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 ~

Monday, February 27, 2023

Bruce Lee's Childhood

Below is a video of Shannon Lee, Bruce Lee's daughter, discussing his childhood and relationship with Ip Man.




Friday, February 24, 2023

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Chicken Legs

It's human nature for us to be drawn to our own strengths, as opposed to work on our weaknesses to be more well rounded. Below is an excerpt from the Thoughtful Sensei blog on this topic. The full post may be read here.

189. Samurai Chicken

Having been an athlete since grade school where I ran track as a sprinter before getting into playing competitive football through my high school years, I’ve been in weight rooms and gyms my entire life training before eventually moving into dojo and martial arts.  For me and others like me, staying in shape became an obsession literally decades ago which is why, at age 70 (well, if you count gestation like the Japanese it actually makes me 71) I can easily operate like someone 20 years my junior.

Part of that fitness obsession included a lot of research on what could be called “balanced training” such as nutrition, structuring training routines, and discipline (in their application).  That research covered Japanese concepts that eventually led to a tattoo; speaking to balance.  Ever since being inked, I’ve strived to remember the two mottos (here roughly paraphrased) which are; Ningen Keisei (become a complete human being) and Bun Bu Ryo Dou (living a life in balance).

This includes life in the gym, resistance training, working to stay flexible and limber and also includes the same ideas of “balance” in the dojo as I work through the material.

So today I’m in the gym trying to get back to (and stick with) a regular resistance training routine when I look up and in front of me is a guy preparing to run through sets of chest press using dumbbells.  When I do sets of chest press, my working weight is 40 to 45 pounds per dumb bell (or per hand).  He was working with dumb bells that were 70 pounds each and then he pyramided up to 100 pounds in ten-pound increments.  Impressive for someone who was not a pro football player (based on his size) or an obvious power lifter.

He completed the set and stood up from the bench and since he was wearing shorts, I saw them as he rose.  The legs.  The skinny, scrawny, undeveloped legs. The legs that looked like they had never done any lower body work such as free bar squats, or deadlifts.  His legs were smaller than most peoples’ arms.  It was an amazing moment of cognitive dissonance, this exhibit of upper body over-development and lower body neglect.

Times change as does street slang but when I first began hanging out at gyms and focusing on resistance training the nickname for this was “Bar Body”; someone who hyper-developed the chest, arms, and shoulders so-as to impress someone while buying them a drink.  That was the “kinder” term.  The other term, not quite as nice was “Chicken Man” or sometimes “Turkey Legs”; someone who had a large body (like a good size fryer) but who had the skinny leg bones of a bird.  I still remember once knowing a female co-worker who took one of these specimens’ home from a bar one night and couple of days later at the office, she got talkative and said “WTH …. That’s false advertising.  I was cheated”.  All I could do was laugh.

Martial arts and dojo have much the same issue with many deshi as they come up in rank.  They gain rank, improve ability, move forward in understanding, and one day look up and decide that so-and-so kata set is a little too difficult and uninteresting when compared to other kata (that are easier); much like Chicken Man decided somewhere along the way that chest and shoulders were easier than leg day so they’d do the easy and pass by the hard. 

Saturday, February 18, 2023

The Taijiquan of Lee Ying Arn

Below are vintage videos of Lee Ying Arn, a major Taijiquan teacher in the lineage of the Dong family. 





Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Traditional Japanese Martial Arts in the Modern World

Ellis Amdur is a long time practitioner of traditional Japanese martial arts, owns the Kogen Budo blog and is a prolific author. He was interviewed for a Spanish language martial arts magazine. Below is an except from the English translation, which may be read in it's entirety here.

Mr Amdur's books may be found here.

In his “Spirit of Place,” the great Lawrence Durrell wrote that man is the son of the landscape. The cultural niche in which the bujutsu schools arose is far from the current one. The times demand immediacy, a priori, practicality. Do you consider that, being as we are so far away in space-time from that primitive culture, we can arrive at an understanding of the depths of its philosophy, its reason for being, its most intimate essence?

Your question takes some things at face value that are not exactly true. Anything embedded within a culture is eminently practical—it is only when something is grafted into a culture as a fascinating alien subject that it is—or seems to be—unrealistic or impractical. The classical bugei were always pragmatic—just not in the way that people might imagine. What the reader should understand is that the bugei (these days referred to as koryū) were never the primary training methods for training military personnel for fighting in war. The Japanese, in the period that the bugei first appeared, fought in set-piece battles: mass-formations complete with fortifications and siege-craft. Their primary weapons were bow-and-arrows, spears and guns. Military tactics schools, which described how to train troops and outlined battlefield tactics, were separate entities from the bugei, although some of the older ryūha included limited elements of military tactics in their curriculum. Also, contrary to latter periods, the Japanese in the Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods were innovative rather than conservative, incorporating new technology as soon as they had access to it, both that developed within Japan as well as that made available from the West. For example, plate armor and gunnery were incorporated without hesitation, and before the country shut-down, the Japanese eagerly learned Western ship-building methods.

