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, July 31, 2018

Getting Punched in the Face

Below is an excerpt from another great post by Sam Yang at Must Triumph. The full post may be read here.

What Getting Punched in the Face Taught Me

Dealing with a punch is no different than dealing with conflict—you can cower, escalate, block, redirect, or simply move out of the way.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
Getting punched in the face is rather unpleasant. You should avoid it if at all possible. If you, however, have gotten punched in the face or train in a discipline where you're getting punched in the face frequently, get the most out of it. There are valuable life lessons there (and it would be a waste if all you got from the experience was head trauma).
The greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor; it is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in the dissimilar.
— Aristotle

Conflict Management

Getting punched is really an education in conflict. As a wise dramatist once told me, "Conflict is drama, action is character." From a martial arts perspective, life is conflict, and your actions define your character. The martial artist believes you can have thoughts regarding yourself—write your memoir, have all the best intentions—but your actions are the lasting evidence of your character. A punch serves as a metaphor for life and your reactions—conflict management.

If you were to look into the origins of human conflict, it may stem from the first moment a human laid hands on another human. No matter the complexity of an issue, it still operates under the same rules of a physical fight. The "civilized" world uses financial domination rather than physical. Same struggle, different domain.

Fists have a way of finding cowards. Fighting is about choices, training is about learning the best choices: the least sacrifice for the most benefit. Dealing with a punch is no different than dealing with conflict—you can cower, escalate, block, redirect, or simply move out of the way.

Ways People React to a Punch:

1. Cower

Chip gets to the checkout of his supermarket, and there's a long line. Chip blames the world. Chip says to himself, "Of course there's a line. This always happens to me. My life sucks." In Chip's mental movie, he's the protagonist who's always getting kicked around. He has turned a long line at the supermarket into Doctor Zhivago, all in his own mind. Chip looks at his cart, and he has fewer items than lots of the other folks. He thinks, "Why aren't they going out of their way to let me go ahead of them?" The cruelty of it all. A minor, fleeting annoyance has become the worst possible thing that could ever happen to Chip. He can smell the kale rotting in his cart.
Fight promoters don't care if fighters win or lose as long as they give it all they've got. The fighters who try to win to the very end, even in a losing effort, are still rewarded. The fighters who mentally break, cower, and wait for the referee to save them, are unlikely to be brought back.
It's a fight; mercy is not guaranteed. Once a fighter wilts, their opponent will only turn up the intensity. Some people can't finish what they start, and some people are amazing finishers. Cowering doesn't lessen damage; it only increases it—the worst of all worlds. Sometimes people with inferior technique will win when they have more will to fight. A person who knows every technique but lacks the will to fight makes for a better victim than a person who knows nothing but will fight with every inch of their being. Forget about intent, your actions define your character.

2. Escalate

Phil is given directions to a job site. It doesn't take Phil long to realize he's at the wrong place. Phil doesn't call his boss to check in or to see if there's a possible mistake since it's not his mistake. Phil is feeling righteous. The boss calls, he's understandably upset that Phil's not at the job site. Phil tells his boss where he is; his boss realizes he gave Phil the wrong address. Phil's boss apologizes for his mistake but is still upset that Phil didn't take responsibility to correct the situation when he became aware of the error first. Phil thinks, "How dare my boss be upset at me. He's not allowed to be upset. I'm the one who should be upset because I'm the one who waited around. It's my boss's fault, not mine. It's just another example of my boss trying to pass the blame to his employees." Phil keeps a mental ledger of all perceived slights against him.
The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.
— Joseph Joubert
It's smart to be hard but hard to be smart. In a professional fight, you'll have fighters who take a punch to give a punch. "How dare he punch me? I'll show him!" Do you want to be right or do you want to get the job done? Being easy to work with, getting the job done when situations aren't perfect are advantages when climbing the rungs of a company. It's the question amateur fighters need to ask themselves: Do you want to prove how tough you are or do you want to win the fight? Do you want to prove you're stronger than your opponent by taking a punch to give a harder punch, or do you want to be smart and walk away with the winner's purse—hit without being hit, and maintaining a long career? It's what separates the best from the tough.

