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 ~

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Patience in Budo Training

There was a great article over at The Budo Bum on one of the characteristics of Budo training: Nin. 

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


Nin () is a Japanese term that is not often heard standing alone. Outside Japan it is most commonly encountered in the term ninja (忍者).  Nin has nothing that directly ties it to spies and assassins though. Nin is a character trait that may be the most important generic lesson in classical budo. Every ryuha has its own essential character that makes it truly unique: they all teach nin.  

In dictionaries nin is usually translated as “patience”. Patience nails a piece of the character nin (). As with so many things though, to simply say “nin () equals patience” is to miss a great deal. Nin is not regular patience, but the patience that quietly endures suffering and trials.

There are the obvious trials in budo, like how much your knees and feet ache from doing the first iai kata for an hour, continuing even after you’ve worn the skin off your knees.  Or the never-ending torture that is the posture known as tatehiza. Learning to endure physical discomfort with quiet stoicism is the beginning of nin (). Anyone who sticks with budo for any length of time learns to do this. It’s just part of the physical territory. Everyone in the dojo hurts and no one is interested in hearing you whine about it. Everyone went through the pain of learning to take good ukemi, even if taking ukemi for Sensei can knock the wind out of you.  That’s the physical side.

The other side begins when Sensei says “Shut up and train.”  In that moment it becomes time to patiently endure not just the discomfort and stress of training, but also your own curiosity and desire for answers. This is the time when your questions will only be answered by your endurance of training with doubt and misunderstanding and ignorance that gnaws at your heart. I come from a background where I was taught to always ask a question if I didn’t understand something. Ask a question and get an answer. In budo though, most often the best answer to a question is not an explanation, but more training.

It took me years to understand that my teachers were trying to tell me that the answers to most of my budo questions were to be found in training, study and contemplation. I asked Hikoso Sensei about foot sweeps in judo one evening, and I can’t imagine a more rudimentary answer. I was looking for a deep explanation of the timing and how to understand it. He showed me the proper way to move my foot when sweeping.  That’s it. The answer was that I needed to train more to understand the timing.  No amount of explanation would ever give me that. I had to put up with not understanding the timing until I did understand it, and I had to to do it knowing there was no guarantee that I would ever get it. 

Nin is about patience where you hold your tongue even though the most satisfying thing in the world would be to respond to someone’s unkind, callous or outright mean comment with a righteous comeback. Wisdom, discretion or simple maturity demand that you let it go. Without escalation, there will be no conflict.  Without nin no one would have been able to abide by the rules laid out in so many keppan (training oaths) not to engage in fights and duels until you mastered the art. If you wanted to keep training with Sensei, you had to master your emotions and learn to forebear not just the little slights, but the big insults as well. Once you joined a ryuha, everything you did reflected on the ryuha. If you got into trouble because you couldn’t hold your tongue or control your anger, it could bring the wrath of the government down on everyone in the dojo.


Saturday, November 27, 2021

Growth in Martial Arts Training

There was a very good post at Okinawan Karate on what constitutes growth in one's training, in the context of the article, for realistic self defense. I believe the post has further implications.

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

In a recent posting on FB by Marc MacYoung he addressed some issues regarding one's training. It is how things differ according to what you do in your training involving what he references as, "Perpetual Students." I can't get to the original at the moment but will add into this post when I find it. 

I quote, "BUT when you move into the 'doing,' your emphasis on training changes. While you return to certain training you do it to fix problems and figure out solutions to issues you didn't know existed while you were originally in training. You also expand your training into different subjects, not just variations of the same type of training over and over again." Then MM goes on to say, "Constantly repeating the same kind of training isn't growing, it's a different form of stagnation while telling yourself you're growing." 

Both of these statements are telling, to my perceptions, of the model that karate uses, mostly, to train and teach students, well, "Karate." What I see herein, until more data changes my perceptions, is in fact a fact about how karate uses "repetitive training" and especially those who are a certain kind of traditionalist where deviating or diverging from the "exact way the master" teaches things like basics, kata, drills, etc., is blasphemy. 

I am an advocate of using the traditional forms as a basic entry level training model and emphasize strongly that once you get to a certain point, especially if for self-protection for self-defense, you have to let that form go in a way somewhat described by MM's quote, you have to use it for change, i.e., "to fix problems and figure out solutions to issues you didn't know existed while you were originally in training." 

