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, January 29, 2019

A History of Hapkido

Hapkido history is difficult as it is mostly oral, but this website tries to make some sense of it. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Hapkido is a martial art of Korean origin. Its name means literally "The way of coordination and internal power." Hapkido is a complete martial art in that it consists of: dynamic striking and kicking techniques, very similar to Tae Kwon Do, both hard and soft style deflection techniques, throws, takedowns, ground-fighting, and extensive joint locking techniques. Hapkido is the combination of two Korean Martial Arts - Yool Sool which comes from the Japanese art known as Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jutsu and Tae Kyon which is an ancient Korean Kicking Skill that was widespread during the time of the Three Kingdoms.

Daito-Ryu Aiki-Jutsu

Daito-Ryu can be traced all the way back to Senwa Tenno who is considered by many to be the very first in the Daito Ryu line. The techniques were basically the combat methods of the Minamoto clan that had been refined and perfected by General Yoshimitsu. The General is known to have studied the cadavers of criminals to understand human anatomy. The techniques of General Yoshimitsu were passed down and then combined with the Aizu techniques to become what is now known as Daito Ryu.

The origin of Daito-Ryu starts with Soemon Takeda (1758-1853). Soemon Takeda taught a system called aiki-in-ho-yo, "the aiki system of yin and yang," which he passed on to Tanomo Saigo. Saigo also had training in Misoguchi-Ryu swordsmanship and Koshu-ryu military science.

Tanomo participated in the Boshin war. Certain that Tanomo had been killed in a battle with the Imperial forces and determined to preserve the honor of the family name, his mother, wife, 5 daughters, and other members of his family committed ritual suicide. However, Tanomo's life had been spared. Tanomo then changed his name to Hoshina and served as a Shinto priest in various districts and later adopted Shiro Shida as his disciple-son. Shiro was extremely talented and mastered the Ryu's many techniques, later applying them with great success during the foundation of Jigoro Kano's Kodokan school of Judo. However, Shiro abandoned the practice of both systems, moved to Nagasakai and devoted himself to classical archery the rest of his life.

Tanomo had another heir to the Daito-Ryu, Sokaku Takeda (1860-1943), Soemon's grandson. Sokaku was no novice to the martial arts. At an early age he had obtained teaching licenses in Ono-ha Itto-Ryu swordsmanship and Hozion spear-fighting. Sokaku had also studied with the swordsman-saint Kenkichi Sakakibara of the Jikishin-kage-ryu.

Sokaku traveled widely, attracting a large number of students; he was reputed to have around thirty thousand students and nearly every budoka of note in that era was his student in one way or the other. One of these was his manservant Tatujutu Yoshida (Choi Yong Sool).
As mentioned above Choi Yong Sool studied Daito-Ryu Aiki Jutsu with Sokaku Takeda. Exactly how much training Choi received and in what manner is a mystery to this date. There are those that would have you believe that Choi became the adopted son of Takeda. However anyone understanding the Japanese of the time would know better. The Japanese considered themselves to be a divine race. The Koreans were beneath them. While it is possible that Choi became endeared to Takeda it is highly unlikely that he was adopted. Choi started life with Sokaku Takeda as his houseboy and later became his manservant. It is because of this position he was always on hand at training sessions. It is known that Sokaku Takeda sent Choi to defeat challengers. This was a very shrewd move on Takeda's part. If the challenger was defeated he was defeated by the manservant of Takeda and on top of that a Korean. Takeda usually overcame objections by his higher ranking students by saying the following "Who has been with me longer than my manservant Yoshida (Choi)?" After Sokaku Takeda died Choi left the service of the Takeda Clan and returned to Korea.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Amateur Martial Artists

I first found the post below via The Tai Chi Notebook blog. I enjoy that blog very much and I think that you would too. Please pay a visit.

As much as many of us enjoy our martial arts practice, as much as we find that it enriches our lives, there are very few of us that can be full time, professional martial artists. It's just not in the cards.

