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 ~

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Elusive Art of I Liq Chuan

Below is an excerpt from a guest post that appeared at Ellis Amdur's excellent Kogen Budo blog. The full post may be read here.

In the tapestry of martial arts, I Liq Chuan (意力拳) emerges as a distinctive thread, weaving together the ancient and the modern. I Liq Chuan draws from a wellspring of principles often associated with the so-called “internal arts,” with its roots in two rare styles of Xingyiquan (鳳陽形意拳) and Baguazhang (如意八卦掌). Not much is known about either, and both appear to be extinct except what little remains embedded within I Liq Chuan’s partner training methods. 

Referred to as the “Martial Art of Awareness,” it has gained a reputation for revealing the secrets of the old masters. Emphasizing mindfulness, the integration of mind and body, and an almost scientific exploration of self, I Liq Chuan’s curriculum is logically structured, allowing for a systematic progression in learning. Through unique training methods and a focus on tangible and measurable results, it offers an approach that reaches people from all walks of life, particularly those seeking a deeper understanding of movement, balance, and the nature of what it really means to be a human being. Under the watchful eye and guiding hand of Grandmaster Sam Chin, the popularity of I Liq Chuan has surged. With schools now operating in more than 20 countries around the globe, GM Chin’s gravitas inspires practitioners across continents, transcending borders, cultures, and languages.

What sets I Liq Chuan apart within the crowded landscape of Chinese martial arts is twofold: First, there’s the magnetic presence of GM Sam Chin, a man whose existence embodies the very best of what martial arts have to offer; his full-contact fighting record and innovative teachings resonate with those seeking authenticity and connection. Second, there’s the curriculum, a masterpiece crafted by GM Sam Chin himself, based on his unique experiences and insights—careful study and practice guide practitioners toward a deeper understanding of the principles governing mind and body. Through spirited discussions with monks, encounters with fellow martial artists, and collaborations with engineers and academics, GM Chin has sculpted a curriculum that’s both a tribute to tradition and a reflection of the present. In a world where martial arts often become entangled in spectacle and myth, I Liq Chuan is a testament to the enduring power of authenticity and the transformative potential of a well-structured path.


 “You can never think outside the box; thinking is the box!” ~GM Sam Chin

As a young man, GM Sam Chin’s ferocious full-contact fights earned him the moniker “The Tiger of Malaysia.” His victories against all-comers in the 70s weren’t just triumphs; they were statements showcasing his adaptability and effectiveness across different fighting styles. In 1977, GM Chin defeated every opponent he faced in 40 seconds or less.

The Chin Family I Liq Chuan Association had an open challenge printed in Chinese newspapers in Malaysia for years.  It was a call to the world. Like the Gracies in Brazil, they demonstrated unshakeable confidence in their art.  As he enters his golden years, however, GM Chin has cast a contemplative gaze back at the exploits of his youth. The open challenge, once a clarion call of confidence and prowess, also caused discord, creating friction with other martial arts schools. With the wisdom of his later years, GM Chin recognizes the value of unity over rivalry. He now endeavors to mend fences and build bridges within the martial arts community. Guided by the declaration “martial arts are all one family,” he embarked on a new project to collaborate with and celebrate masters of all styles. It’s a tribute to his evolving philosophy: from the fiery challenges of youth to the harmonious collaborations of maturity, always seeking growth, understanding, and the true essence of martial arts.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

French Martial Arts

At Ellis Amdur's excellent Kogen Budo blog, there was a guest post on contemporary French martial arts - Savate, cane, fencing, etc. The full post may be read here. Below is an excerpt. Enjoy!

On 26, Rue d’Enghien, in Paris, a plaque indicates that here is practiced: Boxe Française, modern savate, stick, cane, umbrella, fencing and weight training. In my earlier years, I crossed the porch and arrived in a courtyard, then took the well-polished wooden staircase to go up to the second floor. The master was sitting behind his desk,  waiting to introduce my son and me to the place. On the left was a room for massage, and on the right, the training room with its impeccable parquet floor. At the back, to the right, was the room dedicated to weight training, equipped with dumbbells and apparatus made by Jean Lafond himself. In the annex were the changing rooms with a shower and a sauna, also self-made. A curiosity decorated the locker rooms: old black suitcases with the names of the regulars who stored their boxing gear there.

This setting might seem old-fashioned, but I would call it traditional because, here, Boxe Française, was a matter of heritage – of lineage. Jean followed the teaching of his father Roger (and himself of his father Eugene); together, they created and refined their combat sport, the “Roger and Jean Lafond Method.”  He was an accomplished sportsman, holding a diploma in physical education,  He was also a lifeguard and, along with his father,  managed a private beach in Normandy  for many years. Nonetheless, Jean Lafond rejected the term  “martial arts,”and furthermore, the title “master” exasperated him.

