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, January 30, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

New Martial Arts Journal

Dr. Ben Judkins, over at Kung Fu Tea, recently announced that a new scholarly journal dedicated to the study of martial arts will soon begin publishing. Below is an excerpt from the announcement. The full post may be read here.

We are delighted to announce the arrival of a new academic journal: Martial Arts Studies:
Martial Arts Studies is a peer reviewed, open access, online, academic journal dedicated to publishing the highest quality academic work on any aspect of martial arts studies. Its aim is to foster the most informed cross-disciplinary discourse on martial arts via the cross-fertilization of perspectives. As such, it encourages interdisciplinarity. The journal publishes both themed and open issues. All contents are subject to peer and editor review. New issues are published every April and October. The first issue of academic articles will be published in October 2015, but other forms of news, announcements and updates will be posted on the site regularly.
The journal is edited by Dr Paul Bowman and Dr Ben Judkins. The editorial assistant is Kyle Barrowman. It has a prestigious international Editorial Advisory Panel of renowned academics from around the world, each with expertise in one or more areas of martial arts studies.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vintage Shotokan Karate Video

Here is a vintage Shotokan Karate video, showing some self defense techniques as imagined back in the day. Enjoy.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Book Review: Inner Wing Tsun by Keith Kernspecht

We have today a book review by our frequent contributor, Jonathan Bluestein. Enjoy!

Review of ‘Inner Wing Tsun’ – a course book for all martial enthusiasts
By Jonathan Bluestein

Inner Wing Tsun is a not a book, but rather a poem; an ode to martial arts. It is a song of character, testifying to the thought and nature of its author, master Keith Kernspecht. It ought to be understood as Kernspecht’s artistic (rather than technical) transmission of his arts in writing; a personal message, first and foremost from him to his students, and to practitioners of Wing Chun worldwide.

A petite yet impressive work, it bears an aura of seriousness and importance, conveyed strongly first and foremost through its oldschool hard-cover design, as well as its highly professional editing. 

Though mass-produced, it has the feel of a collector’s novelty item. The book’s atmosphere and tone are very rational and North-western European, and those who see themselves at home with that sort of attitude will enjoy this work to the utmost.

Falling mid-way between philosophical/psychological discourse and a martial arts journal summarizing decades of experience, Inner Wing Tsun reads like no other book of its kind.   
Those looking for technicalities would be let down. This is not an instructional. Rather, it is concerned with various Principles: those of practicing, teaching and even living correctly. Most of these are based on the author’s decades-long experience in his art (and his training in many other arts along the way), but anecdotes and musings are also drawn from a myriad of other source materials, oftentimes writings by great thinkers of Western Philosophy and such. It is meant as a life-guide. A pocketbook for the right mindset in difficult times. Something one carries along and goes back to again and again as his or her martial arts path continues to evolve.

Albeit written from a Wing Chun perspective, this book is not only for practitioners of this art. The thoughtful anecdotes of the author on matters relating to personal development in the martial arts can appeal to anyone. I myself am a practitioner and teacher of other Chinese martial arts, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it.    

This is one of very few books which address modern scientific understandings as they relate to Internal mechanics in the martial arts (Nei Gong). Like my own book, Research of Martial Arts (, it addresses the role of fasciae in Internal training, which is a very important subject which has been neglected up until the last decade by martial artists. There is also referencing of the training of Yi (Intention), which is something usually missed from martial arts books. 

Covered are also some very advanced training and fighting concepts. The use of actual empathy to gain an advantage in fighting, the ‘touching’ of an opponent without touching in the psychological and spiritual sense, and more. All of these easily reveal the depth of the master Kernspecht’s personal research in his arts and practice.           
The psychology of combat is a field of study often reserved to intuitive learning by veteran fighters. Here however we are given a more coherent take on this topic. It is here similar yet different to Rory Miller’s works, and covers many aspects of the self-defense oriented combative mindset – from ritualistic street brawling to intricate strategic maneuvering. Though none of these are technique-specific in the book, that is actually an advantage, as the author allows the reader a broad room for interpretation and implementation into what he or she are already familiar with.