Below is an excerpt from an essay by a hobbyist BJJ Black Belt. The full post may be read here

It’s interesting that much of what we see and hear from Jiu Jitsu black belts comes from well known guys and world champions. We form much of our understanding of what it means to be a black belt from these guys. It’s certainly a worthwhile goal to aspire to the achievements of the greats. There is much to be learned from listening to Rickson, Saulo, Marcello,  or any of the big name black belts. Their experience and knowledge of the game is invaluable. They are experts in what it takes to get to the highest levels of the art.

What is often missing is the voice of the hobbyist. The student who has a full time job, maybe a family or other demands and chooses to not dedicate the bulk of their life to the art. This is where the vast majority of people who study Jiu Jitsu live. Either by choice, circumstance, or necessity we are part time grapplers. We enjoy the art as much as anyone and aspire to be the best grapplers that we can be but we are realistic that we don’t choose to train in a way that will make us the next world champion. This is the realm of the hobbyist.

It’s okay to be a hobbyist. There is no shame in it and it doesn’t make you any less of a Jiu Jitsu student. Everyone has their own role to play in the art. A good thriving school has many hobbyists in its ranks. We need people who are successful parents, professionals, educators, tradesmen, students, doctors etc. These people give the school a wonderful diversity and richness that it wouldn’t have if everyone was full time athlete. A healthy school has people of all ages, races, incomes, men and women, hobbyists and dedicated athletes. Each has an important role to play in creating a rich tribe that nurtures everyone’s aspirations and respects everyone’s path through Jiu Jitsu. With that said here’s the voice of a part time hobbyist black belt:

Confessions of a hobbyist black belt

We have a hard time with all levels of student. In a roll I can have a very tough time with even white belts. There are times when I try my best and can’t get a sweep, or submission that I want. I can find myself unable to execute basic techniques. I can be flustered and stymied by something that a white belt does naturally. Yesterday I rolled with two different white belts that I could not submit from guard bottom. I tried my best for triangle chokes, armbars, uma platas, and couldn’t pull them off. Their posture was too good and I couldn’t break it. What I’m trying to say is that black belt doesn’t always mean that you dominate the other guy. I’m not likely to get tapped out by a white belt but I can be frustrated by them pretty consistently. Much of the time Jiu Jitsu is still a struggle regardless of who I’m rolling with. From the outside it may look like I’m having an effortless time in a roll but I can assure you it’s almost never that way.

There is a lot about Jiu Jitsu that we don’t know. I remember when I first got my black belt thinking how different it felt than what I had imagined. I thought I’d have a real mastery and understanding of Jiu Jitsu at black belt. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’ve been a black belt for several years now and there are so many things I don’t understand. I still can’t manage a collar choke from guard bottom. I can’t do an effective hip bump sweep in a live roll. I have no idea how to execute a berimbolo sweep. Honestly, I’m still perplexed by guard passing. Most times I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing. I get guard passes all the time but it feels mostly like luck or that I’m finding them somehow in the midst of a struggle. It rarely feels like a well planned and coordinated attack.

We constantly struggle with training/life balance. There are many times that I’d like to go to the gym but make other choices. I see many younger guys at the gym 5 or 6 days a week. I’m lucky if I make 3. Usually it’s 2. I always want to be at the gym and would be happy to be there 5 nights a week but the stuff I’d have to give up to make that happen are too important. Many nights I have to weigh spending time with my family or spending time at the gym. It’s a hard sell to leave my family responsibilities for an entire evening. As much as I love going to the gym I have to make different decisions many times. I don’t want to look back 10 years from now and think that I got really good at Jiu Jitsu and was a mediocre family man. I’ll be honest though it’s a constant struggle. I see the younger guy’s games improving rapidly and feel a bit stagnant at times because I’m not training as much. It can be a bit of an ego buster if I’m not careful. Even at black belt I can tell myself that I’m not good enough, or dedicated enough, or not a good asset to the gym because I don’t prioritize it in the way some people do.

We have to train and roll different. I don’t have the time in training to constantly explore and find new techniques. I do experiment and look for new solutions but much of my training time is spent refining what I already know. In fact I’m constantly trying to make my game smaller so there is less to maintain. I probably have about 3 submissions. Maybe 3 guard passes. Most things I can do effectively on only one side. Making my game smaller makes it easier to maintain and grow on even 2 days a week.

