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 ~

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

The Myth of Chiburi

Chiburi, or "flinging off the blood" is a signature movement in Iaido kata. What does it really mean and what is it for?

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi247, where the author explores this questions. The full post may be read here.

In many iaido ryuha, chiburi is a fundamental part of kata. Chiburi, usually written 血振 in Japanese, literally means “shaking off blood,” and the image presented is that of flinging the blood of a defeated enemy off the blade with a deft movement before resheathing. Perhaps mainly due to the prevalence of Muso Shinden-ryu and Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, some people believe that chiburi is a universal aspect of iai. However, many ryuha do not practice chiburi, and there is the opinion – which has become more widespread recently, thanks to the sharing of knowledge via the internet – that shaking off blood in this way is in fact impossible. If this is the case, then what purpose does chiburi serve? Is it pointless? Why do some ryuha practice it? And was it really ever intended to remove blood from a blade?

Chiburi is a modern reading of a word that appears in the densho of Eishin-ryu as either 血振 or 血震. The original pronunciation is most likely chiburui, which is the reading you find if you look the word up in a Japanese dictionary such as Iwanami Shoten’s Kojien. In his book Koryu Iai no Hondo, the late Iwata Norikazu quotes another Eishin-ryu teacher, Morita Tadahiko, as being correct in his assertion that “chiburui” is the accurate term and that “chiburi” is in fact a mistaken reading (the word “chiburi” that appears in the dictionary actually refers a method of preparing fish). Iwata sensei also notes that both Oe Masamichi and his own teacher, Mori Shigeki, referred to the motion as “chiburui.” However, for the purposes of this article I will use the term “chiburi” as that is what most people are familiar with, and for better or worse it has become common parlance in most iai circles.

Most beginners learning iaido will be taught that the motion of chiburi is intended to fling the blood from the tip of the sword after cutting. In most books on iaido too, chiburi is described as serving this purpose. Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu and Muso Shinden-ryu also contain chinugui (wiping the blood from the blade with a cloth, paper or the fingers) in a small number of techniques in the first teaching level of Omori-ryu (Shoden/Seiza no bu). In Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu at least, this is technically done by putting one hand inside one’s hakama and using that to wipe the blade. In practice however, the shape is performed but the blade is not really wiped on the hakama. According to Mori Shigeki, this is because this because the oil used on swords in Oe sensei’s day would soil the clothes.

Despite more people becoming aware of it recently, the idea that chiburi isn’t really a practical method of removing blood from the blade is not recent – it has been expressed by teachers in Japan for a long time. Kono Hyakuren, 20th soke of Muso Jikiden Eishin-ryu, wrote in his book Iaido Shintei:

“Chiburui: this takes the form of shaking blood off your sword and onto the ground.

However in my experience, when cutting with a sword very little blood actually gets stuck to the blade. Nevertheless, placing emphasis on zanshin and spirit through the form of chiburui makes it a useful tool for development.”
Kono sensei was not alone in his understanding of chiburi primarily as a method of developing zanshin. Nakayama Hakudo wrote:

“In batto, chiburi is always performed in each kata before sheathing the sword. This motion cannot clean blood from the blade completely, but it should be thought of as a purifying action. The period between chiburi and noto is very important in battojutsu, as it is a manifestation of zanshin in the kata. Every school of iaido has a different set method of performing this action. A few peculiar methods are as follows:

“In Kanshin-ryu, a piece of paper kept inside the kimono (kaishi, 懐紙) is used to wipe the blade clean.

“In [Shindo] Munen-ryu, the sword is pointed downwards so the blood drips off the tip.

The sword is then brought around in an arc to the left side of the body, thus flicking the blood off the blade.

“In Hazama-ryu, the sword is rested on the left shoulder, and the blood wiped off onto the shoulder.

“In Fuchishin-ryu, the sword is pinched between thumb and forefinger, which are drawn from the base of the blade to the tip to wipe off the blood.

“In Hayashizaki Hon-ryu, the sword is held in the right hand and first brought in a small motion to the left, then in a large motion to the right before sheathing.

“Other schools such as Omori-ryu, Kikusui-ryu, Kaishi-ryu, Tamiya-ryu, Shingan-ryu,

Tetchu-ryu, Hasegawa-ryu and so on also all perform chiburi differently. In addition, there are schools that do not perform chiburi at all. Some schools will discard the saya behind them after drawing the sword, showing the determination of the swordsman as he instills his entire being into the sword. Discarding the saya expresses the swordsman’s preparedness to die in combat (sutemi, 捨身) – once the sword is drawn, it will not be returned to the sheath. In Kyoto, I saw a man perform this kind of chiburi under the title of ‘Takayama-ryu.’ However, I look upon this as an exception to the general rule.”
 Here Nakayama sensei asserts that while not all schools practice what we would today term chiburi, all seem to have an emphasis on zanshin before resheathing, which in many schools is manifested in the simulated or actual cleaning of the blade. Schools of iai that perform chiburi largely seem to be from the Hayashizaki family of ryuha, such as Tamiya-ryu, Mugai-ryu, Suio-ryu and Shinmuso Hayashizaki-ryu. In schools that are not descended from Hayashizaki we often find other forms of cleaning the blade. A form that does not seem to appear in Hayashizaki-derived schools is kaiten chiburi, where the sword is spun in the hand and the tsuka struck. This can be seen in venerable ryuha such as Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto-ryu, Kashima Shinto-ryu and some lines of Takenouchi-ryu. 

Other non-Hayashizaki schools, such as Seigo-ryu/Shinkage-ryu, Hoki-ryu, Sosuishi-ryu, Tatsumi-ryu and so on may completely omit chiburi, opting instead for chinugui or, to an outside observer such as myself, apparently nothing at all. Of course third-party observation can only take us so far – for example, discussions with an experienced practitioner of Hoki-ryu revealed that while the school may seem not to have any blade-cleaning portions of its kata, chinugui motions are actually concealed in the noto itself. Despite the numerous differences between ryuha, however, I have yet to encounter a school that does not display clear zanshin – whether expressed during the act of cleaning the sword or otherwise – before sheathing the weapon.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Ma Family Tong Bei and Piqua

Below is a post that appeared at Kung Fu Tea, which describes the rich martial tradition of the Ma Family, which practices Tong Bei, Piqua and other Chinese Martial Arts. The full post may be read here.

