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 ~

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Foundation of All Martial Arts Practice

The feet.

If your feet aren't in the right place, pointed the right way; not having the weight distributed correctly between them and myriad other things, your martial art simply won't be as effective.

As I was coincidentally deciding to really focus on my foot placement in my own little practice of the taijiquan short form, a post from which I am placing an excerpt below, appeared at Green Leaves Forest, regarding this very topic, specifically in the context of kyudo.

The full post may be read here.

But before we get to the except, some words of advice from The Beach Boys.

A long time ago a teacher once told me to shoot with my feet.

I said OK and tried …
and just by thinking about my feet, my next shot was one of my best ever.

I was shocked and amazed, and so tried to repeat it again and again, but somehow lost it.

A little while later I noticed that when I shot I felt myself riding on the outsides of my feet, which felt weird and went contrary to what many teachers told me is proper use of the feet, which is having them turn slightly outwards like you’re fanning out from your toes and bringing your heels together.

This isn’t an actual large movement you make with your feet during shooting, but the internal feeling.

Just yesterday I was playing around with my empty hands and experimented with old feelings of riding on the outsides of my feet.

On the other hand, when I remember my feet and concentrate on turning my feet outwards like a fan, I feel a proper tension running up the backs of my legs, my butt scrunches up pushing my lower back forwards, stretching my spine, opening my chest, expanding my elbows without effort, allowing me to turn my head easily (kao-muke), and relax my hands.

The success of our tate-sen (vertical line) lies in our feet  (ashibumi)!!!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Muscles for Martial Arts

There was a post at Expert Boxing on the importance of various muscles in fighting. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

What are the most important fighting muscles? I will explain the roles of each muscle for fighting and how they are used during boxing.

Everybody knows that training a muscle is an advantage compared to not training it. If boxing was that simple, then training the entire body would give you the ultimate physical advantage, right? The problem is that nobody has the time to workout every single muscle. Many of your smaller muscles offer only a slight advantage if at all.

Much of the physical aspects of boxing such as balance, power, and movement will come from your lower body. The more technical aspects of boxing such as accuracy, defense, and landing punches will typically come from your upper body. Depending on what you feel your style needs, the most it is up to you to decide whether to focus on more power, or handspeed, endurance, or all of it.

The key to effective boxing training is understanding how your muscles are used in boxing and to be able to decide how to train them to best fit that purpose. Smart athletes will know that certain muscles should definitely be given priority over the others.

Legs (Power)

By “legs”, I’m referring specifically to the quads and the calf muscles. This is something that should be ingrained into anybody ever wanting to learn how to do anything powerful with their body. ALL power comes from the ground, nowhere else! Because your legs are connected to the ground, they are most responsible for pushing off the ground to generate power throughout your body. Your legs also happen to be the biggest muscles in your body, which is why all proper boxing punches are typically thrown with the legs pivoting and rotating.
Again, the legs generate the most power! Not the chest and definitely not the triceps. If you look carefully at many of the most dynamic and complete punches or boxers in history, you will see that they have great legs more often than great arms or big chests. Look very carefully at the typical boxer’s body and you won’t find over-developed pecs or huge triceps. Marcos Maidana, Manny Pacquiao, Thomas Hearns, Julian Jackson, and Felix Trinidad are some names of guys that immediately come to mind. These guys did not have big upper-bodies but they carried HUGE power in their fists. Even Mike Tyson, as dynamic a puncher as he was, was still more muscular at his legs than his arms!

Hips (Balance & Lower Body Core)

The hips hold your lower body and legs together. They also generate a huge amount of power by pivoting your whole body when you need. Another important function is that your hips have to do with how well you are balanced. Since your hips are very close to your body’s center-of-gravity, stronger hips would mean that you have better control of your balance. I shouldn’t have to stress that balance is definitely one of the most important factors in boxing. Balance essentially determines the effectiveness and efficiency of your offense, defense, movement, and overal fighting ability!
You can also think of your hips as your body weight. By using the muscles in your leg to move your hips with every punch, you will be able to put your entire body weight into each punch maximizing its power.

Abs (Frontal Body Core & Snap)

The abdominal muscles are a very powerful set of muscles that hold your whole body together. Every limb in your body generates a certain amount of power individually but it is your abs that allow you to combine the force generated by every limb into one total force. Simply put, your abs allow you to connect the force generated by all your limbs into one powerful punch. Aside from connecting your whole body together the abdominal muscles help you breathe and allow you to take frontal body shots.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Way of the Recluse

I can't embed the video, so all that I can do is to provide the link.

