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, July 29, 2010

Just Shut Up and Train

Below is an excerpt from an article from Steven Pressfield's blog. Mr. Pressfield often writes about the internal obstacles that prevent us from achieving our aspirations. This is the topic of one of his books, The War of Art.While he is specifically writing about writing, everything he has to say applies to any worthwhile endeavor, including martial arts training.

One of those obstacles is having to do something else first, or for conditions to be just right before we train. I know that I've been guilty of this. You come home from work late, so you blow off training instead of training later. You have to be somewhere, so rather than  shortening your workout, you blow it off altogether. You're "tired" or "not in the mood" or whatever. 

Just shut up and train. The Lenten Challenge has been a great exercise in getting over this twisted thinking. Below is an excerpt from the article. The whole thing may be read here. Enjoy.

Do It Anyway

By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 26, 2010

This is an important post. I say that because this piece addresses (after procrastination, which is the #1 champ), the single greatest excuse/reason/cop-out that prevents aspiring writers, artists and entrepreneurs from taking action to pursue their dreams.

That excuse is, “First I have to _____________.”
“___________” can be anything from “finish my research” to “pay the rent” to “get rid of my slacker boyfriend.” I’m not saying such excuses can’t be real or serious. “Stop drinking,” “get out of rehab,” “recover from suicide attempt.” They can be absolutely valid and true. But they’re still Resistance. They’re still bullshit.

Here’s the counter-mantra: “Do it anyway.”

Am I being overly hard-core to assert this? No. I’m being kind.

The surest antidote to the state of misery and paralysis that we find ourselves in when we’re under the spell of “First I have to _________” is to sit down and do our work anyway.

Tales from the trenches

This past year hasn’t been the worst of my life—but it’s right up there. I’ll skip the personal details because of the pain it might cause to people dear to me, but suffice it to say that my head, my heart and my butt have been swimming for their lives this past year. My artistic self-confidence, which has been bedrock for me for years, took a major hit about six months ago. I’m still not out of the woods. At the same time, outside commitments (most of which, to be honest, are voluntary and positive), family emergencies and other imperatives have whacked the hell out of my working time.

But here’s the weird part: my work has never been better. I’ve got three projects going, and they’re all hitting

on eight cylinders.  Yeah, it’s slow. Yes, it’s hard. But the stuff is good.

It’s saving my life. Certainly it has preserved my sanity.

In other words . . .

In other words: Do it anyway.

We don’t have to do anything else first. We don’t need to cure our neuroses, conquer our fears, overcome our bad habits. We don’t have to be sane; we don’t have to be solvent. We can be totally screwed up. None of these real-world troubles has anything to do with our creative selves.

The part of our psyches that we write from, or paint from, or conceive new entrepreneurial or philanthropic ventures from . . . that part exists in a wholly different dimension from the part of us that is mucking up our personal lives. There’s no connection. The twain don’t meet.  No matter how balled-up we may be in our outer world, our internal fortress of solitude remains waterproof, soundproof, bulletproof.

Monday, July 26, 2010


This is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the Japan Times. It's about Senshusei, which is the name of the training program carried out by the Yoshinkan Aikido Headquarters for the Tokyo Riot Police. My sensei, Kushida Sensei, once taught this program.

In recent years, foreign students who were willing to commit to the grueling 11 month program have been allowed to join. This is recounted in the book, "Angry White Pajamas." The full article may be read here. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

News photo
It was a riot: Carter and classmates pose for a shot with the riot police who joined them on the 11-month Senshusei Aikido course at the Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo. ANDREW CARTER

Battered Briton survives aikido ordeal

Punishing course leaves Englishman bruised but hungry for more 'cultivation'

At the end of February, a group of international students graduated from the Tokyo-based Yoshinkan Honbu Dojo, one of the most intensive martial arts training centers in the world.

Yoshinkan (meaning "hall for cultivating the spirit") is a style of aikido founded by Gozo Shioda after World War II. Made famous by the controversial book "Angry White Pyjamas" by Robert Twigger, the Senshusei Aikido training course was initially started at the dojo in 1957 to train members of the Tokyo riot police. In 1991 the 11-month program opened its doors to applicants outside the police force, and since then the course has attracted recruits from all over world.

