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, September 29, 2018

Be Like Water

Another fine article at Green Leaves Forest. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

Bruce Lee was right when he said, “Be water.”
I love this commentary by Bruce Lee, and while water can become a cup, bottle, or teapot, it can also be a great analogy for our kyudo practice. Recently I thought of two analogies using water that can help with nobiai (expansion) allowing our body to open up and allow flow to move throughout our form, and to help with ikiai (breathing).
The last post on “Deeper Understanding of the Shaho-Kun and Raiki-Shagi Part VI: The Latter Parts of the Shaho-Kun” really got me thinking about the 5 element theory in our shooting, especially that of water.
I’ve been thinking of a lot of separate techniques to use in my form lately. They have been difficult and so I’ve spent about 6 months in this phase, putting all of my effort to do certain things with my body while not caring about how I hit the target. Put my hand here, my shoulders there, my waist here, my feet like this, etc. Well, one result is that I haven’t been hitting the target much, and another is I’ve become really rigid. Looking at my form, I can see that I’m trying, and that I’m getting a little success on those disparate parts I’m working on, but the overall picture is stiff and disconnected. I’ve lost the connecting tissues that bring my entire body, spirit, and bow together. This is where water can help.
Or how about beer.
When you pour beer into a glass, you start by tilting it diagonally to keep it from over foaming. So when you pour that beer into the glass, does it stay right where you poured it? Or does it instantly go to the bottom flat of the glass, which isn’t parallel with the ground because you’re tilting it? No. It simply finds the very bottom of the glass held at that moment and accumulates there. No hesitation, no waiting, just simple obedience to gravity and physics.
This is how we should accept the pressure of the bow. Imagine ourselves in the uchiokoshi or daisan phase holding the bow above ourselves. At that point, should we squeeze our hands and let all of the focus and pressure of our bodies rise to our hands? Or how about our elbows? Or maybe our chest? Or how about our waist? Or only our feet? The answer is no. That energy is not stuck in one place, but like water flows downward from the bow, through our hands, our arms, our shoulders, our torso, our waist, our feet, and down through the ground to the lowest point. Since the pressure of the bow doesn’t stop, or start, it is constantly pressing on our bodies, so that flow should constantly flow from our hands to our feet, or rather from the bow to the ground … just like a flowing waterfall. Does a waterfall stop or start or wait on its own accord? No, it honestly and simply obeys the forces of physics.
Does the waterfall stop if a bird flies under, “Oh no, don’t hit that bird! Hold on a sec water droplets!“?
Or does the waterfall say, “Oh shit, hitting that rock is really going to hurt! Let’s move to the side.“?
Or does the water say, “Well, since it’s so rainy today, I think I’ll slow down my flow a little bit to make up for all the extra water.“?
Well, I’ve never asked a waterfall these questions, but I’m pretty sure it just keeps on flowing, naturally, and normally.
Be like a waterfall, naturally finding the lowest point, regardless of how you feel, wherever you are, or what certain technique you’re working on at the moment. Be ego less. Simply react to your situation. Your body flowing with the bow as it moves throughout the stages of shooting. Flow from the entrance of the shajo shooting area, to the honza where you sit in kiza, to the shai where you shoot, and out the exit of the shajo shooting area.
If we can do this, and feel the flow of energy running down throughout our bodies, what is different than before?
We have eliminated blockages in our form. How did we accomplish that? By consciously focusing on eliminating the blockage in our tenouchi, and then the one in our shoulder, and then the one in our chest? No. We simply held onto this one image of water, and our body naturally fixed these blockages instantly and at the same time.
Just like water perfectly filling in the uneven ground in a puddle.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Top Figures That Shaped Modern Martial Arts

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there is a two part article on the authors list of the top ten figures that have shaped the modern martial arts. Part 1 may be read in full here. An excerpt is below.

