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 ~

Monday, June 28, 2010

China's Tea Horse Road

For hundreds of years a thriving trade took place between China and Tibet along a road hundreds of miles long known as the Tea Horse Road. The Tibetans wanted Chinese Tea, and the Chinese wanted Tibetan horses. 

National Geographic Magazine had a great article on this piece of history and culture. An excerpt from the article is below. The whole article may be read there. Check out the whole thing. There are some great pictures and interactive features.

The Forgotten Road

Chinese tea and Tibetan horses were long traded on a legendary trail. Today remnants of the passageway reveal grand vistas—and a surprising new commerce.

By Mark Jenkins
Photograph by Michael Yamashita
Deep in the mountains of western Sichuan I'm hacking through a bamboo jungle, trying to find a legendary trail. Just 60 years ago, when much of Asia still moved by foot or hoof, the Tea Horse Road was a thoroughfare of commerce, the main link between China and Tibet. But my search could be in vain. A few days earlier I met a man who used to carry backbreaking loads of tea along the path; he warned me that time, weather, and invasive plants may have wiped out the Tea Horse Road.

Then, with one wide sweep of my ax, the bamboo falls. Before me is a four-foot-wide cobblestone trail curving up through the forest, slick with green moss, almost overgrown. Some of the stones are pitted with water-filled divots, left by the metal-spiked crutches used by hundreds of thousands of porters who trod this trail for a millennium.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Four Phases of Learning

The excerpt below is from Tae Kim's Blog and has specifically to do with learning the Japanese Language, I think the idea applies to pretty much anything challenging we might try to learn. To read the whole thing, click here.

I started learning Japanese as an adult (college sophomore) and became proficient in about 5 years (full story here). So I’d like to think I know the various phases you go through when learning a foreign language. There are different things to watch out in each phase so let’s look at the long journey and how to successfully reach the end of the rainbow to find the pot of gold. Unfortunately, in real life, a rainbow is completely round so there is actually no end so good luck with that. Ha ha.

There are roughly 4 stages of language acquisition: excitement, depression, laziness, and acceptance. The excited stage is when everything is new and you feel a tremendous amount of progress everyday as you learn words like “to do”. Following that is depression upon realizing that no matter how much you learn, it’s still not enough. After you reach a certain level, you then become lazy because you can get by most of the time with what you know. If you overcome the lazy stage, the final stage is acceptance as you become resigned to the fact that learning a language has no end. You try the best you can and keep learning for as long as you use the language.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More on Renshuu

Renshuu is a reoccuring topic here. The following is an excerpt from an article posted on The Way of Least Resistance blog. If you click here, you can read the whole thing. Please do.

Those who know me know my occasional reference to the Chinese character 忍 - "ren" (or "nin" in Japanese) - meaning "to endure" or "to persevere".

For me this character has special resonance with martial arts training. It reflects not only the years of blood, sweat and tears poured onto the dojo floor; it also reflects the psychological challenges, the fears, the disappointments. In one word it conjures all the barriers that have confronted me along my martial journey. Some of these I have overcome. Others have bested me. Yet, despite the latter, what is critical is this; I do not define myself by the moments where I lay defeated in a crumpled heap. I choose to define myself by the moment I picked my sorry self up again.

Some moments of defeat are almost too humiliating to confront. I let them loiter in the recesses of my mind, pushing them back whenever they try to intrude into my consciousness. I do so with the aid of my steadfast ally; the memory that I did not give up. I came back to fight another day.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The 36 Strategies: #34, Scheme with Self Inflicted Wounds

Next to the Art of War by Sun Tzu, The 36 Strategies is the most widely known Asian treatise on strategy. Where the Art of War is a methodical overview of the entire subject, The 36 Strategies tries to teach the idea of "strategic thinking" through 36 maxims, 6 sets of 6 maxims each, intended for different situations.

# 34, Scheme with Self Inflicted Wounds means to play the victim. By playing the victim, you can win over sympathy. If you can win over sympathy of the opponent, you make be able to work your way into his confidence.

There is a dangerous flip side to this strategy, and that is that you look weak.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Applying the Art of War to Your Training

This is a guest post from The Dao of Strategy blog. Please pay a visit.

Strategic Assessment:  Improving Your Training with the Art of War Principles
Mr. Matz recently asked me to write an article on how to apply the Art of War in the training of martial arts

My name is Mike.  I am a student of various Asian and western martial arts for many years.

