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 ~


Wednesday, February 28, 2024

93 Year Old Kendoka


The video below was found at the end of a post at Kenshi 24/7 on relative outlook on Kendo in Japan and abroad. An except from the article is below. The full post may be read here.

Modern kendo in Japan has been intrinsically bound with (and to) the education system for well over a century  now. Also, as you no doubt know,  kendo in the police system (yes, it is a slightly separate thing – nor particularly technically, but in purpose) has always been a highly influential factor. Of course, educational kendo and police kendo were highly cross pollinated in the past (not now unfortunately).  Due to such influences kendo was, at least in generations past, seen primarily as a tool of education, both physical and mental. Building up to and during the Japan’s highly militarised era’s, it was also used explicitly as a tool of “soldier creation” and to engender nationalism. After WWII a concerted effort was done to democratise kendo, but in the end most of the teachers were of the old school variety (and if not, then students of them). 

Since it essentially evolved in such a serious situation, it comes with no surprise that kendo is – and is still seen to be – a serious activity.  At least that the image here in Japan.  

Multitudes of kids clubs can be found all around Japan, and I’m sure many readers have experienced keiko there. I wonder, however, if you talked to the teachers about what their purpose is, that is, their kendo philosophy? 

Kids kendo clubs here are generally (not always) community based affairs. Parents elect to have their kid “study” kendo  – often kendo is referred to as NARAIGOTO (“something to be studied”), in the same vein as things like as piano, abacus, English, or shodo, for example. Of course, you’d send your kid to a nearby dojo, not travel too much. The vast majority of parents chose kendo not because of the physical benefits for their kids, but because it can (or is supposed to) engender confidence and manners. Instructors are almost always unpaid, generally older, and the clubs are run by parents (= usually the mothers). Of course, there are some for-profit private dojo, but there are not so many, and I guess don’t make much money (otherwise there’d be more). Keiko will usually be tough (not violent) and kids may be pushed about and cry a lot. In general, a kid doesn’t have the freedom to quit either. Anyway, the point is that kendo – at the very start of a young persons kendo career – has seriousness already baked in. 

[ The above, however, breaks down when kids start older (junior or senior high school age) and do kendo under younger kendo teachers, or perhaps just amongst themselves. It looks as if these type of kendoka have increased over the last couple of decades…. ]

Outside of Japan, in my now admittedly limited experience, kendo seems to be very more of a social activity rather than a community based one: a once or twice or even three times a week affair with some drinks afterwards. There might be some kids in the club, but maybe not that many, and those that are there are treated softly so that they don’t quit. There may not be any older people with decades of experience (kendo and life) to help teach the kids or act as mentors or role-models to young(er) adults. Obviously, this is a generalisation.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Baguazhang's Single Palm Change


The Single Palm Change is the fundamental technique in Baguazhang. Below is an old video of a teacher demonstrating many facets of the SPC.


Thursday, February 22, 2024

Monday, February 19, 2024

Practice and Resistance


The author Steven Pressfield (author of Gate of Fire and the Legend of Bagger Vance) frequently writes about topics that while specifically are about writing, apply more widely to art in general and to martial arts. Below is an excerpt from a post about Practice and Resistance. The full post may be read here.

Why do we have a practice at all?

I have my own reasons, some of which definitely go deep into the airy-fairy, but the most obvious and the most practical is this:

We have a practice in order to confront and overcome Resistance.

A practice by definition defeats Resistance because it produces work every day with total focus and dedication. And a practice is lifelong, so we know we’ll never quit.

One could say that a practice is “habit.” But in truth a practice goes way beyond that. A practice enlists habit. It implies habit (if we have a practice, we do it every day, i.e. it can be called a habit) but it is habit only in the sense that giving birth is exercise.

Likewise, if we said the purpose of a practice is to overcome Resistance, we would be vastly understating the depth and effect of having a practice.

Overcoming Resistance is a side-benefit of having a practice. 

For myself, I was years into the act of having a practice before I even thought about its efficacy as a strategy to overcome my own Resistance. Resistance was (and is) a given for me. It wakes up with me. I know I will have to face it every day, and I know it will never diminish or relent or go away.

But I have a practice. That’s all I need to know. I know at a certain time of day I will go into a certain room. I will enter with a very specific mindset, i.e. “Leave your problems (and your ego) outside.” And I will engage in a very specific (though infinitely varied in the moment) enterprise.

 

Tuesday, February 13, 2024

The Norimitsu Odachi


The Norimitsu Odachi is a huge katana. I don't believe it was ever intended to actually be used, but rather a showpiece by the sword smith or perhaps a piece of artwork for some daimyo. Below is a short video.

 

 


Saturday, February 10, 2024

Some of the Inner Work of Practice


As martial artists, we can learn from other, non-martial activities, which I refer to as "Budo with a small B." Among these is weight lifting.

