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, April 30, 2023

The Life of Yang Lu Chan

Below is an abstract from a longer article by Douglas Wile, the noted Taijiquan historian, about the founder of Yang style Taijiquan, Yang Lu Chan. The full article may be read here.

The life of Yang Luchan, patriarch of the Yang lineage and founder of taijiquan’s most popular style, is a biographical blank slate upon which conservative, progressive, orientalist, and just plain rice bowl
interests have inscribed wildly divergent narratives. 

Conservative scholar-disciples sought to link him with the invented Wudang-Daoist lineage, while progressives emphasized his humble origins and health benefits of the practice. 

His life (c.1799-1872) straddled the height of the Manchu empire and decline into semi-colonial spheres of foreign influence, while successive generations of Yang descendants propagated his ‘intangible cultural heritage’ through Republican, Communist, ‘open’, and global eras. 

Practiced world-wide by hundreds of millions, taijiquan’s name recognition made it ripe for media appropriation, and Yang Luchan has been remythologized in countless novels, cartoons, television series, and full-length feature films. 

The case of Yang Luchan offers an unusual opportunity to witness an ongoing process of mytho-
poesis and to compare these narratives with traditional Chinese warrior heroes and Western models of mythology and heroology. 

If the lack of facts has not constrained the proliferation of invented biographies, neither should it discourage the quest for historical context as we sift and winnow truth from trope in the many reconstructions of Yang’s life.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

The Seasonal Time System of Historic Japan

There was an article at Japonica Publications about the time system used in Japan before the coming of the time system we are familiar with in the West. An except is below. The full post may be read here.

Japan’s Unfixed Time



Monday, April 24, 2023

Zen Priest Stick

Over at Ichijoji blog, there was an interesting article about the priest's staff of Nakahara Nantenbo, as well as some biography. The full post may be read here.

One of the distinctive sights of winter in Japan, and particularly in Kyoto, are the bright red berries of the nanten bush (Nandina). They are often planted just by the front door of houses and are used in the New Year decorations known as kadomatsu that can be seen outside businesses, department stores and some larger residences during the New Year period and sometimes as much as a couple of weeks after that.

My first encounter with nanten gave me a rather different impression - I had come across it years before I came to Japan in the book Zen and the Art of Calligraphy by Omori Sogen and Terayama Tanchu, now out of print but worth getting hold of if you’re interested in that kind of thing, in the form of the staff wielded by the Zen teacher who took his name from it – Nakahara Nantenbo (1839-1925). It's hard to believe, but information about that kind of thing was hard to get hold of in those days. The mental image of a fierce Zen practitioner and his nanten staff stayed with me, but it was only quite recently that I came across a picture of him and what might be his staff. I had imagined it would be something like the one in the picture below, but in fact that might not be the case.

He was known for his unstinting efforts to preserve and revitalize the Rinzai Zen tradition but is perhaps better known in the west for his calligraphy and Zen paintings. Like Yamaoka Tesshu, the swordsman, calligrapher and statesman, he produced huge numbers of works, although unlike Tesshu, he professed no skill in the art. He was similar to Tesshu, too, in the ferocity which he brought to his practice, regularly engaging in Dharma combat with other priests reportedly chasing the losers out of their temples. He and Tesshu had something of a rivalry, and though Tesshu may have practised under him, they were also reported to have taken part in Dharma battles with each other, with neither giving an inch.

Friday, April 21, 2023

Morning Training

Over the years I've tried many different home practice routines. Some years ago I came to conclusion that in order to practice at home regularly, I had to bite the bullet and get up earlier and practice before the day's events began intruding upon me.

One aikido dojo I trained at even had a 6 AM class for early risers.

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7 regarding Asakeigo, or morning practice. The full post may be read here. Enjoy. 


A number of years ago I talked about a change in my kendo “mode” and in particular my flip-over to a sort of asageiko-main routine (despite not being a morning person). I had been an on-and-off asageiko person since about 2009-ish I guess (from about 2005 I did asageiko very occasionally, maybe once or twice a month, so that doesn’t count). By “asa” keiko I am of course referring to morning practise. Oh, and just to be clear, “morning” means keiko starting at 7am or earlier. A 9am start doesn’t qualify!

After my daughter was born in 2017 I basically stopped going to evening keiko almost entirely, just doing keiko in the morning and at work in the afternoons. 

As I mentioned in a prior post my asageiko sessions came to a screeching halt at the beginning of the pandemic as all the police dojo in Japan closed their dojo. After a year with no restart in sight I started my own morning sessions at my work dojo from about March 2021. Eventually the police dojo restarted, and I am now attending two asageiko sessions, averaging maybe 3-4 weekday mornings every week, sometimes more, sometimes less. 

My journey from a very-occasional morning keiko person, to an on-and-off one, then an asageiko-main person is complete. I still hate getting up in the mornings (especially in winter) but now even the thought of doing kendo after 6pm seems alien!

In today’s article I want to briefly give you guys a rundown on the content of my asageiko… in case anyone is interested! 


Saturday, April 15, 2023

Transmitting Koryu

Ellis Amdur, the owner of the Kogen Blog, is a senior practitioner of traditional Japanese martial arts (koryu) and the author of many books; many of which may be found here.

Peter Boylan is also an experienced practitioner of Japanese martial arts and the owner of the Budo Bum blog. 

