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 ~

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Life and Wisdom of Dan Inosanto

Below is an excerpt from a blog post at Century Martial Arts. It contains a brief biography and many quotes from Dan Inosanto. The full post may be read here.

On July 24, 1936, Dan Inosanto was born. As a 4th-grader, he received his first exposure to the martial arts when his uncle taught him te [the Okinawan word for “hand.”]. In college, he studied judo, then dabbled in the Korean, Okinawan and Japanese striking arts.

“The exposure to the various schools in the beginning taught me not to be one-sided, because everyone had his own philosophies and each school seemed to have its good points and bad points. When I learned from Bruce [Lee], we never classified whether a technique was from taekwondo or boxing. If it was usable, we used it.”
—Dan Inosanto

While he was stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Inosanto was impressed by a kenpo brown belt he met. Specifically, he liked the fluid manner in which the martial artist moved. 

As soon as he was discharged, Inosanto relocated to Southern California.

“In 1961, I started taking kenpo from Ed Parker at his Pasadena school. At that time, kenpo reached my expectations of what I was seeking in karate. I was looking for a self-defense and also a body-conditioning sport. I became fascinated by the martial arts field and how there could be so many different ways of fighting.”

At age 28, Inosanto received his 1st-degree black belt in kenpo after three years under Parker. On his master’s suggestion, he began training in the blade arts of kali and escrima. His teachers included John Lacoste and Angel Cabales.

“There has always been a stigma that if you fight with a sword, it’s a gentlemanly duel, but if you pull out a knife, it’s a dirty fight. Now, we are pointing out that there is an art to this also.”

Inosanto met Bruce Lee in 1964 at the 1st International Karate Championships in Long Beach, California, where Inosanto was competing. The more he learned about Lee’s fighting philosophy, the more he longed to study under him. But Lee was a man on the go, with one foot in the East and one in the West. So, Inosanto spent his time learning various arts in Southern California. He quickly discovered that what he was doing was a far cry from what Lee advocated for self-defense.
“What they were teaching — the forms, the blocks, the posturing — wasn’t realistic. The means to get good at self-defense became the ultimate end. Their teachings didn’t seem to have any direct relationship to self-defense, although it probably taught me to be graceful and helped with my coordination, posture and smooth, correct body movements. [The instructors were] attempting to teach how to fight without actually fighting.”

At the 1965 Salt Lake City Regional Karate Championships, Inosanto, representing Parker, placed second in the lightweight black belt division. A year later, Inosanto finally got to start training with Lee. Slowly, Dan Inosanto, lover of all things martial, became Dan Inosanto, lover of all things practical.

“It wasn’t until I started learning jeet kune do under Bruce [that] I found a style that used all three important aspects of fighting (speed, power and deceptiveness). Bruce was able to take all the pieces of the puzzle and make them fit together in an integrated system.
“Bruce took something from everybody. He liked Muhammad Ali’s footwork and admired his outside fighting. He liked [Rocky] Marciano’s short punches. He used to study all the knockout punches of Joe Louis.
“It’s not that he embraced Western boxing completely. He felt there were many flaws in boxing, too. But he also felt that out of all the arts in the hand range, boxing had more truth than, let’s say, karate. Not that karate was all flaws — he saw the truth in karate, too. Boxing, he felt, was over-daring, whereas he found karate to be overprotective.”
And, most importantly, Dan Inosanto, martial arts philosopher, was born.
“A man doesn’t excel because of his style. It’s only when a man can go outside the bounds set by his system that he excels. If a martial artist can practice a style without being bound and limited to his particular school, then and only then can he be liberated to fit in with any type of opponent.”
While studying under Lee at the Los Angeles JKD school, the path Inosanto walked didn’t get any easier in terms of philosophy.
“By that time, I had stumbled across many partial truths, and I had become more aware of workable and unworkable techniques. Being a die-hard kenpo man, I found myself confused and frustrated. I began to actually rebel against jeet kune do. I was bound by loyalty to my former instructor and his style.
“Looking back on it, I really didn’t want to see the truth in self-defense. I began to mentally criticize the informal and unstylized way JKD moved, kicked, punched and trained. Yet, I found myself using what I had learned and liking it better than kenpo, finding it more functional, powerful, faster, freer and, above all, the easiest style to express.”

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Head Punching in Kyokushin Karate

Kyokushin karate has a very tough training program. One criticism that is leveled against the style is the lack of head punching in competition and sparring. What is this?

Below we have an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Martial Way which describes the reasoning behind this. The full post may be read here.

Why Kyokushin Fighters Do Not Punch to the Face

Almost anytime I post a video of a Kyokushin bout there is one or more people who either make a comment about how it isn’t “realistic” because they don’t punch to the face, or, they ask the question of why they don’t. I decided to do some research and create a post that I could just share anytime those comments or questions come up.

That being said, I wasn’t able to find a definitive answer, although a lot of speculation and hearsay. I would love to get a clear answer, perhaps from someone in the early days, or someone who asked Sosai Oyama directly.
From what I have gathered, in the early days of Kyokushin karate training, bare knuckle strikes to the face were allowed, but this resulted in many injuries, and blood, which caused some students to withdraw from training. Also, they wanted the matches to last, be a challenge and not end due to cuts. 

They did for some time wrap their hands in towels, but Sosai Oyama believed that wearing protective gloves would take away from the realistic nature that his style was building.

Therefore, it was decided that hand and elbow strikes to the face, head and neck would no longer be allowed in training and competition.

As a side, google Irish bare knuckle fighting and you will see for yourself the devastation this leaves.
Also, when Sosai Oyama was trying to get permission from the government to host the first All-Japan tournaments he was told face-punches would not be allowed. They could use protective gloves, but as stated earlier, Sosai Oyama believed that wearing protective gloves would detract from the realism that the style emphasized. I have also read that the Japanese public feared that competitors would die at the first full-contact All-Japan tournaments held by Mas Oyama in the late 1960′s, if face punching were allowed.