The physical training he taught was far from bodybuilding because it was focused on health, flexibility and fitness; the search for an imposing musculature was not the goal. Several students from the physical training establishment of Professor Desbonnet, located nearby, rue du Faubourg Poissonnière, started here when their gym was converted to offices. Their gym had been founded in 1885 by the pioneer of physical training in France. It had the same Parisian atmosphere of the “Belle époque.”

Jean deepened his knowledge by becoming a masseur. For two years, he was the assistant of Doctor De Sambucy, the originator of French osteopathy. This experience influenced his practice and his teaching as he insisted on the respect for the body and its natural possibilities.

Boxe Française according to Jean Lafond

Courses in the Roger and Jean Lafond Method consist of learning many sequences, which vary the levels of contact required to lead the partner into making errors. Priority is given to kicks, usually with the front leg, delivered without retracting it before striking, in order to be as lively and unpredictable as possible. After a demonstration, the famous magician Gérard Majax told Jean: “We do the same thing. We get attention to fool people.” After that, Majax became a regular student.

Another characteristic, neglected in modern practice, is swinging back the arm when kicking for balance and aesthetics. The blows are delivered in bursts, with fast strikes that “sting,” followed with a quick return to guard. Generally, after a session of savate, we would follow up with an English boxing session (hands only).

After repetition of techniques, we move on to responding to free attacks. We then realize that the learned sequences come automatically. It becomes an elegant fight with constant movements and fast techniques to disrupt the partner. Jean’s role model was the American boxer Sugar Ray Robinson, whose elegant style, relaxed and in constant motion, made him a true legend.

It was almost impossible to hit Jean, who could see every blow coming. “Don’t look where you’re going to hit, you’re giving me an indication.” Other remarks such as, “You couldn’t punch through a paper bag with that” were meant to motivate the student to train at higher intensity.

The weapons in the Roger and Jean Lafond Method

The main weapon is a light cherry wood cane. The Lafond method of cane uses the same principles as Boxe Française itself: feinting before striking in order to attract the attention of the partner before delivering an unexpected blow to another part of his body. There is no retracting of the cane before striking either–everything happens around the wrist, switching from the right hand to the left hand.  The hits come at amazing speed. It is not uncommon to come out with one’s chest striped by the impacts. To protect the head in practice, therefore, one puts on a helmet.

The training of the French long stick is done in the same way, keeping it in constant motion by sliding it smoothly between the hands to benefit from all its possibilities.

The defensive handling of the umbrella is also taught with emphasis on hooking with the curved handle. Jean’s father, Roger, taught this method to the British actor Patrick MacNee for the famous TV series ” The Avengers”.

The combat mix for self defense

If Jean, like Roger, insisted on the elegant side of their discipline, they also created “the Panaché de combat ”  t

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Budo as Physical Education in Japanese Schools

Apparently in Japan, Physical Education in schools offers a join of some sort of Budo study (or dance, which is what the girls mostly take).

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Kenshi 24/7 regarding recent proposed reforms to Budo study in schools. The full post may be read here.



The lecture that I decided to attend was entitled “Further enrichment of budo classes in school physical education” by Seki Nobuo, a senior specialist for national curriculum (P.E.) at the Japan Sports Agency.  It was given on the 5th of September 2023 at Osaka University of Education. 

An ex-high school P.E. teacher before he moved into his governmental post, Seki has had a wide experience across difference P.E. related divisions. It is important to note that he travels across the country promoting the governments sports curriculum and, also, that he is NOT a kendo person. 

Here is the English outline provided for the lecture: 

“Budo has been compulsory subject based on the policy that students exposure to the unique traditions and culture of our country and establish enrich sport life in school physical education since 2012. In the fact that about 10 years have passed since budo became compulsory and the current revision of the Courses of Study, we would like to consider issues and measures for further enhancement of martial arts classes in physical education.”

(Note that the decision to add budo into compulsory education was taken in 2008, but it took 4 years of preparation before going into effect.)

Prior to 2012 the only other time that budo has been mandatory in the education system in Japan was for boys starting in 1933/34 (girls were forced into very basic naginata training during the war).  This wasn’t as part of some sort of overall P.E. curriculum per-se, but was used to install nationalism (boys and girls) to create soldiers (boys) for/in wartime periods. This obviously stopped after the war. 

