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, June 28, 2012

The Standing Death of Benkei

Below is an excerpt from an article at Badass of the Week. The full article may be read  here.

The Japanese hero Saito Musashibo Benkei was a massive, ferocious behemoth of a man. This feudal Japanese sack-wrecker was known for being not only strong enough to pulverize your head into a disgusting grayish mush just by squeezing your face really hard with his bare hands, but also for having an appearance so hideously ugly and freakishly ogre-like that just looking at this guy caused many opposing warriors to drop their swords, go into respiratory failure, and instantly take a huge dump in their armor.
Benkei was a Buddhist priest, but he wasn't the sort of Buddhist priest that spends all day in their sanctuary praying, thinking about peace, and not going around smashing people in the groin with a bladed poleaxe until they cough up their prostate. He joined a monastery, but that was a little too tame for him, and he was eventually kicked out because of his recklessness and general balls-outitude. So, in true badass fashion, Benkei went out into the woods, built a one-man shrine to the Buddha next to a bridge over a quiet, peaceful stream, and dedicated his life to beating the holy living fuckshit out of any insolent jacknuts who tried to cross his bridge. During what must have been a rather successful and lengthy career as a moderately-holy highwayman, Benkei won 999 duels without suffering a single defeat.

The 1,000th man who attempted to cross the bridge was a samurai feudal lord named Minamoto no Yoshitsune. In an epic, Soul Calibur-esqe deathmatch between the two men, Yoshitsune somehow managed to emerge on top, disarming the hulking behemoth with some crazy Princess Bride shit. Benkei, totally in awe of the man who somehow just rocked his face in hand-to-hand combat, immediately swore a Wookie Life Debt to Yoshtisune. He followed his new lord through the entirety of a massive war that swept across Japan, kicking asses wherever he was able to find them, and helping the Minamoto Clan of neck-slashing samurai achieve victory over their hated rivals, the Taira Clan.
Things were going pretty well for these guys until one day all of a sudden Yoshitsune's brother decided he was going to take charge, seize power for himself, and declare his brother a traitor and an outlaw. Out of nowhere, a huge group of powerful Minamoto warriors came rushing out, destroyed all of Yoshitsune's retainers, and laid siege to the once-powerful warlord's castle.

Yoshitsune, knowing that the end was near, decided that the only rational way of dealing with the dishonor of having been cocked over by his own Clan and defeated in battle was to ritualistically disembowel himself by committing seppuku. It takes a little bit of time to do the seppuku thing up right, though, so in his final act as a samurai lord Yoshitsune ordered his last surviving warrior – Saito Musashibo Benkei – to guard the castle while he sat down and ate a folded-up Frisbee Real Ultimate Power-style.

Now, this may seem like a foreign concept to you and I, but back in the days of the daimyo killing yourself in the appropriate manner was a really big deal. I guess you can kind of think of committing seppuku as getting totally pissed off out of your mind because you're about to lose a round of multiplayer Halo, and ragequitting by blowing yourself up with the rocket launcher in order to deny your doucheface opponent the satisfaction of getting the final kill-shot on you. Ultimately, the point here is that Benkei took this order seriously.
Benkei went out to the drawbridge leading towards the castle, clenched his naginata in his fists, and dared the army on the other side to fucking fuck with him. A couple punk-ass bitches thought they wanted a piece of SMB, but Benkei slapped the fail out of them with the blunt end of his bladed axe, knocking their brains out and sending crumpled remains splashing into the moat. The enemy army stood across from him, trying to figure out how the balls they were going to get past him, and whenever some dumbshit managed to find the cojones required to step foot on the drawbridge Benkei made sure the last thing he saw was a foot-long hunk of razor sharp steel.

Realizing that any attempts of fighting Benkei like a man was going to result in an eviscerated brain pan, the opposing army just decided to shoot a bunch of arrows at him instead. Amazingly, this didn't even seem to faze him all that much – he just stood there, weapon at the ready, his armor bristling with a couple dozen arrows. Legend has it that he was so defiant and pissed off that he actually died standing upright, and that the dumbass retards he was fighting didn't seem to pick up on it until he'd already been dead for some time. Whatever the case may be, Benkei was eventually killed by a gatling gun barrage of arrows, but by the time the rival hordes broke into the inner sanctum of Yoshitsune's castle it was too late – the proud warrior had already completed the ritual and died with all the honor due a samurai of his stature. So I guess that's worth something.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Anniversary Post - 7 Years of Cook Ding's Kitchen

Today marks the 7th Anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen.

According the Blogger statistics, this blog has had over 120K hits. IceRocket tracks over 20,000 blogs and Cook Ding's Kitchen has been solidly in the top 1000 for months now. 

I want to thank everyone for their support. I appreciate it very much.

A question that I get asked regularly is "what's this Cook Ding stuff anyway?" Cook Ding was a character in a story in one of the Inner Chapters of Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu). It's one of my favorite stories:

A cook was butchering an ox for Duke Wen Hui.

The places his hand touched,
His shoulder leaned against,
His foot stepped on,
His knee pressed upon,
Came apart with a sound.

He moved the blade, making a noise

That never fell out of rhythm.
It harmonized with the Mulberry Woods Dance,
Like music from ancient times.

Duke Wen Hui exclaimed: "Ah! Excellent!

Your skill has advanced to this level?"

"What I follow is Tao,

The cook puts down the knife and answered:
Which is beyond all skills.
"When I started butchering,
What I saw was nothing but the whole ox.
After three years,
I no longer saw the whole ox.

