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 ~


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Karate Foot Sweeps


A friend of mine got jumped in the men's room of a bar years ago. He was studying karate at the time. He foot swept the attacker and walked away.

 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Progression of Fu Style Internal Martial Arts


Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Slanted Flying, which describes the evolution and development of Fu Style Internal Martial Arts. The full article may be read here.

The Progressive Forms of Fu Style Tai Chi – Grasp Bird’s Tail
By Tommy Kirchhoff
Translation by Gordon Yung

Most experts believe there are only five major styles of Tai Chi Chuan, which are derived from five families: Chen (陳), Yang (楊), Sun (孫), Wu (吳) and Wu/Hao (武/郝). These critics proudly purport that all the rest are just lesser sub-sets of the big five.

It is much less known but still a fact that around 1928 the Chinese Central Government named Fu Zhen Song (傅振嵩) as the chief instructor of BaGuaZhang (八卦掌) for the entire nation of China. Fu originally learned Chen Style (陳式) Tai Chi from Chen YenShi (陳延熙), the lineage holder of that epoch and the father of Chen FaKe (陳發科); Fu learned BaGuaZhang from most of the inside students of Dong HaiChuan (董海川). Fu traveled the country and exchanged martial information with many of the best practitioners, and eventually became very close friends with both Yang ChengFu (楊澄甫) and Sun LuTang (孫祿堂).

Fu Zhen Song and Sun LuTang were both grandmasters of the Wudang Fists (武當拳): Tai Chi, BaGuaZhang, Hsing-I Chuan (形意拳), and Wudang Sword (武當劍). Both were great innovators of these arts, as well as superb teachers. Fu and Sun each combined elements from BaGua and Hsing-I into their respective Tai Chi styles, and they enjoyed collaborating ideas, techniques and methodologies with one another. Even now in 2019 many Sun Style (孫式) practitioners teach Fu Style (傅式), and vice-versa.

It is said that the name “internal martial arts” has several meanings, but Neijia (internal arts, 內家) comes first from inside families. Fu ZhenSong’s martial heir was his first-born son, Fu WingFay (傅永輝). Although Fu ZhenSong was one of the greatest innovators of the Wudang arts, his son Fu WingFay grew up learning from many of the greatest grandmasters in addition to studying under his father for 40 years. Fu WingFay was also an innovator and a great teacher. Fu ZhenSong did not appreciate many of the changes Fu WingFay made to the Fu Style Wudang Fist system; but Fu WingFay earned the inheritance of the Fu Style system, so it became his to modify.

Fu WingFay’s first major change to the system was developing “Waist Skills.” He integrated bending forward, backward and sideways to step, move, slip and to control one’s self and his or her opponent. He also made the system much softer by eliminating iron body training, and also by developing a recoiling fajin (power emission, fājìn, 發勁). He worked for many years to develop a system of teaching with clear levels for beginner, intermediate and advanced study. He changed some of the postures so they made more sense for applications, and smoothed out many details and fine skills. He also omitted some of the old forms, such as the myriad of Fu Style BaGua spear forms.

To get an idea of the excellence of Fu WingFay’s tutelage look no further than his student Grandmaster Bow Sim Mark (麥寶嬋) and her illustriously famous movie-star son, Donnie Yen (甄子丹).

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

The Origins of Budo


Below is an excerpt from an interview with martial arts historian Guillaume Erard regarding the origins of Budo, which appeared at the Aikido Journal. The full interview may be read here.

 ...

Guillaume Erard (born April 13, 1981) is a French biologist and budo instructor living and working in Tokyo, Japan. He began practicing judo at the age of six, then started aikido at fifteen in the group of André Nocquet, who was the first non-Japanese uchideshi [live-in student] of O-Sensei. He has attained the rank of 5th dan in aikido at the Aikikai Hombu Dojo and 3rd dan in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu. He is a well-known historian and researcher of budo and served as the Director of Information for the International Aikido Federation from 2015-2018. He travels frequently to teach, research, and practice all over the world, and he has been featured on television, in various podcasts, and in online/print stories about martial arts. He also publishes informational videos about aikido on YouTube. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Aikido Journal (Josh Gold): Let’s talk a little bit about the idea of budo in Japanese culture. This is a topic where Westerners sometimes have a slightly different view than you’ll find in Japan; since you’re a Westerner living in Japan who is a budo practitioner and researcher, I think you can help us find perspective on it.

