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 ~

Friday, August 30, 2013

A Biography of Taijiquan Pioneer Sophia Delza

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there was a very nice article giving a detailed biography of Taijiquan pioneer Sophia Delza, about whom I've posted before.

An excerpt from this most interesting post follows. The full post may be read here.


Slowly attitudes began to change in the 1950s.  It is in the middle of the 1950s that we start to see the first real signs of openness in the Chinese American community.  It is also when the first truly public schools, open to all individuals regardless of race or gender, start to appear.

One of the earliest of these was Sophia Delza’s (1903-1996) school of Wu style Taiji Quan taught out of her dance studio at Carnegie Hall.  She also taught regular classes at the Actors Studio and the United Nations building in New York City.  Given that her teaching career began in either late 1953 or 1954, she was one of the very first Chinese martial artists to operate publicly in the United States.  But who was she?  How did she become a student of Wu Taiji and what was her approach to the Chinese martial arts actually like?

Sophia Delza lived the sort of life that would make a good movie.  She was born in 1903 to a family of some means and distinctly liberal political views in Brooklyn NY.  She had a number of very accomplished siblings, including one sister who was an early pioneer of modern dance, a brother who became noted documentary film maker (he was later black-listed by the McCarthy Committee), and a younger sister who became an early pioneer of psychoanalysis in America.

Sophia was bright and majored in the hard sciences in college.  She graduated from Hunter College in 1924 and was accepted into a graduate program at Columbia University.  However, a trip to Europe derailed her initial career plans. Sophia had always been attracted to dance and had trained informally with her sister for years.  She had even performed in some community events.  While in Europe she decided to dedicate herself to the study of dance and did so exclusively for the next several years.

Upon returning to the states she encountered the hard economic realities of life as a professional performer.  Yet undaunted she worked her way into the vaudeville circuit and became a regular performer.  In 1928 she even danced opposite James Cagney in the Follies.  Once her career was established she began to experiment with her performance and moved in the direction of modern choreography.  She achieved some level of recognition for her work in this area and was booked for multiple seasons at the NY Guild Theater.

During this time Sophia met her future husband Cook Glassgold (1899 – 1985).  In many ways he had lived the same sort of exciting and artistic life as his wife.  Also a native New Yorker Cook had graduated from City College in 1920.  He was a talented painter and taught art at the City College until 1932 when he became the director of the Whitney Museum.  His career took a distinctly political turn after that.  From 1936-1941 he was an editor of the Index of American Art for the Works Progress Administration.  During WWII he served with the Federal Public Housing Administration.  After the war he was sent as a diplomat to Germany to help with the rebuilding and resettlement problems.  In 1948 he was assigned as a United Nations diplomat to go to Shanghai and assist in the refugee resettlement situation there.  This last assignment was an unexpected turning point for his wife Sophia, and it marked the rest of her career.

Sophia was interested in the intersection of culture and dance.  She had formally studied Spanish dance, and had actually toured as a performer in that style one occasion.  An extended stay in China (almost four years, 1948-1951) opened vast new horizons.

Upon arriving in Shanghai in 1948 she initially found an audience that was receptive to her work.  She gave a number of concerts and lectures, and was the first person to teach modern dance in Chinese dance academies and number of traditional schools in the city.  This quickly developed into a two way exchange.  Sophia was fascinated by traditional dance and opera, including its more energetic and martial roles.  She studied with leading performers in the city and counted Wang Fu-Ying and Cheng Chuan-Chien among her teachers.

She was also introduced to the martial arts while in Shanghai.  Ma Yueh Liang and his wife Wu Ying Hua, a unique husband a wife team of martial arts masters, defined what for many was the golden age of Wu style Taiji.  Sophia had the good fortune to be introduced directly to the pair and became a student of Ma sometime around 1949.  She was able to receive about 3 years of pretty regular training directly from one of the most talented martial artists of his generation before returning to the United States in 1951.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Aikido of Hiroshi Tada

Hiroshi Tada is a 9th Dan in Aikido. He is also 83 years old and still active in teaching aikido.