3. Block

Rita graduates college and starts her first job at a startup. She doesn't know much about finance but she remembers her high school economics teacher telling her, "Once you get a job, always keep at least three months worth of rent in the bank." Rita wants to spend like her friends but the words of her teacher linger. She lives conservatively and saves four months of rent. Like many startups, her company fails. Since everyone was a new hire, Rita's coworkers panic. Rita, however, shields herself from the full force of the damage. She looks for another job but doesn't have the desperation of some of her coworkers. Rita also has the luxury of not having to take the first job offered. With time, a strong resume, leveraging her network, and some luck—Rita procures a new job that is better than the one before. This time Rita promises herself to save six months rent.

4. Redirect

Jackie learns of digital cameras and Photoshop in the 90s. Jackie could have listened to her ego and be "pure to her craft," or be a working photographer. Jackie can prove film is "higher culture" or she can remain relevant. Her clients don't care; they just want the best image possible. Jackie adopts digital media early and positions herself to be high in demand when digital takes over. Jackie intercepts a situation early on before it gets beyond her control. Instead of fighting its power, she uses its power to her advantage. Instead of being creatively stifled, the new medium opens her up to an infinite amount of artistic possibilities. Like many business opportunities, it pays to be a pioneer. Jackie first had to open her mind.

5. Move Out of the Way

You're at the supermarket, and there's a long line. It doesn't bother you. You knew living in a big city meant more people, more cars, and longer lines. It's a popular market with good produce and it's worth the wait. It's par for the course of living the life you choose to live. You're in the moment and not sulking. When another cashier opens, your ease makes you the quickest to react. But in your good mood, you allow an elderly customer who's been waiting much longer to proceed in front of you. You're smart and a good person.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

A Taijiquan Class with Yuan Weiming

A few months ago I learned that my original taijiquan teacher from over 35 years ago, a direct student of Cheng Man Ching (Zheng Manqing) from the New York school, Carol Yamasaki, taught a class in the evening during the week within a reasonable distance from my office. I began training with her again.

I found that I was at about the median in age of the students and that most of us had a similar story: life pulled us in different directions back in the day and now we're back.

There is a loose network of the direct and next generation students of CMC. They keep in touch. Sometimes they pay each other a visit.

The other night in class, we had the great honor to be visited by Yuan Weiming. Mr Yuan is a disciple of the late Liu His-hung, the chief instructor at Shizhong Institute in Taipei and is one of the most senior teachers of the Taiwan branch of CMC Taijiquan.

I found him to be very warm and approachable.

We did a deep dive into the Grasp the Sparrow's Tail sequence. The emphasis was on moving from leg to leg by relaxing either (or both) hips and sinking.

We also did some push hands drills where he linked what we're doing in push hands with doing the form. There is no better solo practice for push hands but to do the form correctly.

It was a great experience and I think my practice will improve as a result. I have so much to work on.

There WAS a video of him on YouTube demonstrating the form in Italy, but I can no longer view it from the US.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Concept of Kendo