Like martial arts, weight lifters can ride on the surface of what their discipline has to teach, or they can go more deeply and plumb the depths.

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Jordan Castro, which appeared at Harpers, who is a novelist and happens to take his weight training very serioudly. The full article may be read here.

...

Now comes the best part: The reason I came to the gym in the first place. I experience a sensation I think of as “opening up.” I receive new eyes. When blood flows into your muscles it changes your eyes—like wearing glasses. It starts in your blood and stretches out over the world, where everything remains the same, but different. It’s as if each color contains a deeper, richer layer of itself, invisible during the rote machinery of life—working on my laptop, making food, driving my car—which only gets revealed when blood makes muscle thick and full. Before, I saw colors, but now I can actually see; before, I could breathe, but now I can actually breathe. Anxiety disappears; stress disappears; the stories that I tell myself in language disappear. I experience something like pure phenomenological Life. And just as Life can only be understood in and through Life—revealing itself in the living ongoingly—the pump can only be understood through the pump. One cannot theorize or think their way into a pump; my pecs quiver; the neon red sign that reads the montanari bros. new haven the super gym becomes redder; the black floor and black weights become blacker—everything becomes both sharper and softer; clearer and warm; the taste of iron fills my mouth; I shake my arms and check the clock so I know when to begin my next set. When a minute passes, I lay back down and disappear.

This, in so many words, is the activity that increasing numbers of us engage in on a regular basis—that has changed the lives of millions of Americans in recent years. Roughly half of Americans say they exercise at least a few times a week. Since 2010, the number of people with a gym membership has increased by 32 percent, to 66.5 million people, a growth that is expected to continue. And weight lifting is now the second most popular form of exercise in gyms in the United States. More people are exercising, and the way they are exercising has changed.

I will stick to “lifting” to describe what is in reality several types of exercise, each with its own distinct methods and goals, but with enough in common to be comfortably grouped together. Each involves moving one’s body against some kind of resistance (weights, exercise bands, bars, the floor), with the intention of changing one’s body (usually to become stronger, leaner, or both). There is Olympic weight lifting, which focuses on two barbell lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk); bodybuilding, which focuses on aesthetics (size, conditioning, and symmetry); powerlifting, which focuses on trying to lift as much weight as possible with the squat, bench press, and dead lift; “powerbuilding,” a mix of powerlifting and bodybuilding; calisthenics, which primarily utilizes body weight exercises like push-up and pull-up variations; high-intensity resistance training; and more.

Until recently, lifting was associated almost exclusively with a specific kind of meathead: crude, tattooed, ragey, offensive. Gyms were viewed as “sweaty dungeons,” and lifters seen as “unintelligent,” Natalia Mehlman Petrzela writes in her book Fit Nation. When my dad lifted in the early Eighties, as he tells it, men at the gym would openly shoot steroids while sitting on old equipment. But now, all kinds of people lift. Daniel Kunitz, author of the book Lift, has written about authors and their exercise routines: Kant, Thoreau, Hemingway, Nietzsche, Roth. Most enjoyed cardio, such as walking—or they engaged in some oddly specific movement, like Jack Kerouac, who said he would “stand on [his] head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with [his] toe tips, while balanced.” It’s only recently that more people have begun to lift weights, and that the older mode of hypermasculine aggression has been replaced with—or at least accompanied by—something cleaner and more health-conscious.

 

 

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Chunliang Al Huang Documentary


Over at Bloke on the Path, a documentary about Chunliang Al Huang was posted in two parts. Mr Huang helped promote taijiquan as a part of the Human Potential Movement in the 70's and 80's. The first part is below. The second part may be watched here.

 

Sunday, February 04, 2024

A Scientific Approach to Taijiquan Practice


Over at Thoughts on Tai Chi, there was a post about applying the scientific method to ones practice. An excerpt is below. The full  post may be read here.

 

I was thinking about healthcare in ancient China, not necessarily in terms of “Traditional Chinese Medicine”, or “TCM”, but more how advanced the overall healthcare was in older times. I thought I should do some digging to find more about this subject and luckily I stumbled on some very interesting articles covering the Han dynasti, the same time as the Huangdi Neijing and the Suwen, which is the most important of the historical texts on Chinese medicine. So I read more about this time era, and was surprised by my findings. I bet you can’t even imagine how advanced China was at this time.

I will reveal more of my findings, but first I think I should explain more about why this era is important. The Han-dynasty stretches from 202 BC – 9 AD, 25–220 AD, and preceded by the short lived Qin Dynasty (221–206 BCE) starting with the reign of the person we here call “the Yellow Emperor,” or Qin Shi Huangdi.

