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 ~


Thursday, August 05, 2021

Obituary for the Founder of Amerindo Pencak Silat


Ellis Amdur is a well known martial artist and author. His many books on martial arts and other subjects may be found here.

At Mr. Amdur's excellent blog, Kogen Budo, there appeared a guest post which was an obituary for the founder of Amerindo Pencak Silat, 90 year old Jim Ingram.

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

...

An elderly man in ball cap and windbreaker walks his toy dog around the neighborhood. Beneath the visor of his cap, eyes smile from behind his glasses. He waves and nods to people as they pass. A harmless old man. But what the passers-by don’t know is that they have been assessed for potential danger. This smiling old man constantly scans the environment for threats and items that he might use as weapons: without paranoia, he catalogues them. In his own estimation, he won’t last long in a fight at his age, so this, too, he takes into account.

On June 12, 2021, Jim Ingram died at the age of ninety. Among other things, Ingram was the founder and head of the Amerindo Self-Defense System. He created this mixed system, drawing from numerous combative traditions, mostly Indonesian in origin, but also including modern military combat training, all filtered through Ingram’s real-life experiences. He considered this to be a family art, making all of his students part of that family. His students all call him Oom, meaning Uncle in his mother tongue, Dutch.

When Ingram heard of the death of one of his seniors or contemporaries, he would say: “When a teacher dies, a world of knowledge is lost.” In the following, I share a little bit  about the man who gathered, tested, and passed on this knowledge, and how his personal vision of survival intersects with other martial traditions–about this world of knowledge that has recently been lost.

James Ingram Jr.

Jim Ingram referred to himself as a survivor and a teacher of survival. He experienced street violence in colonial Indonesia, Holland, and the United States; imprisonment in Japanese occupation camps; and serving as a draftee in the KNIL (Royal Dutch East Indies Army), experiencing combat against Indonesian independence fighters post World War II. His approach to combatives came from a lifetime of learning, training, and experience. He learned from teachers of various systems, but always insisted that he wasn’t a ‘martial artist.’ He claimed not to have even heard the term ‘martial arts’ until he moved to the United States.

He was born in 1930 in a place that no longer exists, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia). He was an Indo: a Dutch-Indonesian, the mestizo class of that colonial time and place. Generally, the Indos started with Dutch fathers and local mothers. They were set apart in the colony, learning from both sides of their heritage, but also never completely part of either the native society or the European. This type of social strata is common in colonial settings, and the contradictions of partial inclusion and exclusion were most clearly revealed after independence, when neither side wants to admit the in-betweens into full membership. In this wise, the Indos often served in mid-level roles in the colonial administration. Ingram’s father, for example, was a member of the Netherlands Indies Police Force in Jakarta.

Ingram’s father was his first teacher in combatives: pukulan (West Javanese striking arts) and police tactics. As a lot of the police force in the Dutch East Indies was made up of Indos, this was a space in which native and European forms of combat met and mixed in a training environment (as opposed to an actual combat situation). The pukulan that James Sr. passed on to his son (Pukulan Japara) was typical of the native combat traditions that were practiced in the police forces. Police and military personnel were more likely to practice native forms of combat at this time, because they had a ‘legitimate’ reason for doing so. Otherwise, local traditions of fighting were seen as suspect and low-caste.

The Indos of West Java didn’t refer to this as silat at that time, but spel (Dutch for play) or maenpo (a Sundanese term for fighting, denoting speed and subterfuge). Generally, the Indo approach to combat traditions is eclectic and practical, reflecting, perhaps, their social position where they had to be adaptable, depending on what social milieu they were in. Traditionally in Indonesia, the martial art one learned was whatever was local, and you spent a lifetime learning just that. This can be seen in the names of the older (pre-Independence) systems, which often were simply the names of the village. For example, Cimande (one of the oldest West Java styles) is the name of a village, and Pukulan Betawi could be translated as ‘Betawi Boxing’ (Betawi being the Indonesian rendering of Batavia, the Dutch colonial name for the place now known as Jakarta). Since independence, there has been a proliferation of silat styles that reflect the vision of a founder, rather than simply the locale of their origins.

Through his father’s connections, Jim gained access to his next teacher, Willem Lorio. Lorio was a retired sergeant in the KNIL and was recognized as a jago (local strongman/champion/enforcer) in Kampong Kwitang, where Lorio and the Ingrams lived. In contrast to what one usually expects in martial arts training, Lorio did not start teaching Jim exercises, stances, or forms. He started straight off with bela diri (self-defense against various holds and attacks). This focus stayed with Jim throughout his life, and in particular, exemplified his approach to exploration of other methods. First learn the usage, and then pick up the form for solo practice.

