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 ~

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The History of Kempo

It's been a few years since we've had a guest post from Graham Barlow. Graham is the author of The Tai Chi Notebook and teaches taijiquan and xingyiquan at the Yongquan Martial Arts Assocation. He is also a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

His previous post on his introduction to BJJ, having come from an Internal Chinese Martial Arts background may be found here. 

Today we have an article written on the history of Kempo. Enjoy.

The real history of Kempo and Jiujitsu

By Graham Barlow

“You can tell if a history is made up because it’s always really simple.” - Heretics podcast.

If you ask about the history of Jujitsu (Japanese) or Jiujitsu (Brazilian spelling) you usually get a story of Samurai warriors, battlefield fighting arts and codes of honour. Jiujitsu, we are told, was the art of unarmed grappling, which the Samurai practiced in case they lost their sword on the battlefield. However the truth is a little bit more messy than that.

In this long podcast series we delve back in time to the beginnings of the Ashikaga Shogunate in Japan in the 1300s, and look at how the power structures of Japan changed as the Shoguns gained more and more influence over the imperial family. We then move on to the formation of the Koryu under the famous Tokugawa Shogunate (who seized control in 1600), and the establishment of the Samurai. We even take in the history of Ninjas!

The Tokugawa had a period of unbroken rule for more than 250 years during which Japan became increasingly locked down. Of particular note is what happened after 1852 when Japan was opened up (forcibly) to Western influence, particularly by the British and American troops. We look at the impact this had and the role of Kano Jigoro and others at the end of the Nineteenth Century.

But we don’t stop there, we go on to discuss the time period between 1960 and 1980 when martial arts marketing in Japan really took off. And finally we follow the developments in Japan through to modern times, with particular attention paid to the history of the Yakuza.

I initially asked my teacher, Damon Smith to do a history of Jiujitsu and he said he could only do it if it included Kempo as the two arts are so entwined, so here we have the history of Kempo and Jiujitsu.

Kempo, a very wide-ranging martial art style, is less well known martial art than Jiujitsu in popular culture, but some of its well known exponents, or people who came out of gyms that were influenced by it include the likes of UFC champion Chuck Liddell, the famous wrestler Rikidozan and the “Gracie Hunter” Kazushi Sakuraba.

The first episode of the series was also our first Heretics podcast, so if you want to skip our investigation into the origins of Heresy and just get straight to the martial arts chat then skip to 13.15 and dive in.

You’ll find all 5 episodes here:

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Fighting Spirit in Martial Arts

In martial arts training, we are admonished to maintain and cultivate our "fighting spirit."

What is it and how do we do this? Over at The Shotokan Times, there was an article about this topic. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

  What is Fighting Spirit? And how to train it!

By Michael Ehrenreich

We can see if somebody possesses fighting spirit or not. Fighting spirit seems to be ubiquitous. We all know what fighting spirit is. Until we are being asked for an explanation.

Fighting Spirit: You Know It, When you See it!

When I started competing in the early 1980´s I heard a well-known German coach explaining to one of his students: “You lost the fight because your opponent had more fighting spirit”. I knew exactly what he meant. Even though I was  rather inexperienced as a competitor I  clearly saw that the other fighter wanted it  a little bit more. But what exactly was this karate expert saying? Is fighting spirit something one has and somebody else does not? 

Later as a black belt II understood that there is still a lot to learn. So, I went to many seminars. With all the big names. Unfortunately,  fighting spirit never really became a topic in our discussions. Many of the well-known instructors would mention that fighting spirit was the most important thing for a fighter. I believed them. However, it never went beyond these one-liners. Thus,  I researched in fields like psychology, education, neuro science, philosophy, and sport sciences. Being a sport scientist myself I came up with the following idea: Fighting spirit can be understood just like fitness.