Furthermore, Japan at that time, and today, along with many governments around the world, do not allow bare-knuckle strikes to the head in any sanctioned competitions.
By the 1990′s when Sosai was still alive and Kyokushin achieved such enormous popularity, all Kyokushin tournaments, including the world tournaments held in Japan, did not allow the competitors the use of hand strikes (punches, elbows, etc.) to the head and face. This was done originally for an obvious reason, as stated above. No one wanted to see so many competitors bloodied and sent to the hospital after competitions.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Training with Thought and Reflection

At ChenTaijiquanWorld blog, there was an article about the importance of matching your physical effort with deep thought and reflection on just what it is you are doing; that it is so easily to go astray in your training.

Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Wang Zongyue’s classic manual of Taijiquan advises that “an initial error of one inch can result in a deviation of a thousand miles. Practitioners must study and understand the principles very carefully.” Taijiquan is a complex discipline and to have any hope of reaching a competent level great care and attention must be given to your Taijiquan study from the start. It’s easy, especially for beginners, to ignore what seem to be inconsequential details. But making this mistake can cause a learner to misunderstand the art, ultimately preventing them from reaching a true understanding of Taijiquan.

On the training floor many students fail to really pay conscious attention to their practice, paying little more than lip service to following Taiji principles. Filled with their own ideas about what Taijiquan is they don’t listen carefully to the instructions given by their teachers. In many cases they may practice hard but their physical effort is not matched by any deep thought or reflection. The end result, they find it impossible to distinguish between Taijiquan principles and other ideas or disciplines. Their reward after spending in some cases decades of training is a failure to obtain any true Taijiquan skill. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

BJJ as Therapy

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kung Fu Tea, regarding Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as therapy, but from a slightly different perspective. The full post may be read here.

Donn F. Draeger’s made no secret of his love for the real “battlefield” martial arts, both in his various publications and many correspondences with friends. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising given his background and experiences as a member of the US Marine Corps.  In practice his conceptualization of what constituted reality led to a fascination with medieval Japanese martial arts (those predating the Meiji and later Tokugawa periods) and an almost contemptuous dismissal of everything coming from China. Afterall, the Japanese had proved themselves on the battlefields of WWII, whereas Draeger found China’s performance lacking in many realms.

The great danger faced by students of martial arts studies is that our personal practice will present us with a mirror showing only what we most desperately want to see.  In it we may find reflected our own desires and life experience. The truth of the matter is that Japan’s ancient warriors didn’t need martial arts schools to become fearsome killers on the battlefield.  As Bennet, Hurst and others have shown, formal fencing schools only arose when warriors began to seize control of the polity from the hereditary nobility and needed to demonstrate their cultural refinement through the creation of social institutions mirroring the tea and poetry schools of their social betters. At the most basic level, Japanese martial arts have always been about something other than training battlefield techniques.  There are easier ways to do that.

It’s also important to note that their early fencing schools focused not on “sparring,” “MMA with swords” or any type of modern combat sport, the sorts of training modalities that we currently view as most “realistic.”  This was simply too dangerous in an era with solid wooden training weapons. Instead students worked to perfect two-person katas for hours on end.  This is almost the exact opposite of what we would think of as battlefield martial arts training today.

The way in which these kata were practiced was strongly shaped by cultural convention.  In most of these imaginary exchanges one player would enact the killing or maiming of their training partner.  By tradition the younger or more junior member of the training pair would practice the “winning” technique, whereas the senior student or instructor would play the role of the loser.  Such an arrangement is pregnant with symbolism.  While the up and coming warriors sharpened their skills, seeking to supplant those senior to them within society’s social and military structures, more experienced warriors spent hours every week psychologically preparing for their own violent deaths.

We risk missing the point by noting that no bladed exchange carried out in the chaos of a real battlefield will look exactly as it did in the training hall.  I suspect that many of the battles being fought there were more personal and psychological in nature.  Thinking psychoanalytically, battlefield veterans such as Draeger and his Japanese interlocutors, all survivors of a violent historical period, seemed to seek out martial art training not because anything in it realistically portrays the challenge of crossing a beach under heavy artillery fire.  Rather they found training these systems, and then passing them on to future generations, to be therapeutic. In that respect they were probably very much like their Bushi and Samurai predecessors.

Shifting Subjectivities on Guam

D. S. Farrer begins his recently published ethnographic treatment of a martial arts school in Guam by noting that “Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is therapy.” Printed on stickers and signs, this thought seems to have become something of a catch phrase in the community which gathered at the Spike 22 gym.  What was meant by the statement was less clear and constantly shifting.  Farrer noted that the phrase could be tossed out as a hypermasculine jab at supposedly weak individuals seeking psychological intervention for dealing with the very real stresses of life on an island dominated by police, military and para-military institutions.  At other times the phrase seems to have been taken up in earnest as instructors sought to help students rethink their relationships with exercise, diet, lifestyle as well as their internal attitudes.

BJJ students do not have a monopoly on the notion that the fighting arts can be therapeutic.  The phrase “Boxing is my Therapy” is so widespread that you can find it on dozens of T-shirts and bumper stickers. The same notion is also seen throughout the Asian martial arts in the West.  I cannot count the number of kung fu students I have known who have discussed their practice in therapeutic terms.  The medicalization of the Chinese martial arts has probably done much to encourage this since at least the 1920s.

As Paul Bowman, in his own treatment of martial arts and madness has observed, the relationship between martial arts training and therapy is now so widespread that even non-practitioners seem to assume that students are driven to take up these practices as a way of battling some unseen inner demon. Celebrity narratives, including those promoted by individuals like Robert Downey Jr. (who practices Wing Chun) and Anthony Bourdain (who studied BJJ) further reinforce this perception. Yet “common sense” has a strange way of eluding deeper study.

