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 ~

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Yakuza to the Rescue

A friend sent me this article by Jake Adelstein, an expert on the Yakuza, the author of Tokyo Vice and the Japan Subculture Research Center blog. Below is an excerpt from an article which appeared at the Daily Beast. The whole article may be read here.

Yakuza to the Rescue
by Jake Adelstein

The worst of times sometimes brings out the best in people, even in Japan’s “losers” a.k.a. the Japanese mafia, the yakuza. Hours after the first shock waves hit, two of the largest crime groups went into action, opening their offices to those stranded in Tokyo, and shipping food, water, and blankets to the devastated areas in two-ton trucks and whatever vehicles they could get moving. The day after the earthquake the Inagawa-kai (the third largest organized crime group in Japan which was founded in 1948) sent twenty-five four-ton trucks filled with paper diapers, instant ramen, batteries, flashlights, drinks, and the essentials of daily life to the Tohoku region. An executive in Sumiyoshi-kai, the second-largest crime group, even offered refuge to members of the foreign community—something unheard of in a still slightly xenophobic nation, especially amongst the right-wing yakuza. The Yamaguchi-gumi, Japan’s largest crime group, under the leadership of Tadashi Irie, has also opened its offices across the country to the public and been sending truckloads of supplies, but very quietly and without any fanfare.

The Inagawa-kai has been the most active because it has strong roots in the areas hit. It has several "blocks" or regional groups. Between midnight on March 12th and the early morning of March 13th, the Inagawa-kai Tokyo block carried 50 tons of supplies to Hitachinaka City Hall (Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture) and dropped them off, careful not to mention their yakuza affiliation so that the donations weren't rejected. This was the beginning of their humanitarian efforts. Supplies included cup ramen, bean sprouts, paper diapers, tea and drinking water. The drive from Tokyo took them twelve hours. They went through back roads to get there. The Kanagawa Block of the Inagawa-kai, has sent 70 trucks to the Ibaraki and Fukushima areas to drop off supplies in areas with high radiations levels. They didn't keep track of how many tons of supplies they moved. The Inagawa-kai as a whole has moved over 100 tons of supplies to the Tohoku region. They have been going into radiated areas without any protection or potassium iodide.

The Yamaguchi-gumi member I spoke with said simply, "Please don't say any more than we are doing our best to help. Right now, no one wants to be associated with us and we'd hate to have our donations rejected out of hand."

To those not familiar with the yakuza, it may come as a shock to hear of their philanthropy, but this is not the first time that they have displayed a humanitarian impulse. In 1995, after the Kobe earthquake, the Yamaguchi-gumi was one of the most responsive forces on the ground, quickly getting supplies to the affected areas and distributing them to the local people. Admittedly, much of those supplies were paid with by money from years of shaking down the people in the area, and they were certainly not unaware of the public relations factor—but no one can deny that they were helpful when people needed aid—as they are this time as well.

It may seem puzzling that the yakuza, which are organized crime groups, deriving their principal revenue streams from illegal activities, such as collecting protection money, blackmail, extortion, and fraud would have any civic nature at all. However, in Japan since the post-war period they have always played a role in keeping the peace. According to Robert Whiting’s Tokyo Underworld and Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the US government even bought the services of one infamous yakuza fixer, Yoshio Kodama, to keep Japan from going communist and maintain order. Kodama would later put up the funding to create the Liberal Democrat Party of Japan that ruled the country for over fifty years. When President Obama visited Japan last year, the police contacted the heads of all Tokyo yakuza groups and asked them to behave themselves and make sure there were no problems.

As one members said, “There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese. We all need to help each other.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Biographies of Musashi

At the Ichi Joji blog, the author (Christopher Hellman, who is the author of The Samurai Mind) has posted a review of a new book on the historical Miyamoto Musashi, as well as some comments on other existing books on the famous samurai. I've excerpted a portion below. The full article may be read here.

The commonly told of Miyamoto Musashi is a much patched version taken from a variety of sources of varying reliability, stitched together in what has become a familiar pattern, including large doses of speculation and outright fiction. Of course, much of the fiction comes from Yoshikawa Eiji's novel, which many of the subsequent movie and TV versions were based on. His version, which drew heavily from previous versions and documents, some of which contained greater or lesser amounts of reliable historical information, has become a kind of de facto story of Musashi's life.