The Puzzle of Fighting Spirit

Fitness is a complex and very balanced combination of a variety of skills like power, speed, endurance, strength, agility, and others more. We only speak of fitness, if all those virtues are being established at a decent level. The same applies to fighting spirit. To illustrated that I have created the fighting spirit puzzle. In this puzzle, all parts are interconnected . Together they constitute our fighting spirit.

The fighting spirit puzzle has six parts: self-confidence, persistence, determination, control, risk-taking, and competitiveness. This  analytical puzzle helps us to  to target specific weaknesses in us. It enables us to reach specific goals. Like in fitness, when we want to increase our speed, we need to work on our maximum strength, do plyometric drills, and practice a specific number of karate techniques at maximum speed. When it comes to fighting spirit we would apply the same principles. 

We would train a specific part in order to increase our fighting spirit.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Cheng Man Ching, Renaissance Man

Prof Cheng Man Ching was a renaissance man. He was a renown painter, poet, calligrapher, doctor and taijiquan master, as well as a pretty fair bowler and apparently song writer.

Here is a link to a video of his daughter, Katy Ching, performing a song Prof. CMC wrote about the benefits of Taijiquan practice.


Friday, May 22, 2020

Vintage Judo Video: Kyuzo Mifune as a Young Man

I love vintage martial arts videos.

We're all probably pretty familiar with the video of the Judo great, Kyuzo Mifune as a tiny white haired old man tossing around his black belt students like rag dolls.

This one is new to me. It features him as a much younger man. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Dao De Jing, #75: The Reason People Starve

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #75, The Reason People Starve

The reason people starve
Is because their rulers tax them excessively.
They are difficult to govern
Because their rulers have their own ends in mind.

The reason people take death lightly
Is because they want life to be rich.
Therefore they take death lightly.
It is only by not living for your own ends
That you can go beyond valuing life.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The Five Step Path for Taijiquan in Combat

Below is an excerpt from a post written by Ian Cameron, a senior Taijiquan teacher in Scotland. The full post may be read here.



The first step of which is Pushing Hands. Learning to "listen" through touch, to detect the direction of a force and any changes in the opponents intention. If any of the Five Steps are missing, then Tai Chi disappears. None of the five steps are separate from each other, there is a continuous thread running through them.


Adherence; One of the characteristics of Tai Chi Chuan as a martial art, is the idea of maintaining contact with an opponent. This requires sensitivity of touch to detect not only an opponents intentions, but also his weaknesses. To adhere is to use the principle of softness. Even when taking hold of an opponents arm, the grip remains soft. This allows you to follow his movements, rather than fight with them, as you would do if you gripped too hard. When there is bodily contact, then the body itself has to be sensitive enough to feel the movements of your opponent. When someone is attempting a hip throw for example, by feeling the intention, a slight shift of weight can neutralize it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Beginner's Mind in Martial Arts and Everything Else

Being about to keep a beginner's mind is essential into making progress in just about any endeavor. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Shotokan Times which discusses this. The full post may be read here.

Shoshin?! The State of Mind for Studying Anything

By Thomas D. McKinnon
‘Shoshin’, (初心), translates to ‘Beginner’s mind’.  To quote the Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki:

‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.  A true beginner’s mind is open and willing to consider all pieces of information, like a child discovering something for the first time.’

Shoshin: The Quintessential Mindset for Learning

Shoshin, simply the best way to approach any learning experience: an attitude of openness, eagerness and lack of preconception. Even when studying at an advanced level just do it as a beginner would.  

 Listen without commenting, regardless of how much you think you know of the subject.  Observe as if you know nothing, learn as a child learns, and get excited about a new discovery.  Shoshin, like all of the concepts you discover on your journey of Karate-do, will help you to lead a more rewarding life.  Shoshin is the quintessential mindset for learning.  

One of the things that we (karateka) do, prior to and on completion of training, is the ritual mokusoMokuso means to “silent thinking”. However, in the dojo it has further connotations: to meditate or contemplate quietly, thus separating your karate training from the outside world.  I give this guiding instruction to beginners for mokuso:

‘Empty your mind… Concentrate on your breathing, think of nothing but slowly filling and emptying your lungs (using diaphragmatic breathing) whilst emptying your mind.’

