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, October 30, 2020

25 Samurai Films Worth Watching

Who doesn't love Samurai movies? Who WHO??!!

Below is an exerpt from an article that lists 25 of the best Jidaigeki films, a sub-genre of samurai movies. If you enjoy great sword fights and beautiful cinema, take a look. The full article may be read here.

Jidaigeki is the incomparable genre of world film history that Japan has given the world. Samurai, geisha, Shogun, sword fights, zen culture, craftsmen and more are common themes in Jidaigeki films. Samurai film is the subgenre of Jidaigeki, which is why the two genres can’t be separated. However, there are so many great samurai films that one needs to make a separate list for those.

Here, movies regarding primarily samurai and sword fights are excluded. For example, Akira Kurosawa’s samurai films like “Seven Samurai”, “Yojimbo”, and “Sanjuro”, and Masaki Kobayashi’s “Samurai Rebellion” and “Harakiri” aren’t included, where the sword fights of ronin and samurai are the main story. However, their other Jidaigeki films are included, which don’t have too much of a samurai and ronin element.

The main aim of this list isn’t to devaluate those great samurai films but to throw light on many great but shadowed, underrated and underpraised Jidaigeki films.

Jidaigeki films are stunningly beautiful, mainly because of the Japanese culture of the Edo period: chivalrous samurai, devoted wives, shogun, outcast ronins, immensely beautiful geishas, traditional customs and houses, sword fights, and zen culture are the main attractions. The themes of revenge, love, hate, devotion, infidelity, lust, fear, and faith are strong, and when they are based on folk tales or ghost stories or traditional stories, they are even more powerful.
Parables are the hardest things to achieve in any art. In that case, simple folk tales are hard to adapt to films. Even the stories in Jidaigeki films are often predictable but the beauty of them catches us from beginning to end and demand even multiple viewings. Here is the list of 25 greatest Jidaigeki film

1. Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)

Masaki Kobayashi is a criminally underrated director of film history, which is a very sad thing. Generally, Yasujiro Ozu, Kenji Mizoguchi and Akira Kurosawa are renowned as the main leaders of Japanese cinema but Kobayashi is even greater than those in many cases.

For example, he is known to beautify films, to use the soundtrack extraordinarily, to depict weathers like snow, atmosphere, rain, and sunlight. He is one of the greatest directors of film history who is overshadowed by those Japanese leaders outside Japan. His masterpiece “Kwaidan” is even more shadowed by his own great films like “Harakiri” and “Samurai Rebellion”.

Generally, Jidaigeki horror films are stunningly beautiful, and “Kwaidan” is a great example. This film consists of four separate and unrelated stories based on famous folk tales of Japan. The first story, “The Black Hair”, is hailed by many cinephiles as the best of film but all four stories are equally beautiful, powerful and well crafted.

Almost all parts of film were shot in studio, which makes the film unnatural to some extent. Even that makes film aesthetically incomparable and that is the best thing about it.

Kobayashi doesn’t use a soundtrack as other directors do; he uses it delaying its time after 2 to 3 seconds after the actual event happened. That creates a unique feeling and curiosity to audiences and makes the film very different. That is a very rare, great and successful experiment that can rarely be found. “Kwaidan” is the one of the greatest and most beautiful films of all time.

2. The Ballad of Narayama (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1958)

Keisuke Kinoshita is another lesser-known director outside Japan who has made some great films, including “Twenty-Four Eyes”. Shot in stage like “Kwaidan”, “The Ballad of Narayama” is his masterpiece, which is immensely beautiful. It is hard to find such great and beautiful sceneries in other countries’ films. Almost the entire film was shot in stage all those places shot like hills, snow, villages, fields, ponds, and more, are beautifully and powerfully depicted.

Adapted from the same book of Shichiro Fukazawa, it depicts the practice of Obasute: abandoning one’s parent in the uninhabited hills, where they will die of starvation or attacking of wild animals when they turn old. Its beautiful cinematography, sad and surprising culture of Obasute, the old woman who is the main character, and the folk songs and soundtrack are the best part of this film.

Mother’s time of Obasute is coming and what makes her son and audiences surprised is that she hurries to go to the uninhabited, lonely hill. She knows she has to go and die there of starvation. Therefore, before she dies, she wants to celebrate her life so joyfully that she does a lot of things that makes her family and other neighbors happy.

Even if the story is quite predictable, the film creates an uncertainty within us about the ending and about what is going to happen. How will that old lady go and live on that lonely hill? Japanese New Wave director Shoehi Imamura has also made the same titled film from same book, which is more realistic, but this film is more aesthetic as well. Fans of “Kwaidan” will definitely love it.

