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 ~


Friday, October 28, 2022

Seeking the True Way


Over at Kenshi 24/7 there was an excellent post on they study of Budo through Kendo. I think the post would benefit anyone who studies martial arts. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

 

Those who seek to study kendo must never forget to follow The Way ("michi"). People follow a path to a destination, there is no need to rush down it; instead follow it correctly. In other words, following a path accurately is something that naturally protects the person who walks down it.

If you truly seek this way, you must first (aim to) cultivate/discipline the self, and with this spirit face your opponent. This is the essential meaning of kendo. All humans have (or have the potential to have) a beautiful spirit; through self cultivation you can work to share this with others.

If you forget this spirit and merely find joy in striking and defeating opponents, well that isn't real kendo.

People who do kendo shugyo should seek the true way their entire lives and become a good *person.


Tuesday, October 25, 2022

French Cane Fighting


Canne de Combat, French cane fighting, is a French combat sport. Below is short documentary on the sport.

 

 

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Kagoshima's Samurai Heritage


Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at the Japan Travel website. The full post may be read here.

Try Jigen-ryu, the martial art practiced by Satsuma’s samurai

The samurai of the Satsuma Domain were known to be some of the strongest in Japan, and they trained every day, practicing a martial art called Jigen-ryu. Their strength is credited to the techniques of Jigen-ryu and the mindset it promotes.

Jigen-ryu instructs its followers that “swords should not be drawn,” and strongly cautions against unnecessary killing. However, it also emphasizes that when danger strikes, a warrior should be prepared to cut an enemy down in a state of mind free of all thoughts and desires. Jigen-ryu places importance on making the first move and putting everything into that first strike to bring about victory in a quick, sharp slash. The martial art was established between the late 16th and early 17th century and has a history of over 400 years. The teachings of Jigen-ryu were considered secret, and the Satsuma samurai had a duty to prevent the techniques from becoming known outside of the domain.

At the Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum, you can bring both your body and mind closer to that of the samurai. Try out tategi-uchi, a basic and essential form of training in which the swordsman hits an upright wooden pole with a wooden stick the same length and weight as a katana. This helps a warrior to swing a katana confidently and with strength, without unnecessary movements of the body. The samurai of Satsuma were instructed to strike the tategi 3,000 times in the morning and 8,000 times in the evening. Visitors to the Jigen-ryu Swordsmanship Museum can experience tategi-uchi with an advance reservation. Loose fitting clothing and a towel is recommended.

 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

Birthday 2022


Today is my birthday. Won't you help me celebrate?


 

I have successfully completed another trip around the sun. 

I have just completed 1 year at my present job. Of course, something had to happen along the way. 

As I was nearing the one year anniversary at work, I received an email from HR (I have come to hate emails from HR). Between my age and my years of service (1), I was eligible for an early retirement incentive program. 

Great. The plan has been to retire in another 18 months (when I hit full retirement age), but with crazy inflation and a recession, it looks like I'll probably want to keep working until I'm 70, if I can. Now I was looking at taking the incentive and rolling the dice that I could find another job, not taking the incentive and rolling the dice that I don't get laid off (as there is obviously a reduction in force program going); and hoping I can get back to work in the event I do, or nothing happens.

Just in case, I made contact with a former customer who is the CEO of a competitor now. I have a lifeboat with him. I'd have to agree to work until I'm 70 and to justify my salary, I'd have to wear many hats; but it's a lifeboat.

My wife and I sweated this out over a long weekend, going over all the scenarios. When I spoke to my boss, he tells me that I wasn't supposed to get that email. Our part of the company was newly acquired and the corporation's intent was to leave the newly acquired companies alone for them to get their legs under them.

It was a relief that I wasn't getting pushed out. But we are in a recession and there is a workforce reduction taking place. I expect anything to happen.

One of my daughters was married this summer. It was a beautiful wedding in northern Michigan. She had one of the best weddings I had ever attended. They did a great job putting that together.

Unfortunately, my other daughter has just been laid off. She's busy looking for a new job, but is also enjoying her time off.

I am practicing the best taijiquan of my life right now. I've had many breakthroughs over the past year. As far as my practice goes, I am in a good place.

I've decided to keep track of how many book I've read this year. I'm on track to read 50 books.

Everyone's health is good. Although we all expect some rocky times ahead, due to the economy, we're all in a good place.  

