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 ~

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

80 Year Old Earns Shodan in Aikido

The older I get, the more that I appreciate these stories. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

 At nearly 80, he earns his black belt in Aikido


Bob skied until two years ago and still scuba dives with his wife and kids - the next trip will include three generations - and he ran six miles every other day until he was 74. His knees and feet hurt, so he looked for something new.

He wandered into the dojo six years ago.

"It's a good feeling to work out and stretch and use your body and roll around," he said. "When I spend an hour and a half at the dojo for a training session, I will be thrown to the ground 100 times and get up. And I will throw someone else to the ground 100 times, and they will get up. This ability to work together and feel myself active, with somebody, it's a good feeling, and at the end of it, it's not like, 'Wow, what a workout.' It's more like, 'That was wonderful. And calming.' "

He suggests other older people consider Aikido.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Zen and Zhan Zhuang

At the time I was first learning the standing stake exercise, zhan zhuang, I was also reading a couple of great books on Zen: Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind and Hardcore Zen. The Zen idea has influenced my thinking on zhan zhuang ever since.

Over at the Taoist Meditation blog, there is a very nice post on this very topic. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Zen meditation and zhan zhuang

Zhan zhuang is sometimes called standing meditation (and tai chi moving meditation). Meditation has different meanings in different disciplines, in Tibetan and most Hindu traditions, it is at-oneness with a spiritual figure, in most cases one suggested by a student's teacher according to the personality of a student, this is serious meditation. Or meditation can mean the modern mindfulness meditation tailoring to today's busy company executives looking for an easy way to rejuvenate one's tired body and mind. This is a kind of watered-down Zen meditation focusing on the here-and-now however one defines it.

Zhan zhuang is also about internal focusing or mindfulness. It focuses our attention to the internal dynamics of our chi cultivation, growth and balancing. In particular it focuses on our muscles and tendons, and the connectivity of these to deliver power, in tai chi lingo, such power is called Jing 勁。An internal perception of chi is crucial to the activation of Jing because its activation runs a route (chi channel) connecting our core to our peripherals. Delivery of power at peripheral (e.g. fist) is transmitted from the core (e.g. feet and pelvis) through an internally perceivable running route, the chi channel.

Many practitioners of zhan zhuang will have a good mental side-effect. His or her personality will become calmer. Most do not know why and therefore do not know how to manage it to get better results. This aspect actually has been promoted in the tradition of the art. Master Wang XiangZai was said to have conned the term "Martial art and Zen as one" 禪拳合一。

The essence of Zen meditation according to the Six Patriarch Hui Neng is "find one's true self" (明心見性)。How to find one's true self? A self which is not influenced by external events. For example, when  we are frustrated by our spouse, this is not our true self.  What is you? A common question in Zen Buddhism. Answers are very simple: for example, if you got a mirror, your can look at it to see your self; if you got people around looking at you (e.g when you are talking to them), you can infer your self from their facial expressions etc. Finding your self in a meditative state should be logically as simple as the above.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

No Mind and Immovable Mind in Martial Arts Training

Peter Boylan posted another excellent article at The Budo Bum. This time he writes about mushin (no-mind) and  fudoshin (immovable mind). Below in an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


Mushin and fudoshin get described with some of the most contradictory language around.  Mushin is written 無心, and literally translates as “no mind.” Fudoshin is written “不動心” which is probably best translated as “immovable mind,” but which Takuan describes by saying:

Although wisdom is described as immovable, this does not signify any insentient thing, like wood or stone. It moves as the mind is wont to move: forward or back, to the left, to the right, in the ten directions and to the eight points; and the mind that does not stop at all is called immovable wisdom.
    Takuan Soho, The Unfettered Mind. William Scott Wilson translation

A mind that is no mind, and and immovable mind that does not stop at all. This kind of language makes no sense at all.  At least it didn’t for my first decade or two of budo training. Mushin and fudoshin are mental states that are developed through hours and hours of training. Like most things having to do with our minds, these are complicated.