3. Jigokuhen (Shiro Toyoda, 1969)

One of the most terrifying films ever made, Shiro Toyoda’s masterpiece “Jigokuhen” tells the story about a conflict between two people: a dictator and an immensely talented painter, played by great Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai has given one of the greatest performances of his life in this film. He is a Korean painter who comes to Japan and ended up working in the dictator’s palace. He has a beautiful daughter whom he controls excessively.

Even though he is great painter, he is egotistical just like that dictator; they hate each other because they are alike. Their personal conflict is the main theme of this beautiful, terrible, and terrific film. The story becomes fascinating when the dictator forcefully puts the painter’s daughter inside his palace to marry her. But how the film ends is totally out of the realm of imagination.
The dictator uses his weaponry power and the painter uses his own painting power. For the painter, his daughter is at stake but for the dictator, his state is at stake.

This film can also be considered the war between art and politics, or artist and dictator. Also, the theme of politics, love, hate, ego, lust, revenge etc. can also be found. Its haunting beauty of cinematography, unusual and unpredictable and powerful story, and great performance of Nakadai makes this film one of the greatest Jidaigeki horror films. It is underrated, overshadowed and not to be missed.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The Fascia and Martial Arts Training

The fascia and how it influences our movement is a frequent and sometimes controversial topic in internal martial arts. 

There was an interesting article at The Shotokan Times which discussed the fascia and how it applied to karate training. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Recently, scientist explored and proved the immense importance of the body’s fascia network for fitness and health of athletes. A well-trained and well-integrated fascial network optimizes both maximum performance and coordination. By including fascial consciousness in the Karate training it lifts performance limits. Fascial preloading and Catapult-like discharge allow extremely fast and effortless movements. The fascial system is loaded and discharged to the point of the highest tension, the kime. By Punito Michael Aisenpreis

The Fascinating Organ

Fascia (lat. fascia  for “band”, “bandage”) refers to the soft tissue components of the connective tissue that penetrates the whole body as an enveloping and connecting tensional network. These include all collagen fibrous connective tissues, in particular

  • joint- and organ capsules,
  • tendon plates,
  • muscle septa,
  • ligaments,
  • tendons, as well as the
  • “actual” fascia in the form of “muscle skins” that enwrap the whole body stocking-like.
Numerous manual therapeutic procedures aim to trigger a lasting change in fascia. These include, for instance, the connective tissue massage, osteopathy, Rolfing, or Myofascial Release.

A Brief History of Fascia Research

Karate originated about 130 years ago in Okinawa with Chinese influence in secret from the “Tode” (Itosu, Asato). Gichin Funakoshi refined it in Japan from the 1920s. Around the same time, osteopathy emerged in the United States. Andrew Taylor developed the manual healing art in the “wild west”, where there was no medical care. In osteopathy, the importance of fascia as the all-connecting and nourishing tissue was emphasized from the beginning of the art.

Western medicine, on the other hand, perceived fascia mostly as mere packaging organs and ignored its meaning. In practical anatomy, medical students around the world learned to prepare away the enveloping fascia as comprehensively as possible, so that “you could see something”. However, German medical Prof. Dr. Alfred Pischinger discovered in the 1970s the immune and protective functions that take place in the fascial connective tissue, as a system of basic regulation.

Fascia: The Internet of the Body

Fascia works like an internet within the body. Due to its features we are able to perceive and control our bodies. Research on myofascial power transmission made a significant contribution to the new understanding of fascia. Most muscles transfer a considerable part of their traction force not directly to the associated tendons, but to parallel neighboring muscles. This is mainly done via cross-connections between adjacent muscle shells. That neighboring muscles are coworker, supporter or enabler muscles is not surprising. However, as we have now found out, this also happens between functional antagonistic muscles. Even in a healthy human being, muscles influencing membranous fascial tensions instead of directly acting on the skeleton, so like ropes that span a sail.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Truth About Krav Maga

Today we have a new offering from frequent contributor Jonathan Bluestein. Below is an interview Jonathan conducted with Avi Nardia, a renown Israeli martial artist on Krav Maga. Please check out Jonathan's new website: Blue Jade Society.


Wednesday, October 21, 2020


In many ways, Scott Meredith uses martial arts as a way of cultivating energy for it's own sake. He is a long time student of Ben Lo, and besides Taijiquan has studied many martial arts. 