Farrer begins his article by laying out a number of basic questions.  How is it that therapy arises from the practice of techniques designed to injure or kill?  On the island of Guam, what is the specific malady that BJJ treats, and (on a related note) who most requires treatment? Third, how does Spike 22 function as a “catch-up institution” where individuals seek treatment.  Lastly, if we understand therapy as a change in lifestyles and dispositions, what exactly is being treated? Is it a body, mind, social group, or some other combination of these factors that remains undertheorized in the current anthropology literature?

This last question is perhaps the most important from the perspective of Martial Arts Studies as a field.  While most authors seek to apply existing theories to new cases, or perhaps develop new approaches to understanding the role of martial arts in society, Farrer’s interests have often been more fundamental in nature.  He is one of a handful of authors writing in the literature who has consistently pushed for new methodological, and conceptual, approaches.

The paradigm shift that this article proposes (though perhaps it also undersells) is a serious move away from “embodiment.” No concept has done more to shape the martial arts studies literature in the last five years.  Yet Farrer finds it unconvincing and ultimately a hindrance in understanding how BJJ might function as therapy in Guam.  In its place he turns to a Deleuzian model of mind and body. His extensive reading of Spinoza also seems to have influenced this article.

Nor can readers ignore the substantive impact of the French Ethnographer Jeanne Favret-Saada on this piece.  Her theoretical insights on how anti-witchcraft treatments might function as therapy in the French countryside are explicitly invoked throughout this article.  They provide the basic foundations of Farrer’s understanding of how the enactment of potentially violent, even deadly, acts in BJJ might function as therapy on a psychoanalytic level.

Still, readers may wonder whether Farrer had a deeper purpose in invoking her work.  Favret-Saada is perhaps best remembered in Anthropological circles today not so much for her ethnography (which was wonderful), but for her blistering attacks on the “Anglo-Saxon” model of participant-observation and symbolic anthropology that dominated much of the 1960s-1970s. Like Farrer her great interests, and frustrations, seem to have been methodological.

She found that it was only possible to gain access to world of magic and witchcraft* that existed in the rural villages of Western France during this time by abandoning the role of dispassionate observer and allowing oneself to be caught up in the swirl and strong emotion of local events, even at the risk of one’s academic project.  In her case this meant becoming an actual victim of witchcraft, coming to understand the importance of both emotions and words within this process, then apprenticing with an anti-witch specialist as part of her own treatment.  She freely admitted that much of what was most important in these experiences defied description and could not be written down in conventional fieldnotes. Her larger research methods largely collapsed the distinction between the observer and the subject at a time when this was rare.

While the field of Anthropology has moved on, Favret-Saada has been a critical figure in methodological discussions.  Readers may want to explore her work as it has obvious implications for how performance ethnography is currently conducted within martial arts studies.  We face many of the same issues when it comes to recording and theorizing types of understanding (or ‘subjectivities’) that defy easy verbalization. One area where I would have liked to see Farrer go farther, and be much more explicit, would be in an assessment for Favret-Saada’s methodological legacy and the lessons that current Martial Arts Studies researchers might learn.  Farrer’s perspectives on this would be especially useful given his seemingly positive relationship with Performance Ethnography as a method.  In contrast, Favret-Saada was explicitly critical of Victor Turner and his ethnographic methods.  This area of tension is one that others in the field might fruitfully explore.

Readers will need to bring a fair amount of their own background to get the most out of these methodological discussions as Farrer lays out his approach but does not belabor the point.  This a rather brief article that dedicates more time to ethnographic observation than theoretical debates.  As such, a wide range of readers will find something of interest here. While it makes important methodological points, at no time does it become bogged down in extended theoretical discussions.

While the phenomenon of “fighting as therapy” is widespread (across both geography and time), Farrer’s treatment of its appearance at the Spike 22 gym is deeply rooted in the particular challenges of its students, and how they are conditioned by the geo-political placement of Guam within the current global order.  Farrer begins by noting that the economy and island’s landmass are dominated by American military bases which have been expanding throughout the post-WWII period.  These structures have provided employment, but also physically displaced many of the Guam’s native inhabitants.  They have been further marginalized by the policies of American military officials attempting to recreate California or Hawaii in this distant location.

The problems faced by this community are not vastly different from those imposed on First Peoples or other colonized subjects around the globe.  They include poverty, substance abuse, chronic crime, obesity and other health problems.  Residents of Guam are US citizens and they enlist in the US military (or other security focused organizations) in high numbers.  Yet they cannot vote in national elections and are denied any form of meaningful political representation in Washington DC.  They lack the most basic and effective means of collectively addressing their problems.  Farrer’s paper might well be thought of as a study on the social functions of a shared martial culture within in a colonized space.

This background is necessary as it explains both the unique nature of Spike 22 and the Janus-faced therapy that BJJ provides its members.  Students at the school (where up to 36 individuals may roll in a busy class) seem to break down into two basic categories.  First there are individuals from various military services (and other aligned support staff) who make up much of the membership.  Given the popularity of BJJ in the armed services, and the number of service men and women on Guam, this is not surprising.  These individuals are overwhelmingly visitors from the mainland.

The population of local students seems to be more varied.  It is comprised of law enforcement officers, local employees of various prison and security services, returned veterans, and a large number of local thugs and petty criminals.  Ignoring the large military component, one of Farrer’s sources characterized Spike 22 as “basically…a place where the police come to roll with criminals.”  Indeed, both elements of local society appear to frequent the same club seeking to hone their craft.

The attraction to local law enforcement officers is more obvious.  Some have to train at least twice a week in a martial art as a condition of their employment.  Others are struggling to maintain a body mass index mandated by their employer.  One of the therapeutic aspects of BJJ that multiple sources noted was its ability to aid in weight loss and inspire individuals to develop a healthy attitude towards food and exercise.

