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 ~


Saturday, February 27, 2021

Kiai Training

Below is an excerpt from a post at Ichijoji about a severe form of training that took place in an old school of swordsmanship in Japan. The full post may be read here.

Some time ago I wrote about the hard training methods that developed in or were promulgated from the Meiji period (1868- ) onwards. Whether these were an authentic continuation or re-creation of the experience of bugeisha in the past is a moot point. The information I could find pointed to a strong influence from sources outside the martial tradition. 

One of the traditions I described, popularised by the Ichikukai (One-nine Society) and labelled in a general way as misogi, seems to have developed from a Shinto base and developed a fierce, Zen inspired overlay (with nods to the teaching style of Yamaoka Tesshu), involved continuous ringing of a hand bell while chanting, and which lasted for a period of several days. Tohei Koichi, the famous aikido teacher engaged in this training.

A variant, or at least, a very similar style of training is described by veteran budo practitioner Roald Knutsen in his book Rediscovering Budo from a Swordsman’s Perspective. Knutsen, whose personal experience tends to pre-date many of the current crop of writers on these kinds of things, sees this kind of training relating to Shingon mikkyo, and suggests connections through to the roots of bugei, likely renewed by individual practitioners in their personal travels and connections with esoteric teachings such as those of the yamabushi.
...
   Early on the first morning the students knelt in formal line with a few domestic dojo members behind forming the second row. Each visiting student was handed a small handbell, or ‘kane’, to hold in his left hand. they were required to throw out their arm to sound the bell and shout a loud kiai – ‘Ei – the movement timed by the slow beat of the large dojo drum. This exercise was repeated endlessly at the same measured tempo for two hours before the practise ended. That first day they had two more sessions, a total of six hours. Needless to say, their arms became very heavy and tired; their voices, too.
...
   The fifth morning came and most felt better for their rest although somewhat stiff. They assembled in the dojo and put on their kendo armour before continuing with the usual kiai training, but this only lasted for an hour. Then, facing them on the senior side were a number of tough-looking senior yudansha. A violent practice followed in which there was no way in their present condition they could hope to hold their own. Each of the seniors seemed to be harder than the one before … and the practices were interminable, but at last the drum called a halt. The dojo master now announced that they would all be required later to fight one-point matches, success or failure depending on the result. They were then dismissed.

Both my Kendo informants recalled the prospect of these matches as daunting and, in each case, their respective opponents looked uncompromising and hard. With little or no reserves left within them, this situation was close to facing a deadly enemy on the battlefield; desperate in the extreme. While each steadied himself for what was to come, the senpai reminded them of the teaching:
‘Don’t look with your eyes; see with your mind!’

All three masters recalled that they took standing ‘rei’ towards their opponent, they followed it with a great kiai – and the senpai at once struck the drum to signal the match was at an end! 
 



Thursday, February 18, 2021

Tang Dynasty Poems, #78: A Song of Peach Bossom River

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here. Today we have #78: A Song of Peach Blossom River.


A SONG OF PEACH-BLOSSOM RIVER

A fisherman is drifting, enjoying the spring mountains,
And the peach-trees on both banks lead him to an ancient source.
Watching the fresh-coloured trees, he never thinks of distance
Till he comes to the end of the blue stream and suddenly- strange men!
It's a cave-with a mouth so narrow that he has to crawl through;
But then it opens wide again on a broad and level path --
And far beyond he faces clouds crowning a reach of trees,
And thousands of houses shadowed round with flowers and bamboos....
Woodsmen tell him their names in the ancient speech of Han;
And clothes of the Qin Dynasty are worn by all these people
Living on the uplands, above the Wuling River,
On farms and in gardens that are like a world apart,
Their dwellings at peace under pines in the clear moon,
Until sunrise fills the low sky with crowing and barking.
...At news of a stranger the people all assemble,
And each of them invites him home and asks him where he was born.
Alleys and paths are cleared for him of petals in the morning,
And fishermen and farmers bring him their loads at dusk....
They had left the world long ago, they had come here seeking refuge;
They have lived like angels ever since, blessedly far away,
No one in the cave knowing anything outside,
Outsiders viewing only empty mountains and thick clouds.
...The fisherman, unaware of his great good fortune,
Begins to think of country, of home, of worldly ties,
Finds his way out of the cave again, past mountains and past rivers,
Intending some time to return, when he has told his kin.
He studies every step he takes, fixes it well in mind,
And forgets that cliffs and peaks may vary their appearance.
...It is certain that to enter through the deepness of the mountain,
A green river leads you, into a misty wood.
But now, with spring-floods everywhere and floating peachpetals --
Which is the way to go, to find that hidden source?