He has published a number of books and videos full of innovative exercises that cut to the quick, the business of energy cultivation in a language that most people can grasp immediately.

Recently, Scott has released a new book called Infusion: Advanced Internal Power Drills. What is unique about this book is the graphical format Scott is using to depict exercises he has drawn from Taijiquan, XingYiquan, Baguazhang and Mantis Kung Fu to get past the words and communicate directly the sense of these exercises.

It's well worth checking out.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The 48 Laws of Power, #34: Act in the way you want to be Treated

One of my favorite books on strategy is The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene and Joost Elffers.  Where The Art of War, by Sun Tzu is written as an overview of the whole topic of strategy, seeking to provide an overall understanding of the subject; and The 36 Strategies tries to impart the knack of strategic thinking through 36 maxims related to well known Chinese folk stories, Mr. Greene focuses on how we influence and manipulate one another, ie "power".

Mr. Greene draws from both Eastern and Western history and literature as his source material. Sun Tzu and Machiavelli as cited as much as wonderful stories of famous con men. 

Each of the 48 Laws carries many examples, along with counter examples where it is appropriate that they be noted, and even reversals.

It is a very thorough study of the subject and the hardback version is beautifully produced.

One of the things I admire about Greene is that he not only studied strategy, he applied what he learned to his own situation and prospered.

Today we have #34, Act in the way you want to be treated.

You know the old saying, dress for the job you want? You must act like it. Project it. Other people, the great mass of them anyway, subconciously  pick this up and fall into line. 

Friday, October 16, 2020

Birthday post

Today is my birthday. Won't you help me celebrate?


 It's been quite a year, hasn't it? Life comes at you fast. 

There was a point this year that I could have said that: in the previous 18 months, we've had seven deaths in the family; I changed jobs twice within 8 months and I bought and sold a house, then moved with the last two months.

Of the seven deaths, five of them were old and in poor health at the time. Of the remaining two, one was a cousin who was about to turn 50. He died suddenly after some post surgical complications. The other was my sister in law who passed at 52 with brain cancer. 


The two job changes happened this way - two jobs ago, I could see the writing on the wall that my position was going to be eliminated where I worked. I wanted to leave before I could be laid off, so I started looking.

I went back to a company that I had worked at some 10 years previously. It was not my first choice but they met my salary requirements and the position suited me. 

For the company sales and engineering were two distinct silos. I floated between them being a sales minded technical guy who could support salesmen when they were talking to their technical customers. It was good enough.

Then one day, there I was just sitting there at my desk, minding my own business, when I received a call from a recruiter I had known for many years. Did I know "X" company and would I be interested in an account manager position with them? Heck yes!

I went to the interview and spoke to the hiring manager. It turned out that we had worked at similar places in similar positions for a long time. It was a wonder that we hadn't crossed paths before. It was like speaking to an old friend.

So I hired on and was on boarded just everyone was told to lock down on account of Covid. 


For years my wife and I had talked about downsizing. Our house was too big for the two of us. We lived there for 23 years and soon would have to put money into a new furnace and windows. Putting that kind of money into the house would pretty much mean that we'd have to stay there. Also, the value of the houses in the neighborhood were pretty topped out; all we could expect in the future was that the value of the homes would rise at the rate of inflation.

We've been wanting to downsize and buy a ranch. Climbing up and down stairs was getting old  (as are we). They are really hard to find.

But - one day we were driving and saw a ranch with a sign in front saying "move in in 30 days." The realtor couldn't show it to us because of Covid, but she could open it up and we could look around ourselves. 

I said to the Mrs "I could see us living here." The next thing you know, we bought the place, listed our own home, sold it in 5 days (sight unseen) and moved two months later.

We moved from  a 2500 sq ft 4 bedroom colonial to a 2000 sq ft 3 bedroom ranch. I love living in the new house and neighborhood. I have several friends who already live out this way, and it already feels like home. 

The only thing wrong with the house is that there isn't a lake directly behind my patio.


I still continue to practice taijiquan every morning before I go to work. I noticed a karate school not far from me that hosts an aikido class, so I signed up for that. 

Two evenings a week, I'm going to aikido again. It's not the beloved Yoshinkan of my youth, but a different style and organization. I'm starting again from the very beginning and having a lot of fun.

Actually, we're not really doing aikido yet because of Covid. Because of distancing, we're working on Toyama Ryu Iaido after doing aikido warm ups and break falls. I'm having a blast.

