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 ~

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Practicing the Basics in Martial Arts

Here we have an excerpt from another good article at The Art of Manliness on Deliberate Practice.

For myself, I put a lot of emphasis on basic movements, exercises and drills; which still isn't what they are getting at here, but directionally correct. The full post may be read here.

The Secret of Great Men: Deliberate Practice

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 7, 2010

What creates great men? What made Ted Williams the greatest hitter in the history of baseball? What made Shakespeare one of history’s greatest writers? How did Carnegie become one of history’s greatest businessmen?

The typical answer that most people give is that greatness is born. Nature blesses a few great men with some sort of innate gift that allows them to excel at what they do – Shakespeare entered the world with a peerless writing talent, and Williams was born to swing a bat. Under this view, you’re either born with talent and destined for greatness or born without talent and destined for a life of mediocrity.

There’s one small problem with this view of greatness: there isn’t much science to back it up.

In fact, studies show that greatness and excellence aren’t “a consequence of possessing innate gifts [and talents].” Rather greatness is the result of years and years of enormous amounts of hard, painful work. Ted Williams spent hours hitting baseballs, and Carnegie spent his entire adolescence learning how to network and developing his prodigious memory, skills that would turn him into a mind-bogglingly wealthy captain of industry.

Studies have demonstrated that young prodigies excel not because of some kind of mystical innate talent but on the merits of pure hustle. Mozart wrote his first masterpiece at 21. That’s pretty young.

But people often forget to mention that he had spent the previous 18 years of his life studying music under the tutelage of his father. Mozart had been paying his dues since he was three years old, and it paid off big for him.

In short, great men aren’t born; great men are made, and they’re made through the process of deliberate practice.

What Is Deliberate Practice?

In the book Talent is Overrated, Fortune Magazine editor Geoff Colvin highlights recent studies that show that greatness can be developed by any man, in any field, through the process of deliberate practice. How does one practice deliberately? Colvin proposes five elements that allow a man to practice deliberately and thus achieve greatness.

1. Deliberate practice is an activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help. Most people practice by mindlessly repeating an activity over and over without any clear goal of what they want to accomplish. For example, let’s say a man wants to improve his golf game. If he’s like most men, he’ll just go to the driving range and hit a couple of buckets of balls without thinking much about specific ways he can improve his swing. Three hundred balls later, this man hasn’t improved at all. In fact, he may have gotten worse.

2. The practice activity can be regularly repeated. The world’s top performers spend years of their lives practicing. Ted Williams, the greatest hitter in baseball history, would practice hitting balls until his hands bled. Basketball legend Pistol Pete Maravich would go into the gym on Saturday mornings and practice shooting from a specific spot on the court until the gym closed at night. To be the best, you have to put in the time. In fact, if you want to become an expert in your field, you’ll need to put in at least 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice first.

3. The practice activity provides feedback on a continual basis. Constant feedback is crucial for improvement. You have to see the results of your efforts to evaluate if the way you’re doing things is working or if you need to change things up to improve. Moreover, without feedback during practice you’re more likely to lose the motivation to keep at it. During your practice sessions, constantly stop and look for feedback. With some activities, getting feedback is easy. For example, if you’re practicing your jump shot for basketball, if the ball goes through the net every shot, you know you’re on the right track. If you brick it every shot, that’s feedback that you need to change things up.

4. Deliberate practice is highly demanding mentally, whether it’s purely physical or mental. This factor separates deliberate practice from mindless practice. When you’re practicing deliberately, you’re focusing and concentrating so much on your performance that you’re mentally exhausted after your practice session. Deliberate practice is so demanding mentally that studies show that “four or five hours a day is the upper limit of deliberate practice, and this is frequently accomplished in sessions lasting no longer than an hour to ninety minutes.”