Below is a recent video of him. Ok, the ukes are a little on the compliant side, but look at the way the man moves! He's 83. I hope to be able to move like that when I'm 83.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Learning New Skills Quickly

Learning New Skills Quckly

“Come to the edge.”
“We can't. We're afraid.”
“Come to the edge.”
“We can't. We will fall!”
“Come to the edge.”
 And they came.
 And he pushed them.

 And they flew.

  Guillaume Apollinaire,   1880-1918

 Using a similar strategy as Tim Ferris in the 4 hour Work Week, 4 Hour Chef and 4 Hour Body, Josh Kaufman in his new book The First 20 Hours, gives a lot of practical, actionable advice in using Deliberate Practice to hit the ground running in the acquisition of any new skill.

We all have limits on our available practice time, so we want to make the most of the time we have. 

His suggestions make a lot of sense when you are developing your own training plan.

Here is a link to a presentation that can be downloaded from Below are a few excerpts from that presentation.

I’m willing to wager there’s something in the back of your mind you’ve always wanted to learn how to do.

Maybe you want to learn how to speak a new language. Maybe you want to draw or paint.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to be able to fly an airplane, execute a spinning karate kick, or scuba dive.

Maybe you’d like to cook a dish or bake a pastry, or maybe taking great photos is your style.

Perhaps the skill you’re interested has a professional use, like learning to code, design, speak in public, or pull off a complex statistical analysis: something that would make your coworkers consider you with awe, and make your employer want to shower you with raises, promotions, and other benefits.

I’m also willing to wager you feel you don’t have enough time to learn this particular skill.

You’re overworked already, and time is tight. You have work to do, family to take care of, friends to hang out with, and too many responsibilities as it is. By the time your work and family obligations are satisfied, you’re tired: after you eat dinner and watch a little TV, it’s time to call it a day.

So much to do, and so little time.
“Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining
immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.”
—Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubn er, Sup erfreak onomi cs

I wish there was a Matrix-style method of uploading new skills into the human brain.I’d be the first to sign up.

Unfortunately, that’s not how skill acquisition works. If you want to develop any new skill,
physical or mental, you have to practice.

No practice, no skill acquisition. It’s as simple as that.

The type of practice that results in rapid skill acquisition is deliberate practice: focused,
intelligent effort that attempts to improve the most critical parts of the skill in question.

No distractions, and no nagging doubts: just the task in front of you.

The reason most people don’t acquire new skills very quickly is simple: they don’t spend
much time in deliberate practice. They dabble for a bit, get frustrated or distracted, then do something else.
Here’s a useful litmus test to decide what to learn first: ask yourself if you’re willing to rearrange your schedule to complete at least 20 hours of deliberate practice in the next 30 days.

Sit down, take out your calendar, and do the math. When are you going to practice?

What are you going to give up or reschedule to make the time?

If you “don’t have time,” or aren’t willing to accept the necessary tradeoffs to make the time, I have news for you: you don’t really care very much about acquiring that particular skill, and as a result, practice will be a constant struggle.

There’s no shame in that: quite the contrary. If the skill isn’t a true priority, there’s no sense in pursuing it—by being honest with yourself, you’re saving energy and frustration on a project that, most likely, won’t be a success.

If you’re not willing to commit to at least 20 hours of practice, then drop the project and learn something else. Life is short.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to invest at least 20 hours of focused effort, precommitting to putting in that time is a very effective strategy. Once you start, you have to keep going until you either (1) develop the level of skill you want, or (2) complete at least 20 hours of practice.

That precommittment is an extremely effective way of completing the frustrating early hours of practice. You can precommit to yourself, or tell others about what you’re doing.

Add consequences to dropping the practice if you feel you need an extra push: whatever keeps you practicing.