It was only when reading through William de Lange's new(ish) translation of the Bushu Denraiki, one of these source documents, that I realised how little detail there is on these documents in English, even when you include William Wilson's 'The Lone Swordsman' and Kenji Tokitsu's 'Miyamoto Musashi: his life and writings'. While Wilson used a wide variety of sources, he steers clear of discussing them individually, and while Tokitsu is good on Musashi's own writings (and lots else besides), he gives less information on sources about Musashi's life.

De Lange is particularly good on just this sort of thing, laying the historical context out clearly and providing extensive notes and background on the major figures involved (albeit tangentially, in some cases) in Musashi's life. He gives a valuable explanation of the relationships between these major sources, which goes a long way to helping us understand the roots of the legend.

The source documents which form the basis of what we know about Musashi's life fall into two parallel streams: the Bushu Denraiki (1727) itself, written by a 4th generation successor to the Niten Ichi-ryu, Tachibana Minehira, and the Hyoho (sometimes written as Heiho) Senshi Denki (1782) which was written by a 'grand-student' of Minehira's, who had left Fukuoka and settled in Harima, one Niwa Nobuhide, and based his account on what he could remember of  Minehira's original, embroidering where necessary to fill in the gaps. This stream of knowledge was Kyushu based, and was connected with the Kuroda clan, with whom Musashi had strong connections early in his career.

The other stream was connected with the Hosokawa family, with whom Musashi was close to in his later life. Tokitsu also mention this, (though he gives different readings of the names, as well as different dates). According to de Lange, the Bukoden (1755) was compiled by Toyoda Masanaga, then rewritten in an updated and clearer form by his son, Toyoda Masashige (1776) as the Nitenki (which is perhaps the source most commonly quoted from).

In addition, there is the Kokura Hibun, which is not a document as such, but a stone monument set up by Musashi's adopted son Iori in 1654. This is the earliest account of Musashi's life, and although it is generally considered accurate, it must be considered a partisan account. (There are other, contemporary, references to Musashi, but not accounts of his life).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

2011 Lenten Challenge Update

This update on the Lenten Challenge is a little happier than the last one.

My practice has been strong, I feel great and my mind is clear.

How's it going for you?

Monday, March 21, 2011


Of green
dreams in winter,
thawed brooks purl anew.
Phantom sunflowers touch the sky

春 の 道子

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Genesis of the Spartans

Steven Pressfield, the author of Gates of Fire has an article at his blog on "How the Spartans Became the Spartans." Below is an excerpt. The whole article may be read here.

How the Spartans Became the Spartans

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 7, 2011

Chapter 12   How the Spartans Became the Spartans
All warrior cultures start with a great man.
In ancient Sparta, that man was Lycurgus. He took the city from a normal society and made it into a warrior culture.
So that no individual would have grounds to feel superior to another, Lycurgus divided the country into 9000 equal plots of land. To each family he gave one plot. Further, he decreed that the men no longer be called “citizens,” but “peers” or “equals.”
So that no man might compete with another or put on airs over wealth, Lycurgus outlawed money. A coin sufficient to purchase a loaf of bread was made of iron, the size of a man’s head and weighing over thirty pounds. So ridiculous was such coinage that men no longer coveted wealth but pursued virtue instead.
Lycurgus outlawed all occupations except warrior. He decreed that no name could be inscribed on a tombstone except that of a woman who died in childbirth or a man killed on the battlefield. A Spartan entered the army at eighteen and remained in service till he was sixty; he regarded all other occupations as unfitting for a man.
Once a Spartan was visiting Athens. His Athenian host threw a banquet in his honor. Wishing to show off for his guest, the Athenian indicated several illustrious personages around the table. “That man there is the greatest sculptor in Greece,” he declared, “and that gentleman yonder is its finest architect.” The Spartan indicated a servant from his own entourage. “Yes,” he said, “and that man there makes a very tasty bowl of soup.”
The Athenians, of course, were outstanding warriors in their own right. The great playwright Aeschylus, composing his own epitaph, mentioned nothing of his ninety plays or of any other civilian accomplishment.
Here lies Aeschylus the Athenian. Of his courage at the battle of Marathon, the long- haired Persian could speak much.
Lycurgus decreed that no man under thirty could eat dinner at home with his family. Instead, he instituted “common messes” of fourteen or fifteen men who were part of the same platoon or military unit. Above the threshold of each mess was a sign that said:
Out this door, nothing.
The point of the common mess was to bind the men together as friends. “Even horses and dogs who are fed together,” observed Xenophon, “form bonds and become attached to one another.”
The payoff came, of course, on the battlefield.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Accepting the Unknown

I've posted an excerpt from an article below that is primarily meant for investors, but I think is appropriate for everyone to read during tumultuous time. The whole article may be read here.