This period, with these two dynasties especially, were very important for the future of whole China. Huangdi means “Yellow Ruler” in Chinese, or “emperor”. This was the first emperor of China, who united the country. Amongst other things, he standardized the Chinese characters, units of weight and measure, built roads, and started to unite guard towers together into what today is known as the Great Wall.

His own time and the following dynasty was a time of development and science. A lot of thoughts and science from that time influence Chinese people even today, especially when it comes to attitudes to foods, exercise and general health. Much of the philosophy of Chinese medicine and “internal exercise” as what is today called qigong and neigong stems from this time as well.

So why is all this important? Well, because the philosophy around Tai Chi Chuan is influenced by this time era as well. A lot of concepts, terms and ideas are found in different kinds of practice and ideas of neigong, qigong and Tai Chi can also be found in the Huangdi Suwen.

But it’s more to this, and it’s here where the rest of the story fits in. You see, science, medicine and healthcare, were all much more advanced in this time than what most people here understand. What is called TCM today is just a part of a much bigger picture. There was indeed some of the traditional Chinese medicine and the same kind of philosophy we still find today in TCM, the foundations of TCM. But at the same time, the scientific approach and methods we can find in Western medicine and healthcare were also prevalent.

Already in the Han dynasty, there were not only hospitals, but they also had mobile teaching and research units, and health stations. They had an advanced understanding of anesthesia, and aseptic techniques were also quite advanced for their time. This also made surgeries possible. Surgeries 2000 years ago? Really? Yes, they had medical surgeons performing surgeries like cesarean sections, dental extractions, and even the removal of tumors. They recorded the patients and maintained detailed medical records for patients.

They also develop sophisticated diagnostic techniques and they used dietary therapy amongst other things. But when it comes to diagnostic techniques, herbal medicines and diet, the so called “Chinese traditional medicine” is present as well.

In fact, back in those times, “western” type of medicine and “traditional Chinese medicine” were not separated. It all existed as a whole. There was a scientific understanding and a holistic approach together at the same time.

So what is good to know is that the separation into a “western medicine” on one hand and a “traditional Chinese medicine” on the other hand, is in fact a relatively modern, new “thing”. Originally, they were parts of the same whole and it was never supposed they would be separated like this.

So what does this mean for us studying Tai Chi and similar “stuff”? Well, it means that the philosophy and concepts we use in our own practice were never meant to exist in a vacuum or as an autonomous system of thought. Instead, this terminology, or what we call “philosophy”, was meant to be used together with, and as tools for, a scientific approach. And for many hundreds of years ago, it was used in science.

 


Thursday, January 25, 2024

Leave Your Troubles Outside


As martial artists, we can learn from other athletes and artists. Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at Steven Pressfield's blog (author of Bagger Vance and Gate of Fire). The full post may be read here.

My great friend and mentor (and also my first boss), David Leddick, spent several years as a ballet dancer with the Metropolitan Opera. David trained with a celebrated teacher named Margaret Craske.

Here’s what he wrote in his book, I’m Not For Everyone. Neither Are You.

I studied ballet at the old Metropolitan Opera when Antony Tudor, the famous choreographer, was the head of the ballet school. In fact, Margaret Craske was the teacher most students considered to be more important.  She had danced with Pavlova in the ’20s. 

Miss Craske instructed us: “Leave your problems outside the classroom.”

Such good advice. And in that hour and a half of intense concentration on every part of your body, the music, the coordinating with other dancers—you really couldn’t think about your troubles and it was great escaping them. You emerged much more relaxed and self-confident.

We worked hard. We never had a sick day. You went on even if you had to lie down in the wings until you were needed. No one thought this was unusual. 

At the Met, the powers that be were only interested in two things: how well you sang and how well you danced. Your race didn’t count, your background, sexual preferences, family, none of that mattered. You had to deliver.  That was the sole standard. It was great.

In later careers, all of this has stood me in good stead. I never had to work that hard in any of the various worlds I entered. I knew the quality of the work I was doing. Dancing at the Met was a wonderful experience and a wonderful preparation for the rest of my life.

 


Saturday, January 20, 2024

Stoked to Practice



Sometimes our daily practice becomes drudgery. It's sometimes difficult to be enthusiastic about our practice every day, and yet it is essential that we do. 

Below is an excerpt that appeared at Zen Habits, while not specifically speaking of martial arts practice, talks precisely about what it is we need to do to maintain our enthusiasm. The full post may be read here.

 

 

Cultivating Stokedness

By Leo Babauta

How many days do you wake up excited for life, stoked to be alive and take on the day’s challenges?

If your answer is “often,” then congratulations! That’s an amazing way to live life — but you’re in the minority.

Most people are unenthusiastic about their lives, not looking forward to what the day has in store. That’s not a bad thing — if that’s how you’re feeling, it’s just how you’re feeling. There isn’t a “right” way to be.

That said, if you’d like to be more stoked about life, then there are ways to cultivate that. We’ll explore some of those ways in this post.

