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 ~

Monday, June 25, 2018

Who is Cook Ding?

Today is the 13th anniversary of Cook Ding's Kitchen. With almost 1.2M hits and close to 2000 posts, if I've proved anything, it's this: you don't have to be the best, just the one that is the most stubborn and refuses to go away.

OK. So. Who is this Cook Ding cat anyway?

In case you are wondering who is this Cook Ding, he is a character in one of Zhuang Zi's (Chuang Tzu) stories in The Inner Chapters, a Daoist classic. It is one of the "skill stories" and it has always resonated with me. It goes like this:

Cook Ding

Prince Huei's cook was cutting up a bullock. Every blow of his hand, every heave of his shoulders, every tread of his foot, every thrust of his knee, every whshh of rent flesh, every clink of the chopper, was in perfect rhythm — like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the harmonious chords of Ching Shou.

"Well done!" cried the Prince. "Yours is skill indeed!"

"Sire," replied the cook laying down his chopper, "I have always devoted myself to Tao, which is higher than mere skill. When I first began to cut up bullocks, I saw before me whole bullocks. After three years' practice, I saw no more whole animals. And now I work with my mind and not with my eye. My mind works along without the control of the senses. Falling back upon eternal principles, I glide through such great joints or cavities as there may be, according to the natural constitution of the animal. I do not even touch the convolutions of muscle and tendon, still less attempt to cut through large bones.

"A good cook changes his chopper once a year — because he cuts. An ordinary cook, one a month — because he hacks. But I have had this chopper nineteen years, and although I have cut up many thousand bullocks, its edge is as if fresh from the whetstone. For at the joints there are always interstices, and the edge of a chopper being without thickness, it remains only to insert that which is without thickness into such an interstice. Indeed there is plenty of room for the blade to move about. It is thus that I have kept my chopper for nineteen years as though fresh from the whetstone.

"Nevertheless, when I come upon a knotty part which is difficult to tackle, I am all caution. Fixing my eye on it, I stay my hand, and gently apply my blade, until with a hwah the part yields like earth crumbling to the ground. Then I take out my chopper and stand up, and look around, and pause with an air of triumph. Then wiping my chopper, I put it carefully away."

"Bravo!" cried the Prince. "From the words of this cook I have learned how to take care of my life."

ZhuangZi (Lin YuTang)

For myself, my practice has mostly been focused on distance running and Cheng Man Ching's short Taijiquan form (Zheng ManQing). 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Force and Structure in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from a post at The Martial Body on the topic of force and structure in martial arts. The full post may be read here.

In this article we are going to look at the ways in which force being applied to us can be handled by our body without the requirement of movement. This subject is the first to look at, before we discuss movement, tactics, attacking, returning, etc. As soon as we touch someone, or they touch us our body is interacting with a new force. How we deal with that force is an expansive topic but here I will simply highlight some of the most common, and slightly less common methods that we use.
Firstly, we need to think about why the mechanics by which we deal with forces applied to us may be important. Is it not simply enough to ‘resist’ until the opponent changes? Well, frankly, in most cases no it isn’t. The opponent, if trained will take advantage of this. Simply imagine the implications of ‘resisting’ a punch to the face until the opponent give up! … not ideal.

The ways in which we use our trained body can have a direct impact on our ability to defeat the partners force, even if it is of a superior magnitude. The way force is initially dealt with can help us create or utilize movement, can help us protect our stability or provide us with much needed breathing room.

A simply analogy for the varied ways in which force applied can be dealt with would be to imagine a seesaw. The classic seesaw is a long solid length over a pivot, as force is applied to one side the other side rises, and vice versa. Here it is the solidity of the length that is important.
We can also imagine a seesaw that is a series of lengths spanned with elastic. In a static position it appears the same, but as force is applied, the elastics stretch, and the length distorts until finally it moves. Further we can think of the pivot being moved closer to the side where force is being applied, and how the force required to move the other end increases as a result. These ideas are crude when we apply them to the human body, which far from having a single pivot, has multiple points of 3-dimensional rotation across multiple joints.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The 48 Laws of Power, #25: Recreate Yourself

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 #25: Recreate Yourself.

Do not accept the roles that society foists on you. Re-create yourself by forging a new identity, one that commands attention and never bores the audience. Be the master of your own image rather than letting others define it for you. Incorporate dramatic devices into your public gestures and actions – your power will be enhanced and your character will seem larger than life.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

To Hit the Mark

At the JMCU Official Blog, there was a very interesting post explaining how many common Japanese phrases are derived from Kyudo. Below are a few example. The full post may be read here.

はず (hazu, “supposed to be the case”)
筈 (hazu) is the nock of an arrow. Naturally, an arrow nock is supposed to fit on a bowstring.

Monika wa kinou juujikan benkyoushita to itte ita kara, kyou no shiken wa yoku dekita hazu da.
Since Monica said that she studied for ten hours yesterday, she must have done well on the exam today.

的を射る(mato o iru, “right to the point”)

的 (mato) and 射る (iru) means “target” and “to shoot with a bow,” respectively, so the literal translation is “to hit a target.”