Accepting the Unknown
The Street

, On Thursday March 17, 2011, 10:00 am

During the course of the week, the biggest surprise to me has not been the actions or gyrations of the market on a day-to-day basis. They have been a little puzzling, as the global situation is a little rocky, to say the least.

However, I would have expected deeper declines than we have seen. Major damage to the world's third-largest economy and armed conflict in the world's largest crude-oil producing region would have produced a little more fear -- if black boxes could feel fear; that's my best guess at the dampened reaction. What has surprised me the most, though, has been traders' and investors' willingness to take such a clear, black-and-white stance on what will happen now.

It seems that many guys and gals with accounting and finance degrees have suddenly become nuclear experts. In the past week, people who could not tell the difference between a picture of a coal-fired plant and a nuke plant have told me in great degree and detail what's going to happen to the nuclear industry and with the nuclear stocks. At this time, even though we do not know what's happening at the Japanese nuclear plants or how the situation is going to end, people are projecting the future of nuclear energy in Japan and around the globe. To someone who has the margin of safety concept ingrained in his core, I am dumbfounded by the fact that people will back these relatively uninformed opinions by buying or shorting stocks in nuclear and uranium stocks.

In the same manner, a lot of people who have spent their entire lives trading on statistical and fundamental data are immediate experts on things like electronics and supply chains, auto demand and manufacturing capability, and global macroeconomics. They will tell you exactly how many days it will take for Japanese plants to be up and running, and churning out Toyotas and iPod components; again, they are willing to risk their own capital on their idea. Since neither the Japanese government nor the companies involved are sure when they will be producing again and how much product they can ship, that's a fairly bold prediction. It's even bolder to back up your uninformed certainty with cash.

There are times when "I do not know" is a valid and correct statement. The aftermath of 9/11 was one such moment. I think now is another moment when it's okay -- and probably financially healthy -- to admit that the situation is still very fluid, and we just do not know the outcome and economic consequences from the disaster in Japan and the unrest in the Middle East. Rather than develop complex opinions about the economics of the global situation to justify trading or investing positions, it is best to stick with what you know and the expertise you have developed while navigating the markets.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Different Kind of Southern Wu Sytle Taijiquan

Wu Quanyou (1834-1902) learned Taijiquan from Yang Lu Chan and his son, Yang Pan Hou. Wu in turn eventually had his own students.

When Wu relocated to Shanghai, the students he left behind continued to teach, and they became known as the Northern Wu Style of Taijiquan. It would be fair to call the art that passed down through Wu's family the Southern Wu Style of Taijiquan.

It would be fair, but that's not what this post is about.

Down in the southern United States, David Lenkovitski teaches a branch of the Wu Family Style of Taijiquan in Rogers Arkansas, at the RabBoar Studio. David has been practicing Taijiquan for over 30 years, and while he has experience in several different styles, he carries on what he has been taught by a famous inside student of Wu GongYi, Rock Ng (Wu Gaotai), where the "quan jit" or square form as taught to the family and inside students is emphasized.

I asked David if he could provide a few words to provide some insight into his study and practice of taijiquan. His response is below. Please pay his website a visit. There's a forum focused on the Wu style of taijiquan trying to get off the ground as well. Enjoy.

There are 3 elements comprising the introductory years of internal practice.

1. letting go, a process of dissolving the affects / mind knots / body armor, essentially a 'not doing' or yin process, just open your hands (mind / body...) and stop holding to the old trash.

2. chi to DT ++, a process of replenishment, accumulating post natal chi in the DT, 'cooking' it and adding the results to the one chi. This is a neutral process, where 'natural' processes are given a 'place' to occur.

