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 ~

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Strategy of Yin

Below is an exceprt from Walter Russel Mead's Stratblog. The full post may be read here.

I’d been thinking a lot about British history this spring; in the Bard grand strategy course, we moved from Machiavelli’s prescriptions for Italy to Elizabeth I, Philip II, and the struggle for England.  The text we used was Garrett Mattingly’s delightful The Armada, a triumph of scholarship, strategic analysis and literature all at once.

Even today, when historical knowledge once thought central to an understanding of American society and politics has been largely forgotten, many students still have a vague knowledge that there was once something called the Armada, and that it failed.  But the details and the drama of that history have been lost along with much else; one of Garrett Mattingly’s many successes is that he makes that history come alive.

More than that, he recreates the complicated political and strategic environment in which Philip and Elizabeth operated.  The complicated story of the three-cornered civil war in France between the fanatically pro-Catholic (and Spanish-supported) Holy League, the weak but crafty Henri III, and the Huguenot armies under Henri King of Navarre (for whom, famously, Paris was well worth a mass) is made clear.  The murky struggle between the Protestant Dutch rebels and the redoubtable Duke of Parma is explained, along with Elizabeth’s grudging and half-hearted support for the rebel cause.  

Something of the complex calculations of Philip II, ruler of the greatest empire in world history up to that date, as well as the power of the faith that drove him is explained as well.  And Mattingly gives an extraordinarily vivid picture of Elizabeth and her realm as he illuminates the twists and turns of her policy.

What he also does, and rather brilliantly, is to show how all the might of England rests on the achievements of a canny and resourceful woman whose greatest asset was her grasp of the powers of the weak.
A grand strategy course concentrates mostly on strength: how to acquire it, how to defend it, how to use it.  Elizabeth I was never a strong monarch in the classic sense.  Her government was always underfunded, and she had to coax any additional revenue from a stingy Parliament.  Her realm was religiously divided; the North remained largely Catholic, and English Protestants were increasingly divided between moderate and radical factions.
Mattingly makes the case that Elizabeth’s irresolution and dithering reflected her strategic genius, not her character flaws or her ‘unworthy’ gender.
Elizabeth’s story illustrates that there is more than one way to succeed.  The weak have resources denied to the strong.  The party on defense, a Clausewitzian would say, may be weaker in some respects — but the defense is inherently stronger than offense in war and a clever and resourceful defender may well prevail over a stronger opponent.  Elizabeth understood this perfectly and her resourceful weakness laid the foundations of Britain’s eventual strength.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

On Double Weighting

One of the mistakes one can make while practicing Taijiquan is to be "double weighted". Below is a guest article my Jim Roach, the senior student of Master Stephen Hwa of the Wu style of Taijiquan. Mr. Roach is the author of a blog, ClassicalTaiChiBlog.

"The Tai Chi Classics say: “Anyone who has spent years of practice and still cannot neutralize, and is always controlled by his opponent,has not apprehended the fault of double-weightedness.  To avoid this fault one must distinguish yin from yang.”

 A student recently stated: “You are standing double-weighted”.  This is not the first time that a student has said this to me and  their observations were incorrect. This bears out the statement by my teacher Master Stephen Hwa:  “sometimes the appearance of reality is actually an illusion”.He continues by saying “My students in class often told me that they thought I was moving certain way and try to do the same. Later they found out that their observation was not correct. That was the reason I incorporated different views in my video so you could see my moves at different angles to lessen the chance of wrong impression. Using a fresh eye to review the lesson video could also uncover any misinterpretation of my movements. The other thing to remember is “you perceive that you are moving a certain way, but in fact, you are not moving that way.”

In meeting this student,I watched his Tai Chi form and his standing still.   At one point, the student asked me to correct his stance, he then took the opportunity to “correct” mine.   I observed from several different angles  that he would stand and move with a step size of three foot lengths and more, (this is typically a large frame stance).  In addition, I observed that he used a pushing motion to shift his weight and in the “sitback” posture would not work to obtain a “crease” in the front of the trousers at the pelvic area.  He actually would sitback in a perfectly perpendicular stance, typical of large frame tai chi.

Typically, I will stand in either a Compact or Tight-compact form with the step size ranging from one and a half foot lengths to two and a half foot lengths.  The photo above  illustrates this  step size.  From a view that is looking down at the feet ( the only angle from where the practitioner was looking)  it may appear that the feet are double weighted, particularly to a beginner.  This however is one of the very important advantages of the Classical Tai Chi footwork.  It is indeed hard to determine where the practitioner’s weight is, that is also a very important strategic advantage. From these compact positions I can lift either foot in a split second, a great advantage for speed and fluidity.