"Nowadays, I meet it with my mind

Rather than see it with my eyes.
My sensory organs are inactive
While I direct the mind's movement.
"It goes according to natural laws,
Striking apart large gaps,
Moving toward large openings,
Following its natural structure.

"Even places where tendons attach to bones

Give no resistance,
Never mind the larger bones!

"A good cook goes through a knife in a year,

Because he cuts.
An average cook goes through a knife in a month,
Because he hacks.

"I have used this knife for nineteen years.

It has butchered thousands of oxen,
But the blade is still like it's newly sharpened.

"The joints have openings,

And the knife's blade has no thickness.
Apply this lack of thickness into the openings,
And the moving blade swishes through,
With room to spare!

"That's why after nineteen years,

The blade is still like it's newly sharpened.

"Nevertheless, every time I come across joints,

I see its tricky parts,
I pay attention and use caution,
My vision concentrates,
My movement slows down.

"I move the knife very slightly,

Whump! It has already separated.
The ox doesn't even know it's dead,
and falls to the ground like mud.

"I stand holding the knife,

And look all around it.
The work gives me much satisfaction.
I clean the knife and put it away."

Duke Wen Hui said: "Excellent!

I listen to your words,
And learn a principle of life."

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Solo Training in Martial Arts

This topic was suggested by my friend at The Dao of Strategy. Please pay him a visit.

When I was a young man, marginally employed with few adult responsibilities, there wasn't much difficulty in figuring out how I should practice. I was able to attend every class my main teacher taught (3 classes a day, 3 days a week) as well as train at a satellite dojo ( 2 classes a day, 2 days a week). In addition there were monthly seminars and what not. Come to think of it, I don't think I did any training on my own.

As I grew up and acquired a family, a career and the hydra headed monster of adult responsibility entered my life, I discovered that I couldn't train nearly as often, but was able to practice on my own quite a bit to compensate.

Time went on. My kids starting having their own activities and my parents were aging and in decline. Rather than be conflicted, I hung up my dogi for a period of years while I tended to more truly important things.

During the time my mother moved through a succession of homes (her own, one for assisted living, a nursing facility then finally a funeral home), I knew I wanted to, and would indeed get back to training again and I started to outline some criteria in my mind for how it would be conducted.

I would want not to need any special equipment (mats, for example), location (building housing said special equipment) or have to necessarily depend on someone else (essentially solo training; I train with other people from time to time, but not often). The practice would have to be intellectually engaging enough to keep my interest and both phsycially demanding and forgiving to help keep me in good physical and mental health into my dotterage. My days of getting into fights are far behind me (last encounter >  30 years ago), and instead I'm looking to cultivate a calm, clear mind (which I happen to think is more useful on a daily basis anyway).

My kids have moved out, yet I find myself busier than ever.

What I'm hoping for here in this post is to have a discussion, rather than just my exposition. The question I want to raise is "How do you maintain a consistent, effective solitary practice?"

I have some thoughts.

Given the quirks of my personality, my first inclination would be to think that I need to practice more and more and more. The "10,000 hours" phenomenon discussed in Malcolm Gladwell's outstanding book "Outliers" (which is a whole other discussion) has only helped to foster this attitude. I am inclined to come up with complex and intricately detailed training plans that I could never hope to keep up and would guarantee unending frustration.

"Budo is supposed to enhance your life, not replace it." - a senior budo teacher.

Yes, the more you practice (all things being equal), the better you'll get, but there is more to it than that.

As a young aikido student, I took a great dislike for the attitudes of other students I dubbed "dojo nerds". These were people who were always prattling about "making harmony" in the dojo, but whose lives outside of the dojo where train wrecks. They weren't coming to the dojo to learn out to make their lives better. They were coming to the dojo to run away from their everyday lives.

The repetitions themselves are not the secret sauce, it's what you put into each repetition.

Perseverence alone will not bring mastery.
Perseverance alone does not assure success.
No amount of stalking will lead to game in a field that has none.
-    I Ching

If you don't have balance and are not enjoying all that life has to offer you (because you're too busy wrapped up in feeding your ego), then what are you doing?

So I guess what I'm saying here is that more isn't necessarily better. Well then, how about  thinking out of the proverbial box; how about less?

Let's look at professional football for a moment. It is a highly complex and violent sport. I'm sure if the owners had their way, the teams would be practicing 24/7/365. But they can't. The Players Association has placed very strict limitations on how much, when and under what conditions (pads, no pads) the players can practice.  Because of that, the coaches work very hard at planning and conducting the practices so that the players get the maximum benefit from them.

I'm not advocating getting lost in minutia and planning out every repetition of what you are going to do; far from it (because I am inclined to do just that). What I am advocating is to constantly strive to deepen one's understanding of what one is doing and make every single repetition meaningful as opposed to going through the motions.

"I saw an angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." - Michelangelo

My definitions here: A martial art doesn't teach you to fight. A martial art is a training method. One of the desired outcomes of the training method is to stack the odds a little more in your favor should the (perhaps violent) unexpected occur.

"one arrow, one life" - kyudo saying

Here's a quote from a senior Xingyiquan teacher who not only has done very well in full contact competitions, but has successfully trained others as well:

“Form.. is not fighting. And fighting is not form. Form is training. It encompasses theory, mechanics, strategies, ideas. Those who equate the two do not understand fighting.