One of the first complications is that character for mind used in both mushin 無心 and fudoshin 不動心 that I pointed out at the beginning. The character 心 (pronounced “coe-coe-roe” and written kokoro in romaji) contains characteristics that in the Western tradition have been split in two. In English we talk about the mind as the seat of logic and intellect, and we talk about the heart as the seat of the emotions.

The Japanese don’t make the mistake of trying to separate the intellect and the emotions. They recognize that these are not separate things, but two parts of a greater whole. Intellect informs emotions, and emotions affect intellect. This should be obvious, but our cultural inheritance obscures it. When we talk about mushin and fudoshin though, we are definitely talking about both the intellectual and the emotional parts of us. We just don’t have a word in English that encompasses all of this.

Mushin means “no mind.” That’s pretty unimaginable. No mind? Isn’t that like being in a coma? No, it’s not, and that’s the problem I have with the term mushin. It’s not about being mindless. It may be closer to the way people are using the term “mindful” lately, but that’s not a descriptor either. Mushin has several layers to it, but I think it can be understood, even when you still have thousands of hours of training to go before you can consistently achieve it.

Mushin starts, not with no mind, but with a calm, clear mind that doesn’t impose itself. That’s the first step. Let your mind be quiet so it’s not imposing assumptions on the situation, and not trying to force any particular course. If you are making assumptions about your opponent or if you insist on following a particular course in the middle of a fight, you’re in trouble long before you close the ma’ai. 


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chinese Wrestling: Shuai Jiao

Shuai Jiao is Chinese Wrestling. Classically, it contains everything seen in the standing game of modern Judo, plus strikes and kicks, but without ground work.

Some more modern interpretations have added ground work.

The SJ guys are known to be pretty tough. I'd love to see someone with a solid SJ background in an MMA match.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Running Against Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is a horrible crime. I have learned that my home state of Michigan is the 2nd worst in the country after Nevada (Las Vegas).

Authorities know where many girls and women are being held but must hold off on conducting raids to free them because there is nowhere to place them after. It may take years of therapy and training before they can hope to re enter society again. This requires enormous resources.

I have learned that there are even some women at the church I attend that had been victims of human trafficking. We all have wives, mothers, daughters or sisters. This is heart breaking.

Watch this video:

Each member of my running club is trying to raise $1440 to help provide a total of over $500,000 to help fund both prevention and post freedom programs for these victims; running in one of the Detroit Free Press Marathon events, the weekend of Oct 17-18. I will be running in the International Half Marathon with one of my daughters on the 18th.

Why $1440? Each day has 1440 minutes where each of us enjoys our freedom while those slaves have 0 minutes.

Would you please donate to my fund raising page? Any dollar amount will help move us closer to our goal.

Every dollar WILL make a difference, but $100 will:

- shelter a victim for a night;
- provide 15 hygiene/safety/nutrition kits;
- one year of reading mentoring; and
- support life skills training, medical and psychological treatment.

The cost of Housing, medical and psychological care will vary greatly depending on the location and condition of the victim.

I will turn 58 a couple of days before the event. Why is this (then) 58 year old going to strap on his shoes and run for over 13 miles?

Isaiah 6:8 (ASV) And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What Makes a Good Martial Arts Teacher?

Today we have another guest post by Jonathan Bluestein. The topic is: just what is it that constitutes a good martial arts teacher? I am sure that we all have our opinions. Enjoy.

What Constitutes a Good Martial Arts Teacher?

By Jonathan Bluestein

The standards of what it takes to be a martial arts teacher in today’s society are sadly very low. Any fool may present himself as such. Many make up their own titles, certificates and diplomas, while others receive them from those that did so before.
I have therefore written this article for two reasons:

1.      To be of personal inspiration for martial arts teachers worldwide, so they could live up to higher expectations of themselves.
2.      To help novice practitioners and those new to the martial arts know what to look for in a teacher.
All of the requirements you shall be reading below, I demand first and foremost from myself, and also from my own students wherein they wish to teach. In this is depicted primary quality of a teacher, and a leader of any kind – setting a personal example.