As the saying goes, “amateurs borrow, professionals steal.” That adage certainly holds true in the world of blogging. Of course the real key to the exercise (both on-line and in life) is to focus on “incremental improvements.” That is why we now have well over 100 Wong Fei Hung films. Nor would many of us trade ‘Once Upon a Time in China’ for the 1959 serial ‘Wong Fei Hung Trapped in Hell,’ simply on the grounds that originality equals enjoyment.
All of this brings me to the topic of today’s post. I recently ran across an article ambitiously titled “2017’s Top Ten Asian Martial Arts Figures” or something like that. The premise sounded fascinating but I was disappointed to discover that it was little more than a list of CEOs of the most successful MMA fight promotion companies in Asia. I like MMA and kickboxing as much as the next guy, but this seemed like an oddly narrow view of the “Asian martial arts.” That is especially true in a year when China and Japan openly feuded about changes in middle school martial arts curriculums and Chinese social media was overrun with challenge matches pitting traditional master against more “modern” challengers.
Beyond that, the historian in me feels that focusing just on 2017 might be a bit narrow. I think a more interesting question might be, who are the top ten (non-mythological) figures who shaped the development of the modern Asian martial arts?
Answering that sort of question is always a challenge. We are, after all, the products of specialized training, and a subject like “Asian Martial Arts” is impossibly broad. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. It is a fun thought exercise, and it may reveal something about the way that we imagine and value the martial arts in the current era. If nothing else it might serve as the basis for a great reading project!
So here is my list of the top ten individuals who have helped to shape the modern Asian martial arts. Note that this is not an exercise in finding the top ten fighters. That would be a totally different sort of list. Also, this post is long enough that I will be presenting it in two parts, so check back later this week for part II. [Note, Part II is now available here.]
Kano Jigoro (1860-1938). I doubt that my first selection will cause much controversy. Kano Jigoro was a professional educator, the first Asian representative named to the International Olympic Committee, and one of Japan’s most important modern martial artists. As a youth he studied multiple styles of Jujitsu at a time when the popularity of such practices was flagging. Yet Kano’s faith in the value of the martial arts in the modern world was unwavering. He even had a chance to demonstrate them before the former American president Ulysses S. Grant when he visited Japan in 1879.
Today Kano is best remembered for the creation of Kodokan judo in the late 19th century and its subsequent explosion of popularity in the 20th. His organization was one of the first to establish a truly global network of schools. Further, many western servicemen sought out judo training during or following WWII, ensuring that this would be the most popular Asian martial art on the global stage during the middle decades of the 20th century. Judo would even be chosen as the first Asian sport accepted into Olympic competition.
Yet Kano’s impact on the martial arts world extended well beyond his own style. In Japan he used his background as an educator to lobby for the inclusion of martial arts such as kendo and karate into school curriculums. This was a critical step necessary to popularize the Japanese martial arts and make them a truly mass phenomenon. Of course it also opened the way for their eventual appropriation by nationalist militants.
Kano also reached out to international audiences by writing about judo in English and explicitly laying out his philosophical and historical understanding of the Japanese martial arts. His schools were the first to introduce the now familiar standardized uniforms, colored belts and dan ranks that are part of almost every modern commercial style. It was largely Kano’s vision of the social function of these fighting systems (or at least what American audiences understood it to be) that came to dominate pop-culture expectations of what a “proper martial art” is. Even if you have never studied judo, there is a very good chance that you have picked up some of Kano’s world view. And that is why he is opening our list as one of the most influential personalities in the modern martial art. If you are interested in learning more see John Stevens’ The Way of Judo: A Portrait of Jigoro Kano and his Students (Shambala, 2013).

Sunday, September 23, 2018

The Path to 8th Dan

Over at Kenshi 24/7, there is a translation of an essay by a high level kendoka about how he prepared for his 8th Dan exam. It should provide good food for thought for all of us. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Before we get to the essay, below is a documentary on the 8th Dan exam in Kendo.

My route to hachidan 八段への道筋

The following is a loose translation of a short essay from a book entitled “Kendo: the route to promotion.” There are two books in the same series, each containing about 60 short essays by people who have passed hachidan. In the essays the sensei discuss their mindset and approach to the exam.
Of course, the vast majority of people who pass hachidan do kendo as part of their job (i.e. policemen or teachers) so their experience might not seem immediately relevant to your average kendoka. However, I do think there are some things to be learned from other peoples journey, whether some circumstances are different or not.
From the 120 or so essays over the two books, I picked a sensei who I personally know and have studied under for a while.
Yano Nobuhiro sensei
Short bio: Yano sensei was born in Miyazaki prefecture in 1962. After graduating from kendo-powerhouse Takachiho high school he started working at Osaka police department. He passed hachidan in 2008 and is currently a professional police kendo instructor in Osaka.