Professionally, I managed a strategic consulting boutique that specializes in strategic assessment and strategic decision management.  Much of my strategic background is consisted of my understanding of Chinese strategic classics and my experience in various games of skill and chance.

Since most of the readership of this blog is consisted of well-read martial artists of various levels, I decided to focus the premise of this article on the process of strategic assessment by presuming that the majority has read the Sunzi's Art of War and understood the premise behind this essay..                 

Click here for an introduction article on the Sunzi's The Art of War.

My recent research told me that some of the readers selectively viewed the Art of War and preferred to focus their time and the attention on the building of the plan, the strategic maneuverability and the engagement of the conflict.  

Professionally, I have always considered the initial chapter- Strategic Assessment as the most relevant chapter of the book.   It is one of those sections that people read quite often, but not knowing how to apply it strategically.

The key purpose of this chapter is to understand the big picture of one's settings before doing anything relevant.  One can only improve their own future performance by properly assessing the big picture of their grand terrain and the obstacles that are within it.

How does one use the strategic assessment process in the training of the martial arts?

Assess and Reflect

Following is a set of 13 Sunzi principles-related questions that I have given to my martial art associates who are trying to assessing their current state of training: 
  • Did my strategic assessment process include a stage of gathering intelligence?
  • Did the act of intelligence gathering improve the decision-making points of my training?
  • Has my current decision making process always helped me in prevailing in the various situations?
  • Was my position in those situations based on my initial understanding of the entire terrain?
  • Did my comprehension of the entire terrain show in my strategic maneuverability?
  • Did my strategic maneuverability improve my adjustment to the situation?
  • Did my adjustment enable me to prevail during the engagement of various obstacles?
  • During my engagement of obstacles, was I able to pinpoint its weaknesses and strengths?
  • After the strengths and weaknesses were pinpointed, did my strategic influence prevail?
  • Was my strategic influence based on my initial strategic disposition?
  • How much of my strategic disposition was delineated in my initial plan?
  • How much of my own plan was based on my initial understanding of the challenge?
  • Was my grand understanding of the challenge based on my initial strategic assessment?
(The list has been slightly altered for this audience.)

After reviewing the response to those 13 questions, you can determine whether the specifics of your strategic assessment approach needs to be improved.

After each major training session, you should spend a moment to assess your experience. 

Reflect on your overall experience. Focus on your strategic disposition, your strategic influence, your weaknesses and your strength.

Transforming the Assessment to Relevancy

“In planning no useless move.  In strategy, no step is in vain."- Chen Hao

Once you understand yourself and your strategic disposition within your settings, it becomes easier for you to improve your training.  The key to transforming the assessed data to something with value is to understand your goal. Knowing his or her goals and objectives enables one to focus their time and effort in a positive and constructive way..

 You can read more about applying various strategic views in everyday scenarios at    

Good luck with your martial art training.

Thanks for your time and attention.


Copyright: 2010 © Compass360 Consulting Group (C360 Consultants)
Copying, posting and reproduction in any form (without prior consent) is an infringement of copyright.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Asian Godfather

A friend sent me an article from which I've posted an excerpt below. For the full article, click here.

The Last of the Asian Godfathers

IT was 1994 — the Year of the Dog — and Frank Ma was in a quandary.

Mr. Ma, a 40-year-old crime boss, had just arranged the murder of his longtime heroin supplier, who, on his orders, had been gunned down in a Los Angeles parking lot. He had recently found a new supplier: Golo Keung, a member of the Big Circle Boys, one of Hong Kong’s largest criminal triads.

The quandary was this, according to court records: Mr. Keung, in classic gangster fashion, had been asking for a favor. He believed his partner in Toronto had been cheating him. He wanted the partner dead.

Mr. Ma, who had arrived in the United States a decade before from China, had pondered this request for several days, and in early May, witnesses said later, he summoned his lieutenants to his doorman building in Rego Park, Queens. Before talking shop, the half-dozen men played cards: Pick Two, one of the boss’s favorite games. Mr. Ma loved gambling, federal agents say: mah-jongg, casinos, almost any sports event.

Wiretaps would later catch him wagering thousands on a basketball game he did not even seem to understand: he picked teams not by standings or statistics, but according to the color of their uniforms.

As the cards were dealt that day, Mr. Ma made an announcement. He was going to take the job for Mr. Keung. There was no way of knowing that the decision would result in two botched murders, an international investigation spanning 16 years, and his own arrest and prosecution. Its effects would ripple from central Queens to Canada to Northern California and back to Manhattan, where, only two months ago, Mr. Ma was sentenced to life in prison in what the authorities describe as the downfall of the last of New York’s Chinese gangsters.