Yet that is only one aspect of this training.  Farrer notes that the global spread of BJJ throughout law enforcement mirrors the increased militarization of these organizations in recent decades.  Guam is no exception to this trend. Rolling with criminals on the mats, subduing them in mock encounters, shifts the subjectivities of law enforcement officers, convincing them of their skill and the probability of their survival of similar encounters on the street.

One imagines that the lessons learned by the less militarized local residents are slightly 
different.  In the best-case analysis, they too may gain healthy habits and develop improved social networks.  And there is always the promise that BJJ can help a skilled but smaller opponent overcome a larger, less trained, adversary.  Yet when examined through the lens of colonization, one suspects that what many of these marginal local students will bodily experience is an almost unending stream of highly skilled and enthusiastic BJJ students who represent the very forces of militarized imperialism that are disrupting the local economy and society.  While rolling in a BJJ class they likely experience symbolic manifestations of the very real violence inherent in life on the edge of an American military outpost.

Or perhaps not.  Turning to the pioneering work of Jeanne Favret-Saada, we might note that an amorphous feeling of powerlessness (often the result of an inexplicable run of bad luck on the farm) is one of the major defining characteristics of a victim of witchcraft in Western France in the late 1960s.  Anti-witch specialists did not confine their work to ritual and magic.  Instead they sought to both diagnose a specific cause of misfortune and to lay out a path for the farmer in question whereby they could recover their position in society.  Very often this blame shifting involved putting this individual in touch with “dark side” forces and encouraging them to ruthlessly dispossess other family members or neighbors so that they could regain their economic footing and stature as a successful “producer.”  Farrer notes that an encounter with the dark forces of witchcraft was often instrumental in “rehabilitant” individuals such that they could succeed in a ruthless competitive capitalist environment.

Farrer has previously explored the capitalist and ideological underpinnings of the global spread of MMA, so it is not surprising to see him apply this same basic framework to BJJ training in Guam.  Rather than seeing the virtual murder/suicides of BJJ training as a paradox that the analyst must explain, they are now viewed as generating the emotional force that serves to put the student in touch with the “dark side” (Farrer’s term) and allows them to fundamentally reconfigure their personality for success in a badly disrupted and hyper-competitive environment.  More specifically, it allows indigenous islanders to adopt a new definition of the warrior ethos that is globally valid, while at the same time finding the tools to resist a local culture that is deeply cooperative in nature and not well suited to succeeding within a late capitalist global order.

Dao De Jing, #76: When People are Born, they are Gentle and Soft

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 #76, When People are Born, they are Gentle and Soft.

When people are born they are gentle and soft.
At death they are hard and stiff.
When plants are alive they are soft and delicate.
When they die, they wither and dry up.
Therefore the hard and stiff are followers of death.
The gentle and soft are the followers of life.

Thus, if you are aggressive and stiff, you won't win.
When a tree is hard enough, it is cut. Therefore
The hard and big are lesser,
The gentle and soft are greater.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Memoirs of Masahiko Kimura

Masahiko Kimura was one of the giants of Judo. Many considered him the greatest Judoka of all time.

At BJ EE, there was a series of articles which are a translation of Kimura's memoirs. An excerpt from the first in the series is below. The whole post may be read here.

Masahiko Kimura)was a Japanese judoka who is widely considered one of the greatest judoka of all time. (5 ft 7in 170 cm; 85 kg, 187 lb) He was born on September 10, 1917 in Kumamoto, Japan. In submission grappling, the reverse ude-garami arm lock is often called the “Kimura”, due to his famous victory over Gracie jiu-jitsu developer Hélio Gracie.
He wrote this excellent piece on his Judo story. This excerpt from the book “My Judo” was translated from the original Japanese by member pdeking (edited for spelling by Neil Ohlenkamp).  “My Judo” was written in 1984 and was first published on Jan 31, 1985. It is no longer in print. also published parts of the book.  Here is Part 1:
By Masahiko Kimura
When I was in the 5th grade, I had my first shiai. I participated in a team match with Nakayama Dojo which was about 6km away from my dojo. My opponent was an 8th grader and was bigger than I. I attempted Tai-Otoshi and O-soto-gari, but he did not move a bit. I then tried O-uchi-gari, he reversed it threw me onto the floor, and pinned me by Kami-shiho-gatame. I could not get out of it and lost.The following is what motivated me to start judo. It was around the beginning of my 4th grade year. During a large-scale school cleaning (this is called O-Soji), Mr. Tagawa in charge of my class was absent. When I noticed it, I ran to a nearby Manto (Japanese pastries) Shop, ate four or five Manto, and came back to the school. I then noticed that some of my classmates were carrying the teacher’s desk. I ran toward the desk and jumped onto the desk. The desk collapsed making a loud sound. I jumped up and down with joy screaming “Banzai, Banzai”. Suddenly, someone grabbed me firmly in the rear lapel and pulled me backward. When I turned my head, I found Mr. Tagawa, who I thought was absent, glaring at me with a very scary look. He yelled “Idiot face!” and slapped me in the face. He then threw me to the floor. He pulled me up, slapped me, and threw me to the floor again. After this, I was scolded in the teachers’ room, and stood on the corridor. After this incident, I decided to get even with Mr. Tagawa. I though about how to get revenge on him for about a week, and investigated his background. I then found out that he was a 1st dan in judo. I thought “Is judo such a formidable art? Then, I would be able to throw him around if I became a 2nd dan.” Soon after this, I entered Shodokan Dojo nearby my elementary school.
When I was in the 7th grade, my older brother came home crying, saying that he got bitten by dogs. The next night, I went out for revenge. I found mid-size three dogs at a storage of a geisha house that was about 50 meters away from my house. They were the enemies. I called them one by one with a whistle, and kicked it with a geta (wooden sandal) by full force. When I passed by the storage, all the 3 dogs were covered with a bandage. Through this experience, I developed boldness and confidence for fighting with humans.
When I was in the 8th grade, I entered a prefecture sumo tournament and placed 2nd. In the final, I threw my opponent by O-sotogari, but the referee called my opponent the winner saying that my foot got off the ring first. After this incident, Mr. Ogawa of Chinsei Junior High visited my house with a student named Nakayama. He invited me to enter Chinsei Junior High and become a member of the judo club or sumo club. In April 1932, I entered this school. As soon as I entered Chinsei Junior High, I started to practice at Kawakita dojo 3 time a week. I practiced at Chinsei Junior High, Kawakita dojo, Butokuden, and Imperial 5th High (today’s Kumamoto University). In those days, I practiced 5 hours a day. In addition, I did 300 push-ups daily.