Technically, Lorio taught from three systems: Kwitang, Silat Kemayoran and Spel Si Pecut. Following the Indo perspective discussed above, he did not stress tradition, forms, or history. Initially, Ingram was not interested in the history—he just wanted to learn to fight. Once, when he asked Lorio where this stuff actually came from, his inclinations were confirmed by his teacher’s dismissive response: “From Shaolin.”

Ingram’s early training served him well both in the Japanese occupation camp that, he says, stole his childhood, then later fighting for the Dutch queen’s rule over the Indonesian archipelago, and again in Korea, where he served as part of the Netherlands Detachment United Nations. Ingram’s military training consisted of “O.Z.” (ongewapend zelfvededeging – unarmed self-defense), in addition to training with firearms, knife, and stick. The Amerindo curriculum retains some of the lessons from this training, as well as from Ingram’s combat experience. During this period of military training, Ingram also learned some Pakistani wrestling that is incorporated into the Amerindo ground-fighting.

 

 

Monday, August 02, 2021

Kuzushi

Below is an excerpt from a post which was published at The Budo Bum on Kuzushi, or "off-balancing." The full post may be read here.

the word if everyone keeps using it. The truth is it’s a terrible translation.  Not the complete misdirection that is translating 柔道 as “the Gentle Way” but still pretty awful.

Kuzushi comes from the word “kuzusu 崩す” which according to the Kenkyusha Online Dictionary means “to break, pull down, tear down, knock down, whittle away at, break, change.” Judo is pretty clear about the process of throwing though, separating it into 3 steps that go kuzushi - tsukuri - kake. Tsukuri is roughly “making” and in this case is something like making the technique by getting in the right place. Kake is executing the technique. Kuzushi happens well in front of execution, so it can’t literally mean knocking something down in this case. We’re also not breaking our partner, so what are we doing?

My friend Michael Hacker likes to interpret kuzushi as “undermining the foundation.” For a long time, this was the best interpretation of kuzushi I had found. It’s quite a graphic and effective image. If you undermine the foundation of a building, it falls down under it’s own weight. If you can undermine the foundation of your partner, they will begin to fall down and all you have to do is direct your technique so they can’t recover.

I like this much better than the simple “off-balancing” that is the common translation. Getting someone off-balance is nice, but they can recover. From a tactical point, off-balancing is usually obvious to the person being attacked. If you subtly destroy the foundation of their stance though, they may not even notice that you are doing it. Often people can even be lead into compromising their own structure. If you can get someone to push or pull harder than can be supported by the foundation of their feet and legs, then you’ve undermined their foundation.

Undermining the foundation was my working concept for kuzushi for quite a while, and it helped me find the way to my current understanding. I’ve been working on a somewhat different way of thinking about kuzushi. I’ve found myself applying what I recognized as kuzushi not just when doing judo and aikido, but also when training in kenjutsu and jodo. At first it was just about getting someone off-balance or wrecking their foundation so they couldn’t resist my technique. In jodo, there are techniques where you attack your partner’s weapon, and if your attack doesn’t steal their balance for at least an instant and force them to take steps to recover, your technique has failed and you find a bokken uncomfortably close to your nose.

Then I started to envision the concept of kuzushi slightly differently. It was a combination of experiences from Aikido, Daito Ryu, Shinto Muso Ryu Jo, and several styles of kenjutsu. I found that kuzushi worked well in all of them. And not just the happo no kuzushi that is introduced in judo. Often what is happening is not the big movements described in judo classes where you are drawing, lifting or driving someone’s center of gravity away from the support of their feet and legs. It is much smaller and subtler.

  



Friday, July 30, 2021

William CC Chen and Taijiquan in America in the 60's.

William CC Chen is a famous name among Taijiquan masters. He was the youngest student of Cheng Man Ching in Taiwan. He came to the US, set up his own school in New York and teaches to this day. If you look, you'll find dozens of schools tracing their lineage back to Master Chen all over the US (if not the world).

However, I've always had the sense that he was a little "off to the side" coming from a mainstream CMC lineage myself. It's not that he established his own school early on in NY, but he created his own long Taijiquan form, rather than continuing to teach CMC's 37 form. The "family resemblence" is certainly there.