By precommitting to at least 20 hours, you’re ensuring you’ll practice long enough to see results.
Most of the things we think of as “skills” are actually bundles of smaller subskills.

Take golf for example—in the course of a single game, you do many different things: driving off the tee, selecting clubs, chipping out of bunkers, and putting on the green.

Each of those activities is a skill in itself.

Instead of being overwhelmed by the complexity of the activity, just break down the skill
into more managable parts, and practice one at a time. Not only will the practice feel less
frustrating, you’ll be able to track your progress more effectively.
Once you break down a large skill into smaller subskills, it makes sense to practice the
most important and frequently used subskills first.
For example, when learning a language, it’s useful to know that languages follow a power law distribution called “Zipf’s Law” – a small handful of words are used the vast majority of the time.

In English, the 25 most common words account for over 33% of usage.

Most skills follow a similar pattern: a few subskills are critical, while the remainder are rarely used or contribute less to the end result. Learn the most important subskills first, and you maximize your overall rate of skill acquisition.

It’s usually not very difficult to identify the most important subskills: just pick up a few books or training resources, and spend an hour or so skimming them. You’ll see the same techniques and methods mentioned over and over again—a strong signal that they’re important to know.
Once you’ve decided what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s in your best interest to jump right in and get your hands dirty as quickly as possible.

In the early stages of practicing something new, it’s tempting to be conservative. Failing at anything is uncomfortable, so we usually try to protect our egos by attempting things we’re pretty sure we can do.

The trouble with that approach is that it slows your rate of gaining experience with the
important elements of the skill. By preserving your pride, you’re diminishing the results you get for your effort.

It’s useful to jump in as quickly as possible, even if you’re horrible at first. Your early failures (as long as they don’t harm or kill you) give you useful feedback about what’s really important.

One of the things I learned how to do this year was windsurfing. Instead of over-analyzing
books and resources, I figured out how to rig up my sailboard, then spent as much time as I could on the water.

The first time I tried to windsurf, I was horrible: I fell in every possible way. Maintaining balance was a constant struggle. I couldn’t move, or steer, so I was at the mercy of the wind. I drank gallons of nasty lake water.

I also learned a ton about what not to do, as well as how to deconstruct the process into
smaller subskills. Fourty-five minutes of temporary frustration accelerated the rest of my learning considerably.

By failing fast, and laughing off your early mistakes, you’ll be able to learn much more per unit of time. You are strong enough to handle a few mistakes, so get out there and try.

That’s not to say you should try to make preventable errors. Often, a few minutes considering what you don’t want is time well spent—if you can find a way to avoid or prevent bad things from happening, that’s a win.
Want to supercharge your rate of skill acquisition? Unplug your TV. Disconnect your internet. Put away the games. Set aside the frivolous time sinks.

I’m not a luddite or puritan—I’m not about to say that these things aren’t fun or worthwhile every now and then.

My recommendation is based on simple math: minutes spent doing these things are minutes you’re not spending improving your prime skill.

If you feel that you have more than enough time to watch TV or play video games AND put it your practice time, then fantastic. Otherwise, something has to give—I recommend eliminating the TV time.

Time is not “found,” in the sense of discovering some bonus block of extra time, like finding a misplaced $20 bill in your coat pocket.

If you want to get better at whatever you care about, you must make time for practice: there is no other way. That means choosing not to do other things, and the easiest things to eliminate are the activities that provide the least value.

It’s tempting to think of these sorts of schedule rearrangements as making a “sacrifice.”
It’s actually quite the contrary: you’re trading a cheap amusement for a more valuable, longterm treasure.
Here’s a simple truth: the only time you can choose to practice is today.

Not tomorrow. Not next week. Not next month or next year. Today.

When you wake up in the morning, you have a choice. You can choose to invest your time acquiring skills that will make your life more successful, enjoyable, and rewarding…
or you can squander your time doing something else.

What will you do today?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Dao De Jing #48: Inaction

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here.Below is verse #48, Inaction.