Some observations made by the author, I take to be simply brilliant. For instance, he writes: “when our arm or arms are in contact with the opponent, the only thing we need to do is to avoid our own arms!”. This simple truth, which could easily be dismissed as being ‘all too obvious’, is a great asset as an instructional order for a beginner student. I would not exaggerate by saying that things such as this, put in the right context and said to the right person, can save one months and sometimes years of training with an incorrect mindset.   

At 350 tiny pages (which do not sacrifice quality for size), you could easily get through this book in one go if you wish, in no more than 3-4 hours. Yet the text draws you in, slowing the pace and tempting you to read it more solemnly (as in other small but deep works, such as the Dao De Jing). 

Regardless of the time spent, if you are a serious martial artist, you would likely enjoy this work. 

Especially for martial arts teachers, this is a true gem for expanding their general overview of training and instructing, and providing new ways to think about old ideas.

This fine book may be ordered directly from master Kernspecht’s organization (the EWTO). It ought to cost about 30$. You can make an order by emailing the EWTO here:

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Aging Martial Artist

Below is an excerpt from a post at Steve Maxwell Strength & Conditioning blog on the aging athlete and having to take the long view. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

Jiu-Jitsu and the Mature Athlete: A Letter to a Former Student

As a man ages, he needs to get wiser in how he uses his body. Eventually, everyone declines as aging sets in. The biggest mistake I see is middle-aged men trying to compete and train like they did when they were younger. Even worse, is comparing their performances from their their younger days to the present day and the feelings of disappointment in the disparity. This will always be a source of frustration. No one can continue to dominate forever.

You must acquire the grace to feel satisfaction in the moment. Improvements for the man over 45 will be subtle; the days for big gains and big strides are over. Improvements will come in other ways than increased physical prowess. Thankfully, the mental game continues to improve, forever. Things like learning to quickly relax, better breath control, reducing panic in uncomfortable situations, trickery, and of course, not hesitating to tap just as soon as you get caught -- struggling and fighting out of submissions is a young man's game and beneath the mature athlete. What's important for the older BJJ practitioner is to immediately acknowledge his mistake in getting caught in a submission hold in the first place. Simply tap and continue playing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Friday, January 09, 2015

Kosen Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu

Below is an excerpt from a brief article that appeared at Eastern Europe BJJ, comparing and contrasting Kosen Judo and Brazilian Jiujitsu. The full article may be found here. Enjoy!

What is/was Kosen Judo?
Kosen judo  was a refinement of Kodokan Judo that was developed and flourished at the Kōtō senmon gakkō technical colleges in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century. Kosen judo’s competition rules allowed for greater emphasis of ne-waza ( ground techniques) than in mainstream judo and it is sometimes regarded as a distinct style of judo. Today, the term “Kosen judo” is frequently used to refer to the competition ruleset associated with it that allows for extended ne-waza.

Such competition rules are still used in the shichitei jūdō / nanatei jūdō competitions held annually between the seven former Imperial universities.

Differently to modern Judo rules leglocks were allowed (Leglocks started being prohibited by Kodokan rules in 1914 in shiai and randori as well. By 1925 all joint-locks except elbow locks were totally prohibited together with neck cranks. Kosen rules being the Kodokan rules derivative did not allow leglocks absolutely).
How is Kosen Judo different or similar to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
If you look at the Kosen Judo video below you can see many moves and flows that are different from modern Judo ground work (which is much more focused on pinning and more static).  These videos were made in the 1970’s by 6 older judokas , among them (in the tapes) was the famous Masahiko Kimura himself (who beat Helio Gracie). When you look at the techniques displayed in the video, it looks very similar to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu (which is more focused on the basics than modern sport BJJ). Kosen Judo players also pulled guard in competition. Kosen had a pinning rule. Strategy is different than BJJ. There was more more turtling than BJJ etc.
In short, Kosen Judo and Brazilian (Gracie) Jiu-Jitsu are similar but are still very different. Most of the techniques are the same, the competition rules are different. Kosen Judo has faded due to the popularity of modern Kodokan Judo (more focused on throws), while BJJ is fastly growing and always evolving with new techniques and flows.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Shugyou Training in Japan

