Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, 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, May 07, 2021

The Last Man Standing

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7. It reads like a scene from a samurai movie - a new teacher arrives at a dojo and mops the floor with the senior students, all of whom had a chip on their shoulders.

The full post may be read here. Enjoy!

When Miyazaki Mosaburo, then 35 years old, walked in to the Butokuden as a newly minted kendo instructor at the end of the summer of 1927, the young busen students weren’t aware of who he was. Well, perhaps they heard rumours, but they certainly weren’t ready for what was about to happen. 

At almost 180cm, he was a good deal taller than everyone else there. His 94 kgs would’ve been equally as impressive to the lean kendoka that huddled together earlier that day and conspired together to knock him off his perch. Unlike nowadays, it was normal (even expected) for students to go full out and attempt to physically overpower those senior to them, to test them as it were. It was never going to work out how they planned… 

In 1909, the young 17 year old Miyazaki became a live-in student of the Butokukai’s head kendo instructor Naito Takaharu. He came to Kyoto to enter the Koshuka of the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo – martial art teachers development school – but why Naito chose him is unknown. Perhaps it was the potential that lay within his physical stature, or perhaps it was the young mans taciturn nature (which he would keep for his entire live), who knows. At any rate, young Miyazaki lived with Naito and his wife for a number of years (exactly how many years we are not sure, at least three, potentially more). 

We know how he spent his time there for the first three years because he kept a diary detailing his habits as well as his (and Naito’s) comings and goings (only three years worth have been found). As a a historical document it is invaluable. 

During that time he cleaned Naito’s house, looked after his wife when she was ill, prepared breakfast, attended Kusonoki sensei’s lectures at Nanzenji (often along with Saimura Goro – an article for the future),  as well as attend keiko at the Butokuden. His proximity to Naito sensei is unrivalled (except perhaps with Shinohe Taisuke), and he was almost certainly extended certain privileges in later life because of it. 

Despite not being as well known as some of Naito’s other early students (Saimura, Mochida, Nakano, Ogawa, Oshima, Shimatani), it is almost certain that he was his favourite. Naito ensured that Miyazaki stayed in in a junior instructor position when he graduated, found him a good job in Mie prefecture, and called him back to Kyoto when a Busen teaching position became available. Which is where our story started.

The number of student positions available each year at the full time Busen course was extremely limited (by this time the Yoseijo had evolved in to Busen proper). Those that managed to enrol had to be not only physically able, have prior experience, and pass a difficult entrance exam, they also needed some sort of recommendation letter as well (from someone of standing or a prior graduate). Most kendo students who went through Busen did so in the Koshuka or speciality (kendo or judo) only course. Students there did not attend academic lectures and their keiko was set at a different time (though the teachers were the same, and many full time students joined it as well). 

Many had other jobs and most stayed only for a short duration. In later years (1920s) students on the full time course would be awarded government approved teaching certificates (allowing them to find work easily). At any rate, there were two tiers of students, with full time students being the cream of the crop.

The students that Miyazaki faced in the summer of 1927 were those from the full-time course. When he himself went through Busen almost 20 years earlier (its forerunner, the Bujutsu Kyoin Yoseijo) as a Koshuka, the difference between the full and part-time students was minimal. Now, however, the full time students had an air of superiority about them.

The students plan was simple: tire the old man out and beat him up. 

The first student that was sent up was a senior, fourth year student. His job was to non-stop attack the new teacher and exhaust him, allowing the other students to beat him down. The plan didn’t work. The opening kirikaeshi was intense. By the time it had finished his fighting spirit had dwindled. When jigeiko started he tried to strike kote-men and was sent flying on his back. Striking his head on the Butokuden floor, he was concussed.

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

The Samurai and the Squirrel

In addition to his fame as a warrior, Miyamoto Musashi was a noted artist. Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Ichijoji. The full post may be read here.

The bushi were a cultured lot – some of them, anyway – and Japan was a cultured society. Nowadays, when we look at the art of great civilisations, we tend to value it for its beauty – indeed, that is one of the things that attracts us to art in many of its forms. However, there is a lot more to art than that (as a cursory glance at any display of contemporary art will tell us) – and there always was. 