Living a Life of Stokedness

What would it be like if you felt more excited by life each day? Or by what you were taking on at work, in your relationships, in your workouts?

Life is incredible, and we are immensely privileged to be alive in this miraculous world. We don’t always appreciate it — and that’s OK, to not always be grateful or excited — but there is the possibility of feeling more awe and wonder in our days.

Let’s say you wake up and you have a bunch of work to do (in addition to other things going on in your life). You could feel a sense of burden, overwhelm, and anxiety about all of it … or you could feel really excited by the meaningful things you’re taking on. It’s not that one approach is right and the other is wrong, but they are entirely different approaches and experiences. We have a choice.

What if you took on each thing with a sense of wonder, and an open heart? What if each act of your day were an expression of your love?

What Gets in the Way

All of that sounds good, but there are things that get in the way of living life this way:

  • A default of not being enthusiastic about life. This comes from years of having our enthusiasm dampened, from feeling disappointment over and over, from learning to be jaded.
  • A sense of pointlessness that comes when we feel like we’ve failed at things over and over, or that people have let us down over and over.
  • Built-up pain from things that have hurt us, to the point where little things can agitate the wounds in our hearts, easily causing frustration, anger, explosions of outrage.
  • Built-up fear from things that have gone wrong, leading to a general sense of anxiety and overwhelm, and worrying about everything.
  • Built-up resentment and anger from injustices and offenses, large and small.
  • Built-up self-judgment from all the things we think we’re doing wrong, failing at, etc.
  • Built-up sadness from many losses, both large and small, so that the world and people around us can easily trigger sadness.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but I hope you can get a sense of what gets in the way of our enthusiasm and stokedness about life. Our hearts are closed more than open.

There is nothing wrong with any of this — it’s a natural consequence of life! We build up conditioning from lots of things that happen to us, from grief and loss to hurt and anger and fear. It builds up, and we lose the open-heartedness with the world.

Releasing the Blockers

If all of the above represents blockers in our hearts, then wouldn’t it be freeing to be able to release these blockers?

The process to release the built-up blockers is simple but not necessarily easy:

  • When the world triggers a conditioned blocker (anger, resentment, fear, sadness, hurt, overwhelm, anxiety, jealousy, grief, etc.) … notice that it’s there, and decide to release it.
  • Sit still for a few minutes, and let yourself feel whatever you feel. Relax, and allow the feeling as fully as you can. Surrender to it, allow it to just be an experience of energy in the moment.
  • Know that you’ll be OK. It’s just energy, and if you relax instead of resisting the energy, it will just pass through you. That said … only do it if the intensity is a 7 out of 10 or lower. You don’t need to work with a 10/10 intensity, unless you have a therapist working with you.
  • After it passes, give yourself some gratitude and love. You have released some of your blockage.

It might take a number of these kinds of releasing sessions to actually release a blocker, but the more you’re able to surrender and feel it, letting it pass through you, the less it will remain in you. You’ll be freed.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Training Ideas: Reduce the Restraints


In our training, we talk a lot about discipline and motivation in getting our behinds out there and getting the work in. In the Yin and Yang of things, there is also another approach we can take: to reduce or remove our restraints.

At The Art of Manliness, there is a post that discusses this. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

It’s a new year, so many men are thinking about making changes in their lives. 

Maybe you want to lose weight. 

Maybe you want to get up earlier. 

Maybe you want to spend less time playing video games.

Maybe you want to be less of a grump. 

If you’re like many men who desire to make changes in their lives, you’ve likely attempted personal change but failed. 

You’ve started diets, tried workout plans, and created budgets, only to give up on them a few weeks or months later. 

What gives? 

When we flounder in our attempts to improve ourselves, we typically chalk up the failure to a lack of motivation or discipline. So we read books and watch YouTube videos on increasing our motivation and discipline. But they don’t seem to help much. We might feel an initial increase in drive, but then it peters out after a few days.

Like most men, I’ve had varying degrees of success with different self-improvement goals. Why do I succeed with some and not others? As a father, I’m keen on helping my kids develop noble habits and desires. How can I better nurture their progress? As a guy in the business of “helping men become better men,” I’m always looking for insights that can help me fulfill that professional vision.

So I’ve been thinking and reading about personal change this past year. My study has taken me to psychology and behavioral science, of course. But it’s also led me to philosophy. Personal change isn’t just a matter of neurology or psychology; an element of soul is also involved. Some changes are more soulful than others. 

Over the next year, I plan to share some of the things I’ve been thinking about and learning about personal change. 

But to kick things off, I want to introduce you to a theory of how personal change happens that has significantly influenced my thinking about this aspect of the human experience. 

...

When it comes to making a change, we typically think of increasing our driving forces — things like motivation and discipline. 