If the bugei were battlefield arts, as so often has been claimed, why, in the 16th century and afterwards, did they focus on archaic weaponry such as the kamayari,  nagamaki and naginata that were rarely used on the battlefield even in the 14th century? Why did they include chained weapons in their curriculum that were not even suitable for mass conflict? Finally, and most importantly, why was the sword the primary weapon of the majority of the bugei, when it was, at best, an auxiliary side-arm? Some may cite the number of ryūha with spears within their curriculum, but even when training with such weaponry, the majority of ryūha used the sword as uketachi (senior, teaching role) when practicing pattern drills (kata).

Rather than direct military training—though they would certainly assist in making a person skillful with hand-held weaponry, primed to be trained in whatever methodology best suited the needs of an army—bugei were actually the means of training individuals, comprehensively, in a social role: that of a bushi. It is a mistake, however, to translate this word as a “warrior.” Rather, it means “person of the warrior class,” a phrase that encompasses far more than functional battlefield skills. Rather, it denotes a caste of individuals who have a duty to serve their feudal lords, and rule the rest of the populace, both by force of arms and as an exemplar of certain values.

As a matter of fact, most of the bugei were not created in a period of war—they were developed in the Edo period. Even those who claim roots in earlier era were substantially changed in successive generations, something that is usually glossed over even by historians of classical martial arts, much less by the members of specific ryūha.

As society changed, so did the bugei. Increasingly, the bushi were expected to fulfill a role of armed bureaucrats, functionaries of feudal domains who retained power by controlling their citizens’ lives through a rigid Confucian social structure, maintained through almost total control of the means of violence. When one has such control, there is little impetus for innovation. There was, at that time, a much greater emphasis on the sword, particularly focusing on the potential for unarmored combat: duels and street brawls among bushi. Skill with a sword was also believed to be sufficient to maintain control over other elements of society, most of whom did not have access to swords, much less weapons of war. (During ikki, ‘peasant insurrections, when swords were not sufficient, the bushi retreated to the castle armory, and broke out stored muskets, which they kept in the thousands, to suppress the starving, overtaxed peasants, who were armed with farming implements).

As the Edo period waxed, however, more and more non-bushi were admitted to the bugei, both to accumulate social capital on the part of the students and for blatant economic reasons on the part of the teachers. In this period, kata practice, the mainstay of the bugei was increasingly regarded as lacking. It did not resonate so strongly with the more socially crude members of the peasant and merchant class, and in general, provided young men with no means to measure their power against others (which is the main interest of most young men). Competitive fencing developed and more and more, became the primary method of training—this suited the needs of the peaceful, authoritarian society within which the bugei were ensconced. What this means is that martial studies were both an emanation of the society in which they were embedded and a support of that society. Considering martial arts in the West in this light, the most clownish McDojo, the most utilitarian MMA gym and even the koryū dojo, all located in countries far from their origins, are one and the same, as each, in different ways, supports the same culture within which they currently exist—if they did not, they would be revolutionary, a threat to that culture, and would be eradicated (or irrelevant and ignored).

Let us take this question from another perspective, however. Bugei, these days, are alien, not only to those training in the West, but also those in Japan. We do not have the same bodies: few walk or ride long distances, we do not eat the same foods, suffer from and endure the same illnesses, nor do we labor with our hands. The meaning of life-and-death is quite different to us—we no longer have public executions, much less tortures. In previous era, the primary definition of immortality was one’s reputation and the continuation of one’s family line; a besmirched name destroyed one’s family and legacy. Social interaction, therefore, meant something profoundly different to those in medieval Japan than it does today. Finally, customs such as formalized etiquette and innumerable other rules were not, as they are now, something one adopts—they were as natural as breathing. We, on the other hand, don these behaviors like putting on clothes, removing them once we leave the dojo. In fact, were we to “act like bushi” outside of the dojo, we would appear to any sensible person to be a “live-action role-playing” simpleton, much like Don Quixote.