As a form of communication, art has messages and meanings beyond the aesthetic. Its value as a didactic and political tool was well understood by the rich and powerful of feudal Japan. Decorative schemes in castles, temples and residences contained subtle and not so subtle messages that their audiences were practiced in reading. They were messages about power, morals, aspiration – the usual things. The artists might also include details pointing to their lineage, linking to well-known works, thus emphasising the connection with more famous predecessors. (This was happening in the Kano school, where the sidelined Kyoto branch thought it necessary to point out that they were just as much, if not more, worthy successorsto the Kano traditionthan the politically favoured blood descendants of the founder who ran the Edo branch – their paintings were also beautiful, as you can see here). Other works of art operated on a smaller scale, with more personal messages for the satisfaction of the careful viewer.

Which brings us on to an often overlooked painting byMiyamoto Musashi: Squirrel and Grapes

As a subject, it was an auspicious one, symbolising abundance and fertility: grapes are obvious images of plently, while squirrels were seen as being like mice which were known for having large numbers of offspring. Perhaps not an obvious choice for Musashi, although it could be argued that it reflects a feeling of personal well-being and satisfaction with his position in the world. Indeed, at this stage, relatively late in his life, he was a guest of the powerful and cultured Hosokawa family in Kumamoto, far from the reverses he may have suffered in trying to establish himself in the capital. However, there is more to it than that.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Kyokushin Karate and Budo

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Martial Way, describing the Budo practice of Kyokushin Karate. The full post may be read here.

As we sit and regain our composure on the mats, Sensei talks talks about the importance of the right mindset. He poses the question, what is Karate? What is the difference between karate and sport? While closely related, obviously, due to the physical conditioning aspects, what differentiates Kyokushin Karate from sport, he tells us, is the aspect of Budō.

Budō literally translated is “Way of War” or The Marital Way. Budō is a compound of the root bu (), meaning war or martial; and (), meaning path or way. It’s in essence the modern rendition of Bushido (武士道); literally “the way of the warrior”.

Bushido was a way of life for the Samurai (warrior class of feudal Japan). This included a code of ethics and disciplines that shaped the way a Samurai should live. Though there are no more samurai, the ethics and standards still live on in the teachings of various schools of martial arts. Budō is the discipline associated with martial arts that shape the way a true martial artist (Budō-ka; 武道家) should live. Budō refers to a way of life, led by those who practice martial arts.

This is extremely important for young students, as it is the building blocks of integrity, honesty, empathy, leadership, and responsibility. It naturally builds confidence in a young person.
Like honing a sword, we are honing our spirit along with our bodies. Sensei tells us that by respecting the Etiquette of the dojo we are furnishing the noble qualities of the soul, which distinguishes Kyokushin Karate from sport, and the budō-ka  from an an average athlete. It isn’t just about being able to do an exercise or to fight. It is about doing so with attention to detail. With respect not only given to your fellow martial artist, but to yourself and the environment around you. About striving to be the best you can be.
Though Kyokushin Karate may not be descended from Samurai, Karate is descended from nobility, of both Bushidō, and Budō.

According to the karate master Gogen Yamaguchi:

“Budō did not originate in a peaceful atmosphere.  It was necessary to protect one’s life at the time, and to learn how to use Budō as a weapon and achieve one’s responsibility as a warrior.  It was the warrior’s duty to develop spirit. … It was necessary to obtain a technique to protect oneself, and one had to have a strong spirit to correspond to that.  When one could overcome a conception of death, there was an improvement of a human being as a Samurai.  When it was developed, karate-do was used in place of weapons and studied that way, so that the spirit of the Samurai was needed at the beginning of its conception to learn karate.”


Sunday, April 25, 2021

Donn Draeger, the Pioneer

I've posted about Donn Draeger previously. Below is an excerpt from an article about this giant in bringing Asian martial arts to the west that appeared in Budo Japan. The full post may be read here.