Increasing your driving forces can get you much of the way towards your goals. I’m a particularly strong believer in the idea that motivation — having an inherent desire to engage in a pursuit — is essential in achieving success in any endeavor. 

But people often overlook the significance of restraining forces in successfully transforming their habits. Dr. Ross Ellenhorn, the author of How We Change (And Ten Reasons Why We Don’t), compares the interplay between driving and restraining forces to heading out on a road trip: you may have a full tank of fuel (driving forces), but if you run into a traffic jam (restraining forces), you’re not going to get anywhere.

So it’s worth flipping things around from how you may normally think about goal-setting to consider the restraining forces side of the equation. 

Kurt Lewin was the intellectual grandfather of the contemporarily influential psychologist Daniel Kahneman of Thinking Fast and Slow fame. In an interview on the Freakonomics podcast, Kahneman described a key insight he got from Lewin about how to help someone else change that also applies to changing your own life:

Diminishing the restraining forces is a completely different kind of activity because instead of asking, ‘How can I get him or her to do it?’ it starts with a question of, ‘Why isn’t she doing it already?’ Very different question. ‘Why not?’ Then you go one by one systematically, and you ask, ‘What can I do to make it easier for that person to move?’ 

I love that question to ask yourself when you’re troubleshooting failed attempts at personal change: Why am I not doing this thing already? 

Why am I not already eating right? 

Why am I not already exercising regularly? 

Why haven’t I already curbed my drinking?

Maybe perfectionism is holding you back from sticking to a diet. Instead of giving up completely when you don’t keep your diet with exactitude, perhaps you can give up the perfectionist mindset and settle for good enough 80% of the time.

Maybe you’ve overextended yourself in time commitments and don’t have the time to dedicate to a regular exercise routine. Do an audit and bow out of some commitments to free up some time. 

Maybe you’re ready to quit drinking, but all your friends want to do is go to the bar every night. Expand your social circle and find new friends who don’t center their socializing around alcohol. 

You don’t have to eliminate all the restraining forces in your life. Some restraining forces you’ll never be able to get rid of, like family members or a disability. But you can always find ways to work around them or diminish their influence on a desired outcome. Focus on what you can do, not what you can’t do.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Musashi the Artist


Besides being a famous swordsman, Musashi was an artist. At Ichigoji, there is an article about his famous dragon painting. An excerpt is below. The full post, with accompanying photographs, may be read here.

 

Another year draws to a close and the Year of the Dragon begins here in Japan (yes – it is a somewhat odd combination of the Chinese lunar New Year that begins a couple of months later, and the western New Year).


The imperial connections of the dragon in China are well-known; in Japan there was a strong connection with esoteric arts and Zen Buddhism in particular (at least in art) where they are seen as protectors of the Buddhist law. In this respect, they are still to be seen on the ceilings of many temples in Kyoto – some of them dating back to the late Muromachi  period (late 1500s). Some of these are on public display, some in areas only open to the public during the special openings in the spring and autumn, and some are rarely to be seen at all - perhaps only when peering through the wooden slats into the gloom. Some of these are very evocative, some less so, but they certainly have a power in situation that is difficult to reproduce in photographs.

 

The same may be said for the many dragons depicted on sliding doors and screens, some of them very powerful, others quite strange (or even both in the case of some of Kaiho Yusho’s paintings, where the dragons loom out of the darkness as presences quite different from the scaled creatures of Chinese lore. I wrote about some of the great dragon paintings (Master Dragon Painters), and strongly recommend seeing them in the flesh if possible. The reality of a painting is more than the image itself - the setting, the lighting, the size, the texture, the sense of antiquity, - all these add something to the experience that make it more than visual alone. With ink, the age of the paper, the way the ink has sunk in, faded or worn off – the patina of age, I suppose you could say – is part of the work. 


For whatever reason, I have always found the works of Miyamoto Musashi particularly powerful in the flesh (not something I’ve had the chance of doing very often, mind you), but I have not had the chance to see his dragon painting. Of course, he is better known for the more modest creatures he depicted, things he had seen with his own eyes, but at least one dragon painting survives (and there is supposed to be another, even more elusive one, too).

 






The dragon faces left into space, but his eyes look elsewhere. The look on his face is mild, even sheepish, recalling some of Kaiho Yusho’s dragons. (It is quite likely that Musashi had seen and perhaps made copies of Yusho’s work). What is he looking at? 


As I’ve written before, there is recognition now in art circles that the pairing of dragon and tiger had strong associations with military divination, and these connotations would have been familiar to many warriors. It is possible that this painting was one of a pair – I have seen it suggested there could have been a tiger, or as in the case of Kaiho Yusho’s works, another dragon. Perhaps the eyes are a clue. 



Monday, January 08, 2024

Murder on the Dojo Floor


Not really. Below is an excerpt of a post by the Thoughtful Sensei organizing the techniques in his style using the term for a gathering of crows, a "murder." The full post may be read here.