5. Deliberate practice isn’t much fun. Most people don’t enjoy doing activities that they’re not good at. It’s no fun to fail over and over again and receive criticism on how you can improve. No one likes to be humbled like that. We’d rather do stuff at which we excel because succeeding is enjoyable, and it strokes our egos. Yet deliberate practice is specifically designed to focus on things you suck at and requires you to practice those skills over and over again until you’re mentally exhausted. What a buzz kill.

AoM Man-Up Challenge

This week I challenge you to pick an area of your life that needs improvement and apply the principles of deliberate practice to it. I’d love to hear what you’re working on and how you’re progressing. Share what you’re working on in the comments below. I also recommend going out and getting Talent Is Overrated. It’s one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read this year and will inspire you to seek greatness.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

You Are Stronger Than You Think.

An excerpt from another brilliant article at The Art of Manliness. The full article may be read here.

Dig Deep: You’re Stronger Than You Think

by Brett & Kate McKay on November 4, 2013

Awhile back I was doing a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout over on a nearby running/biking trail. Along the trail there’s a fairly steep hill that takes about a minute to sprint up at full speed. For my workout, I would charge up the hill as fast as I could, walk/jog back down, and repeat the sequence ten times. It puts you in a nice amount of pain.

Halfway through the last sprint in my set, my legs and lungs were crying for mercy. I felt sure my body could not possibly run a single more step. But just as I was about to slow down into a walk, a pair of lovely ladies crested over the top of the hill and came jogging towards me. In that moment, an involuntary pride response kicked in, and I somehow found another gear and continued to haul butt to the top of the hill.

A seemingly insignificant moment in my life, but it actually spurred a great deal of reflection. I had felt sure I was physically spent, but then found deeper reserves of strength left to tap. My mind had lied to me. What else, I wondered, might my mind be lying about?

As it turns out, a great deal. We all have deep wells of strength that we may never even know exist, as they are closely guarded by a brain that would rather loaf and maintain the status quo than take you to the next level. But don’t be fooled by this tight-fisted sentinel – you’re physically, mentally, and emotionally stronger than you think.

You’re Physically Stronger Than You Think

Athletes have always known there is a connection between one’s mind and one’s performance – that you can will yourself to keep going when the body grows fatigued. But recent studies have shown that the mind can have quite the opposite effect – slowing you down before you’re actually physically spent. In essence, the very fatigue your brain fights against was created by…your brain!


You’re Mentally Stronger Than You Think

Just as your brain can convince you that you’ve reached your physical limits when you really haven’t, it can also tell you you’re too tuckered out for mental tasks, when your noodle actually has more to give.


You’re Emotionally Stronger Than You Think

The brain not only gets anxious about expending too much energy in the midst of physical and mental exertions, it also wrings its metaphorical hands when simply anticipating a challenge to your emotional capabilities.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ronda Rousey's Mom

Tomorrow, Ronda Rousey is going to defend her UFC Bantamweight title against Sara McMann in a MMA event.

Rousey has been dominant in MMA, and for good reason. From the time she was a little girl, her mother, who was herself a world class judoka, pushed her towards excellence. All her life, Rousey has had top coaches and has competed at the very highest level. She won a bronze metal in the Olympics, for crying out loud.

Her last match against Miesha Tate was an ongoing judo lesson. 

None of her competitors has come close to having such an impressive pedigree. All of them have come to MMA; to martial arts at all, fairly recently in comparison, and none have have competed consistently at the levels Rousey called home.

Until now. Her opponent, Sara McMann is herself a long time wrestler and won a silver medal in the Olympics. This will be the first time that Rousey has been matched up against someone with a background similar to her own.

But this post isn't titled "Ronda Rousey;" it's "Ronda Rousey's Mom." 

Recently, at Ozymandias, there was an article about Ronda Rousey's mom, AnnMaria De Mars. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

When I fought a woman from Cuba, I broke her fucking arm.”

If AnnMaria De Mars cared about us excusing her French, she’d have asked us to excuse her French. But this she did not do as she told us exactly what she said to her Olympic Bronze medalist daughter in an effort to cool a moment of competitive panic before an international match.