Let us talk about that last one. There should be an understanding that every martial arts teacher is, by definition, a parent. It does not matter whether one sees oneself as such. The students who engage in the martial arts under you come willing to learn things they do not know, and often have not the slightest clue about. Most among the students who shall last (even older folks) will develop the tendency to consider you as a parent; that is – a person guiding them through the unknown. In this process, the by-product of their mindset will be that they will look up to your personal example in all things, not only martial arts. You will not hear about this from most of them, but it is quite certain that you shall witness the consequences. The best and worst martial arts teachers are mirrored, on the personal level, by their students’ behavior outside of class. Your students will take a mental note of every gesture, word, act or step you make and take, because they have opened up their thinking and emotional mind to you. The martial arts teacher therefore needs to be almost a saint in his daily dealings with other human beings, at least as much as his students can witness, because any less will negatively affect the lives of others. Not all of us are perfectly well behaved, and some arrive at teaching with a shadier past, but once a teacher, one needs to aspire to be greater for the sake of his students.     
A good example for this would be something I was told by one of my teachers, Sifu Sapir Tal (Jook Lum Southern Mantis). He had quit smoking a while after he started teaching, as he realized he could not set a bad example for his students, who would sometimes see him with his cigarettes.     Otherwise, when bad habits that cannot be done with, they should be kept hidden.
Setting an example includes having Knowledge. An education. On what is relevant to one’s art and practice, of course, but in a very holistic and comprehensive way. An ignorant teacher is the breeder of naïve and uninformed disciples.        
He ought to be able to name his style and tell its exact origins (no, ‘Kung Fu’ and ‘Wushu’ are not names of styles, but umbrella terms for various Chinese martial arts. ‘Jujutsu’, ‘Karate’ and others also have many sub-styles). He needs to be fluent in the lingo and special terminology of the style. Movements, methods and techniques should be understood on multiple levels – Martial, Physiological, Anatomical, Kinesiological, Biological, Psychological, Philosophical, Historical, and more. In all of these in general, the teacher needs to have indulged in his study prior to his becoming a tutor of others. Many professions require one to have a single specialization, but the glorious occupation of teaching the martial arts demands one to be educated in multiple fields of study.

The teacher should always publicly name his teacher, teacher’s teacher and so-forth at least 2-3 generations before him. All martial arts styles should have a history. Even ‘completely new’ styles should be based on some past knowledge that came from somewhere. Not paying respects to one’s martial ancestors is utterly disgraceful. I know of many teachers who, because of bad blood flowing in their martial arts family, refrain from mentioning these origins. Such people are not worthy of being called teachers. It is to be expected that when the time comes, they will suffer similarly bad relationships with their own martial offspring. Though it cannot be asked for that each and every single martial arts teacher out there always maintain a good relationship with his teacher, having such relationship is preferable and important. Likewise, it is also preferable that the teacher will continue to have teachers of his own, even in older age.

It is to be expected that any man calling himself a teacher have had at least 4-5 consecutive years studying with his main teacher. This is to ensure that his knowledge and skill in his ‘foundation martial art’ has matured enough before he began teaching. This in turn should be demonstrated in Martial Ability. He ought to be versed in all or most of the art’s methods and techniques, and be able to explain in great detail each of them. It is not expected that any teacher should be the world’s greatest fighter, but at least in class, the teacher needs to have the ability to make every single technique work against a resisting student, under the right circumstances that this technique was created for. In addition, he should manifest the ‘flavour’ of the particular martial art being taught, in a way that makes it clear that it is indeed that style and not something unrelated.

The language of a teacher should be clear and honest. Too many teachers are busy scheming politically among their students, and using cunning speech to manipulate others. Confucius said: “Human beings live in honesty. Those who are dishonest, live feeling their lives are fated”. The dishonest are unfit to be teachers. Dishonesty in the world of martial arts is a social disease, which causes great suffering to many. People often invest a lifetime in the training of an art, and such individuals are especially prone to damage from dishonest teachers. Every teacher should consider that one act of dishonesty on his behalf, one directed misinterpretation, can send a well-intended person to stroll the wrong path for a lifetime. Such acts are beyond cruel. Vagueness is not much better than dishonesty, for it allows the naïve and uninformed to come up with wrong interpretations. Though some answers should be found be the student without guidance, it needs be clear for him or her where they should be headed. Without knowing what to expect, most will be lost.
It is important to keep in mind in this respect that what is obvious to us as teachers is not the least obvious to most students. A teacher should know how to avoid the all-too-common psychological error of considering the other as he considers himself. That is true for knowledge, but also for the unique personality of each individual, his or her learning style, their history and background, the state of their health, etc. Very important to take note of by the teacher are the different goals of students, which do not always align with what he has in mind. Myself, I am very much interested in the martial aspects of my arts, but with self-honesty and common sense I must realize that many of my students are not highly enthusiastic about such matters. It is therefore my responsibility to portray a decent among of liberalism and acceptance, allowing these people to best find what they look for by learning from me, while keeping them in the boundaries of reason and good taste. While they should ‘go along with the program’, there is a limit to how much one ought to force his own aspirations, vision and ideas upon his students.