48. Inaction

The follower of knowledge learns as much as he can every day;
The follower of the Way forgets as much as he can every day.

By attrition he reaches a state of inaction
Wherein he does nothing, but nothing remains undone.

To conquer the world, accomplish nothing;
If you must accomplish something,
The world remains beyond conquest.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Lights! Camera! Action!

Below is an excerpt from an article posted at Wing Chun Geeks on a tip that might help you improve your training when you are on your own. I have been doing this for some time and find it useful. The full article may be read here.

Our Strange Wing Chun Training Secret

It has been a while since we released an article expressing our views about Wing Chun. When we first started working on Wing Chun Geeks, we made a huge discovery. The solution to most of your Wing Chun training needs is right in your pocket and 95% of the people that read this article will never do anything about it  We have discovered that filming yourself while training will bring your training to a whole new level of analysation.
What is the secret again?…..

It is a camera. A simple handheld device many of us carry around in our pocket.

I’m A Youtube Grandmaster
Many people leave a comment on videos, saying how they dislike them or how their Sifu is better.  Which is fine, it is an open forum that welcomes discussion.   What most people overlook is that they are not necessarily the ones benefiting from the videos. In reality, the person being filmed in the video is the one that benefits the most.
What we mean is, imagine yourself training in front of a mirror.   You see the mistakes you make and you do your best to correct them.  What about the mistakes you miss? If you film yourself with your iPhone or another simple camera, it will open your eyes to a whole new world of problems.  As intelligent Wing Chun people, it is our duty to seek our problems and correct them.  You will be shocked at the minor mistakes you make and the things that need to be tuned up.

Professional fighters do It
Many people in the Wing Chun community are under a spell, believing that just because we do Wing Chun we are somehow better than the rest. Just because Ip Man and Bruce Lee did WC, it does not mean the “magic” was passed from their hands to yours. If professional fighters, such as MMA fighters and boxers, watch videos of themselves training and fighting, why should we be any different?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Yin and Yang in Boxing

Recently Cameron Conaway visited the Hand Shop, the boxing gym where Mike Tyson was first trained up and both old and new school approaches to boxing (and MMA) thrive.

Below is an except. Both parts of the full article may be read here and here.

Enter the Hand Shop: Part 1

CATSKILL, N.Y. — The gym’s walls breathe history. The yellowed and wrinkled newspaper clippings taped to every square inch tell a story of pride, triumph and setback.

On the surface, this gym looks no different than any other boxing gym. The heavybags are lopsided and duct-taped. Boxers of various skill levels and training intensities coalesce. This gym sounds no different than any other boxing gym. An old beat-up radio bangs out old beats. There are the three-minute buzzers and the grunts and the background pitter-patter music of speedbags. The gym smells no different than any other boxing gym — the musty, rustic smell of wet handwraps, worn-out leather and hardwood floors that contain within them generations of sweat.

But get to know the trainers and you will learn the idiosyncrasies of the sweet science of boxing in a way few, if any gyms across the nation can teach. Step closer to the walls and you will learn these weathered clippings are not just stories; they are stories about some of the best boxers the world has ever known, boxers who called Cus D’Amato’s Boxing Gym home.

What’s in a name? Nothing. Shakespeare’s Juliet would agree. What’s behind a name? Everything.

We MMA fans are used to watching our sport on pay-per-view. We order UFC events from home, oftentimes splitting the cost with a group of friends. We head out to Hooters or Applebee’s when they carry a card. In fact, for UFC 121 “Lesnar vs. Velasquez” on Oct. 23, an estimated 1,050,000 of us shelled out the $44.95 necessary to purchase the event. It’s almost 2011, and MMA continues to boom. It seems on top of the world. Yet, nearly 20 years ago, a single man named Mike Tyson generated 200,000 more pay-per-view buys than UFC 121 for his fight against Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.