Many martial artists look at a kata (aka a group of techniques) and only see ......... a group of techniques. This isn't a bad thing because after all ... it really is just that. Unfortunately however, little thought is given by the younger and the relatively inexperienced players that those techniques (and kata sets) might have been placed together for a reason.

Just for the fun of it (now entering "mild humor mode") let us refer to that group of techniques as a "Murder" (3 or more items involved and generally used for groupings of crows).  In this case however we are not speaking of crows (specifically) but rather of groupings of principles and techniques needed to excel in whatever martial art suits your fancy. In our case it's Tomiki Ryu Aikido/Aikijutsu, the Aikijutsu coming from our pre-WWII origins.

In our view Tomiki Ryu has two levels of kihon or basic techniques that come before the Murders and that everything coming after is based upon. In Tomiki Ryu these are taught as the walking and the 8 Releases. The walking is done solo and the 8 Releases are done with a training partner. Every hand motion and footstep in Tomiki Ryu are taught within the walking and every off-balance and re-direction of energy and power is explored in the 8 Releases.

Then come the Murders; the groupings of waza (techniques) that are based off the kihon, each with a different underlying theme or "Flavor" if you will.

In Tomiki Ryu the 1st Murder is the 17 Attack Movements teaching the fundamental principles of distance, timing, posture, gaze, off-balance of self and of attacker, foot movement, basic techniques, hand exchanges, and underlying purpose as seen within the idea of "Closing Centers" (centripetal forces) or the application of power as the centers of gravity (of defender and attacker) move towards each other.

The 2nd Murder in Tomiki Ryu is The Big 10 Defensive Movements which uses some of the same techniques as the 17 but within the context of "Separating Centers" (centrifugal forces) or the application of energetic power as the centers of gravity move apart. This 2nd Murder is actually considered to be more powerful (read "dynamic") than the 17 because of the attachment points and flow of energies as tori and uke merge, attach, and then forcefully separate.

The 3rd Murder in Tomiki Ryu is Yon Kata or the 4th of the koryu (old flow) kata groupings where the idea of synchronizing the movements of both the defender and the attacker is developed and then how to "break" that synchronization at the best moment is learned; becoming "one mind" for a brief moment before tori breaks that connection and throws uke.

The 4th Murder is an advanced koryu kata labeled Go Kata. This Murder teaches combative principles via techniques using both closing centers and separating centers. It is done at speed to pressure the defender such that they must intuitively react from the subconscious.

 



Friday, January 05, 2024

Vintage Martial Arts Ads


At Hogan's Alley is a long, exhaustive and entertaining article about martial arts ads that appeared in magazines, comic books, etc. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

 

With the world grown smaller and the Far East drawn so near, it's hard to imagine a time when martial arts had an aura of mystery about them. Nowadays, with afterschool tae kwon do, cardio-kickboxing and a slow-motion kung-fu scene in every action flick, martial arts—while still a crowd-pleaser—have long been leeched of exoticism. In the backhanded benefit of cultural assimilation, they're practically quaint. DAN KELLY examines the once-robust campaign of martial arts ads in comic books.

FEAR NO MAN

Saying adieu to Orientalism, it's impossible to approach comic book ads touting martial arts training (the golden age of which took place between 1960 and 1985), with anything but snickering derision. (For the purposes of this essay, martial arts refers to the organized systems of hand-to-hand combat and weaponry training originating in the countries of the East, particularly China, Japan, Okinawa and Korea. Western countries, obviously, also practice arts of warfare (boxing, wrestling, fencing, savate and others, for example), but the term has become almost totally associated with Asian styles in the Western public's mind (ironic since the root of the word martial arts is Mars, Roman god of war). (For further details on practitioners of Western martial arts, please visit http://www.mrdankelly.com/csg.html.) "FEAR NO MAN!" bellows one ad, promising you the ability to "flatten out any Thug, Mug, Wiseguy or Bully" rendering him "ABSOLUTELY HELPLESS IN SECONDS." Another ad screams a musky-with-man-scent vow to bequeath the power of Chinese Kung-Fu," an art of "...crippling self-defense where every part of your body is a fearful weapon. Your feet, your hands, your elbows, your fingers..." forged into "lethal weapons WITHOUT REQUIRING SUPER MUSCLE-POWER OR BRUTE FORCE." Yet another ad trumps them all, telling the lumpish Superman reader that even his pasty, sow-bellied self can learn "...torturing techniques which are meant to maim, disfigure, cripple or kill and have been used by oriental terrorists and assassins to MURDER!"

Whew.