It must have been around 1977. I was only ten years old and my fascination with Japan was already going strong, with all the strength a child of 10 can muster and I was always pressuring my father to buy me any books related to it and its culture (I didn’t call it “culture” back then –it was just “anything about Japan”). Knowing that I was enthralled by the stories of an old war buddy of his, a war correspondent in the Korean War and one of Greece’s judo pioneers regarding the martial arts, one day he brought me 3 slim tomes from a series titled “Practical Karate” filled with pictures of a middle-aged rather plump Japanese and a big, tall Westerner showing self-defense applications of karate techniques; the two men were the books’ authors and they were Masatoshi Nakayama and Donn Draeger. 

This was the first time I came across the name “Donn Draeger”; with time, I would see it again and again in English-language publications related to the martial arts of Japan. But it would take another 10 years until I discovered in a martial arts’ bookstore, the only one in Athens, the work that I later found out was considered by most his “magnum opus”: the trilogy Martial Arts And Ways Of Japan comprising of Classical Bujutsu, Classical Budo and Modern Bujutsu & Budo. Like most people outside Japan, this was my first exposure to a systematic chronicle about the martial arts ofJapan and their development from the times of the Hogen Monogatari and the Heike Monogatari to Shorinji Kempo, the most modern style recorded by the time the books were written (i.e. early 1970s). And like many people outside Japan, I was captivated.

As captivating as his subjects were, was Draeger himself: he wrote with an authority displaying a knowledge of his subject far deeper than that of most academic researchers –and if those pictures of the “Practical Karate” books were any proof, it looked as if he had done some training himself so I knew I had to find out more (remember, this was pre-Internet and I was living in Greece so I believe I’m allowed some ignorance). So I started searching in books’ databases and libraries and martial arts magazines and slowly and painfully an amazing story started unfolding: this man was so much involved in pretty much everything related to the martial arts –and not only of Japan, even though he seemed to have specialized in those- that it was impossible to have trained in all of them to the extent and depth his writings suggested.

With time I came to realize that he had. Although he never went for the spotlight, others wrote about him –among them his friend and collaborator Robert W. Smith (1926-2011) an ex-marine, ex-CIA employer posted in Taiwan in the early 1960s, a prolific writer in the subject of Chinese martial arts and one of Tai-Chi’s most strong supporters and evangelists in the eastern US. Despite being very emotional (not to mention loquacious) in his writing –they were close friends, after all- his account of Draeger as narrated in his 1999 martial arts autobiography Martial Musings gives a quite detailed sketch of the man and his numerous accomplishments. And when I say “numerous” it is not a figure of speech: if it wasn’t for many eminent martial arts’ teachers and practitioners, Westerners and Japanese corroborating the facts, it would be hard to believe that one man could have done so much in just 30 years.

Sometime along the way the Internet came and access to information became much easier; in the meantime I had also developed a personal network of people who had lived or were still living in Japan so I had the opportunity to ask more about this remarkable man, Donn F. Draeger (this was how he signed most of his work and this is how he is usually mentioned in writing). And more begat more and with time I came to realize that there was little exaggeration when it came to Draeger’s life in the martial arts: he had indeed been there and done that –whatever “that” was. Moreover, he had done it well enough and earnestly enough to earn the respect of pretty much anyone who met him. In a world as subject to pettiness and small-mindedness as any, I have yet to hear one bad word for Donn F. Draeger.

When I came to Japan I started looking for him; not the man himself of course since he had been dead for over 25 years but for his footprints in bookstores, libraries and dojo. And while in the beginning I was astounded by the fact that there weren’t any, with time I came to realize that it made sense: by all accounts, Draeger was a very private person and really devoted to his work researching the martial arts and his training. His closest collaborators in his martial arts’ research were also foreigners who with time (before or after his death in 1982) had returned to their countries and even though most of them made sure to keep his memory alive in stories told to their students or in publications, online or paper (like Smith’s) he didn’t leave any students in Japan while the organization formed to function as a focal point for his research, the International Hoplology Society, was also based in the US.

So apparently little has been left of him in Japan, the country that was his home for half his life and to whose martial traditions he had dedicated his life. There are memories of him still surviving in the minds of some of the (now elderly) Japanese budoka who met him and trained with him in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s but not a record of his actual trip. This article as well as the one that will follow in a future issue is an attempt to collect some of these memories and introduce to a younger generation of Japanese this really important man.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Six Levels of Song

"Song," or relaxation (more or less) is an important concept in Taijiquan. Below is an excerpt from a post by Adam Mizner which appeared at his blog on DiscoverTaiji. The full post may be read here.