Caveat: Listen, karate is a good thing when it emphasizes ONLY sport, competitions and a more philosophical "the way" types of practices and I strongly believe that for self-protection for self-defense you MUST diverge away from the traditional and into a reality-based created model that does what I said in the last paragraph, i.e., you must use it "to fix problems and figure out solutions to issues you didn't know existed while you were originally in training." Especially, in my view, when tested against the reality of violence and conflict with emphasis on any actual experiences you may have had. 

I also agree, in my own way, that the way many practice karate today, and in the past, have created a comfort zone of stagnation, as MM refers to in his quote, that presents and places limits, obstacles and obstructions of both body and mind on the practitioner for efficient and practical use toward conflict and violence… you know, out there, in the streets of life. 

Reading a bit more, I believe the quote in the picture of the FB post was the trigger to MM’s comments. The quote on a picture of Dan Inosanto was, “I train as many arts as possible. I’m constantly learning all the time. Once you stop being a student you stop growing.” Now, I have to do some fact checking because this quote may or may not be from Mr. Inosanto but let’s focus on the quote. 

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Zanshin: The State of a Fighting Mind

Zanshin is an important concept in Japaneses martial arts. Below is a post that appeared at Shotokan Times, which discusses Zanshin; particularly in Karate. The full post may be read here.

What does Zanshin mean?

Literally translated, zanshin means ‘left over or remaining heart /spirit/mind’. However, for the dedicated karateka, it means the state of total awareness. Being still within, while aware of one’s surroundings, and being totally prepared for anything.
It also conveys the fighting spirit of the individual after the fight. If victorious, the fighter needs a forward-looking awareness and should not lose focus by the victory. If by chance the fighter loses, he will carry an indomitable spirit with honor and grace. Then no real defeat of the character takes place. To encapsulate in a single sentence:
‘Zanshin can be said to be a state of total, calm, alertness. Before, during and after combat a physical, mental and spiritual state of awareness.

Some Western Interpretations

I’ve heard many attempts by instructors to translate the concept into English for the western student to understand:
  • being in the zone, a mental state of focused concentration on the performance of an activity; while dissociating oneself from distracting, irrelevant aspects of one’s environment.
  • a state of readiness to do again what you have already successfully done.
  • to focus intently on the moment (without emotion)… a state of sustained, committed concentration.

Other Arts also Require Zanshin

Zanshin is not the exclusive property of karate, or even the martial arts in general. It is a necessary characteristic of any credible soldier, police officer, security operative or martial artist. Also, outside of any fighting formats, the Japanese art of ikebana (flower arranging), Chado (the tea ceremony) and Sumi-e (ink painting) requires zanshin: a state of being ever ‘present’.

In kyudo, the Japanese martial art of archery, it refers to the body posture after the loosing of an arrow. The posture reflects the mental aspect (zanshin) maintained before, during, and after an action.

In kendo, the concept describes the continued state of alertness, spirit, mind and body, and readiness to meet the situation maintained throughout the whole situation . Zanshin – maintained before, during, and after an action – is one of the essential elements that define a good attack.

In iaido, the practice is calm and quiet, and the most important feature of iaido is the development of zanshin (a calm, reflective mind) throughout.

Zanshin in Shotokan Karate

In Budo karate competition, shobu sanbon or shobu ippon, to score with a technique requires zanshin. Fighters must maintain the mental aspect before, during, and after the scoring technique and not just a show at the end for performance.

Without zanshin, kata would appear only as a number of techniques performed in a dramatic arrangement (as seems to be the case for most sport karate performers). Enoeda Keinosuke Sensei (whom I had the good fortune to have as my chief instructor in my formative karate years), for instance, performed kata like the midst of battle.

Certainly, as well as kime, one of the aspects that a Shotokan karateka should be displaying, at the very latest, in preparation for shodan (that first blackbelt grading) is a solid understanding of zanshin.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

A Brief History of Chinese Martial Arts

At National Geographic, there was a surprisingly good article that offered a brief history of Chinese Martial Arts. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

Qi Jiguang certainly knew his way around a battlefield. A military leader in the 16thCentury, during the Ming dynasty, he spent many years defending eastern China from attacks by Japanese raiders and pirates, and later oversaw a massive reinforcement of the Great Wall of China. He is also credited with being the first person to document Chinese martial arts – in his military manual New Treatise on Military Efficiency (or Jixiao Xinshu).

According to Jonathan Clements, author of A Brief History of the Martial Arts, this is “the earliest, verifiable source that actually explains martial arts as a practical set of moves or ideas”. In its 14thchapter, translated as ‘The Fist Canon and the Essentials of Nimbleness’, Qi explains the importance of unarmed combat as a vital tool to train soldiers. 