Use video to improve your technique
From 2001 until 2006 I taught kendo at the Osaka police academy. These five years were a chance for me to re-examine my kendo. In fact, it was from this time that my kendo life completely changed. Between teaching kendo classes to police recruits, I was luckily able to do lots of kihon and jigeiko with the (more senior) sensei that were working there. More importantly, for me, was the chance to do lots of kakarigeiko and to learn under good instructors.
During this time I realised that my kendo had still some way to go, so in order to tackle this I started to video myself.
For example, during breaks when I was working night duty (even police kendo pros sometimes have to do other work), I’d tape markers on the wall then video my kamae, posture, basic cutting shapes, etc, and then check my form with the markers.
I also recorded kihon and jigeiko sessions and studied things like: my posture when I was struck, what type of seme I used when I struck successfully, my posture when I struck, my posture after I struck, etc.
At this time it wasn’t that I was aiming for hachidan per se, rather I worked hard to become a good model for the police recruits at the academy.
After doing this day-in-and-day-out, I started to feel my kendo slowly change.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Laws of Power, #26: Keep You Hands Clean

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 #26: Keep Your Hands Clean.

You must seem a paragon of civility and efficiency, your hands are never soiled by mistakes and nasty deeds. Maintain such a spotless appearance by using others as scapegoats and cat’s-paws to disguise your involvement.

Monday, September 17, 2018

4 Levels of Training in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from a post at Green Leaves Forest. The full post may be read here.

