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 ~

Sunday, October 31, 2010


Every year around this time, I find myself rereading one of my favorite books, by Dracula by Bram Stoker.

The version I like to read  the best is an annotated edition, with notes by Leonard Wolf.

I've recently learned of a great resource for book lovers,, which has an entry for Dracula. If you follow the link, you'll find all sorts of background material, maps, links, etc.

My favorite movie versions include of course, Dracula, the 1931 version starring Bela Lugosi; Bram Stoker's Dracula with Gary Oldman in the starring role and Dracula: Dead and Loving It, starring Mel Brooks and Leslie Nielson.

Check out the links! Enjoy!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Learning to Stand

Mike, over at Internal Gong Fu has had a great series of posts based on the notes he's taken along the way in learning the standing practice of Zhan Zhuang. Please follow the link and have a look. I'm sure you'll find it worthwhile.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Daito Ryu Aikijujutsu: The Six Principles of Training

Below is an excerpt from an article at The whole article may be read here.

Six Principles of Training

by Kondo Katsuyuki

(English translation by Derek Steel)

Daito-ryu is built upon a foundation of six basic elements. These are extremely deep and complex and mastery of even any one of them requires a great deal of time and effort. One's ability to perform Daito-ryu techniques correctly and fully will only develop through constant and strenuous efforts to take all six into account at all times. 

Rei: Correct Formal Personal Conduct

Daito-ryu preserves historical forms of correct personal conduct, not because they have any particular relevance to the performance of techniques per se, but because they contain and continue the spiritual mindset of the traditional warrior that pervades and informs the Daito-ryu tradition even today. 

 Metsuke: Eye Contact

Metsuke refers to the use of the eyes. Essentially there are two types of metsuke training in Daito-ryu, one called mokushin(lit. "the eye of the mind"), the other called ganriki(lit. "eye power").

Maai: Distancing

Maai refers to the physical distance or interval between things. Maai is often the single most important factor in determining the outcome of a combative encounter. 

Kokyu: Breathing

Kokyu refers to breath or breathing. We generate physical power and movement more easily when exhaling or in some cases when stopping our breath, both of which are states of yang. The opposite is true of inhaling, a yin state. Thus, techniques are usually performed while exhaling, often with one breath from start to finish.

Kuzushi: Unbalancing

From ancient times the admonishment to attack where the opponent has been unbalanced has been a fundamental axiom of Japanese combative theory. In the name Daito-ryu Aikijujutsu we see that the term aiki has been placed before the word jujutsu, and it would not be an exaggeration to say that this aiki refers mainly (though not exclusively) to the principle of kuzushi, or unbalancing, the opponent. 

Zanshin: Remaining Mind & Full Effort

The characters for zanshin have the general meanings of "remain" (zan-) and "mind" (-shin). The term is usually interpreted as referring to a mental state in which you continue to focus your attention on your opponent and the surrounding environment. I have another interpretation, however, which is that the characters for zanshin can also refer to the phrase "Kokoro wo nokosazu" (lit. "Leave nothing of the spirit behind").

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who Needs Fiction: All it Takes is a Spark

From Yahoo Sports:

You can use a golf club for all kinds of non-golfy purposes -- walking stick, fishing rod, club, to name three. And now we can add to that list -- firestarter.

Over the weekend, a golfer's routine swing in the rough at the Shady Canyon Golf Course in Irvine, Calif., struck a rock. Not so different from the way you play, right? Only this time, the impact caused a spark, and the spark set off a blaze that eventually covered 25 acres, according to the Steven Buck, General Manager of Shady Canyon Golf Course, and required the efforts of 150 Orange County firefighters, writes the Associated Press.

Wow. And I felt bad the time I shanked a ball through the window of a house too close to the fairway. That was nothing compared to this!

The golfer's name is being withheld, which is probably for the best, and no charges are going to be filed.

Fortunately, it all could have been much worse. As it was, the blaze required both helicopters and on-the-ground crews.

The conditions were ripe for a blaze, with dry brush from a recent heat wave just waiting for the right spark. Like, say, one caused by metal on rock.