Guillaume Erard: Budo is a term that everybody knows about, but I feel that there are some elements of it which are, perhaps, a little bit misunderstood. Note that my opinion in this area is very much based on that of the prominent researchers on the topic. The high-level concept around this is budo as a ningen keisei no michi, which roughly means “the way of human development.” In Japan, this connection is quite obvious, and many people study budo, and perhaps even more so aikido to become better human beings. Perhaps many Westerners decide to study martial arts to become better at physical self-defense, but the desire to study budo for self-defense purposes is not as widespread in Japan. Because Japan is such a safe country, having to defend oneself is probably a lesser consideration.

Yes, I can see how that would be a much lower priority in Japan.

To clarify, I will never judge somebody who goes into martial arts to learn how to defend themselves because they’ve had bad experiences or because they live in places of the world which are not as safe as Japan. I don’t want others to think that I’m judgmental of those people or that I feel that motivation is beneath me — I’m just not in that situation. I would say, however, that the budo arts were not primarily intended for combat, and there is plenty of evidence for this when looking at their origins.

Let me first address the elephant in the room. People who are really into martial arts for self-defense purposes are very critical of what they call traditional arts. I think there is good reason for this, technically speaking, as many traditional techniques are either obsolete or not optimized for this purpose. On the other hand, and in the case of aikido especially, I think the argument is fallacious because a great many aikidoka never make such a claim. The official definition of aikido, as formulated by aikido’s own World headquarters, does not even mention efficacy. The burden of proof therefore does not lie on the entire aikido community, but only on those who claim that aikido is adequate as a street fighting system. It’s not one or zero though, and some things in aikido may be applicable, but it’s undeniable that there are far superior and more up-to-date systems that exist for that purpose.

More generally, and without going too much into the origin of the term, budo implies first and foremost an idea of a lifelong journey. Therefore, it’s just not a rational choice for someone looking for immediate efficacy. Budo arts were created as educational systems. This did not always serve very noble causes though. For instance, budo were at a time instrumental to getting the Japanese population to support Japan’s efforts during World War II. The idea was to foster a sense of nationalism and to forge a strong group dynamic, and it played on the sense of pride of the Japanese because it felt like part of their unique culture. At that time, kendo and judo were used not so much for teaching martial techniques, but almost as a sort of brainwashing system.

People who are really into martial arts for self-defense purposes are very critical of what they call traditional arts. I think there is good reason for this, technically speaking, as many traditional techniques are either obsolete or not optimized for this purpose.

Additionally, when budo arts were utilized as educational systems for the greater Japanese population, the techniques were modified across the board to be safer because they had to be taught in schools. Of course, you couldn’t include lethal techniques or those designed to cause serious injury in that context. If you start modifying techniques to make them safer so they can be taught in schools, you’re no longer teaching battlefield technique. Budo are also anachronisms; if one looks at kendo or jukendo for instance, the techniques contained in their respective formal curricula are completely out-of-date. Nobody nowadays walks around with a sword or a rifle mounted with a bayonet. To a large extent, this remark applies to the curricula of many other empty-handed budo, including aikido.

Even looking further in history, before budo were budo, some researchers such as Dr. Karl Friday have actually argued that the old koryu [pre-Meiji martial arts] schools also taught some techniques that were actually no more aimed to be used on the battlefield than today’s budo. He also analyzed historical evidence, particularly the remains of people who died in battles and found that, for example, the sword was actually rarely used in battle. People died from being hit by stones, stabbed with spears, pierced by arrows or bullets later on, but sword wounds were relatively rarely found, especially lethal sword wounds. So when you think about the fact that the sword is so central within the technical curricula of many old schools of martial arts and how little it seems to have been used on the battlefield, you’ve got something to explain here.