An Overview of Ma Shi Tong Bei
By Chad Eisner
My background in Chinese martial arts is varied and diverse. I have been lucky enough to study with some of the best teachers working, both famous and unknown. My first art is Taijiquan, which my teacher Gabriel Chin learned from the Yang Ban Hou lineage. Later I studied Wushu with Ma Chao of the Beijing Wushu team. Ma Chao introduced me to a style called Ma Shi Tong Bei, and since that time I have developed an enormous love and devotion to this style. In my experience, no style encompasses more of the history, science, and spirit of martial arts from China better than Ma Tong Bei. As such, I would like to share my love and obsession of this style with my readers.
Ma shi Tong Bei 馬氏通備is one of China’s most venerated and accomplished martial arts. 

The system has produced top competitors, teachers, and scholars. Ma Shi Tongbei is one of the most advanced styles of “mixed martial art” a phrase becoming more wide spread with the popularity of the sport of MMA. Tong bei is based in history, drawing on methods of the past and from different traditions. But it also has its eyes set on the future. Always growing and attaining new knowledge, the system is still alive and growing.

The Ma Family: a brief introduction.

The Ma Family is one of the most prestigious Hui Muslim families of Chinese martial art. The Style’s founder, Ma Feng Tu 馬鳳圖was a General during the Republic period and was instrumental in the National Guo Shu movement of the same time. His eldest son, Ma XianDa馬賢達 was influential in the creation of the new Sport of Wushu and was a huge proponent of saving ancient methods by looking at other current methods from other sources like boxing and fencing. His son, Ma Yue , my teacher, was one of the first students to receive a degree in martial arts from Beijing University, was among the first San Da (Chinese kickboxing) and Duan Bing (short weapon fencing) competitors in the early 80’s.

The youngest son of Feng Tu is Ma MingDa. 馬明達 Professor Ma is perhaps the world’s leading authority on Chinese martial arts history. He studies and teaches history in Gaung Zhou China as well as Tongbei at Jian Gong Academy with his son Ma LianZhan.

Tongbei Philosophy

The main idea behind Ma Tongbei is one of combining things into a whole. There are different contexts in which we use martial arts. But there are common skills that are needed in all of these contexts. Hitting, grabbing, kicking, throwing, and locking are all trained for various purposes in every martial art. What ever the context, one’s skills in these areas is paramount. The body mechanics involved, likewise, will be essentially the same no matter what context or culture.
Tongbei attempts to balance the skills in a practitioner by combining things with different philosophies and methods. Finding the universal mechanics and ideas behind martial art exercises and integrating them into a cohesive training regimen. The style its self starts from a base of three arts, Pigua劈掛, Baji 八極, and Fanzi 翻子 and then expands by using other exercises, methods, and weapons from other systems and even different cultures. A true “mixed martial art” system. Taking the strengths from one art to help mitigate the weakness of another. Or, more appropriately, taking stock of one’s own deficits and talents and training in order to connect everything so one has no gaps in their skills. For what ever purpose one has to apply those skills.
It is with this philosophy of combination, completeness, and discipline to the art and how that art exists in reality, that Tong Bei distinguishes its self. This has enabled Ma TongBei to grow and incorporate not just other Chinese methods, but those of modern sports like fencing and boxing.

The System

The method is famous for bringing several styles of martial art together into one system. Of these arts, three are identified as the bulk of the system and the main branches that the skills trained hang upon. The three big styles are Pigua, Baji, and Fanzi. Together with Chou Jiao, Tan Tui, and several other methods and sets, Ma Tongbei distinguishes its self as being both traditional and modern, regimented and free, scholarly and practical.
Each of these arts accomplishes a different goal. The name “Tongbei” means to prepare your skills and connect them into a single whole. Strength, speed, balance, agility, and athleticism should be complimentary to each other, without one area being overly developed. These three arts all represent many skills and ideas that should be brought to bear. This was the intention of Tongbei. To bring the skills from every conceivable area of martial arts in order to elevate the practice. Here is a quick over view of these styles and how they fit into the Ma Shi Tongbei training regimen.

Pigua: 劈掛

Pigua is the base of the system. Not only because it is is the parent art of Ma Fengtu, but because it is focused on the basic condition of the body needed for proper athletic development. Low stances and active footwork develop the lower body first by stabilizing the stance and then by quick and agile changes of direction. The upper body is trained with full extension of the arms and active rotations and manipulations of the shoulder.

The arms are controlled by the body, and more so, the core. The lumbar vertebrae play an important part in the movements of Pigua as does the lower abdomen, hips, and latissimi  dorsi.
The main points of Pigua are that the limbs should be at full extension. In the arms this means little to no bend in the elbow and in the leg it means low stances and long strides. The upper body benefits from the full extension of the arms by being forced to move first from the core, since artificial stiffness in the arms is near to impossible to produce while extended. This takes the entire shoulder girdle and Thoracic spine through their full range of motion. In the lower body, the full extension and flexion of the hips is paramount. Stances should be long, low, and stable when stationary and lively, light, and quick when moving. Being able to go between all three levels smoothly and with speed is the goal.

The training benefits the range of motion of the hips and shoulders. Recruitment of the core and back muscles stabilize the lumbar vertebrae and allow power to be transmitted to the limbs. The full extension of the arm increase impact and speed with relatively little limb recruitment. This saves energy and allows one to strike as full force for longer before succumbing to fatigue. The raising and lowering of the body in low stances and jumps is also in service of increasing athletic ability. Being able to move freely at full speed through these sets is difficult in the extreme. But the techniques and body methods are fundamental.
Pigua is named for its two vertical attacks/concepts. Pi 劈 means to chop or split and refers to the downward chopping motions so prevalent in the practice. Gua 掛means to hitch or hang and represents the opposite of pi. Namely blocking, hooking, and otherwise disturbing incoming attacks from the opponent.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

*Lam Hung Pak Mei: The Precarious Path from Koryu Bujutsu to Hakka Kung Fu*

Everyone has their own martial arts journey. Some people encounter a teacher/school/style and circumstances allow them to follow that single path for a life time. 