And now, your turn. This is going to inspire a raft of bad Sportscenter-esque "When we say he set the course on fire, he really set the course on fire!" jokes. So let's get ahead of the curve. Best bad golf-and-fire-related pun in the comments wins a round of applause. Go!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Life is a Circle

Today's my birthday. Won't you celebrate with me?

It's been a long time since I posted a personal update, so I might as well make one now.

I started a new direct job on Feb 1. My role was purely sales. After a few months, we had someone who was in a critical position quit. His role involved both sales and engineering. He was the primary customer technical contact on some leading edge stuff we're doing. So they wanted me take over that role and expand upon it.

That worked for me. I am doing a lot of work with the Linux operating system now, which is keeping my technical credentials up to date. I'm also working with a major auto maker and a major university on research projects involving hybrid electric vehicles which is one of the hottest areas in the auto industry right now.

I don't think anything can be taken for granted and I want to keep myself employable. They basically asked me to go from 0 to 60 in 0 seconds, and so far I've been able to deliver.

Once I updated my LinkedIn profile with my new responsibilities, I've been getting a steady stream of inquiries for new employment opportunities. I like the people I work with and I like what I'm doing, but I'm also making about 2/3 of what I was making previously and I don't like that so much.

I hear opportunity knocking. Most of these inquiries have amounted to nothing, but a few have been active for a while. If they don't turn out either, that's ok. The thing is that I'm getting at-bats, I'm taking swings and it's just a matter of time before I connect. In fact, I may close on one of them before the end of the month.

I've also found a channel to get some software work going on the side. If I can make some extra cast that way, that's fine with me.

You see, what I would really like to do while the real estate market is bouncing along the bottom is to buy a house on a lake and rent out my present home, which I'd sell once real estate prices recover. Maybe my daughters would want to rent it from me and the improvements I'd make would be a tax write off.

"Appreciate your life."
  - Maezumi Roshi

I want to highlight a very good book I read in the past few months. The book is The Importance of Living by Lin Yu Tang. If you have wondered how the principals of Daoism can be applied in one's regular life, this book offers some insight.

Mr. Lin was Chinese but was raised to be a Christian pastor. He eventually became disillusioned with the structure of Christian religious organizations, and while his faith and belief in God remained, he turned to rediscover his Chinese roots. Mr. Lin was a modern day Daoist.

The book discusses his views of human nature. He believed in man's innate ability to do good. How to live a good life? By appreciating your life. It becomes easier to appreciate your life when you come to understand the aesthetics of everyday living, which the Chinese have been developing for several thousand years.

By no means does he try to assert either culture is better than the other, but with his unique insight from having a foot in each, he attempts to show what each culture can learn from the other.

He discusses the aesthetics of painting poetry, music, literature, philosophy, religion, flower arranging, smoking, drinking, laughing, story telling, trees, rocks, women, ... you name it. 

Remember the line from the original Kung Fu series:

"Listen for the color of the sky. Look for the sound of the hummingbird's wings. Search the air for the perfume of ice on a hot day. If you have found these things, you will know." -Master Po

I used to think that style of speech was just a flourish, and I'm certain the writers didn't know what they were doing, but it's not just a flourish; it means something. It's the poetry of our everyday lives.

Mr. Lin has solid roots in both Eastern and Western cultures, making him a rarity, especially for his times. He was an admirer or Emerson and Thoreau. I'd put this book right alongside Walden as one I will return to regularly.

Above all, he suggests a "doctrine" of reasonableness. It's a wonderful read. You'll gain many insights into the Chinese way of thinking.

Several years ago, I tried to take up golf.  I didn't take lessons, and I didn't get out often enough to develop any skill. Since I never improved, it turned out to be an exercise in frustration.

When my youngest daughter began to play travel volleyball, I decided to hang up the golf clubs until that ride was over and take up the game again. Well, this year my oldest daughter went for golf lessons with my wife, while I went with my youngest daughter. We're all playing now, with greater and lesser enthusiasm at different times, but it's something we can all do.

For me, I'm not so much interested in "improving" as long as I'm able to keep up with whomever I'm golfing with. I just like to be outside with good company enjoying a game.

From A Night at the Opera (Marx Brothers!):

I've been making progress at Taijiquan.