That day around the card table in Rego Park, though, all of this was safely in the future. Mr. Ma asked an underling to secure two weapons for the job. For the hit itself, he planned to use a man from California.

That man, Ah Wah, was good. In fact, as one of Mr. Ma’s associates would later testify, he was Frank Ma’s “most helpful killer.”

Mr. Wah had once killed two men in a graveyard, federal agents say, forcing them to kneel in front of a headstone before putting bullets in their brains. His partner was a man named Luyen Nguyen; people called Mr. Nguyen “Psycho.”

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Basic Zhan Zhaung Instruction

Rick over at Wujifa has put together a nice post that brings some of this other instructive posts together, along a version of a podcast he put together. If you're interested in the standing stake practice, it's well worth your time to take a look right here.

Also, one of Rick's students, Mike over at Internal Gong Fu has also posted an excellent article entitled "The Third Feeling." Well worth reading. Please pay a visit.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

What Do You Think You're Doing?

Noted martial arts writer Nick Lowry wrote an article about the difference between a -jutsu art and a -do art. Below is an excerpt. The whole article may be read here.

Innumerable times over the years students have come to ask the difference between JUTSU and DO, and for the most part my answers have always been to describe the basic surface distinctions—the historical, the philosophical, technical—the simple pragmatic basis of JUTSU as the basic military or soldierly training model, and DO, the modern pursuit of excellence and self actualization, the making of happier, healthier people and society and such.
It is much deeper than that. On a most basic level JUTSU is the madness of violence and DO is the sanity of nonviolence.
JUTSU is deeply and committedly a perspective of dualism—of self and other, of good and bad, of heroes and villains, of us and them. JUTSU promises empowerment through competence, technical and strategic skill and through superior firepower. JUTSU is all about winning and killing. This is basically kid’s stuff, the adolescent fantasy of the ultimate warrior who can conquer the world and make everything fit into the “big plan.” It is a natural extension of the mind that cannot but react to the karma of the circumstance except to try to steer it, control it, and force it. Make no mistake, JUTSU is a commonsense direct approach and it will solve some problems; it does have its good points, it has developed remarkable tools and techniques in the pursuit of its ends. But at the end of the day, since blood never successfully washes away blood, it is still madness. When we enter the path of training in the martial arts we all tend to start from just such a perspective (and notably, this is irrespective of what art you are pursuing and whether its name ends in the suffix “-jutsu” or “-do”).

DO requires something different. DO will not bend to the will, will not be tamed into submission, will not become subservient to the ego, to the “self.” DO does not lend itself to self-aggrandizement (those who attempt to do such leave behind a wake of sad and humorous carnage in their lives. They reduce themselves to becoming caricatures of real seekers of the way—can you say Segal?) DO is a move past dualism into the nondual and back out the other side. It transcends and includes JUTSU. It is a complete liberation of self from self that compels us to work according to principles, to harmonize the activity of self to align with these principles and to follow where they lead. DO is not, and can never be attained or mastered. DO is rather what we surrender to, once we have gotten still enough and quiet enough to pay attention to reality. Through DO we can come to understand and embody principles such as AIKI and JU.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Empty Your Cup

Below is an excerpt from the Budo Beyond Technique blog. If you click here, you can read the whole article. Please pay a visit.
Student Responsibility

Budo is about becoming the best you can be. We use martial arts as our method to do this. Since we always strive to be better, we will be a student for life. Here are a few things to help be a better student.

1. Empty your cup.

You have probably heard this saying before. One of the most popular versions of the origination of this saying is:

A professor visited a Zen master to inquire about Zen. As the master was speaking the professor kept interrupting with his own opinions. So the master served some tea. He overfilled the cup and tea went everywhere. The professor shouted "the cup is full, there is no room for more tea!" The master replied "like this cup, your mind is so full of its own opinions, there is no room for anything new, in order to taste my tea, you must first empty your cup."

You have come to learn. The best way to do that is forget when you know or think you know. If you have no martial arts experience, it may be easier then if you have some already and change to a different martial art. Having studied several different styles, I still have to remind myself to "empty my cup" and learn and do that particular style. If the class is learning a technique you know already, look for a deeperunderstanding of the technique. How can you make it more effective, efficient, powerful, etc.