videos on YouTube where Master Lam Kam Chuen teaches a course in zhan zhuang. It is a  progressive series of videos and it is meant for you to stand along with him.

Master Chuen is the author of several books on the subject and related topics. I have a few of his books, and think The Way of Energy and The Way of Power are good introductions to the Standing Stake practice.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Empty Your Cup

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Aikido Journal.

A side effect of the author's job is that he must relocate every few years. To continue his martial arts training, he must fairly regularly enter a new dojo and a new way of doing things. 

The full article may be read here.

To truly empty one's cup is a difficult thing to do. Perhaps it is the first gate one must go through before achieving anything worthwhile.

If a dojo or instructor has the generosity to open the mat to us as a visitor or student we owe it to them to do things their way on the mat, not how we’d like to see them done. When entering a dojo it is critical to not only begin with an empty mind but to leave it open to new ideas. That seems obvious enough on its face but it is much more difficult to accomplish on the mat. My history with aikido leads me to conclude there are two factors that must be overcome to truly embrace an open mind; muscle memory and ego.

The old adage “practice makes perfect” is incorrect. Rather, it should read “practice makes permanent.” When we learn a given technique or simple movement we repeat it many times. The intent is to ingrain it in our minds so that it is second nature. As simple example is to cross your arms in front of your torso, then uncross them and recross them with the arm that was on the bottom on the top. You’ll most likely feel very uncomfortable crossing your arms in a manner you are not accustomed to. That is muscle memory. Eventually we hope to do our aikido movement without thinking about them, particularly should the need arise during a martial application. This is fine until we have the movement ingrained and then encounter someone that does the movement differently than we’ve been taught. It is important to note that differently is not necessarily incorrectly. If we do not consciously consider every nuance of the newly demonstrated method our bodies will unconsciously revert to what we know and have practiced best. In my experience, this is much more difficult when relearning a move than when learning it for the first time. In the latter case, before one can learn we must erase or at least overcome our previous experience.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Continuous Practice

"This present continuous practice is nothing other than just that, just committing oneself to continuous practice for no other reason than to practice continuously." -Dogen in "Continuous Practice"
(Translation by Francis Dojun Cook in the book "How To Raise an Ox")

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lenten Challenge Starts ... Now!

"Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you."


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: Worse Run City in America

Before getting to the main point of this post, I just wanted to remind everyone who is going to take part in the 2010 Lenten Challenge, that Lent starts tomorrow!

When I saw the headline, I thought for sure it was going to be about Detroit. Nope. San Francisco.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the San Francisco News. I bet they were a little biased and didn't give Detroit full marks.Click here to read the entire article. It's hilarious.

It's time to face facts: San Francisco is spectacularly mismanaged and arguably the worst-run big city in America. This year's city budget is an astonishing $6.6 billion — more than twice the budget for the entire state of Idaho — for roughly 800,000 residents. Yet despite that stratospheric amount, San Francisco can't point to progress on many of the social issues it spends liberally to tackle — and no one is made to answer when the city comes up short.

The city's ineptitude is no secret. "I have never heard anyone, even among liberals, say, 'If only [our city] could be run like San Francisco,'" says urbanologist Joel Kotkin. "Even other liberal places wouldn't put up with the degree of dysfunction they have in San Francisco. In Houston, the exact opposite of San Francisco, I assume you'd get shot."

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dong Hai Chuan, the Founder of Ba Gua Zhang

Below is an excerpt from an article found at Smiling Tiger. The whole article may be read here. Enjoy!

There are two versions of how Dong learned Baguazhang. The first version tells how he got lost in the regions south of the Long River. He was looking for some old friends on Jiuhua mountain but became lost among the peaks. There were no tracks to follow and he couldn't find the trail. As hunger and exhaustion mounted, he thought he would surely die. But just as his anxiety seemed to peak, suddenly there appeared a man who lead Dong to see an old Daoist priest. This Daoist had white downy hair, yet the complexion of a child. Dong watched as the old man practiced. His steps were like floating clouds and flowing water. His palms turned and changed as swift as the wind and as quick as lightning. Dong begged to be taken on as a student and the old Daoist allowed him to stay in his temple. For two years Dong did nothing but walk a circle around a tree until his stepping had carved a trench a foot deep. Then the old Daoist taught him the Single Change Palm. When Dong had mastered everything his master had to teach, he was getting ready to leave. The Old Daoist said to him, "Eventually you must return home. However, when a difficult situation arises, remember my teachings!"