I've also taken up (western) archery. I'm on the lookout for a used fitness bike. The neighborhood is filled with bike trails and I want to make use of them.

As a result of all of this, I've lost 25 lbs since the beginning of the year. 

The Mrs and I will be celebrating our 37th wedding anniversary this month. I remember at our wedding, we let the band select the song for the bridal dance. It didn't seem appropriate:


Both of my kids are doing great. 

I've been blessed.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Body Weight Training

Over at the Art of Manliness blog, there was a post on body weight training. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Besides a few brief stints of freedom, notorious British criminal and troublemaker Charles Salvador (better known as Charles Bronson) has been serving time since 1974. During these decades behind bars, and often confined to isolation, Bronson has become a fitness fanatic, creating workout programs that require only his bodyweight and a few odd objects. 

His extreme regimen has given him near-superhuman strength — he claims to be able to do 172 push-ups in 60 seconds, pick up a pool table by himself, and bend a steel prison cell door with his bare hands. He’s set many prison fitness records as well, including one for most push-ups in an hour: 1,727.
Now, it’d be easy to take Bronson’s claims with a grain of salt. The man is not only a convicted criminal, but his violent, loose-cannon behavior has earned him the label of “Britain’s most notorious prisoner.”
But Bronson is hardly the only inmate who’s managed to gain impressive strength without access to barbells, nutritious food, or supplements. Prisoners all over the world have created highly effective strength-building routines they can perform in the tiny space of their cell or with limited equipment in the jail yard. For men who are locked up, being strong and looking strong isn’t just about aesthetics and personal development; the appearance of size and prowess acts as a deterrent to attack and can be necessary for survival.
While most of us will thankfully never end up behind bars, I think we can all take a lesson from convicts on how to not let your circumstances be an excuse for your fitness goals. Below we highlight bodyweight exercises used by prisoners the world over to get strong and stay strong.

The Benefits of Bodyweight Workouts

You can do them anywhere. Don’t have time to make it to the gym? Travel a lot? Locked up for 5-10 years? Great! You can do the prisoner workout anywhere . . . bedroom, office, hotel room, or solitary confinement.
It’s free. Don’t have the money for a gym membership or purchasing your own equipment? That’s not an excuse for not exercising. With a few simple bodyweight exercises, you can create a full-body workout that’s completely free.
Strength+cardio in a single workout. By increasing the tempo and decreasing the rest between sets and exercises, you can turn a bodyweight workout into both a high-intensity cardio session and a strength workout. In 30 minutes, you’ll be done with your exercise for the day.

The Exercises

Below I’ve highlighted six main bodyweight exercises that work the entire body. However, with a little tweaking of each exercise, you can create over 50 different exercises from just these six basic movements. If you’re locked up for life, I’m sure you could come up with another 50 variations.


According to the book he wrote in prison, Solitary Fitness, Bronson performs 2,000 push-ups a day. If you start doing 10 push-ups a day and add 5 more each day, in a little over a year, you can get up to that level.

Push-up Variations

The push-up works multiple muscle groups including the chest, anterior deltoid, and triceps. And the great thing about it is that the exercise can be easily modified to increase difficultly and work different muscle groups.

Narrow/Wide Hand Placement. By simply adjusting the placement of your hands, you can emphasize different muscle groups. Narrow hand placement works the triceps, while a wider hand placement emphasizes the pecs.

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Survey of Kung Fu Training Dummies

Asian martial arts is replete with training dummies is all sorts of shapes and sizes. From the simple makiwara to the legendary 18 wooden dummies that had to be negotiated to graduate from the Shaolin Temple, there is a bunch of them.

Below is an excerpt that appeared at Kung Fu Tea on this very topic. The full post may be read here.

One of the most iconic images in the annals of Kung Fu training is that of the lone student, lost in the zen-like practice of his wooden dummy routine.  Dummies of various sorts and sizes have a long history in Chinese boxing.  Kang, in his timeline of the development of the Chinese martial arts, notes that legends and references to their use in military training date back to the 12th century BCE (Spring and Autumn of the Chinese Martial Arts, 1995. pp. 22).

In their simplest form a dummy might consist of a single living tree or planted pole which a practitioner can walk around (practicing entry), kick and strike.  If one accepts trees or simple posts as dummies then they are ubiquitous throughout the Chinese martial landscape.