My own teacher (a direct student of CMC in NY) once told me that she considered that Chen was doing CMC's form, but it was expressed differently. From what she told me, there was no conflict.

Below in an excerpt from an article that was published at Kung Fu Tea on WCC Chen's early days, demonstrating Taijiquan in the US. The full post may be read here.

Introduction: The “Barnum Brawler” Brings Taijiquan to New York

I recently came across a file that turned up in an estate sale. It appears to have been part of the archives of a now defunct local newspaper that covered events in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights and Riverside neighborhoods in the 1960s and 1970s. This particular file caught my attention because it contained two press photos taken at one of Master William Chen’s very first Taijiquan demonstrations in New York City, as well as a (partial) clipping of the article that covered this event.
Both William Chen and his teacher, Master Zheng Manqing, played a critical role in the introduction and spread of Taijiquan in American popular culture during the 1960s and 1970s. As such I was thrilled to run across a first hand account (with photos!) of one of Chen initial demonstrations during the summer of 1965. Perhaps a few dates will help to put all of this into its proper context.
Chen’s performance was not the first exhibition of Taijiquan in New York City. That honor goes to Sophia Delza, a professional dancer and student of the renowned Ma Yueh Liang and his wife Wu Ying Hua who taught Wu style Taiji in Shanghai. She first hosted a Taiji exhibition at the MOMA art gallery in 1954 and by 1956 was teaching classes at the UN. In 1960 she graced the pages of Popular Mechanics (which occasionally covered the martial arts) and gave the first televised demonstration of Taiji in North America. Later in 1961 she published one of the very first English language books on the Chinese martial arts. Still, outside of a relatively small circle of martial arts students in New York, California and Hawaii, very few Americans knew much about the Chinese fighting systems, including Taijiquan, in 1965.
This was more than half a decade before the Bruce Lee inspired “Kung Fu Fever” that would bring the martial arts into mainstream popular culture. And even within the martial arts world, actual information on the Chinese styles remained limited. Black Belt magazine first featured a Chinese master on its cover (Wong Ark Yuey) in January of 1965, and it only started to feature regular article about these systems in the next few years. Nor would Bruce Lee appear on national television until 1967. The account presented below captures an important early moment in the popularization of the Chinese martial arts in North America.
Yet something other than the date caught my attention as I reviewed the file. It was the sheer strangeness of the photos. Over the years a few standardized “scripts” have developed for how we discuss and think about the Chinese martial arts. Hard qigong feats (while quite popular in public demonstrations in China) never seem to have become a central part of the western understanding of the meaning of these fighting systems. Yet the very first photo in the group showed William Chen, face covered with a towel, having a large stone broken across his abdomen. Nor, as the attached article makes clear, was this exhibition incidental to his attempts to demonstrate what Taijiquan was to an American audience.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

The Scourge of Keishicho


Over at Kenshi 24/7, there was a fascinating article on a period of kendo history. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

The political revolution that occurred in Japan across the entire second half of the 19th century brought in a slew of changes in all aspects of life for everyone in the country. The coup d’etat on the 3rd of January 1868 was the principal political event of the Meiji Restoration, but it took decades after that for the new nation to become a fully functioning modern industrialised country.

Kendo-wise, it is a super interesting period. Prior to the restoration event, there were professional kenjutsu instructors: some were samurai who taught bujutsu in their domains while others ran private dojo in cities and towns (and even taught commoners). After the restoration kenjutsu suffered badly (domains were dismantled in 1871), with most people giving it up completely. Sakikibara’s Gekken Kogyo, first held in 1873, was the spark that lit a new interest in kenjutsu, but it was Kawaji Toshiyoshi’s 1879 Gekken Saikoron, which led to kenjutsu instructors being employed in the fledgling Keishicho starting in 1881, which really saved things. 

Although I had done articles in the past or talked about many of the “first batch” of modern kenshi, e.g. Naito Takaharu, Monna Tadashi, Takano Sasaburo, and the like (i.e. Butokukai/Busen and Koshi related; sons of samurai who taught at domains but who never did themselves), I’d like to expand on that by introducing, now-and-again, the generation before – those that were actually domain kenjutsu instructors during the upheavals, somehow weathered the process, and directly influenced people like Naito and Takano. 

Today’s article is a brief bio of Takayama Minezaburo

September the 3rd 1865 (or 67), about 4pm. Two students of Momoi Junzo’s Shigakukan, Takayama Minezaburo and Akiyama Takichiro, were out shopping for the dojo (live-in students had to clean the dojo and cook for themselves) when they spotted a commotion. Listening in, someone said:

“Momoi dojo’s Ueda-san cut someone down in Matsuda!!!!” 