When young MMA fighters are asked how they became involved in the sport, it has almost become a cliché that they bring up the legendary heroics of Royce Gracie during his UFC reign from 1993-94. Many MMA fans see this as the beginning of the cultural popularization of fighting. However, it was in 1985 that a 19-year-old Tyson helped take fighting from being a niche spectator sport to a mainstream media obsession. MMA fans cheer when a Randy Couture or Frankie Edgar highlight makes it on ESPN SportsCenter’s “Plays of the Week.” But Tyson highlights were shown years before and on a regular basis. And they are still shown. He was considered by most to be “the baddest man on the planet.”
The intention here is not to counter MMA’s recent success but to set the framework and paint a larger picture of the fight game than is usually discussed. As a little boy, some of my earliest memories of fighting are of the crowds of adults that would gather in the garage of my best friend’s father’s house to watch Tyson fights. These adults would not show up until very late at night, usually 30 minutes before Tyson’s bout was to air. The undercard did not matter, as it involved regular boxers boxing. Tyson was a phenomenon. People even wanted to show up early to the fights just to catch the pre-fight-hype training montage of Tyson bobbing and weaving and tenaciously working the heavybags with blurring speed.
Those training videos were shot in Cus D’Amato’s Boxing Gym. In November, I was granted access to tour the gym, interview the trainers and even get some one-on-one training.

For many fight fans, their first introduction to combat sports came not through Royce Gracie but through the sport of boxing — be it the days of Muhammad Ali or George Foreman or Tyson. So when I found myself needing to pass through Catskill, N.Y., for a business trip, my subconscious registered something long before my conscious mind. “Catskill,” I thought to myself. “I feel I know Catskill, even though I’ve never been there.” A bit of research led me to the reason: Catskill is the home to the world-renowned Cus D’Amato Boxing Gym. It is where, at just 14 years old, Floyd 

Patterson trained to then, at age 17, win the gold medal at the 1952 Olympic Games. Then, at the age of 21 and in the wake of Rocky Marciano’s retirement, Patterson beat Archie Moore to become the youngest man to win the world heavyweight championship; he later became the first to regain it. He was the first Olympic gold medalist to win a professional heavyweight title. Patterson was trained by Cus D’Amato, a man who quickly became known as much for his technical boxing knowledge as for his passion and generosity and his willingness to become a father figure and positive role model to the Catskill community youth who entered his gym.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A Different Twlight (the Twilight Samurai)

Ok, I have a weakness for samurai movies. This is a clip from The Twilight Samurai (Tasogare Seibei).

Seibei has accepted a challenge to a duel on behalf of a lesser skilled friend. His opponent is an abusive samurai of a higher social status who is known for his ability with the sword. Ever polite and self-effacing, Seibei apologizes for being late, but refuses to apologize for the incident that led to the duel.

Watch how well Seibei uses distance to his advantage.

Friday, August 09, 2013

What is in a Name?

Kung Fu Tea blog had an excellent article about the branding of Chinese Martial Arts in the early 20th century. An excerpt from the post is below. The full article may be read here.

“Fighting Styles” or “Martial Brands”? An economic approach to understanding “lost lineages” in the Chinese Martial Arts.

Much of our modern writing on the Chinese martial arts is premised on the examination of difference.  Nor is this an abstract categorization of dry facts.  Our discussions always seem to run along a similar track. Of all of the techniques, styles and teachers out there, we want to know which one is “the best.”  It should come as no surprise that the “hand combat industry” (and it is an industry, complete with its own markets, trade organizations, lobbying efforts, and publications) has no lack of individuals offering to answer this question for consumers.

Different sources of authority are sometimes claimed.  Occasionally a writer or teacher will have had an extensive career in the military or law enforcement.  A long and illustrious record on the tournament circuit is usually taken as a sign of expertise.  We also encounter instructors whose credentials are more esoteric.  Specifically, these writers or teachers note that they are part of an “alternate” or “lost” lineage of some esteemed fighting system.  Often it is claimed that this lineage is somehow older, purer or just more hardcore than the one you belong to.