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Modernity vs Tradition

There has always been a constant tension between "Modern" martial arts vs "Traditional." 

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kung Fu Tea on this topic. Specifically, it has to do with the development of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu during the 30's in response to the advances of Kodokan Judo. The full post may be read here.

 Abstract

This article analyzes the transformation of a modernized Japanese school of martial arts, jujutsu (柔術), also known as jiu-jitsu, jujitsu and/or Kodokan judo, into a Brazilian combat sport. In the 1930s, the Gracies, supported by a nationalist regime, launched a comprehensive process of jiu-jitsu reinvention that evolved into a local combat sport at the same time as the inauguration of the Estado Novo dictatorship in 1937. This study argues that the Brazilian jiu-jitsu is the direct outcome of clashes pitting the Gracies and Japanese immigrants that occurred against a background of radical nationalism, violence and ideological polarization. The creation of a local jiu-jitsu encompassed a wide range of changes in techniques, philosophy and rituals borne from the clash between tradition and modernity.


Introduction

Around World War I, a branch of a Scottish-cum-Rio de Janeiro family with genteel pretensions, joined a troupe of Japanese martial artists and adopted jujutsu (hereafter, jiu-jitsu) as part of their circus act. The surname of this family was Gracie. After having moderate success in the Amazon, they faced economic hardship in the 1920s upon their return to Rio de Janeiro. In the face of this, the Gracies sought to use their jiu-jitsu skills to meet the challenges posed by their failing social status during the transition from the ‘Old Republic’ to the Getúlio Vargas regime. Their trajectory might be taken to confirm the identification between the new regime and the emergent middle class, as suggested by Michael Conniff [1981]. However, the Gracies were not part of the emergent middle classes. 

Rather they can be said to fit better into Brian Owensby’s characterization of Brazilian society of the 1930s: this proposed a category of déclassé aristocrats, ‘descendants of traditional families struggling to adjust to the challenges and uncertainties of an increasingly competitive and diversified social order that had eroded the social hierarchy of mid-nineteenth century slave society’ [Owensby 1999: 45–46]. Nonetheless, the Gracies’ trajectory certainly shows that, in modern Brazil, white or light-skinned individuals from the ranks of once elite groups still enjoyed privileges within the new regime.
This context played a crucial role in the creation of what is today widely known as Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), an internationally successful, rapidly globalizing martial art and combat sport, which was pioneered and promoted by the Gracie family throughout the twentieth century. In the twenty first century, the Gracies are still closely – almost indelibly– associated with BJJ. 

Yet remarkably little scholarly research has been carried out into the socio-cultural and political context of its historical formation. This article seeks to redress this balance.
In the early 1930s the Gracies used their martial arts skills to replenish their cultural capital and regain social status. They did this by introducing the practice of jiu-jitsu into the newly created paramilitary gendarmerie, known as Polícia Especial (Special Police). The provisory government, headed by Getúlio Vargas, had created the Special Police (Polícia Especial) in 1932 as a branch of Rio’s police department as part of comprehensive reform which restructured the state security apparatus [Vargas 1938: 34-35]. The raison d’être of this Fascist-inspired unit was ousting Getúlio Vargas’ representative in São Paulo. The casus belli was the new regime’s failure to comply with the demands of São Paulo’s oligarchies for constitutional rule [Burns 1993: 351-352]. Also in 1932, a coalition of landowners and industrialists politically sidelined by the coup d’état in 1930, deposed Varga’s interventor (appointed state governor) and declared war on the authoritarian regime. 