Fighting is fighting and it is never pretty. It is either effective or it is not. You study your system, whatever that may be. You learn about strategy and tactics, you hone your skill sets and then you either go out and execute properly and win. Or you don't, and you lose. For there is also always an element of luck in true fighting. And what fighting "looks like" is, as others have already pointed out, is largely dictated by the rule set. If you look closely enough, there will be elements of the style behind the fighter. But you have to have high enough eyes to see such things.”

A famous Taijiquan master described a heirarchy that makes a lot of sense if you ask me, in coming to understand what we are doing:

Philosophy-> principles->applications-> form

A manager I worked with a long time ago gave me some very useful advice. He said that when confronted with a problem, don't be in any rush to come to a conclusion (unless you have a deadline or something). Instead, turn the problem over and over. Slice it every way you can think of. You may not find a solution, but you may discover something far more valuable - understanding.

What is it that you're trying to accomplish and how are you going about it? I am opportunistic about taking advantage of those instances when I find that I have time on my hands, but I don't have my mind fixed on having to do certain things at certain times. Our circumstances change daily and it's no use trying to hang on to what worked yesterday.

Chuang Tzu Story - Three in the Morning

What is this three in the morning?

It is about a monkey trainer
Who went to his monkeys and told them:
“As regards your chestnuts,
you are going to have three measures in the morning,
and for in the afternoon.”

On hearing this all the monkeys became angry.
So the keeper said:
“All right then,
I will change it
To four measures in the morning
and three in the afternoon.”
The animals were satisfied with this arrangement.

The two arrangements were the same –
The number of chestnuts did not change,
But in one case the monkeys were displeased,
and in the other case they were satisfied.

Is the story about the trainer or the monkeys? Maybe a little of both. We can't be too attached to having things our way. The world around us is constantly changing and we have to adapt as well.

I'm flexible and open about my training, but I also keep track of what I'm working on (the current and previous month) so that I'm not neglecting something without realizing it.

I've made it a goal to practice almost every day. The "almost" makes all the difference. Without it I tend to put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. Life is crazy enough as it is. Why would I want to do that? A day off here and there are good things.

Sometimes progress comes by the inch and sometimes by the mile. It's all progress though. Just everyday ask yourself how you are moving the ball forward.

I would have to say that my own practice has been quite solid overall. I've had my ups and downs. When I'm finding it hard to getting my practice done, I know that once your practice really gets hold of you, it's like gravity: you may appear to escape it temporarily, but it always pulls you back.

I'm always looking at how I can improve my methods however. What are your thoughts on the topic?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #45: A Traveller's Song

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. 

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.

For now, let us enjoy #45, A Traveller's Song.


The thread in the hands of a fond-hearted mother
Makes clothes for the body of her wayward boy;
Carefully she sews and thoroughly she mends,
Dreading the delays that will keep him late from home.
But how much love has the inch-long grass
For three spring months of the light of the sun?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Six Harmonies and Eight Methods Boxing

A friend pointed this out to me. The website where this can all be found is right here.

The "Big Three" internal martial arts styles are Taijiquan, Baguazhang and Xingyiquan. There are other internal styles though. One of those is Six Harmonies and Eight Methods Boxing. Below is an excerpt from the website alluded to above.

A Brief Discussion of Liu He Ba Fa
by Xiaoling Liu

The Beginning of the Liu He Ba Fa Form
    Liu He Ba Fa (Six Harmonies and Eight Methods) is a special internal martial art systempassed down by Master Wu Yi-Hui.
    Master Wu Yi-Hui is a very important figure in Chinese modern martial art history.  He had superb  skills, taught many students, and dedicated his life to Chinese martial arts education.Thousands of students learned directly from him.  Many of his top students such as Zhao Dao-Xin, Zhang Chang-Xin, Han Jiao, Zhang Wen-Guang, He Fu-Sheng, and Jiang Hao-Quan later became famous martial artists in China and in the rest of the world.  
    In 1936, the head of the Chinese Central Martial Arts Institute, Mr. Zhang Zhi-Jiang, invited Master Wu to become the Dean of Studies in the Chinese Central Martial Arts Institute.  In 1948, Mr. Zhang Zhi-Jiang again invited Mr. Wu to be an associate professor and the head of the Martial Arts Department at the Chinese Physical Education Teacher's Institute.  These invitations were extended because of Master Wu's deep understanding and mastery of the Chinese martial arts. 
    The complete name of Liu He Ba Fa is Xin Yi Liu He Ba Fa San Pan Shi Er Shi, that is, Mind Intention Six Harmonies Eight Methods Three Stances Twelve Postures.  The most important aspect of this system is one's mind and intention.  In other words, one's intention should be sharply focused on each movement, and the movements are led by one's mind and intention.  Intention, rather than physical force, is used.  As a result, at the connecting points of different postures, although physical strength appears to be momentarily disconnected, one's intention connects the postures and make them a seamless whole. 
    Six Harmonies include harmonizing the body and heart/mind, heart/mind and intent, intent and Qi/energy, Qi/energy and spirit, spirit and movement, and movement and emptiness.  Here, emptiness means wu-ji, that is, void state.  It is a quiet, motionless state achieved when one's movement follows the body's automatic reaction to a specific circumstance. 
    Eight Methods refer to (1) Qi (energy), circulating  Qi to concentrate Shen (spirit); (2) Gu (bones), collecting  energy inside the bones; (3) Xing (form), incorporating animal forms from nature; (4) Sui (to follow), circular and smooth motion responding to the situation; (5) Ti (lifting), lifting from the crown of one's head to have a floating feeling; (6) Huan (returning), coming and going in a cycle; (7) Le (suspending), being motionless and calm while waiting; and (8) Fu (concealing), looking for an opening while concealing yourself. 
    The Six Harmonies relate to the unification of the body, and the Eight Methods relate to practical applications.  The ancient Taoist Li Dong-Feng said that Òa good method should be adaptable according to different circumstances and a superb technique will allow one to stand above the crowds. The movements of Liu He Ba Fa should be circular and flowing, and fast changing in response to circumstances.  The crown of the head should be lifted as if suspended from the ceiling by a rope, and the tail bone is pointed downward in a central position.  One moves in many directions, sometimes in high positions and sometimes in low positions, while smoothly connecting different movements.  It is difficult for an opponent to predict ones next movement and change of direction.  One should be calm when facing an opponent, looking for appropriate openings and changing strategies according to different circumstances.  The energy should alternately open and close, rise and sink, and spirally move forward and backward, following oneÕs intention rather than being forced by oneÕs physical exertion.  The energy movement is like the silk reeling movement of a spring silkworm, continuing with no breaking point.  It is also like water of a river, flowing forward on and on without stopping.  We are not referring simply to the external movements.  The important aspect is one's intention.  Even though one is physically moving, he is calm internally.
   Three Stances refer to stances of different heights when one is practicing.  The classics have the following sayings: at the high stance, one can walk so fast as if he is  chasing the wind; at the middle stance, one is moving like a swimming dragon; and at the low stance, one is very strong and demonstrates oneÕs real internal strength.
    Twelve Postures refer to the single posture practice method, and are named after twelve different animals.  Since each type of animal has its own characteristics and special techniques for fighting for survival, martial artists have borrowed these techniques from various animals.  The twelve postures show up in various parts of the Liu He Ba Fa system.
    The energy movement of Liu He Ba Fa is very complex, and we can only briefly discuss it here.  The important aspect of Liu He Ba Fa is to focus on intention rather than on physical strength.  One's mind, intention, spirit and qi should coordinate with the external body movement.  When one part of the body moves, the whole body is set into motion.  When one part of the body is still, the whole body is still.  The movement should be the movement of the mind, intention, spirit and qi.   