And yet there is a third perspective—everything in the bugei is relevant today, if one trains through to the essence. It is as if one penetrates a first shell, assuming the training and mind-set of an alien culture. At a certain point, you will penetrate an inner shell, where the principles and values are universal. To give one example, I cannot divorce the study of a traditional bugei with that fact that we are studying, at least in part, how to maim and kill others for the purpose of survival. I have viewed myself as remiss while teaching my European students Tenshin Buko-ryū, because the school focuses solely on long weaponry that would be illegal to carry outside one’s home, at least with the intention of using it as a weapon, and anyway, many of the dangers one will face in European countries are at close range, very likely when one is unarmed. Therefore, I developed a cognate discipline, which I call Iimori-ryū, basing it on the body-mechanics and tactical principles of Tenshin Bukō-ryū. It is a pure pugilistic system. However, rather than a “new” stand-alone martial art, it is intended to be integrated within one’s karate or aikidō, or other hand-to-hand modern martial art, so that there is a seamless connection between Tenshin Bukō-ryū training, and what people already do “hand-to-hand.”

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Simplicity in Taijiquan

Below is an excerpt from a post by Ian Cameron, a senior Taijiquan practitioner in the lineage of Cheng Tin Hung. The full post may be read here.

When we begin the practice of Tai Chi Chuan we have no idea where it will take us, or what is really required to to make any progress in the art. There are many preconceived ideas, but very little to do with the reality of training.

From my observations over the years, some take up Tai Chi and rather than opening up and letting the Tai Chi be the teacher, they for some reason, perhaps ‘make a name’ for themselves, begin to try and shape Tai Chi by imposing their ideas upon it. If you will only allow it, Tai Chi is an art of endless possibilities, and a wonderful teacher.

When training with Sifu Cheng Tin Hung and his students in Hong Kong you could always see differences in the way each person did their forms, however not once did anyone interfere with their practice. It was simply accepted that we are all different and you were left to get on with your practice. When being taught you were shown each posture a number of times by the seniors who taught for Sifu, they then walked off and left you to practice, returning a little while later to see how you were getting on, and adjust things if necessary. This was the method whether you were learning Hand Form(s), the Sabre, Sword or Spear. Obviously we came together to practice Tui Shou (Pushing Hands) San Shou (Free Hands) Shuai Jiou (Wrestling)…… And, by they way, there were no silk suits to be seen.

The times I spent with Sifu on that roof in Hong Kong were amongst the most enjoyable in my life. Training was enjoyable as you were allowed to absorb the art with nothing else attached, it was just practice. When sparring you got hit, when wrestling, you were thrown, when free pushing, you were pushed, all part and parcel of learning, of soaking it up. Then often after training, especially on Saturday mornings, it was off to the nearest restaurant for Yam Cha (drink tea).

When it came to learning the Internal Strength (Nei Gung) the practice was done strictly indoors (there was a good reason for this). We were taught in Sifu’s house, his front room to be exact, and behind a curtain, hence the name ‘A behind the curtain student.’ I often wondered what went on behind this curtain which was drawn across the room. Now it was my turn to find out.

 Having gone through the Bai Shi ceremony, where you pledge to follow your teacher and the twelve rules of Tai Chi, we then got down to the business of learning this important aspect of Tai Chi.

Unlike the forms, these exercises are done in one place and are very specific. There are two sets, twelve Yin and twelve Yang. All you need is a space, your body and the will power to practice. I spent many an evening training the internals with Sifu’s students, having to put old newspapers under our feet to absorb the sweat to stop us sliding about on the tiled floor.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Teaching Martial Arts to At-Risk Youth

Below is an excerpt from a post by Ellis Amdur at his blog, Kogen Budo. The full post  may be read here.

Mr Amdur is a long time martial arts practitioner and author of many books. His books may be found here.

After my publication regarding teaching Baduanjin in a youth detention facility, I’ve received inquiries about the general subject of teaching  martial arts to young people in either detention facilities, or group home type settings. Some, aikidoka, are interested in providing training to help this kids in reconciling conflict; some, taijiquan teachers, see a potential for moving meditation/mindfulness/centering, in their practice; some, BJJ practitioners, see their training as potentially teaching controlled self-defense (with rules), to help kids channel their natural aggressive drives in a sport setting. Teaching such kids, though, is not easy. As Geoff Thompson wrote to me after reviewing a 1st draft of this piece: “I have only worked a little with kids in youth detention, but I concur with everything you have said here.  I found it easier to work with murderers and drug barons in Cat 1 high-security prisons than with kids in detention.”

What follows are a list of ideas and criteria, things to think about if you intend to do such work. If you ignore any of these, at “best,” you will be of little help, and very likely, the kids will chew you up and spit you out.

