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, December 28, 2013

Lessons from a Lump of Metal

Cameron Conaway, the warrior poet, has a post at his blog about the life lessons that can be had from the deadlift exercise. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here

The deadlift and I first met during my senior year of high school. I’d been boxing for years and as my goal was to be a mixed martial arts fighter I knew I needed to learn the art of wrestling. So I joined the wrestling team. And was thrown to the wolves. Many kids on the team had been wrestling since they could put on shoes. The takedowns and transitions they’d drilled thousands of times I was now learning the hard way. They’d snap my head down and when I instinctively pulled my head up it threw me off balance and they’d shoot in, pick me up and slam me to the mat.

Ego bruised even more than my bony 135-pound body, I’d often spend the evenings researching workout routines that could help me make up for my total lack of technique. I figured if I knew one move, and had the physical strength to actually do it, maybe I could pick up a win or two. Time and again my research brought me to the deadlift. Many people call it the “King of Exercises,” and the more I worked with it the more I loved it. My legs, back and grip became strong and I actually did win a few matches during the year (maybe 3, tops), but it was thanks in part to this single exercise.

The deadlift is perhaps the most primal of all traditional barbell exercises: There’s a bar on the floor and you pick it up. It’s as simple and complicated as that. Here’s what it taught me:

(1) Don’t expect something that looks easy to actually be easy.

(2) The breath centers you, but it also protects you.

(3) Sometimes you need to be the change.

(4) Consistency is king.

(5) There’s more beyond the surface.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Monday, December 23, 2013

Traditional Martial Arts Forms

Colin Wee made a post on the practice of forms at his Joong Do Kwan Dojang. Below is an excerpt. The original post may be read here.

Not so Hyung but Not so Old

A reader of the blog stopped at JDK's FB Page and asked:

"what still gets you going about Taekwondo (sparks your interest, keeps you motivated), do you have a favorite few forms and why, consider taking some of the oldest forms (like bassai-dai or kanku-dai) and breaking them down in terms of applications, is it important to you to maintain a balance between sportive and self-defense in TKD, why, and if so, how? Just some thoughts...thank you for listening!"

When I was in the US, I practiced a system called 'American Karate.' I only learned later that what we did was Taekwondo as brought to the US by GM Jhoon Rhee, practiced in proximity to its Karate cousins, and isolated from the machinations of the ITF and WTF organisations. When I eventually left the US, I took a page out of that playbook and called what I did 'Traditional Taekwondo.'

While I use the term 'Traditional,' I'm quite a progressive instructor. I want to benefit from the source material that links Taekwondo to Japanese Karate and then further back to Okinawa. I want to embrace improvements in sport sciences within our training. And I certainly want to benefit from the self defence or situational training methodology which combative instructors promote.

In the journeys I've taken to understand the system, I have tried my best to pay tribute to the original spirit of the forms as was taught to me by my teacher. In subsequent encounters with other schools and other instructors, I have received a wide range of feedback some which I'd like to share:

  • Comment 1: Your form is a stone's throw from Karate.
  • Comment 2: ITF doesn't do it that way now, but that was how I was taught.
  • Comment 3: Your forms don't show the evolution which you've undergone.

In response - the forms are not mine. I simply use them as a syllabus. Just like in regular schools, if an inexperienced teacher sticks too closely with a syllabus, their students will get a lackluster education. The experienced teacher however, uses the syllabus as a guide and a launchpad. Likewise, I am merely the 'lens' ... the forms are just a framework for me to introduce skills and share experience.

I have made no secret that my system does continue to practice the vestiges of Chung Do Kwan kata from GM Jhoon Rhee; this has given me a link into the rich tapestry formed by Okinawan and Japanese stylists. But while I highly respect where the source code of hyungs come from, I am at the same time gratified that I don't have to put up with an institutionalised way of interpreting or stylistically claustrophobic view of such kata.

Friday, December 20, 2013


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.