It seems that among Chinese millennials, the idea of becoming a recluse has become appealing. More and more young men and women, some briefly and some for a lifetime are turning to a less distracting and more rewarding lifestyle. Below is the description of the video.

The 11 minute video may be watched here.

Why some Chinese millennials are taking up the hermit’s life in the mountains

Over the past several decades, China has transformed from a largely poor and rural farming nation to a world power with massive economic heft and a rapidly growing urban middle class. While access to the global economy offers the emerging generation of young adults unprecedented access to material goods and a wide range of lifestyles, consumerism has come at a cost for some Chinese millennials who are seeking something beyond money. With a contemplative style that evokes its subject, the

Beijing-based filmmaker Ellen Xu’s Summoning the Recluse introduces several young Chinese urbanites who are embarking on spiritual quests. Through a hermit’s lifestyle that draws on Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian traditions – either for a brief respite from modern life, or for the long haul – they focus on studying religion, meditation and connecting with nature, seeking meaning in what they describe as an ‘ancient way of life’. 

Friday, April 21, 2017

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #63: A Song of an Old Cypress

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

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.Today we have #63: A Song of an Old Cypress.


Beside the Temple of the Great Premier stands an ancient cypress
With a trunk of green bronze and a root of stone.
The girth of its white bark would be the reach of forty men
And its tip of kingfish-blue is two thousand feet in heaven.
Dating from the days of a great ruler's great statesman,
Their very tree is loved now and honoured by the people.
Clouds come to it from far away, from the Wu cliffs,
And the cold moon glistens on its peak of snow.
...East of the Silk Pavilion yesterday I found
The ancient ruler and wise statesman both worshipped in one temple,
Whose tree, with curious branches, ages the whole landscape
In spite of the fresh colours of the windows and the doors.
And so firm is the deep root, so established underground,
That its lone lofty boughs can dare the weight of winds,
Its only protection the Heavenly Power,
Its only endurance the art of its Creator.
Though oxen sway ten thousand heads, they cannot move a mountain.
...When beams are required to restore a great house,
Though a tree writes no memorial, yet people understand
That not unless they fell it can use be made of it....
Its bitter heart may be tenanted now by black and white ants,
But its odorous leaves were once the nest of phoenixes and pheasants.
...Let wise and hopeful men harbour no complaint.
The greater the timber, the tougher it is to use.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Martial Arts and Lineage

Below is an excerpt from a post at Stone Tiger Xing Yi by Jesse Conley, discussing lineage in martial arts. The full post may be read here.

We all know a guy like this.  He spends his day on the internet telling and re-telling stories about how his martial ancestors were the toughest fighters in the world.  We hear a bunch of stories about the ancestors and they all seem to imply or outright assert that their awesomeness gives the lineage snob the right to talk trash about other arts.   These guys are universally despised and, as a general rule, suck at martial arts.  Too much time on the keyboard and not enough training. But what if we understood that, while those guys suck, the need for lineage is real and can provide fantastic yardstick to gauge a school or martial artist?

There are going to be 2 basic responses to that statement.  The first usually comes from people who have created their own arts or know that their teachers weren't totally legit.  Their response goes something like, "All you do is talk about lineage!  Why are you judging me??  Bruce Lee said to follow your own path!!" Etc. The other response is "I told you so!!!" and is almost as obnoxious as the first.  This response usually comes from the lineage snobs I mentioned before and, remember, we all hate those guys. But both of those people are wrong and both know it deep down inside.

Lineage in martial arts has existed for a thousand years for very good reasons.  It's a solid gauge of the effectiveness of the art itself and also proof that there is a complete method for teaching and transmitting the art.  Effectiveness in usage and proof that the method can produce a strong next generation are vital, obviously  and those are two really powerful reasons to care about lineage and they are also more laid back than a lot of people realize. Let's use medical care as a simile here.  If you had a terrible disease and you had to pick a doctor for treatment, would you care where that doctor's education came from?  If your options were a Harvard graduate who has done extensive post-grad education in an effort to be on the forefront of medicine, or someone​ who took some courses at the community college and then spent some time surfing WebMD, which would you pick? More than likely, you would pick the doctor most prepared and able to save your life.  He would know the latest treatments and the best medicines to use. A doctor that provides a cure for disease is in some ways similar to a martial arts teacher who provides a way for you to protect yourself and your family - you want to choose the best, either way (well, if you have any common sense that is).