In thinking about this article, I decided to research the term “double weighted” in numerous books which I list below.  After sifting through all of them, one thing began to stand out and that was their ignorance of their own limitations.  In every case the author makes a claim that a student can become aware of their own weight distribution and work to correct double weighting.  The common thread in all theses is that “double-weighting” occurs at a moment in time when the weight is equal on two sides of the body.

They ascertain what they think double weighting looks like but what they fail to ascertain however is the root cause of the double weighting.  The root cause of double weighting is the “pushing from the back foot” in going forward and “push from the front foot” in going backward in a large frame that the vast majority of practitioner’s engage in while moving.   The root cause I speak of is a direct result of this pushing because both feet are literally glued/frozen to the ground until the act of pushing is completed.  A foot that is stuck to the ground, cannot be picked up and moved…hence the stance is double weighted. 

As I observed in the student’s own stance in performing the Tai Chi form and stance in push hands,  the root cause comes from a large frame stance.  The act of pushing is also a built in facet of large frame stances, in other words, large frame has to push in order to move…it cannot use the feet to pull.  The pull in those stances is ineffectual simply because the larger size of the stance inhibits the act of pulling.  To compound the ignorance, practitioner’s of large frame insist that they are doing an “internal” art when what they are really doing is external.  It takes no internal movement of the core to push with the back leg, if that were true then the everyday act of walking would intrinsically be an internal martial art.  Walking defined by one author as the act of controlled falling because of all the momentum one has to generate in order to keep thrusting one leg in front of another.  This done not only to move but to stay erect while moving.

On the contrary, one can make the act of everyday walking into an internal art by adapting the Classical Tai Chi walk with its important characteristics of 1.) Using a “pull” walking motion, 2.) Keeping the body center of gravity under control, not allowing it to fall forward as defined as normal walking (we must eschew the act of controlled “falling”), 3.) Body weight stays back until foot (whether in front or back) is flat on the ground, then one pulls…one does not land the foot either on the heel or toe.

I find it interesting that some really good information on double weighting came from my teacher’s own book: “Uncovering the Treasure” by Stephen Hwa.  The information comes from subjects in the book however that large frame practitioner’s would never associate with double weighting…namely the subject of “pushing”.  PP., 48, 103 and 122 will find the use of the word “pushing” associated with double weightedness.

P. 122:  If you wish to stick to an opponent, you cannot push with the back or front foot and expect to be fluid enough to follow their movement.  The act of pushing will always lead to double weight.
P. 103:  One can certainly generate (jin or even fa jin) force from a pushing leg in a large frame, but it still leads inevitably to a double weight situation.
P. 48:  Back foot pushing as front foot lands on heel is a major contributor to slps and falls and in that situation the stance is double weighted.

Actually, if one wishes to "push" an opponent, it is best done with the front foot off the ground so that the pushing force goes directly into the opponent not to the ground to be double weighted.  As my teacher says, "pushing is always strongest in the upward direction, look at what track and field sprinters do before starting...they crouch".

My references include:
Arthur Orawski in : Tai Chi a personal learning experience, pg. 1165, 1996
Ray Pawlett in The Tai Chi Handbook, pg. 83
Lawrence Galante in Tai Chi, The Supreme Ultimate, pg. 83

Additional “double weighted” references:
Black Belt Magazine October 1987 article by  Wei Lun Huang 
The Essential Movements of Tai Chi”, p. 24, John Kotsias 
The Tai Chi Book, p. 36 Robert Chuckrow

Additional references:
Complete Tai Chi, p. 87 Alfred Huang
Hwa yu tai chi, p. 80, Glenn Newth
Gateway to the Miraculous, p.115 by Wolfe Lowenthal
Sunrise Tai Chi,  p. 6, Ramel Rones

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Unmovable Mind

This post marks a milestone of sorts. This is my 1000th post at Cook Ding's Kitchen.

A friend sent me an article from which I've posted an extract below. The full article may be read here.

The calligraphy reads "Fudoushin" which means "Immovable Mind."

When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays

A quick experiment. Before proceeding to the next paragraph, let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Close your eyes for a few seconds, starting ... now.

And now, welcome back for the hypothesis of our experiment: Wherever your mind went — the South Seas, your job, your lunch, your unpaid bills — that daydreaming is not likely to make you as happy as focusing intensely on the rest of this column will.

I’m not sure I believe this prediction, but I can assure you it is based on an enormous amount of daydreaming cataloged in the current issue of Science. Using an iPhone app called trackyourhappiness, psychologists at Harvard contacted people around the world at random intervals to ask how they were feeling, what they were doing and what they were thinking.

