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, November 29, 2017

Taijiquan and Boxing

I have felt for a long time that Judo was a natural complement to Taijiquan. The softness from the form and the sensitivity from push hands would play so well into setting up a throw. I know my own aikido improved once I began practicing taijiquan.

Another art that I think is a natural complement to taijiquan is western boxing. The boxer's first choice of defense is evasion. Absorbing a blow is the last line of defense.

A boxer must also be absolutely relaxed in order to punch effectively. A perfect punch is going to have full body power.

Gurjot Singh is a long time teacher of both Taijiquan and western boxing. He is training both competitive boxers and MMA fighters. Below is an article about his gym and what he teaches. The full post may be read here.

Everything on the breath. Everything… This is the way of the Internal MMA Boxer. An Internal MMA Boxer is an adept who emphasizes the science of respiration control to enhance mental, emotional and physical performance in the ring and cage. These training resources are considered a vital step in the process of combative readiness. Being a retired Army Ranger I know from experience that Western MMA standards of performance are used by the U.S. Military with astounding results of martial performance. An emphasis on breath control taught in a scientific manner to control modal behavior is taught to troops. In the Temple Underground Gym that concept is even more profoundly explored and applied in combative and combat sport training.
At Temple Underground Internal Boxing Gym breath science is being tested inside the ring and cage with varying degrees of intensity and success. The method is called Western Long Boxing. When applied solely for Cage Fighting it is called Internal MMA Boxing and we have fighters who are using this method. The importance of practicing MMA in an internal manner is that the adept will be able to continue the MMA Boxing training well into their seasoned years and grow stronger and more healthy for the effort.

The result of direct internal boxing or martial energetic training of the Western Long Boxing method was a Valor Fights promotion event “Fight of the Night” (Chris Buttry) and Cruiser Heavyweight championship victory (Lance Abbott). True power is what Rickson Gracie BJJ Yoga has and teaches because the opponent senses danger in what cannot be seen but only felt… and by that time it is too late to secure the victory. Training and learning is continuous even beyond the state of competence. I am still learning how to do this through my new mentor Master Vic Hoti (Wing Chun, Escrima and BJJ instructor) who has trained many MMA fighters using similar methods. However, in the West Gracie is the most prominent MMA fighter to emphasize breath as an essential to stillness and motion in a way we can practically use. More importantly is to make the effort to learn and build upon his great work. You see Mixed Martial Arts is more than mere competition. When done correctly it is a warrior way of life.

For the warrior compassion is the highest form of martial discipline. Discipline is how a warrior expresses love of self and respect for others. Humility is not just a word for a warrior. It is the result of experiences that he or she has overcome with regard to sustaining mental, physical and emotional attacks. It is the realization that there is always someone better and so one must continuously engage and persevere. The victory in the struggle is to reveal the enemy within which is fear of change. This is the warrior way of life. As a warrior way of life the best of us are endeavoring to use this beloved discipline to make ourselves better people. Better fathers and mothers. Better leaders and friends. Better servants of nobility and providers for our families. Only a fool fights for personal glory as the ultimate goal because the wisdom is clear on the subject: All glory is fleeting…

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Book Review: The Martial Arts Instructor: A Practical Guide to a Noble Way

Jonathan Bluestein is a frequent contributor to Cook Ding's Kitchen. He recently published a new book entitled "The Martial Arts Instructor: A Practical Guide to a Noble Way."

I am no martial arts instructor and have to aspirations in that direction. However, if that was something that I was seriously thinking of doing, or if I already was an instructor and wanted to see someone else's point of view to see if there is something I might be overlooking or could do better, this would certainly be the book I would be looking at.

There are three themes running concurrently through this book: the nuts and bolts of running a successful martial arts school, building the school into a community and taking teaching as a sort of "higher" Way to study and practice.

The nuts and bolts of running a school. Recruiting students, scheduling classes, setting tuition policies, testing, ranks, teaching children, teaching people of the opposite sex, managing a class and  developing a curriculum. It's all in there. There's a ton of stuff to consider and Jonathon discusses all of it. A would be teacher, having read this book, would have a much better idea of the sorts of things; the breadth of things that he's going to be getting into.

One item that I wish that he would have discussed, and maybe in another edition are the pros and cons of being a part of a large organization.