  1. I recommend that boys and girls not be taught together. We are talking about young people who, biologically speaking, are at the peak of their physical reproductive drive. In hunter-gatherer societies (our biological baseline/norm), boys and girls at this age sexually segregate, not only by cultural rules, but by natural inclination. Boys engage in testosterone display (‘peacocking’) and girls – not all, but many – test their power to direct young men’s attention to them, and also to get young men to compete over them. In particular, sexually abused girls – and terribly, in the detention world, that means the majority – have learned to sexualize their interactions with males as both a means of power and survival. Add to this the context – learning how to channel aggression through the ritual practice of fighting techniques (or at least, physical culture derived from fighting techniques), this can lead to very chaotic classes, particularly with kids who are singled out already as human beings who have difficulty controlling their impulses. [I am aware of people who have successfully taught coed classes in such settings, but do understand that you are adding a variable that will make things far more challenging – not only for you, but for the young people as well].
  2.  Ideally, the instructor should be the instructor should be the same sex as the students. Both boys and girls need a model of a someone of their own gender worth respecting: a man or woman of dignity and integrity. To be sure, men teaching girls or women teaching boys is possible, but you are, again, adding a variable that can easily lead to problematic dynamics. (I am thinking of a concerned letter I once received about an in-patient eating disorder clinic for young women who had martial arts classes with a hyper-macho, tattooed body-builder kung fu “master.” Maybe he was a good man, but the way he presented himself in the links I was forwarded seemed to me to set up an unhealthy male-savior dynamic [at best!])
  3. My preference is for the teacher to have workout clothes that are neat, but not keikko gi, hakama, kung fu “pajamas,” or other ‘alien’ garb. The kids will all be in uniform already: orange or green clothes, often enough. You should be identifiable by clothes that are neat and week by week, have a theme: for example, dark pants and blue shirt (one of an infinity of alternatives), but whatever you chose is now your standard garb, that identifies you.
  4. You should have some formality, but not overdone. If it is too flowery, dramatic or complicated, the kids will clown around and see if they can offend you. It can become a struggle for authority about an extraneous issue. That they stand in a line, and somehow ritualize the beginning: with a short phrase as a vow, if you are someone who works with rhythmic cadence; a bow to each other (this is not the time or place to construct an altar or to bring the picture of your teacher – just a bow from teacher to student); or perhaps, simply standing silently for thirty seconds or so (too long and once again, the kids will get silly, provocative or try to irritate you or each other).
  5. This is not the place to teach maiming techniques: wrestling/grappling without locks and chokes, kata or flow drills are your best options. When they ask how to break an arm, etc., you must very clearly say that this is is not about that at all. When it comes up, you have to be able to say, “Is there anyone in here who can’t fight?” (No one will admit that!). And then point out that why they are in a program, in detention is very likely a lack of control, a  lack of an ability to read others intentions, a lack of an ability to judge situations, and maybe most important, a lack of an ability to get out of situations while keeping respect – one’s own and others.  This practice is, through pattern drills, about acquiring these skills, something you should explicitly state.   I used to say: “Look, all it’s going to take is one of you guys to mess up. We have a program here that is fun and helps you learn; if nothing else, at least you are out of your cell/room for an hour or so.  And anyway, can you imagine what the papers would do with  “person hurt in fight by student trained in martial arts in detention?” I joke, “I’d lose my job! So, I’m not going to teach you anything that would make that happen!”
  6. You have to stop kids right at the beginning when they do kung fu imitations, spar, etc. Sometimes, one or more kids will have to be removed from the class right at the beginning (they can come back the next class, if they commit to behaving), if they won’t stop such behavior.
  7. If you need to show that YOU could do that stuff if you wanted to, you are posturing to gain creditability. In other words, don’t be shadow boxing when the kids come in; don’t tie a kid up in knots with your aikido joint techniques or grappling skills; don’t, when asked, kick beside someone’s head or even at a high point on the wall. The creditability you should hope to attain, the respect you should hope to receive is as a calm, powerful adult with nothing to prove to a bunch of kids.
  8. You need to interview supervisory staff to get an understanding of the culture of the institution, and the politics and rules among the youth. In particular, you need to know which kids don’t get along. Are kids bringing outside gang disputes into the institution? Are there “in-house” cliques. In some cases, it is impossible to teach cross-cliques together. In some detention facilities I have visited, there are groups that have a “fight-on-sight” rule regarding young people from other sets. In this wise, you may have to be prepared to cut your losses; gang culture in some institutions can be so tenacious that it is impossible for young people to work together in any setting.  [My thanks to Peter Kelly, former correctional officer and martial artist for a reminder of this essential point].
  9. You need to go over – in detail – what the emergency procedures are in the institution. You need to have a clear understanding of how staff will protect your class, the kids and if things kick off among the youth, you. You may be a fabulous martial artist, but control of kids in an institution is a specialized study, governed by very strict laws, varying from setting to setting (restraint policies in a group home are VERY different from those in a locked-down detention facility). Maybe you can defend yourself, but can you defend yourself in the lawsuit that follows? Of course, you do not abrogate your legal right to self-defense, but you need to be very clear what the rules are, and also clear that staff takes responsibility to keep anything from kicking off in the first place.
  10. Finally, you need to have a clear understanding how the institution as a whole and involved staff see your role. For example, as described in the linked article in the beginning of this essay, Carola Schmid and I were asked to teach classes with the goal that, in general, critical incidents would be reduced throughout the facility. This was successful. If, however, you do not have an understanding of the goals of the institution (and were in agreement with them), you will be working at cross-purposes. You must never be seen as undermining good order within the institution, be it group home or detention facility.