(Matsuda was the name in a restaurant in an area which is now Ginza)

They ran to restaurant as fast as they could only to be greeted with a lot of Shinchogumi guarding the vicinity, at least one of whom they knew:

“Don’t worry, Ueda-san is safe.”

On hearing the news Takayama ran back to the dojo to tell Momoi, who shook his head and said:

“What?! Again?”

(Ueda Umanosuke killed two drunk samurai: one was cut in the head and died instantly, the second was impaled on the end of Ueda’s sword and died shortly after. He spent three years in the gaol for the incident but it didn’t hurt his future career as a top police kendo instructor at Keishicho).

Takayama Minezaburo 

Takayama Minezaburo was born in 1832 (or 35 depending on the source*) in Ozu domain, Ito province (now Ehime prefecture in Shikoku) to a samurai family who taught Confucian Studies. When he was seven years old his father was relocated to Edo and brought his son with him. 

*(Note that it has been difficult to pin-point 100% accurate dates for this article, and some sources have been contradictory and/or confusing. I have tried my best to unravel things.)

At some point Takayama started to learn kenjutsu under Fujikawa Yajiro (Jikishinkage-ryu) before eventually studying with Kondo Yanosuke (Itto-ryu Chuya-ha), and finally with Momoi Junzo at Shigakukan (Kyoshin meichi-ryu; many famous Meiji-era kenshi would spend time at Shigakukan). The exact length of study and dates are unknown, but what we do know is that Takayama made the switch to Shigakukan at quite a late age – sometime in the early 1860s. He would’ve been around about 30, unmarried, and lived in the dojo – a rare combination for someone his age. 

The politics of Japan at the time are very complex and those trying to make a living via swordsmanship faced tremendous difficulty, especially after the events of 1868, and things for Takayama were no different. 

At some point after the event at Matsuda described above in 1868, Takayama relocated to Kyoto and started to instruct kenjutsu at Toda Ishinsai’s very large and very popular dojo in Kawaramachi. It is during this time that Takayama would make a connection that would shape his entire life. 

Meeting

Takayama was from the same province as Toda, as well as also being a Jikishinkage-ryu swordsman. As Toda was older and didn’t teach much anymore, he soon allocated the daily instruction role to Takayama, who by that time was a skilled fencer. 

The dojo, based as it was in centre of Kyoto (which was still, for a time, the seat of the imperial court) was a mecca for kenshi from all corners of the country, many of whom were ronin and (soon to be ex-) samurai. There was much political talk going on, and not a little intrigue. Here a young ambitious samurai from Hirado province (now Nagasaki prefecture), Kuwata Gennojo, was sent to collect information (and gossip). He wasn’t the most committed of spies though. 

Kuwata (Shingyoto-ryu, later Muto-ryu) loved kenjutsu so much that it was almost as if his mission was forgotten – he went to the dojo daily and practiced with earnest. He was especially inspired by Takayama, who was tall and lean – Kuwata was small and stout – and at least five years his senior. Kuwata’s kenjutsu was no match for Takayama’s either and the relationship (despite Kuwata already having a Menkyo-kaiden in Shingyoto-ryu) was very much a teacher-student one. 


 

 


Saturday, July 24, 2021

The Martial Arts of Minoru Mochizuki

Minoru Mochizuki has a unique place in modern Budo training. He achieved high dan rankings in Judo from the founder Jigoro Kano, Aikido from Morihei Ueshiba and Karate from Gichin Funakoshi. He went on to found his own martial art, combing what he learned, which he called Yoseikan Budo.

Below is a short video. Enjoy.


Wednesday, July 21, 2021

High Performance Through Relaxation

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Art of Manliness. It has to do with relaxation and high athletic performance. The full post may be read here.

Lloyd “Bud” Winter ranks as one of the greatest running coaches of all time. During his three-decade career at San Jose State College (now University), his track and cross-country teams won several national championships, placed in the top ten over a dozen times, and produced 102 All-Americans (27 who went on to become Olympians). His athletes set 37 world records. As the result of his success, SJSC’s track stadium was known as “Speed City.”

But before he was an illustrious coach of track and field achievement, Winter served as a facilitator of aviation success.  