In other words, one should have the "Six Harmonies."  The energies expressed include hard energy, soft energy, spinning energy, rotating energy, whipping energy, pinning energy, hooking energy, sinking energy, shaking energy, and springing energy.  The change of energy includes both blocking and attacking, storing and discharging, slowing down and speeding up, and emptying out and filling in.  It circles around, extends out and withdraws, and opens and closes unpredictably.   

Sometimes the movement is relaxed and other times it is tight.

    Students should first try to have the correct external postures. They then slowly learn the internal energy movement so that they gradually master the Six Harmonies and Eight Methods.

    The theory of Liu He Ba Fa is quite deep.  It has certain internal aspects of Xin Yi Fist, the empty and full change of Ba Gua stepping method, and the soft and hard energy of Tai Chi.  Thus, it includes the Yin Yang exchange of all three internal martial art systems.  At one time, Liu He Ba Fa was listed as one of the standard courses at the Chinese Central Martial Arts Institute and was highly regarded by many famous martial artists.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The No Name Daoist

This is basically a replay of a post I made back in 2005. It's about a Zen story that I've always enjoyed.

A long time ago, before there were blogs, on line communities existed by means of mailing lists. One of these was a list called Tao-l. The topic was Taoism, and I still have fond memories of the banter and poetry that enlivened that community.

There was a phase when members began signing their posts with Taoist sounding names. As I couldn't think of one, I started signing my posts with whatever came to mind. During the autumn of one year, I became "The Leaf Raking Taoist," and in winter, "The Snow Shoveling Taoist."  At another time, I figuratively threw up my hands and signed, "The No Name Taoist."

It was just after that a good friend sent me the following, and bestowed upon me the name of Wu Ming (No name). It's a story that I've always enjoyed.

Wu Ming - the No Name Taoist. Enjoy.

The Cucumber Sage:
The record of the life and teachings of Wu-Ming
As told by Master Tung-WangAbbott of Han-hsin monastery in theThirteenth year of the Earth Dragon period (898)
My dear friend, the most reverend master Tung-Wang, Old and ill, I lay here knowing that writing this note will be my last act upon this earth and that by the time you read it I will be gone from this life.

Though we have not seen each other in the many years since we studied together under our most venerable Master, I have often thought of you, his most worthy successor. Monks from throughout China say that you are a true lion of the Buddha Dharma; one whose eye is a shooting star, whose hands snatch lightning, and whose voice booms like thunder. It is said that your every action shakes heaven and earth and causes the elephants and dragons of delusion to scatter helplessly. I am told that your monastery is unrivaled in severity, and that under your exacting guidance hundreds of monks pursue their training with utmost zeal and vigor. I've also heard that in the enlightened successor department your luck has not been so good. Which brings me to the point of this letter.

I ask that you now draw your attention to the young man to whom this note is attached. As he stands before you, no doubt smiling stupidly as he stuffs himself with pickled cucumbers, you may be wondering if he is as complete a fool as he appears, and if so, what prompted me to send him to you. In answer to the first question, I assure you that Wu-Ming's foolishness is far more complete than mere appearance would lead you to believe. As for the second question, I can only say that despite so benumbed a condition, or perhaps because of it, still more likely, despite of and because of it, Wu-Ming seems to unwittingly and accidentally serve the function of a great Bodhisattva. Perhaps he can be of service to you.