My own path has been somewhat more circuitous. Tae Kwon Do in high school (when Kung Fu the original series was on TV), then Yoshinkan Aikido as a young man. The Cheng Man Ching style of Taijiquan. Dabbling in Gao Style Baguazhang, an offshoot of Yiquan, a different school of Gao Style Baguazhang, Xingyiquan, Wu family style of Taijiquan, BJJ and finally back to my original CMC Taijiquan teacher until she retired and now with her senior student; while also working on a variation of CMC's Taijiquan on the side. 

Today we have a guest post from Jeremy Thomas, who trains and teaches Pak Mei in Arkansas and has had his own journey. Enjoy. 

*Lam Hung Pak Mei: The Precarious Path from Koryu Bujutsu to Hakka Kung Fu*


My step-father was an avid golfer. As a matter of course, I was to be as well. When I got my first set of (plastic) clubs, I immediately grabbed the driver, and struck a sword-pose akin to one of "Leonardo" from TMNT. We have a poloroid photo of it, hidden away in the attic. Needless to say, I don't golf.

That said, mechanically, a golf swing and a katana swing aren't terribly dissimilar..

Coming from a rough-and-tumble mining town, Joplin, Missouri, fighting was as normal as brushing our teeth. In fact, at one time, Joplin was known as "Little Chicago", due to the high rate of violent crime. Mom took the initiative; and she found Mid-American Taekwondo, under Instructor Steve Atkinson, where I trained until reaching 2nd stripe green belt. I still have the belts, certificates and patches. To this day, I credit my TKD experience for my "clean" kicks. But, with no weapons program, I eventually lost interest.

And, I knew my mother's finances were limited. I'm a "Momma's Boy", and proud of it.

In 8th grade, bullying issues led me to start lifting free-weights; I was the 4th person in a school of around 600, to break 200lbs on the bench press. The next step was the wrestling team. I had learned in TKD sparring, catching kicks works; really well for me, personally. Turns out, I was more inclined toward grappling.. or so I thought.

I lost every, single match that year. "Discouraged" doesn't cover it. And then the clouds parted. The last meet of the year was an Ozark regional tournament; I pinned 3 opponents that day, and took 3rd place bronze in my weight-class. What changed in my approach?

I got angry.

We all know "The best fighter is never angry". I wonder about that; it really hasn't held water in my experience.

After graduating, I obtained a construction job on the road, "storm chasing". This is when I started looking at Budo, kenjutsu and Iai. After a particularly nasty job at a chemical plant, I resigned my position, drive 9 hours home, hugged my mom, and slammed open the phone book to the yellow-pages. I knew as soon as I read it; "Butokuden West Aikikai". The first phone call with Mr. Karriman was fantastically awkward:


"Mr. Karriman?"

"Hi, "Mr. Karriman", my name's John."

"Apologies, sir, my name is Jeremy Thomas and I'm curious if you teach kenjutsu?"

"Yes. We're a sword school. Why do you want to learn it?"

(Awkward pause, as I hadn't considered the "why" for one second)

"Well, for knowledge and the discipline.."

"Better answer than most. Class starts at 7pm. I appreciate punctuality."

"Y-yes, sir!"

Mr. Karriman is a life-long martial artist, ex-LEO, and taught P.T./Defensive Tactics to Academy recruits at MSSU (Joplin, MO). He was, by far, my strictest teacher to date. He had trained with likes of Risuke Otake-Sensei and Obata-Soke. He was a no non-sense teacher, austere and authoritarian.

Just what I needed at the time.

Karriman-Sensei did not give "atta-boy's". Mistakes were ruthlessly exposed. If you were the first one in the gym, you BETTER have it swept. When asked a question, there was no "yeah". It was "yes, sir" or "yes, sensei". He has seen the very worst of humanity in his LEO/Security/Other career, and, in his own words, around 2008, "I'm just now starting to feel a touch of compassion again".

There were times, simply being in his presence was mentally and physically taxing. If you ask any of Karriman-Sensei's students about him, one word will be a common thread: "Intense"

And the quality of martial-education I received under Karriman-Sensei was equivalent to a "Master's in Violence and Defensive-Tactics", from a "Martial Harvard". Everything for use. Economy-of-motion. Tac-con's (tactical considerations). Blades and sticks, galore. OOAD loop. Situational awareness. We even had CPR and Phlebotomy classes. Everything was meant for real-world application.

Daito-ryu is a style founded on the concept of law enforcement and security. The original techniques, the "Oshikiuchi" (secret inner palace art) had been kept within the Takeda clan for centuries, with oral traditions stating the system was codified in the early 1100's by Minamoto no Yoshimitsu (源 義光) who dissected corpses brought back from the battle-field. The musculature was studied for the purpose of learning kyusho-jutsu (vital-point strikes) and joint-lock techniques. This deep understanding of anatomy lends the art well to Law Enforcement and Security, as many techniques are nuetralizations rather than direct-damage blows, though atemi-waza (striking techniques) are frequently used to set-up, "soften" or follow-up to a throw or pin.

Some of my best memories, are of my Kendo bouts with Karriman-Sensei, in the dark gymnasium, after the rest of the class had went home.

Talk about an "eye-opening" experience.

I rarely deal in absolutes, but if I can impart anything I learned from those years of Daito-ryu, it's this: blades are NO JOKE. And I can say that, absolutely. If you are not familiar with the "21ft. Rule", I highly suggest using some "google-fu", and getting familiar.

I'm looking at you, shooters. 

In 2014, I learned about this mysterious and, apparently violent, art of "Bak Mei' through a roommate who had already been training with Sigung a couple years. My daughter had just been born, and eventually, Daito-ryu fell out of my budget.  Pak Mei was available and convenient; I had ZERO experience with Traditional Chinese Martial Arts. I just wanted to train.