Within the traditional teachings of the Yang family, Song is divided into 6 levels. Each level dependent on the one before it and inclusive of all before it.
It’s important to understand that Song is always release, and that the six grades of Song are refinements on this one principle, much like milk becoming cream, becoming butter and so on.

松開 Song Kai – Open

When the body is closed, bound up and filled with Li, Song is not possible. In order to achieve the first level of Song, it is first vital to open the body.

Traditional training in Taijiquan involves various exercises designed to stretch, separate and liberate the tissues of the body. This openness of the tissue within the body, allows one to begin to touch the first quality of Song, namely openness. So the opening of the body allows one to taste Song, after which, Song, or release of the tissue allows the body to open. So we open to Song, and we also Song to open.

When one observes the Da Lu, performed by a competent practitioner, it is clear that all the joints of the body are open and not compressed. The tissue is released and free.

This initial stage of Song, Song to open, begins the process of allowing the Qi to move within the body, where it previously could not because of tension and blocks that needed to be opened. This is traditionally called Kai Men, or Open the Gates, referring to the energy gates within the body. When these gates are open, it allows the mobilization of Qi and Jin to travel, unifying the body from toes to fingertips.

While external methods may use contraction force, and the closing of the muscles around the bones to generate power, this is strictly taboo in Taijiquan, for it restricts Song and the one flow of Qi.

松沉 Song Chen – Sink

The second level of Song is Song to Sink. At this stage we must understand that Song and Qi move together. When we begin the training, all the joints, tissues and diaphragms of the body, act as gates or dams which are tightly closed. The first level of Song, Song to Open, opens these gates, or destroys these dams. This allows our body to function as an open conduit.

Openness allows sinking, we Song to sink the Qi. The sinking of the Qi to the Dan Tien is of paramount importance. When there is no Qi in the Dan Tien, this is considered having no Qi from the Taijiquan point of view. In fact, the Dan Tien is widely misunderstood as simply a region of the body, or something that is innate. We are born only with the Tien, or the field, but it is empty of Qi, it is empty of Dan, or the Elixir. Only after extended periods of authentic practice, with a well developed quality of Song to Sink, does the Qi begin to sink to the Tien, accumulating drop by drop over time, to form the elixir, and thus one has formed the Dan Tien.

When engaging with an opponent or training partner, any resistance within our body creates bracing, which is a quality of Li. This brings your force and center up, away from the ground, causing the Qi to float. When the Qi is floating, one becomes top heavy, clumsy and easy to tumble. Song to Sink is the antidote.

Mental activity and emotional turbulence also cause the Qi to rise. In order to achieve Song and for the Qi to sink, one must develop a calm and tranquil mind, as well as emotional stability. This calm and stable mind can then be used as a powerful tool, because the calm mind has Yi, or mind intention, at its service. The Yi is used to command Song, while the Ting is used to recognize Song to Open and Song to Sink.

In the Neijia arts, one of the most important practices is Zhang Zhuan, or Standing post. The purpose of Zhang Zhuan is twofold. The first aspect is aligning the skeleton with gravity. 

This alignment, which includes the quality of Song to Open, decompressing the joints, allows the skeleton to act as efficiently as possible, allowing the flesh to release and sink. 

The second aspect is Song to Sink. Once the skeleton is aligned and open, the sinking process can begin. Without the openness of the body, sinking is not possible - the internal dams caused by tension (contraction) and blockage, stop the downwards flow of Qi. Standing practice in this way is an excellent method for developing the initial stages of Song to Sink, and sinking the Qi to the Dan Tien.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The 48 Laws of Power, #36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have

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 #36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have.

Here is a bit of Stocism.

Remember: You choose to let things bother you. You can just as easily choose not to notice the irritating offender, to consider the matter trivial and unworthy of your interest. That is the powerful move.

