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 27, 2011

The Etymology of Chinese Characters

I put up a post previously on how hard it is to learn an Asian language. Recently the noted sinologist Victor Mair posted an article about a computer programmer named Richard Sears who wanted to teach himself Chinese, and along the way created what may be the world's most extensive website on the etymology of Chinese characters. Prof Mair's post may be read in full here. An excerpt is below.

A 04: "An American guy makes China's sinologues embarrassed"
Richard Sears might be a nobody in the US, but he has certainly made a name for himself among the Chinese netizens. The guy spent 20 years creating a website that allows users to trace Chinese characters to their ancient shapes, helping users to see what a given character looked like when they were carved on animal bones and oracles or written on silk two or three thousand years ago.
Nobody in China, not even the professors who wrote so many books and made so much money, had created anything as remotely convenient for ancient Chinese researchers as he did.

This brief article also was published in a number of other newspapers in China, some with a picture of Richard Sears and sample illustrations from his website.

The website referred to by the article is Sears' "Chinese Etymology".

The Chinese article about Sears elicited a huge response on the Internet.  Sears told me, in a phone interview, that shortly after the article appeared his site received 600,000 page views in 24 hours, whereas before that he had been getting about 15,000 per day, half of them from Taiwan and China.  By yesterday, the page views had leveled off at around 150,000 per day.  After the Chinese article appeared, his e-mail spiked from a mere trickle to over a thousand in the last few days.  The comments on Chinese blogs that I have seen are spirited, with many of them expressing astonishment and shame at what Sears has accomplished ("How could a foreigner do all of this??!!"  "We Chinese are only interested in making money."  And so forth and so on.)

Sears' work, both in China and abroad, is widely recognized as being very useful, and he has invested an enormous amount of time and effort in it.  Indeed, Sears has labored for more than two decades to assemble and present the massive amount of data that is available on his site.  It is truly remarkable that one man could have done nearly all of this by himself.  The only help he received was from someone whom he hired to scan thousands of pages for him.  The conceptualization, design, programming, entry, and everything else, including much of the scanning, is entirely Sears' own handiwork.  For about 10-15 years, Sears had a good job in Silicon Valley, and that is how he could afford to pay for the scanning.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The 300 Tang Dynasy Poems: #40 Ballads of the Four Seasons - Summer

The Tang Dynasty was a high point in Chinese culture where art, especially poetry was especially esteemed. The finest works from this era were collected in the 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A free online version of the anthology may be found here.

Here is an example. Poem #40, Ballads of the Four Seasons - Summer by Li Bai


On Mirror Lake outspread for miles and miles,
The lotus lilies in full blossom teem.
In fifth moon Xi Shi gathers them with smiles,
Watchers o'erwhelm the bank of Yuoye Stream.
Her boat turns back without waiting moonrise
To yoyal house amid amorous sighs.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


"To live in the spring time of life until the age of 101. To perfect one form." 

Below is an excerpt from a post at Classical Tai Chi Blog. The full article may be read here.

"Another martial artist I was very fortunate to meet with a similar quality was Linyi Maslin's father: Master Wabu Young, a Tai Chi master.  He studied in Hong Kong under Master Wu Chien Chuan in the 30's after he came to Hong Kong from Shanghai to escape the Japanese.  He spent his whole life perfecting one kata.  Doing it square, round, regular and mirror image, fast and slow, large and small...the basics...doing the same Tai Chi form for 70 years.  He passed away in 2004 (correction: note that Grand Master Young Wabu passed away on April 18, 2005 at the age of 101 in Rochester, NY), dying a "typical Zen Master's death (but that's another story), exuding power and grace to the end.  The basics served him well.  When you have something that works well, why complicate it?"

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Purpose of Life

The Japanese have a term, "ikigai" which means something one lives for, the purpose of life, the raison  d'etre.

Below is an ad depicting the purpose of living for a handful of Taiwanese gentlemen. Enjoy.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Life on the Streets in Chendu China

Walt, over at A Plainly Hidden View, sent me this article. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.
The Other China: Life on the Streets, A Photo Essay

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Japanese Sword

It's clearly time for a post about Japanese swords.

Let's begin with an excerpt from a post by Chris Hellman (author of the book, The Samurai Mind) at Ichijoji. The whole article may be read here. The article is about Say no Uchi: "the sword within the scabbard."

One of the attractions of the Japanese martial arts are the esoteric sounding concepts it contains. One such is saya no uchi, which literally means 'within the saya' and is a shortening of a phrase which can be translated as 'victory is obtained while the sword is in the saya'.