3. rebuilding the original balances and alignments of the bones & joints, muscles and fascia through correct application of basic and form work. This is an active, yang process, even the re-acquisition of sung is active.

An excerpt from an article is below. The whole article may be read here.

Less Better, understanding Tai Chi Chuan

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism  is an ancient mechanical computer[1][2] designed to calculate astronomical positions. It was recovered in 1900–01 from the Antikythera wreck,[3] but its complexity and significance were not understood until decades later. It is now thought to have been built about 150–100 BCE.[citation needed] The degree of mechanical sophistication is comparable to a 19th century Swiss clock.[4] Technological artifacts of similar complexity and workmanship did not reappear until the 14th century, when mechanical astronomical clocks appeared in Europe.

Pretty amazing, huh:? How about recreating it with ... Legos?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Propensity of Things

I've mentioned several times that one of my favorite authors is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.

I read somewhere where one of his favorite authors is Francois Jullien, a French sinologist and the author of The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China

The propensity of things. Understanding this opens the way to wu wei, effortless action.

Below are excerpts from a review at the MIT Press.

The Propensity of Things
Toward a History of Efficacy in China
François Jullien
Translated by Janet Lloyd

In this strikingly original contribution to our understanding of Chinese philosophy, Fran&ccedille;ois Julien, a French sinologist whose work has not yet appeared in English uses the Chinese concept of shi—meaning disposition or circumstance, power or potential—as a touchstone to explore Chinese culture and to uncover the intricate and coherent structure underlying Chinese modes of thinking.

Jullien begins with a single Chinese term, shi, whose very ambivalence and disconcerting polysemy, on the one hand, and simple efficacy, on the other, defy the order of a concept. Yet shi insinuates itself into the ordering and conditioning of reality in all its manifold and complex representations. Because shi neither gave rise to any coherent, general analysis nor figured as one of the major concepts among Chinese thinkers, Jullien follows its appearance from one field to another: from military strategy to politics; from the aesthetics of calligraphy and painting to the theory of literature; and from reflection on history to "first philosophy."

At the point where these various domains intersect, a fundamental intuition assumed self-evident for centuries emerges, namely, that reality—every kind of reality—may be perceived as a particular deployment or arrangement of things to be relied upon and worked to one's advantage. Art or wisdom, as conceived by the Chinese, lies in strategically exploiting the propensity that emanates from this particular configuration of reality. 

While we're on the subject, I also want to highlight The Disputers of the Tao by Angus C. Graham. This book is a a history of philosophical thought in ancient China and really puts Daoism in context. This is really a classic.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Lenten Challenge Update

I don't usually post an update on how the Lenten Challenge is going this early on (less than one full day into it!), but I thought today's events might be interesting and pertinent.

One of the reasons I study martial arts is to help cultivate a calm mind. I think it's far more likely that a calm mind will help me deal with the random events that pop up during the day than fighting ability.

So there I am Monday evening, on a business trip, having dinner with one of my colleagues when I notice a voicemail on my phone. I see it's my youngest (20 year old) daughter, and I'll call her back when I return to the hotel.

I get back to my room and listen to the voice mail. She's upset and crying. She's been in a car accident, and no one is hurt.

I call her immediately. She's with her mother and older sister. She's calmed down now. While going through a yellow light, a person coming the other way decided to turn left and together they proved a proposition of physics that two physical object may not occupy the same space at the same time.

The car was undrivable and had been towed away. The airbags went off and her boyfriend, who was a passenger, now has a friction burn on his face from the airbag.

I ask the older sister (24) how Mom took it. You see, the Mrs is undergoing a certain chemical transformation common to women of her age. A side effect is that she hasn't slept well for years and one of the things this all adds up to is an inability to process the unexpected easily. I was very pleased to learn that rather than bouncing off the walls, after the initial shock she took the news more or less calmly and did her best to sooth our youngest who had been really shaken up.

Your whole life can change as a result of one phone call.

There wasn't anything I could do that night, and I had my meetings in the morning, but I assigned the youngest some phone calls to make and some information to gather so I could make an insurance claim and get the proverbial wheels turning the next day to get the car back on the road.

I made the claim. The insurance company was suppsosed to pick up the car the next morning (when I would be in town) and take it to the body shop I designated. Fine.