    De Mars is all those things: nice, friendly and not so relaxed.

That’s right. Those are her gentle words of motherly advice. And they are entirely in keeping with the armbars that the 5-foot-2-inch De Mars used to use to wake the same daughter up for school in the morning — the daughter who became the undefeated Bantamweight Ultimate Fighting Championship belt holder, Ronda Rousey. Rough way to welcome a kid to the day? Well, if winning were going to be easy, everybody would win. Which is not at all how the real world works, really.

”It’s rare to see someone get to that level of athletic achievement and be really relaxed about getting there,” said Dallas Winston from the sports commentary site SB Nation. “Or nice. Or friendly,” he laughs.

But De Mars is all those things: nice, friendly and not so relaxed. When we catch her on a rare day off, what we want to know above anything else is this: What happens in the heads of folks for whom winning becomes a kind of addiction? It was something De Mars wondered herself when Ronda, an athlete just like her other three kids, announced that she wanted to be a champion, too. Just like her mom.

”I took it really seriously since I knew exactly what it took to do that. No way was I going to work harder than her for something she said that she wanted,” said De Mars. So she did her due dilligence and rounded up all of the people that she had met on her way up — world team judokas, Olympic champs — and asked them what their parents and coaches did to lay the groundwork for success. It’s that kind of methodical approach that helped her transform from an overweight 12-year-old Air Force brat in Alton, Illinois, born to nonathlete parents, into a national competitor by age 16.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Flexibility Training for Martial Arts

About any athletic activity requires some degree of flexibility, especially martial arts. There are a myriad of stretching programs out there and if you like me with a LOT of connective tissue in my legs, most of it just doesn't help.

Not all stretching regimes are alike though. The kinesiological stretching techniques taught by Paul Zaichik at Elastic Steel are something a little different. If you are really tight, or have a specific problem area, you may certainly want to take a look at them. I think you'll get results beyond your expectations FAST.

He has both general stretching programs and others for specific areas or sports. Mr. Zaichik was kind enough to provide with with a video of his Hip Flexor program, which is particularly applicable to internal  martial arts.

Below is a discription of how kinesiological stretching differs from standard stretching. Please visit Elastic Steel. Enjoy.

How are kinesiological stretching techniques differ from standard stretching techniques?

There are a few major differences and many minor ones.

1. Standard stretches often stretch multple muscles at the same time.

For example let's say you want to stretch your hip flexors, to improve hip extension and pelvic tilt position.  There are 6 hip flexors. On the top of that- upper adductors flex the hip as well. If the target action of the stretch is direct hip extension, there are 10 muscles (6 hip flexors and 4 adductors), that need to be lengthen for hip extension to take place. If anyone of them doesn't release, hip extension is restricted.

Kinesiological stretching techniques take advantage of the fact that each of those muscle carries out a different function on the top of flexing the hip. Some rotate the joint laterally, some medially, some abduct, some adduct, some cross the knee, while other flex the spine.

Taking this into consideration, kinesiologically each muscle can be isolated and stretch individually.

This allow for much easier stretch and much faster progress. At the same time, this allows an athlete (or therapist) to find out which muscle is causing the issue. Thus more attention can be place on this muscle, through frequent focus, deeper stretching, massage, release, visualization, etc.

2. Next kinesiological stretching techniques are different from other approaches, because stretching reflex is tricked. (Imagine how much further you can stretch, if the pain is not there.) The avoidance of stretch reflex comes from the stretching positions and the concept of target and leverage.

Kinesiological stretching techniques are not passive. This is done by selecting an action (or combination of actions) as target and one as leverage. The target is the muscle action one wants to improve, while the leverage is the action that creates space in the muscle. A position is chosen, where both actions can move at the same time. Basic applications move an leverage, followed by a target.

Advance applications vary greatly, and range from multiple targets and multiple leverages to various full and partial contractions on agonists and antagonists.