Over at The Budo Bum, there was recently an excellent post about the author's recent work/vacation trip to Japan where he also undertook some training. A couple of excerpts are blow. The full post may be read here.

Modern Musha Shugyo Part 1

Musha Shugyo 武者修行is an old Japanese term for the practice of leaving one’s home and traveling around the country to learn from people, engage in challenge matches, grow, and perhaps even establish oneself. Rennis Buchner has a great article on musha shugyo over on Acme Budo. The past few weeks I’ve been on a modern version of the musha shugyo, visiting Japan, training with some great teachers in different dojo, and getting my butt thoroughly kicked along the way.

Even in the old days, musha shugyo were not endless rounds of intense duals. They were as much or more about learning and trying to find a job as anything else. Buchner’s references from various Hoki Ryu records provide a much more balanced and realistic view of what was happening than the popular myths. Sadly, my journey was not about finding a job teaching budo somewhere in Japan. There just aren’t many jobs for staff budoka anymore. Today a musha shugyo is a journey of hard training, deep learning and mental and spiritual development. For these purposes, our journey was a wonderful success.

I set out with a friend and one of her students to attend a private gasshuku sponsored by the teacher of one of my teachers, as well as to visit several dojo of my sword and jo teachers. Along the way we also squeezed in a few sites and experiences from around Japan. Budo is not just what happens in the dojo, and we didn’t want to miss the rest of the experience that is Japan.
A word about shugyo 修行 might be in order. Shugyo can be anything from simple training done sincerely to ascetic exercises performed for spiritual or religious purposes.  Within budo, practice is viewed as both training in the techniques of the system and developing students spirit, heart and mind. For my friends and I, and for everyone at the gasshuku, both aspects were fully present in our training. The technique training is clear, but the spiritual side was there too. We learned to not be put off by failure, as the teachers had us repeat techniques until we could get them right. We learned to endure fatigue and sleep deprivation because the socializing with the teachers could go late and cut into the amount of sleep we got. Sleep was already a precious commodity for my friends and I because we were suffering from jet lag. In previous years I’ve gone to the February gasshuku and learned to endure the suffering of training in the huge, drafty, unheated dojo, so the November chill felt like a warm spring by comparison. By the end of the third day we were also battling sore, achy muscles and a few bruises from strikes that missed their targets and thrusts that were a little too successful. At the gasshuku though, none of this was anything to complain about. That too was part of the shugyo.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Gender in Martial Arts Training

Another thought provoking article at Kung Fu Tea on issues surrounding mixed gender martial arts training from an academic viewpoint. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


Channon’s article is brief enough that I do not want to rehash the entire structure of his argument here. However, he offers some tentative suggestions that I would like to introduce to our discussion. First, instructors interested in changing the way that gender is typically constructed within martial arts schools should “look for ways in which to highlight the abilities of ‘senior’ female practitioners whenever possible, particularly doing so in ways that are visible to younger members of the club” (p. 594) Secondly, they should “encourage integration in training as much as possible, including the more physically intense, partnered activities, such as sparring” (p. 597). Lastly, proceed with caution as circumstances differ. “Instructors and practitioners ought to be careful not to always insist upon integration, just as they do nevertheless encourage such practices among those who are not fundamentally opposed to them” (P. 599). The word “fundamental” is the key concept in this final caution.