At Kenshi247, there is a brief article which is a translation of an esteemed Kendo Hanshi, who was deeply involved in Buddhism. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Getting rid of “The Self”
In the end, the worst evil that can infect your kendo shugyo is, from start to end, is “the self.”
In buddhism there is a saying that “worldly desires cannot be extinguished” (煩悩無尽), which means that no matter how you try you can never rid yourself completely of “the self.” The discipline and training required to (even attempt to) remove “the self” is a not an easy one.
All humans have this “self,” that is to say, everyone has “worldly desires.” Living daily life in accordance with these desires leads to a disordered lifestyle with no aim.
If “the self” looks at something beautiful and thinks “it’s beautiful” and leaves it at that, then it’s fine. But if it looks at something that is beautiful and thinks “I want to poesses that,” or looks at something unclean and seeks to avoid it, then that thought becomes part of “the self.”
So, someone who seeks to rid themselves of “the self” should aim to – when seeing something beautiful – think “it’s beautiful” then not give it another thought. The initial thought itself is fine, so it should be left as is. But if someone can’t leave it and thinks “I want it,” then that thought will lead to another thought and yet another… if this happens then the person will be distracted by their thoughts (desires), and their heart and mind trapped by them.
Thus, in our daily lifes we should seek to live in the moment. For example when we are working on a job we should work on it purposefully without being distracted. If you start thinking that the job is silly or useless, then idle thoughts will arise in your mind and become a part of “the self.”
When it comes to kendo you must simply aim to win (see below). Only that. If you think “everyone is watching so I should do my best kendo,” or “I should try and execute a cool technique,” or “I’ll be so embarrassed if I lose to this guy,” or other such thoughts, then you will become lost. These fixations will lead to mistakes (openings), and in those openings you will be struck.
To lose “the self” you need not use power. All you need do is not allow your thoughts to be transfixed by something and lose control of them. Take things one at a time, and do so always. This is called “ichinen-fusho” (一念不生), a state where no obstructive thoughts, feelings, or ideas enters the mind or heart.

Thursday, July 19, 2018


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 #68: STOPPING AT A TEMPLE ON HENG MOUNTAIN I INSCRIBE THIS POEM IN THE GATE-TOWER

The five Holy Mountains have the rank of the Three Dukes.
The other four make a ring, with the Song Mountain midmost.
To this one, in the fire-ruled south, where evil signs are rife,
Heaven gave divine power, ordaining it a peer.
All the clouds and hazes are hidden in its girdle;
And its forehead is beholden only by a few.
...I came here in autumn, during the rainy season,
When the sky was overcast and the clear wind gone.
I quieted my mind and prayed, hoping for an answer;
For assuredly righteous thinking reaches to high heaven.
And soon all the mountain-peaks were showing me their faces;
I looked up at a pinnacle that held the clean blue sky:
The wide Purple-Canopy joined the Celestial Column;
The Stone Granary leapt, while the Fire God stood still.
Moved by this token, I dismounted to offer thanks.
A long path of pine and cypress led to the temple.
Its white walls and purple pillars shone, and the vivid colour
Of gods and devils filled the place with patterns of red and blue.
I climbed the steps and, bending down to sacrifice, besought
That my pure heart might be welcome, in spite of my humble offering.
The old priest professed to know the judgment of the God:
He was polite and reverent, making many bows.
He handed me divinity-cups, he showed me how to use them
And told me that my fortune was the very best of all.
Though exiled to a barbarous land, mine is a happy life.
Plain food and plain clothes are all I ever wanted.
To be prince, duke, premier, general, was never my desire;
And if the God would bless me, what better could he grant than this ? --
At night I lie down to sleep in the top of a high tower;
While moon and stars glimmer through the darkness of the clouds....
Apes call, a bell sounds. And ready for dawn
I see arise, far in the east the cold bright sun.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Yoga for Martial Arts

There was a nice article over at Ikigai Way covering the basics of Yoga for Martial Arts: what types of classes are there, what are there pros and cons; etc. Below is an excerpt. The whole post may be read here.

The more I study martial arts, the more intrigued I am by Yoga. For awhile I was turned off by the sheer trendiness of it. It seemed like another vapid attempt by Westerners to find quick-fix solutions via Eastern philosophies. I wasn’t wrong…a lot of that goes on, but I was throwing the baby out with the bath water. Luckily, as time has progressed, I’ve read more about what makes Yoga tick and I’ve interacted with some high quality martial artists who are also avid Yoga practitioners.