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The 2017 Lenten Challenge is Over!

Today we end the 2017 Lenten Challenge.

I would like to thank those who stuck it out, those who fell off the wagon and got back on and even those who didn't stick it out. There is always next year.

And now for something completely different...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Value of Having a Philosophy of Life

"Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning." - Thoreau

Below is an excerpt from a great essay at Must Triumph. Consider the implications for your martial arts practice. The full article may be read here.

Little Suzie the Math Whiz

Let's imagine we're in a 9th-grade math class, algebra, let's say. It's Tuesday, that's the day our teacher Mr. Johnson promised to give us a test. Well, it's Tuesday and here's the test. As we sweat away, laboring on the meaning of "x" — there's Suzie. She's breezing through it effortlessly, like a concert pianist — if her piano was her scientific calculator. She's a natural, and just like that she's done. We're, however, still on page one.
Suzie has an advantage, a philosophy of life. Maybe as 9th-graders, we aren't mature enough to be aware — though even adults are oblivious. Suzie's philosophy is to work hard, stay disciplined, and put in lots of effort. We don't. We even mock effort. "Hey, 'A' for effort," we joke. We don't really have a philosophy; unless we are aware of fatalism, which may not be a thought-out view, but more a trapping we've fallen into. In reality, however, life is a combination of events we can and cannot control. The default mindset for many is: neither our circumstances nor our expectations are within our control. However, this does not particularly make for a positive outlook on life.
A person with a philosophy of life will best be prepared for life. It provides him or her with a ready course of action for any situation: control circumstances or manage expectations. The ancient Greeks knew the importance of having a proper viewpoint and would send their children to philosophers to educate them on coherency. That type of philosophy has been divorced from education; and rather than it being taught as a complement to modern schoolwork, schoolwork is only reinforced at home.

The Misevaluation of Little Suzie

Mr. Johnson passes the tests back randomly, he wants us to grade each other's work. As it so happens, we get Suzie's test. Of course. Mr. Johnson puts all the correct answers on the board and as we go through Suzie's test, our pen never touches her paper until the very end. That's because Suzie got all the answers right. She gets an "A." But that's not that surprising; Suzie is a "brain." She's gifted and if we were gifted, we'd get an "A" too. We get our test back, it's a "C." Hey, that's not bad for not studying.
What we don't know is Suzie studies — a lot. The night before, she studied for several hours, whereas we glanced at our textbook, then spent time on Facebook, played some phone games, and then finished the night with Netflix. We meant to study more but kept getting distracted. This isn't just a story; this is reality. On studies of American students, if a fellow student consistently does well on tests, the default assumption is: they must be innately smart. What's really happening is, these students study more than their counterparts. Students who work harder generally do better than those students with higher IQs. This doesn't mean high IQ makes people sluggish; IQ is just an ability to process information. It still requires someone with drive and discipline to maximize the capacity.
Intelligence gets enough credit, what's lacking in credit is discipline — the ability to resist distraction. Suzie could have gotten distracted like we did, but discipline was her difference maker, not her "natural" math ability. There's probably nothing natural about her math ability since she's put in so many hours.
In giving credit to inborn intelligence, we avoid having to confront our egos — not to mention our lack of self-control and wasted potential. There is a fine line we must navigate; too much guilt turns to shame, no guilt leads to a lack of accountability. Without a coherent life philosophy, we get pulled into opposite extremes. A thought-out philosophy is how we balance contrasting ideas and get the most out of both worlds. Without it, we lose ourselves into cognitive dissonance and self-limiting beliefs.

What Makes You an Outlier

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell spends a chapter discussing Christopher Langan, who reportedly had an IQ between 195 and 210 (higher than Bill Gates and Albert Einstein). In the book, Gladwell drives home the point that intelligence alone doesn't equate to success. Langan, like many intellectuals, intended on becoming an academic. But in the end he left the university, lost his scholarship, and even lost to a person of "average" intelligence on a TV quiz show. The core message of Outliers is the importance of 10,000 hours of practice, which Gladwell suggests is the minimum requirement to becoming a master. Philosophers might say, only a master would have the patience and discipline to put in over 10,000 hours of practice. One cannot reduce a master to a number of hours. That's like removing effort and discipline from practice. One must also look at the spirit. Without these elements, there is no practice. Mastery is a mindset, not a chart. The combination of mindset and a lifetime of practice is what creates a master. Gladwell later on clarified this point by saying, the reason masters are outliers is because it is so rare a trait to stick with anything for so long. If there are innate abilities in addition to discipline, then one becomes the rarest of breeds. Abilities are common, discipline is not.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

A Guide to Tea

There are many western counterparts to what we think of as eastern things. Archery and kyudo, boxing and karate, wrestling and judo, stoicism and Buddhism. Another pair is the appreciation of tea.