While succinct, each of these recommendations requires a little unpacking. In Channon’s findings perhaps the key element in redefining student’s subconscious ideas about what their bodies are capable of is the provision of female role models. These are certainly easier to find in some associations and styles than others. Yet even those systems that seem to emphasize the “feminine” aspects of their art can still face difficulties in this regard.

Consider the case of Wing Chun. Most Chinese martial arts offer students one or more “creation myths.”  The vast majority of these stories focus on male creators who attain martial excellence and then go on to found the social structures that the student is about to join. Given that China has traditionally been a highly patriarchal society, and most Kung Fu schools explicitly organize themselves as artificial kinship groups, the resulting emphasis on exclusively male “ancestors” is not surprising.

The Wing Chun creation myth is fascinating as it resists what was the dominant discourse within martial arts storytelling, and turns instead to a more esoteric set of motifs focusing on female warriors.  Specifically, this system claims to have been created by the Shaolin nun Ng Moy and then taught to her first student Yim Wing Chun, a teenage girl facing the threat of a broken engagement and forced marriage to a local trouble causer. While the lineage myths of most systems are exclusively male, Wing Chun practitioners look back to not one but two female initiatory figures.

Many current female Wing Chun students find a great deal of inspiration in the story of Ng Moy and Yim Wing Chun. So do these characters always function as effective role models? This is a difficult question to answer in universal terms, but I suspect that the answer is probably no. As fictional figures from the geographically and culturally remote land of “Rivers and Lakes,” they are not as immediately accessible to the imaginations of all students as one might like.

The other issue has to do with the way that their story is typically told. Ng Moy is said to have modified the Kung Fu that she learned at the Shaolin Temple to be more evasive and strategic. Rather than relying on brute strength, as the Abbot Jee Shim did, Ng Moy decided to create a combat system that would be effective even when practiced by physically weaker females. Yim Wing Chun, the somewhat hapless teenage girl who becomes synonymous with the art, is adopted as a student precisely because she serves to rhetorically illustrate this point. If someone as young, weak and inexperienced as her could be turned into a deadly warrior, then the fighting system itself must really have a superior conceptual framework.

All of this nicely illustrates some of the core concepts and goals of the Wing Chun system. Yet the not so subtle implication of these stories is that all women must fight this way because they are all physically weak. I am not sure that this is a positive message for my female students to hear.

Nor, truth be told, does the origin of the story really have much to do with actual females at all. All of the early students of Wing Chun who can be historically verified are male. For instance, it does not appear that any of Chan Wah Shun’s 16 students were female. Despite the positive portrayal of female fighters in these legends, the first confirmed female students of the art do not appear until Ip Man starts to teach in Hong Kong in the 1950s.

So where did these stories actually come from, and how were they interpreted by their intended audience? Readers should recall that during the late 19th and early 20th century stories of female warriors became more common within various areas Chinese literature and popular culture. Douglas Wile has argued that this stemmed from the cultural shock that resulted from China’s various failed attempts to stand up to western aggression and imperialism. Given that the nation had now been shown to be militarily weak, it suddenly became critical to argue that some other inherent characteristic of Chinese culture would be sufficient to see it through. The turn to narratives about female warriors who could assure the people victory without relying on material strength was more of a commentary on China’s ongoing identity crisis (and military weakness) during the late Qing and Republic periods than it was an actual discussion of changing gender roles.

More valuable than “mythic types” are flesh and blood role models. Respondents to Channon’s study consistently noted that having highly visible female students or instructors was critical to changing their perceptions of what women in the martial arts were capable of doing. Of course we are now faced with a chicken and egg problem. It is hard to cultivate female leaders within a school if the retention of women is lacking. Nor can one improve retention without visible female role models.

