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 ~

Sunday, May 29, 2022

How Many Generations?

How many generations does it take to establish a martial art? To make it "traditional?" Does the founder even need to exist?

Ellis Amdur, in his blog Kogen Budo, has examined how new martial arts branch off of the older ones (ryuha) and in the post from which I've posted an excerpt below, how many generations does it take for that variation to stand on it's own as an established tradition. 

The full post may be read here. You may find Mr Amdur's books here.

In a recent blog, I questioned the mythos around the founders of various traditional ryūha. However, beyond the question of whether the founder truly created his martial system in the archetypal manner that is the usual account, there are several other questions:

  • Did the putative founder actually have any role, direct or indirect in the creation of a particular fighting system?
  • Did the founder even exist?

A Skip in Generations: Miura Yoshin-ryū

In many schools, the lineage can have gaps, sometimes many generations, spanning may decades or even centuries. Let us consider Miura Yoshin-ryū. In Old School (pp. 301- 302), I write:

It is probable that three independent martial ryū, all located in the Nagasaki area, made up the basis of Yoshin-ryū, most likely exchanging principles and techniques. One jūjutsu school in the Nagasaki area was the Miura-ryū, founded by Miura Yojuiemon. Miura was one of three rōnin who studied elements of Chinese martial arts from Chen Yuan’yun, elements incorporated most famously in Kito-ryū jūjutsu.

A second school is Miura Yoshin Koryū, the characters for Koryū meaning ‘old school.’ Primarily known as Yoshin Koryū, it was also called Egami-ryū and Totsuka-ha Yoshin Koryū. This school was founded by Nakamura Sakyodayu Yoshikuni in Miura village, in the Nagasaki area (it is unknown if Miura Yojuiemon had any connection with this village, or if the juxtaposition of names is mere coincidence). According to their own tradition, Yoshikuni created this ryū based on an admixture of Chinese martial arts and medicine with a family jūjutsu school founded by Nakamura Yorifusa, his grandfather. Yoshikuni later changed his name to Miura Yoshin. He died in 1650.

There is a considerable gap in the lineage of this school, possibly indicating that it was passed on within a family or clan, without hewing to the formal ryū structure, or possibly that there was a break in transmission, something I have discussed in regards to other traditions. In any event, the next documented headmaster was the 6th, Abe Kanryū (1712-1770), followed by his nephew, Egami Tsukasu Umanosuke Takesune (1747-1795), who lived and taught in Shiba. The school remained almost unknown, until the next headmaster, Totsuka Hidezumi (1772 – 1847), who changed the name of the school to Egami-ryū. It is unknown if this was merely to memorialize his teacher, or if, in so doing, he was indicating that he had made significant changes to the school (in the latter, it was considered by many to be more fitting to name the school after one’s teacher, who ‘created the person’ who made the changes, rather than trumpeting one’s own name in what some might consider a display of egotism).

In this first example, there is a break of five generations in their lineage. This can mean a number of things, and I have no idea which of them might be true:

  • What Nakamura Yorifusa created was passed down directly, with physical and oral instruction. There could have perfect transmission, but for some reason, the sixth generation headmaster, Abe Kanryū, did not record the names of his predecessors. Why? There could be politics – a scandal associated with one someone in the lineage. On the other hand, Abe may have decided to teach without receiving proper sanction from his own teacher, whoever that was. In not recording the names of his predecessors, he could be either enacting rebellion, wiping them out of history, or offering them respect in not claiming for himself what he didn’t earn.
  • Abe Kanryū may have learned something inchoate, that was ‘passed around the village,’ so to speak, and he formalized things in a typical ryūha format, recognizing debt to Nakamura Sakyodayu Yoshikuni.
  • Abe Kanryū was a powerful creative individual (or possibly was like many martial artists, a charismatic man who impressed people as being formidable), and he developed something quite fine, Miura Yoshin Koryū. In my view, there is a hint of this in the name: in calling what he did ‘old school,’ he made it more respectable in the eyes of people who venerated past arts as being more authentic and powerful than the present. In his speculative origin story, he picked a man, Nakamura Yorifusa, whom nobody had ‘claims upon.’ In other words, other great jūjutsu men of the same era were already named as founders of other schools. Nakamura was known, but had no school; in claiming him as a founder, Abe gave his own school ‘weight.’