During World War II, the U.S. military was concerned about the number of pilots who were cracking under the stress of aerial combat. The high tension and high stakes of the job were causing too many lost planes and lost lives.

Winter, who had previously studied the psychology of performing under pressure, was brought into the Del Monte Naval Pre-Flight School to head up a research program designed to help the school’s cadets relax.

Winter spearheaded the creation of protocol that aimed at alleviating mental and physical tension and was built around teaching the cadets to relax every part of their bodies – from the toes of their feet to the muscles around their eyes. The exercises were designed to help the pilots-in-training stay calm and cool in the cockpit, and also to fall asleep fast in their off hours, so that they could be better rested and less fatigued.

The program was a phenomenal success: the cadets who received the relaxation training improved their scores in both the classroom and on the playing field, and heightened their focus, increased their reaction time, and elevated their speed and stamina. 96% also learned how to fall asleep in two minutes or less, no matter the circumstances. (Click here to learn the technique Winter taught the cadets for falling asleep at the drop of a hat.)

After the war, Winter applied the tension-relieving techniques he had helped develop for combat flyers to creating world-class athletes. He wrote of his time at San Jose State College: “We preached relaxation from the time the athletes started their warm-up until they unlaced their shoes at the end of the workout.” Winter believed that trying too hard actually hurt performance, and that an athlete did better when he was going at nine-tenths effort rather than 100% all-out. His watchword for all his track and field athletes, from sprinters to shot putters, was “stay loose.”

With his distance runners in particular, he made their daily chant: “Let the meat hang on the bones.” By this he meant letting go of physical tension and allowing their “antagonistic” muscles — all the muscles not in use at a given moment — to relax. E.g., when you’re using the muscles involved in swinging an arm forward, you let the muscles used to swing it back relax.  

Of course, it’s a little hard to keep track of which muscles are and aren’t in use while you’re in motion, so the two biggest cues Winter impressed on his runners over and over again were “loose jaw — loose hands.” Winter thought that relaxing your jaw and hands “tends to keep your entire body relaxed,” and that this was especially true in regards to the former body part: “Relaxing your jaw is one of the keys to relaxing all over. If your jaw is relaxed, it is a good bet your whole upper body is relaxed.” Winter constantly reminded his runners to let their jaw sag, to let their whole mouth, even their lips and tongue, relax, and go for a “brook trout look.” And he’d get on them to let their hands go limp, instead of being tensely balled up.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

The 48 Laws of Power, #37: Create Compelling Spectacles

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 #37: Create Compelling Spectacles.

Shock and Awe is one aspect. A larger than life extravaganza. We're just sucked into it.  The flyovers, the fireworks. Think about product or movie premiers. 

There is just something about a huge event that is disarming, where we let our guard down and are open to the message that follows. The message takes on the size of the spectacle and itself becomes gigantic.

When you have an important message to deliver, you can make it even bigger by pulling out all of the stops.


Thursday, July 15, 2021

Conservation of Movement in Budo Training

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at The Budo Bum. The full article may be read here.


Most people don’t know it, but there is a  Budo Law of Conservation of Movement. Budo is conservative at its heart. We want to conserve movement, conserve energy, conserve time. The Budo Law of Conservation of Movement is:

One movement to do a hundred things, not a hundred movements that accomplish the same thing.

Why learn a hundred ways to do something when one will do the job? There are a number of different ways to cut with a sword, but I don’t know any classical art that teaches more than one of them. The same with sticks. There are lots of ways to swing a stick, but I don’t know of any martial art that teaches more than one (to the Shinto Muso Ryu people who are raising your hands to object, all those different strikes utilize the same body mechanics. There’s really only one strike and one thrust in Shinto Muso Ryu).  


Each koryu has its own way of doing things, and a real student of the ryuha imprints that way into their mind, their muscles and their bones. This is true whether you’re doing Shinto Muso Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Sekiguchi Ryu, or any other koryu. You won’t find classical systems with an overabundance of techniques or principles to master. Each ryuha takes a few basic concepts and teaches you to apply them to a variety of situations. Again, look at Shinto Muso Ryu. It’s commonly taught that there are four strikes in SMR, but all of  them are variations on the same strike. That’s it. One strike. Add one way to thrust and one trap and you have it.


