The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

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 ~

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Who's Martial Art is it Anyway?

With the world wide diffusion of martial arts, can we still say that Judo for example is still Japanese; or that Wing Chun is still Chinese?

Dr. Ben Judkins over at Kung Fu Tea explores this question. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

“Inoue said the Japanese style of judo traditionally focused more on quantity rather than quality, trying to instill a tough mentality. But in Europe, which Inoue describes as “the mainstream of judo today,” judoka train more efficiently.

“A balance between efficiency and inefficiency and a balance between scientific things and unscientific things — you have to look at those, otherwise there’s no progress for our game,” Inoue said.

“We’ve switched our mind-set that way.”

“Inoue Determined to Help Japan Keep Pace.” Japan Times, 5/2/2016.


Who owns a martial art?

On the surface this question would seem to have an obvious answer.  Most of these systems come with a specific name (kendo or taijiquan), and they fall into generally accepted categories, such as Japanese Budo or the Chinese martial arts. The very act of describing these systems in the English language seems to underline an obvious fact.  The martial arts are best understood as the technical and cultural property of the previously mentioned nations.  It is all a matter of common sense.

Unfortunately “common sense” has a nasty habit of transforming itself into complex assumptions that no one ever questions.  For students of nationalism, a fairly modern political ideology spread and popularized in the 19th and 20th centuries, an assertion like the one above might begin to raise eyebrows.

While Chinese citizens during the Qing dynasty were certainly aware of the existence of the state and their responsibilities to it, most contemporary accounts indicate they did not think of themselves as members of a unified, polyglot, “Chinese nation” during the late imperial period.  Instead they were much more likely to organize their identity around lineage groups, regional locations and patronage networks.  Strong feelings of national identification didn’t really grip the populace until the founding of the Republic in the post-1911 period.  And yet many of the traditional martial arts (including systems like taijiquan and wing chun) were already well established through local and regional networks prior to the rise of the “the nation.”

The case of “Japanese” Karate makes an even better case study of the complex relationship between the emergence of hand combat systems and national identities.  As many of us already know, this art first came to Japan from Okinawa.  There it went through a process of fundamental transformation, rationalization, and even renaming, before it was determined that it could be a vehicle for the new strain of Japanese nationalism that was then insinuating itself into the martial arts.

So does that mean that Karate is originally an Okinawan martial art?  Possibly.  Yet again the story is more complicated than our nationally focused narratives might suggest.  Hand combat was particularly popular in a couple of areas of Okinawa, and it is not clear to historians that all of these practitioners shared a common style.  And various arts from Southern China (including White Crane Boxing) likely played a critical role in popularizing these modes of hand combat in Okinawa.

So does that mean that Karate is really a Chinese art?  Probably not.  When we push historical arguments to their logical conclusion we find that knowledge about a practice’s “genetic origin” are often unhelpful in understanding how a community actually understands itself and functions today.

While a regionally focused approach to understanding the development of the Asian martial arts shows a lot of potential, the ancient origins of individual techniques have little bearing on their current identity.  This point seems obvious enough.

When a modern American undergoes genetic testing and learns that a certain percentage of his DNA originated in Poland, he may be able to claim previously unknown Eastern European ancestry.  Yet he can’t really claim to now possess a “Polish identity.”

That is a matter of deep cultural knowledge and life experience.  If you are depending on a blind genetic test to discover some aspect of your genetic heritage, we can safely assume that it plays little role in your actual cultural identity.  Nor would most people make the mistake of conflating these two categories when talking about genealogy.

So why do we tend to conflate similar categories when discussing the martial arts?  Why do we routinely assume that some quirk of our wing chun practice shows its deep “Chinese heritage,” particularly when hung gar and taijiquan people do things very differently in similar situations?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems, #61: A Song and a Painting to General Cao

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here.Today we have #61: A Song and a Painting to General Cao.

Du Fu
O General, descended from Wei's Emperor Wu,
You are nobler now than when a noble....
Conquerors and their valour perish,
But masters of beauty live forever.
...With your brush-work learned from Lady Wei
And second only to Wang Xizhi's,
Faithful to your art, you know no age,
Letting wealth and fame drift by like clouds.
...In the years of Kaiyuan you were much with the Emperor,
Accompanied him often to the Court of the South Wind.
When the spirit left great statesmen, on walls of the Hall of Fame
The point of your brush preserved their living faces.
You crowned all the premiers with coronets of office;
You fitted all commanders with arrows at their girdles;
You made the founders of this dynasty, with every hair alive,
Seem to be just back from the fierceness of a battle.
...The late Emperor had a horse, known as Jade Flower,
Whom artists had copied in various poses.
They led him one day to the red marble stairs
With his eyes toward the palace in the deepening air.
Then, General, commanded to proceed with your work,
You centred all your being on a piece of silk.
And later, when your dragon-horse, born of the sky,
Had banished earthly horses for ten thousand generations,
There was one Jade Flower standing on the dais
And another by the steps, and they marvelled at each other....
The Emperor rewarded you with smiles and with gifts,
While officers and men of the stud hung about and stared.
...Han Gan, your follower, has likewise grown proficient
At representing horses in all their attitudes;
But picturing the flesh, he fails to draw the bone-
So that even the finest are deprived of their spirit.
You, beyond the mere skill, used your art divinely-
And expressed, not only horses, but the life of a good man....
Yet here you are, wandering in a world of disorder
And sketching from time to time some petty passerby
People note your case with the whites of their eyes.
There's nobody purer, there's nobody poorer.
...Read in the records, from earliest times,
How hard it is to be a great artist.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Birthday Post