BTW, budo is not actually “compulsory” nowadays but rather, all first and second year junior high school students (approx. 12-14 year olds) have to choose between “budo” or “dance” as part of their P.E. curriculum. What budo is on offer depends on what teachers are at the school (at the moment across the entire country the rates are: 60% judo, 30% kendo, 10% others). Boys overwhelmingly choose budo, and girls dance. 

The inclusion of budo into the national curriculum only happened after years of work spearheaded by the Nippon Budokan foundation (NB) since it was formed in 1964. As such, only budo as represented by the NB can be allowed in schools, i.e. judo, kendo, kyudo, sumo, karate, aikido, shorinji-kempo, naginata, and jukendo. NB has also taken a lead in publishing teaching texts and methodology related to teaching budo in schools (and recently into exploring how to expand budo practice for special needs students).


Sunday, October 22, 2023

Rhythm and Flow in Taijiquan Practice

Thoughts on Tai Chi had an interested article on developing rhythm and flow in taijiquan practice, which I think applies to all martial arts. The full post may be read here.

My late Tai Chi teacher used to say that it’s the internal movements that are important, not external movement. How true, isn’t it? 

But it can be hard to understand what is actually meant by internal movements. On one level we do have more tangible things such as the breath work, movements of the spine, opening and closing of the ribs, the internal movement of the dantian and more. Those are things you can feel and coordinate, but they are hidden, how you work with those aspects don’t show on the outside. On another level we have the “mind”, “yi” and “qi”, that can be abstract concepts, prone to individual interpretation, or be used to express how to integrate body, breath and mind together. 

The key to really integrate these internal aspects and to work with them as a whole, is really what I myself call internal rhythm and flow. Honestly speaking, I have no idea if there’s a better or more exact word. Many speak about the importance of rhythm and keeping a flow, but they seem to mean different things or they don’t explain it what they mean.

Between westerners and Chinese, sometimes there might be a kind of language barrier. Sometimes things can be very hard to explain in another language. Not surprisingly, I have also found that it is those Chinese “masters” who have achieved the best level in English, that make the most effort trying to explain “rhythm” and “flow”. Those I have in mind also make less use of “qi”, “yi” and similar. They try to find their own ways to explain things with western language instead of Chinese words.

Of course, it is said that movement should be continuous and that Tai Chi “moves unceasingly like a great river.” Sometimes it’s slow, sometimes faster. But water also moves with a certain pulse and rhythm. Especially if you think about the waves moving up and down a shore. The waves are set in motion by the winds. When we move, we must consider gravity just as much as the limitations of our own body and balance.

Yes, I know that all of this can be hard to understand, especially for beginners. There are many steps in learning Tai Chi, it takes a long time to even start to internalize the art so you can begin practicing it on a deeper, more internal level. And most people do not. They practice Tai Chi on an external, superficial level. There’s nothing wrong with that. They might still get a whole lot of positive physical and psychological effects of Tai Chi practice. But still, the real internal practice doesn’t start until you have internalized the art. 

Obviously, you need to first go through the external steps. The first step is to learn the form so well you don’t need to think about what movement comes after another. Then there are a few basic rules you need to understand and do well, rules about how to balance and align your body, and how to move your body together as a one single whole. After getting good at following those rules, you need to internalize the outer form. On a basic level, this means that your movements need to be initiated and controlled from the feet and the center of your body, and from inside of your body, rather than start moving by using the hands and limbs.

Working on becoming better at relaxing the mind, body and breath and learning how to sink your strength, and building some basic rooting skills are also aspects of internalizing the art. First, when you have practiced maybe one, two or three years, depending on your own personality and dedication to the art, I suspect you could really begin to understand what is meant by rhythm and flow. If you are a beginner, maybe you understand it on an intellectual level, but as always, there’s a difference between understanding logically and understanding by doing.

Music according to Master T.T. Liang

If we speak about rhythm and flow, obviously music should be something of the first that comes to mind. Tai Chi Master T.T. Liang, a student of Cheng Man-Ching, differ slightly in philosophy compared to his teacher. While Cheng Man-Ching promoted his short form, Liang thought that practicing the long form was important, and meant that only by taking time so the body can build up an internal heat, you would understand the real benefits of Tai Chi as a health practice.

The teaching style differs even more in the fact that Liang actually created his own music that would help practitioners finding the rhythm in the Tai Chi form. So his own Tai Chi should be practiced together with music, and he himself used to play it in his classes. 

For some people, practicing the form together with music might seem odd and maybe even as taking away some of the internal focus. However, it will help the student to find a good overall speed, pace and to find a natural rhythm. Regardless if you prefer to study Tai Chi with or without music, this kind of practice could still help you to better understand how to practice form together with both an external and internal rhythm.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Samurai and the Color Indigo

Have your noticed that modern budo practices tend to favor white uniforms (karate, aikido). Judo permits both white and blue (stick a pin in the color blue), while kendo favors the dark blue, indigo, color.