Friday, October 14, 2022

A Karate Life


 Below is a documentary about Michiro Noguchi, a senior master of Goju Ryu karate. Enjoy.


Saturday, October 08, 2022

A Retrospective of a Senior Teacher's Taijiquan Study


From a Quora post in 2020:


Stages and Basic Principles of Taijiquan Practice

Larry Wall (Practicing and teaching Yang Ben Hao style taiji for 47 yrs)

As a beginner, what were the challenges you faced learning Tai Chi?
I was lucky in a sense because I was my teacher’s only student for close to two years before he had other committed students. For close to the first year I was his only student. Later, people would show up, stick around for a week or so and then drift away. I was also lucky in that my teacher practiced taiji every morning at 6:30 AM, so I had daily instruction.

My teacher first told me that if I study taiji every day, it will take me one month to learn the moves, another month to memorize the moves and about ten years to get any good at the moves. In my fairly unique circumstances, I did indeed learn and memorize the move(s in two months’ time.

How long did it take me to become “good” at the moves? I don’t know. I’ve been practicing taiji now for 47 years and I’m still getting better at it as I go.

One thing that was a challenge, now that I think of it, was getting used to my teacher’s rather oblique method of teaching. He insisted he wasn’t at all “Chinese-y,” in that he was willing to teach non-Chinese the art. On the other hand, he still maintained some of the classical Chinese tests a teacher maintains with his students.

For instance, my teacher would show a move in its most general form. He’d then wait for the student to ask an informed detail question about the move before he’d elaborate on the deeper elements of the move. If a given student never asked a decent detail question, my teacher would quickly write him or her off as somebody who “doesn’t get it” and while he’d never kick that student out of class, he’d more or less ignore that student from that point forward unless the student eventually came back with an intelligent question.

This put the student in an interesting bind: he or she had to be curious and perfectionistic enough to begin with to ask intelligent detail questions. Most students essentially weren’t. They waited for my teacher to correct them, give them feedback on how they were doing and then correct them further. But my teacher wouldn’t do that: he really only wanted to give serious time to those students who were inquisitive and who showed a real desire to learn.

Another thing my teacher did was, if you learned an element of a move or a taiji principle that he didn’t think you were ready for and you asked him about it, he’d tell you that you were doing it all wrong and that you were to never do things that way again.

My teacher did this to me in my first year when I stumbled upon the taiji principle of shuǎi (甩), which literally means “fling” but which has a hidden meaning of “feel the weight at the end” (these days I prefer the term bǎi (擺; 摆), which translates to “pendulum,” because it’s more descriptive for American students). Essentially, when you’re walking with your arms naturally swinging forward and back, if you’re relaxed enough you can feel the weight of your arms dropping down into your hands by the simple process of centrifugal force. If you do this in the summer, you can actually see your hands turn slightly pink and see them swell slightly.

This is shuǎi, which is the pendulum feeling (bǎi) you should have in your hands throughout the taiji exercise form. If performing a kick, you should be feeling shuǎi (bǎi) in that part of the foot that would be delivering the force of the kick.

Feeling shuǎi provides bodily feedback that you are sufficiently relaxing your arms enough (sōng; 鬆) so that your force is at least coming from your torso, if not from your feet.

Anyway, when I first discovered shuǎi I excitedly asked my teacher about it. He promptly told me I was “doing it all wrong” and that I should “never do it that way.” I listened to him respectfully (of course) but on my own started practicing shuǎi anyway.

Roughly six months later, I decided to bring the question of shuǎi up again (of course, back then I didn’t know the word for it was shuǎi; I just asked about the feeling).

This time, my teacher responded “Well of course that’s how you do it! I thought you already knew that!” I guess after that additional amount of time studying, my teacher decided that I was ready enough to be confirmed in that understanding.

My teacher also tested his students to see if they could be trusted. He was extremely adamant he didn’t want what he was teaching to fall into the hands of a potential bully who would abuse the knowledge.

Once about three years into my training, my teacher showed me a very simple variation on a defense, which turned the defense into an attack. Unfortunately for me, a student from another school just happened to have been taught that very same move by his teacher from across town. At the beginning of a class, this student, thinking he had something new and exciting to show me, “taught” me the move.

I caught a single glimpse of my teacher observing this student showing me the move. I knew instantly he believed I had breached his trust and was showing that move to the student from the other school.