Calling the transition "rough", is an understatement. Budo and Kung Fu have very different approaches to, often, similar concepts. Now, at this point, I want to explain, what, for me, was the hardest "transition" between a Japanese Koryu and a Hakka Kung Fu style:

Generally, Koryu is heirarchal, based on rank and seniority. That said, in my dojo, I could make a friendly challenge to spar/roll with a peer of any rank; right up to Sensei, if I wanted to lay in a bathtub full of ice the next day.

TCMA is familial; literally fathers, uncles, older brothers, younger brothers, etc. In my experience, who it is acceptable to "cross-hands" with, as the saying goes, is often unclear, and it seems that there is little desire to increase the transparency of what etiquette is appropriate, in regards to hard-sparring. As one example, a 9th generation student would not be allowed to engage an 8th generation student to a sparring match.

I'm not saying this familial system is "wrong"; how could it be, to survive this long? What I am saying is it is very different from Koryu ettiquete and protocol. To me, Japanese dojo ettiquete seems fairly straight-forward; respect for instructors and peers, self-control, appropriate language, appropriate attire. To myself, pretty simple. The ettiquete of the Chinese kwoon is, to me, extremely complex, if not convoluted at times. I've noticed in my own pai, individuals are confused about who is there senior or junior. Confusion about being a general student, lineaged student, or closed-door disciple.

In my opinion, this confusion leads to a fair amount of, at best embarrassment, and at worst, real problems between individuals or even other styles.

This is something that I am making great effort to research and understand. In time, I hope to be able to contribute to solving these confusions and misunderstandings. Thus, severely limiting the amount of related issues. Unity and solidarity is something I think we should all be striving for.

Now, to the "good oil"; my first meeting with Lam Hung Pak Mei Master Simon Lui Long Chun.

My first meeting with Lui-Sigung was amazing; he showed up after an all-night drive, hugged me and gave me a saber and a staff. He explained the basic movement of the waxwood gwun (staff) with a clever and quite hilarious sexual innuendo, which I don't think would be appropriate to repeat here. Then, it was an immediate dive into Jik Bo (our first form, straight-step), head-first, sink-or-swim.

I managed a fair doggy-paddle.

We trained 10 hours that day. And I was hooked on Pak Mei. Watching Lui-Sigung perform is like watching a shaman of ancient times, vigorously, violently weaving a spell of subjugation over his enemies. When Sigung performs, his entire countenance changes; there's not a trace of "Papa Lui". It may be cliché, but "demon" is accurate a description as anything else.

But, if I was forced to use one descriptive for Lui-Sigung, I wouldn't have to think twice: "Generous"

My Sifu, Ruston Aaker, is incredibly knowledgeable about body-mechanics, structure and breath-work. His dedication and depth of knowledge are concealed by his perenially humble nature; do not let his relaxed attitude fool you, he is incredibly skilled, particularly in sword-play. Working with him over the last couple years has improved my Pak Mei ten-fold, and deepened my understanding of what makes the system unique and special; worth preserving. Along with my 9th generation brothers, Jordan Bywaters and Robert Holcomb, we exchange thoughts, experiences and methodologies which leads to a collective group improvement; there's no possibility of us "not being on the same page". Sifu and myself have several commonalities, including an affinity for swordsmanship, both inside and outside of TCMA. It makes the relationship smooth and comfortable. I would like very much to think he would agree.

The engine that drives Pak Mei is "luk ging", a type of energy expression unique to Pak Mei. Developed through the "Six Parts of Power" or the six areas of martial force (neck/teeth, shoulders, waist, abdomen, arms and legs), and the use of the Four Energies: Float, Sink, Spit, Swallow, we develop a "sacred" ging, something akin to "scared/shock power on steroids". For a closer cultural perspective, the following is a poem from 5 Ancestors Boxing, describing the "4 Energies":


Swallow, like flood waters into the earth

Spit, like an arrow leaves the (bow) string

Float, like wind blowing through feathers

Sink, like a rock cast into a river

The "4 Energies" concept not being limited to Pak Mei, has yielded many different descriptions and expressions through the various arts which utilize the concept. Here is another, more pragmatic poem on the "4 Energies" --

Swallow, Spit, Float, Sink

攻爲吐 - Attack is Spit
守爲吞 - Defense is Swallow
進爲吐 - Advance is Spit
退爲吞 - Retreat is Swallow
快爲吐 - Speed is Spit
慢爲吞 - Slow is Swallow
輕爲浮 - Light is Float
重爲沈 - Heavy is Sink
化爲浮 - Neutralize is Float
凝爲沈 - Stiffening is Sink

Using the "Four Energies" and the "Eight Methods" are paramount; without them, it's not Pak Mei, no matter how fast or clean it looks. The spine is the largest kinetic spring in the body, and Hakka arts have made good use of that fact, to produce maximum force, even when there is little space to "load up" a strike, illustrated by the following Pak Mei poem:


"Hands don't draw back to extend forward."

The "8 Methods" or "Baat Fa" could be consider Pak Mei's basic/common "movements". It's a subject that requires in-depth study, that this article's limits will not allow for. If any are interested, I recommend my Sibak, Sifu Adam Chan's YouTube channel. He has a video for each of the Baat Fa, and explaind them in detail. For now, here is a list of the eight, as my Sifu presented it to me:

"Baat Ging: Eight Methods/Actions"
鞭 Bin: whipping
割 Got: cutting
挽 Waan: pulling
撞 Jong: colliding
衝 Chung: charging
彈 Tan: springing/bouncing
索 Sok: jolting (searching)
盤 Pun: revolving/cycle

It's about generating as much force in as short a distance as possible. Where Bruce Lee had his famous "1-inch punch" we go even further, to "no-inch power". This power coupled with Pak Mei's "3 Gates" targeting system, makes it exceptionally devestating and accurate; in general, strikes are targeted at the eyes, groin and in our lineage, particularly, the throat. We all know the medical implications of those techniques ---

Pak Mei's reputation as an aggresive art is well-earned. 