Fictitious Founders: Akiyama Yoshin-ryū

Let us consider another tradition from the same area, Akiyama Yoshin-ryū. In Old School, p. 309, I write:

Unlike many koryū, Akiyama Yoshin-ryū was not passed forward within the Akiyama family but instead, via licensed shihan who were authorized to form branch schools. The first direct inheritor of Akiyama Yoshin-ryū was Oi Senbei Hirotomi. Records of the school indicate that Senbei developed a large following of students and embraced a liberal strategy associated with issuing teaching authority. This led to Akiyama Yoshin-ryū cultivating an impressive number of licensed shihan. It is conceivable, as is common in many martial ryū, that Oi Senbei actually established and organized the school. The founder of many ryū engaged in a many year process of research and development, frequently altering, changing, refining and creating new training methods. This barrage of somewhat inchoate information is then consolidated by a successor.

There is another theory that it was Oi Senbei himself who was the creator of the ryū, melding information he acquired from Yoshin Koryū and Miura-ryū along with his own personal studies. One reason for this speculation is that Nakamura Sakyodayu Yoshikuni, the founder of Yoshin Koryū, died around 1650, and Akiyama Yoshin-ryū was, perhaps merely coincidentally, founded in 1651. According to this reading of history, Akiyama is viewed as a mythical rather than historical figure, and Oi, thereby, gives homage to Yoshin Koryū, without placing himself directly in its lineage. By creating a fictitious founder, he removes himself from the spotlight as one who would otherwise, perhaps, be accused as having learned the other ryū I’ve just cited in partial fashion, adding his own immature thoughts. Of course, whatever is created must stand on its own, but in this second ‘origin story,’ Oi would have eliminated an ‘opening,’ whereby others might accuse him of being arrogant. Rather, he appears with a complete school bequeathed to him by a master, his debt to other ryū shaded carefully from too much scrutiny.

Here, again, there are various possible interpretations of this account:

  • The first of interpretation of the origin of Akiyama Yoshin-ryū is quite common. In the Arakiryū Saitan no Jō, a text that describes the founding of Arakiryū, it reads as if the putative founder, Araki Muninsai, is giving an interview to a student, describing how he created the school . . . and notably, he states that the founder of the school is someone else, Fujiwara Katsuzane. Every one of the many lines of Arakiryū that possess this document, all have the same basic curriculum (torite-kogusoku), and all have an individual named Mori Kasumi no Suke as the second generation headmaster. It is very likely that Mori Kasumi not only interviewed his teacher, but also was the one who consolidated Araki’s teachings into a formal structure (this is suggested by the fact that any line of martial arts that claims Araki Muninsai as the founder that does NOT have the same torite-kogusoku curriculum also does not have Mori Kasumi in the second position. I would suggest that in a number of martial traditions,  the founder did a ‘data dump,’ which also included years, if not decades of reworking what he was doing, in collaboration with his students, and it was the 2nd or even further-down-the-line generations who consolidated his teachings into a curriculum.
  • The second of these two origin stories is self-explanatory. It displays a kind of modesty and political sensitivity, where one should not put himself forward Arakiryū had a number of off-shoots: ArakiToryū, Sanshin Arakiryū, Kasumiryū, Seishin-ryū, to name a few. And in each of these schools, the creator of the new line, who developed a radically different curriculum, still named his teacher as the founder, not himself. In a similar type of self-effacement, one that is also politically astute, if Akiyama Yoshin-ryūnamed the other schools that Oe studied, without him having received licensure (for whatever reason), this would be an implied criticism of his teachers, as in: “I chose to leave before they certified me as expert in their school. I know much better than them, so I went my own way and created this new school.” That would put him on the spot for challenges, and also put his teachers on the spot in several ways, that would require a response. Creating a legend of a man who never existed (but with the same mythology as genuine jūjutsuka of the era, he, too, crossing over to China and learning something), would be quite tactful towards his own instructors. Akiyama Yoshin-ryū is able to stand on its own merits (which turned out to be considerable), while avoiding entanglement in quite complex culturally grounded politics.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Timing in Taijiquan

Over at The Tai Chi Notebook was a post about timing in Taijiquan. The "three timings" are similar the concept of Sen no Sen, Go no Sen and Sen Sen no Sen in Japanese martial arts. 

The full post may be read here.

Today I want to talk about a very useful martial arts teaching called the 3 timings. In many ways, these teachings are the secret to all martial arts, so you’re getting some pretty good value out of this free blog post!

The three timings have been handed down in many different martial arts lineages under different guises, but it’s all the same teaching. I suspect the 3 timings are as old as time itself.

Personally, I’ve found the three timings most applicable to weapons work, but they are obviously important for barehand too.