My teacher then refused to show me anything new or detailed for a full seven months. He’d written me off as untrustworthy. Whenever I tried to ask him a detail question, he’d very politely put me off with a very generic answer. I felt terrible.

Finally, I asked a fellow student (who I knew still had my teacher’s trust) to tell him in private what happened to me: that I hadn’t revealed the move he told me to keep quiet about to that student from another school but had been an unfortunate victim of coincidence. A month later my teacher began once again answering my detail questions and I was back in the inner circle as though nothing had ever happened (I guess it took my teacher a full month to decide if I was telling the truth).

So those were some of my initial difficulties in learning taiji.

Here’s a portion of an article I wrote for the Marquette (MI) Monthly four years ago. Hopefully, it’ll be helpful.

What is Taijiquan: Understanding the Rectification of the Body

Taiji is very misunderstood. Apart from the artistic depictions of it in the media, taiji is a demanding art that requires a significant degree of dedication and persistence. While taiji looks pretty to an observer, the goal of taijiquan is nothing less than a profound body-mind transformation called shēntǐ de zhěngdùn (身體的整頓) or “the rectification of the body.”

Like a sculptor softens a stiff lump of clay to then transform it into a sculpture of a swan, the goal of the taiji practitioner is to relax and soften his or her body so that it can become a conductor of both physical and psychological energy, called qì (氣; pronounced “chee”). That qì then expresses itself in a multiplicity of “strengths” or skills known as jìns (勁). In taiji, the use of jìn is contrasted with our usual tendency to force things: to push back when pushed, to pull away when pulled; an oppositional attitude that is called lì (力) or wéi (為).

A primary element in transforming or “rectifying” the body involves relaxing deeply enough while lightly creating torque in the limbs and the torso (called chán sī jìn (纏絲勁) or “silk reeling skill”), so that rather than relying on muscle strength as virtually all of us do when under stress, one instead relies on gravity and the natural rebound of walking, as well as the innate elastic strength of one’s tendons, ligaments and fascia to respond to an attack.

The Five Stages of Taijiquan

My teacher Qín Liáng Zhōu (秦梁周) would typically explain taiji to newcomers using the following progression, based on the English translation of taiji as “Supreme Ultimate:”

Taiji at first is the Supreme Ultimate Exercise. Taiji is a gentle exercise which stretches the limbs, loosens the spine and rejuvenates one’s sense of balance and bodily kinesthetics. Taiji enhances one’s breathing and is vigorous enough when practiced correctly to raise a good sweat while being gentle enough that one can continue to practice it well into old age. Most people who begin to practice taiji remain at this level, no matter how many years they practice the art, which is perfectly all right. Most people either have no desire to progress to the next level or else they lack a competent teacher who can help them go further.

Next, taiji becomes a Supreme Ultimate Dance. Only a few people begin to sense the inner rhythm and flow of taiji to the point where they experience taiji as a dance form. For these people, taiji becomes a delightful way to turn on one’s inner happiness and radiance at will. Qín Liáng Zhōu once commented that taiji “is very much like the waltz. It has that rhythm once you feel it.” Most people who experience taiji as a dance are content to remain at this level.

At the third level taiji becomes a Supreme Ultimate Martial Art. The full name of taiji is tàijíquán (太極拳). The word quán (pronounced “chwen”) most directly translates as “fist.” As the martial art of taijiquan relies on a degree of body “rectification” as well as satisfaction by the teacher that one is of “decent character,” going through the Exercise and Dance progressions are absolutely necessary prerequisites before one learns taiji as a means of self-defense. There were many students who never received more than a superficial introduction to the martial aspects of taiji from Qín Liáng Zhōu because he decided they weren’t trustworthy enough not to abuse the knowledge. Others simply never developed the relaxation or coordination to arrive at that level. Many students, as I mentioned, were never interested or were actually emotionally repelled by the idea of using taiji in a martial fashion.

Very, very few taiji practitioners arrive at the martial arts level and for those who do, this level is a major trap.

The goal of taiji at this level is not at all to become a “martial arts bad ass” or to “learn how to kick butt,” even though taiji martial art is extraordinarily comprehensive and allows one to respond to an attack with anything from a no-touch evasion, to a light push or pull, all the way to a killing technique if everything else has failed.

The goal of taiji as a martial art—oddly enough for most people—is stress management. The idea is that if one can remain physically, emotionally and mentally relaxed while someone is trying to grab, hit or otherwise hurt you, you can probably remain relaxed in the normal hassles of everyday life.