These sorts of competitive lineage claims have become a staple for major publishers.  Just take a look at the monthly covers of the any martial arts magazine (Blackbelt, Combat, Kung Fu Tai Chi ect…) and you are sure to find at least one story about an “alternate lineage.”  Variety facilitates competition and comparison; together they make for interesting reading.

In fact, the media surrounding the martial arts are central to the existence and continual rediscovery of “lost lineages.”  During the early 19th century (before the market reforms of the Republican era) China had a huge number of local fighting styles.  Most of them were very small village or family affairs.  A lot of what they did actually focused on militia training, opera or banditry.  Many of these styles did not actually have names, though there were some notable exceptions.

Why did so many of these pedagogical systems lack names?  They were not studied so much as a particular “style” of fighting (or in the case of opera, acting).  They simply were fighting (and acting).  
Later in the 19th century as the demand for martial instruction increased, and the number of reasons it was pursued diversified, it became necessary to market these skills on a broader scale than had been undertaken in the past.  Names and shiny new creation myths began to appear as the fighting techniques of the previous generation were increasingly repackaged as a “martial commodity.”

The martial arts publishing industry is not new.  Already in late 19th century Guangzhou and Hong Kong publishers were churning out cheap chapbooks of martial techniques and elaborate swordsmen novels full of the exploits of fictional schools.  During the 1920s and 1930s there was a literal explosion of training manuals and newspaper stories about the exploits of local heroes and martial artists.  As the marketplace got more crowded, product differentiation and advertising became more critical to the actual careers and business success of boxing instructors.

The debates that we see played out on the covers of our current Kung Fu magazines are not much of a departure from the past.  This sort of competition and bickering has been a part of the world of the “authentic” Chinese martial arts for over 100 years now.  Yet why the persistent narrative of the “lost lineage?”  These stories tend to be among the most controversial, yet they are seen throughout the Chinese martial arts.  Why not simply develop a new identity and market the art as your own creation (or your teachers)?  Surely this would be easier than an eternal public debate as to the legitimacy of your practice?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Traditionalism and Innovation in Martial Arts

Traditionalism and innovation in martial arts study and practice is a tricky subject. First of all, we have to ask "what is traditional" in the first place. Every martial art that is practiced today was once "the new kid on the block" somehow differentiating itself from the other martial arts and establishing itself.

The standard curriculums of the large martial arts organizations were established to maintain a certain consistency in the training once the number of students and locations outgrew the grasp of the single head instructor. I don't know what is so traditional about that.

On the other hand, changing things for the sake of change doesn't seem like a very good strategy either. Unless you understand thoroughly what it is you are changing and why, I would think that you're pretty much spinning your wheels.

At the end of the day, your martial arts study is for YOU. It doesn't belong to anyone else. Having learned correctly, it's YOURS.

The following is an excerpt from a blog post at the Aikido Journal. While it was written specifically for aikido students, I think it applies equally well to everyone who studies a martial art. The full article may be read here.

The Martial Artist’s Dilemma: “Traditionalism vs. Innovation,” by Charles Humphrey

“Ueshiba had a powerful physique in his youth. He wasn’t born doing this quasi-no-touch stuff. He went through a whole process to that eventual end.”
I would like to address an issue in martial arts training in general that has bugged my subconscious for some time. It was only recently that I understood it well enough to articulate it clearly. Many of my realizations came, of all places, from undertaking a program of strength training. Shifting my paradigm a little and learning a whole new skill set with which I was relatively unfamiliar helped me get a new perspective on the skill set with which I am more familiar — my core martial arts training.