Each ryuha has one way of doing things. Shinto Muso Ryu and its fuzoku ryu incorporate jo, tachi, kodachi, jutte, tanjo, and kusarigama.  That’s a wide variety of weapons, yet the principles and movement are the same. The student isn’t learning six discrete weapons. She is learning to apply one set of principles to a variety of weapons. Once the principles of movement, spacing and timing are internalized, it doesn’t matter what she picks up. She’ll apply the principles she learned on the jo the first time she picks up a tachi. Working with the tachi deepens the understanding developed while training with the jo. By the time she picks up a tanjo or a jutte, the teacher doesn’t have to teach her how to hold the weapons or how to swing them. She already knows the principles. She just needs a little practice to get used to the specific spacing and timing required by the new weapon, along with the specific patterns of movement that make up the kata. By the time she’s practiced with all of the weapons, she can pick up just about anything and intuitively understand how to use it applying the principles of Shinto Muso Ryu.

At that point the techniques just happen. The student has soaked herself in the principles of the arts. There isn’t any thought.  To move in a manner other than that of Shinto Muso Ryu would require concentration because by that point the Shinto Muso Ryu principles have been absorbed so deeply that they have become part of  her natural movements and responses.


Friday, July 09, 2021

Chen Xiaowang and Chen Liqing Demonstrating Chen Family Taijiquan

Introductory part of the movie "Taichi Boxer" (also called "Tai Chi Chun") 太极神功 released in 1985, showing Chen Xiaowang and Chen Liqing demonstrating Chen Family Taijiquan (Chen Liqing was one of the leading representatives of Small Frame). Both CXW and CLQ served as martial arts consultants in the production of the movie, but did not act there.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Sports as Budo with a small ‘b.’




Below is an excerpt from an article at The Art of Manliness blog on the positive and important aspects of sport. Approached correctly, I liken sport to "Budo with a small b." The full post may be read here.



Organized sports, from college athletics to local Little League teams, are slowly coming back to life after being on lockdown. There are those who will say that these activities aren’t “essential.” But they’ve been saying that since before the pandemic. And they couldn’t be more wrong.

There are folks who have long argued that sports are just escapism. Plenty of teachers and professors think athletic teams are nothing but a distraction from serious learning, and even an encouragement to bad behavior.
 
There are now politicized critics who whine that high-level sports foster too much competition. That they are too militaristic. Too violent. 
 
One super-trendy claim is that athletic competition encourages “toxic masculinity.” 
 
Those complaints miss fundamental truths about sports, for males in particular. For many boys and young men, classrooms are uncomfortable places. Athletic teams are often a saving compensation. 
 
When I first arrived on a college campus, I had a bad reaction. I didn’t appreciate the smugness and sense of superiority that I encountered among lots of smart people at an Ivy League university. I didn’t like the softness of many scholars, and their disconnection from the hard knocks and grueling demands that life places on less coddled citizens out in the real world. I didn’t see much respect on campus for the people I grew up with — who value grit, humility, and hard work much more than philosophical navel-gazing.


To escape some of the things I didn’t like about academic life, and to get closer to people I could admire, I poured myself into sports. I originally played on the Yale football team, then shifted to rowing. I sometimes tell people that I majored in rowing in college, and that’s only partly facetious. 


Eventually I found an academic path that excited me, and managed to create a life of the mind that I’m proud of. But I retain a deep respect for the life of the sweaty, bruised, and exhausted body, as well. 

Because, done right, sport is not just play. It is not trivial. When undertaken as a discipline (which of course is completely different from watching as a spectator) sport can be one of the most formative activities any human ever takes part in. 

It wasn’t in a classroom that I discovered the power of resilience and stamina. It was in sports. That’s where I learned to keep going despite hard blows. That’s where I accepted the necessity of drudging labor, and the irreplaceable value of preparation. 

Sport is where I learned the very most vital lesson of my entire life — which is that in any really fierce battle, the competition is not the person across from you. The competition is your own pain threshold, your internal discipline, your perseverance. Can you defeat your own weaknesses and go beyond your comfortable limits?

So much for athletic competition not being educational. 



Saturday, July 03, 2021

Yoshinkan Aikido in Canada

Kimeda Sensei is the Chief Instructor of Aikido Yoshinkai Canada. He is the highest ranking instructor of Yoshinkan Aikido outside of Japan. 2010 marked his 50th Anniversary in the Yoshinkan. This video was produced for that occasion.

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Aikido: Interview with Harvey Konigsberg


Over at Ellis Amdur's excellent blog, Kogen Budo, is an interview with one of the most senior living American Aikidoka, Harvey Konigsberg. At excerpt is below. The full interview may be read here. Enjoy.

How did you get started with aikido and what was your first impression?