The older martial arts, kenjutsu and the like, all seem to favor the indigo color. Why is that?

Below is an explanation from the Ancient Origins website (here) and an accompanying video. 



Monday, October 16, 2023

2023 Birthday Post

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




I've had my share of changes in the past year, but the biggest one is that I'm now retired.

This is what happened. Full retirement age for my cohort is age 66 and 6 months, which would have taken me to April of next year. Since I would have had to work the first quarter anyway, and the commission payout for the first quarter occurs in May, I was planning on retiring at the end of May next year.

But the best laid plans of mice and men are proverbial the same and my well laid plans to sign up for this and enroll in that were crushed down to a single point as if they had met a black hole in outer space by the machinations of my latest employer. After an abysmal 2nd quarter, I was among those who were laid off.

Overall, it's not a bad thing. There has just been a lot of short term chaos to manage.

Once upon a time there was a Chinese farmer whose horse ran away. That evening, all of his neighbors came around to commiserate. They said, “We are so sorry to hear your horse has run away. This is most unfortunate.” The farmer said, “Maybe.”

The next day the horse came back bringing seven wild horses with it, and in the evening everybody came back and said, “Oh, isn’t that lucky. What a great turn of events. You now have eight horses!” The farmer again said, “Maybe.”

The following day his son tried to break one of the horses, and while riding it, he was thrown and broke his leg. The neighbors then said, “Oh dear, that’s too bad,” and the farmer responded, “Maybe.”

The next day the conscription officers came around to conscript people into the army, and they rejected his son because he had a broken leg. Again all the neighbors came around and said, “Isn’t that great!” Again, he said, “Maybe.”



My wife and I had purchased a motor home earlier this year, anticipating another year's income and commissions. With the abrupt change, the RV had become a source of anxiety to my better half and so we have it up for sale.

I'm not about to get upset about losing it after only have had it out a couple of times. It's just a thing, and there is no use fighting about a thing. Besides, if she's not comfortable, how am I going to be?



Most of the aforementioned chaos stems from having to rapidly getting my Social Security, Medicare and unemployment (since I was laid off) all lined up. It's getting there. 

I always have something to do. I'm still married and have so far not discovered that I've been smothered in my sleep with my own pillow.

My retirement plan had been to mow the lawn every morning at precisely 7 AM, then sit on a lawn chair in my driveway to make sure no one steps on it. I haven't been able to realize that just yet.

I have been working out more, lost about ten pounds (so far) and have increased the pace of my reading (from a baseline of about 50 books a year). 

In addition to the taijiquan practice I have been almost religious about, I am slowing adding in other practices I have learned from yiquan, xingyiquan and baguazhang to my morning.

One thing I am immediately thankful for is not having to toe the line every morning at work. 

Something else that I've been doing is helping out a friend with a medium sized businesss by working at trade shows with him. My expenses are covered, I get a nice check for my time and talk to strangers about technology. I have a blast. The only downside is being on my feet all day in dress shoes on concrete.

The long and short of it is that we should just roll with the changes.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Other Benefits of Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Tai Chi Notebook, on some sometimes overlooked benefits of martial arts training. The full post may be read here.

One observation I have on ‘internal’ martial arts is that there there is often very little focus on the ‘internal’ qualities to a human being. Or if they do address them then it is, not directly and often in passing.

I’m not talking about things to do with forces, or the body, like Qi, Xin and Jin. Yes, the Yi (intent or mind) is mentioned all the time in the Tai Chi Classics, but it’s always in relation to fighting, or releasing and accepting forces on the body. “Quelle surprise”, you might say, since Tai Chi is a marital art, but if I contrast ‘internal’ martial arts with ‘external’ martial arts for a moment, the discussion there is often on the internal qualities of a human that internal martial arts, ironically, neglect.

I’m talking about things like self-control (temperance), endurance and patience.

The goal of improving these internal qualities has been the goal of practical philosophers since man first decided to ponder his/her existence. I could quote from LaoTzu here, but I find it more explicitly written by the Greek philosophers, particularity the Stoics.

In Chapter 10 of the Greek classic of Stoicism, The Enchiridion, we find:

“On the occasion of every accident (event) that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use. If you see a fair man or a fair woman, you will find that the power to resist is temperance (continence). If labour (pain) be presented to you, you will find that it is endurance. If it be abusive words, you will find it to be patience. And if you have been thus formed to the (proper) habit, the appearances will not carry you along with them.”