After nearly three months of military engagements, federal armed forces defeated São Paulo’ troops, which were made up of state militias and volunteers. In order to avoid any repetition of such an event, the new regime organized storm trooper squads, fully devoted to Getúlio Vargas, whose primary mission was to protect the regime [Bonelli 2003: 14]. Physical prowess and martial arts skills were the most important requirements and considerations when it came to drafting new recruits, and the unit worked in combination with the political police (Departamento de Ordem Política e Social –D.O.P.S.). Throughout their existence, both forces were deadly efficient and infamously identified with the more repressive facet of Vargas’ authoritarian regime.1

As a result of their insertion into Getúlio Vargas’ security apparatus, the Gracies enjoyed protection under the new regime. In this article, I analyze how they launched a process of reinventing Japanese jiu-jitsu within a context of growing nationalism and the active construction of national identity, most notably during the implementation of the Estado Novo dictatorship after 1937.
Strongly supported by the regime, the Gracies ran their jiu-jitsu operations in Rio de Janeiro only a few blocks from the presidential palace. By contrast, rival martial artists settled in the epicenter of Japanese immigration, 400 kilometers away, in São Paulo. The rivalry between the Gracies and the Japanese martial artists reflected the existence of two competing projects for modern Brazil. The Gracies came to represent the nationalist alliance between Rio’s old elite and the new power holders hailing from oligarchies established in peripheral Brazil – an alliance that was not without xenophobic overtones. Conversely, the Japanese martial artists symbolized São Paulo’s agro- industrial elite option for immigration and multiculturalism.
The dynamic of the rivalry between the Gracies and the Japanese fighters reveals the ambiguities within in the discourses just mentioned. The Navy was the branch of the military that had pioneered the practice of jiu-jitsu, and it sponsored some of the best Japanese
martial artists in Brazil during the 1930s. At the same time, the Navy traditionally recruited officers of genteel background. In this context, their antagonism toward the Gracies reveals an inter-elite dispute within the bureaucratic apparatus created by the new regime [Beattie 2004: 91]. Accordingly, in this article, I analyze the genesis of Brazilian jiu-jitsu using two conceptual frameworks. For, the creation of a Brazilian national identity took place, on the one hand, in a context of growing foreign immigration and, on the other, in terms of a nationalist influence [Lesser 1999]. During the 1930s, the Gracies found themselves in a quasi-Hobbesian state of war against all challengers. When fighting Brazilian wrestlers, the Gracies were simply seeking to enhance their status and prestige within the new political establishment. But when fighting the Japanese, they were in a more complicated way becoming figures of national identity and simultaneously representatives a distinct local fighting style.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

A Martial Arts Vow of Poverty?




Today we have a guest post from Jonathan Bluestein on the idea that somehow, martial arts teachers should be modest to the point of poverty. Enjoy.

Do Martial Arts Teachers Vow to be Poor?


There are many myths pervading in the public about the martial arts, as a result of people having watched one too many a movie about them. One of the worst is the idea that a martial arts teacher must be modest, to the point of being poor.   

Yesterday I was conversing with a very esteemed intellectual, someone whom I do not know well, but I respect. That person wrote to me the following: "There is also, however, another polarizing issue common in the martial arts world - publicizing one’s teacher on a public forum".   
I was haunted by that statement for a few hours, having written by such an otherwise knowledgeable and respectable person. He had come to believe that martial arts teachers should not advertise their skills and teachings - not even by proxy through their own students. I am here to tell you, that such a point of view is not only technically mistaken, but is also inherently inhumane, for several reasons:   

Firstly, I have been in the martial arts for many, many years. As a teacher and author, I get to speak with dozens of other martial artists every week. I do believe that people who share an idea as expressed above, are not even one in a thousand. It is not a popular opinion in our time.   
Secondly, such a notion completely negates the need for a professional to make a living in a respectable manner. The world of the 1960s and 1970s, when people could gain a clientele solely by word of mouth, is gone. This is an impossibility for the majority of self-employed persons and professions, especially martial arts teachers. In a market wherein everybody competes over advertising, and often put much money into it also, one cannot afford to sit at home and wait for income 'to happen'.       

Thirdly, that this mode of thought belittles and depreciates the profession of the martial arts teacher, relative to others. No one would dream to demand of a lawyer, a doctor or even a carpenter, that they ought not advertise their service, or order their clients to refrain from writing good things about them in public. Why then, expect such things of a martial arts teacher?

Fourth, that this contrasts with the basic humane values of a family. In traditional martial art instruction, wherein there are good relationships, the students gradually become almost like the family of the teacher. What in life gives one more pride and joy, that one’s offspring going about the world and happily share their positive impressions of the person who taught them skills and virtues? Would that not be the delight and pleasure of any parent, that their children demonstrate such devotion, affection and allegiance? This is one of the humane pleasures we experience in life, and to view this as being ‘wrong’ is an insult to the nature of our species.

