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, June 26, 2023

Friday, June 23, 2023

Movies that Botched Martial Arts Fighting

Below is an interesting article that appeared at Looper on movies that screwed the pooch on their presentation of martial arts. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

From boxing to judo and from jiu-jitsu to eskrima, there are nearly 200 different fighting styles that originated in various countries all around the world. Many of these martial arts styles have been brought to the big screen in action movies over the years, but they aren't always translated into cinema faithfully.

To one degree or another, there is always some realism lost when a martial arts style is depicted on camera. Beyond all of the trickery needed to keep action scenes safe for the actors and stunt performers involved, movie fight choreography rarely ever sticks to a single real-world fighting style on a one-to-one basis. Movements often need to be exaggerated in order to sell on camera, some real fight tactics simply aren't exciting on screen, and some moves that are exciting on screen would be useless in a real fight and have no basis in reality.

100% authenticity in a movie fight scene sounds like something worth striving for at face value, but it would be easy for the end result to wind up being dull and unimpressive. The best action movies strike the perfect balance between realism and exaggeration, while other movies throw realism out the window and botch the fighting styles they claim to depict. Here are 11 martial arts movies that got their fighting styles completely wrong.

Man of Tai Chi - Tai Chi

From the kung fu of "The Matrix" to the judo of "John Wick," Keanu Reeves has consistently proven himself to be one of the most physically committed Hollywood stars. In 2013, Reeves's passion for martial arts extended behind the camera with his directing debut: "Man of Tai Chi." Reeves plays the film's villain opposite martial artist Tiger Chen, whom Reeves met while working on "The Matrix" trilogy as a stunt man. Reeves also met the legendary fight director Yuen Woo-Ping on "The Matrix" and enlisted him to work on the action scenes for "Man of Tai Chi."

Despite being a total financial bomb, Reeves delivered a remarkably authentic kung fu flick. However, there was a notable lack of authenticity when it came to the titular martial arts style. Despite it being in the title, there is hardly any legitimate tai chi used in the film. In reality, tai chi is not an offensive fighting style and instead finds far more use as a light exercise suitable for the elderly. In the film, the so-called "Man of Tai Chi" is constantly on the aggressive and tears his opponents apart. This is one instance of a movie getting the martial arts style completely wrong but winding up with better action because of it. The fights in "Man of Tai Chi" are fun and exhilarating, whereas if they stuck to actual tai chi, they would be slow, dull, and the protagonist would certainly lose every fight.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

The Military Roots of Xingyiquan

Over at Tai Chi Notebook was a very nice article on the military roots of XingYiQuan. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.


So, as a kind of counterpoint to my previous post questioning whether all Chinese martial arts come from military methods, I’d like to focus on one that definitely does – Xing Yi. Although, this really just emphasises my previous point because Xing Yi looks very different to most other Chinese martial arts and the reason it looks different is because it comes from weapons-based military methods and is therefore more concerened with military engagements than civilian. As our podcast series is showing, there is a verifiable historical connection between Xing Yi and soldiers – for example, the oldest historically verifiable practitioner linked to Xing Yi – Ji Long Feng, was a real life soldier in the Ming Dynasty army.

But the real reason you can tell Xing Yi descends from military methods is that you can simply look at it. The arms and legs are generally close together and close to the body, the posture is narrow and the direction of techniques is straight in front of you. Everything is done within the profile of the body. There are two main reasons for this 1) you were wearing armor and had to accommodate for the weight of it, and 2) you were using weapons, which were probably quite heavy, since they had to penetrate armor.

The Xing Yi we have today is what military arts would look like if you did them without wearing armor and using hand techniques instead of weapons. Of course, many people still do Xing Yi with a spear, but it’s rare to see anybody wearing armor doing it these days, which I think leads people to get the wrong idea about it.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Lecture on the Bubishi

The video below features a lecture on the Bubishi, the bible of Okinawan Karate by Master Tetsushiro Hokama of the Goju Ryu. 