However, legend also speaks of more sophisticated, or even diabolical, wooden combat machines.  A common story (dating to the second half of the 19h century) states that the southern Shaolin temple had a hall of ingeniously designed wooden fighting machines.  Rather than being totally reactive these machines could also take the offensive.  One could not graduate (and leave) the temple’s training program without being able to make it across the training hall.  This image of a training hall full of automated and dangerous wooden dummies lives on in modern folklore as anyone who has seen the recent children’s film Kung Fu Panda is aware.

In modern times (from the middle of the 19th century on) the wooden dummy has been markedly more popular in southern, and to a lesser extent coastal eastern, China.  Nor will we be surprised to learn that this is also where the legend of the Shaolin hall of the wooden dummy men first emerged (before being popularized throughout the Chinese cultural sphere—See Hamm (2005), Paper Swordsmen, chapter 1).  Most of this post will focus on those areas where the greatest number and variety of dummies are found.

Before going on it might be useful to develop a typology of dummies.  For the most part training dummies break down into two categories.  There are those that focus on stepping and balance, and those that emphasize striking (either to improve technique or conditioning.)

Watch Your Step: Plum Blossom Poles

Stepping dummies are more wide spread than their striking cousins.  While not all styles use them, “plum blossom poles” are currently seen in all regions of China.  They are often employed by Plum Blossom Boxers (Meihua quan) in Shandong, Henan and in the north. Additionally, they are also an absolute fixture in a number of styles in Fujian and Taiwan, as well as commonly encountered in Guangdong and Hong Kong.  The wide spread adoption of this technology probably says something about its relatively ancient origins and the ease with which such training devices can be constructed.

Traditionally a field of plum blossom poles (I am using the approximate English translation to avoid confusion as the Chinese name varies between dialects, regions and styles) was comprised of a group of two meter long posts, approximately 10-14 cm in width, that were set firmly halfway into the ground.  The number and pattern in which these are laid out can vary quite a bit.  Often in modern southern martial arts only five poles will be used, replicating the five blossom of a plum flower, but more elaborate fields of a dozen poles or more are fairly common.  Additionally the height of the poles is sometimes kept even and sometimes staggered depending on the requirements of a given school.  If the posts are made high enough it is not uncommon to see students also using them as a striking target (for both hands and feet) while they are standing on the ground.  In fact, I have often wondered if this wasn’t the actual origin of the three posted kicking dummy seen in some Wing Chun schools today.

Different sorts of “portable poles” have been constructed over the years.  Esherick (Origins of the Boxer Uprising, 1985) reports that in the late 19th century Plum Blossom Boxing instructors would travel between temple festivals and marketplaces in Northern China after the wheat harvest to demonstrate their skills, meet old friends and recruit students (pp. 148-149).  Small benches, pots and other mundane objects were occasionally employed in these demonstrations of martial and acrobatic prowess.

Training on the plum blossom poles is still common today in a variety of schools.  It has a number of benefits but the most obvious are better balance and greater precision in stepping and turning.  Working on the poles can also build leg and core strength.

The Invincible Training Partner: Striking Dummies

Striking dummies are also seen in the north, but probably less frequently than the plum blossom poles.  Certain Bagua schools for instance will walk circles around a tree that might occasionally be struck.  Others have been seen using a single planted pole for similar purposes.  Some of these practices even resemble the Japanese use of the makiwara.  This simple but effective training device was used in Okinawan Karate and may be of Chinese origin.

More rarely Bagua schools might employ a pole with four arms radiating out from the top in the form of a cross.  These objects are struck in a free flowing way, and in that sense they are fairly different from the more rigorous set dummy forms that are practiced by folk styles further to the south.  The emphasis here appears to be on both conditioning and the initial approach of the target.


Friday, October 09, 2020

Single Stick Play

Nothing says to your friends that you love them more than bashing them in the head with an oversized night stick. 

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kung Fu Tea which describes our ongoing interest in what boils down to single stick play. The full post may be read here.