The version of the 3 timings handed down in my Chinese lineage was called “Yi timing, Chi timing and Xing timing”, but in English you’ll find them explained perfectly well by Paul Vunak here as simply, before, during and after:

Paul Vunak is a Jeet Kune Do teacher. Bruce thought the concept of “Jeet” was so important he named his martial art after it. The “Jeet” in Jeet June Do means to intercept, and intercepting is what the 3 timings are all about.

The 3 timings is a pretty simple concept. You can hit somebody:

  1. After” they have completed their technique (xing timing), for which you obviously have to move out of the way before you respond. This is the slowest timing and easiest to perform.
  2. During” their attack (chi timing). This is a much shorter timing and it could end up in a simultaneous death strike where you both hit each other, but ideally you would just sneak in first and beat them to the punch.
  3. And finally, “before” they strike you. This is the hardest timing to achieve, because it’s very easy to mess up. You need to hit them before they launch their attack, but equally, it does need to be in sync with a genuine attack. If you fire on Yi timing (”intention” timing), and they are faking, or not attacking, you’ll end up out of position and vulnerable. Yi timing therefore requires immense practice and sensitivity so that you can accurately read the whole situation in the blink of an eye, and be sure they were really going to attack.

Timing, I think, is the ultimate skill in martial arts. If you are a master of timing, then you almost don’t need any technique. If we are both holding swords and I can always time my attack to hit you anytime you come towards me then I can forget about “Green Dragon Scoops the water” or whatever fancy technique I know. It all becomes irrelevant.


Monday, May 23, 2022

The First Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Rules

Below is a video which describes the rules that were employed when Mitsuyo Maeda, the grandfather of BJJ, first arrived in Brazil.



Friday, May 20, 2022

The Origin of the Character "Bu"

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at the martial arts equipment supplier Seido on the origin of the character "Bu." The full post may be read here.

The current use of the Kanji "Bu" and its origin

The Kanji are the Chinese characters brought to Japan and introduced into the Japanese language through Buddhism around the 6th century.

First reserved to the religious community and literary figures and from there, spreading gradually at the pace of the alphabetization of the population.

The introduction of the Chinese characters into the pre-existing Japanese language, was achieved in three ways. First, adapting the Kanji closest to both, sound and meaning, then in terms of meaning and finally terms of sound. Many sounds did originally not exist in Japanese, but got integrated into the language to facilitate the implementation of the Kanji. We thus find words with the same meaning, but two different origins, "words of Yamato" (ancient Japan) and "Chinese words" from Chinese.
Let's add an example. Derived from the Kanji "fue/zou" (増) meaning "increase", the form "Fueru" (増える), the verb "to increase", and "Zouka" (増加) "increase" as noun were created. "Fueru" already existed in Yamato, before the Kanji was introduced, and it was arbitrarily determined that this Kanji could be read "Fue", while "Zo" from "Zouka" is derived directly from the Chinese pronunciation.

The multiple pronunciations that a single Kanji can have, are the result of the "forced" introduction of the Kanji into the Japanese language. Not everything could be adapted, syllabic Kana alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana) to modify the function of a word (verb, noun, adjective) got added, whilst the religious and official texts were still written entirely in Kanji over an extended period. (This is no longer the case and there are few Japanese who would be able to read a text containing no Kana.)
The Kanji "Bu" has its roots in China, it was designed before the 6th century, at a time when violence, terror and wars reigned. From there brought to Japan when the Chinese writing got simplified and evolved very little in the centuries to come.

It can be found in Japanese in terms much older than "Budo", for example "Bujutsu" (武術) (war techniques), "Bugei" (武芸) (art of war), "Bushi" (武士) (soldier), "Buki" (武器) (weapon), etc.

Taking this into account, it is difficult to justify a "peaceful" interpretation of this Kanji by historical facts. But back to its composition to see more clearly.

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Psychological Pressure of Attacking in Martial Arts

Seme is a Japanese arts term which means "to attack" but implies a kind of psychological pressure. Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at Kenshi 24/7 on Seme. The full post may be read here.

PART ONE: From seme to strike: understanding the process

The following will briefly list the four stages of the seme process mentioned in the article, from intention to attack to strike. 

A. Kizeme (draw in for the attack)

The first thing is to have the intention to attack. This is mainly WILL but also implies movement of the body and sword as you apply pressure on your opponent. 

The more mature a kenshi’s kendo is the less physical movement tends to happen. 

B. Tameru / infer response 

As your intention manifests itself and you “close in” on your opponent (not necessarily in the spatial sense) you “hold off’ on striking immediately and, watching your opponent closely, challenge them: “so, what are you going to do?”

The more experienced the kenshi is, the better they can control the opponent and infer the most likely response they’ll make. This inference can often be made somewhat successfully because those with more experience have done more keiko with more types of people and can recognise not only physical seme patterns but are good at reading the psychological aspects of seme-ai.