For a school to be successful, which means that it continues to exist and torn out skillful students, it must become a community. If you leave it as a retail operation where a customer is merely exchanging money for a service, your school won't be around long.

On the contrary, a school that is successful can be marked by the number of senior students who are present. A successful school tends to become top heavy in black bels over time. The senior students tend to stick around.

There is a lot that goes into building a community where you are still clearly in charge, but the students all feel that they have a stake in the school as well. Some lines have to be drawn and it can be a tricky business. Jonathan helps make many of the issues less tricky.

Finally, there is teaching as a "higher" Way. What I mean by this is that the students are coming to see you. You have to be at your best and an example. You have to work harder and be a better you than any of your students.

There are no excuses. You can't have an off day. To take on teaching is to take on a challenge that when viewed rightly, will elevate your practice as a human being.

Even though I am not contemplating becoming a teacher, I have found this book to be most useful in my own practice; to help to open my mind.

I enjoyed it. I think that you would too.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

In Search of Kyudo

Below is an excerpt from a very nice article from the Washington Post, where the author, an archer, goes to Japan to investigate Kyudo. The full post may be read here.

“This is where you’re supposed to be,” she says.
Then, without another word, she’s gone.

I inherited my interest in archery from my grandfather, Richard Earl Henion, a retired military man covered in faded blue tattoos. His passion for bows stretched back to the South Pacific during World War II. One day, on an Army scouting mission, he walked around a mountain pass and came upon a tribesman traveling in the opposite direction. My grandfather had his gun drawn. The local had a bow and arrow raised. They could not speak each other’s language, but they somehow managed to persuade each other to lower their weapons.

Richard Earl accompanied the man to his village, where they spent the night cavorting around a campfire. Before leaving, he bestowed upon the local a pack of smokes. The man, in return, gave him the bow that could have killed him.

My grandfather and I never found time to pursue archery together. But years after his death I started shooting traditional long and recurve bows under the guidance of a neighbor in the Appalachian Mountains. We live not far from where the “Hunger Games” movies were filmed, and my teacher — a mountaineer who can make bowstrings out of tree bark — encouraged the instinctive shooting style made famous in the films.

Japanese archery seems as far from Appalachia’s intuitive, wild-woman approach as I can get, geographically and metaphorically. Kyudo is one of Japan’s oldest martial arts, and it remains one of the most respected. The practice was banned by occupation forces after World War II. But in 1949, the All Nippon Kyudo Federation introduced a standardized method. Suddenly, anyone could study it.

The samurai-warrior practice is closely associated with Zen Buddhism, and it draws from Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto and onmyodo. Its ancient formality runs against my shoot-from-the-hip nature, which makes it all the more important for me to be here. I’m only 5-foot-2, but I take up a lot of space. The first word I learned, by necessity, while navigating crowded stations to get here:

“Sumimasen.” Excuse me.

My kyudo teacher, or sensei, Kazuhisa Miyasaka, didn’t set out to be an archer — or an innkeeper.
Like me, he’s at Uotoshi Ryokan because of his grandfather.

Miyasaka — a man with bushy eyebrows and unruly wisps of gray hair — studied archery briefly when he was a child. But it wasn’t until much later that he started to take it seriously. When he left to attend university in Tokyo, he never thought he’d return to the inn, which was founded by his grandfather and later run by his parents. But that changed when their health failed.

It was around that time that he encountered a kyudo teacher on campus. The sensei told him that — if he was going to return to the ryokan, which uniquely included a shooting place — he should study kyudo and become master of his own dojo. Ultimately, archery inspired Miyasaka to come home.

“Destiny?” he says of the timing. “I don’t know.”

Miyasaka has changed into the formal kimono he wears for demonstrations. We walk to the shooting hall, which is sided in rusty metal. The entire town of Yamanouchi is alive with surface streams that run alongside roads like veins. You can hear them, even when you cannot see them.

The entryway of the dojo, or training place, is a bridge.

Matos — hollow targets made of round wooden frames and black-and-white paper — line the interior of the shooting hall. One side of the building is composed of garage-style sliding doors. Miyasaka rolls one open to reveal a hidden courtyard. We’re across from a target house, where a roof protects the sand dune that holds matos in place. To reach it requires shooting over a kudzu-trimmed pond, approximately 90 feet.

“Almost same as battlefield space,” Miyasaka says.