An Eternal Passion
As a martial artists that I work with likes to tell his students, “Hitting someone with a stick is not difficult.  Noting getting hit with a stick is…a lot of fun.”
The history of Western single-stick practice suggests that innumerable soldiers, fencers, students, athletes and regular people have come to the same conclusion.  Perhaps this explains the repeated rebirths of these systems of weapon practice.
My own brush with single-stick occurred rather recently.  A local instructor had agreed to introduce me to a system of early 19th century American military saber.  Of course I brought my fencing mask, gloves and other gear.  While I had been informed that we would be working with “historical training methods” I was nevertheless surprised when I was presented with a set of slender rods fitted with tough leather bell guards.  What followed was one of the most enjoyable afternoons of training that I have had in a while.  At least part of that, I think, had something to do with the simplicity of the sword analogs themselves.
I haven’t yet made a detailed study of the history of single-stick practice in the West, nor am 
I sure that such an adventure is in the cards.  That is a shame as most of the material on this topic is in languages that I can actually read.  Still, a few general points are clear.  First off, what we now think of as single-stick seems to have started off as a training regime for back-sword, and latter saber, practice in the UK.  Something like single-stick was being practiced as early as the 16th century.  During the first half of the 18th century, single-stick seemed to hit the peak of its popularity in both cities and the countryside and was widely practiced.
This sort of mania has not always been the norm.  The popularity of the practice has waxed and waned (somewhat cyclically) through the decades.  The construction of the sticks, their hilts and other safety equipment has also evolved as different rule-sets were invented, or as the practice was adapted for different social uses.  This makes for an interesting case study within the field of Martial Arts Studies precisely because we have a long history of continuous usage which nevertheless shows a distinct pattern of stochastic innovations.
Nor has the humble stick attracted the sort of nationalistic myths that follow the katana or the jian.  As such we seem to have hit something of a sweet spot.  This practice was popular enough that it left a documentary record.  Yet it was not so popular that 19th or 20th century nationalist myth-makers would be tempted to rewrite it, in essence obscuring the past.  In that sense single-stick has benefited from being viewed as “just a game” and not a “martial art,” where a good dose of myth making and invented tradition seems mandatory.
While fairly common in the early 19th century, its popularity later declined.  During the final years of century, and the first years of the early 20th, it seems to have enjoyed a short lived (but influential) return to popular consciousness.  This resulted in a flurry of articles in magazines, newspapers and other sources.  Of course, some militaries had continued to use it as a training method all along.
The late 19th century resurgence seems to have been culturally driven. There was something about single-stick that fit with the era’s notion’s of “muscular Christianity” and the supposed benefits of living a “strenuous life.” We should note that its brief revival also coincided with other trends including an expansion in boxing’s popularity outside the working class, jujutsu’s entrance into the West, and the rising tides of nationalism and imperialism that would set the stage for the First World War.

This reemergence was ideally timed to provide us with some great vintages images and sources which will be of interest to martial arts historians.  Much of this material is not cataloged in libraries as it initially circulated as ephemera.  Single-stick postcards seem to have been quite popular for a while.  Many of these had a naval theme and showed sailors training on ships.  Other sorts of soldiers can also be seen drilling on land.  One commonly encountered card even shows a group of Canadian Mounted Police engaging in a mass melee.  This cannot have been an uncommon activity as other images, and even films of similar events, exist.
Other surviving bits of ephemera suggest that single-stick had come to be accepted as a civilian game and an ideal pastime for boys with too much energy.  The Boy Scouts included it (along with boxing, wrestling, staff fighting, fencing and jujutsu) in their short lived  “Masters at Arms” merit badge program.  Teddy Roosevelt also lent some of his own mystique to the practice by training in the White House.  And multiple groups promoted the walking stick as a weapon with practical self-defense benefits.  Indeed, the cultural multi-vocality of single-stick, its ability to be all things to all people, foreshadows in some ways the social position of the Asian martial arts in the post-WWII period.
This conceptual flexibility sometimes leads to confusion.  For instance, “single-stick” can refer to a type of training tool, or a very specific set of competitive rules coming out of the UK.  As such, some sources draw a clear distinction between English and French practices (Canne de combat) while others do not.  Yet one gets the sense that in the late 19th and early 20 century it was precisely the perceived universality of the phenomenon that gave it a degree of cultural power.

Single-stick is currently going through yet another period of increased visibility.  As HEMA grows more popular, people are once again taking an interest in it as a historical practice. 

But I wonder if its former status as the ideal adolescent recreation has had other, less obvious, implications.  I was recently talking with a HEMA instructor who has started a lightsaber club.  He was noting how difficult it was to get long sword and rapier guys to get their heads wrapped around this new weapon analog.  But he noted that “everything finally clicked when I told them to think of it as a single-stick or longer two handed staff.”
This makes perfect sense when you consider the geometry and round blade profile of both training analogs.  But it also suggested something else.  Perhaps lightsaber combat is growing so fast because it owes more to prior cultural mythologies than we may have guessed.  Whereas early Boy Scouts with their single-sticks may have dreamed of pirates and colonial adventure, their modern counterpart envision the Sith (space pirates?) and Jedi (no doubt colonizing some newly discovered planet for the Republic).  The more things change…
To give readers a better sense of how single-stick was discussed in the late 19th century I have concluded this post with a short excerpt from the fourth chapter of R.G. Allanson-Winn and C. Phillipps-Wolley’s comprehensively titled, Broadsword and Single-stick, with Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, and Other Weapons of Self-Defence, as published in New York City in 1898. Please note that I included these passages for historical interest only. Few modern coaches would endorse the author’s notion that we should go without (readily available) safety gear because one learns faster and “build character” through pain or injury.  That is just the Muscular Christianity talking.