In research kinesiological stretching techniques have  preformed better than relaxed stretches, active stretches, PNF and others. The faster results came with shorter recovery time, longer range of motion retention, and significant carry over into sport activities (regardless if used as a warm up, in between skill set, or as a cool down.)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Mental Toughness in Martial Arts

Mental toughness. How do you train that?

Below is an excerpt from an article about developing mental toughness in the sport of wrestling. It's a very good read. The whole article may be read here.

Mental Toughness Wins in Wrestling
November 19, 2010
By Steve Fraser
Toughness as defined in the dictionary:
  1. Able to withstand great strain without breaking. 2. Physically hardy; rugged.       3. Severe; harsh. 4. Aggressive. 5. Demanding. 6. Strong-minded; resolute.
What is ‘toughness’ in the sport of wrestling? What does it mean to be mentally tough? How can mental toughness help us to overcome obstacles?
These questions – when answered and mastered – can catapult us and our team to the top of the wrestling world.

The reason Rulon Gardner, Olympic Champion, beat the Russian superstar; Alexander Karelin in the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games was because of Rulon’s toughness. Karelin had not been beaten in 13 years. The reason Matt Lindland won the 2000 Olympic and 2001 World silver medals is because of toughness. The reason our U.S. Greco-Roman wrestling team won the World Championships in 2007 in Baku, Azerbaijan was because of our team’s toughness.

I contend that the main reason wrestlers make it to the top in this game is because they learn to master their mental, physical and emotional toughness.
In my mind there is no doubt. Toughness in wrestling is the key to becoming one of the best! We can be brilliant technicians. We can be as quick as cats. We can be extremely talented. We can be strong as a freight train. But without exceptional toughness our road to the highest podium step will probably be very bumpy.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Japanese Sword Making

I ran across an interesting post at The Budo Bum on a visit to a Japanese Sword Maker. An excerpt from the post is below. The full post may be read here. Please pay a visit.

Visiting A Traditional Japanese Sword Smith

While visiting Japan recently, I had the opportunity to visit an old friend who represents one of the rarest and most beautiful facets of budo.  Kawahara Sadachika is a traditional Japanese swordsmith, making gorgeous blades in a tradition that goes back unbroken for over a thousand years.  Each of his blades is both a work of art, and a traditional weapon of the highest quality.  It is always a wonderful day when I can sit and visit with him.
Like most Japanese martial arts students, I spend a lot of time studying the techniques of the styles I train in.  Not nearly enough of us spend time learning to appreciate the skill, craftsmanship and artistry that go into many of the weapons we use.  In truth however, the weapons of the classical Japanese warrior were, if anything, even more refined and developed than the arts they practiced.  The tradition of the Japanese sword is twice as long as any of the extant martial traditions, with gorgeous blades that are clearly part of the nihonto tradition dating from the 900s.
Kawahara Sensei trained in the Gassan tradition of swordsmithing under Gassan Sadaichi.  Today he works in a small forge he built on the side of mountain in rural Shiga Prefecture.  The forge building is a simple, old style Japanese building with mud walls, many of which were damaged in recent typhoon.
The basic forge hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years.  Metal ventilation hoods now cut down on the number of fires that burn down forges, and most smiths can’t afford to keep a cadre of apprentices to swing the big hammer that does all of the heavy work, so they usually have a power hammer tucked into one corner.  It does the same thing an apprentice does.  It smacks the same spot time after time while the smith puts the steel in the right spot.

My friend Grigoris and I spent wonderful day with Kawahara Sensei talking about swords and looking at some blades he made.  Each one is wonderful display of master craftsmanship, exquisite functionality and subtle beauty.  He cleaned each one carefully for us so we could appreciate every level of it’s detail. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Legacy of Zhuge Liang

Zhuge Liang was one of the main characters during the Three Kingdoms period. If you've ever read The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a fictionalized account of that era, you can't help but come away with a deep regard for this giant of strategic thought.