Right. So not only were budo arts modified and popularized for non-combat purposes in the 20th century, but this was a trend in Japanese martial arts even before that?

These older koryu martial arts were probably, to a large extent, educational systems and social organizations where practitioners studied very refined techniques, outside of the framework of the battlefield. It’s also worth noting that many of these older schools were founded after the start of the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600-1868 C.E.) when, basically, most large-scale wars were over. And those schools, of course, were small. They couldn’t possibly have had the capacity to instruct large numbers of soldiers. The guys on the ground who were in actual combat would have been taught very differently, very different material.

Today’s budo is a product of that, and if you realize that, you can find some fascinating aspects and benefits of budo which go beyond just fighting wars, and that’s quite interesting.

And in addition to the idea that budo is perceived very different inside and outside of Japan, there’s also a similar difference in perspective on aikido’s philosophy of harmony, right?

Yes. I don’t think you necessarily have to understand the Japanese take on this to be a great aikido practitioner, but if you want to understand the motivation of the founder and the reason for the art’s existence, I think it’s important. The idea of harmony in aikido is very important, but it is also such a can of worms in the Western context because we are using our own Judeo-Christian perception of what harmony is, and Japan has a different philosophical tradition.

In Japanese, this sense of harmony is known as wa [kanji: 和]. We talk about wa no budo [“budo of harmony”] but the actual meaning of wa is not really harmony in a sort of tree-hugging way. Harmony in this sense is more related to group cohesion and functionality. It’s about accepting a set of social rules within a group so that relationships can flow and be simple. So for example, I don’t have to like you and you don’t even have to be a particularly good person, but if you and I accept the same set of rules we’re going to get along just fine. We’re going to be in harmony.

And I think, to a great extent, that’s the way Japanese think about wa. So wa no budo is about a way of having, in my view, a common practice, a set of techniques, terminology, and protocols, like wearing a hakama and so on. Budo arts provide methods for training together in the same place so that people can actually interact in a productive way, with people they might not have communicated with otherwise.

The idea of harmony in aikido is very important, but it is also such a can of worms in the Western context because we are using our own Judeo-Christian perception of what harmony is, and Japan has a different philosophical tradition.

Based on my research, it’s probable that the founder of aikido had this concept of wa no budo in mind when he was active before the war and in close contact with prominent members of the government and of the military. This interpretation of harmony is quite compatible with the nationalistic expansionist policy Japan was pursuing in WWII, in a way that was similar to the ancient Roman Empire. You could get on very well with the Romans even if they invaded your country as long as you became a Roman and followed Roman rules. In Ueshiba’s time, the Japanese idea was something like, “Let’s let us all be in harmony the Japanese way, and I’m going to beat you over the head to make you understand that, and once you’ve understood it, we’ll be in harmony.”

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Is Budo for Everyone?


Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Budo Bum. The author asks the question, "Is Budo for everyone?"

The full post may be read here.

Is budo for everyone? I don’t know. Some of the great proselytizers of budo certainly seemed to think so. Kano Jigoro worked hard to get his Kodokan Judo into the national educational curriculum in Japan, and sent teachers all over the world to popularize it. Funakoshi Gichin brought Ryukyu Te to the main islands of Japan and created modern karatedo. Ueshiba Morihei wanted to spread his art of peace all over the world, and sent out teachers wherever there was interest. Kendo has a regular world championship. 

Is budo for everyone? Should it be for everyone? I and an army of others have written endlessly about the benefits of martial arts training and often suggest that some sort of martial arts training would be good for pretty much everyone. Besides the arts above, there are countless commercial martial arts schools that are premised on the assumption that everyone can, and should, do martial arts. I started out in a Kodokan Judo club at a university. We never considered that judo wasn’t for everyone.