Desire often creates paradoxical effects: The more you want something, the more you chase after it, the more it eludes you. The more interest you show, the more you repel the object of your desire. This is because your interest is too strong— it makes people awkward, even fearful. Uncontrollable desire makes you seem weak, unworthy, pathetic.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Yoshinkan Aikido on Discovery Channel

Some time ago, Discovery Channel paid a visit to the Yoshinkan Aikido Hombu and met with Kyoichi Inoue. 

Inoue Sensei and my own teacher, Takashi Kushida began their training under Gozo Shioda on the same day, those many decades ago. It was Inoue and Kushida who organized the training system that we recognize today as Yoshinkan. 

In the 80's, there was a movement to create an international organization, the International Yoshinkan Aikido Federation (IYAF). Kushida chose not to bring his own Aikido Yoshinkai Association of North America (AYANA) into the IYAF and became a persona non grata in Yoshinkan. His name has been all bust erased from the official history of Yoshinkan Aikido. 

Kushida Sensei's AYANA lives on as the the Aikido Yoshokai of North America, under the leadership of his son Akira, since Takashi Kushida's death a few years ago.

Anyway, the Discovery Channel episode was split into three segments for YouTube, which you'll find below. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Taijiquan and Wrestling

At the age of 60 Master Huang Sheng-Shyan, a student of Cheng Man Ching, demonstrated his abilities in Taijiquan by defeating Liao Kuang-Cheng, the Asian champion wrestler, 26 throws to 0, in a fund raising event in Kuching Malaysia.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Thursday, April 01, 2021

The Life of Judo Founder Jigoro Kano

Below is a video about the life of the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano. It's not so much about the man as a martial artist, so much as about him as an educator. Enjoy.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Small Circle Jujutsu

Wally Jay was highly ranked in both Danzan Ryu Jujutsu and Judo before founding his own Small Circle Jujutsu. Below is a video of him demonstrating his art. Enjoy.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Xing Yi Quan Dragon

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Tai Chi Notebook, which explains the importance of the Dragon in the study and practice of XingYiQuan. The full post may be read here.

The Dragon is unique amongst Xing Yi animals because it is the only mythical one. Yes, I’m aware that some lineages of Xing Yi include a Phoenix as one of their 12 animals, but I think this is simply a mistranslation of Tai, a kind of flycatcher bird native to China. You sometimes also see it mistranslated as Ostrich, which is even stranger. You occasionally see Tuo translated as “water lizard”, or “water strider”, but it’s clearly a crocodile, another animal that is (or effectively was) native to China.

The question of why Xing Yi, whose animal methods are based on real, observable native animals, should include a Dragon we’ll leave until the end of this post, but for now, let’s look at its characteristics.

Dragon in San Ti Shi

The Dragon is one of the important animals in Xing Yi Quan because, together with Bear Shoulders, Eagle Claw, Chicken Leg, Tiger Embrace and Thunder sound, Dragon Body forms the famous San Ti Shi posture, (different lineages have slight variations on those, but they’re fundamentally the same).

Dragons in Chinese mythology have very flexible spines – they fall and rise through clouds with a long, flexible body that coils and rotates, twists and turns. You often seem them decorating Asian temple roofs, or spiraling around a pillar.

It’s the flexible nature of the spine that is the characteristic we seek to emulate in Xing Yi Quan. In Xing Yi the spine is characterised by a coiling action, a counter-rotation between hips and shoulders, that means the practitioner can easily generate power, or, always has the potential for generating power from all positions.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Ritual Archery in Japan

Below is an excerpt from a Japanese based website about the use of archery in important Japanese Shinto rituals. The full post may be read here.


 Bows and Popular Shinto Rituals

 Bows are not just associated with samurai, but are also more broadly seen as a part of Japan’s culture. Bows and arrows make appearances in Japanese myths, and as a result, many Shinto shrines feature rituals related to them.
One of the most well-known is horseback archery, Yabusame. However, stationary archery, Obisha, is also performed as a Shinto ritual in many areas throughout Japan. The Obisha festivals are held either to pray for a good harvest or to divine how crops will grow that year. In the Shinto ritual called Omato shinji held at Kifune-jinja Shrine in January in Togane, Chiba Prefecture, an archer shoots 12 arrows to divine the harvest for the year. Also, in a festival called Musayumisai, held at Samukawa-jinja Shrine on January 8 in Sagami, Kanagwa Prefecture, arrows are shot at a target marked with the word Oni (ogre) in order to tell fortunes for the year.