One such recruit, Englishman Andrew Carter, 24, who graduated from the course this year, spoke to The Japan Times about his motivations for starting the program and his experiences over the nearly yearlong course.

"I always wanted to join the British Army's Royal Marines when I was in my teens, but in university I went off the idea of the military — the killing people part — but I still wanted to experience something similar in terms of the training," he recalls. Then he read "Angry White Pyjamas," and after coming to Japan as an English teacher on the JET program, he decided to sign up for the Senshusei course.

The Senshusei course is famous — some might say infamous — for the severity of the training. Injury is not just possible, it's seemingly inevitable. The first training session of the course, says Carter, was "interesting."
"It was an hour of nonstop, difficult exercises. Out of 10 of us, one guy's legs gave out and he collapsed. I collided with another guy and he went to hospital with a cut to his head; I got a black eye out of that clash. One guy's nose started bleeding due to too many press-ups."

And this was only the first training session. For the next 11 months, Carter and his fellow trainees would endure three such sessions a day, five days a week.

"We all had bleeding backs due to hundreds of backward break-falls. The cuts would reopen each day and the backs of our dogi — uniforms — would turn red with blood stains. You're not allowed to start a training session with a dirty dogi, so one of the guys would tape women's sanitary towels to his back to soak up the blood."
Shugyo is a Japanese word that means "commitment to a discipline," and trainees on the Senshusei course must try to get a deep understanding of shugyo.

"Shugyo makes a great impact in the rest of your life; without some form of it, real training is impossible."

Soon after starting the course, Carter came to realize that he did not fully understand this concept.

"Others were studying techniques in their spare time while I was working or resting. It soon became clear that I was the weakest in the group as I was constantly making technical mistakes. I spent many embarrassing training sessions in front of my peers making mistakes. It was during this year that I decided I needed to re-evaluate my way of approaching life if I am to ever to be worthy of my black belt, if ever I'm to fulfill my full potential as a human being."

"I now see myself as a very different person. I used to drink and socialize a lot and leave studying to the last minute, but my year in the dojo has had a profound effect on me. It teaches you that you have to be focused, you have to predict what's coming up and study it and you have to be aware constantly of your own movements as well as being aware of a strict culture and of the teacher's needs."

"At the end of the year I see so many areas that I can improve on, in both aikido and in my life. But this is not a negative thing; it is very possible that without the course I would have never come to realize this. For me the course really unlocked a desire to do my best in all areas of life, not just the physical side of it, as I originally thought this year would develop."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Japanese Business Etiquette

This article appeared on the Japanese Subculture Research Center blog. It's about business etiquette in Japanese companies and it's fascinating reading. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here. 

In the full article there's a chart showing where some famous Japanese companies lie along an X-Y chart of certain characteristics. I worked Fujitsu and a joint venture of Hitachi and Mitsubishi, and it rings true.

Learning Japanese business culture is always a hot topic for those looking to deal on this side of the Pacific, but little do many know that Japanese young adults are almost just as confused by the the traditions and hype surrounding the complex world of Japanese shafuu.

In Japan, corporate culture amongst established companies is not something that is organically developed or that reads from the pages of a self help book. Traditionally there have been two kinds of companies: 体育会系 (taiikukai-kei, sports-oriented) and 文化系 (bunka-kei, liberal arts-ish). From the definition it’s likely easy to grasp the general concept, and while bunka kei companies are more desirable for those calm, artsy types who enjoy having a life outside or work, taiikukai-kei are renowned for providing the motivated with high-energy, aggressive environments in which they can shoot for the stars–but often not, because unlike Western companies, until recently most traditional taiikukai-kei companies feature lifetime employment systems, 年功序列 (nenko joretsu, seniority by length of service) and all those other ultra-Japanese business practices that have gradually become archaic. Taiikukai-keihere) companies are also renowned for they way they treat employees, going beyond the typical forced overtime and into the realms of abusive language and behavior to subordinates and even reports of regulated haircuts for new hires.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

From Aikido to AikiJujutsu

This is excerpt from an article that appeared in Black Belt Magazine years ago. It's about a law enforcement officer who was trained in aikido, became disillusioned with his training, and went back to aikido's roots, aikijujutsu, to find what he was looking for. To read the whole article, click here.