This is the interesting part: the various jìns of taiji don’t work if you tense up and try to use muscle strength. Tensing up both slows you down and drastically reduces the power you can produce. Trying to muscle one’s way to a “victory” in the exercise known as “push hands,” for instance, will only result in your resorting to wrestling rather than taiji. Tensing up while someone is trying to hit you probably means you’ll find yourself getting hit.

The other interesting thing about practicing taiji as a martial art (as well as related disciplines such as aikido and Systema) is that skilled practitioners usually come across as very “laid back” and non-aggressive. It turns out that much of the “tough guy” posturing and “woofing” found in the bars and on television is understood as an expression of underlying fear these arts teach you to resolve, just as it resolves the intense fear of injury seen in those who cower and tremble in the face of any expressed or implied aggression.

The main goal of taiji as a martial art is to learn how to listen and respond to another person’s projection of energy. Many of the jìns that are important to develop if one wants to master taijiquan cannot be developed if one only practices solo taiji. It is vital for students to practice cooperatively if they are to understand and develop the higher levels. One of the most popular methods of cooperative taiji practice is called tuī shǒu (推手) or “push hands.” It’s variations begin at the simple and evolve into the complicated and freestyle.

The fourth level of taiji is that of the Supreme Ultimate Meditation. If you recall, I mentioned that the word quán directly translates into “fist.” But take a second: what is a fist? A fist is a “concentrated hand.” In the same way, the word quán can serve as a poetic reference to meditation as a “concentrated mind.” In practicing taiji as a meditation, it is necessary to have approximately mastered the prior three levels of taijiquan. In the meditative level, one focuses on one of the many aspects of taiji practice: the shifting of one’s weight from one foot to the other, the expression of force as it develops in the feet, travels up one leg into the torso and from there travels down one arm and out the hand; one focuses on one’s breathing to further refine the physiology of the inhale and the coordination of movement with the exhale, the feeling of one’s entire body as it moves through space—the possibilities of what to focus on are endless. This is one of the things that makes taiji fascinating: when done correctly, taiji is never boring. One can still be a student after fifty years of practice and while into one’s 70’s or older.

At the fifth and final level, Taiji Becomes Itself. The taiji practitioner at this level easily shifts from levels one through four and also is able to consciously slip into a form of high level non-verbal awareness the Chinese Daoists call wú xīn (無心) or “no mind.” The taiji practitioner at this point can defend him or herself with complete spontaneity, responding to an attacker’s moves in the same effortless fashion that a skilled jazz saxophonist can improvise music in perfect synchrony with the pianist. This ability transfers into every area of the practitioner’s life and is said to have penetrated “into the bones” to the point where the taiji practitioner is performing taiji in everything he or she does, whether it’s driving a car, engaging in self-defense, talking with the boss or washing the dishes.

Some Basic Principles of Taiji Practice

You can begin to practice some of the basic taiji principles of movement without a formal lesson. Here’s how to get started:

Imagine Your Head Is a Balloon Filled with Helium

This will encourage you to “float” your head above your neck and will promote proper upper-body alignment and tension release. This is the basis for the postural alignment discipline called the Alexander Technique, just to point out a connection to Western disciplines. Instead of imagining your head is a balloon, some people prefer the mental image of your head being pulled upwards by a string. Both work.

Pay Attention to The 4 Internal Forces: Fall, Compress, Float & Fling (An, Ji, Peng & Liu)

Taiji is based on four feelings we experience continuously but usually never notice while walking. As we step forward, our foot “falls” towards the ground and then “compresses,” prompting a “rebound” or “float” of force that goes up through the body and out the top of the head. If you relax while naturally swinging your arms, like a pendulum, you can feel the weight of your arms travel down into your hands. All taiji moves are elaborations and developments of these four “forces.”

Pay more attention to these internal “feelings” than how you look.

Taiji primarily involves the feet and legs. The illusion is that the arms and hands are the main points of focus.

All Movement Comes from The Feet, Goes Up Through the Body and Then Travels Out the Hands

This feels very foreign for most people who begin learning taiji. You will probably need to be coached at first to experience this. Once you get the hang of the feeling, however, it becomes very natural.

