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.