It should be clear to any teacher that the indulgent in lowly politics is contrary to the spirit of martial arts. A teacher must not act like a parliament politician. Promises are to be kept. Personal conduct is paramount. Rank or status should not be handed over to a person based on ‘deals’, ‘favours’ or personal preferences. Official ‘appointments’ are better done without.  Money, while important for making a living, should never ever be the deciding factor in a teacher-student relationship. Tuition should reflect real worth, but also be fair and reasonable towards students. Contracts are for lawyers, not martial artists. Competitions and their management are great for business, status and fame – not for personal development. Students should not pay for competitions, and their personal safety is more important than this or that medal or trophy. The charging of more money from more veteran students is nothing but greed, and is shameful. Selling accessories and attire is nice, but a teacher should remain a teacher, and never cross the line into being a part-time store owner.

Finally, a good teacher should allow the student to politely and appropriately pose questions concerning the art and the teachings in a multitude of ways. Inquisitive minds are to be encouraged. A student ought to have full access to the teacher’s body – being able to openly request the teacher to demonstrate a given method or technique, observe these and also allowed to touch the teacher’s body as he is demonstrating them. Direct, hands-on contact is one of the most important keys for establishing a complete transmission of a martial art.  

Be the change you want to see in the world, and the world will pay you back with kindness.


Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. For more articles by shifu Bluestein, his books and classes offered by his organization, visit his website at:

You may also subscribe to Shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly updated with rare and fascinating martial arts videos:

All rights of this article are and the pictures within it are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein ©. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Video of Keiko Fukuda: Judo's Highest Ranking Woman

The late Keiko Fukuda was the the highest ranking female in Judo.

Her grandfather taught Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo, Tenjin Shinyo ryu jujutsu. She herself learned from Kano himself as well as one of his most masterful students, Kyuzo Mifune.

She lived to be 99 and attained a 9th Dan from the Kodokan, the main worldwide Judo organization as 10th Dan from the US Judo organization. She remained active as a teacher until her death in 2013.

Her personal motto was: Be strong, be gentle, be beautiful in mind body and spirit.

Below is a video. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Lenten Challenge is Over!

The Lenten Challenge is over!

It would be a pretty poor post if that's all I had to say, so below find a TED talk about how our body language not only expresses our inner selves to the  outside world, but also shapes us in turn. This make stance practice, particulary zhan zhuang or standing stake so much more important.

If our external movements shapes our inner selves, I wonder what David Elsewhere looks like on the inside?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Severe Training in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from an excellent post by Chris Hellman, the author of The Samurai Mind, at his blog, Ichijoji. 

The topic is how severe training worked it's way into martial arts during the Meiji era in Japan. Training like the 100 man kumite, for example. 