One of the key individuals who started to clue me in on the whole thing was a gentleman named Greg Holmes. Holmes Sensei is a 6th dan in Shuri-ryu Karate and Okinawa Kenpo Kobudo. He’s also a highly regarded 2nd dan in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Some longtime readers may remember when Holmes Sensei introduced me to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, with predictable results.

In addition to his martial arts resume, Greg-san is a 20 year practitioner of Yoga, complete with instructor certification. He has used the practice to heal and prevent injuries in both himself and many students. That’s why I asked him to help me understand the basics of what Yoga is, and how to get started as a raw newbie.

Without further delay, here are his thoughts. I hope they are useful to you if you are trying to further educate yourself on this healthful activity!

The yoga practice I’m addressing is a physical one.  Asana (postures) are the physical yoga poses you perform.  There are other forms of yoga but the physical practice through asana work comprise the overwhelming majority of classes offered in the United States.
The predominant form of asana practice right now is flow yoga.  It may be in a heated or unheated environment and last between 60 and 90 minutes.  Poses are typically held around 5 breaths then transition to another pose.
  • Upside – Transitions you through many poses and is a great workout due to the frequency of movement rather than just static holds.
  • Downside – Lack of detailed instruction. You don’t spend much time in each pose to allow a thorough breakdown of its elements.
There are basics classes at many schools which are not as flow oriented.  They address the most common beginner poses, provide a breakdown of a pose, and move at a much slower pace than a regular flow class.
  • Upside – Provides key details to poses which may not be addressed in a flow class.
  • Downside – Pace of the class is slow and does not provide much conditioning for someone who is already in shape.
Another type are intermediate/advanced classes that are not predominantly flow.  This type of class is becoming more difficult to find.
  • Upside – Provide detailed instruction on the more challenging poses.
  • Downside – Must have some background in the basics before attending. Yoga is as much about knowledge of the poses as physical ability to perform them at a high level.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Japanese War on Kanji

As a pastime, I study the Japanese language. In 2019, I will be traveling with my employer to Japan again and I hope to be better able to hold my own there. 

As far as reading and writing goes, I have hiragana and katakana down pat. At the beginning of the year, I began to study kanji. Once I get through the ~2000 kanji required of high school students, I am going to begin trying to read Japanese books, to put the study into practice.

I came across this article that describes how the Japanese government has over time, actually tried to suppress the use of kanji. Below is an excerpt. The original post may be read here.

Reformers and Abolitionists

In 1866, as the Edo period drew to a close, the statesman Maejima Hisoka submitted a proposal suggesting that Japan abolish kanji to the last shōgun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu. Maejima, who had both learned and taught English, bemoaned the amount of time students spent memorizing Chinese characters, which could have been used for other study. He was just one of many would-be reformers and abolitionists of the kanji system in the modern era.
The idea of doing away with kanji altogether has rarely been seriously considered at the highest level. Reform, however, has been a constant topic for discussion. The early postwar era was a high-water mark for the reformers. The government introduced a list of 1,850 characters in 1946, known as the tōyō kanji. Official instructions accompanying the rollout stated that when words used kanji not in the list, the writer should either choose a different word or write in kana.
The aim of this rule was to thoroughly discontinue usage of any kanji not in the list. It was applied to laws, public documents, newspapers, and magazines. However, the excluded kanji did not die so easily, and critics complained that preventing their use was a barrier to free expression. In 1981, the list was replaced with the jōyō kanji, consisting of 1,945 characters. More importantly, the wording of the accompanying introduction was softened to emphasize that these were simply guidelines, and compliance was optional.
Today, restriction of kanji usage is highly variable, depending on the text. Elementary school teaching materials are carefully graded to exclude characters children are not due to encounter until later in their studies. Newspapers are expected to largely stick to their slightly different version of the jōyō kanji, although numerous exceptions are allowed, such as characters used in the titles of films and television programs or terms used in the classical arts. Commonly used words also often appear in kanji rather than kana, such as the tei in 鼎談 (teidan; three-way talks) even though 鼎—also pronounced kanae, meaning a three-legged metal vessel from ancient China—is not part of the newspaper list. Many writers for adults, however, are limited only by the audience they wish to reach.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Agility in Martial Arts