  Are both of these styles held as Shinto rituals? If so, I suggest revising to say: Both stationary archery, Obisha, and horseback archery, Yabusame, are held as Shinto rituals in many areas throughout Japan.
 Words relating to archery also appear in every day language. The phrase Te no uchi wo akasu (“to show one’s hand”, reveal one’s thinking, plans, or skills) comes from the positioning of the hand on the bow (te no uchi). Since one’s technique in holding the bow influences the accuracy of the shot, precise techniques were a carefully kept secret. Another common phrase, Kakegae ga nai, refers to something irreplaceable or very precious, is said to refer to Yugake, an archer’s leather glove for the right hand used to draw the bowstring. There are other words, such as Yaomote ni tatsu (to stand in the line of fire, that is, to take blame or criticism), Mato wo hazusu (to miss the mark, to be off target), and Zuboshi (to be on target, to hit the bullseye), that were derived from archery.
  The bows and arrows seen in archery training halls all over Japan have a long tradition associated with them, and the practice of archery has been a significant part of Japanese culture, contributing to everyday language, religious rituals, and even divination.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Dao De Jing, #78: Nothing in the World is Softer than Water

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 #78: Nothing in the World is Softer than Water.

Nothing in the world is softer than water,
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong.
This is because nothing can alter it.

That the soft overcomes the hard
And the gentle overcomes the aggressive
Is something that everybody knows
But none can do themselves.
Therefore the sages say:
The one who accepts the dirt of the state
Becomes its master.
The one who accepts its calamity
Becomes king of the world.

Truth seems contradictory.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Shiro Saigo and Yama Arashi

Shiro Saigo was an early follower of Jigoro Kano, soon after he founded the Kodokan. Many competitions were held between the Kodokan and older, established schools of Jujutsu. Saigo's victories was partly responsible for the ensuing popularity of Judo as a result.

He is said to have invented the "unstoppable" Yama Arashi throw. 

Akira Kurosawa based the film Sanshiro Sugata on the life and career of Saigo. 

Below is a short documentary on Saigo.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Kosen Judo

Back in the day, there was a athletic school league in Japan that held Judo competitions. Because the students were all fairly new to Judo, the rules favored grappling over the more difficult throwing techniques. This was known as Kosen Judo and resembles what we recognize as Brazilian JiuJitsu now. Below is a short video clip about the differences between "Regular" Judo and Kosen Judo.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Who Owns a Martial Art?

Is Karate necessarily Okinawan or Japanese? Judo? What about BJJ? 

Kung Fu Tea has an interesting article about how martial arts undergo changes as they have gone out into the world, beyond their native homes and what that means. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

***In the last week I have found myself delving ever deeper into the literature on Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) designations and the traditional martial arts.  When seeking to understand the relationship between politics and these fighting systems, one would be hard pressed to find a better case study.  Still, before going on to tackle some of the more complex aspects of this topic, it might be worth going back and asking a few basic questions about the timing of this trend.***

“Inoue said the Japanese style of judo traditionally focused more on quantity rather than quality, trying to instill a tough mentality. But in Europe, which Inoue describes as “the mainstream of judo today,” judoka train more efficiently.
“A balance between efficiency and inefficiency and a balance between scientific things and unscientific things — you have to look at those, otherwise there’s no progress for our game,” Inoue said. “We’ve switched our mind-set that way.”

