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 ~

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Developing a Practice

Why do we do it? Why should we do it?

Below is an excerpt from a blog entry from Steven Pressfield, the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, The Gates of Fire, and others. The full article may be read here.

... Which brings us to what, to me, is the highest plane of creative endeavor–doing it as a practice.

What is a practice? A practice is a regular, daily application of intention. We might have a yoga practice, or a martial arts practice; we could have a practice in calligraphy or tai chi, or flower arrangement or Japanese swordfighting. Have you read The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura? The brewing and serving of tea can be a profound practice.

A practice isn’t pursued for money. It’s not an ego trip. Humility is a prime virtue in entering upon a practice.

But a practice is not for cream puffs.  A practice requires fierce intention and the relentless commitment of a warrior. A practice needs killer instinct.

A practice is spiritual. Its technique is to use a simple physical act or skill as an avenue to access the higher aspects of the self. In Hatha yoga, the various poses are meant to take us beyond our bodies, into our breath and ultimately into a state of consciousness where we’re present in our flesh but are, at the same time, looking on from a higher, more detached plane. That’s the payoff (beyond easing our aching backs).

Practices take place within a sacred space. When we enter our martial arts dojo, we dress in traditional garb that shows respect for the discipline and its history, for our instructors and for our fellow students; we take off our shoes; we bow to the sensei. We’re quiet. We turn off our iPhones. We stop texting.

The great part about a practice is it can be learned. There’s a syllabus. It’s not a mystery. The teacher starts us at Square One. He guides us. We practice; we get better. Our understanding deepens over time. We had thought, when we started, that we were teaching the calligraphy brush to do what we want, but now we see that the brush is teaching us. It’s teaching us patience. It’s humbling our ego. We finally produce a masterpiece and our instructor throws it into the fire. We’re learning. The end is nothing. The act is everything.
The practice is everything.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Training vs Reality

One of my favorite quotes is "Philsophy practiced is the goal of learning." Henry David Thoreau said that.

We study theory, then struggle to put it in practice. We train in a dojo or kwoon, then have to think quickly on our feet when we get into a real life "situation."

Below is an excerpt from a very good article at Low Tech Combat, which explores the differences between training and reality. To read the whole article, click here.

We all know that the training environment is quite different to the environment we will likely find ourselves in if we ever have to use these skills for real. Our busy lifestyle these days often means that only little thought is given to these differences. We know we must take responsibility to protect ourselves so we go to work, go to the gym, dojo or dojang or whatever to train, go home, sleep and repeat.

What I wanted to do is put together a list of the 11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing. These highlight some of the differences we often have very little time to consider. It is these differences that may contribute to surprise (which is bad), and a below normal level of performance in the heat of the moment.

11 Key Differences Between Training and the Real Thing

  1. Consequences. In the gym training, no matter how hard we think we are going, in the back of our minds we know that we are training with another person who is there to learn. They are not going to stomp our heads or launch a full power soccer kick at our faces. There is also an instructor who controls the action and is there to step in immediately if ever things get out of hand.

    On the street however, tapping out won't mean the attack will stop. There is no referee to save you and grant the attacker a TKO victory. Falling to the ground won't mean the fight is over. There are very serious consequences in the Real Thing.
  2. Space. Often, Low Tech Combat on the street is at very close range where each combatant has a hold of the other with at least one hand. There is no space to manoeuvre and get into your comfortable distance.

    If your preferred range is long range where you like to pick apart your opponent from a distance, this is likely to cause you some serious issues. In the Real Thing, space is quite often a luxury that is rarely granted.
  3. Time. In training, many people enjoy sparring and wrestling (myself included), but one aspect that is quite different in the Real Thing is that there will be little or no time to 'feel out' your opponent. There is no time for warming up first. There is no time for getting mentally prepared prior to the encounter. Attacks can flair up very quickly, often at times when you do not want them to. Real Low Tech Combat is fast.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: David Carradine's Kung Fu Workout

It's no wonder the Order of the Avenging Dragon of the Imperial Guards of the Dragon Throne had it out for him ...

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tang Dynasty Poems, #35: Dwelling by a Stream

The Tang Dynasty is held to have been a golden age in Chinese culture. Art and poetry were esteemed.

No event was too small to not be commemorated with a poem. No homecoming or leaving taking, no celebration was complete without one.

The finest examples of Tang Dynasty poetry were complied into a famous anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, which can be found online here.

For now, here is number 35:

Liu Zongyuan

I had so long been troubled by official hat and robe
That I am glad to be an exile here in this wild southland.
I am a neighbour now of planters and reapers.
I am a guest of the mountains and woods.
I plough in the morning, turning dewy grasses,
And at evening tie my fisher-boat, breaking the quiet stream.
Back and forth I go, scarcely meeting anyone,
And sing a long poem and gaze at the blue sky.

Monday, May 17, 2010

True Class

A friend sent me this article. If you click here, you will be directed to the full article which contains some truly classic pictures.

Audrey Hepburn fashionable as ever in DVD set

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Tough assignment, this one: to spend time watching Audrey Hepburn at her fashionable best in seven screen gems that show just how effortlessly she wore just about anything.

This film fest of Paramount Picture classics is titled the "Couture Muse Collection" and packaged in a too-cute pink and black cardboard hatbox, along with picture cards detailing some of the fashions, the DVDs - released in honor of Hepburn's 80th birthday - are a great addition to a fashionista's library.