The teachings of martial arts must follow virtues in a commonsensical manner. When a notion such as modesty overrides one’s ability to put food on the table, it becomes a moot point. We must not only refrain from acting in such ways that are contradictory to success and happiness, but also endeavour to educate the general public, that they ought not expect us to be silly, just because it appeals to their mistaken conception of what a martial arts teacher ought to be.

We should remember also, is that Modesty is an extreme – the opposite of Vanity. What is to be expected by the virtuous person is not the worship of Modesty, but the application of Propriety. That is, being appropriate relative to the circumstances. Is that not one of the main lessons derived from the practice of any martial art?


Jonathan Bluestein is best-selling author, martial arts teacher, and head of Blue Jade Martial Arts International. Check out his website for more information about his books and the martial arts taught by his organization: www.bluejadesociety.com
You may also subscribe to Shifu Bluestein's youtube channel, which is regularly updated with rare and fascinating martial arts videos and lectures:    
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCmg7ZGfBdToVl_p_KAfMR2A





All rights of this article are reserved to Jonathan Bluestein © 2020. No part of this article may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission, in writing, from Jonathan Bluestein.




Sunday, January 31, 2021

Etiquette in the Dojo

Dojo etiquette, the way we behave in our training hall, isn't just ritual for the sake of ritual. There is meaning behind it. By conforming to the norms of the dojo, we put ourselves into a certain state of mind to train and study. More practically, our observance of etiquette insures that everyone is in a safe, stable state in potentially dangerous situations, like when edged weapons are being used.

Below is an excerpt from a post at The Dojo Shorinkan blog on dojo etiquette. The full post may be found here. Enjoy. 

One of the most unusual and hard things for both students and parents to adjust to when beginning martial arts training is the etiquette in the dojo. A dojo is a place of learning in which students as well as instructors place a great amount of emphasis on what can be referred to as traditional values. Most authentic and good dojo will have their Dojo Rules poster somewhere that is visible to both students and visitors in their dojo. To help new students / parents to the dojo understand how things are handled in the dojo it is important to cover several topics on this.
First understand what a dojo is. A Dojo is not a gym. It is not a place a student comes to the hang out or play. Students are there to train, improve and build self confidence, self discipline and perfect their martial art. It is also not a soccer field where parents can yell, complain and tell the coach what to do. 

In a good dojo there will be none of that and most parents struggle with this ideal but this is Karate, not kiddie sports. A Dojo is a sacred place full of etiquettes, tradition, sweat equity and improvement. It is held sacred to every student and black belt that trains there. Students and visitors will adhere to strict guidelines, treat the Sensei with respect at all times and help keep the dojo looking clean and in good repair. A Dojo is considered the home of the Sensei so it is important that students and visitors act accordingly.
In any good Karate dojo one of the most important rules is etiquette. We are human and we learn by trial and error. Many things in the dojo are forgiven when it comes to training but misbehaving, disrespect and unruliness are definitely not forgiven nor taken lightly. This rule applies to every student from the white belts to the black belts equally. In fact the higher rank a student becomes the more strict the guidelines for etiquette are held. It is the responsibility of each student to make sure those who follow behind them do so in proper fashion and with great respect to the etiquette rules of the dojo. It is important to note that corrections to one’s behavior comes from the top down, never from the bottom. In other words the Sensei is in charge and no one else should assume they can discipline a student without the Sensei’s permission.
ENTERING & EXITING THE DOJO
 

The first lesson a student will learn is proper placement of their shoes and how to enter the dojo. As we stated earlier the dojo is a very highly respected place. A new student will be lead to the entrance to the dojo by their Sempai (Senior). They will receive instruction on how to bow before entering and exiting the dojo. This is the first lesson as all Karate training begins and ends with respect, no exceptions. The next lesson is learning how to “bow in” before class and “bow out” after class. This can be both informal and formal depending on the class structure and what is taking place that day in the dojo. Regardless of the level of formality a student should always bow their best, most humble at all times.
To bow the student stands with their feet together, placing their hands at their sides. The bend at the waist (no hunching) to a 45 degree angle with their eyes looking downward. The only time we maintain eye contact is when we Kumite or do not trust the person across from us. Looking a senior rank in the eyes while bowing is very disrespectful. The second way we bow is in Seiza, or kneeling posture. To sit in seiza one steps backward to their right knee, followed the left knee. Males sit with their knees apart and females with their knees together. The belt is placed on the outside of the thighs. 