After a few decades of practice, as well as having encountered many other budo forms, I have begun to wonder about this assumption. Classical budo were clearly not for everyone. Many ryuha had requirements that students bring recommendations, and then if the teacher accepted them, they still had to prove themselves. Students who couldn’t follow the rules or didn’t fit the particular budo culture were out. Students often had to sign lengthy pledges, keppan, promising to follow the rules of the school (see the chapter on keppan in Ellis Amdur’s Old School). These arts had, and still have, an innate assumption that they are not for anyone who walks up with tuition money.

Classical ryuha exist for themselves. A few were otome ryu, schools that were officially attached to local daimyo and were tied to the political scene, but most were not officially linked with any political organization and flourished or perished on their own merits and the ability of the teacher(s) to bring in enough students. The Bugei Ryuha Daijiten lists thousands of individual ryuha that existed over the centuries in Japan. Most didn’t survive any great length of time.  The ones that have survived the longest are famous; Kashima Shinto Ryu, Katori Shinto Ryu, Kashima Shinryu, Maniwa Nen Ryu. 

They are also famous for their pickiness when accepting new students.Their founders and members have never dreamed that these arts are meant for everyone. Just the opposite. These arts are treasures to be guarded jealously and not just shared with anyone. Until the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868, a person’s martial skills could be drawn upon in duels and fights. For the samurai classes, this was a matter of honor and legitimacy. With the very real possibility that they might have to use what their ryuha taught them, it became  vital that not everyone knew its secrets. A samurai might have had to rely on those secrets to survive.

 

 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

The 100 Fists of Taijiquan


Below is an excerpt from a post at Tai Chi Thoughts on Taijiquan and punching techniques. The full post may be read here.

 

Many martial arts, or maybe the very most of them, tend to organise punches into different types. There are many ways to arrange and define methods. This is common by using names as “lead”, “jab”, “cross”, “uppercut”, “hook”, “haymaker”, “standing fist”, “lying fist”, etc. Different styles have their own ways to organise what they do and they tend to use different names.

The problem with all of these names and definitions, is that it’s all too easy to associate any of these labels with punches from other specific styles and martial arts systems, as from Karate or from Western boxing, and with their ways to generate power. However, to understand what punching means is in Tai Chi Chuan, you really need to get rid of all of the different kinds of associations and knowledge about “how other styles do it”. So in order to understand what a punch is in Tai Chi, it is better to first ask: what is punching in Tai Chi?“.

Yes I know, I should probably demonstrate what I speak about – show and tell – instead of just writing about it. Hopefully I can accomplish this in the near future. But for now on, let me try to explain some important points using words.

This is the first part of a 3 part series about Punching in Tai Chi Chuan, so let’s go on and get serious.

There’s no standard of defining or organising punches in Tai Chi

The interesting thing with Tai Chi is that there is no real standard of organising, or naming, punches in Tai Chi, as what you can find in most other martial arts. Most Chinese styles have names for different punches. But in some Chinese styles, especially in the Northern styles, the fist, or the method of punching, is incorporated in a movement or a stance, which means that the name is for not only the punch, but for the whole body’s movement and structure as well. Thus, the name and posture, or movement, becomes a symbol or general idea that expresses more than only the fist strike. (If you understand how Chinese characters work in the Chinese language, you can compare with how postures can express many different things at the same time.)

In Tai Chi forms, we only see a few movements or postures using a closed fist. Does that mean that the fist is one of the least popular weapons in Tai Chi? And are the punches really that limited? Some Yang Style teachers speak about the Five Fists of Yang Style Tai Chi. This has become a concept in certain schools. Many of those teachers might assume that those 5 explicit fists that are shown in their Tai Chi form are the only fist methods in Tai Chi Chuan. And most people don’t go outside their form to look for punches, as they believe that the form should contain everything necessary in their art.