Aikijujutsu vs. Aikido:
The Transition From Deadly Combat to Gentle Self-Defense

By Gail E. Nelson 
A black belt and years of martial arts training do not guarantee survival on the streets. Some even say these skills may be absolutely useless in real-life combat situations.

Bernie Lau, a retired Seattle police detective and aikijujutsu instructor, founded the Washington Budokan after his 20 years of aikido training failed to support him in a life-threatening situation. Until the incident occurred, Lau found aikido to be helpful in his day-to-day police work. Aikido served him well even earlier on the evening of the incident, when he and his partner responded to two routine calls.

First, the pair entered a bar where a burly drunken man was smashing tables and chairs. With disciplined ease, Lau subdued the drunk and held him in an arm lock until a transportation unit arrived. Later, not far from the bar, a prostitute was fighting a man while trying to steal his wallet. Again, with quick motions, Lau subdued the prostitute and placed her under arrest. Lau used sankyo, a wrist-twist restraining lock taught in aikido.

Later that evening, however, Lau received a call that was to change the course of his aikido training forever. He and his partner were dispatched to a disturbance on the waterfront, where a 250-pound lumberjack, who was intoxicated and looking to fight, was provoking bar customers. When the officers arrived, the lumberjack challenged them to try and take him. With 20 years of aikido experience behind him, Lau met the challenge with strong confidence. He attempted several aikido techniques, but the moves barely fazed his opponent. The lumberjack was just too strong. During the melee, Lau’s partner was seriously injured by a kick to the face from the lumberjack. Backup units were called in, and after seeing Lau's injured partner, the officers overreacted and the lumberjack ended up in the hospital.  

Lau eventually built a traditional dojo and formed an organization dedicated to the study, training and further development of aikijujutsu for combat and defense tactics suitable for self-defense and law-enforcement work. It is a private organization whose members consist of law-enforcement officers, military personnel and selected individuals. The organization has been in existence for 10 years, and training and research continue to this day.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Magic of Training

This article first appears at Steven Pressfield's blog. It's about the idea of "training." If you click here, you can read the whole thing. Please do. Enjoy.


By Steven Pressfield | Published: May 19, 2010

A few years ago, I got it into my head that I wanted to run a marathon.  The experience turned out to be a life-changer, not so much for the race itself (though that was pretty great too) as for the training that built up to it.

I live in Los Angeles. There was a hospital downtown, Orthopaedic Hospital, that was offering a free six-month training program leading up to the L.A. Marathon. Classes met once a week, Sunday morning.

Each session was on a different subject—hydration, footwear, “hitting the wall,” etc.  Probably 400 runners became regulars. The program helped us set up our individual training schedules. I taped mine to the door of my fridge. It became a religion.

When you train for something as hard-core as a marathon, you quickly discover that your fellow runners are doing it for some pretty serious reasons. Many, particularly women, were coming out of divorces. Others had lost jobs or suffered traumatic personal reversals.  Lots of people were running for others—a child with cancer, a brother wounded overseas.

We bonded like bandits. Everyone helped everyone else. Very few were real runners. A fast time? We just wanted to finish.


Few things in life are sprints. Almost everything that’s worthwhile is a marathon.  So here’s to my fellow shin-busted, spine-tweaked, carb-loaded foot sloggers. Thanks for teaching me the virtues of the marathoner’s mind-set and showing me the magic of training over time. We went in wanting to believe and we came out believing.  If we desperate housewives and sobriety-tested firemen can do it, we can do anything.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Meaning in Language

A friend sent me this. It's a very thought provoking opinion piece about language, which appeared in  the NY Times. The original may be read by clicking here.

Search Engine of the Song Dynasty

BAIDU.COM, the popular search engine often called the Chinese Google, got its name from a poem written during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The poem is about a man searching for a woman at a busy festival, about the search for clarity amid chaos. Together, the Chinese characters băi and dù mean “hundreds of ways,” and come out of the last lines of the poem: “Restlessly I searched for her thousands, hundreds of ways./ Suddenly I turned, and there she was in the receding light.”