Shoshin: Make Room for Learning

By emptying your mind you are making room for learning, or absorbing, like a child or a complete beginner.  Shoshin is a concept far less literal than it is metaphorical, not to be confused with simply forgetting everything.  As we develop knowledge and expertise the tendency is to narrow our focus, filtering out the things we think we already know, concentrating on details we consider we don’t know.  The danger here is that we may block out information that disagrees with what, we consider, we already know. Unconsciously we sifting out any conflicting ideas in favor of information which confirms our previous experience or philosophical standpoint.

Entering the dojo for the very first time students, from varying demographics – age, sex, socio-economic, body composition, up-bringing, life skills and experience – begin with shoshin… more or less.  

Sunday, May 10, 2020

PSTD and Martial Arts Training

Below is a post that appeared at Shotokan Times regarding karate training as a therapy for PSTD. The full post may be read here.

In recent years karate has proven to be an effective and useful part of the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But what is PTSD? It has been known by many names for centuries: nostalgia, battle fatigue and shell shock and more recently, a mental disorder.  But today it is classified as a trauma and stressors-related disorder.


Shotokan Karate as a Treatment of PTSD

The treatment of PTSD varies with the underlying trauma of the disorder.  Success also varies, depending on its severity.  Health professionals try to deal with both the underlying cause(s) and the specific symptoms.

PTSD and Shotokan Karate: A Personal Journey

By François Lavigne
In recent years karate has proven to be an effective and useful part of the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But what is PTSD? It has been known by many names for centuries: nostalgia, battle fatigue and shell shock and more recently, a mental disorder.  But today it is classified as a trauma and stressors-related disorder.

The exposure to situation of death or the fear of death cause it.  Its effects last long.  In some cases, becomes chronic (C-PTSD). Patients who suffers from the chronic version of the disorder may experience serious symptoms daily and often for the rest of their life.  A person with PTSD re-experiences the trauma through intrusive and recurring memories, vivid images and nightmares. Those memories cause intense reactions, such as fear, panic, heart palpitations, sweating, hyper vigilance and many other symptoms.  Moreover, it results in certain behavior traits:
  • over alertness,
  • insomnia,
  • easily irritation,
  • unable to concentrate,
  • easily startled,
  • constant lookout for possible danger, and
  • avoidance of activities, places, people and thoughts that remind him or her of the trauma.
In the case of C-PTSD, it can lead to a feeling of emotional numbness, loss of interest in day-to-day activities and social detachment. PTSD sufferers often develop other problems, such as
  • drug addiction,
  • alcohol abuse,
  • severe anxiety,
  • depression, and
  • engagement in high-risk behaviors.
As a result, PTSD creates a state of living in a near-perpetual state of fight or flight. 

Shotokan Karate as a Treatment of PTSD

The treatment of PTSD varies with the underlying trauma of the disorder.  Success also varies, depending on its severity.  Health professionals try to deal with both the underlying cause(s) and the specific symptoms. 

Here: karate comes in.  It has been shown to be quite effective in dealing with some of the most debilitating symptoms of PTSD, such as inability to concentrate, recurring memories, intrusive thoughts, anxiety and difficult sleeping.  In fact, health professionals include more often some form of martial arts as part of the management of these symptoms.  Traditional Shotokan karate, because of its emphasis on the “spirit” or “do” aspect of the discipline, suits very well to help people with PTSD.  Despite that, PTSD sufferers still face a number of challenges during training, difficulties that can undoubtedly be overcome through more awareness and dialogue within the greater Shotokan karate community. 

My Journey With PTSD

I decided to learn karate as a young man. At the time I did not know I had PTSD.  This was the 1980s and PTSD was still, for the most part, viewed as a condition affecting people who serve in the military. Not even police and other first-responders universally fit the definition yet. I suffered severe and prolonged physical abuse from early childhood into my late teens. It only stopped when I left home. I joined Minoru Saeki Sensei’s JKA Dojo in Ottawa when I was in my early twenties.  The abuse had severely impacted my self-esteem. I believed that if I learned karate I wouldn’t feel scared and a coward anymore.