Who owns a martial art?
On the surface this question would seem to have an obvious answer.  Most of these systems come with a specific name (kendo or taijiquan), and they fall into generally accepted categories, such as Japanese Budo or the Chinese martial arts. The very act of describing these systems in the English language seems to underline an obvious fact.  The martial arts are best understood as the technical and cultural property of the previously mentioned nations.  It is all a matter of common sense.
Unfortunately “common sense” has a nasty habit of transforming itself into complex assumptions that no one ever questions.  For students of nationalism, a fairly modern political ideology spread and popularized in the 19th and 20th centuries, an assertion like the one above might begin to raise eyebrows.
While Chinese citizens during the Qing dynasty were certainly aware of the existence of the state and their responsibilities to it, most contemporary accounts indicate they did not think of themselves as members of a unified, polyglot, “Chinese nation” during the late imperial period.  Instead they were much more likely to organize their identity around lineage groups, regional locations and patronage networks.  Strong feelings of national identification didn’t really grip the populace until the founding of the Republic in the post-1911 period.  And yet many of the traditional martial arts (including systems like taijiquan and wing chun) were already well established through local and regional networks prior to the rise of the “the nation.”
The case of “Japanese” Karate makes an even better case study of the complex relationship between the emergence of hand combat systems and national identities.  As many of us already know, this art first came to Japan from Okinawa.  There it went through a process of fundamental transformation, rationalization, and even renaming, before it was determined that it could be a vehicle for the new strain of Japanese nationalism that was then insinuating itself into the martial arts.
So does that mean that Karate is originally an Okinawan martial art?  Possibly.  Yet again the story is more complicated than our nationally focused narratives might suggest.  Hand combat was particularly popular in a couple of areas of Okinawa, and it is not clear to historians that all of these practitioners shared a common style.  And various arts from Southern China (including White Crane Boxing) likely played a critical role in popularizing these modes of hand combat in Okinawa.
So does that mean that Karate is really a Chinese art?  Probably not.  When we push historical arguments to their logical conclusion we find that knowledge about a practice’s “genetic origin” are often unhelpful in understanding how a community actually understands itself and functions today.
While a regionally focused approach to understanding the development of the Asian martial arts shows a lot of potential, the ancient origins of individual techniques have little bearing on their current identity.  This point seems obvious enough.
When a modern American undergoes genetic testing and learns that a certain percentage of his DNA originated in Poland, he may be able to claim previously unknown Eastern European ancestry.  Yet he can’t really claim to now possess a “Polish identity.”
That is a matter of deep cultural knowledge and life experience.  If you are depending on a blind genetic test to discover some aspect of your genetic heritage, we can safely assume that it plays little role in your actual cultural identity.  Nor would most people make the mistake of conflating these two categories when talking about genealogy.
So why do we tend to conflate similar categories when discussing the martial arts?  Why do we routinely assume that some quirk of our wing chun practice shows its deep “Chinese heritage,” particularly when hung gar and taijiquan people do things very differently in similar situations?

Nationalism, Globalization and the Martial Arts
I blame nationalism and, more recently, globalization.  Let’s start with nationalism.
When a country sought to enter the nation state system during the 19th and 20th century their acceptance was not assured.  One joins this club by being accepted by the other members.  As certain students of nationalism have observed, potential nations had to clear a couple of barriers to justify their claims.  First they had to prove that they possessed a unique culture (often in the form of a print language and folklore), a homeland, and a population.  In short one had to demonstrate that your national identity was unique, and not simply a variation of some larger identity.
Yet in joining the international system Benedict Anderson keenly observed that one accepted that your “unique nation” was now on equal footing with every other nation.  To be a member of a nation is to realize that every stranger that you encounter is also a member of an equally august body.  So while on one level all nations are unique, on a more fundamental level they are also interchangeable.  

And this realization cleared the way for a certain sort of competition between them.
One of the reasons that I am interested in the Asian martial arts is that they grew up in conjunction with this new category of “nation states.”  While we tend to assume that both of these things are impossibly ancient, emerging from the mists of time, in truth they are fairly recent.  Still, the roots of these combat systems in the late imperial period were well enough established that reformers could offer them up as proof of an “ancient and continuous” body of unique cultural traditions which supported the claims of legitimacy of the newly established national identity.
Why then do we believe that Karate reveals something essential about the “Japanese character”?  Or that Taijiquan is the key to understanding the Chinese “national experience”?  Because people have been repeating these assertions since about 1920.
Nor do I expect that these patterns of belief will change any time soon.  We now have a sound understanding of the actual historical development of these combat systems, and this is a good thing for those wishing to develop an academic discussion of the martial arts.  Yet the accelerating process of globalization has only served to reinforce the fundamental dilemma that popularized these myths in the first place.