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 ~


Sunday, August 29, 2021

Martial Arts Training at an Advanced Age


Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Budo Bum, written by a seasoned judoka answering the question why he still trains at the age of 85.

Why do I still train? Simple. Life just works better when I do.

The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

Judo — Why I still Train
 
People are sometimes surprised that, at 85 years old, I am still in my judogi in the dojo, still enjoying Judo. Of course, my competition days are in the past. My last tournament was a little over ten years ago at 74 competing with guys my own age.
 
I was never a star competitor. Starting my life in Judo at age 16, I lost far more matches than I ever won, mostly to newaza. I was never an athlete, but I loved learning and participating in Judo.
When I was still a nidan, during one of my many annual visits to the Kodokan, I said to one of the high-dan instructors, “I have been in Judo for many years, but I have never been a champion.” He replied, “I have never been a champion either. That is not the purpose of Judo.”
 
And there we have it! 
 
I have learned that Judo, at its fundamental level, is not about defeating another person. It is not about scoring an ippon against another person. I also enjoy chess, but have been put in checkmate hundreds of times during my lifetime, just a few weeks ago by one of my three sons.
 
True, that there is some ego gratification in scoring a win in a Judo, but as we grow older, we score fewer and fewer ippons in competition. With Judo we eventually learn that our training is not about ego gratification. It is more about learning about ourselves in a unique way, even as we learn more about Judo.
 
Chess is much the same. There is never an end to our learning in either activity
.
Too many of those I knew when I was younger have “retired” from Judo because they believed they were too old to be good competitors, too old to even have a chance to become champions. 
 
“Why bother to continue now that I can longer have a shot at winning a medal or trophy?” or “My best days are behind me!” or “I’m too out-of-shape.” In reality, it's usually about ego: “I will look ridiculous because I can’t do what I used to be able to do!”
 
And with that, they acknowledge that they never learned the real lessons of Judo. They have learned only about victory and defeat. There is so much more to learn.
 
Jigoro Kano once remarked that it was not important that you are better than someone else. It is more important that you are better today than you were yesterday.
 
This raises the question, “Better in what way?” We each will have our own answer to that question.
For me, “better” means many things. One of them is good physical feeling. Sometimes, better is because I have learned something new. Better might even be because I have been able to help someone else overcome a difficulty of their own. Better will different for each of us.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

The Crane and Snake in Taijiquan


At Thoughts on Tai Chi, there was a very good post looking at the crane and snake in Taijiquan. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Even if you have only studied Tai Chi Chuan for less than a month, I still don’t think that it’s possible for you to have escaped hearing about the legendary creation myth where the filthy, mystical, Daoist priest Zhang Sanfeng invents the art of Tai Chi Chuan after witnessing a bird protecting its nest form a snake.

In the legend, “Dirty Zhang” watched the bird and the snake attacking and evading each other, so none hurt the other. And this was from where he got the “idea” to create Tai Chi Chuan. This is obviously just a story and a fairytale. In that myth, the bird was originally a small bird, but somehow, in Tai Chi Chuan, the picture of a crane has taken over its place. Together with the snake, they now both represent the Art of Tai Chi Chuan.

But still, even if it’s just a myth, the symbols of the snake and the crane have more meaning than just being sort of totems for the art. They represent the spirit iof the art, the vigour, the grace and the liveliness of the martial art, as well as the focus on evading and counter-attacking. But how to fully use the Crane and Snake practically in Tai Chi and adapt the essence of the animals in combat is something almost lost, or at least very seldom taught.

I have been lucky to have a couple of teachers speaking about these things and teaching it. I have also heard about others who teach things quite similar to what I myself have been taught. But I have never seen this written down in any book or on any Tai Chi webpage. So I have not looked at any other source before writing this post. Instead I have tried to verbalise myself what I was taught and tried to sum down the important points to be able to share them with you.

I believe that the very most of you will feel that these things represent something that is a bit different from what you have been taught, and some of it might seem strange. But I still hope that you will find these theories and my way of explaining the art of Tai Chi in this way, both useful and helpful. What is described here is foremost from a Yang Style Tai Chi perspective, but I believe that the methods could be adapted to most of the traditional tai chi styles and schools.

What is the Snake and the Crane in Tai Chi Chuan?

In Tai Chi, a few form movements are named after the Snake and Crane as “Crane shows its wing” and “snake creeps down.” Both the Crane’s Beak hand formation and Snake style palms can be seen in Tai Chi forms. This is the simplest version story, but it does not convey any of the real depth that is found in the snake-crane theory.