 

Times and people were simpler then—accent on the definition of "simple" as "easily gulled." Seemingly improbable now, back then the ads were semi-convincing because people knew little about martial arts beyond what they saw misrepresented by popular media. Decked out with Chinese takeout fonts, blazingly violent copy, mystical gibberish, fear tactics and flimflam, the ads took advantage of the dying view of east Asia as a place containing ancient secrets of savage violence. "Fill out and mail in the below coupon," ended each ad in a crashing crescendo, "and be imbued with the bone-shattering fighting arts of the Orient"—and for only 99 cents at that!

Naturally, what was promised and what one actually received for that 99 cents were very different things—par for the course with American advertising at large. What made these ads more interesting than others were the freaky mail order senseis behind them, the highly dangerous "product" they allegedly sold, and the unflattering way the ads reflected American attitudes and knowledge about martial arts and their places of origin. Despite what a certain mindworm of a song suggested, not everybody was kung-fu fighting. Some were just faking the moves in order to separate the kidlings from their allowances.

While this article concentrates on ads appearing in so-called Silver and Bronze Age comic books, we should first make a detour to the slightly further past to understand what brought about comic ads for Yubiwaza, Aicondo and other "deadly Oriental fighting arts" puffery.

The biggest myth this article wants to burst is the notion that Asian martial arts were forbidden to non-Asian eyes until recent decades. Certainly, racial prejudice on both sides created insularity and thereby an unwillingness to share and explore ideas. Also, consider the historical truism of conquerors forbidding the conquered from ever practicing how to fight, causing many Asian martial arts to be practiced in secrecy for a very long time (Okinawans hid their karate training from Japanese occupiers by disguising it as classical dance practice, for example.) Regardless, Americans might be surprised at how long certain styles have been taught in the United States. Despite the hype, not all roads lead to Bruce Lee.

A full-scale survey of the presence of Asian martial arts in American history is impossible in this article, nor is it the goal. Better instead to briefly look at how they first appeared here and the way they were initially promoted. The first recorded instance of an American viewing a demonstration of Japanese jiu jitsu took place when President Ulysses S. Grant visited Japan in 1879. Pinpointing the exact moment Asian martial arts were introduced to America is nigh impossible, but it's certain that judo (already present and practiced in Victorian England) sailed to the states in 1902 when Yoshiaki Yamashita, a sixth-degree master, was hired by Great Northern Railroad director Graham Hill to teach his son his not-so-gentle art. Hill and wife quickly decided martial arts were too risky for the lad but obligingly arranged for Yamashita to exhibit and promote judo in New York and Chicago. Shortly thereafter, jiu jitsu became quite the thing to do among the haute monde. Yamashita later trained another president, Theodore Roosevelt, who added a judo brown belt to his list of sporty accomplishments. For more information on the history of martial arts in the United States, visit this site.

In this manner, Asian martial arts slowly trickled into the mainstream. Training wasn't as omnipresent then as it is now, but it was available, though the affluent and particular occupations had the easiest time finding instructors. If one was a cop, one could expect a lesson or three in throwing, joint-locks and pressure-points—useful in the nonviolent, but no less painful, apprehension of ne'er-do-wells—when the Tokyo Metropolitans Police's brand of jiu jitsu came over here (leading to the coinage of the term police jiu jitsu, which turns up in pulp fiction of the time). Any man who did a stint in the armed forces, too, received hand-to-hand combat training, and though it may not have been called jiu jitsu or judo in boot camp, that's what it was. Several army and marine instructors, in fact, went on to produce the precursors of the manuals referred to later in this article. After World War II, organizations like the YMCA added judo training to their curricula, well before the first official karate schools opened. All told, even in the early part of the last century, Asian martial arts weren't invisible in America. 

 


Tuesday, January 02, 2024

The Ethical Warrior


At Ellis Amdur's excellent Kogen Budo blog, there was published a guest post by Liam Keeley, where he descibed the ethical philosophy of his martial art, Tatsumi Ryu. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

In 1985, at Waseda University, Ellis Amdur gave a Japan Martial Arts Society presentation on “Self-Defense in Japan.”  There, he quoted a Buddhist precept, “Do no unnecessary harm.” This phrase, which I have never forgotten, was reinforced by what I was told by my Tatsumi-ryū seniors. It has become part of my personal ethos ever since. For example when they explained the duties of a kaishaku, I was told that he should act at his own discretion, and not wait for the person committing seppuku to stab himself in the stomach. Rather, the kaishaku should cut the person’s neck immediately when he leans forward to pick up the dagger or short sword which will have been placed before him. Placing the blade at an appropriate distance from the person to be executed will ensure that his neck is at the optimum distance and angle for the kaishaku to cut.