Of course, martial arts had existed for centuries before Qi defined them. One legendary exponent of the practice – Hua Mulan, the 5th-century Chinese warrior of folklore, and the hero of Disney's Mulan – is today honoured with an eponymous style of tai chi. (The Walt Disney Company is majority owner of National Geographic.)

And while this hints at the venerability of the activity, it's literally not even the half of it. “There are mentions stretching back more than two thousand years,” Clements tells National Geographic. “[The philosopher] Confucius himself mentions the ‘war dances’ of the Bronze Age, which are liable to be the ancient term for some kind of weapons-based calisthenics. But we don’t know what these war dances actually comprised.” 

Shadowy beginnings

In their broadest definition, martial arts – systems of combat, essentially – have existed for as long as humans have been killing each other. Depressingly, that’s the entire history of our species.

According to the International Wushu Federation, the governing body for wushu (or Chinese kung fu) in all its forms worldwide, “the origins of wushu may be traced back to early man and his struggle for survival in the harsh environment during [the] Bronze Age, or even earlier, a struggle that led to the development of techniques to defend against both wild animals and other human beings”. 

Throughout ancient Chinese historical writings there are numerous references to different codes of unarmed combat. Crucially, though (like the aforementioned Hua Mulan herself) none can be historically verified. For that reason it might be wrong to accept them as more than myth or folklore.

As Clements stresses: “It’s very frustrating for the historian, because we go overnight, in the 16th century, from having no evidence at all to having claims that martial arts have been around for at least 500 years or even longer. But there’s no intermediate stage that allows us to verify that information.”

In any history of Chinese martial arts, there is one early pioneer who crops up again and again – that’s Sun Tzu, author of the 5thCentury BCE treatise, The Art of War. Clements is not so sure, however.

“There are plenty of martial arts teachers who will quote from The Art of War and say it’s a manual of martial arts, but Sun Tzu makes no mention of unarmed combat – and really doesn’t have a whole lot to say about armed combat either. So some of his aphorisms can be applied to unarmed combat, but were never intended for that purpose.” (In 2012 Clements published a new translation of Sun Tzu’s book). 

Around the same time as The Art of War, stories arose of the Maiden of Yue – a female martial arts instructor who famously counselled her king, Goujian, on fighting methods. Clements points out that there’s no proof the story is based on real events, but that “it’s fascinating to see the matter-of-fact way in which one of the earliest martial arts teachers in the records is a woman”.

“There’s this chauvinist assumption that war is a man’s job and a man’s calling, but Goujian doesn’t seem to care,” he adds. “He knows she’s the best and so she’s the one he wants to hire.” 

This story itself has echoes with that of Hua Mulan, who as the fable recounts, disguised herself as a man in order to take the place of her ailing father in the imperial army. Her subsequent mastery of the skills of combat and rise as a warrior was the subject of The Ode of Mulan, an anonymous folk poem believed to have been written in the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD).     

Friday, November 12, 2021

Tadashi Nakamura: From Kyokushin to Seido Karate

Tadashi Nakamura was one of the earliest students of Mas Oyama of Kyukushin Karate and was considered by many to be the heir apparent to lead the organization. Nakamura however, broke away and formed his own style and organization.

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Finding Karate about this remarkable man. The full post may be read here.

For a long time, Tadashi Nakamura was one of Mas Oyama’s top students. He won national recognition when he fought for the honour of Japanese Karate. He has also gone on to lead his own Karate organisation, with over 20,000 students worldwide.

Tadashi Nakamura was born on 22 February 1942. He came from a middle-class family. His mother was a doctor and his father a banker.

In 1953 Nakamura was introduced to Karate by his older brothers, who studied Wado-ryu and Goju-ryu Karate.

Mas Oyama opened a small dojo in 1953. The dojo was located behind Rikkyo University, Tokyo. Nakamura switched styles and dojos in 1956, becoming one of Oyama’s first students. At the time Oyama taught elements of Goju-ryu, Shorei-ryu, and Kobayashi-ryu Karate, all styles he had learnt.

Training with Oyama was extremely tough. Students frequently left training sessions very tired. There were four classes a week, with each training session lasting 3-4 hours. Sparring sessions in the class lasted for over an hour and were filled with a lot of intensity and violence. Many students joined and left the dojo, finding the training sessions too tough. Injuries were no excuse for not training.