One of the reasons it's important to have a calm, open and flexible mind is that in situations like this, the truth seems to change a little with every new person with which you have a transaction.

The towing company called to say that they wouldn't release the car until I came down there and showed them the registration and proof of insurance. Ok, fine. A slight change of plans.

We get down there to liberate the car and to check out the wreck. My daughter's boyfriend had his glasses knocked off by the airbag and in the excitement after the crash, didn't bother to look for them. Maybe they were still in the car. Nope. Not there.

The car is a 2004 Grand Am. The question would be whether they'd pay to fix it or just total it. The frond end to up in front of the front wheels was pretty mashed, but I didn't think it was that bad, all things considered.

The car gets towed to the body shop and the insurance adjuster checks it out. $9000 worth of damage, and the Blue Book for the car is $5 - 7000. They are totalling it.

Now the Mrs starts bouncing off the walls. This was one surprise to many. The daughter starts bouncing off the walls as well.

Both their reactions are human nature. The Mrs, with one additional piece of bad news to process was simply reacting. The daughter had to process the bad news as well, and in addition was mirroring her mother. We have to buy another used car for the daughter, and the Mrs doesn't want to buy a car from a stranger, because you can so easily just be buying someone else's problem (we had the Grand Am new). Replacing the car was a can of worms that really upset her.

I managed to get them both calmed down, by being calm myself. The daughter barely uses the car at all while she's at school and really doesn't need a replacement until the school year is over at the end of April. We can wait a couple of days to see what the settlement check will be.

One of my daughter's friends has 3 or 4 uncles plus a grand father who are all car brokers. Their business is finding used cars and selling them to used car lots. They see a LOT of cars every day and can quickly size up a good one from a lemon. We'll ask them to find us a replacement.

The fires are out (or at least under contol), the wheels are turning and practice tonight has never been as sweet.

The Lenten Challenge Starts ... Now!

Bring it on!

To practice is easy. To become one who practices, is not.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Assimilation of English into Chinese

Below is an excerpt from a post at the Language Log blog by noted sinologist Victor Mair. The whole post may be read here.

The Assimilation of English in Chinese

The varieties of Chinese English are so numerous as to defy complete listing.  To name only the better known, we have pidgin, Chinglish, Singlish, Zhonglish, China English, Chinese-English, and sinographically transcribed English.  Martian Language, Internet Language, and much scientific, technological, and academic prose also are more or less saturated with English words.  Advertising language is particularly fond of using English words and phrases, often in very clever and unusual ways that are particularly well suited to the Chinese linguistic and cultural environment.

There have even been attempts to write English words in the shape of Chinese characters, the most famous being the "Square-Word Calligraphy" of the artist Xu Bing:  whole passage; character for "excellence"; character for "respect"; character for "elegance"; character for "design".

One type of Chinese writing that frequently displays a conspicuous amount of English vocabulary is poetry. 

Indeed, some Chinese poems use English words in quite ingenious ways and are of excellent quality.  I remember one in particular from Taiwan that I read around twenty years ago.  It very effectively played with the idea that the word "love" was inside the word "glove" like a hand inside an actual glove.

A couple of weeks ago, I received the following anonymous poem in which each line ends with an English gerund or occasionally another -ing construction.  I honestly don't think that the poem is very well written, but it certainly is a curious specimen.  The fact that such a poem could be composed and circulated on the Internet with the expectation that people would have no difficulty understanding it shows the degree to which hybrid Chinese-English styles of writing are accepted — outside of narrow, purist circles.

The title of the poem implies that "human life is full of laughing," and the first stanza may be translated thus:
Close your eyes and think hard,
Human life is like a painting,
With dots and drops, how to color it?
It all depends on how you're planning.

Friday, March 04, 2011

2011 Lenten Challenge

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 (Mar 9) until Easter (April 23), 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 dates for Lent as is marked on their calendar. For the Eastern Church, Lent begins on March 7 and so will I.

Won't you join me?

Best Regards


Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Art of Ogata Gekko

A friend send me this link to a website dedicated to Ogata Gekko (1859 - 1920), one of the first Japanese artists to be recognized internationally. The site is almost overwhelming in the examples of his handiwork.

The painting that accompanies this post is an example of his art.