At the Art of Manliness, there was an excellent article on the appreciation of tea. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

“There are those who love to get dirty and fix things. They drink coffee at dawn, beer after work. And those who stay clean, just appreciate things. At breakfast they have milk and juice at night. There are those who do both, they drink tea.” –Gary Snyder

When you think of tea parties, you’re probably getting an image of a group of women sitting around a table drinking out of delicate tea cups while eating fancy cookies. There’s probably a doily somewhere in the picture too.

For most Americans, this is what comes to mind. How could this be? After all, the American Revolution began with one of the manliest tea parties in history.

Despite the notion that “real men don’t drink tea,” the drink is readily consumed by both sexes around the world, making it second only to water in popularity. Tea not only has a long and surprisingly manly history, but its health benefits continue to make it a wise (and tasty) choice for modern men.

If you’ve yet to really give tea a chance, today I’ll briefly go through its history, offer a rundown of its salutary effects, and then present a primer on tea types and how best to consume and make this storied drink.

Tea originates in Asia where tea plants naturally grow. Men in China, Japan, and India have been brewing tea for thousands of years while reaping its health benefits and also enjoying it as a tasty beverage.
In Japan, tea became a major part of samurai culture with the development of the Chanoyu tea ceremony, or “way of the tea.” In the 16th century, warlord Oda Nobunaga kept several tea masters in his company and gave valuable tea items to his generals as rewards. His successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, would use the tea ceremony to discuss matters of state and made it a key part of his administration.
The Dutch merchant and adventurer, Jan Huyghen van Linschoten, described the Chanoyu in his account of his travels through Asia:
“The earthen cups which they drinke it in, they esteeme of them as much as we doe of Diamants, Rubies and other precious stones, and they are not esteemed for their newness, but for their oldness, and for that they are made by a good workman.”
Linschoten ended up playing a large part in tea’s worldwide domination. He spent five years working for the Archbishop of Goa to steal Portugal’s secret trade routes to the East. This theft broke a major trade monopoly and made goods like tea more available to other European traders.

Tea quickly rose in popularity once it was introduced in Europe — even among most military men. In World War II, the British even invented a built-in kettle for armored vehicles so their tank crews wouldn’t have to expose themselves outdoors whenever they wanted a cup of tea. As an interesting aside, during the Victorian era, mustaches were extremely popular and the British military required its soldiers to sport them for many years. This led to the invention of the Mustache Cup, which allowed mustachioed men to drink hot tea without the steam melting their mustache wax or staining their facial hair.

Because tea was so popular in Britain, it was only natural that the drink was also popular in the American colonies. That is, until the British passed the Tea Act of 1773, which gave the East India Company a monopoly on American tea trade. Seeing this as the latest example of the British violating their rights, the Sons of Liberty dumped $18,000 worth of tea into the Boston Harbor. This set off the series of events that would lead to the American Revolution…as well as the decrease in tea’s popularity in the U.S.

Unfortunately, that means many American men have been missing out on the benefits of tea for centuries.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Monday, April 03, 2017

Mifune: The Last Samurai

Toshiro Mifune was a great actor. He is mostly known for portraying samurai in the films of the renown Akira Kurosawa. As two creative people, sometimes their relationship was contentious, but one wonders whether either of them would have attained their reputations for greatness without the other.

When I was a young man, the Detroit Institute of Arts once held a Kurosawa film festival. On each Sunday evening for several months, one of his many films was shown in order. I got to see them all and a lot of Toshiro Mifune.

The Magnificent Seven was based on the Kurosawa film, the Seven Samuari. Kurosawa's Throne of Blood was based on MacBeth. The Hidden Fortress was one of the influences for Star Wars. Rashomon, a story told from the point of view of three different witnesses, has been recycled many times. The Samurai Trilogy strongly influenced the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood as the Man with No Name. Mifune was in the middle of it all.

Below is the trailer for a documentary on Toshiro Mifune, entitled Mifune: The Last Samurai.