Nakamura stuck to his training. In 1959 he was awarded his 1st Dan by Oyama. At the time he was the youngest student to be awarded a black belt by Oyama.

In 1961 Nakamura took part in his first tournament, the All-Japan Student Open Karate Championship. He won the tournament. He was 19 years old at the time. This would be the first of many tournament successes.

Nakamura began teaching Karate at Camp Zama, a United States military base, Near Tokyo. He was the Chief Instructor at the camp until 1965.

An international match was set up in 1962, to find out whether Thailand or Japan had the best martial art and artists.

The Thais had said that Japanese Karate was dead. They issued a challenge to the Japanese, which Oyama accepted. He sent his three top students, Kenji Kurosaki, Nakamura, and Noboru Ozawa. The challenge took place at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, Bangkok, Thailand. The Japanese won two of the three fights. In his bout, Nakamura fought the Thai kickboxing champion, knocking him out. This made him a national hero back home in Japan.

In 1964 Oyama officially founded Kyokushin Karate. He also established the International Karate Organisation (IKO).

On 21 May 1965, Steve Arneil became the first person after Oyama to complete the 100-Man Kyokushin Challenge. The challenge was devised as the ultimate mental and physical test. On 15 October of that year, Nakamura became the next man to successfully complete the challenge.

By 1966 Nakamura had graduated from university, with a degree in Architecture. He was offered a position at the company, Daiichi, at a very good salary. However, much to the disappointment of his parents, he dreamed of travelling the world and teaching Karate.

On 5 April 1966, Nakamura got his wish. Oyama selected him to go to the United States to spread Kyokushin Karate. He became the first overseas Kyokushin Karate instructor in the country.

Aged 24 years at the time, Nakamura set up his first dojo at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in New York.

In the beginning, things were slow to pick up. Nakamura faced challengers who wanted to test him and his style of martial arts. His reputation had preceded him. Many of these challenges eventually became his students. He conducted numerous seminars and demonstrations across the United States, to build up interest in Kyokushin Karate.

By 1971 Kyokushin had begun to grow in the United States. Nakamura was now the recognised head of Kyokushin Karate in America. He had established the North American Kyokushin Karate headquarters, which had over 30 schools affiliated to it.

By 1974 Nakamura had been ranked to 6th Dan. Interest in Kyokushin had spread around the world. There were many requests for instructors to conduct seminars. He and Shigeru Oyama (no relation to Mas Oyama) were sent to run a national training course in New Zealand.

Nakamura made a momentous decision in 1976, by deciding to break ties with his mentor, Mas Oyama, and Kyokushin Karate. This had been a very difficult decision for him. With the rapid growth of Kyokushin around the world, he felt something had been lost in the quality and in the teaching of the Karate style.

Nakamura’s decision was not well received, back in the IKO headquarters in Japan. He had been seen by some as the heir apparent to Oyama and the Kyokushin empire. He was vilified and defamed. Oyama had even wanted him banished from the martial arts world.

Wanting style of Karate that represented his own beliefs, Nakamura established his own style called Seido Juku Karate. Seido means ‘Sincere Way‘. On 15 October 1976, he established the World Seido Karate Organisation.

There was still a lot of resentment by some, towards Nakamura for leaving Kyokushin Karate. In February 1977 he was shot in a Manhattan parking lot. Luckily he survived the attack and persevered with building his Seido organisation.

Through most of the 1980s, Nakamura worked hard at establishing Seido Karate. 1989 saw the publication of his autobiography, ‘The Human Face of Karate: My Life, My Karate-do‘.

By 1996 Seido Karate had become established internationally. On 20 October Seido celebrated its 20th Anniversary at an event held at the Avery Fisher Hall, at the Lincoln Centre, New York. Nakamura received many congratulatory letters from people like Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Nelson Mandela, and Boutros Boutros-Ghali, in admiration and respect of what he had achieved with Seido Karate. At the event the 1st World Tournament also took place.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

An Introduction to Zhan Zhuang and it's Training Effects

Over at Zhong Ding Tai Chi, was a very good article about different types of Zhan Zhuang training and their effects. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

BP Chan used to say “In internal martial arts, we have two types of exercises: Stillness seeking movement and movement seeking stillness.” The stillness that we seek in our movement is on a spiritual and mental level as well as isolating and training the various centers and axis  of the body which is largely mechanical in nature.