Hands rest on the thigh and the back is upright in posture. To bow your left hand touches the mat first and the right hand touches second forming a small triangle. You bend at the waist getting close to your hands but you do not have to touch them. Standing up from seiza is the reverse of kneeling…left comes up then right and stand up.
If you find yourself in a large group of students studying and class is over always be patient, allow senior ranks to exit first and then take your turn. Never cross in front of senior ranks or push, shove your way to leave the dojo. This is very rude, discourteous and will result in discipline measures by the Sensei. It is important to remember that every bow is done with the utmost courtesy and humbleness. Anything less is never acceptable.
ARRIVING LATE TO CLASSES
 

Yes we live in a hustle and bustle society but that never is an acceptable excuse for poor manners. 

Arriving late for scheduled things is considered disrespectful both inside and outside of the dojo. 

Proper manners dictate you arrive early, at least 10 minutes before class. You should have your required uniform and items for classes ready before the bow in of the day’s session. If, for some reason, you are to arrive late wait at the door until you are permitted to join in the session by the Sensei. Never just walk into the dojo because you may walk into a punch, kick or worse…a weapon strike. This is a safety measure, not a disciplinary one.
LINING UP FOR CLASSES
 

About a minute before class is set to begin the senior student will call out for everyone to line up. 

Lining up for classes consists of the junior ranks in the front and the most senior in the rear facing the front of the dojo where Sensei stands. It is also important to note that the lowest ranking student stands to the right in each line. If you are the same rank as others just get in line…it doesn’t matter who earn it first! Taking too long to get into line up position is not respectful and can result in the entire class being issued discipline by the Sensei. This happens mainly because you are wasting valuable class training time which is a major do not do in the dojo.
EVERYONE STARTS AT THE BOTTOM
 

Many people fail to understand this concept but in Karate there is NO other way for you to learn. 

Upon joining the dojo you will quickly find out that no one gets favored or special treatment. Even if the Chief Executive of a major business joins a dojo they will begin at the bottom. Whatever they have accomplished outside of the dojo has no bearing on their training and they are no better than each student standing next to them. Like I said everyone begins at the bottom in the dojo…no exceptions.
MOKUSO – PREPARING OF THE MIND
 

Mokuso is a meditation time before class and sometimes after class. During this procedure, which can be done kneeling or standing, students are to close their eyes, relax their breathing (in nose out mouth) and allow their mind to prepare to receive instruction. When done at the end of class the mind is to focus on retaining what the lessons of the day were about. During this time we learn to “quiet our mind”. This is a time to dispel negative thoughts, fears and to build our focus and attention.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Suburi

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7 on the history, development and practice of a basic Kendo drill, Suburi. The full post may be read here.

... Note that one Butokukai related figure – Sato Chuzo sensei – was a bit of a suburi fanatic. In his writing’s he explicity states that a sempai taught him suburi casually at Busen, i.e., he wasn’t taught it within class time. I’ll attempt to translate and introduce his views on the subject in the future.
In amongst the books I have access to, however, I did find a couple that do refer to suburi: Hotta Sutejiro’s 1934 “Kendo Kyohan” and Tanida’s 1935 “Kendo Shinzui to Shidoho Shosetsu.”
In both of these books the use of suburi is seen in two ways: one, as part of the warmup process prior to putting on men, and two, as an exercise to help acquire both tenouchi and ken-tai-ichi (moving the body and sword in unison). Suburi is not treated at much length in either book though, and doesn’t seem to be regarded as that important.
First, here are a couple of small quotes from Hotta’s book. Note that he doesn’t use the term “suburi” but instead uses “undo” (運動) or “junbiundo” (準備運動) which mean “exercise” and “warmup” respectively.
The procedure for two handed exercises
“Two handed exercises” are warming up strikes and thrusts that train the grip, elbows, and shoulders accurately as well as help speed up cutting action and and correct the swords flight path.
And…
Training methods to bring the hands and feet in unison
Cutting shomen by moving forward and back. When moving forward do so with the right foot and left foot following, and the opposite when moving back. At the same time lift the hands up into the jodan position and strike shomen. When doing so don’t put any power in the hands or legs, move lightly. Ensure that the the right hand and shoulder are in line with each other upon the strike. Learning the knack of this is through repetition alone.
It is with Tanida’s book that we finally discover a section entitled “suburi.” Note that before this section is one with the strikes executed in the exact same manner (under command) as mentioned above.
Suburi
Using a bokuto or shinai and imagining the enemy standing in front of you, suburi is a cutting practise method executed with full power.
It then goes on to give not only a detailed explanation of what suburi is for (tenouchi, ken-tai-ichi, etc.) but mentions some people who were known for doing a lot of it, for example Yamaoka Tesshu.