C. Partner intuits they will be struck

At this point your opponent, perceiving the incoming attack, will feel under pressure to react – they have a decision to make: strike back or dodge/block? Alternatively, they may be unable to choose either and simply stop indecisively (termed “itsuku” in Japanese).

If one of the four sickness occurs in them at this point (fear, surprise, confusion, or doubt) they will find themselves in a bad situation quickly.

D. Strike

If the opponent:

1. attempts to strike first, do some sort of oji-waza (response inferred/baited); 
2. stalls, strike them (mentally defeat);
3. breaks their posture, strike whichever area is open (physically defeat).
Of course, things don’t always go as smooth as this, and there is a lot 
of to-and-fro between both kenshi in the midst of the seme-ai. In mature
kenshi especially, there will be a lot of back and forth between stages
A and B on both sides before a “sickness” appears and stages C and D 

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Aikido of Seigo Yamaguchi

Seigo Yamaguchi was a masterful aikidoka and taught many of the high ranking shihan who are active today. His approach to aikido is as distinct as Gozo Shioda or Koichi Tohei. Below is a video of him demonstrating. Enjoy.


Sunday, May 08, 2022

How to be a Great Taijiquan Teacher

Below is an excerpt from an article at Thoughts on Tai Chi about how to be a great teacher. This is a huge topic. The full post may be read here.

Lately, I’ve been asked by a few individuals who liked my writings to not only write something more about learning and studying, but also to write something that focus more on teaching aspects. So far I have written a whole lot about learning (like this post) and how to become a good practitioner. But teaching is something that I have always been reluctant to write about. First, teaching is something very individual and I don’t like to preach about how others should do it. As students are all different and different types of students need different types of teaching, there is no real point in telling people about what is bad or about who can’t teach. But still, teaching is an interesting subject which is hard to completely disregard.

But also, before getting starting with trying to verbalize my thoughts on how to be a great teacher, I should be honest about that, as a teacher, I don’t consider myself as anywhere near great. Nowadays, I only teach in private sessions to individual students, or for small groups not larger than 3 or 4 persons. I teach in my own way, and only things that I like myself, so there are a lot of things I won’t teach, and because of this my teaching is limited and not suitable for everyone. Maybe the people who like me and the things I do might consider it fun and rewarding to learn from me. But they don’t expect me to teach “like everyone else“.

So here are my dos and don’ts regarding teaching, and what to do to be a great teacher. If you want to fill in the gaps with things I have forgotten to mention, object, or if you have ideas related to these things, please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments.

Don’t try to earn a living on teaching

Just let’s face it, there are already very few people who get a liking for tai chi enough to consider practicing it, and even fewer who are really serious and want to dig deeper into the art. If you want to earn your living on teaching Tai Chi, the income will always be more important than the content of teaching. You can’t really get around this. Then you need to arrange your school, classes and teaching in such a way that you will make sure you can have an income that you could live on. This would mean that you would always need to deliver what people expect.

If you teach Tai Chi as a martial art, you would probably at least consider some kind of grading system, some standard types of clothing or uniforms, or maybe print your logo on T-shirts. You would need to teach using a standard curriculum which everyone has to follow. If you want to develop your school into several classes, or even more schools, you would need to build up Some sort of hierarchy, which is something maybe not every serious practitioner would find an easy thing to accept. But you would really need to do this as senior students could take over your classes and teach their own classes.

It would take time to build up a larger organization, but it’s not an impossible thing to do, not even with Tai Chi Chuan. But every step you take in this direction would have to be more about building up a brand while figuring out what people want and expect, rather than about teaching Tai Chi as it was supposed to teach or even what Tai Chi could be if presented through it’s full potential. So obviously, the quality of your teaching, and what you teach, will have to suffer in one way or another if building up a big organization to secure an income is your main goal. There’s just no way to get around this problem.

So if you are going to focus only at being as a great teacher as possible, it is likely that you would not be able to earn much on teaching. But of course, if you are a great practitioner who has developed some rare skills people are looking for to learn, you might have people paying big money to learn from you. However, this would more likely be through smaller classes and private sessions, because teaching larger classes is the second thing you should not do if you want to become a great Tai Chi teacher.

Keep the classes small

Think about it for a while, think about how different types of classes are usually taught in music, arts and handicrafts. The real good teachers who teaches the most gifted students and produce the most high quality students always teach only very small groups or in private. Of course you would want to rather hire a great private teacher for your kid‘s piano lessons than put him or her in a public class. You would get full attention every single minute of those private classes. Learning and developing would go much faster. For a gifted student, there is often no other way to continue to develop further than to find a great private teacher.

