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 ~

Saturday, March 31, 2018

The 2018 Lenten Challenge is Over, and using Classical Martial Arts in the Street

First of all, the 2018 Lenten Challenge is Over!

Next, At Shugyo, there was a very nice article on the different levels of understanding a Koryu (classical martial arts) kata. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

At a recent Muso Shinden Ryu Keikokai, I presented a brief explanation on what I had learned from, primarily, Ishido Sensei but also from other prominent teachers as well in terms of what is actually in a kata.

Most of us I’m sure are familiar with the meaning of kata () meaning shape or form of something. As Jock pointed out at the Keikokai, there is a lot more content within the learning of koryu than just the easily visible and physical shape of the form. Given that we all have a limited amount of time available to learn and practice budo, the habit of “collecting” koryu kata is in direct opposition to the ability of being able to develop “depth of knowledge” of any kata. While we shouldn’t spend the rest of our lives learning how to bow to the shomen, the learning of all aspects of a kata is what makes a study of budo interesting and worthwhile rather than just a rehearsal of choreography.

I have heard Ishido Sensei explain how kata can fit into certain categories, how it can be parsed into components and separated into variances. Furthermore the performance of a kata should change as the exponent develops themselves. In this way, while the koryu might be described on the surface as a set of choreographed movements, it becomes something of a living and growing organism that gets born when it is learned and develops and then dies with the exponent.

Anyway, away from contemplating ones navel, being someone who relies on visuals and patterns to describe and remember abstract stuff, I built my own appreciation for a kata on a set of views and components of each kata. It goes something like this (in fact it goes exactly like this).

1. Kihon waza  基本技
 2. Teigi  定義
 3. Oyo  応用 
4. Gainen  概念
5. Kotsu 
6. Kaewaza  変え技

Ultimately it is possible to make enough changes to the Teigi that the architecture of the form is slightly different and takes the shape of “kaewaza” 変え技 or alternative form. The gainen within and the main kotsu may be the same, it is the outside form which is likely to be different.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Deeper Training

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Art of Manliness. The full post may be read here.

“It is circumstances (difficulties) which show what men are. Therefore when a difficulty falls upon you, remember that God, like a trainer of wrestlers, has matched you with a rough young man. For what purpose? you may say. Why that you may become an Olympic conqueror; but it is not accomplished without sweat. In my opinion no man has had a more profitable difficulty than you have had, if you choose to make use of it as an athlete would deal with a young antagonist.” —Epictetus

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.” —Corinthians 9:24-26

The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus and the apostle Paul — though their worldviews differed — both used the metaphor of athletic contests to explain the way a man was to struggle against weakness, erroneous beliefs, and all lower impulses, in order to win the prize of higher virtue.

They weren’t unique in deploying this analogy. Many early sages and saints also likened man’s attempt to conquer himself to physical exercise and the games of the sporting arena. They called their readers to become Stoic athletes, Christian athletes — spiritual athletes.

These philosophers and prophets understood that it was important not only to train the body, but also to train the soul.

The Greek word for training used by both Epictetus and St. Paul — áskēsis — was orginally associated with the physical training of athletes and soldiers, but later came to be used to describe any rigorous, discplined program of training, including the spiritual struggle for virtue.

This paradigm, in which practicing virtue is exercise; confronting personal weakness is contest, has not entirely disappeared from modern culture, but has become fainter and somewhat lost to us. It is partly for this reason that virtue and the spiritual life have come to be seen as “soft” and effeminate pursuits, despite the fact that the Latin word from which virtue derives — vir — actually means “manliness.”

Today, drawing on both the Christian and Stoic traditions (although adherence to either is not required to find usefulness in the underlying principles) we issue a wholehearted call to revive the idea of training the soul, and embrace it for the very meaningful, very “muscular” contest it is.