While it's true that many of our weapons forms were trades with other styles, Pak Mei mechanics are applied to the forms, so they are, in essence, Pak Mei. That said, the best suited to express those mechanics is the pole (gwun). Grandmaster Chuen Lai Chuen traded three hand-sets for a pole-set, at one point. "Continuous Double Tonfa/Crutch" (回環雙枴) is also a Pak Mei speciality, generally reserved for advanced practitioners. "36 Movements of the Big Fork/Tiger Fork" (三叉大扒) is especially treasured by our lineage, as our 5th generation Master Ng Yiu was reknowned for his skill with the Dai Pa (also known as "Tiger Fork"). His Dai Pa was so heavy, three students had to carry it together to the demonstration grounds. The Fork is still on display in Hong Kong. Sigung-Lui once told a story, that Master Ng would "throw a handful of coins" across the kwoon floor. Then, grasping his Dai Pa, he would "hit the coin with the tine, bounce the coin into the air, then thrust it into the wall". He repeated this for each coin. Another notable fact is that Master Ng removed many of the "crouching" sequences from the form-sets, as his large stature made them impractical. As a large man myself, I really appreciate that. In fact, my body style is similar to Master Ng's in build, and I try to model my general "shape" from his postures.

We have many other sets including quiang (spear), huedeidao (willow-leaf sword), zhan ma dao (horse-chopping saber), kwan dao (glaive), qiao deng (bench) and several more. For a weapons enthusiast such as myself, it makes for a good fit.

Over the last year, I've been making the awkward, challeging transition from student-to-teacher. To be specific, it's more of an "assistant-teacher" or "junior-intructor" position. This lead to the creation of the Joplin Pak Mei Athletic Association, the organization I teach through, under the auspices of the Simon Lui Pak Mei Athletic Association of Minnesota. While I've worked with both, I really find myself elated after a training session with the kids class. Their raw enthusiasm and boundless energy reignite my own passion for the arts, time and again. The wonderful thing about teaching children: they don't know what they can't do. They haven't put limitations on themselves, yet. If I ask an adult to do a forward break-fall (front flip) he is going to give me the "huh?" look. If I ask a youth... they just do it. Children are certainly more malleable; and very impressionable. They are watching and listening before and after "bowing-in or out" of class. I have to remind myself; "they are always watching".

"Lead by example" was the motto instilled into me, early in my martial career. In recent months, many reknowned Sifu, Sensei and advanced practitioners have left this mortal plane. Collectively, we have some very large shoes to fill. If not us, then who?

In the spirit of that question, I'd like to share a portion of the eulogy that my Karriman-Sensei wrote for his own Sensei, Richard "Papasan" Gordon, when he left this world:

"I’ll continue to hang out with older folks. I’ll continue to visit them in the hospital, and occasionally I’ll lose one. That’s just part of the trade off. They pass what they learn from their life and the previous generations to us and we repeat the process — mistakes and all. If we had them around all of the time we wouldn’t get a chance to find out how important paying attention is. We’ll probably find that we were talking when we should have been listening.

I learned a long time ago that if you want to learn the fastest, safest, best way to do something, you ask someone older. Do yourself a favor and find an older adult and let them mentor your socks off. It’s kind of necessary if we ever hope to fill their shoes."

-  Sensei John J. Karriman

I'd like to thank and credit my Sigung, Sifu and all my pai brothers for their input, suggestions and support.

A special "Thank You" to my Sibak, Sensei/Sifu Russ Smith, and his student, Brother Joshua Durham of Burinkan Martial Arts, in Dade, Florida. Sibak Smith has been an inspiration and encouragement to me, since we first met at the 2016 LHPM Banquet. I performed a single saber set, which I had to augment on-the-fly, to avoid striking a spectator. Sibak Smith not only noticed, but commended me for the improvisation. Those few words of kindness took root in my very heart. All of the poems in the article were provided by Sibak Smith. Many can be found in his recent book, "Principle-Driven Skill Development". I cannot recommend it enough, especially to those are, or are intending to teach.

Brother Joshua Durham has become a close, personal friend, and we have many great exchanges of ideas for our youth programs. He has also provided me with great materials and insight into the Huedeidao, or the more commonly known, "Butterfly Swords". Learning and seeing his process and methodology has helped me shape my own.

Thank you, both, gentlemen. Not only for your guidance and encouragement, but for simply making yourselves available to an overgrown adolescent, who likely gets over-enthusiastic at times.  

Myself, and the Joplin Pak Mei Athletic Association fully support Burinkan Martial Arts, and all the wonderful things they are doing for Traditional Martial Arts.

Joplin Pak Mei Athletic Association:

Lam Hung Pak Mei Home Site:

Sifu Ruston Aaker's page:

Burinkan Martial Arts:

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #74: A Song of the Yan Country

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 #74: A Song of the Yan Country.

The northeastern border of China was dark with smoke and dust.
To repel the savage invaders, our generals, leaving their families,
Strode forth together, looking as heroes should look;
And having received from the Emperor his most gracious favour,
They marched to the beat of gong and drum through the Elm Pass.
They circled the Stone Tablet with a line of waving flags,
Till their captains over the Sea of Sand were twanging feathered orders.
The Tartar chieftain's hunting-fires glimmered along Wolf Mountain,
And heights and rivers were cold and bleak there at the outer border;
But soon the barbarians' horses were plunging through wind and rain.
Half of our men at the front were killed, but the other half are living,
And still at the camp beautiful girls dance for them and sing.
...As autumn ends in the grey sand, with the grasses all withered,
The few surviving watchers by the lonely wall at sunset,
Serving in a good cause, hold life and the foeman lightly.
And yet, for all that they have done, Elm Pass is still unsafe.
Still at the front, iron armour is worn and battered thin,
And here at home food-sticks are made of jade tears.
Still in this southern city young wives' hearts are breaking,
While soldiers at the northern border vainly look toward home.
The fury of the wind cuts our men's advance
In a place of death and blue void, with nothingness ahead.
Three times a day a cloud of slaughter rises over the camp;
And all night long the hour-drums shake their chilly booming,
Until white swords can be seen again, spattered with red blood.
...When death becomes a duty, who stops to think of fame?
Yet in speaking of the rigours of warfare on the desert
We name to this day Li, the great General, who lived long ago.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Lecture on the Modern Invention of Traditional Martial Arts

Professor Peter Lorge's keynote, 'The invention of "traditional" martial arts" - given at the July 2017 Martial Arts Studies Conference, Cardiff University.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Guidelines for Correct Choy Lay Fut Practice

Below is an excerpt from the Hung Sing Martial Arts Association regarding how to practice correctly. Many of these principles, or different analogues to these principles apply to other martial arts training as well. The full post may be read here.