When I roll I can’t go fast and hard. If I do I’ll gas after one or two rolls. Instead I roll at about 50 to 60% most times. This allows me to roll as long as I want. I can roll for hours at this pace. It also allows me to build a game that is not based on conditioning, or speed, or strength. It’s a game I can keep as I age and it doesn’t take a ton of conditioning and strength work. This means though that the young athletic purple belt will catch me in stuff. They’ll get the guard pass sometimes. They’ll get submissions. I could match them if I wanted to. I have about one or two rounds in me at young guy athleticism and speed. If I needed an ego boost I could burn up my tank in a pissing contest.

I choose not to though. I’ve come to learn that the younger guys respect me for my experience and knowledge and not because I can dominate them at will. I have value to the gym in that. I have found my place. My place is to get people’s game better as efficiently as possible regardless of strength, size, speed, conditioning, and frequency of gym attendance. I can do this because it’s how I chose to build my game. It’s an advantage I have over Rickson and other full time instructors who have a great luxury of time. Mine can’t be wasted because I choose to dedicate only a small amount of it to Jiu Jitsu. I think this is good Jiu Jitsu though because to me Jiu Jitsu is about getting the most benefit from the least amount of effort. In that hobbyist black belts can truly shine.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019


It's been a while since we heard from Patrick Parker, a judo and aikido teacher who has had something special going on

He's been doing some traveling recently. When he writes about his travels, I can see the light of Budo shining through. 

Below is an excerpt from one of his posts. The full post may be read here.

I like to have two or three discrete take-away points after any adventure – a short bullet list of things I learned or what I got out of the adventure, or how I grew or changed.
When we did Kilimanjaro (I can’t believe that was only 6 months ago), the magnitude of the trek and the mountain itself made it really hard to leave with a short list of things I learned.  The mountain was just so big and intimidating that it was hard to keep everything in mind.
Since we have gotten back from Kilimanjaro, I have managed to come up with some take-away points, but I feel like I’m still trying to figure out what that adventure was all about,
Not so with Mount Saint Helens! Saint Helens is a much more manageable adventure – much easier to keep the whole thing in mind to process.  I knew from halfway through what I was taking away from this trek.
For me, at least on that particular day, Mount Saint Helens was all about two things – rebirth and switchbacks.  I have already written a couple of times about the amazing rebirth and renewal after Saint Helens blew her top.


Anyone who has done any hiking in rough terrain is intimately familiar with switchbacks.
A switchback is a trail cut diagonally across the face of a hill or mountain.  By going diagonally the incline of the trail is reduced to something that is manageable without specialty mountain climbing gear and skills.
The down-side to switchbacks is that by making your climb less steep it makes your walk much longer because you end up zigzagging back and forth instead of taking a direct route to your destination.
When we started our hike of Harry’s Ridge at Mount Saint Helens, I was amused to find that the trail starts out headed almost directly away from the mountain.  For the first quarter mile or so, the mountain is mostly behind you over your right shoulder.

Life is like hiking – there will be switchbacks

Sometimes you think are making great progress when your path takes a sharp turn and all of a sudden you seem to be headed directly away from where you want to end up.
What initially looks like a setback (in hiking or in life) might just be a switchback. Don’t despair, because switchbacks can look like an onerous detour when actually they are just an easier way to get to the destination.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #70: An Old Fisherman

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 #70, An Old Fisherman. 

An old fisherman spent the night here, under the western cliff;
He dipped up water from the pure Hsiang and made a bamboo fire;
And then, at sunrise, he went his way through the cloven mist,
With only the creak of his paddle left, in the greenness of mountain and river.
...I turn and see the waves moving as from heaven,
And clouds above the cliffs coming idly, one by one.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Some Chinese Proverbs

Over at Chinese Folktales, there was a recent post which listed a number of Chinese proverbs. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here. Enjoy

The child who suffers grows as a person. [Amis] (With hardship comes growth and maturity.)

Don't be like the one who kicks a cat after losing a wrestling match. [Bunun] (In other words, don't be a poor sport.)