Epictetus, The Enchiridion

Sure, these internal qualities can certainly be learnt from any martial art, however I find it is the external martial arts that really emphasise them. Many Taekwondo schools use the goal of improving your inner qualities as the main sell in their marketing approach. For example, I just did a Google search for Taekwondo clubs in the local area, clicked on Tiger martial arts, and what do I find written on their website, in all caps, so you can’t miss it?


This is followed up with “We give students the focus and confidence to achieve in all areas of their lives.  Yes, you can learn to take care of yourself in dangerous situations, but really it’s about learning to use your mind and body like a martial artist – learn how to control your body and your mind, and you will be set up for life.”

It’s the same with Karate. I did another random search on Karate clubs and found Bristol Karate Academy whose motto is “virtue in industry” from “Virtute et industria” — or by virtue and industry — from the city of Bristol, which dates back to at least 1569. They explain how that relates to the values of their club on their About us page:

“So what does that mean for us?

Virtue (美徳): We have integrity, in our commitment to traditional, effective Karate and integrity in the way that we treat others. We are respectful, fair and aim for high moral standards. We build character, strive for excellence and show courage in the face of challenges.

Industry (勉励): We work hard to reach our goals. We’re diligent and determined to get better at every single training session. We are rigorous in our approach to improvement and dedicated to our own and each other’s development.

Through hard, honest training we become our best possible selves”

Again, while I’m sure they can kick-ass with their karate, the emphasis in their motto is on the internal qualities of a human being. It’s about becoming your best possible self.

I know what you’re thinking – “perhaps it’s about teaching children?” Things like Karate and Taekwondo can be very orientated towards teaching children, and you obviously don’t want to be raising a hoard of little ninjas who have no idea about the moral implications of using their marital arts. However, it’s not just non-Chinese marital arts that have a heavy emphasis on building moral character. Similar ‘external’ Chinese martial arts do too, and those tend to have as much emphasis on adults as children. Also the moral aspects were there right from the beginning in the Southern arts.


Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Push Through

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Martial Views regarding perseverance in training. The full post may be read here.

I have a confession to make. I've been out of work for seven months (courtesy of some health issues I've previously discussed, but I go back at the end of September), and I'm not happy with the way I look. This morning on a doctor's scale I weighed a whopping 205 lbs., way up from my sparring heyday of 178. (I used to be 5 ft 10; I'm currently 5 ft 9. I have a medium frame.) A lot of this is just due to my inactivity, but also, to my defense, it's age related. I turn 63 in October, and my body just doesn't do what it used to do. Not just willful physical activity, whether it's performing job duties or exercising in my basement gym/dojo, but also trying to keep my weight down, recover from minor injuries, and incentive to do otherwise menial tasks. I find myself actually having to push myself to go on my daily one-mile walk. My strength and stamina in the gym over the years has diminished significantly, and when I confided this to a friend, he replied, "why bother pumping iron if you just keep getting weaker?"

"Alright," I replied. "What do you suppose would happen if I just completely stopped working out?"

Stopping my workouts is not an option for me. Perish the thought! But naturally I have to modify a routine to accommodate my pre-existing injuries. And as of late I need serious motivationfortunately fate came to the rescue. The other day a co-worker texted me a bodybuilding routine Bruce Lee created in 1965, before he became a star cinematically (although by this time Lee was an in-demand martial arts instructor). This flow chart, I'm assuming, is a catalog of exercises to be performed in a single session. It's a list of mostly upper body/arm exercises, but I really like how the first item is squats. Never skip leg day. I'm glad Lee knew his priorities.

As Lee's status as a star rose he continued his self created bodybuilding routine that emphasized both strength and muscular endurance. At  5 ft 7 12 and 140 lbs, Lee was not not an overtly formidable presence. But his devotion to fitness paid off. Chuck Norris once said that Lee was, pound for pound, the strongest human being he has ever trained with.

While Lee was making gains in the gym, he began to adjust his diet and cardio exercises that accelerated his body's ability to burn fat. In the 1965 photo above, I would guess his body fat percentage to be about 12. The pic below taken from Enter The Dragon (1973) depicts a much leaner version of Lee, evident with a marked increase in muscular definition and striations. I'd put his body fat here at about 7 percent. Understand that this level of body fat is quite low, even for an athlete, and is very difficult to achieve without resorting to sports enhancing drugs. (There is no respectable evidence that Lee used steroids or the like to achieve his physique. I'm also fairly confident this photo has not been enhanced.)

Monday, October 09, 2023

Katana Cutting Training

Below is a video on katana cutting training.

During Covid, I did some training in Iaido, and learned all the material of Toyama Ryu Iaido through Shodan. This included cutting tatami mats with a katana, which is more difficult than you would think, and also just a blast!