I had just joined Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  Karate fit naturally, since I worked in law-enforcement. I worked in counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism. I quickly found that Shotokan karate offered more than just learning to punch and kick.  The spiritual side to Shotokan, the Dōjō kun struck a chord with me and the camaraderie inside the dojo, these things taught me to look inward, to nurture inner peace. 

How Shotokan Karate Helps Me to Cope With PTSD

When I train, I leave the world behind. The voices in my head become silent and I think only about the training. It works like closing a door to a noisy room and embracing that serene feeling that follows. Over time, I came to view the dojo and my fellow karatekas as a refuge and a family. Karate wasn’t just a sport or an activity.  It was a way of life. We trained hard. Saeki Sensei has high standards and high expectations. Tanaka Sensei came every year.  Training with Tanaka Sensei was intense. Saeki Sensei and Tanaka Sensei pushed us to learn all the essential components of karate, including clarity and peace of mind.  I learnt to control my mind and my body in ways that brought relief to the chaos of my life. 

Karate never came as easily to me as it comes to some others. But then, I did not understand then that PTSD was the cause. I always felt inadequate. When Sensei looked my way, I felt overwhelming anxiety. I still often do. Examinations challenged me in particular. The stress triggers my lack of self-confidence. During regular training I did well enough but I couldn’t focus during examinations. My progress through the Kyu´s therefore was slow.  I trained for a number of years, reaching fifth kyu. 

Thursday, May 07, 2020

The Importance of Stance Training in Martial Arts

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7, on the importance of stance training in Kendo, which in my opinion extends to every martial arts practice. The full post may be read here.

A few weeks ago, a guest of one of the young kendo teachers at my workplace was standing in front of the dojo mirror kamae-ing and looking at himself from different angles. I guess it is quite a common scene in many dojo with a mirror, be it Japan or elsewhere, but what got me interested was that this particular guest – already a quite young 5th dan – was someone who I had already read to be more serious than most are for his age kendo-wise. My interest piqued, I asked him what he was working on.

He admitted that he was having doubts about the super-straight kamae that he had been taught since he was a primary school student, and had decided to change it to a more “open” type, the type – which just so happens – I changed to myself a good 15-or-so years ago.

This topic, one I have briefly chatted about before, is about to get more detailed.

Yamaoka Tesshu (1836-88), was a kind of rennaisance man during his short lifetime: samurai, revolutionary, stateseman, artist, and of-course, swordsman… he was a man of many skills. Many books have been written about him and I am sure he needs no in-depth introduction here.

Kempo Sankaku-ku

Sankaku-ku, the triangular  relationship between the eyes, stomach, and sword-tip,  is something that must be studied.

Swords should measure ten fist widths in length. Ten fist widths is about half of your height.  This is also about half of the distance between your hands when you extend both of your arms out to the sides, therefore, be sure to stretch out your entire body (and kamae) when facing an enemy.  In ancient times this teaching was called “Tenshin-shoden.” Sankaku-ku is based on this.

The eyes, stomach, and sword-tip should work in unison when squaring up to an enemy. This is the teaching of Sankaku-ku.

Anybody who wishes to learn our style (Itto-Shoden Muto-ryu) must first study this teaching as the base princple above all else. Skill in swordsmanship, as with all things, begins first by obeying the principles. Only by doing so you will learn the underlying theory. It is essential to faithfully study sankaku-ku. You cannot discover the deepest secrets (of swordsmanship) without doing so. Effort… effort….

– Yamaoka Tesshu, March 30th Meiji 16 (1883)

Monday, May 04, 2020

The History and Global Transmission of Wing Chun

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Tea. The full post may be read here.