What is crucial to mention here is that all these books and new training methods had one thing in common: the move away from the traditional one-to-one method of training into “group teaching” exercises. This is obviously because for the first time in kendo’s history you had one instructor running a class of x number of students. This method of training was to change kendo training irrevocably and it is what we do today.

The paired suburi-like exercises described in Takano’s books (and in most other books) was done at the command of the teacher: “ICHI!” (lift up hands) – “NI!” (strike) – “MODORE” (go back)… etc. This command-based group teaching style seems to have been the norm in school/instructional situations prior to and throughout the war, and can still sometimes be seen in children classes today. This method lent itself easily, as we shall soon see, to the addition of group suburi practise....




Monday, January 25, 2021

Japanese Vintage Martial Arts Documentary

Below is a ~70 minute long vintage documentary on Japanese Martial Arts. It's in Japanese. 

My Japanese isn't good enough to keep up, but you ought to be able to follow. At any rate, it's fun to watch.


Friday, January 22, 2021

Mushin and How to Achieve It

Below is an excerpt from The Shotokan Times, about the topic of Mushin. Mushin is "no mind," basically being immersed in a flow state while the action is happening all around you. The full post may be read here.

What is Mushin?


Mushin: the term is a shortened form of, ‘Mushin no shin’ (無心の心). This Zen expression means, basically, ‘mind without mind’. It refers to the state of ‘no-mindness’. Or the state of mind that is not fixed, not cluttered by thoughts or emotion. Therefore nothing will get in the way of the self as it acts and reacts according to its training and exactitude’s. In combat or in any part of life where much preparation has been undertaken. 

What is Mushin in Practice?

Mushin is achieved when a karateka’s mind is free of random thoughts, free of anger, free of fear, and particularly free of ego. It applies during combat, and or other facets of life. When mushin is achieved during combat there is an absence of loose or rambling thoughts. It leaves the practitioner free to act and react without hesitation. He reacts according to all of the study and training that has brought the karateka to this point. Relying on, not what you think should be your next move, but on what your trained, instinctive, subconscious reaction directs you to do.


The Zen Foundation of Shotokan

This Zen mind state is just one of the esoteric accoutrements which complement the consummate, experienced and well-practiced martial artist. Legendary Zen master Takuan Sōhō is reputed to have said,
“The mind must always be in the state of flow, for when it stops anywhere that means the flow is interrupted and it is this interruption that is injurious to the well-being of the mind. In the case of the swordsman, it could mean death. When the swordsman faces an opponent, he is not to think of himself, his opponent, or of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The swordsman deletes his rational mind from the situation as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man’s subconscious that strikes.”

No Doubt, but Belief!

Belief is the ally of the highly trained karateka, soldier, police officer, or high-risk security operative. Belief is the supporter of mushin, and will have your back. Doubt, on the other hand, the enemy of mushin that could cause your downfall. Mushin will save your life in the worst case scenario. However, make sure you have put in enough time, training and dedication to dispel any doubts. Because doubt can destroy your mushin. In that worst case scenario mentioned, doubt is the backstabber that could get you killed.

Kata and Mushin

Although it is difficult for the inexperienced, inept or novice kata judge or instructor to identify. Mushin can be and must be demonstrated during the performance of kata. Without mushin, kata becomes just a sequence of moves strung together in a kind of karate dance. When practicing kata, practice mushin also.