Choy Lay Fut’s 5 Guidelines for Correct Practice

The Choy Lay Fut System has a vast amount of material rich in concept and theory.  Approaching the system as a conceptual method will allow the Choy Lay Fut practitioner to cut through the vast quantity of material and understand how to effectively apply the system in combat. The conceptual method of training a martial art can be compared to learning a new language. Learning only the forms and techniques with no understanding of the concepts behind them is similar to attempting to communicate in a foreign language using a phrase book. You may be able to ask specific questions like “where is the bathroom” but you will not be able to express your own ideas and converse fluently. The conceptual method of learning a martial art is similar to learning a foreign language in its entirety. You begin with the core concepts and theories which can be compared to an alphabet then you move on to combining concepts and theories together which is like forming words and sentences. Finally you can put together combinations and apply these concepts where they are needed and, in essence, converse freely with your opponent.

Practicing the Choy Lay Fut system as a conceptual method of martial arts leads to a greater adaptability and freedom in the application of the systems combative technique. However, practicing the system as a series of separate concepts can lead to confusion as to how these concepts interrelate to one another to form a cohesive method of combat.  The Choy lay Fut system is governed by 5 “laws” or “methods” to be used as a guideline to build a framework in which the concepts can be brought from a series of ideas into physical technique employed for self protection by the practitioner.

When practicing the Choy lay Fut system these 5 guidelines should be applied to each maneuver to ensure proper and efficient usage. These 5 guidelines are Sun Faht (身法), Bo Faht(步法), Sung Faht (松法), Ang Faht( 眼法), Sau Faht( 手法). Each of these categories contain rules that are universal in all Choy Lay Fut technique that aid in proper usage, proper power generation and correct technique.

Following the 5 guidelines in combination with each other is the key to what is called “total body unity” in the Chinese martial arts. Total body unity doesn’t rely on vaguely defined concepts such as qi(internal energy) but rather is a combination of good body mechanics, positioning, focus and structure.  Similar to the core concepts, learning and following the 5 guidelines leads to a greater understanding and application of the Choy Lay Fut system as a whole.

Sun Faht (身法)
Sun Faht or body law/method refers to the method of utilizing the practitioner’s body mechanics to achieve the greatest possible efficiency in power generation. The method is not limited to single strikes, Sun Faht also includes using the positioning of the body during rotational power generation methods to place the practitioner’s body in an advantageous position to continue an attack, defend or counter attack. Power generation in the Choy lay Fut system follows a pattern of movement that starts from the ground up. The body is divided into 3 major sections, the stance (Ma馬), the core(yiu 腰 ) and the shoulders(bok膊), power generation typically begins from the stance initiated by legs whether by stepping, pivoting or driving the legs into the ground. After the movement has been initiated by the legs the next major section of the body to move is the core. Rotating the waist for power is common not only in other methods of martial arts but for most movement in general. Following the rotation of the waist the next and final section of the body responsible for generating power are the shoulders. A loose and flexible shoulder is paramount to the delivery of a powerful strike. (see sung faht for more on looseness). In addition to generating power the rotation and alignment of the shoulder plays an important role in maintaining correct structure.(see sau faht)     
There are 3 main methods of power generation used in the Choy Lay Fut system 
  • Sinking
  • Sliding 
  • Torque 
Sinking the stance is a method of generating power by dropping the weight as a strike is executed. Similar methods of power generation are used in other combat methods such as western boxing where it is described as “sitting on your punches”. When done properly sinking can increase the power of a technique by allowing the practitioner to take advantage of a lowered center of gravity providing a solid base from which to deliver devastating striking power. Sinking is often mistakenly done as a deliberate lowering of the body by bending the legs or bouncing. Sinking when properly done is a releasing of the hips allowing the practitioner to “sink” into his center of gravity as the strike makes contact with the intended target.    

Sliding is a form of power generation that relies of a specific type of step. This shooting step, Biu Ma (標馬), is done by the Choy Lay fut practitioner to drive forward into position while taking advantage of the forward momentum to generate power. Using the practitioner’s body weight and forward momentum to drive the strike into the opponent the sliding method is often used in conjunction with sinking for maximum efficiency.  

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Real "Last Samurai"

The movie, The Last Samurai, was based on actual events. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at All That's Interesting. It wasn't an American. It was a Frenchman named Jules Brunet. The full article may be read here.

Jules Brunet was sent to Japan to train the country's soldiers in Western tactics. He wound up staying in order to aid the samurai in a battle against Imperialists trying to further Westernize the country. 

Not many people know the true story of The Last Samurai, the sweeping Tom Cruise epic of 2003. His character, the noble Captain Algren, was actually largely based on a real person: the French officer Jules Brunet.
Brunet was sent to Japan to train soldiers on how to use modern weapons and tactics. He later chose to stay and fight alongside the Tokugawa samurai in their resistance against Emperor Meiji and his move to modernize Japan. But how much of this reality is represented in the blockbuster?

The True Story Of The The Last Samurai: The Boshin War

Japan of the 19th century was an isolated nation. Contact with foreigners was largely suppressed. But everything changed in 1853 when American naval commander Matthew Perry appeared in Tokyo’s harbor with a fleet of modern ships. 