Sunday, October 08, 2023

The Principal Lesson of Budo

Over at the Budo Bum blog, was an article about the most essential lessons of Budo study. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Koryu budo schools teach many things: strikes, throwing techniques, joint locks, strangles, weapons, defenses, counterattacks, proper breathing, proper walking, techniques for receiving attacks, ukemi. However, the one thing every koryu budo school that I have encountered spends the most time teaching and practicing isn’t any of these techniques. It’s awareness; self-awareness, spatial awareness, temporal awareness, and awareness of others.

I’m purposely limiting this to koryu budo because gendai budo spend most of their practice time drilling competition techniques and sparring. Koryu budo schools spend most of their practice time on mental focus and awareness. If you give it a little consideration, it is clear that the amount of time spent on technical skills is second to what is spent on awareness and mental development.

The bulk of koryu budo training is kata. Pick any koryu budo ryuha and watch some of their kata. A kata might take anywhere from 10 to 30 seconds from the start to finish of one repetition. The technique practice in the kata will generally last from 1 second to around 10 seconds. The rest of the time is spent practicing awareness and focus. This is true whether it is iai or kenjutsu or jojutsu or naginata or jujutsu or anything else.

If we look at the first iaido kata in Muso Jikiden Eishin Ryu and Muso Shinden Ryu, the kata starts while the practitioner is standing. She takes the time to sit in seiza carefully and attentively. Once she is sitting, she does not rush into drawing her sword. She stays calm and focused. She begins moving carefully, being fully aware of what she is doing and what her kaso teki (imagined opponent) is supposed to be doing. She begins drawing her sword slowly, completely focused on the situation, and does not rush anything. When everything is right, she finishes her draw and cuts quickly across kaso teki. She pushes forward and raises the sword over her head, then cuts quickly down through kaso teki. She pauses. Focusing and extending awareness, she considers if kaso teki is still a threat. She shifts her blade and pushes it slowly out to her right, then brings it in close to her head and drops it across her front for the chiburi and rises to her feet, all the while remaining focused on kaso teki, just in case the threat has not been completely eliminated. She pushes her right foot back into a relatively deep stance. Maintaining her focus on kaso teki, she brings her left hand to the koi guchi, and the tsuba close to her left hand. She pulls the back of the sword along her left hand until the tip drops into the opening in her hand and then slowly brings the saya over the sword tip and begins sheathing the sword, still staying focused on kaso teki. As she sheathes the sword, she slowly lowers herself to her left knee. Once the sword is sheathed there is a pause while she continues to focus on kaso teki. She rises, still focusing on kaso teki. Only after all of this, does she lift her eyes from kaso teki. Maintaining her mental focus, she expands her awareness to the whole space around her, and then she returns to her starting place with deliberate care and focus.

That’s a lot of time and effort to practice two cuts. The most important lesson isn’t the draw or the cuts. It’s the focus and awareness. Awareness combined with the ability to focus on what is critical are the most important skills in koryu budo. That’s why we spend more time practicing them then everything else combined. Awareness will keep you out of more fights than any technique can win, and focus will prevent distractions that cause losses.


Thursday, October 05, 2023

Interview with Alex Dong, Head of Dong Family Taijiquan

One of Yang Cheng Fu's most senior students was the storied Dong Yingjie. His practice became the Dong Family style of Taijiquan. Today it is headed by Alex Dong, who wrote a book about his famous great grand father, Grand Master

Below is an excerpt from an interview with Alex Dong. The full interview may be found here.


Inheriting A Legacy: A Master’s Journey Through Martial Arts

Alex Dong is a dedicated practitioner with a lifelong passion for the discipline. Hailing from Renxian County, Hubei province in China, he embarked on his martial arts journey at the tender age of five, starting with Tai Chi and later dabbling in the external aspects of martial arts throughout his childhood.

The Tung/Dong family Tai Chi is a traditional lineage that traces its roots back to the famous Yang style. As the current lineage holder, Alex Dong continues the legacy, emphasizing a traditional approach to Tai Chi, focusing on martial applications and preserving the essence of the art.

The Lineage of Dong Family Tai Chi

The lineage of Dong family Tai Chi can be traced back to the renowned Yang-style Tai Chi founder Yang Luchan (楊露禪) through his grandsons Yang Chengfu (楊澄甫) and Yang Shaohuo (楊少侯). Dong Yingjie (董英傑) learned from both Luchan’s grandsons and several other prominent Tai Chi masters of the era. Yingjie became the first generation of the Dong family to learn Tai Chi. The lineage continued through Dong Yingjie’s son, Dong Huling (董虎岭), who passed on the art to his son, Dong Zengchen (董增晨). Dong Zeng Chen then taught his son, Alex Dong (董大德), the current lineage holder, who continues to carry on the family tradition of Tai Chi. Alex is passing on his family’s art to his young son Ryan (董添瑞).