Similar to many of the esoteric concepts utilised by the martial arts, it is by no means exclusive to them. Mushin, in Japanese, or wuxin, in Chinese, could be termed as a light, Zen meditative state. All arts can recognize and utilize it: painters, actors, singers, dancers, sculptors, poets, writers, and much, much more.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Teachings of Ben Lo


Scott Meredith is a direct student of the late Ben Lo. Below is an excerpt from a post made by Scott, remembering some teachings of Master Lo. The full post may be read here.


Master Benjamín Lo: Teachings

Compiled by Scott Meredith 

https://www.facebook.com/scott.meredith.393

https://studio.youtube.com/channel/UCPJ6HXitJTvzRsx7wtzW3LA

These teaching points have been compiled through decades of personal experience of Master Lo's teachings. They are not published per se in any other book or publication, either in Chinese or English to my knowledge, though any article or interview with Master Lo will naturally reflect similar content.

The Power of Zero

Ben told us, after demonstrating his usual total ease in moving, pushing, or throwing a much larger, stronger, and more physically more impressive opponent:

“Normally we think that if he has 100 pounds of force or power, I better have 150. But then if I get 150 pounds of force, he may have accumulated more himself. Or there’ll be somebody else with more. So next time it will be my 150 against his 200. Then I’ll need to go to 250... and still, there’s always going to be somebody with more than me. It's an arms race in that direction. So I need to reverse my approach. I need to take my own power down to 0. Then there’s no chasing or spiraling. Nothing can change. If he has 100, I have 0. If he has 150, I have 0. If he has 200, I still have 0, on and on, whatever he has, I’m always beneath it, it doesn’t change or affect me. I’m not chasing his attributes, or competing, or catching up, or exceeding him. That’s Taijiquan.” I’m not saying this idea and practice is easy for ordinary students, like ourselves, to grasp. But it is food for thought from the master, who could always demonstrate it on anybody - no matter how large or how tough or how experienced a fighter.

Finding your own Beautiful Lady's Hand (美人手)

This is the procedure Ben sometimes teaches to help us find 美人手 correct position:

Stand close to a wall. Place your entire forearm up against the wall, with your palm facing the wall, and with your fingertips together, pointing upwards, extended naturally along the wall's surface. Don't force your arm against the wall, but conform to the flatness of the wall in a relaxed way. The base of your palm is very lightly touching the wall surface. Let your forearm and straight hand and fingers align and rest naturally, let them be slightly heavy against the wall. This is approximately the shape and feeling of Beautiful Lady's Hand (mei ren shou 美人手 in Mandarin).

Which Taiji form posture is best for static holding practice?

People sometimes ask Ben whether one or another of the 37 postures of the Cheng form is especially good for "holding" practice (keeping the same position for many minutes to check your form and relaxation). When I asked him this, he said: "No posture is 'best', all are good. Same thing as going to a party, you can always find at least one friendly person to talk to, and you can eventually find a practice posture that suits you very well."

How can we practice Taiji in a very limited floor space?

Ben told us two main ways to handle a space-limited practice condition:

  • If you have room to stand up at all, you can probably stand in one of the Taiji form postures. This is actually one of the main practice methods taught by Ben for general usage, not only space-limited. It is called 'zhan zhuang' in Chinese (see Teaching #3), and it can be extremely arduous - particularly if you really try to maintain the full 5 Principles at each moment ... as time passes. Obviously this method is available to you wherever you have room to stand up.
  • But once when I pressed Ben with this question about doing the entire continuous form in a limited area, he surprisingly showed me that the entire Cheng Taiji set can be performed in just four square feet of space! I can't describe each adjustment here, but actually it was very intuitive, just stepping back or moving in place where you would have gone forward. You can maintain all the 5 Principles and complete the entire 37-posture sequence in just four square feet of space. So, no excuses for non-practice!

What is the best way to work on basic fixed step push hands practice?

When I first started with Ben, students would work mostly on fixed-step, double-hands tui-shou. It got extremely vigorous and, frankly, competitive at times. After I'd been there a few years, Ben came up with a new emphasis. More and more he emphasized an alternative practice format for fixed-step push hands, whereby one person would be the designated pusher and the other the designated yielder. The yielder should not actively push, but simply try to neutralize the incoming force of the designated pusher. Every 15 minutes or so, we'd switch roles. I think he felt that people were better able to control their inherent ego and aggression under this more controlled format. I certainly learned a lot from working in this way.