Baidu, rendered in Chinese, is rich with linguistic, aesthetic and historical meaning. But written phonetically in Latin letters (as I must do here because of the constraints of the newspaper medium and so that more American readers can understand), it is barely anchored to the two original characters; along the way, it has lost its precision and its poetry.

As Web addresses increasingly transition to non-Latin characters as a result of the changing rules for domain names, that series of Latin letters Chinese people usually see at the top of the screen when they search for something on Baidu may finally turn into intelligible words: “a hundred ways.”

Of course, this expansion of languages for domain names could lead to confusion: users seeking to visit Web sites with names in a script they don’t read could have difficulty putting in the addresses, and Web browsers may need to be reconfigured to support non-Latin characters. The previous system, with domain names composed of numbers, punctuation marks and Latin letters without accents, promoted standardization, wrangling into consistency and simplicity one small part of the Internet. But something else, something important, has been lost.

Part of the beauty of the Chinese language comes from a kind of divisibility not possible in a Latin-based language. Chinese is composed of approximately 20,000 single-syllable characters, 10,000 of which are in common use. These characters each mean something on their own; they are also combined with other characters to form hundreds of thousands of multisyllabic words. Níhăo, for example, Chinese for “Hello,” is composed of ní — “you,” and hăo — “good.” Isn’t “You good” — both as a statement and a question — a marvelous and strangely precise breakdown of what we’re really saying when we greet someone?

The Romanization of Chinese into a phonetic system called Pinyin, using the Latin alphabet and diacritics (to indicate the four distinguishing tones in Mandarin), was developed by the Chinese government in the 1950s. Pinyin makes the language easier to learn and pronounce, and it has the added benefit of making Chinese characters easy to input into a computer. Yet Pinyin, invented for ease and standards, only represents sound.

In Chinese, there are multiple characters with the exact same sound. The sound “băi,” for example, means 100, but it can also mean cypress, or arrange. And “Baidu,” without diacritics, can mean “a failed attempt to poison” or “making a religion of gambling.” In the case of, the word, in Latin letters, has slipped away from its original context and meaning, and been turned into a brand.

Language is such a basic part of our lives, it seems ordinary and transparent. But language is strange and magical, too: it dredges up history and memory; it simultaneously bestows and destabilizes meaning. Each of the thousands of languages spoken around the world has its own system and rules, its own subversions, its own quixotic beauty. Whenever you try to standardize those languages, whether on the Internet, in schools or in literature, you lose something. What we gain in consistency costs us in precision and beauty.

When Chinese speakers Baidu (like Google, it too is a verb), we look for information on the Internet using a branded search engine. But when we see the characters for băi dù, we might, for one moment, engage with the poetry of our language, remember that what we are really trying to do is find what we were seeking in the receding light. Those sets of meanings, layered like a palimpsest, might appear suddenly, where we least expect them, in the address bar at the top of our browsers. And in some small way, those words, in our own languages, might help us see with clarity, and help us to make sense of the world.

Ruiyan Xu is the author of the forthcoming novel “The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai.”

Friday, July 09, 2010

100 Man Kumite

100 Man Kumite is a test of physical and mental endurance. It is usually associated with Kyokushin Karate, but was also practiced in old Kendo dojo.

It works something like this: 100 3 minute rounds to be fought consecutively with a one minute rest in between, against a fresh opponent for each round.

Kyokushin disallows blows to the head during 100 Man Kumite  for the simple reason that once the candidate picked up a few cuts and bruises around the face, the flesh would swell up and he'd soon be no longer able to see.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

2 Man Sets

Several martial arts are two man forms. Several Chinese martial arts came up with a clever way to construct them.

Rather than have A and B stand side by side and perform two separate forms which interact as the fighting form, there are some that are the front and back halves of a single form. For example A and B stand next to each other. A starts at the beginning while B starts in the middle. By the time B gets to the end of the form and is about to start over again at the beginning, A is now in the middle, so they in fact reverse roles.

An individual student can practice the whole form on his own and just work on timing and distance when he gets a chance to work with a partner.

An example of this is from Xing Yi Quan; the An Shen Pao.