How Training the Soul Is Like Training the Body

“let the man who is rich in a worldly sense adopt in his own case the same considerations as apply to athletes. For the athlete who has given up the hope of being able to conquer, and to obtain the garlands, does not even give in his name for the contest; while the one who has conceived this hope in his mind, but does not submit to the fitting labors and diet and exercises, continues ungarlanded, and fails to gain what he hoped for.
In the same way let not a man who is clothed in this earthly covering withdraw his name altogether from the Savior’s contests, if at least he is faithful, and perceives the greatness of God’s kindness to man; and again, if he refuses exercise and contest, let him not hope to share in the garlands of incorruption without the dust and sweat of the arena; but let him at once submit himself to the word as trainer, and to Christ as judge of the contests; let his food and his apportioned drink be the new covenant of the Lord, let his exercises be the commandments, let his gracefulness and adornment be good dispositions, love, faith, hope, knowledge of truth, gentleness, goodness of heart, dignity; so that, when the last trumpet sounds for the race and the departure hence, passing out of this life as out of a race-course, he may stand with a good conscience before the president, acknowledged to be worthy of the heavenly home, into which he passes up with garlands and proclamations of angelic heralds.” —Clement of Alexandria

Philosophers and theologians have debated and expounded on the nature of the soul for thousands of years, and we can’t hope to provide a definitive definition of it here. But for the purposes of this article, let’s call the soul that part of a man’s make-up that desires higher order aims over lower order impulses. It’s the thing that seeks that which is life-giving, rather than life-deadening. It’s your moral compass, your attraction to doing noble deeds and choosing the right. It’s the capacity to reach beyond the self in order to serve others.

Your soul is your spiritual center, and, traditionally, your eternal essence. However, a belief in the immortality of the soul isn’t necessary for a belief in the possibility of actively training it; even if one sees it simply as the part of the psyche that’s more human and advanced, and less primitive and reptilian, the protocols for exercising it still very much apply.

No matter how exactly you view the soul, it lends itself to being seen as having a spiritual “physique” just as real and readily shapeable as your tangible one. The spirit, like the body, has muscles that must be regularly exercised in order to maintain good health, perform optimally in everyday tasks, and come out the victor in the occasional high-stakes contest. In both cases, you are given these physiques in a raw, impressionable form; you can either let them be molded by external forces, or intentionally sculpt them into the shape you desire.

Let us delve deeper into the parallels that exist between training the body and training the soul:

Physical and Spiritual Strength Atrophy Without Use

All matter — physical and spiritual alike — tends towards the path of least resistance. Without intentional effort to move and exercise our fleshy bodies, we become encased in layers of fat, get winded from light activity, and cannot pick up heavy objects. Muscles get tight; joints get creaky. Should an emergency befall us, we’re unable to flee or fight the danger. If forced to compete in a race or game, we would face embarrassing failure.

In the same way, ignoring one’s soul leads to the accumulation of spiritual flab. Our moral muscles atrophy, and we give in to sin and weakness more easily. We cannot put off temporary pleasures to achieve lasting goals. In wrestling with temptation or a heavy moral issue, we fatigue easily, and make a choice of convenience rather than principle. Or, we choose not to engage in the wrestle at all, defaulting to whatever direction our fluctuating feelings take us, or referring to a rote rule or bureaucratic expediency that may not be the best solution to the particular problem at hand. We lose our moral agility — our capacity to exercise practical wisdom and do the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason.

Of course, the converse of the above is just as true regarding both our physical and spiritual physiques. Muscles that get used, get stronger. Get more agile. And allow you to do more and be more . . .

Physical and Spiritual Strength Widens Your Freedom and Field of Action

A flabby, atrophied physical physique circumscribes your choices. This is true as a practical matter: You can’t play with your kids because you’re too tired; you can’t climb a mountain with your friends because you’re too weak; you can’t lift a certain weight, even if you wanted to.

A flabby, atrophied spiritual physique limits your ability to autonomously make choices at all. If you want to be faithful to your girlfriend, but hook up with an old flame, your lust is in control, not you. If you want to lose weight, but can’t stop overeating, you’re taking your marching orders from your belly, rather than your higher aims. If you want to be loving to your children, but keep losing your temper, your anger is calling the shots, not your soul. If your moods and reactions are determined by external events, then you’re being acted upon, rather than acting. You are not a free moral agent.