All the internal martial arts have some version of Zhan Zhuang, or standing post training. This type of training teaches alignment, posture, and center in its earliest phases. One learns to separate yin and yang in the body. Every lineage has its own neigong or internal practice that goes along with the standing. These create different results. At the heart of all of the training is the notion of sinking the qi and releasing tension from the body. To that end, we will explore optimal alignments as well as appropriate balances of tension and relaxation of muscle pairs.

Once we go towards the internal exploration and look inward, we can start by exploring the natural mechanics of the body. For example, one may observe how the centers of the body may change as one inhales and exhales. One may observe, for example, the opening and closing of the joints as one breathes. That is an example of looking at the body mechanics. Looking at the subtle movement within the stillness.

At higher levels fo training, we will begin to explore movement of qi within the body. There are various practices one could do within the same postures. One form of training is to empty the mind so as to release qi down to the dantian, or the lower part of the abdomen. You will find that thoughts will hold your qi up in the process. One could also go about releasing the emotions associated with the various organs. 

For example, empty the xin (the heart/mind) allowing the fire element to descend. This is alchemical in nature. The emotion associated with this element is joy and excitation. releasing that emotion, the qi that has been staginating in the organ can settle back to the dantian. You could then go and put your mind to your lungs and let go of sadness and feel even more qi sink and thus feel more pressure build up in your legs, increasing the effectiveness your training, helping you discover the various places qi may be hiding.

Then one might go and consider the liver and the anger that resides within. Release that emotion and feel even more blood and qi descend. Put your mind to the kidneys and release the fear associated with the organ and watch the yao relax as even more qi descends. Always end on the spleen, to return the body to central equilibrium, letting go of anxiety and worry in the process.

Pay close attention to where that qi releases and how it releases, so you can become more familiar with it. It will eventually release from there with all the qi in your first intention. 

These are ways to help a person release more tension, creating the optimal body qualities as well as educating the qi so that it becomes obedient to the yi, or intention. Another type of standing is to simply endeavor to release the mind and the fire below with no other consideration. The goal of this is to create an emptiness in the mind, or to “remove the middle man”. Prolonged training in this fashion will result in an empty mind state every time you raise your hands, allowing you to be in a better mind state for actual free fighting.

Training direction is also a point of consideration. Whether doing standing training or tai chi form practice, traditionally one will face south in the morning to access the yang or the fire element. In the late evening, one would face north to access the yin energies.

Wednesday, November 03, 2021

Reigando Cave and Miyamoto Musashi

Over at Japanese History and Culture, there was an article about the Reigando Cave, where Musashi sequestered himself to write the Book of Five Rings. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Reigando cave and a translation of the stone block.

When I visited Musashi Miyamoto`s Reigando cave there stands a stone block with writing on it. I could only understand a little of it so I asked my friend Eric Shahan if he had time, to translate it.

He generously translated it and allowed me to write it up on my blog. Thankyou Eric.

Translated this plinth regarding Miyamoto Musashi’s Niten Ichi School. This is in front of Reigando, Spirit Rock Cave, where he ensconced himself while writing the Book of Five Rings (the most translated Japanese book ever?)

The Origins of the Niten Ichi School:Niten Ichi Ryu, The Two Heavens Unified as One School of Sword, is not the two-sword school everyone thinks it is. The sword saint Miyamoto Musashi’s life was a journey. He sought to drift like clouds and flow like water until the end.

In his early thirties he fought martial artists from all the domains of Japan and this continued until he was 51 years old. Historically speaking, we have no idea what happened in that 20 year period other than he continuously travelled back and forth between eastern and western Japan seeking to duel and improve his swordsmanship. In the 17th year of Kanei 1640 he accepted Lord Hosokawa Tadayoshi’s invitation and became an advisor on military affairs to the Hosokawa Domain and moved into Chiba Castle in Higo Domain. At the order of Lord Tadayoshi, Musashi wrote the Thirty-Five Rules of the Sword, which he offered to his patron.Two years later, using the Thirty-five Rules of the Sword as a framework, he wrote the Book of Five Rings while ensconced in Reigando, the Spirit Rock Cave.

On May 12th of the 2nd year of Shoho 1645 he granted The Book of Five Rings to Terao Masanobu. To Terao Nobuyuki (Masanobu’s younger brother) he granted the Thirty-Five Rules and affirmed him as the head instructor and heir to his school. From this point on, with The Book of Five Rings having established the basis of the Niten Ichi School, the family who inherited the role of instructors of the school split into five branches. Despite not spreading beyond the domain, it flourished. However, by the end of the Edo Era only the Noda, Yamao and Santo branches still continued.