Monday, February 06, 2023

Monk Mode

Below is an excerpt from an article that appeared at While the author talks about a number of different contexts, I think the ideas equally apply to martial arts study and training.

The full post may be read here.

During the late 2000s, around when I started this blog, there was a trend among young male entrepreneurs called “Monk Mode.”

Everyone had a different idea of what that term meant, but generally it referred to taking a definite period of time – a week to three months or more – to focus with unusual intensity on certain important and fruitful pursuits, while abstaining from certain distracting or self-defeating activities.

Somewhat like a monk, you would voluntarily adopt a standard of heightened discipline, following a few non-negotiable rules, in order to bring certain important things to the fore of your life. A person might do this in order to launch a website, finish a manuscript, or return to the level of fitness they enjoyed in college.  

The last time I heard this phrase was around 2009, and at the time it seemed indistinguishable from “working hard until I finish this current project,” which is what I was always trying to do anyway.

The Ancient Art of Exponential Progress

Recently I heard the term Monk Mode again, and it had a ring to it that it didn’t before. In intervening years I’d been on five silent retreats, semi-monastic environments in which you sequester yourself from social and electronic diversions, and live by certain rules of conduct called precepts, in order to create the best possible conditions for advancing your meditation practice in a relatively short time.

It really works. In seven or ten days you can permanently level up your contemplative skills, perhaps as much as you would in several years of more casual daily practice, because of this short and intense emphasis on one thing.

This kind of regimen has to be short though. As potent as a silent retreat is, a week or more away from the world is hard to arrange, and keeping up that standard for months or years isn’t practical. Too many things have to be sacrificed for too long.

The principle behind the retreat format is very powerful though: double down on certain important activities, abstain from behaviors that undermine these efforts, and limit this intensified regimen to a short enough period that you can actually complete it, rather than quit in a huff or drift away from it gradually.  

Monk Mode, as I conceive of it, is a way of leveraging this principle to a less intense degree. You still focus on a certain kind of self-development work for a short period (perhaps writing, meditating, practicing piano, or lifting barbells), you still commit to a list of no-no’s during that time (perhaps no alcohol, no social media, or no sugar), but aside from that you live life normally.

Essentially you’re committing to a new lifestyle standard in certain respects, but for a short enough time that you can sustain the effort to the end.

You might enter Monk Mode for a number of reasons:

  • To finish a particular project
  • To get past a plateau, or out of a rut
  • To go deeper into an activity than you have before
  • To get back into something you’ve been neglecting
  • To end a period of complacency

For example, say you want to get back to your pre-pandemic level of fitness. The conventional way to go about this is the resolution approach. You slam your fist on the table, perhaps literally, and declare, “Enough is enough! Starting today I’m going to work out again and stop eating crap!” Essentially, you’re making a lifelong commitment to live with greater discipline and sacrifice, with nothing behind it but the emotional surge you are feeling in this moment. You already know how this tends to go.

What if, instead, you could enter a 14-day Monk Mode, in which you visit the gym three times a week, abstain from foods with added sugar, and stretch dutifully every morning and evening. This commitment is finite and doable, and will undoubtedly put you on a much better trajectory by the end of it. Then you figure out a sensible next step, from the new and more confident place your stint in Monk Mode has brought you to.

If fourteen days is too much, make it seven. If abstaining from all added sugar is too much, just do it for the breakfast meal. Dial the standard and duration to settings you know you can complete.

Friday, February 03, 2023

One of the First Modern MMA Matches

In 1963, the late, legendary judoka, Gene LeBell, had a match with boxer Milo Savage. Below is a short vintage video.