In training the soul, you strengthen your self-control: you gain the ability to harness your energies towards deliberately chosen ends, to choose long-term ideals over short-term impulses, to decide how you will act, regardless of the circumstances. You become master, rather than slave. As a consequence, your options increase; your potential field of action widens.

Or as former Navy SEAL Jocko Willink succinctly puts it: “Discipline equals freedom.”

Physical and Spiritual Strength Require Weight and Opposition in Order to Grow 

“Souls are like athletes that need opponents worthy of them, if they are to be tried and extended and pushed to the full use of their powers.” —Thomas Merton
“Good fortune comes to common men and even to those of inferior talent; but only a great man is able to triumph over disasters and terrors afflicting mortal life. It is true that to be always happy and to pass through life without any mental distress is to lack knowledge of one half of human nature. You are a great man: but on what do I base this if Fortune denies you the opportunity to demonstrate your worth? You have entered the lists at the Olympic Games, but you are the only competitor: you win the crown, but the victory is not yours; I congratulate you, but not as a brave man, rather as one who has gained the office of consul or praetor: it is your personal standing that has been enhanced. I can make the same point also to a good man, if no more difficult circumstance has given him the chance to show his mental strength: ‘You are unfortunate in my judgement, for you have never been unfortunate. You have passed through life with no antagonist to face you; no one will know what you are capable of, not even you yourself.’ For a man needs to be put to the test if he is to gain self-knowledge; only by trying does he learn what his capacities are.” —Seneca

Physical training is essentially the act of intentionally breaking down the body with stress in order that it can be rebuilt stronger and better than before. Without this stress, no improvement can take place.

In weightlifting, the stressor is the weight to be lifted. A lifter essentially pits himself against gravity as he tries to move a barbell off the floor, or raise himself up when it’s sitting on his shoulders. Gravity is the opponent to be overcome; the lifter must struggle to resist its force — hence the name, “resistance training.”

Just as the body needs to confront an opposing force in order to grow, so does the soul. In this case, the antagonists are internal: our sins and weaknesses. It’s Soul vs. Lust. Soul vs. Selfishness. Soul vs. Self-Pity. Soul vs. Envy. It’s a contest between the best parts of ourselves and the worst.

Our souls also grapple with external combatants in the form of events and circumstances beyond our control — hardships and difficulties we are forced to face. The mere existence of these obstacles does not necessarily strengthen the soul or incur automatic benefits, however. Rather, the attitude we take towards hardships matters, and determines their effect.

In his Discourses, Epictetus responds to a hypothetical student who wants to know if he is making progress in following the Stoic way. The philosopher says that if he were talking to an athlete who had the same question, he would ask the athlete to show him his shoulders. If the athlete instead responded by showing the weights he had been lifting, Epictetus says he would reply that he didn’t ask to see the athlete’s weights, but his shoulders. What’s important is not that a man has access to gym equipment, but that he is using it properly, and the proof of this is in the embodied pudding — in the size and strength of his muscles.

In the same way, if you want to know if the soul is improving, you cannot look to the mere presence of difficulties in your life, but how you are facing them, using them. You can know if you’re making progress by the ways you can flex your spiritual muscles, “how you exercise pursuit and avoidance, desire and aversion, how you design and purpose and prepare yourself, whether conformably to nature or not.”

What emerges from the struggle against inner and outer demons, from the stress of pushing back against our flaws and frailties, is the development of character. The more we resist the gravitational force of our appetites, the stronger and more iron-clad our character becomes.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Interview with Taijiquan Master T.T. Liang

T.T. Liang was a long time student of Cheng Man Ching and was regarded as a master in his own right. Liang lived to be over 100 years old; which he ascribed to his Taijiquan training.

Below is a short interview with Master Liang conducted when he was in his 90's.

Monday, March 19, 2018

The 48 Laws of Power, #24: Play the Perfect Courtier

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. Among my favorites is about a scrap metal dealer thinking he bought the Eiffel Tower.

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today we have #24: Play the Perfect Courtier

The perfect courtier thrives in a world where everything revolves around power and political dexterity. He has mastered the art of indirection; he flatters, yields to superiors, and asserts power over others in the most oblique and graceful manner. Learn and apply the laws of courtiership and there will be no limit to how far you can rise in the court.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Having Faith in Your Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from another excellent post at Green Leaves Forest, a blog about Kyudo,  regarding having faith in one's training. The comments about Kyudo could equally be applied to any type of training.