SINGLE-STICK is to the sabre what the foil is to the rapier, and while foil-play is the science of using the point only, sabre-play is the science of using a weapon, which has both point and edge, to the best advantage. In almost every treatise on fencing my subject has been treated with scant ceremony. “Fencing” is assumed to mean the use of the point only, or perhaps it would not be too much to say, the use of the foils; whereas fencing means simply (in English) the art of of-fending another and de-fending yourself with any weapons, but perhaps especially with all manner of swords.
In France or Spain, from which countries the use of the thrusting-sword was introduced into England, it would be natural enough to consider fencing as the science of using the point of the sword only, but here the thrusting-sword is a comparatively modern importation, and is still only a naturalised foreigner, whereas broad-sword and sabre are older than, and were once as popular as, boxing. On the other hand, the rapier was in old days a foreigner of particularly shady reputation on these shores, the introducer being always alluded to in the current literature of that day, with anathemas, as “that desperate traitour, Rowland Yorke.”
“L’Escrime” is, no doubt, the national sword-play of France, and, for Frenchmen, fencing may mean the use of the foil, but broad-sword and sabre play are indigenous here, and if fencing is to mean only one kind of sword-pay or sword-exercise, it should mean single-stick.
Like the swordsmen of India, our gallant fore-fathers (according to Fuller, in his “Worthies of England”) accounted it unmanly to strike below the knee or with the point. But necessity has no laws, still less has it any sense of honour, so that before long English swordsmen realised that the point was much more deadly than the edge, and that, unless they were prepared to be “spitted like cats or rabbits,” it was necessary for them either to give up fighting or condescend to learn the new fashion of fence.
As in boxing, it was found that the straight hit from the shoulder came in quicker than the round-arm blow, so in fencing it was found that the thrust got home sooner than the cut, and hence it came that the more deadly style of fighting with the rapier supplanted the old broad-sword play.
Single-stick really combines both styles of fencing. In it the player is taught to use the point whenever he can do so most effectively; but he is also reminded that his sword has an edge, which may on occasion do him good service. It seems then, to me, that the single-stick is the most thoroughly practical form of fencing for use in those “tight places” where men care nothing for rules, but only want to make the most out of that weapon which the chance of the moment has put into their hands. It may further be said that the sabre is still supplied to our soldiers, though rarely used for anything more dangerous than a military salute, whereas no one except a French journalist has ever seen, what I may be allowed to call, a foil for active service, the science of single-stick has some claim to practical utility even in the nineteenth century, the only sound objection to single-stick being that the sticks used are so light as to not properly represent the sabre.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Saturday, October 03, 2020

The Chinese Saber

Today we have a guest post by Jeremy Thomas on the Chinese Saber, the Dao.

 Dao: The First Weapon of Kung Fu

"Cut pulling back,
 Cut pushing forward;
 Chopping the wrists,
 There is no enemy."

Most martial artists who aren't JSA (Japanese Sword Art) practitioners or smiths don't realize that the Japanese katana is a type of saber. If one were to seperate and classify a list of swords and sabers, it may look something like this:


U.S. Cavalry Saber

These are just two short lists of handy examples, but the general idea is: swords are for stabbing, sabers are for slashing/cutting.

Of course, there is overlap; swords have a sharp edge (or two) and sabers (generally) have a sharp tip. This observed, it's fairly obvious there is going to be a certain amount of overlap with technique between the two.

Which brings me back to the katana. 

When I started learning Lam Hung Pak Mei, I was mostly excited about learning jianfa. I thought, in essence, it would be most similar to the katana in usage. Little did I know, in most kung fu systems, weapons are taught in a certain order for reasons of progressive training. Even "little-er" did I know, jian is one of the most advanced kung fu weapons and is often taught late or dead last in weapons cirriculums.

What brightened this otherwise cloudy outlook was the dao, the Chinese saber or broadsword.

At that time, I knew literally nothing about it's use, forging methods/materials, nor history. I didn't really like the shape of it..