However, some teachers say that every movement in Tai Chi Chuan is represented by either the Snake or the Crane. In fighting, the Snake represents small, coiling movements – or small frame movements. And the Crane represents large, generous, sweeping, round movements – or Large frame movements.

The Snake and Crane together represent a Yin-Yang pair with two opposites that balance and complement each other. The snake is the Yin animal in Tai Chi. It is so fast that you cannot even see the start of its attack. And when you react, it’s already too late. The Tai Chi snake uses coiling movements to wrap its body around the opponent’s arms, and it attacks from every possible angle and from close range. The power is short, crisp and very hard to counter.

The Crane, on the other hand, is a proud, elegant bird and is the Yang animal in Tai Chi. It stands tall and it has a great power in its large wide wings. It is said that if cranes when they fly comes too close to houses, they can even strike through tiles on roofs and break apart bricks from chimneys. In Tai Chi, such methods as powerful striking and throws using large, bold movements, can resemble the use of the crane’s wings. However, the Crane has a second weapon as it can also use its beak to strike with.

Balancing snake and crane – By using them together

Two of my teachers taught that both small and large movements should be used together when you fight. Or in other words, you should use the Snake and Crane together when you fight, which is explicitly what one of them taught. In practical combat methods, this means that you can either defend with a snake or crane type of movement and then counter-attack with the other.

The snake and crane should work together seamless in action. When the movement from the snake and crane blend together, the opponent cannot tell where one stops and the other starts. Together, they form a whole. One starts and transforms into the other.

But there is also another aspect of the use: It is never you who decide what animal that should be used. You cannot compare the use of these animals in Tai Chi with a Hong Kong movie where a fighter test first one animal against his opponent and than another one if the first doesn’t work. And you can not approach any real Tai Chi fighting method with figuring out intellectually what technique or attack that should be used or what could work.

Instead, you need to respond spontaneously to the opponent. The snake or the crane, what will come out to respond will do so by itself not depending of what you “think”, but depending on what your opponent does. This also means that you will have to learn your snake and crane well before really knowing how they want to respond. But more about this later. 


Monday, August 23, 2021

Wu Family Style Taijiquan Documentary

This Wu style tai chi chuan documentary was co-produced by Hebei Sports Bureau and Hebei Television Productions, China. (Official subtitles available in English & Greek. Please select display from settings) 

It features Grandmaster Eddie Wu Kwong Yu, 5th generation Wu Family & current gatekeeper of Wu Style and covers a brief a history of this traditional martial arts and current day as practised around the world. 

Grand Master Eddie Wu Kwong Yu was born into a family of martial artists and masters of Tai Chi Chuan. His great-great-grandfather Grand Master Wu Chuan Yau (1834-1902) was the founder of the Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan over 180 years ago. His great-grandfather, the famous master Grand Master Wu Chien Chuan (1870-1942) like Wu Chuan Yau, were soldiers of the palace battalion of the Imperial Guards in Beijing. Grand Master Wu Chien Chuan was the key influence in spreading Wu Style Tai Chi Chuan throughout China. At the age of six, Master Eddie Wu was trained by his grandfather Grandmaster Wu Kung Yi (1900-1970) and then by his father Grandmaster Wu Tai Kwei (1923- 1972). 

 

Friday, August 20, 2021

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #80: Endless Yearning 1

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 #80, Endless Yearning 1.


ENDLESS YEARNING I

"I am endlessly yearning
To be in Changan.
...Insects hum of autumn by the gold brim of the well;
A thin frost glistens like little mirrors on my cold mat;
The high lantern flickers; and. deeper grows my longing.
I lift the shade and, with many a sigh, gaze upon the moon,
Single as a flower, centred from the clouds.
Above, I see the blueness and deepness of sky.
Below, I see the greenness and the restlessness of water....
Heaven is high, earth wide; bitter between them flies my sorrow.
Can I dream through the gateway, over the mountain?
Endless longing
Breaks my heart."

 




Saturday, August 14, 2021

Sen: The Timing of Martial Arts

Many Japanese martial arts have the concept of Sen, or the timing of attack and defense. Below is an excerpt from The Dojo (formerly The Shotokan Times) about Sen in karate in particular and martial arts in general. The full post may be read here.

“Sen” is a fundamental and crucial concept for combat. However, Karateka either do not know about the variations of the concept or ignore its practical relevance. In his new colum “Karate Essence” Thomas McKinnon provides a detailed account of the concept, its variations, and how to apply it in practice.