Originally practiced by the Cantonese speaking population of the Pearl River Delta region, Wing Chun is a concept-based fighting system known for its distinct high stances, triangular footwork, short-range boxing and trapping techniques, emphasis on relaxation and preference for low kicks.[i]  

Most branches of the art feature three unarmed forms, Siu Lim Tao (the Little Idea, or Little Thought Form), Chum Kiu (Seeking Bridges) and Biu Ji (Thrusting Fingers).  The most commonly encountered weapons are the Baat Jaam Do (Eight Directional Chopping/Slashing Knives, Wing Chun’s version of the hudiedao) and a single tailed fighting pole typically over three meters in length.[ii]  These same weapons are often among the first taught in other regional Kung Fu styles, and were mainstays of the area’s 19th century militia system.[iii]  Wing Chun is also known for its emphasis on wooden dummy (muk yan jong) training.
Distinctions in stance and technique are often noted between this system and the other arts which were popular in its hometown of Foshan including Choy Li Fut (the most popular art in the region through the late 1920s) and Hung Gar (also an important style in both Foshan and Guangzhou).[iv]  It seems likely that Wing Chun developed in dialogue with these other modes of hand combat. It’s characteristic stances and triangular footwork bear a distinct resemblance to certain regional Hakka boxing styles and the arts of Fujian province.
This is not surprising as demographic pressures and market trends led to the emigration of large numbers of people (including many professional martial artists) from coastal Fujian to Guangdong throughout the 19th century.  The market town of Foshan (a regionally critical trade center holding the imperial iron monopoly and known of its exports of silk, fine ceramics and a wide variety of handicraft goods)[v] was a popular destination for such immigrants.  Foshan’s vibrant and quickly growing economy required security guards, civilian martial arts instructors, militia officers and popular entertainers.  As such, the market town became a greenhouse nurturing the development of multiple martial arts styles.[vi]