It was conveyed to me that Tatsumi-ryū is not morally neutral. You are not permitted to take part in sadistic practices, much less enjoy what you are doing, as it clouds your mind and works against you being in mushin (“flow state”). To sum up the Tatsumi-ryū approach, if you have to kill somebody to stop them for whatever reason, you may do so, but you should act like the professional you are, and use only as much violence as is absolutely necessary. From 22:30 until 23:00 within the Korean language “Asian Masters” documentary, Kato Hiroshi sensei, the 22nd headmaster of Tatsumi-ryū explains the essence of seven admonitions that are necessary to achieve this flow state.

SEVEN ADMONITIONS

ON yomi KUN yomi Kanji Admonition
Kyo odoroku 驚く Do not allow yourself to be surprised, surprise the enemy
Ku osoreru 恐る Do not give into fear, make the enemy afraid
Gi utagau 疑う Do not doubt yourself, make the enemy doubt himself
Waku madou 惑う Do not be led astray or deceived, lead the enemy astray
Kan yurumeru 緩める Do not lose concentration, make the enemy lose concentration
Mu ikaru 怒る Do not become angry, make the enemy angry
Sho aseru 焦る Do not be hasty, make the enemy act in haste

RESPECT

The flow state alone, however, can conceivably be amoral. Therefore, the starting point for the ethical warrior is respect. The Japanese saying is “Rei de (or ‘ni’) hajimari, rei de (or ‘ni’) owaru.” (“Budo begins and ends with a bow.”) The original Japanese is 礼に始まり礼に終わる. (NB: if the other particle is used, 礼で。。。) I think, however, that translating rei merely as “bow” minimizes its importance. I would prefer to translate it as “respect” in the broadest sense. Respect for yourself, respect for the other, and yes, even respect for your enemies. They are human, and if they are to be killed, they should be killed as respectfully as possible.

I would venture that it is easier to create an atmosphere of respect in small groups. Typically, ryu are small bodies of compatible people under strong leadership who share a common world view. I have a fond memory which may serve as an example of such cohesion. After training, we (the Tatsumi-ryū seniors) would go through “house-keeping:” recent and forthcoming promotions, upcoming gasshuku and demonstrations, the exegesis of historical documents, etc. On a chilly winter’s night, we would make sure that there was a heater to keep Kato Takashi sensei warm. The only problem was that he would keep fiddling with the heater, turning it away from himself so that we would get warm. That’s just one small example of how he cared for his students. As an example of disrespect, I remember him telling me about an incident that he witnessed during WWII. A Japanese officer hit an enlisted man across the face (temple area perhaps) with his sheathed military sabre. The enlisted man later died of the injury. Kato Sensei was very disapproving, saying it was a despicable abuse of authority, and disrespectful in the extreme to the victim.

It is a commonplace that no-one has clean hands, and that history is written by the victors. This is not to say that all parties to a conflict are morally equivalent. Nonetheless, every country seems to have disgraced itself on occasion, exhibiting extreme savagery. One thinks of Turkey’s massacre of the Armenians and the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the savage reprisals of the Nazis against the resistance in occupied Europe, and beyond that, the Nazi’s “Final Solution;” the Rape of Nanking by the Japanese, and so on. If you’re an American, there’s the deliberate starting of firestorms to attack the civilian population of Tokyo and other Japanese cities, not to mention the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. If you’re a British citizen/English speaker, don’t consider yourself and your compatriots blameless: there’s the carpet bombing of Dresden, and if we go back a little further into the past, there’s the first use of concentration camps by the British in South Africa during the Second Anglo-Boer War, 1899 – 1902, to force the Afrikaners to stop their guerrilla campaign against the British Empire, as well as the horrendous Sack of Badajoz in 1812 by British troops under Wellington during the Napoleonic Wars. It took three days to bring the soldiers back under control, and several British officers were killed when they tried to re-impose discipline during the massacre.

Victor Davis Hanson, one of the foremost American military historians, points out Nazi Germany’s obsessive persecution of the Jews, continuing to spend personnel and resources on the so-called “Final Solution,” even when it was clear that the Nazis were losing. Similarly, should you be so focused on gang-raping your enemy’s women, torturing the elderly and beheading children that you leave your enemy no choice but devastating counter-attack, I would suggest that you may have lost track of reality. Such loss of clarity, when one is intent only on rape and carnage, may come about though the very nature of one’s society itself, through the mediums of cultural indoctrination, and/or indulgence in some form of drugs or alcohol, possession, sadistic cruelty, torture, and/or sexual violence.

Starting with The Western Way of War, Victor Davis Hanson develops his theme that some uniquely Western institutions make the West a formidable opponent in war. Being a citizen and not a subject, having freedom of speech, a tradition of dissent, and prizing inventiveness and adaptation, consistently produces superior armies, weapons, and soldiers. The social anthropologist Mary Douglas pointed out that the Social Body constrains how the Physical body is perceived. Briefly, cultures are not cobbled together at random; they are internally consistent. Thus flaws in the strategy and tactics of the “Savage” will reflect the flaws in their societies.