Training in kyudo can change your life. The bow can be used to make ourselves strong, focused, and develop a greater understanding of the world. We can also make some great friendships along the way. At the highest levels we can cultivate compassion and our sense of service.
But it doesn’t necessarily always work out like this.
We often hear the phrase, “Practice makes perfect.” But that’s not it.
Perfect practice makes perfect.
When we start beginning training it takes all of our energy just to remember all the things we have to do and make sure the arrows goes in the direction of the target without hurting yourself or anyone around you!
One day, you hit the target, and if you’re not hooked by now, this is when it usually happens. You have figured out that by using your body in a certain way with the bow, you can hit the target, and it feels awesome.
After a while, we get comfortable with the bow and start working to improve our form to better hit the target. At this point we’ve probably experienced different phases of hitting the target, then forgetting, then hitting again, and so on. We also have probably found out that we have some bad habits. We find out about these bad habits because either they naturally feel horrible and we want to change them, or more likely, we find them by getting advice from our teachers or training partners. The latter is more likely because I think we naturally get rid of bad habits that don’t feel right. Instead, we naturally find a way to shoot that is easiest for us while hitting the target. We may be hitting the target, but by using our bad habits, we’re using only a temporary plug to keep back a flood instead of fixing the flood at its source.
This can be a very frustrating experience because we have these “bad habits” that we are “supposed to fix,” but they’re difficult to do, they often can’t be seen by ourselves when we’re shooting, and we probably don’t consistently hit the target when trying to fix them. Fighting against these bad habits feels unnatural, so our body and mind rebel against all else, be it the equipment, the dojo, our training partners, or teachers.
This becomes our kyudo situation.
So, what do we do?
There are myriad problems with specific answers, but after thinking about all of this, I came up with 4 basic levels of training that one can undertake in this situation.
1.) Try and Give up
This is where we are conscious of our bad habits, make some initial effort to fix them, but eventually give up and revert back to our natural bad habits. This process could happen in one single arrow. For example we could try to make sure our tenouchi is set in the daisan phase, but mess up, and proceed throughout the shooting relying on our old way of shooting. It could happen in a set of two arrows. For example we try to fix our habits on the first arrow, mess up, and revert to our old shooting on the second. It could happen in one tournament, where we try to fix our habit in the first set of arrows, then give up and just revert to our old shooting on the next. This could also happen over a day, week, month, year, or maybe our whole life! It’s certainly not the best way to train but I’d say this is a pretty common way of shooting. It’s natural, and in most cases needs to be experienced before we can move on. Perhaps this is one explanation of why “we need to fail before we succeed.”
2.) Don’t even try
This is where we know our bad habits, but don’t even try to fix them. In one respect, this is definitely not a good way to practice. A teacher at a seminar lately said, “If we’re doing things wrong subconsciously, then we have to try to fix them consciously.” This really hit me at the time. Our bad habits won’t naturally fix themselves, and we won’t magically “get better with time.” I thought this for a long time, but after experience in tests, tournaments, and seminars, it becomes very very clear that just practicing for a long time doesn’t necessarily make you a great archer.
In another light, though, nobody wants to not improve, right? We all want to become better than we are now, right? If that’s the case, but we find ourselves in this “Don’t even try” phase, it could be because we don’t know how to fix our bad habits, even though we know they exist. That’s a difficult situation to be in for sure, and requires the energy to research or find people to help.
Or, we could find ourselves in this phase because people aren’t giving us the right answers to fix our problems. For example, we aren’t pulling the bow enough, and a teacher says pull the elbow to the back, but we don’t want to pull the elbow to the back behind us because it disrupts our sanjuu-jumonji form and prevents nobiai. This is a really difficult spot to be in, because it can start to build tension in your dojo with your training mates. I’ve been really lucky to participate in a lot of kyudo events with a lot of other experienced archers, but it also means I’ve gotten a whole lot of advice that I don’t agree with. In Japan, this is especially difficult to deal with because people don’t generally contradict their seniors. In rare cases when I’ve been really brave I’ve told teachers that I understand what they’re saying, but I’ve tried it, it feels really uncomfortable, it doesn’t work, and I’m trying to do something different now. Thank you for trying to help. In those rare cases the teachers have understood and stop trying to teach me because they realize I’m not listening. It’s difficult, but sometimes necessary. I can only imagine though if someone feels like this and the teacher keeps pressing. Every situation is different, but one thing is for sure, teachers need to understand when they’re pushing too far and not respecting the archer they’re trying to teach. For any students who are experiencing this, be brave and smart and don’t give up! And above all maintain your humility, patience, and grace. For teachers that are pressing their unwanted ways on others, nothing good can come of it, so take some responsibility and figure out a better way.
Anyway, I believe this is a phase that we want to grow out of.
3.) Try and Fail and Try
This, I believe, is the best place we can be in our practice.
This is heaven on earth. This is finding enlightenment in our very lives. This is living with the bow. This is experiencing our mortal humanity.
This is shin, zen, bi. Truth, goodness, and beauty.
In this phase have our bad habits, and are on a track trying to fix them. Ideally, we have a teacher we trust who is there to teach us the technical way to fix our problems and provides the right balances to mentally encourage us. Or, we could be looking at videos of our own shooting and trying to fix them on our own. We could be asking other teachers and visiting seminars looking for answers. This comes in a variety of forms, but it’s basically having a plan to fix our problems and consciously trying to fix them.
It’s really really hard. We may not see the light at the end of the tunnel. We may receive criticism from others.
What’s wrong with you lately? Just hit the target like you used to.”
We may do well in our practice at the makiwara, may do good practicing on our own, or may do good shooting in our own dojo. But what about when we go somewhere we haven’t before? Or have to shoot in front of others? Oftentimes we give up on trying to fix our habits and just rely on our old ways of hitting the target. This is natural, but you know what? …
I may be weird, or stupid, or you might not like what I say …
but I despise it.
Changing our form out of fear. Giving up just to hit the target, or not look stupid. Throwing our selves away to the desires of the mob.
What do they know? What do they care? Who cares?
You do.
Right there inside of yourself, in a place where you can’t run away. Maybe you’ve fooled the others, but you can’t lie to yourself and expect to be believed.
Once, my teacher told me, “苦労すればいい。” “You should struggle.”
The masochistic side of me translated it to, “You should suffer.”
It may sound a bit dark, but if you’re not ready to struggle or suffer in kyudo, then you’re not going to be able to fulfill your potential.
Technique is so simple. You just learn to do it. It takes time, but matters of technique can be taken care of with proper training. Nobody does the proper technique in the beginning, and anyone that works hard enough at a particular technique will eventually achieve it.
Mentality on the other hand though, is the really difficult part. It’s so simple. Just do your best and don’t be afraid of failing. It’s so fricken simple, but are we doing it? Are we doing it every single arrow? Be it at the makiwara, in our own training, at tests, at tournaments? Are we always shooting our best arrow? Some may spend their whole lives without accomplishing this one feat of the human spirit.
Why? Why not?
The simple answer is fear, and what we do with it. My answer to this is number 3 of these phases, “try and fail and try.”
4.) Try and Succeed
This is the magical phase of trying to do what we set out to do and succeed. This is where we all want to be, but probably don’t experience it for very long if we ever do. Maybe it happens only once a day, once a month, or once in a whole lifetime! As glorious as it sounds, its a really precarious place to be in. Those arrows or days I really felt like I succeeded, I sometimes lose all my desire. “Well, I did it. Might as well go home now.” Or worse, “Well, there’s no way I can do that again. Might as well go home now.” This phase will remain the goal, but I don’t think we have much control over when or how it comes. All we can really do is just do our best.