I've been practicing regularly and when I do that, I'm a better person in every way. I've made a lot of progress in relaxing both my shoulders and my hips and moving from my center. Where the real progress is being made is that I am getting better in carrying this relaxation into my normal everyday movements.

For years I've been wanting to get my weight down. I've told myself I was exercising hard enough and eating sensibly enough.

Four in the Morning, Three in the Afternoon by Chuang Tzu

A keeper of monkeys said that each monkey was to have three chestnuts in the morning and four at night. But the monkeys were very angry at this; so the keeper said they might have four in the morning and three at night, with which arrangement they were all well pleased. The actual number of the chestnuts remained the same, but there was an adjustment to meet to the likes and dislikes of those concerned. Such is the principle of putting oneself into subjective relation with externals.

I changed my mind. I upped my workout a notch. On the average of four times a week, sometime more and sometimes less, I do a little over an hour of taijiquan and body weight exercises, then get on the treadmill for an hour and push the limits of what my joints will tolerate.

As far as eating goes, I eat less. I don't really deny myself anything, but I don't often indulge myself either. I just eat less, and most of what I eat is better for me than not.

So far, I've lost over 20 lbs and counting.

You know, even though the economy in Michigan has been especially bad and for a long time, it's still a great place to live.

In a couple of weeks, I'll be celebrating my 27th wedding anniversary with my wife.

We've had our ups and downs like any other couple, but I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather spend the next 27, or maybe 47 years with; sitting on a deck overlooking a lake, watching the fall colors turn and letting our kids worry about us for a change.

The cranes at the title of the blog have some significance. In Asian folklore, cranes are accounted to be very lived animals. They also mate for life. A pair of cranes symbolizes a long, happy marriage.

... and that's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Historic Kiso Road

I had previously made a post entitled The Road Gods Beckoned, about an article that appeared in the Smithsonian Magazine. The author of the article retraced the steps of the famous Japanese poet Basho as written in is travel diary made hundreds of years ago. The article was accompanied by some outstanding pictures.

This month in the Smithsonian Magazine is an article about the Kiso Road, which is equally historic and accompanied by just as many beautiful pictures. You can read the article here. Enjoy.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Asian Youth Forgetting How To Write

This is an excerpt from an article I saw online. The full article may be read here.

Wired youth forget how to write in China and Japan

Like every Chinese child, Li Hanwei spent her schooldays memorising thousands of the intricate characters that make up the Chinese writing system.
Yet aged just 21 and now a university student in Hong Kong, Li already finds that when she picks up a pen to write, the characters for words as simple as "embarrassed" have slipped from her mind.

"I can remember the shape, but I can?t remember the strokes that you need to write it," she says. "It?s a bit of a problem."

Surveys indicate the phenomenon, dubbed "character amnesia", is widespread across China, causing young Chinese to fear for the future of their ancient writing system.

Young Japanese people also report the problem, which is caused by the constant use of computers and mobile phones with alphabet-based input systems.

There is even a Chinese word for it: "tibiwangzi", or "take pen, forget character".

A poll commissioned by the China Youth Daily in April found that 83 percent of the 2,072 respondents admitted having problems writing characters.

As a result, Li says that she has become almost dependent on her phone.

"When I can?t remember, I will take out my cellphone and find it (the character) and then copy it down," she says.

Zeng Ming, 22, from the southern Guangdong province, says: "I think it's a young people's problem, or at least a computer users' problem."

One notoriously forgettable character, Zeng says, is used in the word Tao Tie -- a legendary Chinese monster that was so greedy it ate itself.

Still used as a byword for gluttony, the Tao Tie is one of many ancient Chinese concepts embedded in the language.

"It?s like you?re forgetting your culture," Zeng says.

Character amnesia happens because most Chinese people use electronic input systems based on pinyin, which translates Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet.

The user enters each word using pinyin, and the device offers a menu of characters that match. So users must recognise the character, but they don't need to be able to write it.

In Japan, where three writing systems are combined into one, mobiles and computers use the simpler hiragana and katakana scripts for inputting -- meaning users may forget the kanji, a third strand of Japanese writing similar to Chinese characters.

"We rely too much on the conversion function on our phones and PCs," said Ayumi Kawamoto, 23, shopping in Tokyo's upscale Ginza district.