But however you name or count the different fists, it’s still a simplification and generalisation that is mostly useful only to briefly satisfy asking students. The truth is a bit different. In no classical Chinese text, there is a concept of “five fists”. And in no classical Tai Chi manual you can see a specification of a limited set of fists or anything that comes close to trying to set a standard. All of the other styles have the same problem. They might name a few punches by the names of the movements in their forms, but still, this doesn’t really represent the nature of a “punch” in Tai Chi Chuan.

So what is punching in Tai Chi and how many ways of punching can you actually find in the art? If we start naming different punches with common names people would start to associate “punching” with other arts. And it doesn’t help that some people try to explain the punches in a Tai Chi manner, because most people believe that all punching need to have the same kind of prerequisites. But this is really not the truth about Tai Chi and punching in most other styles does not really reflect what punching mean in Tai Chi.

The Hundred Fists of Tai Chi Chuan

In my own Tai Chi practice, which is mainly Yang based, in the exercises and the methods I myself practice, I have counted and arranged the methods I have learned into ten basic fists. I can also take out one of them, and create many different variations on the same fist according to the use of different body mechanics behind the strike. But still, this is is my own way to organise different striking methods. However you would label different punches and variations, this kind of system would still not reflect the essence of what a Tai Chi punch really is.

Therefore, I would rather use the Chinese term “hundred” and speak about “The Hundred Fists of Tai Chi Chuan”. Wow, that seems a lot, doesn’t it? Can you really punch and strike in so many ways? Well, maybe not if you translate it literary. In Chinese tradition, “hundred” can surely mean literary “one hundred”, but it is also used to express the word “many”. Compare with “the hundred schools of thought” which was a common phrase in a period of China a long time ago. Here it doesn’t mean literary as many as one hundred schools, it just means “many schools of thought”.

There’s no need trying to be specific. “Many” is enough. You need to realise, that in Tai Chi Chuan, as I have already mentioned before, there is no standard across different schools or lineages. All of them have their own ideas. So why is it hard do exactly define a strike or organising methods? Well, let’s head back to the question: what is a strike or a punch in Tai Chi?

Monday, August 15, 2022

How to Take a Punch


Over at The Art of Manliness, there was an article that would be useful to martial artists: How to Take a Punch. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

 Typically when we imagine ourselves in a fight, we visualize ourselves pummeling our opponent, while somehow emerging from the melee unscathed. 

The reality is that in most fights, the other guy will give just as much as he takes, which means you’re going to get hit. 

So how do you take a punch so that it does the least amount of damage possible? 

Below we provide guidance on the answer. As is obligatory to state in every self-defense piece: the best way to take a punch is to prevent a punch in the first place. Avoiding fights and de-escalating conflicts should always be your first move. 

How to Take a Punch to the Head

When you’re fighting, you want to keep your hands up, and hopefully use them to block shots to the head. But punches will still get through. When they do, these other tactics will help mitigate the damage they cause. 

Keep your head steady (by strengthening your neck muscles). The thing that causes knockout punches to the head isn’t usually the punch itself. Instead, it’s the force of its impact whipping your head to the side and causing your brain to slam against the inside of your skull. 

To reduce the whiplash from a punch, you need to reduce the amount of movement that happens to your head after the punch. One way to do this is to strengthen your neck muscles so that you can hold your head steady when it takes a hit. 

Deadlifts and shrugs can go a long way in strengthening the trap muscles at the bottom of your neck. Shoulder presses can also work the traps. 

If you’re really serious about strengthening your neck, you can include neck harness exercises. This allows you to basically lift weights with your neck. MMA fighters and athletes in contact sports like football, hockey, and rugby use neck harness exercises to strengthen their necks so that they can better handle the blows to their noggins. 

Clench your jaw and press your tongue up to the roof of your mouth. This reduces the chance of your jaw getting broken when the incoming fist meets your face. Also, clenching your jaw flexes your neck muscles which will help reduce the whiplash from a punch, and the subsequent sloshing around of your brain. 


Roll with the punches. Imagine a speeding car running into a rigid concrete wall. The result is total destruction as the energy from the speeding vehicle is suddenly arrested. Something similar happens when you stand stiffly and let an incoming punch hit you. 