A second version tells how Dong traveled to Emei Mountain in Sichuan. There he met a man named Dong Menglin who taught him Yin Yang Ba Pan Zhang. Dong altered what he had been taught and changed the name to Baguazhang.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Year of the Tiger!

Any holiday is a good time to think about food! A friend sent me a link to an article from which I am posting an excerpt below. Enjoy.

Savoring sweet somethings to ring in new year

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Year of the Tiger roars in on Sunday - a relatively late start to Lunar Year 4078. Festivities continue for two weeks, with Bay Area restaurants featuring special eight- and 10-course menus filled with culinary symbolism and - unlike most Chinese meals - plenty of sweets.
That's because candied fruits and vegetables, along with special cookies and candies, represent hopes for a year of sweet life and good fortune - two qualities restaurateurs wish for their patrons with a variety of offerings.

At Chef Chu's in Los Altos, chef-owner Lawrence Chu doesn't take any chances. He welcomes diners with candied winter melon and other fat choy candies on each banquet table instead of serving hors d'oeuvres.
Peanut- and coconut-filled glutinous rice balls, representing longevity, fill the sweet soup dessert at Sichuan Fortune House in Pleasant Hill, where chef-owner Shaobin Zhang also offers a crisp sesame pancake filled with sweet bean paste.

"The rice ball's name sounds similar to having a whole year where everything comes to fruition," explains Terry Chan, co-owner of South Sea Seafood Village in San Francisco, where the unfilled rice balls are served in a traditional red bean and tapioca soup.

South Sea's kitchen also turns out a firm, crunchy doughnut. "We call them Happy Face Doughnuts to symbolize a year full of joy," Chan says.

Sweets aren't the only edible symbols for the new year. Any food with a name that sounds similar or is a play on the Chinese words for things like luck, abundance and good fortune are prominent on Year of the Tiger menus.

Both Chu and Zhang serve a whole fried fish with a reddish sweet-and-sour sauce. "The Chinese phonetic sound for fish sounds similar to abundance and blessing, and the sauce is red for joy and luck," Chu says.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Hello from San Diego!

I started the new job last week. It's quite a change for me from basically working out of my basement. It's a lot brighter. It's a lot noisier. It's also very strange driving around in rush hour traffic.

This week, I'm representing the company at the Hybrid Vehicle Technologies Symposium in San Diego, CA. Mostly I am here to learn. Being away from everything, I can take the opportunity to think.

As I’ve written pretty extensively about studying strategy and daoism, and applying it to our daily lives, it only makes sense that I take a look at the lay of the land ( Sun Tzu's Art of War, Chapter 10) at my new employer and come up with a strategy to succeed with them. I could also just leave it all to dumb luck, but I’ll save that for Plan B.

You can’t guarantee outcomes, but you have to do the work. The better prepared you are, the luckier you’ll be.

I’m learning at few things at the new gig already. I wasn’t their first choice for this position. One guy I’m working with and is a peer was hired a few months ago. In the meantime they had hired another guy who was laid off from their largest competitor (I’m sitting in his cube and using his computer) who didn’t work out. He was simply not aggressive enough. At his old job he was trained to be an order taker rather than a salesman. There is a lesson.

Another guy who had worked here for years had also been let go. I’ve known him for years. To hear the story he had done some really dumb things politically. He inserted himself into the politics of a large customer (strike one), picked the losing side (strike two), and the company fell into disfavor as a result (strike three). That is another lesson. A part of my new job is to repair that relationship.

As a small company, there really isn’t a track for advancement per se. They will grow incrementally. The advancement and security comes with securing a specific niche and flourishing within that.