Bamboo from the southern hills was used to make this pipe.
And its music, that was introduced from Persia first of all,
Has taken on new magic through later use in China.
And now the Tartar from Liangzhou, blowing it for me,
Drawing a sigh from whosoever hears it,
Is bringing to a wanderer's eyes homesick tears....
Many like to listen; but few understand.
To and fro at will there's a long wind flying,
Dry mulberry-trees, old cypresses, trembling in its chill.
There are nine baby phoenixes, outcrying one another;
A dragon and a tiger spring up at the same moment;
Then in a hundred waterfalls ten thousand songs of autumn
Are suddenly changing to The Yuyang Lament;
And when yellow clouds grow thin and the white sun darkens,
They are changing still again to Spring in the Willow Trees.
Like Imperial Garden flowers, brightening the eye with beauty,
Are the high-hall candles we have lighted this cold night,
And with every cup of wine goes another round of music.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Xinyi Quan and Xingyiquan

Below is an excerpt from a post at Be Not Defeated by the Rain. The original post may be read here

This article was originally written by Wang Xin Ming in an old copy of Wushu magazine from the 1980s. Wang Xin Ming is a famous martial arts historian and has written many books on Xingyi and Xin yi. Although Xinyi is now much better known in the West, the following article is still worth reading.  

Xinyi Quan (full name: Xin yi Liu He Quan) (Heart Intention Boxing) and Xingyi Quan (Form Intention Boxing) have a deep relationship, but they are not contemporaneous styles, and were created at different times. The basic stances are different and should not be conflated together. Xingyi is a branch that evolved out of Xinyi.
For many years now, people have mentioned both styles together, thinking that is one style with two names. In the “Sports Encyclopedia” there is an entry stating that “one of the names of Xingyi is Xinyi quan.” Many experts of Xingyi quan also insist on this interpretation. This is due to a number of martial arts historians working backwards from the currently popular Xingyi Quan, rather than placing an emphasis on the how Xinyi was first developed and broke off into its different branches. They have performed a vertical study of the geographical areas where Xingyi had spread, but have neglected to do a horizontal study taking into consideration the Xinyi of Henan (Ma Xueli) and Shanxi (Dai Longbang). They have narrowly focused only on the few extant historical materials, neglecting to do more research in the ancestral villages on the on the founder of Xinyi Quan and other representative individuals of the style, as well as a detailed study of other martial arts styles in those areas. Hence they reach erroneous conclusions.
This author’s opinion is that Xinyi and Xingyi should not be put together for discussion. The reasons are the following:
1)   The argument from historicity 
2)   The difference in name
3)   The difference in the basic stances 
4)   From the perspective of fighting
5)   From the perspective of lineage   

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Find Your "Authentic Swing"

Steven Pressfield, the author of many great books, has written another terrific article at his blog. He describes a famous golfer who has an ... unusual swing that works for him, and goes on to talk about finding your "authentic swing" in your own life. 

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The concept of the Authentic Swing is that each of us is endowed from birth with our own gift, our own style, our own unique talent and point of view. Our job is to find it and bring it forth.
“I believe that each of us possesses,” Bagger Vance began, “one true Authentic Swing that is ours alone. It is folly to try to teach us another, or to mold us to some ideal version of the perfect swing. Each player possesses only that one swing that he was born with, the swing that existed within him before he ever picked up a club. Like the statue of David, our Authentic Swing already exists, concealed within the stone … “
Please, take the Foolscap Method (or anything else I propose) with a major grain of salt. Tweak it. Modify it. Chuck it completely if you don’t like it.

Do what works for you.

If you’ll forgive me for quoting myself twice in a single blog post, here are the last few paragraphs from The Authentic Swing. I swear I did not fudge them to comport with Jim Furyk’s incredible round.
Are you a writer or an artist or an entrepreneur? Don’t copy me. Don’t do it my way. Work at four in the morning if that feels right. Work in the shower, work on the subway, work at the wheel of a moving taxi cab. Start at the end, play backward, write your stuff in Urdu and translate it later.

Do it your way.

Don’t swing Rory’s swing, or Bubba’s, or, for heaven’s sake, Jim Furyk’s. Listen to Bagger.

Swing your Authentic Swing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Home Dojo

I tend to practice on my own in my basement. It's out of the way. I have space. The berber carpet with padding under it is easy on my joints. I don't disturb the rest of the house and no one disturbs me.

Other people practice in their back yard, on a deck or maybe under a car port off the the garage. Perhaps there is a park nearby. I read an entry on a forum once where the writer said that he had a high school behind his house and he'd practice laps of the Five Elements (I'm not sure I believe that, but it's an interesting idea).

Some people are more ambitious. Maybe convert the garage to a gym/dojo, tack on an addition or erect a pole barn.

... and then there is this guy. I am an amoeba. I simply can't do what he has put together for himself and his students justice. Just follow the link. Enjoy.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

The 57 Strategies

We've discussed The 36 Strategies and The 48 Laws of Power, but are you familiar with The 57 Strategies?