When I transferred to Chinsei Junior High, I was a 1st kyu. One day, Mr. Ogawa told me to take a promotion test. I went to Butokukai, which was the test center, alone, and threw 5 students of Kumamoto Junior High, and earned the 1st dan. When I took the promotion test for the 2nd dan, I was the captain of the red team, and defeated the remaining 4 members of the white team, all by Ippon. In this way, I became a 2nd dan in April 1933. In order to be a 3rd dan, one must go to the head quarter of Butokukai in Kyoto, and take a written test in addition to a skill test. In the May of my 9th grade year, I went to Kyoto for the first time in my life, and became a 3rd dan. I did not have any problem passing the skill test. But, in the written test, I was completely clueless. The time was running out. I snatched one of the answer sheets finished by someone sitting behind me, wrote my name, and turned it in as mine. I still feel guilty of what I did to the man who wrote the answers. In the summer of my 10th grade year, in a Red-White team match held in Butokuden in Saga Prefecture, as a 3rd dan I threw four 3rd dan opponents and six 4th dan opponents including the captain of the opponent team. As a result of this feat, I was given a 4th dan. A 4th dan 10th grader was very rare in the country. I became well known after this.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Off Balance

Below is an excerpt from a post over at Tai Chi Notebook. The topic is the mistaken notion in some internal martial arts circles that once you have taken your opponent's balance, the transaction is finished.There is more to it than that.

The full post may be read here.

I had an interesting chat with another Tai Chi teacher this week. Generally, Tai Chi teachers are nice people who have trained hard at something for a number of years and developed a lot of skill in it. They’re often not that into the martial side of the art, (even if they say they are), yet they’ve managed to pick up a lot of what I call “Tai Chi Miasma” along the way.

(If you want to know what a Miasma is, I do a podcast about the subject and how it reverberates through human history. Click the link above. A brief summation of Tai Chi Miasma would be, “a set of unconscious and often faulty assumptions about combat influenced by Tai Chi training”, but I’d also have to include a lot of Chinese miasma about yin and yang, qi and tao that was incorporated into Tai Chi by the influence of the Neo Confucian Zhu Xi amongst the intellectual class.)

For example, I find that there’s a pervasive belief amongst Tai Chi practitioners that the fight is effectively over once you have taken your balance. They’ll say things like, “once I’ve got you off balance I can walk you around the room”.

I’m sorry to break it to you (pun intended) but no, the fight is not over just because you have broken my balance!

It’s not over even if you get me off balance and whack me in the face, unless I’m unconscious or too hurt to continue by your deadly 5 point exploding palm technique.

Yes, I’m sure you’ve seen your master controlling people with the lightest of touches and walking them around the room in a wrist lock or arm control of some kind, but that’s happening in a controlled training environment. In real life, it’s not like that.

Just watch any combat sport with live training against resistance. Say wrestling or judo.

The players are in a constant state of flux. They are losing their balance and regaining it over and over. Often they willingly sacrifice their balance for a superior position.

They get thrown, they get taken down, they get pinned, but they fight their way back up and go again. The fight is not over just because one person takes the other’s balance, however skilfully or with the lightest of touches they did it.

“Ah!”, they say, “but once you get them off balance it’s easy to keep them off balance. ”

No, no it’s not.

Just look at MMA. MMA is an even better example than pure grappling arts because it involves strikes. Sometimes the strikes are controlled and orderly, but a lot of the time, especially after people get hurt and tired, there are wild punches being thrown looking for a KO, resulting in people falling all over the place, people slipping, kicks missing, etc.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Wing Chun Master Ip Man's Wooden Dummy

Over at Kung Fu Tea, there was an article about the history and evolution of the famous wooden dummy used by Wing Chun; particularly the innovations of Ip Man.

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Introduction: A Very Brief History of the Wooden Dummy in the Southern Chinese Martial Arts.

I have been shopping for a new wooden dummy (Mook Yan Jong).  Obviously Wing Chun has a long and fruitful association with the wooden dummy, but this training tool is used throughout the southern Chinese martial arts.  Southern Mantis and Hung Gar boxers occasionally use the dummy, as do Choy Li Fut practitioners.  In fact, Choy Li Fut employs a great variety of somewhat more mechanical complex training tools.

Nor is the use of the dummy restricted to martial artists.  Wooden training devices have been used by military forces from time immemorial.  Sima Qian, the brilliant ancient historian, is the first individual to discuss the wooden dummy.  In Records of the Grand Historian (written between the 2nd and 1st centuries BCE) he mentions that Emperor Wu Yi of the Shang dynasty (circa 1200 BCE) made “Ou Ren” (a wooden human figure) that could be used for Shou Bo (bare handed fighting) practice.

Scholars debate how much weight to place on Sima Qian’s early histories, but for our purposes the details aren’t actually all that important.  Whether their attested use stretches back 2100 or 3200 years, wooden dummies have long been used in traditional Chinese combat training.

Nor has this use been restricted to the military.  In more recent centuries wooden dummies became a feature of southern Chinese popular culture.  Stories of the southern Shaolin temple included its hall of diabolical mechanical dummies that a student had to defeat in order to “graduate” and leave the temple.