Now imagine a speeding car running into an air mattress. The air mattress “gives” to the force of the vehicle, dissipating the energy from the collision. 

When you take a punch, you want to be like that imaginary air mattress. You want to give a bit to the punch so that you dissipate its energy.

You can do this by rolling with a punch. Rolling with a punch simply means moving your head and body in the same direction as the punch’s trajectory. If a punch lands as you’re rolling with it, the impact won’t be as jarring.

Rolling with a punch takes some practice, but it’s an effective tool in surviving a punch to the head.

 


Friday, August 12, 2022

Three Crows


Over at Kenshi 24/7 was a post about three famous kendoka who were the best from their dojo; the "three crows."

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

 

Late afternoon summer 1930, Hongo-shinmasago-saka (in modern day Bunkyo-ku). A tallish slender young man, about 19 years old, walked up to the entrance of Yushinkan, the dojo of Nakayama Hakudo. Dangling on the shinai bag that was resting heavily on his right shoulder was another bag with his bogu in it. In his left hand he carried a further bag, filled with clothes and other sundry possessions. Putting his bags down, he slid open the door and called out “gomen kudasai.” After a few moments a young man appeared. 

“My name is Nakakura Kiyoshi. I’ve come up from Kyushu to join the dojo.”

“Come in, sensei has been expecting you.”


As the time for keiko got nearer, more and more people started appearing at the dojo. Nakakura dropped his stuff off in his allocated space in a room on the second floor. He changed into his keikogi and took his bogu down to the dojo. Being new there he didn’t know anybody, nor the routine. 

A young man who looked to be a little bit older than Nakakura approached him:

“My name is Nakajima Gorozo. I teach kendo at keishicho and before that I lived in this dojo and studied under Nakayama sensei for years.  And who might you be?”

“Oh really? How about a match then?”

Nakajima had been a live-in student (uchideshi) at Yushinkan for six years before – at Nakayama’s recommendation – being employed at keishicho. An “old timer” if you like (despite being only 22), Nakajima was incensed at the impertinence of the newcomer. He might have been tall (for people at the time) but what he had in height he lacked in manners. His thick regional accent probably meant he was from the middle of nowhere, meaning his kendo would almost certainly be terrible. Even though it was his first day in the dojo, he needed to be taught a lesson:

“Wait here.”

He motioned over to his good friend Haga Junichi, who was eyeing the encounter from a distance. Haga had joined Yushinkan four years earlier and, being the same age, he and Nakajima had become good friends. Haga was currently teaching at the Imperial Guards and was notorious both for his rough, even violent, keiko as well as his gruff manner. Nakajima spoke:

“This guy needs a lesson in manners.”

Haga nodded. 

“New guy, put your men on.”

What followed was not as Nakajima had imagined. Yes, Haga was full on – vicious tsuki, strong katate-han-men, full on taiatari – but Nakakura was mostly coping with it, and even striking back. In the midst of it one threw the other and they were both lying on the dojo floor grappling. The battle was going on forever, and neither looked like they would concede defeat. After a while Nakajima stepped in and stopped it.

Taking his men off Haga turned to Nakajima and said:

“Well, he seems like an interesting guy.”


This article will very briefly talk about the “sanba-karasu” or “three crows” of Yushinkan: Nakajima Gorozo, Haga Junichi, and Nakakura Kiyoshi. “Three crows” was a sort of nickname given to the three strongest individuals in a field, and in this case it was the three best (young) kenshi in Yushinkan. They not only sparred and competed together, but they formed a close and long lasting friendship. 

Tuesday, August 09, 2022

A Grande Arte


The movie, A Grand Arte (also titled "Exposure") puts street knife fighting front and center unlike in any movie I have ever seen before. 

 

 

 

Saturday, August 06, 2022

Seisan Kata for Goju Ryu


Below is a video which examines the history, performance and variations of the Seisan kata in Goju Ryu.

 

 

Wednesday, August 03, 2022