Even the fragile dragonfly can cast a big shadow. [Amis] (Don't underestimate the strength and ability of others. Each of us, in his/her own modest way, is capable of some greatness.)

Whether you win or lose, wipe off the dust after wrestling. [Bunun] (Once a contest or an argument has been settled, it's time to get back to normality and to move on. "Let bygones be bygones, for now everything is water under the bridge.")

Your good looks don't help in the rice paddy. [Amis] (There is a time for preening in front of the mirror; however, it doesn't supersede the work to be done. When at work, put aside your vanity. Anything accomplished will be through the sweat of your labor, not through your beauty or handsomeness.)

A curse is something with long-lasting wings. [Bunun] (Watch out! All your cursing of others may come back to you. "What goes around comes around," an African-American saying tells us.)

When sad, look to the blue sky, not to the ground below. [Amis] (When upset, take heart by looking at the majesty of the untrodden heavens, rather than the uninspiring dirt.)

A mouth is like an anus. [Bunun] (Both apertures are capable of producing many items of embarrassing worthlessness. Prudent expression is a virtue. "Silence is golden." When not in polite company, some of us in the USA might say that "an opinion is like [an anus]; everyone has one.")

Let your heart shine like the moon but your deeds, like the sun. [Amis] (Your inner quality, with all its goodness, should remain modest and not draw attention to itself. Your accomplishments, however, should speak louder than words. They should speak for themselves.)

The bear's sharpest claws remain hidden. [Bunun] (It's the silent dogs that bite" without warning. The shrewd, the cunning, even the dangerous may seldom announce themselves.)

Don't talk back to your elders or older siblings; after all, they saw the sun before you did! [Bunun] (Respect your elders; their accumulated knowledge and wisdom supersedes your own! This proverb may allude to the myth common to many indigenous Taiwanese tribes of the heroes who set off  to shoot down the gigantic sun [or multiple suns] which had shone twenty-four hours a day.)

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Monotony of Training

Below are excerpts from another excellent post at Must Triumph. The full post may be read here.

Philosophers should fight and fighters should read philosophy. Otherwise, a fragile society awaits.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
BJ "The Prodigy" Penn will go down as one of the best in mixed martial arts history. Some of us, however, would like to believe that "The Prodigy" could have gone down as the best ever—possibly in all of combat sports. Yet, the fans have come to know two BJ Penns: the motivated Penn, who is a two-division champion, and the unmotivated Penn, who loses or has draws with lesser-skilled fighters. There have also been the long time-offs taken during Penn's prime, to find his motivation. From the UFC film crew, his former teammates, to the president of the UFC, Dana White himself, have all witnessed Penn's lackluster training. He is a prodigy, and sometimes that means only wanting to do things that come easy, and not the hard things that feel like work.

The Human Condition of Inactivity

Though Penn is a natural fighter, he's human like the rest of us. And like the rest of us, he's susceptible to the same mental trappings. He's a product of the same messaging many of us grew up with in the 80s and 90s; that motivation is the answer to everything, and everything must be fun. (The media needs you to believe this so you feel a need and urgency to keep buying crap. If you were content, you would be a terrible consumer.)
We're told that whatever it is we want to accomplish, we should feel like doing it. And if we don't, we should somehow motivate ourselves to feel like otherwise. Journalist and author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking Oliver Burkeman said this in a talk:

“You do not have to feel like doing something to do it. Such a liberating insight. All those motivational messages ... it seems like they will help you get things done but they actually erect this additional barrier. They say now, not only do you have to do the challenging-important thing, but you got to feel like doing it as well. And I think that’s a lot bigger and unnecessary demand.”
If we take the typical advice for getting things done, it often makes things worse. Doing it and also feeling like doing it; it's a double-whammy of stress. Yes, it may work for some people but the effects are usually temporary. Motivation isn't the same thing as endurance, it's not meant to last. Which is the point of self-help, you must keep returning to consume more motivation because you can't generate the will yourself.