Recently, Mr. Amdur expressed some thoughts on what it takes to pass on a koryu art to which Mr. Boylan added his own thoughts in an article that was posted on his blog. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.


For some, no. For some yes. I think part of it has to be conveyed through intensity - and honestly, many non-traditional, non-Japanese instructors are reluctant to do this. If one trains in a dojo where there is an emphasis on hinkaku (dignity), formality, etc., certain essential qualities are certainly conveyed, but they could equally be done so in tea ceremony or flower-arranging. I believe that there has to be a sense, in bujutsu training, that your mistakes are unforgivable and unredeemable. I was told that in a least one elite combat unit, if an 'operator' makes one mistake concerning weapons-management, he's out. Period.

One of the problems people have with this is that they imagine, therefore, a dojo of screaming abuse, etc. I've written about this as 'wolf-pack etiquette' - the wolves are relaxed, even playing, but are continuously aware of the alpha(s) and at the slightest muscle twitch, they are 100% committed in attention and action.

That said, this is an elite model - and some people will never bring the intensity, some people may collapse mid-way.

And in this model, there is a lot of self-study required - not only introspection and solo-training, but in rounding out your knowledge any way one can, through books, etc

Ellis Amdur, from a conversation on Facebook


Transmitting koryu budo ryuha is a challenge, even in Japan. Koryu don’t fit neatly into the modern world of computer games and polite work cultures. The ferocity and intensity of good koryu practice are not generally welcomed in the workplace or anywhere else. The spirit of practice is very different from modern budo forms that have been created to fit into a sporting style of training and encourage ideas of fairness and openness. Teaching the techniques of a koryu budo tradition is the easy part. It’s transmitting the essential spirit of a koryu budo ryuha that is difficult.

Koryu aren’t nice, they aren’t sporting and they really aren’t fair. Koryu are about self-mastery and survival. Not all koryu are as raw as EllisAmdur’s descriptions of Araki Ryu training, but they are all ferocious in their approach to training and to living. Nice, at best, would get you ground under foot in the worlds of hot and cold conflict where they evolved in the Japan of the 14th through 19th centuries. Even during the enforced peace of the Edo era, daimyo were in conflict with each other, and everything was fought in ways that required absolute self-mastery.  The 47 ronin ended up committing seppuku because their daimyo, Lord Asano, didn’t have the self-mastery to deal with the indignities that Lord Kira is said to have inflicted on him. There were right ways and wrong ways to go about handling a matter of honor between two men of their rank. Losing your temper and drawing your sword in the shogun’s castle was the worst way. Asano’s actions declared him unfit to be a daimyo. 

Hinkaku 品格、 is an essential quality that all traditional Japanese arts seek to instill in their practitioners. The Kodansha Online Dictionary defines it as “grace; dignity; class; style; panache”. These qualities are fundamental to hinkaku, and are developed in all Japanese arts, from shodo to cha no yu to koryu budo (they are supposed to be taught in gendai budo as well, but from the behavior I have seen at judo, and karatedo tournaments, this idea is honored more in the breach than in the keeping). Hinkaku in koryu budo has additional characteristics. It is fierce with a cold intensity that can freeze others with a look. 

My iaido teacher, Kiyama Hiroshi, displayed hinkaku every second I was with him. He even managed to project hinkaku when playing with my then preschool daughters and with his own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of the things that sets koryu budo apart from other arts is this ferocious intensity. With Kiyama Sensei, that intensity was something that was always there if you looked for it, but the only time I saw it fully uncovered was during koryu budo practice. His intensity during iai was so great I expected the floor of the dojo to start smoking where his gaze was focused. During kenjutsu training he could freeze me in place with his ferocity. 



Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Huang Sheng Shyan's Taijiquan

Huang Sheng Shyan was a taijiquan master in the lineage of Cheng Man Ching. He was also a master of White Crane kung fu, which also influenced his taijiquan. 

 Below is a hour long video (unfortunately in Chinese) of Master Huang's Taijiquan.



Sunday, April 09, 2023

Weapons Forged from Meteoric Iron

CNET has an article, of which an excerpt may be found below, on historical weapons forged from meteoric iron. The full post may be read here.


Myth is littered with legendary swords. Durandal. Kusanagi. Legbiter. Excalibur. Joyeuse. Different factors make these weapons extraordinary, but if we had to choose, we'd definitely go for a sword made of meteoric iron.

It's not as unusual an idea as it sounds. Throughout history, blades have been forged from chunks of metal fallen from the skies -- often smelted together with terrestrial metals, then acid-etched, creating a patterned surface reminiscent of Damascus steel. This pattern is due to the nickel content in meteoric iron, which gives it a more silvery colour and sheen than terrestrial iron; folded together, they create an effect known as pattern welding.

In fact, the oldest surviving human-made iron artefacts -- 5,000-year-old beads from Gerzeh, Egypt -- were made from hammered meteoric iron.

Today, modern blacksmiths are still following the tradition: a blacksmith from historical re-enactment group ASBL Lucilinburhuc created a sword incorporating a chunk of ataxite -- a type of meteorite with an unusually high proportion of nickel, at least 18 percent.

The sword was a commission from a client, who gave the meteorite to the blacksmith to make the sword. The process is a long and involved one -- the sword took around three months to make. You can watch 20-minute short film about the sword's creation on the ASBL Lucilinburhuc YouTube page.