My friend over at the Dao of Strategy recently had an article about the 57 Strategies of the legendary coach, Red Auerbach. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

Many years ago, an associate who is a Boston Celtics basketball fanatic, gave us  this interesting book from the great Arnold "Red" Auerbach.  It is titled "Basketball for the Player, the Fan and the Coach." 

On page 189,  the book lists  "57 Strategic Moves," which Auerbach prefaces with this disclaimer: "How many of these you consider ethical or unethical depends entirely on your organization. I am merely listing them as things that can happen." Among the possible moves are:

  • When a player notices an official's indecision as to an out-of-bounds ball, he should run over and pick it up with the full confidence that it is his.
  • If the opposing team has a high scorer, keep reminding the other players of their uselessness because the scorer takes all the shots.
  • Grabbing or pulling the pants or shirt of the opponent can be very aggravating.
  • When the other team is given possession of the ball from an official's decision, don't throw the ball directly to an opponent. The ball should be thrown rather slowly to the official. This will give your men time to get set on defense.
  • Place the scorer's and timer's table near your bench.
  • Wait until the other team has started warming up and then request their basket. This request must be honored away from home.
  • Faking injuries is used for many reasons . . . 
  • Some players may agitate their opponents by incessant chatter, refusing to talk to them at all, or even ridicule
From our experience, gaining the subtle advantage of creating strategic momentum is the essence of these tactics.. Maintaining the strategic momentum throughout the game is the tangible key to a imtegral victory.

Scripting this category of plays in your gameplan is easy. Preparing the principals to implement it, is the challenge.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Martial Arts Training Apparatus

Specifically the famous wooden dummy of Wing Chun Kung Fu.

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there is yet another great article. This one has to do with the history and development of the Wing Chun wooden man as we know him today.

As someone who practices on their own an awful lot, my eyes and ears are always open for aids that can help my own training. The wooden dummy is used in many Southern Chinese Martial Arts. 

An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here. Please pay a visit. Enjoy.

I have been shopping for a new wooden dummy (Mook Yan Jong).  Obviously Wing Chun has a long and fruitful association with the wooden dummy, but this training tool is used throughout the southern Chinese martial arts.  Southern Mantis and Hung Gar boxers occasionally use the dummy, as do Choy Li Fut practitioners.  In fact, Choy Li Fut employs a great variety of somewhat more mechanical complex training tools.


While Ip Man probably owned a dummy in Foshan, our story does not really begin to get interesting until we reach the 1950s.  In 1949 Ip Man and a daughter fled to Macau and then Hong Kong in anticipation of the Communist conquest of Guangdong.  After a number of years of KMT sponsored anti-Communist campaigns it was probably no longer safe for him given his prior employment as the leader of a local police unit.  After spending a few months in Hong Kong Ip Man decided to take up the title of Sifu and become a professional martial arts teacher.

Of course there were a number of complications.  To begin with, he did not have a dummy.  More to the point he had yet to establish a local reputation, a pool of stable students or a location for a permanent school.  Ip Man would spend the first few years of his teaching career addressing each of these problems.
There are any number of ways to mount a dummy, but Fung’s idea was both simple and innovative.  Rather than supporting the dummy at its base (the traditional method) he instead hung the jong on wooden slats that passed directly through the body.  The thin slats acted as springs.  By moving the supporting structure up the body, where most of the form was actually performed, the feel of the dummy was substantially changed.

Most Dai Jongs had a limited rocking motion, if they moved at all.  The new Gua Jong (Live Dummy) was different. It all had to do with the placement and strength of the slats.  When a student engaged the arms or leg of the dummy they were in effect loading a spring which would throw the dummy back forward in a more lifelike way the moment the pressure was released.
In effect a Gua Jong offers a degree of feedback on your movements that you simply could not get from a buried dummy.  Given that this instrument is often used as a sort of “silent training partner” every ounce of feedback you can squeeze out of it is valuable.  For instance, in Wing Chun students want to punch towards the opponent’s “center line.”  If you do that with a dummy, from practically any forward facing angle, you will force the body back onto the slats and then the recoil will return the dummy to its initial position.  But if your lines of attack are off and you are punching across the front of the dummy, or simply pushing at its arm, its body will slide along the rails, retreating from your incomplete strike.  Again, this is critical because it provides instant feedback to the students on the sorts of subtle pressures that must be “felt” to be understood.

Together Ip Man and Fung Shek fine-tuned the new creation.  The basic idea was sound but it took a bit of experimentation to work out exactly what sort of slats and mounting system yielded the best results.  The final product was a truly custom, and innovative, dummy for the young Hong Kong Wing Chun clan.