The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

One of the distinguishing features of serious martial arts training in the minds of many practitioners, is its severity. This is particularly so in the case of Japanese martial arts, and it reaches some of its most extreme forms in the case of swordsmen from the Meiji period onwards.
That warriors training to develop arts used in life and death struggles should train hard seems beyond question, and the ability to do so raises them in esteem in our eyes. Elite units in the modern military often use extreme training as part of the selection process, and much of this is designed to push people beyond their normal limits, both mentally and physically. There is a darker side as well, with instances of hazing rituals and abuse of power, where the pupose is to establish hierarchy and unthinking obedience rather than to develop individual potential.
This latter aspect became an unfortunate part of Japanese budo in the early of the twentieth century, part and parcel of military recruitment and the rise of nationalism, and has been retained in the regimented nature of these disciplines, which dovetailed naturally with the sempai-kohai (senior-junior) relationship promoted in schools, universities and companies to this day.
Of course, it should be stressed that not all clubs and dojos share these negative characteristics, but it seems that there was a major change in the style of teaching and learning that occurred at much the same time as ‘budo’ (represented by judo, kendo, and somewhat later but similar in spirit, karate-do) was being formed as a set of practices distinct from their forbears.
The transformation to the modern disciplines of budo was not a simple process, but it seems that somewhere within it, the concept of mental strength born of a combination of determination, single-mindedness, and an unwillingness to give up became firmly entrenched as a principle feature of budo. To what degree this was present prior to this transformation is difficult to determine – it certainly didn’t appear from nowhere, and there are enough tales of this kind of spirit to show that it was an attribute that was strongly admired, but admiration for a character trait and placing that trait at the centre of  a style of training are different things.
Training in bugei involves the development of skills that require precision and attention to detail. Repetition for its own sake and far less, mass drilling, are not generally a part of this. It seems that karate, of all the budo, perhaps because it is farthest from what are seen to be (however innaccurately) its samurai forebears, tries the hardest to embody these aspects into its training – slots on the News in early January regularly show members of karate clubs training in snow or thigh-high in freezing water, pumping out repetitious punches during their kangeiko (winter training) – but aikido is also notable for its use of aspects of this kind of training.
In fact, it puts one in mind of the religious austerities practised by some groups, rather than traditional bugei training, which is perhaps not as surprising as it might first sound, as the promoters of such training during the Meiji and Taisho Periods had purposely combined their training with some of the attributes of religion.
Budo as 'religion'
It was during the Meiji Period, when the immediate practical use of the sword was called into question, that several influential swordsmen pursued the study of the sword as a method of self development. It was the legacy of these men, more than anything else, that led to the mistaken belief that the study of the sword was inseperable from the study of Zen.
Interestingly, the dojos of both of these instructors were characterised not only by the severe nature of their regular training, but both of them also instituted periods of particularly severe specialised training.
It was also worth noting that in both these cases, the styles were early adopters of shinai sparring, with the consequent loss of teachings requiring the severity of precision and control associated with older styles. The arguments for and against sparring with shinai and bogu not withstanding, it seems that these severe training sessions were aimed at achieving a breakthrough to a different understanding of both mental and physical aspects of martial training; something that normal training did not provide.
Yamaoka Tesshu’s seigan training has become quite well-known in the English speaking martial arts world thanks to John Stevens’ book, The Sword of No-Sword.
Tesshu’s “basic” examination required 1,000 days of consecutive practice, completed by 200 consecutive contests in a single day with other students of the Itto Shoden Muto Ryu.
The second level examination consisted of 600 matches over a three-day period. The highest level examination was a seven day ordeal with 1,400 matches.
Several of his students left accounts of their experiences. This is one:
Yanagita Ganjiro completed the two-hundred-match seigan on the final day of his thousand-day training period. He then practiced five hundred more days in a row and undertook the three-day, six-hundred-match seigan. Blows received from the short, thick Muto Ryu bamboo sword (shinai) were extremely painful. Yanagita recalled: "After the first day my head was full of lumps and my body covered with bruises, but I did not feel weak. On the second day I began to suffer. I thought I would have to give up halfway. I managed to continue and near the end of the day I experienced 'selflessness' - I naturally blended with my opponent and moved in unhindered freedom. Although my spirit was strong my body was weak. My urine was dark red and I had no appetite. Nevertheless, I passed the final day's contests with a clear mind; I felt as if I was floating among the clouds."
            (The Sword of No-Sword, J. Stevens)
Tesshu not only viewed swordsmanship as a way of disciplining the mind; he was also a practitioner of Zen and a master of calligraphy. Only his swordsmanship was passed down directly; the ‘spirit’ of his calligraphy was revived, (and is carried on by the Hitsuzendo) but perhaps it is better to say that it was by his example and spirit that he has most influenced modern disciplines.