The least surprising finding, based on a quarter-million responses from more than 2,200 people, was that the happiest people in the world were the ones in the midst of enjoying sex. Or at least they were enjoying it until the iPhone interrupted.

The researchers are not sure how many of them stopped to pick up the phone and how many waited until afterward to respond. Nor, unfortunately, is there any way to gauge what thoughts — happy, unhappy, murderous — went through their partners’ minds when they tried to resume.

When asked to rate their feelings on a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being “very good,” the people having sex gave an average rating of 90. That was a good 15 points higher than the next-best activity, exercising, which was followed closely by conversation, listening to music, taking a walk, eating, praying and meditating, cooking, shopping, taking care of one’s children and reading. Near the bottom of the list were personal grooming, commuting and working.

When asked their thoughts, the people in flagrante were models of concentration: only 10 percent of the time did their thoughts stray from their endeavors. But when people were doing anything else, their minds wandered at least 30 percent of the time, and as much as 65 percent of the time (recorded during moments of personal grooming, clearly a less than scintillating enterprise).

On average throughout all the quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time. That figure surprised the researchers, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert.

“I find it kind of weird now to look down a crowded street and realize that half the people aren’t really there,” Dr. Gilbert says.

You might suppose that if people’s minds wander while they’re having fun, then those stray thoughts are liable to be about something pleasant — and that was indeed the case with those happy campers having sex. But for the other 99.5 percent of the people, there was no correlation between the joy of the activity and the pleasantness of their thoughts.

“Even if you’re doing something that’s really enjoyable,” Mr. Killingsworth says, “that doesn’t seem to protect against negative thoughts. The rate of mind-wandering is lower for more enjoyable activities, but when people wander they are just as likely to wander toward negative thoughts.”

Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Old Karate Stories from Okinawa

From an article that appeared in Classical Fighting Arts, and was reprinted at, the son of the famous Okinawan Karateka Choki Motobu speaks of his legendary father and karate stories from old Okinawa. An excerpt appears below. The full article may be read here.

A Meeting With Chosei Motobu by Graham Noble

The renewed interest in Choki Motobu has been a feature of the recent study of karate history. Anyone interested in the development of karate was well aware of Choki Motobu's name, but little if anything was known about his life and technique. He seemed to have left few living students, his dojo had long since closed down, and although he had written two books, few people were aware of them, and anyway, they had been out of print for decades. There was even a view -- and I heard this personally from a couple of senior Japanese teachers -- that Motobu was not a true karate master but rather just a fighter who made use of karate techniques.

But, as research into karate history developed, people began to look afresh at Choki Motobu and his legacy. Bit by bit material became available, and gradually it became possible to get some idea of his life and methods. Then just a couple of years ago Kimo Ferreira, a kempo instructor from Hawaii, made contact with Choki Motobu's son Chosei and helped introduce him to American karateka. In July 2002 when Kimo and his wife Kiko accompanied Chosei Sensei and his senior student Takeji Inaba to England for a seminar, they stopped off in London for some sightseeing, and this is where Harry Cook and I were able to meet the group and try and find out a little more about Motobu karate. Chosei Sensei does not speak English, but Keiko did a great job translating.

At the time of the meeting Chosei Motobu was seventy-eight and Takeji Inaba seventy-four, and they were remarkably sprightly for their age. Not long before, they had completed their Tsunami video, on which they personally demonstrate all the techniques. Chosei had spent his working life as a policeman in Osaka, and when he retired he decided to devote his time to the development of Motobu style karate.

He had studied karate with his father, he told us, from the age of fourteen, when Choki Sensei would come down from Tokyo to visit his family in Osaka. The training ceased when Chosei was seventeen and Choki Motobu returned to Okinawa. Chosei did not learn karate from anyone else, though for a time he did train along with a student of the well known Shinpan Gusukuma (Shiroma). He recalled that this karateka (I thought I caught the name Kina, but can't be sure) would walk around the dojo on his toes as training for the front kick.

What did Choki Motobu teach his son? For kata, essentially Naihanchi, which constituted a kind of kihon, or basic training -- Motobu did not teach the modern method of moving up and down the dojo drilling single techniques -- and kumite, mainly the twelve kumite sequences shown in his 1926 book and in Chosei's recent Tsunami video. Choki Motobu also stressed two points: 1. Always irimi (enter): move into your opponent's territory, don't step backwards; 2. Don't stand in neko ashi (cat) stance. This is a defensive position, and Motobu used to say that if you take up this stance, in a way you are telling the opponent you are losing. He may also have found that the neko ashi stance hadn't worked out too well in the numerous close quarters fights he had had back in Okinawa.