The full post may be read here.


Now lets take a look at my other imaginary friend, Jesus (pronounced “Hey-Zeus”) Bodhi, aka JB. JB doesn’t hit every arrow. But you know what, JB gets your attention. Do you know why? Maybe not.

But for some reason you see something in his shooting beyond questions of technique or race or rank. JB could be a hanshi hachidan (8th level master), or someone who has just shot their first arrow. It’s almost as if you watch JB and start to understand why kyudo is considered an art and a discipline to train the spirit.

Let’s get a little more specific. You know what really sets JB apart?

It’s actually incredibly simple.


When he does sharei (ceremonial shooting which could be anything from your regular sitting zassha practice to a yawatashi embu) he actually sits in the proper kiza position. It hurts and is hard, because he is just a regular human like everyone else with legs and a back. But you know what he does? He always practices sitting kiza properly because it will make him a stronger archer, and even practices sitting in kiza at home so he can do it better when he gets to the dojo.

His taihai (movements other than just shooting, like walking, sitting, standing) is better than everyone else, not because it’s perfect, but because he practices it every time he goes to shoot.

He does well in tests not because he is lucky or magically doesn’t get nervous, but because he always does his best whether it’s in practice or tournaments, so shooting in a test in front of all the judges is no different.

He doesn’t know everything about kyudo, so he reads a lot.

He doesn’t hit the target a lot, so he practices a lot.

He tries as hard as he can, but he doesn’t stress out if it doesn’t go perfectly.


Getting to the point of doing it perfectly will never happen unless you walk the path of trying to do it perfectly.

Simplify that equation for a second and you get:

The path is what’s most important.

Or in more commonly heard words: “It’s not the end, but the journey that matters most.”

What enables one to get on the path, and continuing to make effort towards perfection?

Even when they miss? Even when people don’t believe them? Even when they get injured? Even when they think that they just can’t get over this final wall that will be the end?

I’ll give you a hint,it’s Jesus’ super power … faith.

I’d love to be as strong as Captain Muscle, or as smart as Professor Brain, but until I get there, I’m going to do my best to imitate JB, ’cause he’s got the magic that gives meaning to it all.

Perhaps this is something special about kyudo.

Or maybe everything in life is like this.

I don’t know, so I explore.

Onward and upward.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Reminiscing About Early Tae Kwon Do Training

There is a very nice article at Traditional Tae Kwon Do Perth (the Joong Do Kwan Dojang) about the author's eclectic early days training in Tae Kwon Do.

I remember as a kid, that before musical kata performances and extravagant costumes became the norm, the "Korean Karate" guys were considered the tough guys on the block.

Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.


My school is called Joong Do Kwan, or School of the Middle Way. I tell people we are the point in the middle, drawing from older styles and influences, but also benefitting from modern innovations and developments. While the name pays homage to the original Chung Do Kwan, it directly relates to the training I received in the Southwest USA in the early to mid 1990s.

It was during that time I went to Dallas to attend college at Southern Methodist University. SMU is a private university situated in a very nice part of the world. I arrived in 1991 already a black belt from an eclectic Chinese/Korean style, and it didn't take me long before I noticed a small photocopied martial arts flyer stuck on a noticeboard at the gym.

In no time, I was a regular in the SMU Martial Arts Club. But there were huge differences in the training from where I was schooled in Asia. To say there was a culture shock and I had to adjust would be an understatement.

Firstly, I was welcomed warmly. You would find it hard to get past the door in Asia if you came from a different martial art school. If you did manage to join the group, you'd be considered an outsider, distrusted until you've proven your loyalty and worth; a process that could take many years. In Dallas, even from the outset, everyone was kind enough to talk with me, help me through initial sessions, were super courteous, and did not hesitate to invite me to join them for a sandwich at the local deli after training.