When Miyasaka first took up archery, he was only interested in winning competitions. At one point, when performing an examination to advance to the next level of kyudo he consistently made his target. Still, he did not pass.

“My teacher said I was hitting very well. But my form was not beautiful,” Miyasaka says. “To some, archery looks like sport. To some, it looks like spirit. If you ask one hundred people, you will find one hundred different answers. ... Body remembers correct action. If we are not thinking, we get the target natural.”

It’s a case of matter over mind. And Miyasaka takes the challenge seriously. Sometimes, as a test of muscle memory, he turns off the dojo lights and shoots in the dark.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Dao De Jing, #65: Curing Problems

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #65 Curing Problems

The actions that were handed down by those who followed Dao in the past were in opposition to what was considered intelligent by the rest of the people.

They were regarded as being foolish.

Most people's difficulties come from the way they choose to cure their problems.

That's the way they perceive things.

Therefore, that's the way they perceive the rest of society - as though the rest of society was out to rob them.

Because they don't understand how society works, society controls their De.

Always try to understand both of those things, and look for the flaws in attempting to follow those patterns.

Always understand that looking for flaws in those patterns is correctly described as the mystery of De.

The mystery of De requires inquiry.

Always being on the move.

When things work together to see the other side, in that way they reach the greatest agreement.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Warrior Philosophy of Enson Inoue

Below is an excerpt from an article at Must Triumph. It is about walking the path, the dao, of being a warrior as articulated by Enson Inoue, the famous fighter.

The full post may be read here.

“I can’t say I was a better person than all of these fighters because back in our day we didn’t have the fame, spotlight, and the money. So if I grew up in that game maybe I’d be attracted to that type of style... But in our day it had no money. There’s no crowd, there was no fame, there was nothing. We fought for honor, we fought for our pride. I fought for building my manhood and building myself as a person.

When you fight to become a better man, that adversity is where you grow. Adversity is where you hit a wall you’ve never hit before and feel like giving up. And the moment, the second that you feel like giving up ... you’re building your character and your spirit...

I wasn’t out there trying to get this win so I can get this sponsor, so I can get this next opponent, so I can get this win pay. For me it was about testing myself. Putting myself into a situation where I would want to quit and see where I go from there. Learn about myself as a man.”

Sunday, November 12, 2017

The Sign of the Mantis, the Way of the Cricket

Today we have a guest post by Jared Miracle, who has spent quite a bit of time researching martial arts in both China and Japan. Enjoy.

Vernacular Crickets and the Mystery of Shandong Mantis Fist
Jared Miracle

There is a lot to be said for the relationship between insects and the martial arts. Sure, we’re all aware of the multitudinous “praying mantis” styles thanks to the Shaw Bros. One entrepreneurial gentleman in China has even created a unique (and I do mean unique) cricket form, replete with wing flapping and not a small degree of violent juddering. I once pulled my diaphragm while attempting one of the basic forms. What perhaps fewer readers may know, however, is that China boasts quite a long history of employing crickets for a kind of dueling. I’ve explained “cricket fighting” elsewhere, but what I’d like to discuss now is the importance of distinguishing between classical and vernacular tradition. This point is important for both martial arts and what I’ve taken to calling cultural entomology.

Shandong Province, located on China’s East coast, is the birthplace of a particular incarnation of praying mantis kung fu, as well as a hotbed for combat crickets. In 2015, I set out to study both. The crickets turned up first. In a slightly seedier section of urban Qingdao, there exists a retail establishment proffering all the accoutrements needed to raise, breed, and train a stable of arthropod warriors. The proprietor is a veteran of the game. He presides over a vast assortment of clay pots, nets, plastic tubes, wicker baskets, jellies, and prodding implements. The shop is occupied by a congregation of middle-aged men, mostly well-to-do business types. In their off hours, they relax, play Chinese chess, and pit their athletes against one another in bouts of unexpected violence.
The fights are not slow affairs. When one gentleman’s boasting has reached a sufficient degree that someone challenges him, the two sit on opposite ends of an oblong plastic arena about six inches across. Their fighters are dropped from carrying tubes and manually agitated via lengths of straw (fancier options made of materials like horse hair exist, but no one uses them in contests). Once sufficiently ticked off, the beasts engage in a fast-paced round of wrestling and kicking. The loser is evident as he will invariably retreat to the other side of the enclosure. It’s enamoring, I assure you. Naturally, one longs to participate. How do you learn this? The veterans were happy to explain: you simply do it.