Monday, June 05, 2023

Kung Fu Masters of Taiwan

Below is a short documentary which is a visit to a bookstore in Taiwan, where the owner has a huge collection of martial arts books and recounts the history of martial arts practiced in Taiwan.

Friday, June 02, 2023

Modern Han Dynasty Style Chinese Swords

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kung Fu Magazine. The full post may be read here

For aficionados of Chinese swordsmanship, it’s a good time to be alive. Present day sword makers are reproducing some of the finest authentic replicas of historic Chinese swords that we’ve ever seen. Magnificent replicas have been coming from Chinese master craftsmen like L.K. Chen, Hanbon Forge, Shen Guanglong Sword The Art of Fire & Iron, among others. And these are live blades with properly tempered steel. Many are even making blades that are pattern-welded. Some of these masterpieces command prices over $25,000. Others are more affordable, only costing a few hundred dollars, just slightly more than the average prices for most Chinese weapons nowadays.

Several factors are contributing to this surge in fine swords. China has become more affluent in recent years, resulting in the flourishing of its cultural inheritance. Collectors are now recovering history thought lost during the Cultural Revolution and bringing it forward to share across the internet. Additionally, accessibility to better manufacturing tools has improved for China’s swordmakers. When I visited some of the sword forges at Shaolin years ago, they were doing everything the old-fashioned way – all by hand. Now makers have modern power hammers and CNC machines (CNC stands for ‘computer numerical control’). A CNC device can carve sword fittings to exact specifications from solid metal, which is a vast improvement to filmsysword fittings that have proliferated modern Kung Fu weapons ever since they went into modern mass production.

Beyond inferior blades, the bulk of today’s mass-produced Chinese swords are not constructed with fittings that can withstand the rigors of actual combat. Most sword guards and pommels are made from cast pot metal or braised brass sheets over wood. These can be so fragile that they’ll break if you drop them. And the blades are often just light spring steel, not tempered to withstand impact. Few are even sharp. The old blades don’t even compare to the refined beauty of pattern-welded steel. These newly made blades are gorgeous and built to cut, like any true sword should be.

Making the Cut

Beyond better sword making technology, another major factor contributing to the interest in more authentic swords is the rise of HEMA, or Historical European Martial Arts, as well as other similar reenactment groups. European martial arts weren’t passed down to the modern age in the same way that Asian traditions have been, however there is a significant body of literature and documentation. HEMA aficionados have been assiduously reconstructing history, and within that, sword cutting has become a popular pastime.

Japan has a longstanding tradition of cutting practice known as Tameshigiri. This is the classical sword cutting art where rolled tatami mats are sliced up to test the quality of the blade and how true your cut can be. The tatami mat roll is allegedly the best simulation of the resistance met when cutting human flesh. HEMA enthusiasts have made their own forays into revitalizing of cutting, appropriating tatami rolls and adding other cutting targets like pool noodles and water-filled plastic soda bottles, all to deepen their understanding of how blades really work. Not to be left behind, there’s a growing movement amongst some Chinese martial arts practitioners towards test cutting.

Beyond being constructed well enough to make a cut, themost intriguing quality about these next gen Chinese sword offerings is that they are historically accurate. Makers like L.K. Chen are now actively researching genuine archeologic examples held in museums and antique swords kept in private collections. By taking precise measurements of the originals, Chen is using a CNC machine to reproduce the exact proportions and details of swords that actually saw combat. His swords are working weapons, as close as the originals as most practitioners can get. And Chen challenges his clients to test his work by cutting. His website includes testimonial videos from practitioners all around the world as they cut stuff and rate the performance.

Surprisingly, cutting in Chinese martial arts is revolutionary. It's staggering to discover how many self-proclaimed Chinese masters of swordsmanship have never cut anything, or even worked with a live edged blade. The emerging trend of cutting with Chinese blades is a fresh shift and a solid step towards authenticity. Today Chinese martial arts are entering an era where real swords are available again, swords that are both cut worthy and based on authentic designs.