Now, think about professional magicians, how they actually teach their students or disciples who really learns the art and the methods that are always hidden away from the public. The illusionist as a teacher usually only has one or two, or maybe a handful of students. This is how the art of professional magic is transferred from teacher to student, through a close relationship. This might be the modern type of teaching that comes closest to traditional Chinese martial arts teaching.

In the older days, teachers in the Chinese martial arts would mostly teach only through their own blood line, like someone in older days who dealt with pottery for a living, who learned from his own father and passed the skills onwards to his own sons, so they in turn could make a living on it. In older China, Martial Arts were mostly either a tradition only kept within the family or to very close friends, but sometimes they could be transmitted just like how professional illusionists do today. Still, they would mostly only teach it to maybe two or three trustworthy students or disciples in order to keep the secrets from reaching the public. Sometimes a martial arts skill was a kind of trading skill, but still, those skills were mostly only taught to a few.

And this is the way a Chinese Martial Art should be taught, within closed doors and in private, or at least in small classes. This is how a student can build up real skills (if the teacher really wants his or her students to become skilled, but this is for another topic.). However, If you only want to teach Tai Chi as a lightweight health exercise, there doesn’t need to be any kind of skill involved, and you don’t need to keep the classes extremely small. 


Thursday, May 05, 2022

Dignity in Judo

Below is an excerpt form an article written by the founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano on the how a student of Judo should properly conduct himself. The full post may be read here.

What exactly is it that constitutes a man's dignity? There are various facets that make up a man's dignity, but in simple terms it may be said to be comprised of the five components of etiquette, lifestyle, civility, work ethic, and ideals.


Etiquette denotes one's appearance and manners. Correct posture is requisite for good manners, but so is one's personal appearance and dress... People are apt to think that it requires considerable expense to acquire quality items to enhance their appearance, and that it is beyond their means. However, quality and extravagance are entirely different things. Irrespective of social class, all people should avoid wasteful extravagance. Those of meagre resources must keep their limitations in mind. Whatever your station is in life, it is important to be cognisant of what is respectable and what is not for somebody in your position.

Bearing is also of consequence to the way a man's character is perceived. We admire a person who is deft at his work, who walks expeditiously down the road, who stands up and sits down unassumingly, and who opens and closes doors or removes items with composure... In short, manners should be abided by as conventions of society, and to avoid making trouble for others and incurring animosity. Judo training facilitates the cultivation of such qualities. Correct posture is emphasised in the practise of Kata and Randori, and all movements are executed expeditiously, and with composure. Practice always commences and finishes with a Rei, and the dojo is a venue in which manners are refined.

Nevertheless, it cannot be said that all Judo practitioners are striving for such self-improvement. If the intention is to practise Judo solely as an athletic exercise without comprehending its spirit, such training will accordingly be left wanting in the important aspects of self-improvement. All Judo practitioners must give heed to training both the body and the mind. It is my hope that they will perfect their manners and etiquette concomitantly with technical improvement. When sitting in the formal upright position in the dojo, if one feels only discomfort thinking it necessary to endure simply because of dojo protocol, such a man will slink back into slovenliness upon returning home... Sitting properly in the dojo is not just a matter of protocol, but is the required posture for refining one's manners as a human being.


The next theme concerns the way one lives his life. Soundness is of the essence... The most important point is to live a frugal lifestyle. If you increase your means, use it to engage only in things that will be of use. A student should use what he has available in strengthening his body and acquiring knowledge. The adult should use his resources to develop his business further, for looking after his progenies, for helping friends, or improving society and the state. Increasing the amount of money and resources spent for ameliorating one's outward appearance should be one's lowest priority. If you maintain this policy, you will have sufficient means without risking your reputation, and you will be able to uphold your dignity.

If one possesses little wealth, it would be disgraceful to spend a large sum of money on living expenses. Choose to live in a small house and wear inexpensive clothes. Even when living so humbly, your manners and Rei need not ever be lacking, and you can hold your head high if you do not burden others. Thus, through maintaining a sound lifestyle, you can amplify your capabilities and will eventually be able lead a prosperous life.


Monday, May 02, 2022

A Tribute to Imi Lichtenfeld, the Founder of Krav Maga

Imi Lichtenfeld created Krav Maga, sometime in the 1930s during the social upheaval and violence towards Jews that preceded WWII. He later became
Chief Instructor for Physical Fitness and Krav Maga at the IDF School of Combat Fitness for the new state of Israel.

Below is a short video tribute to Mr. lichtenfeld.