The Instant You Compress into Your Partner, Feel Your Back or Forward Foot Compress into the Ground

This activates your bodily structure and provides you with a full-body connection between your hand (or hands) and the ground. Most of the time you’ll compress your back foot into the ground as you compress your hand or fist into your partner for a push or a strike but occasionally you’ll compress into your front foot for particular techniques. In the absence of a partner, you can practice using a wall to experience the whole-body connection between your foot and your hand. A variation of this activation also applies to pulls.

Breathe from Your Lower Abdomen (Diaphragm)

This is how you breathe when you sleep. Most people, however, breathe from their chest when they’re awake. If you have ever played a wind instrument, sang in a choir or engaged in public speaking, you already know how to do this.

Bend Your Knees in Line with Your Third Toe. Never Reach Past the Vertical Plane of Your Forward Toes.

Bending your knee in the direction of your third toe protects you from knee misalignment and damage, as does never bending your knee past the vertical plane of your toes. Never reaching with your hands past the vertical plane of your forward toes protects you from losing balance by overextending yourself.

Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Intent (yi) in Taijiquan


Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared in The Tai Chi Notebook that discusses three views of intent (yi) in Taijiquan practice. The full post may be read here.

I’m writing this as a kind of follow up to my previous article on 3 views of qi in Tai Chi. That article contained the 3 different things I think people really meant when they talk about qi in Tai Chi. This article aims to do the same thing with yi. I don’t consider myself an authority on either matter, but I have had some skin in the Tai Chi game for a while now, and I’ve read enough of other people’s writings to come to some conclusions about what I think they’re talking about. Hopefully you’ll find these definitions helpful, and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Yi gets a few mentions in the Tai Chi Classics, and is usually translated into English as “intent”, or “mind-intent”, a translation which I think can be problematic because there are at least 3 different things that people mean when they say “intent” in Tai Chi, and while the three are obviously related, they’re also quite distinct from each other.

Before we get into the definitions, let’s have a look at what the Tai Chi Classics have to say about yi:

The most quoted line regarding Yi is in the Tai Chi Classic: “All movements are motivated by yi, not external form”, which can also be translated as “use the mind, not force”. In no.6 of Yang Cheng-Fu’s 10 important points he says:

“6.) Use the mind instead of force. The T’ai Chi Ch’uan Classics say, “all of this means use I [mind-intent] and not li.” In practicing T’ai Chi Ch’uan the whole body relaxes. Don’t let one ounce of force remain in the blood vessels, bones, and ligaments to tie yourself up. Then you can be agile and able to change. You will be able to turn freely and easily. Doubting this, how can you increase your power?”

So, here the emphasis is on relaxing and not using “force”, but why? And What does that mean? I will explain later.

Interestingly, right after that line, the Tai Chi Classic then goes on to say:

“If there is up, there is down;
when advancing, have regard for withdrawing;
when striking left, pay attention to t
he right.

If the yi wants to move upward,
it must simultaneously have intent downward. “

Definition 1: Martial intent

Given the lines quoted in the Tai Chi classics above I find it strange that the most common interpretation of yi in Tai Chi is as a kind of martial intent. Here intent is “your intent to do something”, and in Tai Chi people generally mean a martial intention that needs to be contained within every particular posture or movement. So, for example, when you do the ward off movement, you need to have the intention of deflecting a blow away. If you movement lacks that intention, it is said to be empty.

Now this may all be true, and not knowing the martial applications of a movement inevitably leads to it becoming too abstract and unfocused, but this understanding of ‘intent’ is clearly not what is being talked about in the Tai Chi Classics when it admonishes us to “use the mind, not force”. If all it meant was to have a martial intention behind the movements, then it’s impossible to see how that can match up with lines from the classics like:

“If the yi wants to move upward,
it must simultaneously have intent downward.”

What has that got to do with martial intent?

Clearly this is talking about something else. Yes, a martial spirit is obviously important for Tai Chi, and some Chinese teachers refer to an “eye spirit” which his making sure you are focussed and looking in the right place in form performance, and you look like your actions are martially proficient, but I don’t really think this is what is specifically meant by yi in the Tai Chi classics.

 

 

 


Sunday, October 02, 2022

Kung Fu, the Orginal TV Series Documentary


When I was a teenager, the pilot for the Kung Fu (original) TV series; Way of the Tiger, Sign of the Dragon, aired on ABC. I was hooked. I knew that I wanted to train in martial arts and study philosophy. That show had a huge influence on my life.

Below is a documentary on the development of the show. Enjoy.