Coming To America

Recounting his journey, he says, “When I moved to Hawaii at 13, I trained with my father and grandfather.” Now a seasoned instructor, Alex has been honing the craft for over three decades. “I started assisting my father at 19, translating for him and teaching classes solo,” he reflects. Proudly commemorating the 25th anniversary of his family’s art being taught in Seattle, Alex’s devotion to martial arts radiates through his accomplishments.

Having called Hawaii and New York City home for the last four decades, Alex Dong’s influence stretches beyond geographical boundaries. Although the pandemic nudged him towards online classes, he now anticipates returning to in-person workshops, invigorated after the forced hiatus.

With a renewed spirit and a wealth of knowledge, Alex Dong is poised to continue his journey, inspiring generations to come with the timeless art of Dong family Tai Chi.

Alex Dong’s Early Martial Arts Journey

As I delved deeper into the conversation with Alex Dong, his account of childhood training in the art of Dong Family Tai Chi transported me to a level of dedication and discipline seldom possible in the modern era. “In the beginning,” Alex recalls, “I was learning the traditional long form and my family’s fast form.”

The scenes he painted were reminiscent of unwavering commitment, with young Alex practicing relentlessly. Rising before the sun, he commenced his training, only to continue throughout the day. “Other than going to school,” he shares, “I’m training… during lunch breaks and after dinner.” Such was the enthusiasm of his pursuit.

 In those formative years, repetition was the key. Alex vividly described honing his skills by performing the shorter forms and weapons routines countless times.

This early immersion in the art laid the groundwork for the mastery Alex would later achieve. It was a time of pure dedication, where every moment seemed devoted to pursuing excellence.

Reflecting on these formative years, it becomes apparent that true greatness is nurtured through passion, diligence, and an unyielding connection to one’s heritage. Alex Dong’s journey exemplifies the power of tradition and the beauty of a childhood dedicated to his family’s timeless art.


A Dance of Disciplines: Alex Dong’s Entry Into Push Hands

In my pursuit to unveil the inspirational martial arts journey of Alex Dong, our conversation delved into his transition from forms to the intricate world of Push Hands. “When I relocated to Hawaii at 13,” Alex reveals, “that’s when I started incorporating Push Hands training.”

Before Hawaii, Alex’s early years in China were characterized by dedicated form practice and spirited wrestling bouts known as Shuai Jiao (摔跤). These playful challenges with fellow neighborhood kids honed his balance and grappling skills, setting the stage for what was to come.

It was in Hawaii, at the age of 13 or 14, that Alex officially embraced Push Hands under the watchful guidance of his father. Classes with his father’s students exposed him to a diverse array of martial arts practitioners, including those from karate, wing chun, and even street fighters. A beautiful blend of Push Hands and striking techniques filled the training sessions, sometimes escalating into the roughhouse-ing of spirited young men.

With a glimmer in his eyes, Alex shared memories of these sessions, where practitioners tested their skills in a controlled yet lively exchange. The eclectic mix of influences imparted invaluable insights, shaping Alex’s path.

While training with his grandfather was less frequent due to the elder’s reduced class schedule, the moments spent learning from the Grandmaster were invaluable. Alex recalls, “Although he didn’t train me like my father, what he gave me was very important.” The principles and techniques imparted by his grandfather added a profound layer to Alex’s formidable prowess.



Japanese Concepts that can Improve Your Life

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Art of Manliness Blog, which enumerates 7 Japanese concept that can improve one's life. The full post may be read here.

Like many American boys who grew up in the 1980s, I loved The Karate Kid. For months when I was five years old, I demanded that my family call me “Daniel-san” instead of Brett.

Besides instilling in me a desire to crane-kick everyone, The Karate Kid also implanted a nascent interest in Japanese culture. When I was five, I remember cobbling together a small Shinto shrine out of construction paper, popsicle sticks, and Elmer’s glue so I could have a setup similar to Mr. Miyagi’s dojo in my bedroom. It’s funny to think about a five-year-old church-going kid living in the middle of Oklahoma creating a Shinto shrine for himself. 

My appreciation for Japanese culture has deepened since then and continues today. One of the things I love about the Japanese is that, like the ancient Greeks, they can take complex ideas or concepts and sum them up in a single word or phrase. These phrases can serve as reminders of how to live a flourishing life. I’ve filed away some of these Japanese concepts over the years and incorporated them into my life. 