Over at The Martial Body, there is a good article on agility in martial arts. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

The power of a technique, a method or a strategy is only apparent if it is brought to bear as planned. When we think about defending ourselves in a martial exchange the consideration of power and how we can minimize its effect is one of the first problems to solve. There are many ways we can avoid, re-distribute, transform or neutralise forces affecting us in the martial context. But one of the most useful, if often shunned, is the use of agility.

Agility is the ability to move or think quickly, appropriately and efferently. It is a characteristic that we see in some of the top-flight boxers or MMA athletes, who seem to have an uncanny ability to avoid being hit. But as a general point it is the rapid utilisation of the mind and body in a completely unencumbered way.

Often, we see that martial artists will promote the ‘immovable’ method of development. They will get partners or lines of people to push against them and not budge from the spot. This approach has its uses and at a high level represents very refined mechanics, but it can also become a trap. People chase this immovable skill and can end up rooted to the spot while an agile opponent picks them apart one Jab at a time.  I have seen this directly many times. People from an immovable background simply unprepared for what true agility can bring to the table.

Ideally, we want to develop a body that can be both immovable and highly mobile, it may seem a contradiction but a consolidated body moving quickly through space is quite a problem for an opponent! A difficult balance and an inevitable trade off will result of course you may not be as immovable as the specialist in that skill, or as agile as the acrobat, but you will have some of both.
A good analogy for the agile body is to think of a boat on a stormy sea. It rides the immense powers of the ocean and can weather the storm. Contrast that to the solid coastlines that crumble under the constant pounding of the waves forces.
The agile fighter can be the boat. They can move in ways that can completely negate even the largest volumes of force.

Agility is born out of developing both our bodies and our minds. To be agile a fighter will need both the mind and the bodies ‘quickness’ to be developed through targeted training. Much of the methods for agile work can be found in the ‘ElasticBody’ section of the MartialBody system. Elastic in that context refers to both the quality of the tissues in the body and also the ability of the mind to stretch and spring into action.
Even complex forces can be avoided with the right level of physical and mental agility. It is very easy to not be affected by a force if you are not interacting with it and this is the most common way in which we see Agility utilised. The high level martial artist will have the ability to read the method of the opponent, sometimes subconsciously, and simply not be there when their method arrives.  It is easy to understand how this looks in the striking context, there are in numerous examples of agility in use in combat sports where one persons strikes hit nothing but air. If you have ever sparred with a high level boxer you will know immediately what I mean. You can hardly land a glove on them and almost never with any efficacy of delivery. This is a clear and very good example of agility.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Martial Arts Training in the Summer Heat

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kung Fu Tea regarding training in the summer heat. The full post may be read here.

Late last year I published another short essay on training in extreme weather.  At the time we were concerned with the costs and benefits of working out in the snow.  Ultimately we concluded that there are substantial health benefits to be gained if certain precautions are taken.  So what about training in the summer heat?  Is there any gain to be had from all the pain?  Should we all head out for a run in the heat of the day?

As always, there are certain dangers that one needs to be aware of, and you should never undertake any serious exercise program without consulting your doctor.  That is always good advice, but it turns out to be especially true when discussing physical training in extreme weather as that may stress your heart or lungs. 

So lets start with the bad stuff.  What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit as it turns out.

Dehydration is probably the most common issue to arise.  One needs to be well hydrated before starting any outdoors activity, and in extreme heat it is important to stop and take regular water breaks as you may already be well on the way to dehydration before you feel thirsty.  Common symptoms of dehydration include muscle cramps (like the ones that I experienced in Japan).  Also note that children are more susceptible to dehydration than adults.  While I am generally all for “traditional training,” I would approach with caution any practice that restricted your access to water while exercising in extreme heat.