Much of this lore was conveyed through popular novels, stories, street performances and of course opera.  Cantonese Opera troops attracted large crowds with feats of martial prowess and “military plays.”  This made it essential that they have tools for training martial artists.  Wooden dummies, very similar to the sort still used today, helped to train performers.  The Cantonese Opera Museum in Foshan even displays an antique dummy along with the other artifacts of the industry’s 19th century past.

As a side note, I have always found it interesting that in translating their signage the museum refers to these training devices as “instruments” rather than “dummies.”  Obviously there are lots of percussive instruments in traditional opera, and dummies make a very distinctive set of sounds when struck.  In my lineage of Wing Chun we count a “movement” of the dummy form as being completed when the dummy makes a sound rather than when the martial artists move a limb. I don’t think it requires all that imagination to see the “instrumental” quality in all of this.

Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of examples of really old dummies.  After all, these objects were made of wood and when planted in the ground they would eventually rot.  This must have been an issue in a climate as humid and wet as southern China.

The Foshan Period
Dummies likely started to disappear from the local landscape around the turn of the 20th century.  

Opera was being displaced by other forms of entertainment and the martial arts were decidedly unpopular in the years following the boxer rebellion.  Luckily these swings have a habit of reversing themselves.

By the 1920s there was increased popular interest in the martial arts.  Part of this was the result of efforts by reformers (such as the Jingwu Association) to promote the traditional hand combat styles as a distinct form of unique Chinese physical culture.  However, the growth of the economy and the transformation of the traditional teaching structures into market-based public schools also helped the martial arts to gain a following in middle class and urban areas where they had traditionally been frowned upon.  As the southern Chinese martial arts grew more dummies were produced and put into place.

Most of these dummies were of a type now called Dai Jong (Ground Dummies, also sometimes referred to as “buried” or “dead” dummies).  They were constructed from a log or tree trunk that was anywhere from eight to ten feet long.  Generally speaking the lower three and half feet would be worked into a thick square and buried in a stone or cement lined pit in the ground.

The still round main-body of the dummy would sit about three inches above the ground.  This was enough room to allow shredded rattan strips to be slipped into the spaces between the square base of the dummy and the side of the pit.  Packing the area in this way supported the central pole in an upright position, but it also allowed for a little give and spring when the dummy was struck or pushed.

Occasionally I see accounts stating that small rocks are gravel were used to line the hole.  I am not sure how widespread that practice was.  It certainly could have been done, and it would have provided a much firmer body.  Nevertheless, the resulting dummy would not have had much movement.

All of the surviving dummies of the pre-1940s era, including both the example at the Opera Museum and the Jingwu Hall in Foshan, are of this type.  The picture of the example at Jingwu is quite interesting because it clearly shows how the main body is reduced to a square cut, and how that is positioned in a hole in the ground.

Dai Jongs are still commonly seen in a number of places.  They are encountered in Guangdong province and appear to be fairly common in Vietnam, where at least some of them have been given a more exaggerated swinging motion.   Given the construction of the traditional one story home in southern China they could be planted either indoors or in an outdoor training area.

The preceding series of pictures, taken by Leung Ting and published in his book Roots and Branches of Wing Tsun, show Hak Min Nam (often called by his nickname Pan Nam, b. 1911- d. 1996) working a Dai Jong that has planted in his study.  This is a good real life example of the sort of indoor dummy which Donny Yen is seen working in the first Ip Man movie.  Master Kwok Fu, one of Ip Man’s original Foshan students, planted his dummy outdoors (presumably sometime after the Cultural Revolution) and was still teaching students on it in the 1990s.

This is the sort of dummy that Ip Man would have learned the form on.  Obviously Chan Wah Shun and Ng Chung So would have used this sort of device, and it’s likely that Ip Man owned one as well.  

In general traditional buried dummies seem to be larger than the latter sort, both in terms of their height and diameter.  This greater size might help them survive longer when buried in the ground and exposed to the elements.  It seems that most telephone poles in the US are good for 10-15 years and it is likely that this is how long a Dai Jong could have lasted as well.

Interestingly all of the early dummies seem to have relatively thick offset arms (rather than the parallel arms that are more commonly associated with the Ip Man lineage today) and smaller legs.  However, they seem to have roughly the same proportions as modern dummies.  In both cases the top arm of the dummy sits at about the level of the user’s shoulder.

Hong Kong Period: Ip Man Invents the Modern Wing Chun Dummy

While Ip Man probably owned a dummy in Foshan, our story does not really begin to get interesting until we reach the 1950s.  In 1949 Ip Man and a daughter fled to Macau and then Hong Kong in anticipation of the Communist conquest of Guangdong.  After a number of years of KMT sponsored anti-Communist campaigns it was probably no longer safe for him given his prior employment as the leader of a local police unit.  After spending a few months in Hong Kong Ip Man decided to take up the title of Sifu and become a professional martial arts teacher.

Of course there were a number of complications.  To begin with, he did not have a dummy.  More to the point he had yet to establish a local reputation, a pool of stable students or a location for a permanent school.  Ip Man would spend the first few years of his teaching career addressing each of these problems.

Yet by the middle of the 1950s things were looking up.  Ip was building a larger group of more advanced students and it was now time to consider installing a dummy so that their training could progress.  In fact he was already showing some his students sections of the dummy form which they were practicing like any other set.  In Wing Chun parlance this is called “using the air dummy.”  

While good for a quick review, it is no substitute for the geometric discipline of the real thing.
Life in Hong Kong was very different from Foshan.  To begin with, people tended to live in tall apartment buildings, rather than in one story dwellings with flagstone floors.  And outdoor space was extremely limited in the city, just as it is today.