The region’s contentious politics, including the Red Turban Revolt (1854-1856) and the First and Second Opium Wars (1839-1842, 1856-1860) meant that much of the male population was forced into militia service (or swept up in bandit armies) during the middle years of the 19th century. In this environment there was a great demand for skilled martial artists who could act as military trainers in the gentry led militia units, or who might be hired as mercenaries to stiffen the ranks of the imperial Green Standard Army which local officials viewed as understaffed and unreliable.[vii]
Following the end of these hostilities we see a period of innovation as martial artists sought to digest the lessons of the past and rebuild their lives.  Douglas Wile has noted that the setbacks that China suffered at the hand of Western powers unleashed powerful internal discourses within the country as reformers sought for ways to preserve what was important within Chinese culture in an era characterized by rapid reform.  Many of the Chinese martial arts most commonly seen today actually emerged, or were fundamentally reformulated, during this period of “self-strengthening.”[viii] This includes Wing Chun.
While many modern students attempt to parse it’s often fantastic folklore in an attempt to rediscover the ancient origins of the art, connecting the practice to migrants from Northern China (such as the Shaolin Monks) or regionally important culture heroes (including Cheung Ng),[ix] all of this ignores a fairly obvious point.  The Wing Chun that is widely known and practiced today is not a particularly ancient practice.  There is no reliable documentation of its existence, or that of any practitioners, prior to the mid 19th century.  The art was not practiced widely until the Republic period (1910s-1940s), and many of the most popular schools today are reliant on changes made to the style’s pedagogy and presentation by Ip Man in the 1950s and 1960s.  Wing Chun, like most Chinese martial arts, is a fundamentally modern practice and its nature can best be understood by examining the social history of Southern China between the closing years of the 19thcentury and the present.[x]
This does not suggest, however, that we can simply ignore the creation myths or oral history of the art.  These texts are important as they provide us with insights into the social position and function of Wing Chun within a rapidly modernizing environment.  Perhaps the oldest and most complete written version of the Wing Chun mythos was recorded by Ip Man in the 1960s for the creation of a proposed association that never came about.  This account was found in his papers following his death and has subsequently been disseminated by the Hong Kong Ving Tsun Athletic Association (VTAA).[xi]
Briefly, Wing Chun, which might best be translated as ‘Beautiful Springtime’, was named not for its creator, the famous Shaolin nun Ng Moy, but rather its first student.  After being forced to flee the provincial capital into the far West due to false accusations against her father, the teenaged Yim Wing Chun found herself the victim of unwanted marital advances by a local marketplace bully.  Learning of the girls plight the nun Ng Moy (who had previously befriended the refugee family) revealed herself to be one of the five mythical survivors of the destruction of the Shaolin temple by the hated Qing.
Taking Wing Chun into the mountains, she trained her student in the Shaolin arts for a year.  This allowed her young charge to defend her honor and defeat an individual who had terrorized the community.  Leaving to resume her wandering, Ng Moy declared that this new art (which allowed the weak to defeat the strong) should be known by her student’s name.  Yim Wing Chun was given the charge of passing on what she had learned, as well as resisting the Qing and working to restore the Ming.
Following that the myth becomes more genealogical in nature.  It records that the art was transmitted to, and preserved by, a company of Cantonese opera performers in Foshan.  Foshan was the home of the Cantonese Opera Guild prior to the Red Turban Revolt when the practice was officially suppressed.  Eventually two of these individuals, Wong Wah Bo and Leung Yee Tai, would pass the art to a pharmacist in Foshan named Leung Jan.  He would teach it to his children and a single student named Chan Wah Shun.  Chan’s final disciple was the son of his landlord, a young Ip Man.
This entire account has a somewhat hybrid nature.  Leung Jan, Chan Wah Shun and Ip Man are all known historical figures whose existence can be independently verified.[xii]  However, the story’s opening acts are clearly fictional.  All traditional Cantonese arts trace their origins to the survivors of the destruction of the Shaolin temple (a myth complex shared with the region’s Triads).  However, historians have known for some time that the Qing never destroyed the Shaolin temple in Henan, and the Southern Shaolin temple (despite being “rediscovered” by multiple competing local governments) is more the product of literary creation than actual history.[xiii]  Both Ng Moy and Yim Wing Chun seem to bear more than a passing resemblance to important female figures in the origin stories of certain branches of Fujianese White Crane.  Indeed, it seems that this folklore impacted the development of Wing Chun, along with certain footwork patterns and stances.[xiv]
Christopher Hamm has published studies of the evolution of Southern China’s martial arts fiction during the late Qing and Republic period which can also help to date the Wing Chun myth.  The story retold by Ip Man appears to be dependent on an anonymous novel, Shengchao Ding Sheng Wannian Qing (Everlasting), first published in 1893.  This was one of the most popular martial arts novels sold in the region and it saw many reprinting and pirate editions.  That is particularly important as in the original version of the story Ng Moy (who makes her first ever named appearance in these books) was not a hero.  Rather she was an antagonist who conspired to bring down the Shaolin monks.  She was not reimagined as a hero and friend of Shaolin until a pirate edition with an alternate ending titled Shaolin Xiao Yingxiong (Young Heroes from Shaolin) was published in the 1930s.[xv]  The Wing Chun creation myth as related in the Ip Man lineage seems to be dependent on that relatively late edition.
Indeed, the openly revolutionary ideology of the story would also have been much more popular with readers in Republican China than with the subjects of the Qing dynasty who had to be quite careful about how they discussed the government.  Yim Wing Chun is also interesting as she seems to act as a bridge pointing back to the possible influence of Fujianese boxing styles, while also connecting the art to popular trends in Republic era fiction that focused on stories of the amazing feats of female heroines.  In short, while not a historical document, this story likely served an important role in explaining the nature and purpose of the art to Republic era students.  It also supports the view that Wing Chun is a relatively recent art which may have first developed in the middle or later years of the 19th century (likely following the opera ban), before being popularized among Foshan’s middle class and bourgeois martial artists in the Republic period.