 Harvey: It all started back in 1965. I was living in Manhattan in a loft on 24th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. I was also the building superintendent. My friend, Harry McCormick, who is also an artist, and I were in the same gallery in Greenwich Village, the Phoenix. Harry told me about aikido. Since I was living on 24th Street and the New York Aikikai was on 18th Street, it was easy to find my way there to check out a class. My friend, Clem Florio, went with me to observe my first class. He was a professional boxer, who had eighty-seven professional fights with boxers such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Jake LaMotta, and others. So, he was well versed and knowledgeable in boxing. (He was the boxing and racing editor for the New York Post.) We went to the Aikikai to see what this was all about. We entered the dojo, then up the stairs we go. It was a small class, but on the mat were Yamada sensei and Koichi Tohei sensei.

I had never seen anything like this in my life. I had already stopped pursuing boxing because I realized I really didn’t like getting hit. However, I missed the martial aspect and the activity. I saw aikido and asked myself, “What is this?” I think a lot of people associate aikido with the grabbing and throwing in judo or jujutsu, but I immediately equated it with what I loved about boxing—totally free movement—spontaneous movement. But I still did not know what was going on! Clem, who had better eyes than I, said, “You do not know how great this is – this is amazing! Do me a favor – when you start training, grab one of them, and let me know how it feels.”

I started about a month after that. They were a wild bunch, and it was rough training. People were from all kinds of martial arts backgrounds. They had to pry my hands open, since I was used to keeping my hands closed from boxing. Sensei approached me and asked me if I knew how to fall and I said I did, so no one ever really taught me how to roll.  I was persistent and kept going. I loved it so much! I was twenty-five then and physically strong, full of piss and vinegar from working, lifting heavy containers in a warehouse in Florida, before moving up to New York.

One time, Tohei sensei came up to me, and I put my arm out straight, and with one finger, he dropped me to the floor. I said, “Sensei, I was not ready,” He did it again. “Sensei, I was not ready.” He replied, “Are you ready now?” And again, I was on the floor. How did that happen? I had no understanding of what was happening. It became a great mystery for me. I was entranced.  Yamada sensei and Koichi Tohei sensei would train with us and throw us. The encounters were always different. They were always mysterious. I tried to capture that. It became my white whale. What was the difference in that feeling? How did that happen that I was on the floor? This is how I started aikido.

I went to the New York Aikikai for a year or two, then we moved to Montreal, and I panicked. How was I going to train? I started dreaming about aikido. You do not know how deep this goes into you at some subconscious level. By chance, I heard on French radio that someone was teaching aikido in Montreal. That was Massimo di Villadorata. I joined the dojo and trained three or four times per week. I got really hooked. I owe that to Massimo. I will always be grateful for that.

 You are now 80 years of age, and you are still practicing. What continues to draw you to continue practicing and teaching aikido?

 Harvey: This experience with aikido was life changing. I was once with Yoshioka Sadao sensei from Hawaii in Yamada sensei’s office, and Yoshioka sensei said that at a certain age—forty years or so—people in Japan stop taking break falls. I thought, “Why would I stop taking break falls?” My body could still do it, and this was before we got tatami. What we were practicing on at the time was much more forgiving in a certain way. Then Yoshioka sensei said, “When you make a sword, you start with raw iron, and you take a rock and beat it into shape. Then, as it takes shape, you take a finer rock. Finally, you use a rough surface to smooth it out until you have the final blade. In the end, you use a shammy cloth. If you took a heavy rock to it then, you would destroy everything that you had done.”

I still get chills when I think of this analogy; it resonated so deeply with me. What is interesting and what is conversely true is that when you start practicing, you do not use a shammy cloth. You need that process of the heavy rock; it is very important. However, if you start at a certain age, you cannot use that heavy rock. This analogy from Yoshioka sensei was life-changing in my relationship to aikido. This is part of my goal now, my focus, to use a shammy cloth.

We were practicing hard in our twenties and thirties, and physically well-tuned, and yes, I could bounce off the wall and be OK. I was resilient, but as one gets older, things change and one’s practice changes and adjusts. Suddenly, you begin to see the changes in your body and in your practice. As I adjust in my own practice, I see areas of power or areas that are much more profound. In many ways, it is even more fun. I am in a fortunate position in that, and for whatever reason – experience or seniority – I am a teacher. Yet I see many talented people who came along at the same time who feel that they cannot train anymore.