Choki Motobu used kicks, but sparingly. He taught that kicking should not be used as a first attack. There are risks in kicking, and Motobu considered that you should only kick when you have a strength advantage over your opponent, (60 to 40, according to Chosei), or when you have first hit him with a punch or a strike. Timing is essential: you have to choose the right moment when you will knock the opponent down with one kick. Also, don't kick higher than the waist.

We mentioned that Choki Motobu's karate was close range, in contrast to Funakoshi's Shotokan, for example, where opponents take up kumite positions a relatively long distance apart. At this, Chosei Motobu stood up to demonstrate with Inaba Sensei. The engagement was from a close distance, forearms in contact ("a basic training form"), and Chosei explained that at this distance it was easier to control the opponent and anticipate his actions. When a punch was thrown Chosei blocked it close in. The non-blocking hand was not pulled back to the hip in the orthodox hikite position, but kept close in front of the body, where it was ready to block a second punch, as Chosei demonstrated. In Motobu karate both hands are often used together, and this is called meotode, or "husband-and-wife hand"; the hands are close and work together to achieve the desired result. We mentioned that Choki Motobu would often use the front hand to strike, and Chosei said yes, a student (maybe it was Hironori Ohtsuka) had once asked Choki which hand should be used to strike, and he had replied, "The hand closest to the opponent."

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Not So Fast

Some thoughts on doing the taijiquan form correctly, not slowly.

Everyone is familiar with seeing the taijiquan form being practiced slowly. I don’t see that slowness is actually the characteristic that is being refined, but of not being in a hurry. Without paying attention to what we’re really doing, even if you start the form slowly, you’ll find yourself going faster and faster as you get towards the end. The taijiquan form can be practiced fast as well, but mindless rushing is doing you any good either.

Since it’s harder to train oneself to not be in a hurry, that is the characteristic it makes sense to work on that first. Simply pay attention to what you are doing with each movement, give it your full attention and if you add anything on top of it next, keep your mind on maintaining an even pace.

When you pay attention to what you’re doing, you’re naturally slowing down as a result. When you are not in a hurry and pay attention to what you’re doing, you’ll find more and more details to which you should pay attention, which slows you down further. Even in instances where you don’t seem to be doing anything, you’ll likely find that your alignment, weighting and posture could use some attention.

Having the attitude of not being in a hurry is just opposite of having the feeling that you’ve got to get it done; to get to the end. It’s that feeling that you have to get to the conclusion that prods you to rush faster and faster through the form. Placing on artificial deadline on when you’ll finish the form will foster this. Speed has its’ place once the form is correct and you’ve mastered slowness through not being in a hurry.

Once you can keep your mind on what you are doing throughout the form as well as all of the details, you can start to do the form more quickly as long as you can maintain the concentration and the level of detail. Lacking either of those, it’s a sign that maybe you shouldn’t go so quickly; not yet anyway.

The older I get I find the less I find myself in any hurry. Everything unfolds in its’ own time. The Daoist recognizes the rhythm of the moment and paces himself accordingly. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always the appropriate speed.

Finally, you may wonder about the accompanying picture of Audrey Hepburn. What does she have to do with all of this? Nothing. She's just hot.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Fourth of July!

Happy Fourth of July! I've posted this video before, but I really like the song. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Mysterious Technique of the Old Cat

Quite some time ago, I had a post linking to an old Japanese story, the Mysterious Technique of the Old Cat. Over at Ichijoji there is a more recent post on the same topic. An excerpt is below. The whole article may be read here.

It is a fable, and this is part of its attraction and why it is so accessible. A samurai named Shoken (his name means 'Victorious Sword' or something along those lines) finds a large rat running about his house. His own cat runs away in fright and he has no luck when he tries to kill it himself. the three experienced rat-catching cats in the area have no luck either, so it is left to an old cat in a neighboring part of town to take care of things. That night, the cats have a little celebration, and ask the old cat to explain why he was so successful. He offers critiques of their methods and goes on to explain his own approach. Shoken has been listening in and interjects his own question, which the old cat answers, expanding on his original answer.

What makes it a key text?
The critiques of the old cat are important in that they compare the different methods of the three cats, each one of which uses an approach focused on one aspect of combat. Actually, each one of these approaches is fairly specific, and anyone with a broad background in martial arts that includes some knowledge about different styles and approaches, and the arguments that surround them will probably find this quite familiar. They are particularly apposite in terms of swordsmanship - from this and other writings, it seems there was some dispute about which was the most effective approach to swordsmanship, both in terms of training and tactical usage during the period in which he was writing... and later, too.