Historian Ralph Sawyer has published a new book that examines the life and legacy of Zhuge Liang. Below is a post over at The Dao of Strategy which describes the book. The full post may be read here.

A decidedly historic figure whose legend was increasingly magnified over the centuries, Zhuge Liang (Chu-ko Liang) has long been regarded as a brilliant strategist, commander, administrator, inventor, practitioner of the esoteric arts, originator of arcane wisdom, military thinker, and a sagacious king maker. His geostrategic insights rescued Liu Pei from extinction, resulting in China’s Three Kingdoms period, and his innovative tactics – including the “empty city ploy” -- reportedly resulted in defeating vastly superior, often befuddled foes. His escapades and achievements have become the subject of tales and novels, movies and tv serializations, and he looms large in war games and contemporary media. However, understanding his extensive military writings requires penetrating the myths and stories, discerning Chu-ko Liang’s real accomplishments, and acknowledging his shortcomings. 

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Answering Some Core Questions Regarding Xingyiquan

Jesse Conley at Stone Tiger Xingyi had a post about some of the core questions regarding the art of Xingyiquan. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

What is the Truth?

Like many people know, I get a deep, perverse pleasure in asking the question "Why?" In that one word is the stumbling block for most belief systems and methods of practice.  I know it's not mature of me, but sometimes I can't help myself when someone starts to talk about something that is outlandish or not based in reality.  I also understand that my love of that question can make me come across very poorly to some people, especially those who I question.  I come across very brash and judgemental, but most of the time I just don't care enough to explain what I mean on a deep level (I know that sounds terrible)  But maybe I can shed some light on my personal views and the reasons for them here.

I would like to start by sharing a little about my martial journey that I haven't shared before.  Several years ago I felt totally lost and had no idea where to go as far as the direction of my training.  I have been lucky enough to meet and train with several amazing masters of Xingyi, but not one of them shared the same beliefs on training or what Xingyi was actually for.  Each master held a different origin story to be true, each one believed that the art evolved differently, and each saw a different goal for high level practitioners.  So while I was lucky to train with them, this left me deeply confused at the same time.  Where did Xingyi come from?  What was its original purpose? What is high level?  So after a lot of soul searching and coming very close to quitting due to frustration, I decided to use the tools at my disposal and proven methods to see what I could learn about my favorite martial art.  Since I'm not the most learned person I was left with simple yet irrefutable techniques.  I decided to base my research off of the scientific method of hypothosis, experimentation and conclusion, the technique of "Occams' Razor" as well as a method from our legal system, namely "Its not what you know, its what you can prove" Now obviously that is a quote from a movie, but its sums up very well how we as Westerners fuction and understand things.  And that is the only way I will ever understand things, no one can honestly say that they completely think and understand another culture without having lived in it for many years, so I would have to make do.

So having said this, nothing I say in this article is meant to insult or degrade anyone's personal beliefs, but I am simply putting out the plain facts about Xingyi that can be proven easily.  I will speak in general terms, but please don't take that as an attack, its not meant to be.  But really, if  writing about my research bothers people, they are forgetting a great quote from Aristotle "The mark of a great mind is being able to entertain an idea without accepting it"  So I hope that I get the chance to share this with many great minds in the hopes of starting a positive discussion.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, lets speak honestly and bluntly.  Xingyi is an amazing art with a world full of potential, but it's dying.  There is no sugar coating it, it's simply true.  I believe the reason for this is that Xingyi teachers are so far scattered and when we meet most of the time we can't agree on simple practices. How can we ever work as a whole to propegate our art?  We can't.

There must be a core of common knowledge and understanding for Xingyi practitioners so we can present a united front to the world.  We all must work together in the future, the old method of the wandering teacher doesn't work on a global scale.  Often times in the past it was only effective in a single province, not even across the whole of China, so how can it work across the world?

Where to start?  For me, that was easy.  I wanted to learn the most logical and provable origins of Xingyi.

The next question is "What was considered good Xingyi 200 years ago?"

The 3rd question "What is High Level?"