The question becomes how do we tailor aikido without losing its essence, so people can come and still train and be connected? If we have been doing this for all these years and have a passion for it, why should we have to give it up? I am really working at this and have just started a class where people who have physical challenges can do aikido without the falls that may make it unpleasant or even endanger them, but where aikido can still be effective as a martial art.

This fits into my philosophy of aikido right now. When we talk about the efficacy or the efficiency of aikido, I do not think that aikidoka realize what is actually done by nage. It is the encounter. The dramatic and magnificent throw is up to uke. Even after training for twenty or thirty years, what goes through people’s minds subconsciously as they execute a technique is, “Oh, I did that.” If your uke is thrown across the mat and does not have beautiful and impressive ukemi, you have somehow failed in executing your technique. But that is not true. The truth of aikido is that effectiveness is in the encounter itself; and with the encounter you have options. This is what I try to stress to people. It is the mental, spiritual and emotional effort that one brings to the encounter and how one approaches it. This is perhaps the most important aspect of what we do; to work at this does not require one to take falls or stop their training, which they have enjoyed with passion for so many years.

I am eighty years old now, and I am still practicing, simply because I cannot stay away. Today, I went to the dojo. I just came back home, and I am renewed. Even if I am tired, aikido has a nutritional value to the soul, to the psyche, and it is always different. Aikido is like a kaleidoscope. You will not get faster or stronger at eighty, but you will go deeper.

 

 

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Zheng ManQing (Cheng Man Ching) 37 Form as Neigong


Scott Meredith was a senior student of the last Taijiquan master Ben Lo. Scott has recently produced a 2 hour video tutorial on using the 37 form as neigong. 


 

 


Thursday, June 24, 2021

Monday, June 21, 2021

How to Become Anti-Fragile

A post at Zen Habits described a program to develop oneself to become anti-fragile. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

As I’ve been diving into my Fearless Mastery mastermind program, with some of the most amazing people, I’ve been introducing some key ideas for training ourselves …
These are ideas I’ve been developing in my Sea Change and Fearless Training programs, as I’ve trained thousands of people to shift their habits as well as the patterns that get in the way of our meaningful work.
Here’s the problem when we try to train ourselves to change:
  1. We set out to do something regularly — exercise, meditate, write, create something, etc.
  2. We fail at it.
  3. Then we fall apart. We might beat ourselves up, get discouraged, and give up.
This is a fragile, non-resilient approach. Maybe we try this half a dozen times, and eventually we think something is wrong with us.
There’s nothing wrong with us. The problem is with the fragile approach of falling apart when we fail.
Instead, I’ve been training people with the idea of anti-fragility built into our training system.

Anti-Fragility, in Short

The idea of anti-fragility comes from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Black Swan: the basic idea is that many human-made systems are fragile. Something comes to stress the system, and it falls apart. Some systems are robust or resilient, which is much better than fragile.
But even better is the idea of being anti-fragile: stress makes the system stronger.
Human systems are anti-fragile — when we exercise, we’re stressing the system, and after we recover, we’re stronger and better able to handle that stress. Bones get denser with impact. Lots of natural systems have anti-fragile mechanisms built in.
We can make human-made systems more anti-fragile by designing ways that stress will make the system better able to handle stress. Failure helps the system get stronger.
Let’s look at how to apply this idea into our training — any kind of learning, habit formation, physical or mental training, anything where we’re trying to improve something.

Key ideas for Anti-Fragility

Before we get into specifics for training systems, let’s look at some key ideas I’ve found to be useful:
  1. Expect stress, failures, crashes.
  2. Design the training system to not only be resilient, but to get stronger with stresses & failure.
  3. Start by removing fragility from the system. Examples: smoking, debt, having too many possessions, or being super hurt or pissed when you get criticism or failure.
  4. Take small risks often. Small experiments designed to help us learn from failure. Example: every day, I try to get better at doing hard work, with each day being a mini-experiment. I fail often, which means I learn often.
  5. Embrace uncertainty, risk, failure, discomfort. These become things to help you grow, rather than things to be avoided or complain about, or things that cause you to collapse entirely. Embrace variability, noise, tension.
  6. The attitude is to always learn & get better from failure. Don’t bemoan it, embrace it and learn, improve, grow stronger. Love error. When your system gets stressed, how will it respond to get stronger?
  7. Intentionally inject stress into your life – do sprints, lift heavy weights, fast, take cold showers, take on challenges, experiments and adventures.
Now let’s apply this to our training systems.