Sen (jap. 先) means future, prior, to precede, or ahead, depending on the dictionary. In Budo terminology it is variously described as initiative. To Initiate: to cause or facilitate the beginning of something. For the advanced karateka, it is imperative to understand the concept of Sen in combat.

What is the Concept of Sen about?

Like most of the esoteric Japanese terms, I have studied and explored, there is a lot more to the various “Sen” terms than a direct translation to English can explain. We can distinguish at least four concepts:

  • Go no sen (jap. 後の先): After the attack, block/evade and counterattack.
  • Sen no sen (jap. 先の先): Intercepting the attack with simultaneous block/evade and counterattack.
  • Sen sen no sen (jap. 先先の先): Attack immediately when you become aware that your assailant is going to launch an attack.
  • Deai (jap. 出会い): Don’t wait until your assailant plans to launch an attack: attack immediately you are aware of the intention.

Taking Control Over the Fight

The above guidelines are fairly accurate, as far as they go, and they give you an idea about timing. However, there is something that should be clearly understood about the concept of Sen in combat: Go no sen, Sen no sen, Sen sen no sen or Deai are all forms of taking the initiative (taking control).

 

I am actually talking about Budo: responses in real world conflict. Remember, the original purpose of karate was not for karateka to fight each-other in sport. It was for self-defense. To clarify: we could go way back to Bodhidharma’s (possibly the first) codified practice for self-defense (5th century AD). However, perhaps Funakoshi Gichin Sensei’s origins (19th century AD) with Shōrei-ryū and Shōrin-ryū, which addressed defense against the 36 habitual acts of civil violence, might be far enough back?

Sen is Present in Any Combat System

The Sen Principle, however, also relates to Ippon or Sanbon kumite, or sport karate in any of its forms, or indeed any sports combat in all of its various guises. To most spectators of the numerous sporting combat activities, the utilization of Sen might not be immediately apparent. If you were to talk to serious competitors in the said activities, though, most of them would completely understand the concept. They may not recognize the Japanese terms, but the concept of taking the initiative as it relates to the Sen Principal would be perfectly clear to them.

The Four Concepts of Sen in Detail

Go no Sen

The ‘Go’ (jap. 後) in ‘Go no sen’ means ‘after’. Quite literally, immediately after you’ve been attacked, let’s say with a punch, or indeed a flurry of punches – which you have effectively blocked/evaded – you counterattack. That’s not to say that if you fight with a Go no sen methodology you simply wait for the attack to take place. The purpose of Initiative (Sen) is to gain advantage over your opponent.

You may, for instance, control your adversary’s timing by your own presence and tactics, actually dictating your assailant’s attack options (taking the initiative). Some karateka are naturally good counter fighters, Go no sen specialists, who excel in this area. With fast reflexes and a strong, dynamic spirit, or Kihaku, they control their adversary and the fight.

Example: Seeing an imminent attack, you might fake an attack: balking to trick your adversary into striking through an apparent hole in defenses, only to be blocked/evaded and counterattacked.

Sen no Sen

Having control of the when, how and where, you can effectively block/evade while simultaneously delivering an effective counterattack; potentially finishing the encounter.

Example: Leaving your face apparently unguarded, offering your chin, you capitalist on your adversary’s attempt to punch you. Knowing the when and where, you will also limit his options in regard to how. Slipping the punch, using tai sabaki, perhaps covering with a heel palm block, while simultaneously delivering a body blow to the sternum. A version of this method, with tai sabaki as the major contributor of both defense and counterattack might also be called Tai no sen.

Sen Sen no Sen

When confronted by an adversary/opponent – your awareness in the appropriate state of Zanshin – reading your adversary’s intention to attack, you take the initiative, immediately launching a pre-emptive strike. Be aware: defending your-self using Sen sen no sen, it could appear that you arbitrarily attacked your adversary. Nevertheless, in a self-defense scenario, particularly if your adversary is in possession of a bladed or blunt force weapon, Sen sen no sen might be a highly advisable mode of action.

Deai

When facing an adversary in a real-life, combative confrontation, after behaving in accord with proper etiquette:

  1. Giving your adversary no reason to attack you.
  2. Attempting to resolve the impending confrontation non-violently.
  3. Attempting to remove your-self from the situation.

You, unavoidably, find yourself facing a person intent on assaulting you. Deai may be a highly desirable option. Deai: attack as soon as you are aware of your assailant’s intention.

 

 

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Knife Self Defense

I believe that much of our martial arts training is inadequate when it comes to defending against a knife attack.

 



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.