Allow him sixteen hours of sleep daily and provide him with lots of pickled cucumbers and Wu-Ming will always be happy. Expect nothing of him and you will be happy.

Respectfully, Chin-Mang

After Chin-mang's funeral, the supporters of his temple arranged for Wu-Ming's journey to Han-hsin monastery, where I resided, then, as now, as Abbott. A monk found Wu-ming at the monastery gate and seeing a note bearing my name pinned to his robe, led him to my quarters.
Customarily, when first presenting himself to the Abbott, a newly arrived monk will prostrate himself three times and ask respectfully to be accepted as a student. And so I was taken somewhat by surprise when Wu-ming walked into the room, took a pickled cucumber from the jar under his arm, stuffed it whole into his mouth, and happily munching away, broke into the toothless imbecilic grin that would one day become legendary. Taking a casual glance around the room, he smacked his lips loudly and said, "What's for lunch?"

After reading dear old Chin Mang's note, I called in the head monk and asked that he show my new student to the monk's quarters. When they had gone I reflected on chin-mang's words. Han-hsin was indeed a most severe place of training: winters were bitterly cold and in summer the sun blazed. The monks slept no more than three hours each night and ate one simple meal each day. For the remainder of the day they worked hard around the monastery and practiced hard in the meditation hall. But, alas, Chin-mang had heard correctly, Among all my disciples there was none whom I felt confident to be a worthy vessel to receive the untransmittable transmitted Dharma. I was beginning to despair that I would one day, bereft of even one successor, fail to fulfill my obligation of seeing my teacher's Dharma-linage continued.

The monks could hardly be faulted for complacency or indolence. Their sincere aspiration and disciplined effort were admirable indeed, and many had attained great clarity of wisdom. But they were preoccupied with their capacity for harsh discipline and proud of their insight. They squabbled with one another for positions of prestige and power and vied amongst themselves for recognition. Jealousy, rivalry and ambition seemed to hang like a dark cloud over Han-shin monastery, sucking even the most wise and sincere into its obscuring haze. Holding Chin-mang's note before me, I hoped and prayed that this Wu-ming, this "accidental Bodhisattva" might be the yeast my recipe seemed so much in need of.

To my astonished pleasure, Wu-ming took to life at Han-shin like a duck to water. At my request, he was assigned a job in the kitchen pickling vegetables. This he pursued tirelessly, and with a cheerful earnestness he gathered and mixed ingredients, lifted heavy barrels, drew and carried water, and, of course, freely sampled his workmanship. He was delighted!

When the monks assembled in the meditation hall, they would invariably find Wu-ming seated in utter stillness, apparently in deep and profound samadhi. No one even guessed that the only thing profound about Wu-ming's meditation was the profound unlikelihood that he might find the meditation posture, legs folded into the lotus position, back erect and centered, to be so wonderfully conducive to the long hours of sleep he so enjoyed.

Day after day and month after month, as the monks struggled to meet the physical and spiritual demands of monastery life, Wu-ming, with a grin and a whistle, sailed through it all effortlessly.

Even though, if the truth be told, Wu-ming's Zen practice was without the slightest merit, by way of outward appearance he was judged by all to be a monk of great accomplishment and perfect discipline. Of course . I could have dispelled this misconception easily enough, but I sensed that Wu-ming's unique brand of magic was taking effect and I was not about to throw away this most absurdly skillful of means.

By turns the monks were jealous, perplexed, hostile, humbled and inspired by what they presumed to be Wu-ming's great attainment. Of course it never occurred to Wu-ming that his or anyone else's behavior required such judgments, for they are the workings of a far more sophisticated nature than his own mind was capable. Indeed, everything about him was so obvious and simple that others thought him unfathomably subtle.

Wu-ming's inscrutable presence had a tremendously unsettling effect on the lives of the monks, and undercut the web of rationalizations that so often accompanies such upset. His utter obviousness rendered him unintelligible and immune to the social pretensions of others.

Attempts of flattery and invectives alike were met with the same uncomprehending grin, a grin the monks felt to be the very cutting edge of the sword of Perfect Wisdom. Finding no relief or diversion in such interchange, they were forced to seek out the source and resolution of their anguish each within his own mind. More importantly, and absurdly, Wu-ming caused to arise in the monks the unconquerable determination to fully penetrate the teaching "The Great Way is without difficulty" which they felt he embodied.

Though in the course of my lifetime I have encountered many of the most venerable progenitors of the Tathagata's teaching, never have I met one so skilled at awakening others to their intrinsic Buddhahood as this wonderful fool Wu-ming. His spiritual non-sequiturs were as sparks, lighting the flame of illuminating wisdom in the minds of many who engaged him in dialogue.

Once a monk approached Wu-ming and asked in all earnestness, "In the whole universe, what is it that is most wonderful?" Without hesitation Wu-ming stuck a cucumber before the monks face and exclaimed, "There is nothing more wonderful than this!" At that the monk crashed through the dualism of subject and object, "The whole universe is pickled cucumber; a pickled cucumber is the whole universe!" Wu-ming simply chuckled and said, "Stop talking nonsense. A cucumber is a cucumber; the whole universe is the whole universe. What could be more obvious?" The monk, penetrating the perfect phenomenal manifestation of Absolute Truth, clapped his hands and laughed, saying, "Throughout infinite space, everything is deliciously sour!"

On another occasion a monk asked Wu-ming, "The Third Patriarch said, "The Great Way is without difficulty, just cease having preferences." How can you then delight in eating cucumbers, yet refuse to even take one bit of a carrot?" Wu-ming said, "I love cucumbers; I hate carrots!"