At first.

My very first lesson with my Sigung, Master Simon Lui Long Chun, we worked on daofa. Even early on, I could feel similarities in the mechanics of kenjutsu and iai, arts of the Japanese sword. Many techniques in kenjutsu ryuha (Japanese sword schools) are done one-handed, techniques known as kataté-waza (lit. one-hand technique).

Daofa felt exactly like kataté-waza.

One of the most common beginner's mistakes in kenjutsu and iaijutsu is the mistaking of trying to use too much power, or "muscle" cuts. As anyone who uses tools or weapons knows, you have to let the tool do the work. If one tries to "muscle" the dao (saber/broadsword) they will quickly burn up their ging, and the cuts will be weak and ineffective. Using different joints and points-of-rotation, one must use the centrifugal force created through large and small rotations of both the dao and the body itself. Using the off-hand, or empty hand, against the back, unsharpened spine of the saber creates a point of leverage to add extra speed (and thus, cutting power) to saber attack techniques. With any unserrated blade, it is always important to remember, deep cuts are made both pulling and pushing the sharpened edge against the target.

In our Lam Hung Pak Mei single saber form, our stepping is done "large", as in, we should cover as much ground with our steps as possible. The footwork should lend to the aforementioned rotations, moving as to allow the dao to "wrap" and "unwrap" around the body. Cross-stepping is often used to facilitate centrifugal force, allowing the body to rotate as the crossed legs "unwrap". This same footwork should be applied to "rotating" inside the opponent's range, when they are using a pole or spear.

To that point, it is wise to train the dao against an opponent armed with another dao, but training the dao against the gwan (staff/pole) should likewise be done often. Getting inside the longer range of the pole can require grabbing or knocking-aside the pole with the non-saber hand, which in real-time, requires a keen sense of timing.

This is yet another example of the principle we refer to as, "Beware the Empty Hand". In regards to training this principle, in this instance, the pole-fighter is learning as much about his range and attack/defense with his chosen weapon, as we are with the saber.

I'm very glad the dao is "the first weapon of kung fu. Coming from a strict Japanese martial background, the dao was a bridge between worlds, that helped me to feel more comfortable in a new environment, with a totally foreign art. In fact, the character for katana and dao is the same "刀".

Nearly 8 years later, I can now say the dao is my favorite kung fu weapon, and the one I practice most frequently. My students practice it frequently, as well; the Pak Mei Daan Dao (白眉單刀) form is an important form to my school, in particular. Because of the forms large stepping, it is one of the earliest templates I use to teach footwork. Holding the weapon builds grip-strength, arm-strength and encourages awareness. Lastly, Pak Mei Daan Dao was the first form I performed formally, in front of Sigung Lui, Sifu Aaker and the rest of the pai at the 2016 banquet. We put in a lot of time training and free-sparring with sabers.

Currently, I'm in the process of learning Liu Ye Sueng Dao, (柳葉雙刀), "Willow-Leaf Double Sabers". Two sabers are a great challenge, and one I'm enjoying taking on. The foot work for sueng dao is difficult, as is the "flowering", or double-spinning, but it is definitely a unique skill-set worth persuing. The following poem, or saying illustrates the different defensive approaches to single and double dao:


Single saber look hand,
Double saber look “to go”.*

(Look at feet, advancing or retreating)

On the field with archers, a single dao with a rattan shield (tengpai) would be a good set-up. However, certain positions and duties would lend to having two weapons in each hand, either of which can be defensive or offensive. On the field, foot work has to be consistently fast, at least until one can find cover from arrows and crossbow bolts.

Cutting high-speed projectiles out of the air can be done, but it's more trick than tactic, in my opinion.

A soldier or retainer skilled in the use of two sabers might be positioned as, "the last man guarding the gate"; abandoning all defense to protect his lord, employer or family.

The dao is a deep well.

The jian is an amazing and beautiful weapon, and a joy to watch in the hands of a master. That said, it can also be a joy to watch a beginner getting good with a dao, improving their confidence in other areas of training. 

Don't overlook the dao.

-- Jeremy


Joplin Pak Mei Athletic Association Contact Information:

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Special thanks to my Sigung, Master Simon Lui, whom taught me the fundamentals of the dao, personally. Additionally, special thanks to Sifu Ruston Aaker for his invaluable teachings on both the subjects of dao and sueng dao. Thank you, Sifu.

Thanks, also, to Rick Matz @ "Cook Ding's Kitchen", whose been kind enough to continue publishing my ramblings.