There are a few things that might help to ease this transition. Channon notes that using female students to demonstrate techniques can be highly visually effective, and this is something that can be done at pretty much any level of instruction. I should also point out that it may also be possible to “borrow” good role models. In my area there is a pretty serious amateur kickboxing community with a lot of very talented female fighters on every card. A “class trip” to an event like this not only builds comradery, but it also showcases exactly how strong and skilled female fighters can actually be.
Instructors may also wish to consider what sorts of imagery they display in their schools (if any). Studies have shown that female science students will perform notably better if their high school textbooks and labs display pictures of women (rather than just men) working in related professional fields.  I have no comparable empirical research to back this up, but I suspect that the same thing might hold true for martial arts training hall. Every type of student gains confidence when they see representations of people like themselves succeeding.

Channon’s second point has to do with the integration of all students into the classroom’s learning structure. Actual integration within mixed-sex environments might fail in a number of different ways. If every time students pair up for partner activities the female students are left to work by themselves in one corner of the room we have a fairly obvious problem.

Other times Channon’s interview subjects reported that the failures of integration were more subtle or rhetorical in nature. A number of women objected to being told “girl’s push-ups” when they were capable of doing plain push-ups during physical training sessions. In a martial arts class age, strength and physical ability are likely to vary tremendously. Being able to tell someone to do push-ups from their knees is probably quite useful. Verbally associating that variant of the exercise with the universal physical inferiority of women is not.

More troublesome is the issue of physical contact in sparring, rolling or the various sensitivity drills (push hands, chi sao…) that are used as critical training tools in a number of arts. A certain amount of restraint has to be shown whenever these exercises are used. Still, one of the most common complaints in Channon’s study (and my own experience fully supports this) is female students noting that their male classmates refuse to hit or seriously engage with them for “fear of causing injury.” Again, injuring your training partner is never the goal of such exercises, but such caution can be taken to ridiculous lengths. Occasionally male students will flat out refuse to spar with women as it violates their internal sense of “chivalry.”

Such attitudes are very destructive within a training environment. By refusing to use appropriate force female students are deprived of the opportunity to ever become competent fighters. When a school’s main goal is self-defense instruction there is the added danger of building a false sense of security which borders on negligence.

As I was reading the various interview reports in Channon’s paper it occurred to me that there may be an even more fundamental problem being brought to light here that in some ways transcends the topic at hand. One of the central goals of almost any martial art is to restructure how students approach the question of violence. Rather than responding to the threat of violence in the typical ways favored by cultural indoctrination, we wish to give our students both enhanced physical abilities as well as new options for thinking about the meaning and use of force. This is one of the many types of empowerment that can come out of martial arts training.

When male students refuse to engage with females because they are uncomfortable with the idea of “hitting a girl,” or their sense of chivalry is somehow violated by training with a woman, it is a pretty clear indication that they are not responding to their system’s ideas about the proper uses of force. Instead they are still subject to the dominant cultural discourse on violence. Thus it may be that a failure on the gender integration front points to other equally fundamental issues that need to be addressed.

Channon’s third point is to go slow. While it may seem uncontroversial to instructors within a style that there is no reason why men and women should not chi sao, spar or roll together, it may be much less obvious to a new student showing up at the school for the first time. Certain female students are hesitant to engage in mixed sex training.

Channon reviews two specific cases that instructors are likely to encounter. The first of these has to do with strongly held religious objections to the mixing of the sexes. Respondents to his survey reported that in some instances Muslim men refused to work with, or even acknowledge, female students in classes. Of course this issue is not totally unique to Muslims. As I pointed out at the start of this essay, our ideas about mixed sex training environments today are much different than what was acceptable in China a hundred years ago. If an individual takes a strongly principled view that mixed sex training is undesirable there is not much to do about it in purely practical terms.

Sexual abuse survivors were another category of students who (understandably) tended to be wary of mixed-sex touch. In this case the consensus view seems to have been to go slowly, but to eventually try to move the student to more robust forms of mixed-sex training. Again this was seen as especially important when a student’s goals included the building of real-world self-defense skills rather than just fitness or recreation.