For the first time ever, Japan was forced to open itself up to the outside world. The Japanese then signed a treaty with the U.S. the following year, the Kanagawa Treaty, which allowed American vessels to dock in two Japanese harbors. The U.S. also established a consul in Shimoda.
The event was a shock to Japan and consequently split its nation on whether it should modernize with the rest of the world or remain traditional. Thus followed the Boshin War of 1868-1869, also known as the Japanese Revolution, which was the bloody result of this split.
On one side was Japan’s Meiji Emperor, backed by powerful figures who sought to Westernize Japan and revive the emperor’s power. On the opposing side was the Tokugawa Shogunate, a continuation of the military dictatorship comprised of elite samurai which had ruled Japan since 1192.

Although the Tokugawa shogun, or leader, Yoshinobu, agreed to return power to the emperor, the peaceful transition turned violent when the Emperor was convinced to issue a decree that dissolved the Tokugawa house instead.
The Tokugawa shogun protested which naturally resulted in war. As it happens, the 30-year-old French military veteran Jules Brunet was already in Japan when this war broke out. 

Jules Brunet’s Role In The True Story Of The Last Samurai

Born on Jan. 2, 1838 in Belfort, France, Jules Brunet followed a military career specializing in artillery. He first saw combat during the French intervention in Mexico from 1862 to 1864 where he was awarded the Légion d’honneur — the highest French military honor.
Then, in 1867, Japan’s Tokugawa Shogunate requested help from Napoleon III’s Second French Empire in modernizing their armies. Brunet was sent as the artillery expert alongside a team of other French military advisors.
The group was to train the shogunate’s new troops on how to use modern weapons and tactics. Unfortunately for them, a civil war would break out just a year later between the shogunate and the imperial government.
On Jan. 27, 1868 Brunet and Captain André Cazeneuve — another French military advisor in Japan 
— accompanied the shogun and his troops on a march to Japan’s capital city of Kyoto.

The shogun’s army was to deliver a stern letter to the Emperor to reverse his decision to strip the Tokugawa shogunate, or the longstanding elite, of their titles and lands.
However, the army was not allowed to pass and troops of the Satsuma and Choshu feudal lords — who were the influence behind the Emperor’s decree — were ordered to fire.
Thus began the first conflict of the Boshin War known as The Battle of Toba-Fushimi. Although the shogun’s forces had 15,000 men to the Satsuma-Choshu’s 5,000, they had one critical flaw: equipment. 

While most of the imperial forces were armed with modern weapons such as rifles, howitzers, and Gatling guns, many of the shogunate’s soldiers were still armed with outdated weapons such as swords and pikes, as was the samurai custom.
The battle lasted for four days, but was a decisive victory for the imperial troops, leading many Japanese feudal lords to switch sides from the shogun to the emperor. Brunet and the Shogunate’s Admiral Enomoto Takeaki fled north to the capital city of Edo (modern-day Tokyo) on the warship Fujisan.


Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Kung Fu Animal Styles

A good article on animal styles in Kung Fu practice was published at Neil)theKungFuGuy)Ripski. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

My first teacher used to ask questions every class, standard stuff for beginners like “What is the weight distribution in a Bow Stance (弓步 Gong Bu)?” or “Name five animals in Kung Fu”. I can still remember vividly standing in a horse stance (馬步 Ma Bu) or holding a plank and having to answer these questions or hear younger students try to answer them. Wrong answers, of course, were met with more people being asked and as such more horse stance or planks or some other creative torture. 60/40 for Gong Bu of course and usually the five animals were dragon, tiger, crane, snake, leopard sometimes you might hear monkey or praying mantis mentioned as well. As a teenager I really just thought it was need to know information and as I progressed it became questions about what each of the animals represented or trained when you learned them. He would have me quote things like “Tiger strengthens the bones, snake the tendons, dragon the spirit…” and so on.
But he missed the forest for the trees. The finger for the moon. The trappings and traditions for the art.
However, this is a very common thing, he was teaching what he was taught, and so did his teacher – I checked. This is repetition of what must be true because master said it is, not the attempt at transmitting the masters understanding to the students. It is memorizing not learning. We all start out as teachers in this way, teaching as we were taught simply because it seems to work out for ourselves in our own training and skill set, tradition, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But if this is where we stay in our own training and teaching abilities, we are simply passing on the DNA and not really working to expand, research, and improve our understanding or our students.
Animals are used as examples in martial arts for many reasons, lots of good ones even. Throughout the decades I have discussed this idea many times and found many different answers like:
  • Copying animal movements will change the body (tiger strengthens bones etc)
  • Copying animal movements reveal many different fighting methods that are effective. To clarify this tigers pounce on things, praying mantis will pull opponents in towards itself, and so on.
  • Copying animal movements reveal structure useful to create force “Tigers Back, Crane’s Neck”
These are all examples of imitative animal styles; styles trying to look and move like the animals they have taken as their examples. But another side of the animal arts is not to imitate the movements of the animals as seen in things like Shaolin, but to find and replicate the spirit of the animals instead and allowing the outward appearance to be what it needs to be rather than trying to strengthen the fingers to create claws like a tiger for example. This tends to be the realm of the internal martial arts more so than what are considered the external arts, and this falls very much in line with this way of thinking. The external, the appearance, means nothing without the internal intent, mind, and spirit of the animal. A good example of this can be found in an art like Xinyiliuhe (Ten animals Xinyi AKA Six Harmonies Xinyi). The ten-animal art has a short line of poetry for each animal looking to show it spirit rather than its movement exclusively.

“The Bear exits the cave, Snake slithers through the grass, Monkey shrinks elusive and devious, Tiger pounces through the bones, Swallow skims the water, Horse cannot be tamed, Eagle flies through the forest,  Dragon rolls through the clouds, Sparrow hawk penetrates the branches, Chicken likes to fight.”
Take a single one of these and look for the spirit of the movement and the animal itself and it is easy to see the outward appearance may not even resemble the animal. Xinyi tiger has no claws for example and instead works on being upward and aggressive in movement to pounce on prey. My favorite of course is “Chicken likes to fight”. No reference whatsoever to what its movements are like, but the spirit is obvious. Chicken is not hunting to eat like a tiger, no it actually LIKES to fight. If you have ever raised chickens just go ahead and watch a couple roosters decide to kill each other. The technique does not matter to them, only that the other cock gets eaten.