Next, I was amazed at the amount of presentation, discussion, and opinions shared throughout the session. When I trained in Asia, no one dared speak. Even my master would speak sparingly. When he did speak, it was more like a grunt cajoling us to go at it harder, or to jump higher, or to do something faster. At SMU in contrast, you could expect anything from incisive observations to a discourse of techniques by Sensei Bryan Robbins. Mr Robbins happened to be a tenured physical education professor and ex-Olympic coach; and was comfortable and extremely experienced teaching all levels of practitioners on how to perform certain techniques, what difficulties you might experience whilst doing it, how to land it successfully, and their accompanying applications.

I remember being astounded by this 'chatter'. But as I turned my listening ears on, I found that much of what was being discussed matched a lot of the non-verbalised insight I had from my own experience. I soon relied on this information for my own learning and found it was a great way to share experience. I even felt beginners had good insight to offer when discussing their own experiences learning techniques.

The last major difference I noticed was how much difficulty I was having sparring the other black belts. It's not to say we didn't spar back in Asia. Nor is it to say we didn't spar hard against each other. But on so many levels I was outmatched and outgunned, and often by people I initially felt could not be faster or more durable than I was at the time.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

The Guang Ping Tai Chi Chuan Form

From Tai Chi Videos, Y.C. Chiang performing the Guang Ping Tai Chi Chuan form.

Chiang was a senior student of Kuo Lien Ying, the famous San Francisco based teacher, who brought the Guang Ping form to the US.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Tendo Ryu Naginata Do

At Kogen Budo, Ellis Amdur published an interview he conducted with Abe Toyoko, a senior sensei in the Tendo Ryu of Naginata. Below is an excerpt. The full interview may be read here.

In the early late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Kini Collins and I began a project to write a book on naginata (many portions of which later became the basis of my book, Old School). We interviewed many wonderful instructors of various ryu, and among them was this one Kini did with Abe sensei, which she first published by Valerie Eads, PhD., in “Fighting Woman News.”
 Kini and I had previously gone to Kyoto to observe a yearly national practice of Tendo-ryu, and among the many powerful women was one who stood out, Abe Toyoko sensei. Her technique had a different quality, both precise, but really powerful.  Even more striking, however, was her manner.  She obviously could not accept anything less than exemplary budo.  She was blunt spoken, even harsh, but never unkind.  She simply stated how she believed Tendo-ryu must be executed, and implicit in every word was the confidence that if one disagreed, she could demonstrate physically why her way was better.
Q: When I first saw you at the school in Osaka, well, I am not well acquainted with the Tendo Ryu students, but you moved and looked so different…

A: Well, there is a reason for that. I got started in Kyoto, with the mother of the present head teacher. She was the 15th generation headmistress, Mitamura Chiyo sensei. I was living near the Heian Shrine.[i] Just by rounding the southeast corner and walking dead straight for about 2 miles, well there it was. Every year in May, there is a big festival, even today. They had everything – judo, kendo, kyudo – everything. Not like today: now they only have that modern, noisy kendo! You used to have to wear formal clothes to even get in. And even with that, the place was jammed. Sometimes you couldn’t even get in the doors. So different from now! It’s like going to the movies or a baseball game now. You used to be able to drink in the tension and quietness. That is where I first saw my teachers. That was all I needed. There have been really bad times in all those years, mostly dealing with the other people involved. I thought about quitting many times, but in the end, it was that first demonstration I saw, knowing it was and can be so good, so good. That impression helped me stick with it. That is what I want, have always wanted to pass on, something to help people stick. I’m not interested in sitting at demonstrations, judging matches or even being well known. My questions are different:  What is the meaning of the basic techniques? How can they be done with this partner? What is the timing? I think about these things. Why it happens the way it does.
This new stuff. One, up with the stick. Two, down with it. Three, put it away. Well, that’s one way of teaching, but there is something else, I only know it as kokoro (heart, spirit, will). Pull it in on one, out on two, lift on three, well, you try it! If you do it only with an awareness of moving and no concept of kokoro you are so wide open it isn’t even funny. This is what I want to teach: how to react when your partner doesn’t respond in form in the way you are used to. This is what it hasn’t got, the new naginata. There is no thought outside the form; there isn’t even any path for this kind of thinking.