The Monotony of Being a Champion

For most of his professional career, BJ Penn was his own head coach. He had long avoided training with the best camps. After another losing streak followed by another brief retirement, Penn took time to reassess. Like many of his fans, Penn knew he never lived up to the fighter he could have become. Penn sought out Greg Jackson, whom many consider to be the best coach in mixed martial arts, and undeniably one of its best minds.
It was with Jackson when Penn recognized the stumbling block that had been plaguing his career—his misguided perception of boredom. With every loss, Penn made excuses: he accused fighters of cheating, he came up with conspiracy theories, he blamed the athletic commission. Yet, there was no secret conspiracy out there holding him back. (The fans and the UFC itself wanted him to win.) His saboteur was himself, and his weakness wasn't physical, it was mental. He could face extraordinary obstacles without fear; what he couldn't face, what he couldn't defeat were simple and ordinary daily challenges. Penn said this in an interview:

“The talks Greg and I have together, he tells me, ‘BJ, if you’re going to go out there and do something that no one else has done before and win these three belts you’re going to have to put in [the work]. You’re going to be sitting in the apartment bored, looking at the ceiling and you’re going to have to go through all these things, go through all these emotions.

It’s starting to happen already. I’m getting further into camp, and I’m starting to see the monotony and repetitiveness take place. That’s why I stepped out of the sport before. All that stuff, it all plays, and all those mental mind games. It’s all how you handle it. Being tough mentally. At the end of the day, it’s a mental game, and you’re only as good as you think you are.”
As much natural ability BJ Penn had, he had a mental weakness: endurance. This had not only shown itself physically during his matches, by him gassing out, but also in his inability to maintain his training. He was on-and-off with fighting, staying in shape, and his martial arts progress. Penn could not endure. That's the irony many of his fans could not understand; he could fight men twice his size, people that would make us cower, yet he could not overcome minor things like boredom and emotions. Things most of us overcome regularly. Sometimes, true mental strength is pedestrian. Many fighters fight not because it is a challenge to them, it's often the opposite, they get a "high" off of it. (It is the constant chase for that "high" that is dangerous and self-destructive.) Now, being able to do those things that aren't exciting and fun, that takes courage and grit. But in our society, we are not likely to admire the trash collector or the public high school teacher (but we should).

Bertrand Russell on Fruitful Monotony

This is a life lesson mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970) discusses at some length in The Conquest of Happiness. In it, Russell writes:

“The capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood. Modern parents are greatly to blame in this respect; they provide their children with far too many passive amusements, such as shows and good things to eat, and they do not realise the importance to a child of having one day like another, except, of course, for somewhat rare occasions.

The pleasures of childhood should in the main be such as the child extracts from his environment by means of some effort and inventiveness. Pleasures which are exciting and at the same time involve no physical exertion, such, for example, as the theatre, should occur very rarely. The excitement is in the nature of a drug, of which more and more will come to be required, and the physical passivity during the excitement is contrary to instinct. A child develops best when, like a young plant, he is left undisturbed in the same soil. Too much travel, too much variety of impressions, are not good for the young, and cause them as they grow up to become incapable of enduring fruitful monotony.”
A life lesson that many of us never learn, but for those that do, a world of accomplishments and happiness awaits. I know it sounds counterintuitive but embracing boredom is how you rob boredom of its powers. Fleeing from boredom only allows it to dominate you. Think for a second what you could achieve if boredom was never an issue? Russell calls the productive embracing of boredom "fruitful monotony." In the realm of martial arts, it's called discipline. It's how people launch companies, build Apple and Facebook, go through a training camp, get their PhDs, and how hard-working fighters defeat prodigies. It's the mistake young lovers make; they think love only means excitement, but love is also the fruitful and tender monotony of spending the rest of your life with another person who wants to do the same with you.
Russell writes:

“I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony. ... A boy or young man who has some serious constructive purpose will endure voluntarily a great deal of boredom if he finds that it is necessary by the way. But constructive purposes do not easily form themselves in a boy’s mind if he is living a life of distractions and dissipations, for in that case his thoughts will always be directed towards the next pleasure rather than towards the distant achievement.”
Physical toughness is not the same as mental toughness, though one should be fit in both arenas. Philosophy for the body and martial arts for the mind; philosophers should fight and fighters should read philosophy. Otherwise, a fragile society awaits.