Shachou no setsumei wa nagasugite wakaranakatta ga, hisho no mato o ita shitsumon no okagede, kijiroku o matomeru koto ga dekita.

Although our company president’s explanation was too long for us to understand, thanks to the secretary’s on-point questions, I managed to put the meeting minutes together.

On the flip side, 的外れな質問 (mato hazure na shitsumon) means “questions beside the point .”

手の内 (te no uchi, “to keep hidden”)
手の内 (te no uchi) literally refers to inside the hand, and it can mean “how to hold a bow” in the context of kyudo. The way of maneuvering a bow is one of the most challenging aspects the art.
  • 手の内を見せない/隠す
    Te no uchi o misenai/kakusu
    Hold one’s cards close to one’s chest
It is said to show how good or bad a particular shooter is, and one can spend years to acquire a good form. Thus, it was not uncommon for techniques and each individual schools’ instructions to be kept secret.
  • 各研究所は、激しい競争に勝つために、実験の結果を発表するまで、手の内を決して見せない。
    Kaku kenkyuujo wa, hageshii kyousou ni katsu tame ni, jikken no kekka o happyousuru made, te no uchi o kesshite misenai.
    In order to win fierce competitions, each research institute never discloses what is important until it presents the results of their experiments.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Documentary on Taikiken Founder Kenichi Sawai

Kenichi Sawai studied Yiquan in China during the Japanese occupation during WWII. The actual details of his study is accompanied by much controversy.

After the war, he transported what he learned to Japan and founded Taikiken. He was great friends with the founder of Kyokushin Karate, Mas Oyama; where each had some influence on the development of the art of the other.

Below is a short documentary on Kenichi Sawai. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Out of Time

There was a very good post about our perception of how much time that we think we have when it comes to martial arts training in particular and in life in general at Kogen Budo. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Throughout my career in martial art training, I would say that the majority of people I’ve met–my fellow students, my peers or acquaintances,  are people who are happy to train with what they think is an exemplary teacher. For a number of reasons, however, (lack of drive, humility, reticence to push themselves forward .. .  . .), they act as if they have an endless amount of time to learn the system.
That’s not so. Your teachers age, and as they do so, invariably, they cannot move as they once did. Some not only lose skill, but they lose knowledge. Others lose wisdom itself. Still others change: what seemed so important once is irrelevant to them as they approach, ever closer, to death, and their students’ mastery of their particular combative art no longer seems that important. In other words, their fire has burned out.
Some teachers continue to burn, training themselves rigorously even into old age, still discovering new aspects of their art. However, even if aspects of their art become more sophisticated and deep, there are often certain physical actions that they can no longer perform. Yet the student, quite naturally and sincerely, imitates the teacher, as they are now–particularly if they’ve no memory of him or her in earlier days. For example, when I first went to Japan and met Donn Draeger, he invited me to train in Shindo Muso-ryu. (it was, in a sense, the ‘entry level’ koryu for young people he was mentoring). There were a number of reasons I chose not to enter Shindo Muso-ryu or establish such a close relationship with Donn (I hadn’t travelled half-way around the world, giving up the life I knew, to land easily within the protective tutelage of someone who had been ‘there’ first…I wanted to find my own ‘there,’ different from his). In any event, the most important reason was watching Shimizu sensei, already old, shuffling his feet in 15 cm steps, and watching huge guys copying him, shuffling their feet and swinging their jo and sword much like their rotund elderly teacher.
I recently got a bad hip injury – it’s improved somewhat, but it’s unclear at this point if I’m going to make a full recovery on this latest injury. After a month-long break, I’ve been training for a week and I’m crippled in regards to certain movements. For example, I cannot do a ke-ashi, the emblematic kick of Toda-ha Buko-ryu. So when people ask me how to do this technique – or any one of a number of others that I can’t (at least right now) accomplish, I can merely explain it (but verbal explanations may well be inadequate) or refer them to archival films on our website of myself or my teachers in earlier days. But my understanding may well have changed since that film, and anyway, that is not even close to the experience of observing your teacher in the flesh, or even more important, experiencing them use a technique to ‘kill’ you over and over. Learning with the flesh is not the same as learning with the eyes or ears.
My point is: do not be complacent. Do not approach learning at a leisurely pace. Train as if your life depends on it (it may), and as if  this may be the only opportunity to learn this particular bit of information (that may be true). If you don’t hear it, perceive it, embody it now, the opportunity to learn it may never come again. Or without seeing  your teacher perform the technique, without an opportunity to feel yourself impacted/defeated by it, you will never conceive of what it really means. As those in my Valencia Dojo can quickly recall this week, I taught a nuance in the use of the sword vs naginata that an outside observer will never perceive, but a practitioner, weapon-to-weapon, will definitely experience. It radically changes your effect on shitachi, allowing you to have time and space to accomplish taisabaki (body-displacement) to get in an advantageous position. It’s something I just discovered myself, after struggling with this technique for almost forty years. However, what if, a few years from now, I can no longer do it? If not learned now, lost forever.