Seems like at this point we have looked more deeply into things than my first lineage did, but we are still staring at the finger in the case of the first imitative styles and investigating everything about the finger in the second. But we still have not taken it far enough to say we see the moon. What is the moon then? We have seen the outward appearance and now thought about the internal spirit of the animals for our arts to bring that spirit into our practice. What is left?
As usual instead of going to higher and higher ‘levels’ with each of the examples and adding complexity that in the end just confuses everything (see bagua and the 64 hexagrams as maps of the body for example) we need to reduce and find the base, the foundations. Why should we study animals for martial arts?
We are animals.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

The Rivalry That Shaped Chinese Martial Arts in the United States

Below is an excerpt from a fascinating article that appeared at Kung Fu Tea about the early days of Kung Fu in San Francisco and how a dispute had great ramifications. The whole post may be read here.

At some point in late 1961, James Lee stormed out of the Kin Mon Physical Culture Studio in San Francisco’s Chinatown, effectively breaking off his tutelage under Sil Lum master TY Wong.  Kin Mon, – or as the translation goes: “the Sturdy Citizen’s Club” – was located in a basement studio space on Waverly Place, directly across from the Hop Sing Tong, where TY was a longstanding member.  James Lee had been studying at Kin Mon for a few years at that point, and had established himself as one of TY’s most notable students. Recently, they had collaborated on a book showcasing TY’s system, titled, Chinese Karate Kung-Fu:  Original ‘Sil Lum’ System for Health & Self Defense.  The two shared the byline, and the book has the historical significance of being one of the first (if not the very first) English language martial arts book by a Chinese master.

However, James Lee eventually ascended the steps out of Kin Mon in anger, concluding his time there on bitter terms. He encountered recently-enrolled student Leo Fong at the street level entrance, and let him know he was leaving: “I’m finished with this place. You wanna come with me to train back in Oakland?”

A perennially eclectic martial artist whose skills were anchored around an early education in American boxing, Fong also defected from Kin Mon on the spot with James. Years later, Fong laughs the whole misunderstanding off as trivial: “Jimmy fell out with TY Wong over just $10. They got real upset with each other over that. Can you imagine?”

While seemingly just another martial arts feud predicated on mundane matters of ego or just poor communication, James Lee’s split with TY Wong would have a significant impact on the emerging popularity of the martial arts in America and the kung fu craze of the coming decade, most notably with its effects on the long-term trajectory of Bruce Lee’s career.

You’re not likely, however, to find TY Wong’s name within any biographical accounts of Bruce Lee. Despite Bruce’s maxim of discarding “what is useless,” fans are probably far more familiar with a peripheral figure like Ruby Chow (his landlord and boss at a menial job) than a pioneering martial arts master like TY Wong, who dismissed young Bruce as little more than “a dissident with bad manners.” In fact, few Bruce Lee fans realize that the TY Wong/James Lee feud exists within the pages of Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense; the only book that Bruce Lee published in his lifetime.

The fallout between TY and James also gives key context to understanding the persisting tensions that led to Bruce’s legendary showdown with Wong Jack Man, an incident that would greatly influence Lee’s long term martial arts worldview. There is a lot to be learned from this obscure but notable history within the trailblazing martial arts culture of the San Francisco Bay Area during the early 1960s.

Enter the Dragon
Here’s an interesting question to consider: why did Bruce Lee relocate from Seattle to Oakland in the summer of 1964?

After all, things were going well for Bruce at that point in Seattle: he had a dedicated following of martial arts students and had finally found an actual location for his school. He was a popular student at the University of Washington, had just begun dating the woman he would eventually marry, and had defeated a rival martial artist in a challenge. During the summer of 1963, Bruce had traveled home to Hong Kong and greatly impressed his father with all that he had accomplished in Seattle. So why leave behind his business, his girlfriend and his education for a new situation in Oakland?

The immediate answer is James Lee. An Oakland native who was well-known for his younger exploits as a street fighter, James was already enacting the sort of martial arts future that Bruce was envisioning. He was publishing books, creating his own custom martial arts equipment, and conducting a modern training environment at his school. James was also putting a nuanced emphasis on body building, and perhaps most importantly, transforming his street experience into a gritty and realistic understanding of the true nature of fighting. Furthermore, James Lee had a unique network of experienced martial arts innovators within his orbit: Wally Jay, Ralph Castro, Al Novak, Leo Fong, and Ed Parker. As James Lee’s son Greglon characterized the appeal of this: “Bruce was smart. When he’s in his twenties he’s hanging out with guys in their forties, so he can gain their experience.”

Upon being introduced, Bruce and James had quickly found themselves upon a similar martial arts wavelength. And for a moment, James Lee considered moving his family up to Seattle to continue his collaborations with Bruce (they had already published Chinese Gung Fu… together in 1963). This idea was discarded for one main reason – the Bay Area had the most robust martial arts culture in America (with the possible exception of Hawaii, which James and most of his colleagues had ties to). In this sense, Oakland was a more logical place for their collaborations because it put Bruce close to the action. As kenpo master Al Tracy explained it: “The real significant early development of the martial arts in the United States was heavily based in the Bay Area. Many of the most important people came out of the Bay Area, not just for the Chinese but for so much of the martial arts.”

So by the summer of 1964, Bruce was operating out of Oakland, which was significant not just for his particular whereabouts, but for his commitment to his vision for the martial arts. Bruce was chasing something down. He could have easily stayed and thrived in his Seattle niche. Instead, the next step forward in his evolution was to be found in Oakland.

Amid their shared wavelength, Bruce and James at some point connected on their disdain for traditional approaches to the martial arts, and by extension – traditional masters.