The issue is one that can only be described as the lack of innovation and logical progression in most training methodologies in the classical martial arts. I have been very frustrated with my training for some years now. Because of this, and I am in the process of trying to recruit training friends who share my perspective with whom I can pursue from my experience and body of personal research into neuroscience, exercise and sport science. This research is by no means extensive, but it doesn’t need to be. The correct approach to martial arts training, indeed any physical skill set, should be obvious. However, I have never found a single group that was following the basic principles of sound training. The closest group I’ve come across that does something close to this is the Systema school and I think this explains the frequently-reported rapid skill increase in Systema.

Now, I am not suggesting everyone drop what they’re doing and go out and study Systema instead of whatever Aikido style they practice or whatever art they do. There’s no need. What makes Systema so effective isn’t that “Systema” as a “style” is the best, it’s just that Vladimir Vasiliev and his crew are highly innovative, humble and questioning in their approach. You don’t need to go Russian style to do this — everything you need is out there in the infosphere. Why are so few martial artists going for this? I think a lot of the reason lies in taking some of the calcification that has set in many Asian martial cultures for granted as some Orientalized mystical necessity.

’s not. If you go spend time in one of what I’ll call the “big three” East Asian countries (China, Japan, Korea), you’ll slowly understand that this calcifying tendency in these cultures is highly pathological and something people struggle with. To oversimplify, the converse is something us “Westerners” in general and North Americans in particular struggle with. Many of us who feel overwhelmed by the constant dizzying array of mental noise in the West end up leaping to the calcified traditionalism of the East as a psychological bulwark against this dizzying tide. The reality is that substituting one’s own cultural shortcomings for those of another is no path to success in one’s life and personal endeavours. I speak as someone who has made precisely this mistake, and is now coming full circle to a kind of fuller realization of what it is I’m doing and how to go about it.

Now, there are those who do this rigid, “I must teach exactly as Sensei such and such taught and never change ANYTHING EVER or the magic won’t work, or O’Sensei won’t appear floating on a cloud to hand me the keys to the universe!” camp. I think a great deal of classicists in martial arts end up in this camp. I generalize, but what else am I to do when writing such an article. Then there is the “I’m going to be like Bruce Lee!” camp that spits on tradition as if it were a poison and generally ends up practicing martial sport…badly. These people fail to really read what Lee was saying (or to understand that he had some serious daemons that were not reflected in his public legacy) in his JKD book admonishing one not to reflexively reject the classical, but to understand its place and limitations. People forget that until relatively late in his life (given that his life ended at age 32), Lee practiced traditional martial arts. This wasn’t a man who jumped out of bed and started doing the Crossfit equivalent of martial arts and then just became awesome. He went through the traditional methods, found some points lacking, and started innovating. Also, to be noticed is the fact that the man made SERIOUS errors in his training and lifestyle. Want proof? He died at 32. Not an example to follow if you want to live long enough to leave something truly useful behind.

The point is that neither of these approaches, in their extremes, is helpful. I’m going to just stick to the “traditionalist” problem because I think most readers of this journal fall into this camp. Let me say that there is nothing wrong with practicing in a strict, traditional way. The attention to detail and basic mapping of traditional kata-based training is excellent. I went through that school quite young and it still amazes me how natural applying a wrist lock is to me even when I don’t really practice that way at the moment. But the traditional curriculum, whether it is the Daito-Ryu system or one of the Aikido schools, is a TOOL that can be used in various ways and with the support of a good general physical preparation (GPP) program.

For example, how many of you cycle your training modules? I have been in a few schools and have never found one where people consistently work on a narrow range of techniques again and again and again (in Japan, China or North America) until they reach the point of diminishing returns and then cycle on to the next one. Everything we know about the nervous system, brain, muscles and skeleton tells us that this is the way to program effective movements into the body.
Elite athletes all use this method (unless they are super gifted freaks) and I’ve never met anyone who does this. Usually the teacher is just kinda going, “Ummm, today we do this.” If you’re lucky, they’ll stick with one or two things for the whole class. If unlucky, it’ll be random nonsense.
Oftentimes, it’s just random permutations ranging from basics to super-complicated with no steady buildup of one technique.