More serious is heat exhaustion. Watch out for feelings of lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting, physical weakness, excessive sweating or cold, clammy skin.  During a bout of heat exhaustion one’s internal body temperature may rise as high as 104 degrees.  If you continue to exert yourself beyond this point bad things tend to happen.

The most common of those would be heatstroke.  This is a life and death condition that occurs when an individual’s core body temperature moves above 104 degrees.  The skin may be red and dry from lack of sweat.  Heart beats per minute and respiration rates shoot up as the body seeks to cool itself.  Lastly, confusion, irritability, visual problems and dizziness may be followed by loss of consciousness, organ failure and death.

  • Muscle cramps
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate (beyond what one expects during exercise)
  • Visual problems

If you begin to develop any of these symptoms, stop, move to a cool place, get hydrated and let your body temperature return to normal.  Remove any excessive clothing or bulky training gear. Individuals suffering from heat exhaustion will need to seek medical help if their body temperature remains elevated.  Needless to the say, the same goes for anyone with signs of heatstroke.

That is basically everyone’s official list of things to watch for in extreme heat training.  I would like to add a couple of additional items based on my own observations.  To begin with, most of us only experience exercise under these conditions when we are outdoors. Always wear waterproof sunblock whenever you are training outside.  Nothing ends an outdoor exercise program quite as quickly as a bad case of sunburn on the first or second day.

Second, consider all of the things that want to eat you.  In central New York that mostly means mosquitoes and ticks.  I suppose if I was in Florida the list would be different.

Mosquitos are a nuisance that can be taken care of by finding sweat resistant bug spray.  Ticks, however, are a more serious matter.  As carriers of Lyme disease they are becoming a serious public health issue where I live, particularly for individuals who may include hiking or trail running in their workout.  And lets face it, there is nothing more epic than doing your forms after hiking or jogging to the top of a cliff.  Always check for ticks at the end of any instagram worthy adventure, and consider wearing long, breathable, workout pants if you know that you will be hiking in an area where they are common.

With all of that on the table, is there actually any reason to put up with the risks of training in the summer heat when most of us have access to temperature controlled spaces? Absolutely. There is a small body of clinical evidence that suggests individuals who properly acclimatize and train in the heat for short periods of time (typically a couple of weeks) see greater performance gains than athletes doing identical workouts in cool spaces.

The paper that is most often cited in these discussions is a 2010 experiment conducted by Santiago Lorenzo at the University of Oregon.  After carefully observing the baseline performance levels of 20 elite cyclists, 12 were assigned a workout schedule to be conducted in a temperature controlled room set at 100 degrees, while the remaining control group did the exact same workout in a room cooled to a chilly 55 degrees.  At the end of a 10 day training period the performance of the two groups of cyclists was once again observed and measured.  

The results were striking.  The control group showed no improvement, most likely because they were all elite athletes near the top of their game to begin with.  But the group who had worked out in extreme heat saw a 6% performance boost.  Researchers hypothesized that this was a result of increases in their VO2Max (the total amount of oxygen your body can use during an intense effort) and their total blood volumes.  By producing more blood the body was able to continue to cool itself efficiently without robbing the large muscle groups of the oxygen that they needed to function (which is a contributing factor to the cramps discussed above).

As with all good things, moderation is the key.  One must be in excellent shape to carry out this sort of regime while locked in a 100 degree room.  Most of us will be working our way up through the 80s and 90s, slowly acclimating to the rising temperatures, and remembering to pay close attention to the humidity.  High levels of humidity interfere with the body’s ability to dissipate heat through sweat and that increases the likelihood of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

Yet from an athletic standpoint, the interesting thing is how quickly the body can adapt to these new conditions.  It wasn’t necessary for these athletes to train in the extreme heat for months.  They saw marked improvements in less than two weeks time.