Here are seven of my favorites:

Kaizen: Seeking Continuous Improvement

Kaizen is a Japanese term that means “continuous improvement.” It’s the idea of making small, incremental changes over time to improve your life and achieve your goals. The Japanese believe that even small changes, made consistently, can accrue significant compound interest.

We’ve written in detail about the history of kaizen and how to implement it in your life here. It’s one of our most popular articles. 

Here’s the gist: Try getting just 1% better every day. If you can make tiny improvements over months, years, and decades, you can move mountains. 

Ikigai: Finding Your Purpose

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to “a reason for being.” It’s the idea of finding one’s purpose in life and aligning it with one’s passions, skills, and values. The Japanese believe finding and pursuing your ikigai is the key to a long and happy life. 

Ikigai is similar to the Hindu idea of dharma, which we’ve written about previously, or Nietzche’s idea of “becoming who you are.”

We’ve got lots of articles and podcasts on this subject. Here are a few of my favorites that can help you discover your ikigai:

Oubaitori: Avoiding Comparison to Others

The characters that spell out oubaitori represent four different trees that bloom in Japan in the spring: cherry, apricot, peach, and plum. Each tree blooms in its own way and in its own time, and each bears a distinct flower and fruit. Oubaitori as a concept grows out of this arboreal image and refers to the idea of avoiding the habit of comparing yourself to others and embracing your unique journey and timeline instead. 

Theodore Roosevelt (another appreciator of Japanese culture) famously said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Boy, was he right. I’ve noticed that I tend to get most down in the dumps when I start measuring my success against the success of others. Whenever I start doing that, I just remind myself to practice oubaitori. The word serves as a trigger to shift my focus away from others and back to my own path.

Wabi-Sabi: Embracing Imperfection

Wabi-sabi is a Japanese philosophy that embraces imperfection and transience. As artist Leonard Koren put it, wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in the “imperfect, the impermanent, and the incomplete.” It’s the idea that flaws do not necessarily negate something’s worth.

While wabi-sabi is often applied to objects like pottery, it also has resonance for how we think about all kinds of projects, and even ourselves. While there’s a place for seeking excellence and perfection in life, at a certain point, that pursuit can get in the way of making progress. Think of the writer who’s never able to turn in a manuscript because he keeps tinkering with the edits, the guy who never starts a business because he keeps fine-tuning his business plan, or the person who’s crippled by anxiety whenever he makes a mistake. At a certain point, you have to tell yourself, “Wabi-sabi, baby!” You have to embrace imperfection as inherent to all art, to all striving, and to the human condition itself — and move on with your life.


Monday, October 02, 2023

Choke Theory

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Tai Chi Notebook on the theory of applying chokes. The full post may be read here.

Disclaimer: Please only take medical advice from a qualified doctor. I am not a qualified doctor!

One of the things I find quite astonishing amongst ‘martial artists’ is the generally low level of understanding of the theory of choking people.

Choking is the process of stopping or reducing blood flow to the brain until the person loses consciousness (cerebral hypoxia). It usually requires a bit of squeezing force, but can be effortless and painless if applied with high levels of accuracy, and the person will just go to sleep. It’s one of the most powerful techniques in the self defence arsenal, since chokes generally work on everyone. It doesn’t’ matter if you’re big, small, strong, super strong or even Herculean, everybody goes to sleep. In Judo and BJJ done in a Gi, chokes are often done with a collar and are commonly taught.

Chokes have nothing to do with airflow. Again, I just did a quick google search and the amount of seemingly legitimate websites talking about ‘restricting airflow’ and ‘windpipe’ is insane. There is a lot of bad information out there. Chokes are about restricting the blood flow in the two jugular veins and cartoid arteries on either side of the windpipe. For a detailed analysis of what happens, check here. Being aware of exactly where you should be applying pressure when choking somebody will increase the effectiveness of your chokes massively.

Rendering somebody unconscious by stopping their airflow is also possible, and called smothering in BJJ. Smothering is usually a pretty nasty, violent thing to have done to you. Look up the Mothers Milk submission if you are curious! And a choke that involves crushing/compressing your windpipe to make it happen could also have dire consequences. Similarly, pressure on the chest can also stop you breathing and lead to unconsciousness. That’s particularly unpleasant, too.

But a good old fashioned blood choke is the safest method of rendering somebody who is aggressive instantly harmless. Quite often when they wake up the fight has gone out of them.

Chokes can be trained and practiced safely but become incredibly dangerous in the hands of the inexperienced, as we have tragically seen in many police killings of people already restrained, so only practice them under expert guidance. And if the person has gone unconscious – LET GO! Very often it is hard to tell, so check on them, get verbal feedback, don’t just keep squeezing!