Our best source of information on the development of modern dummies within the Wing Chun clan during the Hong Kong era is Ip Ching and Ron Heimberger’s (2004) volume Mook Yan Jong Sum FatWhile this can be a difficult book to get a hold of, it has been a great help is assembling the following account.  Sometime in the mid-1950s Ip Man approached a carpenter and friend named Fung Shek.  He explained his basic problem and talked about what he wanted in a dummy.  He then commissioned Fung to devise some means for constructing a mounting system for a portable dummy (Ip Man moved frequently during this period) that could be used indoors.

There are any number of ways to mount a dummy, but Fung’s idea was both simple and innovative.  Rather than supporting the dummy at its base (the traditional method) he instead hung the jong on wooden slats that passed directly through the body.  The thin slats acted as springs.  By moving the supporting structure up the body, where most of the form was actually performed, the feel of the dummy was substantially changed.

Most Dai Jongs had a limited rocking motion, if they moved at all.  The new Gua Jong (Live Dummy) was different. It all had to do with the placement and strength of the slats.  When a student engaged the arms or leg of the dummy they were in effect loading a spring which would throw the dummy back forward in a more lifelike way the moment the pressure was released.

In effect a Gua Jong offers a degree of feedback on your movements that you simply could not get from a buried dummy.  Given that this instrument is often used as a sort of “silent training partner” every ounce of feedback you can squeeze out of it is valuable.  For instance, in Wing Chun students want to punch towards the opponent’s “center line.”  If you do that with a dummy, from practically any forward facing angle, you will force the body back onto the slats and then the recoil will return the dummy to its initial position.  But if your lines of attack are off and you are punching across the front of the dummy, or simply pushing at its arm, its body will slide along the rails, retreating from your incomplete strike.  Again, this is critical because it provides instant feedback to the students on the sorts of subtle pressures that must be “felt” to be understood.

Together Ip Man and Fung Shek fine-tuned the new creation.  The basic idea was sound but it took a bit of experimentation to work out exactly what sort of slats and mounting system yielded the best results.  The final product was a truly custom, and innovative, dummy for the young Hong Kong Wing Chun clan.

Fung Shek delivered his prototype to Ip Man in 1956.  While Ip Man worked with a number of different dummies over the years (as he moved from one school to the next) he always kept the Fung Shek creation with him.  It was his preferred dummy to set up in a school, and eventually in his own home.  In fact, this is the same dummy that used in the now famous series of photographs taken by Tang Sang in 1967.  It was always his personal jong.  It can now been seen on display in the Ip Man Tong in Foshan.

Some of Ip Man’s more senior students were starting to branch off and open their own schools in the second half of the 1950s.  Fung Shek, with his new indoor mounting system, was the sole source for dummies in this early period.  Unfortunately he does not seem to have been very prolific and we do not have many examples of his work.

In reality he was never actually produced that many jongs.  Ip Ching estimates that he only produced 10-12 dummies between the late 1950s and the early 1960s when he stopped taking orders.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Dojo Etiquette

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Shotokan Times on dojo etiquette and it's place in our budo training. The full post may be read here.

Karate Dō begins and ends with rei.
Gichin Funakoshi
Every Karateka is familiar with the first precept of Gichin Funakoshi – Karate Dō begins and ends with ‘rei’. Also probably nearly every Karateka agrees about the importance of this precept, putting rei at the very centre of their Karate practice. Yet many seem to forget, that rei is not only describing a mental attitude, but also a very concrete physical practice. Paradoxically, while rei as a mental attribute is emphasized, the physical manifestation of rei is often shunned upon by the very same Karate practitioners. They see seiza and bowing as something unpleasant and antiquated, only done to fulfill some kind of Asian tradition but with no real usefulness to Karate practice, let alone fighting proficiency.

This lack of appreciation often shows in sloppy reihō. Even advanced belts are struggling while getting up from seiza, glad that the unwanted part is over and the ‘real’ Karate practice begins. But why not staying true to Funakoshis precept and starting Karate practice (yes, I mean the actual physical training) with rei and not after it? You might ask why? Seiza and bowing have no real relevance in the western world, they don’t apply to your everyday life, let alone to physical Karate practice. Guess what: you’re wrong. 

Bowing in Rei

Did you ever drop something? Did you have to pick it up from the floor? Happens all the time, right? This is essentially bowing! The question is, did you pick it up correctly in a back sparing way? Or did you struggle somewhat, picking it up in an awkward position? Unfortunately many people tend to hurt their backs while picking up stuff.

We all look like really folded cashews.
Jean Couch

This is were we can learn from other cultures. Use your hips! Ever heard about using your hips in Karate training? Do it properly while bowing, too. Bending at the hips engages the hamstring muscles and takes the pressure off the back muscles, sparing your spine and possibly preventing back pain.[1]

A correct bowing will change your body!
Tatsuya Naka

Monday, August 03, 2020

Cheng Man Ching and the Five Excellences

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Taiji Forum on Cheng Man Ching and the Five Excellences. 

It was Cheng's fame as a painter that brought him to New York in the first place, not taijiquan. In fact, according to my own taijiquan teacher, who was a student of Cheng's in New York, he didn't consider himself to be a martial artist, per se. He was an artist, period. His artistry imbued whatever he set his hand.

The full article my be read here. Enjoy.

Professor Cheng Man Ching was a very remarkable man. He maintained the old Chinese cultural tradition whilst China was changing under the influence of the western world, Japanese warfare and communism. Cheng Man Ching still wore his traditional clothes in Taipei and even in New York City.

As an artist he became famous in five traditional arts where most people only managed to practice one or two. In these arts again he was loyal to the old tradition. As a doctor he practiced an old form of herbal medicine. He was called “Cheng of the one or two prescriptions”, which means that Cheng Man Ching in general only prescribed one or two doses of the medicine to his patients. Some of his direct students tell of the surprise of the local Chinese pharmacy:

“Oh, this is a very old prescription, nobody is using this anymore”. Nevertheless Cheng Man Ching was very successful in his traditional medical approach. In Tai Chi Chuan he became so skillful that he was invited to teach at three military academies in China, where he developed his Yang style short form. Eventually his Tai Chi Chuan spread out over the whole world except for mainland China.