The monk lurched back as though struck by a thunderbolt. Then laughing and sobbing and dancing about he exclaimed, "Liking cucumbers and hating carrots is without difficulty, just cease preferring the Great Way!"

Within three years of his arrival, the stories of the "Great Bodhisattva of Han-hsin monastery" had made their way throughout the provinces of China. Knowing of Wu-ming's fame I was not entirely surprised when a messenger from the Emperor appeared summoning Wu-ming to the Imperial Palace immediately.

From throughout the Empire exponents of the Three Teachings of Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism were being called to the Capitol, there the Emperor would proclaim one to be the true religion to be practiced and preached in all lands under his rule. The idea of such competition for Imperial favor is not to my approval and the likelihood that a religious persecution might follow troubled me greatly. But an order from the Emperor is not to be ignored, so Wu-ming and I set out the next day.

Inside the Great Hall were gathered the more than one hundred priests and scholars who were to debate one another. They were surrounded by the most powerful lords in all China, along with innumerable advisors, of the Son of Heaven. All at once trumpets blared, cymbals crashed, and clouds of incense billowed up everywhere. The Emperor, borne on by a retinue of guards, was carried to the throne. After due formalities were observed the Emperor signaled for the debate to begin.

Several hours passed as one after another priests and scholars came forward presenting their doctrines and responding to questions. Through it all Wu-ming sat obliviously content as he stuffed himself with his favorite food. When his supply was finished, he happily crossed his legs, straightened his back and closed his eyes. But the noise and commotion were too great and, unable to sleep, he grew more restless and irritable by the minute. As I clasped him firmly by the back of the neck in an effort to restrain him, the Emperor gestured to Wu-ming to approach the Throne.

When Wu-ming had come before him, the Emperor said, "Throughout the land you are praised as a Bodhisattva whose mind is like the Great Void itself, yet you have not had a word to offer this assembly. Therefore I say to you now, teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow." Wu-ming said nothing. After a few moments the Emperor, with a note of impatience, spoke again, "Perhaps you do not hear well so I shall repeat myself! Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Still Wu-ming said nothing, and silence rippled through the crowd as all strained forward to witness this monk who dared behave so bold a fashion in the Emperor's presence.

Wu-ming heard nothing the Emperor said, nor did he notice the tension that vibrated through the hall. All that concerned him was his wish to find a nice quiet place where he could sleep undisturbed. The Emperor spoke again, his voice shaking with fury, his face flushed with anger: "You have been summoned to this council to speak on behalf of the Buddhist teaching. Your disrespect will not be tolerated much longer. I shall ask one more time, and should you fail to answer, I assure you the consequence shall be most grave. Teach me the True Way that all under heaven must follow!" Without a word Wu-ming turned and, as all looked on in dumbfounded silence, he made his way down the aisle and out the door. There was a hush of stunned disbelief before the crowd erupted into an uproar of confusion. Some were applauding Wu-ming's brilliant demonstration of religious insight, while others rushed about in an indignant rage, hurling threats and abuses at the doorway he had just passed through. Not knowing whether to praise Wu-ming or to have him beheaded, the Emperor turned to his advisors, but they were none the wiser. Finally, looking out at the frantic anarchy to which his grand debate had been reduced, the Emperor must surely have realized that no matter what Wu-ming's intentions might have been, there was now only one way to avoid the debate becoming a most serious embarrassment.

"The great sage of Han-hsin monastery has skillfully demonstrated that the great Tao cannot be confined by doctrines, but is best expounded through harmonious action. Let us profit by the wisdom he has so compassionately shared, and each endeavor to make our every step one that unites heaven and earth in accord with the profound and subtle Tao."

Having thus spoken the Son of Heaven concluded the Great Debate.

I immediately ran out to find Wu-ming, but he had disappeared in the crowded streets of the capitol.

Ten years have since passed, and I have seen nothing of him. However, on occasion a wandering monk will stop at Han-hsin with some bit of news. I am told that Wu-ming has been wandering about the countryside this past decade, trying unsuccessfully to find his way home. Because of his fame he is greeted and cared for in all quarters with generous kindness; however, those wishing to help him on his journey usually find that they have been helped on their own.

One young monk told of an encounter in which Wu-ming asked him, "Can you tell me where my home is?" Confused as to the spirit of the question. The monk replied, "Is the home you speak of to be found in the relative world of time and place, or do you mean the Original Home of all pervading Buddha nature?"

After pausing a moment to consider the question, Wu-ming looked up and, grinning as only he is capable, said, "Yes."

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Something Special Going On ...

Mr. Patrick Parker is the proprietor of the Mokuren Dojo in Magnolia, Mississippi as well as the Mokuren Dojo Blog, one of the most widely read martial arts related blogs on the internet. Mr Parker studies, teaches and practices his budo in a quiet corner of the state and has built up something I think is quite noteworthy. He is also rumored to be the nephew of Mary Parker.

Mr. Parker was kind enough to write a guest post for Cook Ding's Kitchen. Please pay his blog a visit. Enjoy.

Rick-san was kind enough to flatter me by asking if I would do a guest post for his amazing blog.  He said he'd gotten the idea from reading my writings on my blog and my FB page that we have something special going on in southwest Mississippi that his readers might not know about and might be interested in.
That's right, Rick.  There is some special budo going on in our out-of-the-way home.
It started when I got a job and moved back to Pike County Mississippi. I had grown up in a somewhat larger city (~12000 people), but when I came back I ended up settling in a nearby town of about 2400 people living on about 3 square miles.  It is a nice little town full of Victorian architecture and well-loved azaleas and camelias, but it's not exactly the hub of the martial arts universe.