It is an interesting concept, but like many others, it is open to a variety of interpretations. The principle differences in this case lie on either side of the line separating the classical martial arts and the more modern disciplines. Whatever we call them, we can see quite a large difference between the older disciplines which claim their primary focus is combat, and the more modern ones, especially those that have positioned themselves as modern budo. Their aims and philosophies also colour their interpretations of concepts such as saya no uchi. The differences are sometimes slight, but they are telling.

The next piece of from a newspaper article a friend sent me about Japanese swordsmanship in samurai movies. Again, an excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here.

Slashing Samurai: A Culture Savored

OUTSIDE, the streets of Greenwich Village were drowsy and dull with summer. But inside, in the darkness, blades slashed, top knots bobbed, screaming swordsmen crashed through rice-paper screens, and blood sprayed everywhere.

Ah, the summer of 1979. I was 13, and if it was Tuesday, I was at the Bleecker Street Cinema. Japanese movie day. More than likely my friends Ben and Dan were on either side of me. The screen was small, and the floor sticky, but we didn’t care. We were enthralled.

I’d like to say we were there to peer deeply into another culture’s cinema, for intricate tales of loyalty and honor, for the subtle and nuanced acting. But we weren’t.

We were there for the sword fights.

I’d like to say that as we emerged after a double feature onto the humid and yellowing streets in late afternoon, we engaged in thoughtful ruminations on character development, hidden messages and underlying themes. But we didn’t.

We acted out the sword fights.

Ben, demonstrating: “No — he slashed this way, downward, left to right.”

Dan: “No, no, no. You don’t know what you are talking about. Are you blind?”

They were brothers, two years apart. I was in the middle. I usually let them ague a bit before adding my two cents; invariably it was that they were both wrong.

We saw all the great ones: “Seven Samurai,” “Samurai Assassin,” “Samurai Rebellion,” “Yojimbo,” “Sanjuro,” “Lone Wolf and Cub,” “Lady Snowblood,” “Sleepy Eyes of Death,” Zatoichi this and Zatoichi that.

But my favorite, watched in stunned silence the first time and then, whenever it returned to that screen or that of any other revival house in Manhattan, was “The Sword of Doom,” Kihachi Okamoto’s black-and-white widescreen epic about an evil but monstrously skilled swordsman played by the great actor Tatsuya Nakadai.

It has a rare showing on Friday at Japan Society in a theater far more beautiful than those where I used to watch it. I doubt Ben or Dan or I will make it — we have six children among us, and I own the Criterion Collection’s fine DVD of the film — but I’ll certainly be there in spirit.

Our obsession with Japanese sword fighting led Ben and me to take up kendo, Japanese fencing, to which I returned several years ago. (I learned that actual sword fighting is not quite as easy as Tatsuya Nakadai makes it look.) I recently asked my sensei, then and now, Noboru Kataoka — himself an actor who goes as Ken Kensai — to name the greatest sword fight film of them all, and he answered, “The Sword of Doom” without missing a beat. He knows of what he speaks.

And finally, I would like to direct your attention to a simply beautiful posting at A Plainly Hidden View entitled "Slice of Life." An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here. Please pay a visit.

The Master spoke:
"Technique is to be practiced, confusing things resolved, mastery in actions attained, and one's essence and Principle comprehended. In this way deep inner awareness is attained. The master first teaches form without wasting a word about is significance; he simply waits for the student to discover this himself. This is called drawing but not shooting. Not because he is wicked does he withhold explanation. He does it simply because he wants the student to attain mastery through practice and the involvement of his Heart.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Who Needs Fiction: Crazy Hockey Parents