Fung Shek delivered his prototype to Ip Man in 1956.  While Ip Man worked with a number of different dummies over the years (as he moved from one school to the next) he always kept the Fung Shek creation with him.  It was his preferred dummy to set up in a school, and eventually in his own home.  In fact, this is the same dummy that used in the now famous series of photographs taken by Tang Sang in 1967.  It was always his personal jong.  It can now been seen on display in the Ip Man Tong in Foshan.

Yet by the middle of the 1950s things were looking up.  Ip was building a larger group of more advanced students and it was now time to consider installing a dummy so that their training could progress.  In fact he was already showing some his students sections of the dummy form which they were practicing like any other set.  In Wing Chun parlance this is called “using the air dummy.”  

While good for a quick review, it is no substitute for the geometric discipline of the real thing.
Life in Hong Kong was very different from Foshan.  To begin with, people tended to live in tall apartment buildings, rather than in one story dwellings with flagstone floors.  And outdoor space was extremely limited in the city, just as it is today.

Sometime in the mid-1950s Ip Man approached a carpenter and friend named Fung Shek.  He explained his basic problem and talked about what he wanted in a dummy.  He then commissioned Fung to devise some means for constructing a mounting system for a portable dummy (Ip Man moved frequently during this period) that could be used indoors.

Monday, December 02, 2013

What it Takes to Achieve Mastery in Martial Arts

"To Master a martial art, you much have a good teacher, natural ability and perseverance."

We've discussed the 10,000 Hour Rule. We've talked about Deliberate Practice. We've discussed strategies for achieving mastery. We've talked about everything more or less under our control.

I have a couple of links for you today. The first is from a TED Talk, and it's about Grit; or Perseverance.

The person who is the head of your martial arts organization isn't necessarily the best, most gifted of the art that ever walked through the dojo door, but he is the one who stuck around. Below is a short excerpt from some text that accompanied the TED Talk video that I found, followed by the video. The full accompanying text may be found here.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina. Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality. Grit is living life like it's a marathon, not a sprint.

Now unfortunately, in our pursuit of Mastery, there are things that are not under our control, like our genes. Just as your genes establishes the baseline from which all of our good health practices must be measured, it is our genes that largely determines the extent of the expertise we can acquire as a martial artist.

Below is an article I found at RealClearScience on what it takes to become an Elite Athlete. Substitute "Martial Artist" for "Athlete." The full article may be read here.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons why pursuing a calm, clear mind is my ultimate goal in my martial arts study. Physically I can get only so far, but I can always make my mind just a little more clear.

Can You Be an Elite Athlete?

As summer wanes, fall is in the air, and elite athletes are out in force.

In Flushing Meadows, New York, hundreds of the best tennis players in the world are plying their trade, dazzling spectators with crushing serves, pinpoint shots, and split-second reflexes that would make a cat envious.

When the tournament comes to a close, the expert artistry of tennis will give way to the raw, carnal athleticism of football. The NFL's regular season gets underway on Sunday, September 8th. There's simply nothing like watching massive, muscled men, some who can jump over you, batter each other with the force of minor car crashes.

Both sporting spectacles will leave many of us awed, and also wondering, "Why can't I do that?" A brief existential crisis ("What am I doing with my life?!") may also follow suit.

Athleticism is commonly believed to rely on two factors: genetics and practice. Which is most important? Well that depends upon whom you ask. Biologists and physiologists commonly choose genetics, while psychologists may be more apt to go with practice.

It's estimated that genetics determine anywhere from 20 to 80 percent of an athlete's performance. The information inherited from your parents regulates everything from your height and weight to your abilities to maintain muscle and deliver oxygen via red blood cells.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Advent Challenge 2013

Today begins the season of Advent in the Catholic Church. It is a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas. Advent begins four Sundays prior to Chistmas and ends on Christmas Day. Advent lasts for a little over four weeks.

As a warm up for the Lenten Challenge, I would like to issue the Advent Challenge.

Beginning today and through Christmas, in spite of the business and general insanity of the season, find a way to train every day. Do what you have to; move heaven and earth, but train every day. Even if it's just a little. No excuses.

These challenges are a form of Shuugyou Renshuu, or "Austere Training." There is a very good article about Shuugyou Renshuu right here.

I plan on tracking my progress each day on Lift, where  I've created an "Advent Challenge" habit.

Won't you join me?