Talk about bamboozled. In preparation, I’d read every scrap of information available on the topic of Chinese cricket domestication. Much of the literature makes reference to characters like Jia Sidao (“the Cricket Chancellor”), as well as several classic texts on choosing and rearing the ideal gladiator. The volumes go so far as to break down gradients of color in relation to fighting ability. Having scientific classification on par with anything in traditional Chinese medicine felt familiar, if not empowering. But these erstwhile Cus D’Amatos were telling me they’d never even done the required reading. I was an overeducated fool.
The reason I bring this up in the context of (human) martial arts is due to a curious experience while hunting for the local Shandong style of tanglang chuan, mantis fist. That took some months, but eventually a distant connection introduced me to Master Ge. We met—at some ungodly hour of the morning—and he had me do a bit of fisticuffs with one of his students. The most dedicated martial artists from around the province sought this man out for instruction. He was grumpy, abusive, stank of cigarettes and vagrancy, and generally everything a Midwest farm boy grows up wishing for in a kung fu teacher. Following an investigation of my ability to take blows to the head, he agreed to accept me in spite of my unfortunate foreign birth. We can't all be perfect. When I asked how to learn his style, he said the process was quite straightforward: you simply do it.

Due to historical accident, East Asian arts in the Western hemisphere have, until recently, primarily been Japanese brands. The appeal is immediate. Progression in most Japanese arts is broken down into digestible segments that maintain ostensible order and reason. Products like Shotokan karate and Kodokan judo lend themselves well to reproduction. Even the older Japanese styles (that is, the koryu budo) have their own idiosyncratic systemizations. Not so in all combat disciplines, however.
My mentor, the great anthropologist, Thomas Green, has spent the past several years coaxing information from practitioners about an American style of fighting with murky origins and murkier transmission. Most famously known as “52 Hand Blocks” or “Jailhouse Rock,” what he has uncovered is a vernacular martial art ( Like vernacular language, these styles don’t exist in a single formulation, but are instead living entities in a perpetual state of change. As it turned out, Master Ge felt the same way about his Shandong mantis fist. “Just watch me,” he said before executing a form. “OK, now go do that for a while.” I sometimes convinced him to let me take video. Coming from a background in classical and modern Japanese arts and Western boxing, it was a jarring realization when I compared two shots of him doing the same form in very different ways.

Just like in the cricket parlor, this was not instruction based on explicit tradition. Here was the vernacular. Street kung fu. When I expressed concern about a particular hand motion causing more damage to the user than the target, he lit another cigarette, grabbed one of his younger, fit, taiji students, and told us to go at it. “Figure it out.” Was my foot pointed to precisely the correct angle? In what order do I learn the forms? "If it works, it works. Go practice some more.”

So that took some getting used to. Later on, I found myself back in rural Japan, alternately studying under two gentlemen who were not acquainted with each other. Both had highly formal training backgrounds, with documentation and achievements on file at various organizations. They also both had informal, vernacular educations. My sword teacher and I would rehearse a particular cut, then we’d put on kendo gear and have it out. An onlooker might have mistaken it for hockey played with the wrong equipment. Jissen, he called it, meaning “real combat.” My other teacher had a colorful CV, even by fighting arts community standards. As such, he’d been around. In midnight sessions in a creaky, abandoned old dojo, he knocked me around with techniques he hadn’t performed in decades. He used vague words like taijutsu and kempo to describe what we did, but it was along the lines of informal, perhaps even dirty, karate and grappling. He, too, was prone to describe this as jissen.

These avenues of study would have remained invisible without a street education in Qingdao. My point here is that we sometimes find ourselves so stuck on the idea of proper lineage and documented history that we forget how real life works. Like music, language, and cuisine, there are well-publicized proper traditions, but also informal, confused folk histories. In a lot of ways, it’s easier to only see the clearly-defined martial arts school with a big sign out front. Much harder—and often more meaningful—is tracking down people who don’t think of themselves as tradition holders at all. The vernacular is never easy and systematic in the way we want it to be, but that very informality keeps it alive.