Here's the lineup: The inevitable "Funny Face," "Sabrina," "Roman Holiday" (for which she won an Oscar), "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and "My Fair Lady"; and the less obvious "Paris When it Sizzles" and "War and Peace."

The DVD set spans the years from 1953 to 1964, when Hepburn was one of Hollywood's biggest stars. She's only 28 in "Funny Face" (1957), where she plays a reluctant model, dances with Fred Astaire and is a knockout in just about every costume, even the simplest black turtleneck and skinny black pants and loafers. More than 50 years later, the Gap went right back there, featuring stills from her crazy-dance scene in that movie. By the time we get around to "Breakfast at Tiffany's" four years later, the film she's most associated with, it's startling to realize that she wears only two black dresses throughout.

But what black dresses they are.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: Japanese Place Names

Quirky Japan Blog never disappoints. Below is an excerpt from a post about odd Japanese place names. Click here to read the whole article.

A few weeks ago I did a post featuring strange photos I’d found around the Internet. While I was researching the reason for a sign that said “Butt Hairs: 48 yen each or 5 for 198 yen” I found a Wikipedia entry on strange place names in Japan. Here are some of the more interesting ones:
Sulfuric Acid Town (Ryuusan-machi, Sanyo Onada, Yamaguchi Prefecture)
Nose hair Bridge (Hanage-bashi, Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture)
Disappointment Island (Gakkari-jima, Miyako, Iwate Prefecture)
Hiccup River (Shakkuri-gawa, Nabari, Mie Prefecture)
Toy Town (Omocha-machi, Mibumachi, Tochigi Prefecture)
Cement Town (Semento-machi, Sanyo-Onoda, Yamaguchi Prefecture/Tsukumi, Oita Prefecture)
Reading (Yomikaki, Nagiso-machi, Nagano Prefecture)
Bullet Train (Shinkansen, Kannami-cho, Shizuoka Prefecture)
Daycare Worker Town (Hobo-cho, Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture)
Forbidden Field (Kinya, Hirakata, Osaka Prefecture)
Pleasure/Hedonism (Kairaku, Ichikikushikino, Kagoshima Prefecture)
Impossible/Unbearable River (Yarikirenai, Yuni, Hokkaido Prefecture)
Entrance to a Woman’s Body (Nyotai-iriguchi, Komagane, Nagano Prefecture)

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Japanese Tea Garden

A friend sent me this article, from which I've posted an excerpt below.  If you click here, you will be directed to the original article. There are some very nice pictures which accompany it, so please follow the link and enjoy.

Japanese Tea Garden, San Mateo

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A honeybee alights on the delicate, pale pink blossoms of a cherry tree as koi wind through the waters of a pond edged with river rock, bonsai trees and stone lanterns in the Japanese Tea Garden. Designed by Nagao Sakurai, landscape architect of Tokyo's Imperial Palace, this garden creates an oasis of serenity in San Mateo's Central Park from the bustle of South El Camino Real.

1. Chashitsu

This tea house incorporates the Zen principle of simplicity with its wooden exterior and shingled roof, and it provides a shaded bench from which to see the pond. In Japan, chashitsu refers to a teahouse or a tearoom devoted to tea ceremonies. In the garden, a teahouse offers a place for contemplation.

2. Pond

Wander the path twisting past the kidney-shaped pond, cross the two arched wooden bridges traversing it and listen to the gentle cascade of a waterfall. Along the way, admire the coral leaves of a Japanese maple, the vivid pink blossoms of miniature and standard azaleas, the white camellias and other flora. 

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Tomiki Aikido Video

Happy Cinco de Mayo. How better to celebrate this holiday than to post a video of one of the giants of the aikido work, Kenji Tomiki.

Tomiki Sensei was not only one of the luminaries of aikido, he was one of the highest ranking judoka as well. His influence has been felt strongly by both martial arts.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

An Encounter with the Yakuza

At the Japan Subculture Research Center, there was an article about one western woman's encounter with the Yakuza in Japan. It makes for some interesting reading. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here.

A long line of cars were waiting for their chance to pump gas. In the one of the spotless open repair bays stood a man in a dark suit with a gray turtleneck sweater and highly polished shoes. In front of him was a man older than he, also dressed in black. Unlike the man in the suit who was bald, or had totally shaved his head, this man had a huge shock of hair. Two guys, one on either side of the man in the suit, were facing the older, very thin man in black.

The suited man would ask a question (I was out of ear shot so could not hear the tone, but he seemed very composed, steely quiet in his questioning) and the man in black would answer in a highly agitated and animated way. It was striking to me that so much could be understood from body language and stance. The bay was very, very brightly lit. All of this was going on in full view of everyone in line — maybe as many as 20 cars full of people.

When the agitated man apparently did not answer to the satisfaction of the man in the suit he would nod, and the two tough-looking muscular guys with him would haul off and hit the guy, generally in the head. His face was very bloody. My support car was parked on the outskirts of the parking lot. There was a sign on the car clearly stating what I was doing, and press coverage had made most people aware of who I was all over Japan. Still, I could not help myself.

I went to someone who seemed to work there and asked why this was going on, why no one stopped it or called the police. I was told one word, “yakuza,” and that they could not stop it. The beaten man had failed to repay his loan on time and he was being punished. I started to cry and stuck out like a sore thumb in the brightly lit area of the pumps, visible to those in the bay. I moved back out towards the perimeter, but did not want to call attention to my car… as if this foreign lady on foot in running gear could do anything but draw attention!