He also introduced me to another variation on that theme, which was that I was to stand in 70/30, using Left Wardoff shape (but on either side), and the designated ‘pusher’ was to have 3 individual chances to push me out (move my foot). This is not a continuous exercise, each attempt from the challenger is to consist of one integrated move, not devolve into a continuous tussle like normal push hands.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Book Review: Aikido Comes to America


Aikido Comes to America by Antonio Aloia is published by Tambuli Media

This is a really different book on about aikido. This isn't a book about techniques or philosophy. It's about the rise and decline of akido in the US. 

I love the history of martial arts, particularly that period from the 50's through the 70's where martial arts practice in the US was emerging and forming. 

Aloia recounts how servicemen stationed in Japan brought back karate, judo and to a lesser extent, aikido and began to establish dojo. Americans began to brush up against Asian cultures and interest began to stir in Asian martial arts. The seeds of the idea of budo training were being planted

I have dim memories of Honey West. Certainly Bruce Lee in The Green Hornet was a shot in the arm. When the one-two punch (ha!) of The Kung Fu TV series and Enter the Dragon arrived, then asian martial arts experienced a boom and aikido road the rising tide along with everything else.

All along, the major aikido styles: AikiKai, Yoshinkan and Shodokan (Tomiki style) began to send senior instructors to the US and Canada to help foster the growth. Americans began to travel to Japan, learn aikido and eventually return to establish themselves.

Love or hate him, Steven Seagal was responsible for a huge boom in interest, unique to aikido, that arrived when his movies were released, beginning with Above the Law. Whatever you may think about him as a person, an actor or even about his aikido, he filled dojos.

 Aloia doesn't shy from describing the politics that took root. Where judo for instance, is pretty straight forward in what it is - it's philosophy and practice; aikido , for better or worse, is not. 

Philosophically, what aikido actually is depends on the practitioner. And so, with many American teachers reaching mature rank, and more Japanese senior teachers arriving, rival organizations were established, some split and split again. He describes it all.

There has been a decline in interest in the practice of martial arts. The UFC has helped to buoy up mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, but all martial arts are in decline and aikido is under-performing. 

Citing a survey, only 15% of active aikido practitioners (at the time, probably less now) had been practicing for less than 4 years.

Alioa explores some of the many reasons for this. His description of the poor state of martial arts practice in general and aikido in particular was written before Covid has taken a wrecking ball to the industry. 

Many dojo have closed and most of them will likely not reopen. 

Near my last home, a mixed martial arts gym was just about to open. The owner had finished his renovations and moved in his training equipment, when Covid caused a statewide lock down. He never opened his doors. I hope that the would-be owner survives the financial loss.

Near my new home is a well established karate dojo that hosts a small aikido class during normal times. I joined, but instead of 6 to 8 students practicing aikido, there are now 2 or 3 of us practicing iaido; keeping the training habit, working on skills that applicable to akido once the lock down is lifted, and biding our time.

Aloia goes on to offer suggestions for what the martial arts community at large and aikido organizations and teachers specifically can do to help turn around or at least mitigate the trend so that our practice is sustainable for the future.

I liked Aikido Comes to America and I think that you would too.

Vintage Silat and Weapons video

Below is a vintage video feature Silat and it's associated weapons.


Sunday, January 10, 2021

What is Karate?

At the Shotokan Times, there was quite an article that broke down just what Shotokan Karate consists of. Below is the table of contents. The full post may be read here.






Shotokan Karate: The Fine Martial Arts


Table of Contents






What is Shotokan Karate? A Definition

Shotokan (松濤館) is a Japanese martial arts. It belongs to the fighting and self-defense system Karate (空手). Karate itself has been developed on the islands of Okinawa. 

According to the famous karate blogger, Jesse Enkamp, Shotokan is the “world´s most popular style” of Karate.

Shotokan Karate comprises a wide range of techniques like:

  • Keri-waza (kicks),
  • Uchi-waza (punches), and
  • Uke-waza (blocks).
Karateka execute all techniques from a variety of stances called tachi waza. Fighting on the ground and the application of an elaborated set of tosses and throws like in Judo or Wrestling is not part of the style. Shotokanka prefer to face opponents in a standing position.