For some years I taught in a friend's dojo in a shopping center in my larger hometown, but after Hurricane Katrina wrecked everything, he retired from teaching and I moved the dojo out of the shopping center into a 20x40 building at my house. 
Suddenly I had no visibility for the dojo so I set about on a deliberate, relentless internet campaign to get our name out there.  I declared outright war on obscurity. 

I stated my blog and began interacting with other bloggers, did a lot of studying about how to do a better blog and get more eyeballs on the blog - and that was an unprecedented success.  I made a ton of friends all around the world, and suddenly had a much better sounding board to bounce ideas off of than I could have ever developed locally.
It has been really interesting to see how a budo practice morphs and evolves to fit its practitioners and their environment and lives.

Because the dojo is at my home (no overhead expenses) and because I have a day job, I have been able to deliberately keep rates very low - I undercut all my competition grievously, simply because I can afford to and I would rather have practice partners and friends in the dojo than have contracts and business relationships and payment structures, and that sort of thing.
People around here tend to be family-minded and conservative - lots of what would be considered large families in other parts of the country (2-3-4 kids).  So we deliberately structured our classes as family-friendly things - even lower rates for entire families, occasional activities to get the kids together outside of class.  Frequently we pass out popsicles to the kids after class in the summer.  Some of my students that travel long distances to play with me have marvelled that only at Mokuren Dojo can you get great instruction in a comfortable, family environment, for nearly free - AND the dojo Mom will feed you after class!  The dojo has really become a community of families that come together for more than just judo practice.

Like many people, I was initially resistant to the idea of teaching kids, but I have 4 kids of my own (so far ;-) and I knew nobody around here could do a better (and cheaper) job of teaching them, so I started the kids classes as they got old enough to participate.  I knew they had to have partners to work out with, so I gradually through word-of-mouth expanded my childrens programs until now the kids classes are about 1/4 of my class offerings and it is one of the things I seem to be fairly well known for.  Somehow I have become the guru from Nowhereville on how to teach kids judo.
Lately I have been modeling my classes and practices on what I imagine it must have been like to practice in late 1800's Okinawa or China.  Rural agrarian society where everything is secondary to the necesity of making a living, frequently extreme weather, low population densities, practicality-minded people.

That means that my classes have had to be flexible.  If something is not working, we do something similar in some different way. 
For example, our dojo has fairly low ceilings.  We can comfortably do aikido and judo inside but not jo or sword. So almost all of our weapons work has to be done outside on the sloping concrete driveway or in the grass - which means we do our weapons work wearing shoes and we usually lay off of the weapons work in the most inclement weather.  No practice in mid-to-late summer or late winter.  The weapons work has become a seasonal thing, which is kind of a neat, in-tune way to do things.

Also, although the dojo is air-conditioned, there's no way it can keep up with the mid-summer heat here, so our mid-summer classes tend to be no-gi classes - something I have spun into a feature rather than a bug - since we need some amount of no-gi practice anyway for practicality sake.  Similarly, when it gets down to 10 or 15 degrees F in January or February, it is often 20-30 degrees in the dojo.  So we do sweatshirt/sweatpants/hunting jacket aikido and judo during those times.

Prior to a couple of years I was in a less than ideal organizational situation, and I finally had my fill and switched boats.  I did my homework and chose to get involved with Nick Lowry's Aikido and Judo and Jodo group - the Kazeutabudokai - and that has been a very enriching and empowering thing.  All of a sudden I went from being unable to go to any big seminars for a decade to getting to work with some of the greatest players in the country several times per year!

Lately, because of my internet presence, and because of my favorable association with Nick Lowry, more and more folks have been calling me up and asking me to come to their location to share my ideas and way of doing things.  I've been teaching in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee, and I've been getting calls from folks in Virginia and Kansas and Florida - so the Mokuren Dojo way of doing things is becoming a pretty wide-spread thing.  This is a really gratifying thing - to see such a favorable reception of my ideas.

Some years back, a sensei told me all you have to do to be successful at this is 1) treat people nicely, and 2) teach something of real practical value.  I think he was giving me a "If you build it, they will come" sort of pep talk.  I've tried to make that my M.O. and it really seems to be working out pretty well.

You're right when you say that we've got something special going on here in Southwest Mississippi in the martial arts scene...

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Santi Practice in Xingyiquan

Mr. Franklin Fick is the proprietor of the Spirit Dragon Institute. On his blog, he made a good post on the importance of practicing the Santi stance in Xingyiquan training. I've reposted below, and the original may be read here.

Enjoy. Please pay a visit.

Why is San Ti Shi important in Xing Yi Quan?

San Ti is at the same time the most fundamental aspect of Xing Yi Quan and also advanced training. This seems like a contradictory sentence. In the West we have a hard time equating something that is fundamental training with something that’s important and high level. But we must remember that it is the fundamental training that allows us to advance into high-level skill.

San Ti Shi is fundamental but at the same time it is the basis for the entire art. San Ti is a stance but it is more than that. It is a series of alignments. These alignments are physical, energetic, and mental. It is a way to hold the body. It is a way to connect the body.

All the forms of Xing Yi Quan take San Ti as their fundamental position. This is the starting point. The stepping and moving through the postures usually ends with the release of power (Fa Jing) in the San Ti Stance. Sometimes Xing Yi is even described as moving San Ti. This is how important San Ti is.