The Chinese weren't alone in being so clever. Mozart wrote a "Table Top" duet for Violins. Two violinists are on either side of a table with a sheet of music between them. One of them is reading the music normally, while the other is looking at the sheet upside down; which means he's playing exactly the same notes but starting at the end and in reverse order! Incredibly enough, this still results in a beautiful piece of music.

This last video has nothing to do with anything I've been writing about. I just like it.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: Shanghai Grapples with Chinglish

A friend sent me an article from which I excerpt a portion below. If you click here, you can read the entire article. Please do. It's accompanied by a slide show that gives some humorous examples.

Shanghai Is Trying to Untangle the Mangled English of Chinglish

SHANGHAI — For English speakers with subpar Chinese skills, daily life in China offers a confounding array of choices. At banks, there are machines for “cash withdrawing” and “cash recycling.” The menus of local restaurants might present such delectables as “fried enema,” “monolithic tree mushroom stem squid” and a mysterious thirst-quencher known as “The Jew’s Ear Juice.”

Those who have had a bit too much monolithic tree mushroom stem squid could find themselves requiring roomier attire: extra-large sizes sometimes come in “fatso” or “lard bucket” categories. These and other fashions can be had at the clothing chain known as Scat.

Go ahead and snicker, although by last Saturday’s opening of the Expo 2010 in Shanghai, drawing more than 70 million visitors over its six-month run, these and other uniquely Chinese maladaptations of the English language were supposed to have been largely excised.

Well, that at least is what the Shanghai Commission for the Management of Language Use has been trying to accomplish during the past two years.

Fortified by an army of 600 volunteers and a politburo of adroit English speakers, the commission has fixed more than 10,000 public signs (farewell “Teliot” and “urine district”), rewritten English-language historical placards and helped hundreds of restaurants recast offerings.

The campaign is partly modeled on Beijing’s herculean effort to clean up English signage for the 2008 Summer Olympics, which led to the replacement of 400,000 street signs, 1,300 restaurant menus and such exemplars of impropriety as the Dongda Anus Hospital — now known as the Dongda Proctology Hospital. Gone, too, is Racist Park, a cultural attraction that has since been rechristened Minorities Park.

“The purpose of signage is to be useful, not to be amusing,” said Zhao Huimin, the former Chinese ambassador to the United States who, as director general of the capital’s Foreign Affairs Office, has been leading the fight for linguistic standardization and sobriety.

But while the war on mangled English may be considered a signature achievement of government officials, aficionados of what is known as Chinglish are wringing their hands in despair.

Oliver Lutz Radtke, a former German radio reporter who may well be the world’s foremost authority on Chinglish, said he believed that China should embrace the fanciful melding of English and Chinese as the hallmark of a dynamic, living language. As he sees it, Chinglish is an endangered species that deserves preservation.

“If you standardize all these signs, you not only take away the little giggle you get while strolling in the park but you lose a window into the Chinese mind,” said Mr. Radtke, who is the author of a pair of picture books that feature giggle-worthy Chinglish signs in their natural habitat.

Lest anyone think it is all about laughs, Mr. Radtke is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Chinglish at the University of Heidelberg.

Still, the enemies of Chinglish say the laughter it elicits is humiliating. Wang Xiaoming, an English scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, painfully recalls the guffaws that erupted among her foreign-born colleagues as they flipped through a photographic collection of poorly written signs. “They didn’t mean to insult me but I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable,” said Ms. Wang, who has since become one of Beijing’s leading Chinglish slayers.

Those who study the roots of Chinglish say many examples can be traced to laziness and a flawed but wildly popular translation software. Victor H. Mair, a professor of Chinese at the University of Pennsylvania, said the computerized dictionary, Jingshan Ciba, had led to sexually oriented vulgarities identifying dried produce in Chinese supermarkets and the regrettable “fried enema” menu selection that should have been rendered as “fried sausage.”

Although improved translation software and a growing zeal for grammatically unassailable English has slowed the output of new Chinglishisms, Mr. Mair said he still received about five new examples a day from people who knew he was good at deciphering what went wrong. “If someone would pay me to do it, I’d spend my life studying these things,” he said.