Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

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.