As in language, vernacular martial arts can even be self-contradictory. All the more reason to carefully analyze what’s really being put in front of us. Like American Chinese food, vernacular fighting methods exist in their particular ecosystems with good reason. Historian Elliott Gorn lays this out extremely well in his groundbreaking article on backcountry fighting ( One need not put on a uniform in order to throw a punch, nor do you have to read the manual before entering your first cricket fight. I believe vernacular styles to be the dark matter of Martial Arts Studies. They make up the majority of material, and yet have been documented only a handful of times. As a call to action, then, I propose that the reader reexamine what is on offer through your training group. Sure, there are the forms you’ve been working on for the past six months. But what are your school’s extracurriculars?

Monday, November 06, 2017

Succeeding in Tai Chi Chuan

Below is an excerpt from a post at Tambuli Media. The full post may be read here.

Over the years, I have observed a few things about the difference between folks who succeed with tai chi (taiji) and the folks who don’t.  In this context, I define success as both finding what we are looking for in the art, and also being open to experiencing benefits you did not expect. We might, for example, discover the calm and peaceful refuge we were hoping for in the practice, but also find that our moods are less labile and that our nagging back pain is gone. In addition to being a spectacular system of self-defense, tai chi’s benefits generally include a boosted immune system, improved sleep, greater strength and flexibility, and a calmer, clearer mind. It is also the ultimate exercise for the body’s muscular core.

The primary characteristic of the successful tai chi practitioner is the ability to make friends with bewilderment. That means to gradually learn words, terms, and concepts that are unfamiliar; to accept that for the first few months or so we won’t really have much of an idea of what’s going on. It also means shutting off any competitive or self-defeating tapes in our head; no worrying why the person next to us seems to be “getting it” so much more quickly than we do, no more applying pressure to ourselves to be where we thought we should be after a certain amount of time. It means being okay with having to think for a moment about which is our left foot or hand and which is our right. It means accepting that there is a reason why millions of people over thousands of years have engaged tai chi and the practices from which it derives, and to accept the teacher you have selected as a reasonable conduit of ancient and valuable information. It means bumbling and stumbling through basic coordination drills and choreography for a while before the real lessons about relaxation and mental state actually begin to take hold.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Praciticing Martial Arts in the Right Spirit

Brought to my attention by Walt.

Karlfried Graf Von Durckheim was a German diplomat, psychotherapist and Zen Master. He was one of the earliest westerners who studied Zen and wrote books introducing it to the west.

Below is an excerpt from one of his books, Zen and Us, which describes "right practice" in martial arts training. Enjoy.

The point of every exercise in which a specific skill is practiced is not improved performance as such, but what happens to the performer.|

Improved performance remains, of course, the immediate goal -- but the point is the person achieving it, who purifies and transforms himself by seeking to perfect the exercise in the right way. What practice means in this case is not at all what it means when performance per se is the issue.

Practiced in the right spirit, as a means to the Way, exercise changes a person completely; his transformation then becomes not just necessary, but sufficient to perfect his performance. Skill always shows that a person has practiced, that Being has made over a person and itself expresses the change. This is why the East speaks of a Tao of technique, in which Tao and technique become one within the individual, so that technique expresses Tao.

The most striking account of the change wrought by prolonged practice of a skill is given by Eugen Herrigel in his book on Zen archery. He shows that archery, "to the extent that it is a contest of the archer with himself," is a life-and-death matter. Why? Because it is an exercise in which "fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself."

Endless repetition is common to all exercises. Total concentration is needed at first, but as the actions slowly become automatic, the ego tension, which is rooted in purposive effort, gradually relaxes until ego and implement, the instrument, but also the skill itself as process, become one. Only when the purposive tension is no longer necessary can its vehicle -- the ego -- be neutralized. And only when the ego disappears can the spirit come into play and mastery burst unchecked and of its own accord from the adept's true nature. At this point, mastery is no longer the product of conscious effort, but the revelation of true nature in a particular exercise.

The stages in the process, as described by Herrigel, are as follows: relaxing completely and shedding all tension, concentrating utterly, penetrating the mystery of breathing, mastering the "form" (external technique) completely through endless repetition, allowing the "spirit" to open so that the arrow can be loosed without effort -- all of this shielded, sustained, and carried forward solely by constant, tireless exercise, endlessly repeated and ever more unquestioning. Persistent exercise is the barrier that brings many people to grief. Not all exercises are hard in themselves, but doing them properly is hard.

-- excerpted from Zen and Us, by Karlfried Graf Durkheim