I thought you’d find this interesting. My immediate boss has a 10 year old who plays travel hockey and they were at a tournament in Canada over the holidays. One of the teams they played is ranked as the #2 team in North America (for 10 year olds!) and were losing to the American team.
The Canadian parents were going nuts. They got really ugly. The Canadians managed to win the game in the end, but it was an embarrassment for them to have to come from behind to beat some nobody American team.
After the game it was still ugly. The American coach came walking off the ice with a water bottle in each hand when one of the Canadian parents came up and grabbed him two handed by the throat and started to threaten him.
The American coach gave him the option of removing his hands or having his hands removed. The Canadian responded by jamming his thumbs into the American’s throat.
The American coach is a 3rd Dan in Karate.
As described by my boss, he swung his arms over, in and down to collapse the Canadian’s arms at the elbow and swept his feet out from under him, causing him to go down hard.
As another Canadian parent was reaching in towards the American, there was a wave of people who swept over them basically leaving a pile of bodies all heaped on top of the American at the bottom. There was a loud ‘snap’, followed by the Canadian who was reaching in to start screaming his head off.
By that time the police arrived and started to sort things out. The American coach and others who got roughed up pressed charges.
It was the third offense in a hockey arena for that Canadian parent who started the whole thing. He’s been charged with something or another and is looking at a couple of years of prison time. The prosecutor was pretty confident that he’d win the case and felt the defendant needed to be an example to other out of control hockey parents.
The Canadian team coach apologized to the American team. He said he’s not a parent coach, but a paid coach and will be removing some kids from the roster.
The tournament director felt that the Canadian kids shouldn’t be punished for their parents being morons, but banned the parents from the arena for the rest of the tournament, which the Canadian kids went on to win. The only adults associated with the team to see them win were their coaches.
The whole thing was recorded on a security camera. The American coach filed a freedom of information act (Canadian equivalent) request to obtain it for the civil case he’s filing. It’s sure to make its way around the hockey club and I will eventually get to see it.
Who needs fiction?

How do you think you would have responded in the American coach's shoes?

Monday, June 06, 2011

On War

Below is an excerpt from a post at StratBlog, by Walter Russel Mead who teaches Grand Strategy at Bard College. The full post may be read here.

Clausewitz: Master of War

Walter Russell Mead

I’m busy reading final papers for the grand strategy seminar at Bard this spring, and the students are finishing up their exams and thinking about summer.  It’s already time to start reading and thinking about the syllabus for the fall course in Anglo-American grand strategy.  British and American strategic thinkers and policy makers developed a new form of global strategy in the last 300 years that enabled the two English speaking powers to build a global political and security order resting on a foundation of liberal capitalism.  Understanding the grand strategy that shaped the modern world is surely something that students everywhere should learn about, but I think the Bard course is one of only a handful that tries to prepare students to think systematically about these power realities in the contemporary world.

But the reading that looms over these final weeks of the spring course comes out of European rather than Atlantic grand strategy.  We’ve been reading and reflecting on Carl Phillipp Gottfried von Clausewitz.  Clausewitz’s unfinished masterpiece On War stands out as perhaps the greatest work of strategic thought human reflection has yet produced.  Coming as it does in both the Yale and the Bard curricula after a series of other classics going back to Sun Tzu, Clausewitz’s treatment, even in its somewhat muddled state, stands out as the most comprehensive and clear cut statement on a host of vital topics connected to power and to war.

It belongs on that short list of classics that serious people should read and reread during their lives, but it is one of many classics that our culture neglects.  Our somewhat PC and namby-pamby age generally puts works like On War somewhere back in the stacks hoping perhaps that if nobody thinks about war there won’t be any. There is also a certain feeling that a book this blunt and power focused should not be part of a liberal arts curriculum.

This is idiocy.  War is in some ways the most human of activities: it is about defining and achieving objectives in cooperation with some people, all-out opposition from others, in a contest that draws on every talent and tests every virtue that we have.  Even those of us whose life plans do not involve storming up a hillside under enemy fire can learn from the way Clausewitz analyzes leadership and war.  More, to ignore war in an education is to leave students ignorant about one of the central features of civilization and human life.

Clausewitz wrote at a golden moment in western history.  The Enlightenment and the burgeoning scientific revolution had created an ability to think systematically about complex phenomena.  From Karl von Linnaeus’ creation of an orderly system for reducing the chaos of the animal kingdom into something comprehensible to Isaac Newton’s analysis of celestial mechanics, as well as Adam Smith’s study of political economy and even Napoleon’s creation of a legal code that reduced two thousand years of western legal practice into a system that could serve the needs of a vastly more complex society, the last 100 years had been an age of powerful analytical breakthroughs based on painstaking observation.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Way and the Power

Another excellent post from the Newcastle Tai Chi Blog. Please pay them a visit.

The power

If 'the way' is difficult to comprehend, 'the power' may prove even more challenging for you.
Te refers to a power that can be used but not kept.

By according yourself with the way, you find that things flow.
You gain use of power.

Putting this into practice involves a combination of biomechanics, sensitivity, structure, perception and balance, rhythm and timing.
The effect is often quite astounding.
It may even look 'magical', but it is not magic at all. It is the direct application of Tao Te Ching.

If you are successful in according yourself with tao, then your application of tai chi will be graceful.
There will be no exerting or forcing.
Ease, gentleness, appropriateness... these are the hallmarks of skill.