It appears that each of the people who have been here and thrived have found a distinct niche in which they displayed superior performance. What has happened then as each of them has come to be the guy in a specific area; that area has been ceded to them. That’s the normal curve here it seems.

I have a few hints on what areas are going to need attention in the near term and could become just one of those niches in the long term.

Because of my “conversational Japanese” and previous experience working for Japanese companies, I’m going to get pulled into the Japanese related business.

They have a Japanese distributor with whom they communicate almost daily, is fairly high maintenance, but who also delivers the sales. This distributor simply needs the regular attention and right now it’s falling on my boss who would like to invest that time elsewhere.

The Japanese contacts speak English well enough I am told, but it’s just not always easy. Being able to clarify even some simple things in Japanese would be a huge boost and everything would be expected to go more smoothly.

I am certainly not going to put myself forward on going to Japan regularly, the wear and tear of traveling is not something I relish (but will accept), but I will spend the money on Rosetta Stone (which I wanted to get anyway and can write off) to boost my Japanese language skills quickly so my performance comes off well.

I want to not only work on the spoken language, but start working again on kanji and reading skills. Having real immediate needs helps one to learn, in my experience.

He also mentioned (as though he were thinking aloud) that the guy who manages the rest of the international accounts will be retiring in a couple of years and that he’d like me to get involved with that as well.

I am not going to go out of my way to volunteer for extensive travel, but if it comes my way I’ll make the most of it. I don’t want to be the guy heading to Asia, Mexico and Europe several times a year, but that might be a little niche I can latch onto to secure my position.

From The 36 Strategies, #12: Take a Sheep in Hand While You Go Along. That is, take advantage of any circumstance that comes your way, no matter what size.

Of course, my immediate concerns are learning the products, the customers, and competition; as well as working on both internal and external relationships. What we end up doing finds us as much as we find it.

A new page is about to turn. My oldest put an offer in on a condo and it was accepted. Now the mortgage company has to determine if the condo association is solvent before they'll give her the money. It looks like it's a go so far. So she's about ready to move out into her own place.

One of her closest friends just became engaged. I remember at about her age, it seems like we were always going to weddings, then there was a period when everyone was starting to have kids, then we were going to communion parties or whatever. This stuff comes in waves and a new wave, the one she's going to ride, is about to begin.

Some good reading - The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. (Shang Lee at the Journey Within blog pointed this one out. Please pay a visit). It's a book for the artist and professional in all of us, no matter what it is that we pursue. It's about the self created obstacles we encounter and what we must do to overcome them.

Remember the TV show, Northern Exposure? There was an episode where Chris-in-the-Morning was having an artistic block, and Ruth Ann told him that an artist much struggle; must fight for his art, to see what he's made of.

Another good book is Pirate Latitudes by the late Michael Crichton. It's one of the books he had finished but hadn't yet published before his death. Fun historical fiction. Crichton's strong points are the history and technology. Plot, character development and dialog aren't his strengths.

Also The Predictioner's Game by Bruce Bueno De Mesquita, on Game Theory. The key points are asking the right questions to frame the problem correctly , understanding human nature, and putting yourself in the other guy's shoes.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

2010 Lenten Challege

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 17) until Easter (April 4), train every day, without fail, no excuses; even if you have to move mountains. Simple enough said, a little harder to do.

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. Start anew.

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 usually keep it up until the date Easter is marked on their calendar, but 2010 is one of the years where the two church calendars line up.

Won't you join me?

Best Regards


Sunday, February 07, 2010

Standing Like a Post

Rick over at Wujifa has a very good article about doing zhan zhuang standing incorrectly, which is very easy to do. Below is an excerpt. The whole article may be read by clicking here.

Is your stance practice like a dead post?

What is your zhan zhuang practice becoming? The number one problem people have practicing zhan zhuang is dead-post standing. This means being rigid and non-living, doing the practice as if one has a stick stuck you know where. The second big mistake in dead post standing is when the mind over thinks and over controls instead of simply guiding growth, development, and understanding as one practices.