Calligraphy was taught by him in a very traditional way indeed: Hours of trying to draw straight lines on paper, then the same with drawing circles. He was isolated in the art of poetry, especially in New York since only a few people could speak Chinese and writing poetry the old fashioned Chinese way is difficult.

Cheng Man Ching seemed to enjoy painting. He did not need a model, everything he painted was already there in his head. Ed Young, one of his translators who is also a painter, told me a story which illustrates the skilful ease of his painting: “I was with Cheng Man Ching in Taipei in 1971 and came into his room and talked to him. Cheng Man Ching was busy with a brush and it looked as if he was cleaning the brush on a piece of paper. I kept on talking to him until he showed me the painting which was a beautiful flower”. Ed apologised: ” I am so sorry that I kept on talking while you were painting”, Cheng Man Ching answered: “It’s alright, since the painting is already in my head.” Ed realised that Cheng Man Ching did all his painting this way – no corrections, no hesitation, it just flowed out of his brush. Cheng Man Ching had one-man shows of his paintings in Paris, New York and Taipei.

Living in his traditional way he managed to survive in such a modern city as New York City. 

He even choose to teach an open class where all students could come, including Western students. The Chinese community in New York tried to keep Cheng Man Ching to themselves and closed the door of the training hall in Chinatown but Cheng Man Ching could not accept this restriction and opened a school on Bowery street.

Some people told me that Cheng Man Ching was a pretty good Chinese chess player and he could also ride a horse. Katy, his daughter, mentioned that once there was a very wild horse that nobody could ride. Her father however, through talking to the horse, was able to tame the horse and ride it! It looks like Cheng Man Ching was an early horse whisperer, subduing the animal by softness instead of force.

There is also a story of a monkey who suddenly appeared in the courtyard of their house in Taipei and everybody was afraid of the animal. Cheng Man Ching went to the monkey and after some time they were eating peanuts together and Cheng Man Ching even let it drink a little wine.

Robert Smith tells a story in which Cheng Man Ching meets a tiger on a narrow path in the mountains in China. Cheng Man Ching got a little out of the way by leaning backwards over the mountain ridge and letting the tiger pass.

Maybe we should say that Cheng Man Ching mastered 7 arts or maybe even 8 for he was very well versed in Chinese philosophy especially Taoism, Confucianism and the I Ging. In the West Cheng Man Ching is most known for his expertise in Tai Chi Chuan. He learned the art from Yang Cheng Fu, one of the most famous teachers in China within the Yang style. In the exercise called pushing hands it becomes evident to what extent one understands the internal principles of tai chi chuan. Cheng Man Ching was able to effortlessly push his opponents far away. It is striking that many of his students reported that they could not feel how they were being pushed. This is called softness in Tai Chi Chuan.

Cheng Man Ching would use the wall as a stopping means in pushing hands over one or two metres distance. Students talk about being launched in the air, bumping into the wall and then landing on their feet. The push felt like nothing, or cotton, or like a cloud. Other people talked about being completely cornered with nowhere to go until launched into the air.

Cheng Man Ching could do these things also in a real fight. He was considered by many to be the best internal martial artist in Taiwan. Wong Chia Man, who is a master of northern Chinese martial arts and a real fighter (known from his fight with Bruce Lee), said to Peter Ralston before Peter became a world champion free fighter, that he should always learn from the best. Wong claimed to be the best in what he was doing, but recommended to Peter that he should learn Tai Chi Chuan from Cheng Man Ching, since he considered him to be the best in Tai Chi Chuan.

Students saw many black belts in different martial arts being easily defeated by Cheng Man Ching. Although all these fights were friendly encounters, it is remarkable that a man in his seventies was able to push them.

I saw one challenge on video, a student said to Cheng Man Ching, “we are always so friendly to each other in pushing hands but what happens if we start hitting?” Cheng Man Ching invited the student to hit him. The student gave his all but Cheng Man Ching took the punches on his body with a smile and then pushed the student while he was hitting him. William CC Chen also has this ability to take punches. I have punched him several times with and without boxing gloves and I never had the feeling that I could damage him. My last encounter was when he was sixty years old. I punched him about ten times in his face with boxing gloves with William saying: “no not right, do it again, do it again”. Ben Lo is known for winning exchanging chops to the forearm.

Another story is of a student who hid behind a door and attacked Cheng Man Ching from behind. He was pushed the instant he attacked. Cheng Man Ching became upset with the student because in a situation like that, the natural response of the returning force could have badly damaged this student. The student was sent away from the school. This story illustrates the level Cheng Man Ching attained in Tai Chi Chuan. The returning force is always present. Techniques are spontaneous, not like “if you do that then I will do this”. The response is there without thinking. Cheng Man Ching loved to do swordplay. In films about Cheng Man Ching you can see him smile and laugh while moving around lively doing a kind of pushing hands with the sword. In my interviews with direct students of Cheng Man Ching 

I have heard different accounts of how it felt to do swordplay with Cheng Man Ching. Some talked about a very light touch from which there was no escape, others reported a very heavy sword but again no escape. In some way his sword was always coming towards you, there was nowhere to go but backwards. Disengaging his sword to attack him was impossible because his sword would have caught you before you could attack. The highest level of swordplay according to Cheng Man Ching was to cut somebody while moving defensively. Ken van Sickle told me that most swords in the training hall had been broken (and glued back together) at their weakest point at the guard because Cheng Man Ching loved to disarm his opponent and the sword would break on impact with the ground.
  • To be as relaxed as possible was the most important point.
  • Becoming aware of the air around you is a sign of relaxation.
  • Swimming in air and feeling the resistance of the air as if you are in water is a recurring phrase in the notes that I have seen, taken in his classes.
  • To move from the center.