By practicing San Ti the alignments become second nature. They get stored in the bones. The muscles build memory. The structure become integrated and powerful. As movement is trained, these alignments allow for power to be expressed outward. These alignments also allow for incoming force to be absorbed, transformed, or dissipated as an automatic response. Small circles and an attack. The defense is integrated with the counter attack. They are not two, but are one and the same.

San Ti allows for this high level of skill to develop. Without San Ti it is not possible. So San Ti is the most fundamental aspect of Xing Yi training. It allows for the proper use of the body, integrated with the intention and the internal energy. It is the most fundamental and advanced at the same time. As you continue to practice over time, your understanding of San Ti will change and deepen.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Duellists

Ridley Scott, the famous director, brought us such great films as Alien, Gladiator and Blade Runner. His first film is of particular interest to martial artists, The Duellists.

From Wikipedia:

In Strasbourg in 1800, obsessive duellist Lieutenant Gabriel Feraud (Harvey Keitel) of the French 7th Hussars nearly kills the nephew of the city's mayor in a sword duel. Under pressure from the mayor, Brigadier-General Treillard (Robert Stephens) sends Lieutenant Armand d'Hubert (Keith Carradine) of the 3rd Hussars to put him under house arrest. As the arrest takes place in the house of a prominent local lady (Jenny Runacre), Feraud takes it as a personal insult from d'Hubert and challenges him to a duel. D'Hubert, however, manages to knock him unconscious.

The war intervenes in the men's quarrel and they do not meet again until six months later, in Augsburg in 1801. Feraud immediately challenges d'Hubert to another duel and seriously wounds him. Recovering, d'Hubert takes lessons from a fencing master and in the next duel the two men fight each other to a standstill. Soon afterwards, d'Hubert is relieved to learn that he has been promoted to captain, as military protocol forbids officers of different ranks from fighting one another.

The action then moves forwards to 1806, when d'Hubert is serving in Lübeck. He is shocked to hear that the 7th Hussars have arrived in the city and that Feraud is now also a captain. Aware that in two weeks time he is himself to be promoted to major, d'Hubert attempts to slip away on leave, but bumps into Feraud, who of course challenges him to another duel. This duel is fought on horseback, and d'Hubert wins, giving Feraud a cut on the forehead which bleeds heavily into his eyes and prevents him from continuing.

Soon afterwards, Feraud's regiment is posted to Spain and the two do not meet again until 1812. During the Retreat from Moscow, d'Hubert and Feraud meet by chance, but fight off a group of Cossacks instead of fighting each other. Two years later, after Napoleon's exile to Elba, d'Hubert, now a brigadier-general and recovering from a leg wound, is staying at the home of his sister Leonie (Meg Wynn Owen) in Tours. She introduces him to Adele (Cristina Raines), niece of her neighbour (Alan Webb), and they fall in love and are married. A Bonapartist agent (Edward Fox) attempts to recruit d'Hubert to command a brigade when the Emperor returns from Elba, but d'Hubert refuses.

When he hears this, Feraud, also now a brigadier-general and a leading Bonapartist, declares d'Hubert is a traitor to the Emperor. He claims that he always suspected d'Hubert's loyalty, which is why he called him out in the first place.

The fight scenes are terrific. They are realistic in that instead of fancy sword play, you see two men exhaust themselves trying to take the other down. 

Below is an excerpt from a review of the movie. The whole review may be read here.  

Ridley Scott’s Brilliant First Film

That’s why it’s pleasurable and inspiring to re-see Scott’s gorgeous and thrilling film debut, “The Duellists,” from 1977, which kicks off “Past and Prologue: The Films of Ridley Scott,” a complete retrospective by the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Think of “Barry Lyndon” as if paced by Howard Hawks. That’ll give you some idea of the voluptuous fury of this wry, volatile romantic adventure. The burnished, lustrous images of Napoleonic Europe zip by, and the Emperor’s hussars racing through them make most movie swashbucklers look conventional and cautious.

In George Stevens, Jr.’s, new collection of American Film Institute interviews, the film’s producer, David Puttnam, says, “What’s extraordinary about the [Joseph] Conrad story [‘The Duel’] is that it’s about violence for no reason. In fact, it’s about a man who invents reasons to justify his obsession for mindless and meaningless violence.” Puttnam also says, “We used the best of the crews that Ridley had used on his [TV] commercials and I had used on my previous films. It was important to do that, because Ridley’s commercials were about looks and style while my features had been about story, and thought I wanted to make a stylish film, I didn’t want to wallow completely in style.”

Taking into account a producer’s possessiveness, “The Duellists” does have qualities rare in Scott’s work, including an exciting lucidity that’s all the more astonishing because its central characters remain partial mysteries. They are, after all, men of action, and they’re never more clearly revealed than when tied together in an infernal tussle. Feraud (Harvey Keitel) is a squat, demon dueller; D’Hubert (Keith Carradine), is a slim, sweet-tempered gentlemen who has the bad fortune to tee him off. Because of a manufactured slight, which is so minimal that Feraud constantly remembers new ones, he engages D’Hubert in a series of duels spanning sixteen years. Compelled by his own honor into combat, D’Hubert gets a reputation as a fire-breather that he’d love to dampen. Feraud both represents the feral side of a code of honor they both share and becomes D’Hubert’s personal heart of darkness. The movie chronicles D’Hubert’s attempt to drive a stake through it.