"I've mostly forgotten characters I learned in middle and high school and I tend to forget the characters I only occasionally use."

Tokyo student Maya Kato, 22, said: "I hardly hand-write anymore, which is the main reason why I have forgotten so many characters.

"It is frustrating because I always almost remember the character, and lose it at the last minute. I forget if there was an extra line, or where the dot is supposed to go." 

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Source of Resistance

Once again, there was an excellent post at Steven Pressfield's blog. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

Art and the ego

Art (or, more exactly, the struggle to produce art) teaches us that. How? Because we start off, as neophytes, stuck in our egos. We’re trying by force of will, lust, ambition, greed etc. to come up with something that we can show to the world and be rewarded for. Ah, but it ain’t so easy. The process begins immediately to humble us. Like a stern but loving master, the struggle itself nudges us, shifts us, reroutes us. We’re seeking our true voice, our power, our authenticity as artists. We realize–through blood, sweat and tears–that betting on the ego is not going to get us there.

We have to go deeper. We have to surrender, give up the illusion of control, get out of our own way. We have to conquer our fears and jump off the cliff. Call it the Muse, call it “flow,” call it whatever you like. This is the Self—instinct, intuition, the unconscious. When we hit it, it’s like striking a vein of solid gold. We lose ourselves—that is, our egos—and we find something greater: our Selves.

The lover experiences the same exaltation in her perfect embrace of her beloved. She loses herself by giving unconditional love—and discovers a greater Self that is simultaneously her and not-her. So does the mother, the warrior, even the drunk and the drug addict. For an interval they all obliterate the little self and submerge themselves blissfully in the Big One.

Alas, this happy union vanishes the instant we resurface, just as a vision flees from the mystic emerging from his trance or a dream fades from the sleeper when he wakes. We have completed our miniature version of the hero’s journey and we’re back home. Now what? Try again tomorrow—and keep doing it till we get it right.

Resistance and the ego

The ego likes being in charge. It doesn’t want us to seat our identity within its rival, the Self. The ego produces the yetzer hara—Resistance—and strives with all its force and cunning to keep us bound to it and not to the Self.

The pursuit of art, originality, selflessness or excellence in any ethical form is, beyond all its other aspects, a discipline of the soul. It’s a practice. A means to and method for self-transformation.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

All the Tea in China

A friend sent me this. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in Fast Company Magazine. It's about on corporate espionage ... in the 1800s. The full article may be read here.

How Scientist Robert Fortune Fueled Britain's Expansion by Stealing the Secret of Tea

BY Jenara NerenbergToday
Sarah Rose, author of a new book about how tea forged historical relations between China, India, and the West, says that industrial espionage in the 1800s shaped the world much the way it does today. 
Sarah Rose is the author of For All the Tea in China, which tells the true story of how tea and industrial espionage fueled the great expansion of the British Empire and the East India Company in the 1800s. The book focuses on one central character, Robert Fortune, who was a scientist sent by the British government to literally steal the secret of tea production from China, plant the Chinese tea in Darjeeling, and thus make the British Empire less reliant on trade with the Chinese and more self-sufficient by harvesting its own tea in colonial India. 
How did you choose the subject of industrial espionage and tea?
An ex-boyfriend said to me, "I heard one guy stole tea from China. You should look into that…" Reading plant hunter Robert Fortune’s memoirs, he describes fighting off Chinese pirates and traveling into the interior of Imperial China while dressed up as a Chinese Mandarin. Pirates? Traveling in Chinese drag? The greatest theft of trade secrets in the history of the world? I can work with that, I thought. When we say “for all the tea in China,” it expresses inestimable value, tea was everything to the British Empire.

For All the Tea in China has a decidedly enterprising tone, echoing the time in which the book is set. Will the world ever see another period like that?
I think we’ve seen Robert Fortune’s kind of improvisation and pluck in very recent memory--the geeks at Xerox PARC were just as independent and their technology was just as world-changing. We’ve also seen massive multinational corporations brought down by overconfidence and over-extension, just like the East India Company.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Xingyi Bagua Zhang

I previously posted an article about a martial art about a martial art which combines Taijiquan and Bagua Zhang.

Here is another combination art: Xingyi Bagua Zhang.