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

Today is not only my birthday, but my third running of the Detroit Free Press International Half Marathon. If you are reading this, today, before approximately 11 AM EST, I am probably still on the course.

My daughter is running the full marathon and my wife did the 5K yesterday.

I'm running not only for myself, but to help raise money to fight human trafficking. The Detroit area is the second worst in the nation.

Last year my running group raised over $350K, of which something like 80% was spent locally. It's not too late to donate if you like. My fund raising page is here.


This past year was not without a few funny bounces.

In January, after my most lucrative year ever, by far; I was laid off. The company was changing direction and the group that I worked for was being severely downsized and eventually shut down.

These things happen. I wasn't angry about it. Between vacation time that they owed me and a small severance, I was ok for a couple of months; plenty of time to turn up something else.

The only real monkey wrench was that I got experience the Health Care exchanges, in order to get myself some health insurance until I started a new job. That part wasn't so much fun.

Anyway, the funny bounces: I had been contacting everyone I could think of who might know of a new position for me. One guy whom I had worked for before and since moved to another company, wrote back and said that he had an opening.  Why not work for him?

A couple of months later, I became the Technical Manager at the Equipment and Tool Institute, a trade organization that represents the interests of companies who make tools for the after market automotive industry.

It's a good job. It's a lot less stressful that my previous several positions. I still travel, but a bit less and with a lot more forethought.

I'm pretty happy here.

In a couple of weeks, the Mrs and I will be celebrating our 33rd wedding anniversary.

At our wedding, we left the choice of a song for our wedding dance to the band. This is what they came up with:

I wonder what they were trying to say?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cloud Hands in Taijiquan

There is a very nice article on "Wave Hands Like Clouds," a signature sequence in every style of taijiquan over at The Tai Chi Notebook. An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.


The real lesson of Cloud hands though is to turn the waist. It’s a common mistake to not turn the waist enough in Tai Chi, and I find that, for the beginning student, a breakthrough in this area often only comes about through a study of Cloud Hands as an isolated technique, repeated over and over. Notice that if you removed the stepping from Cloud Hands then it wouldn’t be a million miles away from the stationary silk-reeling exercises that go along with Tai Chi, with one hand performing a clockwise circle and the other an anticlockwise circle. Indeed, performing Cloud Hands repeatedly can serve a similar function to basic Silk Reeling exercises.

As it says in the Tai Chi classics, the body should be directed by the waist at all times, so as you turn from side to side in Cloud Hands (let’s not worry about the stepping for now) your arms should only be moving because your waist is moving. If your waist stops, then your arms should stop too. This especially applies at the crossover points, when you’ve turned all the way to the side and the arms swap position, so that the lower one becomes the upper one, and vice versa. This is the point that beginners usually drop the principle and use some isolated arm movement, instead of keeping it all coming from the waist. It’s usually a revelation to the student here that you need to turn the waist a little more than you think you do to keep it as the commander of the movement – you should feel this using muscles in your lower back you normally don’t reach.


Saturday, October 08, 2016

Martial Arts Shapes Us

Below is an excerpt that appeared in NYMAG.Com's Science of US section: How Exercise Shapes You.

It absolutely applied to martial arts practice. The full article may be read here.

When I first started training for marathons a little over ten years ago, my coach told me something I’ve never forgotten: that I would need to learn how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. I didn’t know it at the time, but that skill, cultivated through running, would help me as much, if not more, off the road as it would on it.
It’s not just me, and it’s not just running. Ask anyone whose day regularly includes a hard bike ride, sprints in the pool, a complex problem on the climbing wall, or a progressive powerlifting circuit, and they’ll likely tell you the same: A difficult conversation just doesn’t seem so difficult anymore. A tight deadline not so intimidating. Relationship problems not so problematic.

Maybe it’s that if you’re regularly working out, you’re simply too tired to care. But that’s probably not the case. Research shows that, if anything, physical activity boosts short-term brain function and heightens awareness. And even on days they don’t train — which rules out fatigue as a factor — those who habitually push their bodies tend to confront daily stressors with a stoic demeanor. While the traditional benefits of vigorous exercise — like prevention and treatment of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, and osteoporosis — are well known and often reported, the most powerful benefit might be the lesson that my coach imparted to me: In a world where comfort is king, arduous physical activity provides a rare opportunity to practice suffering.

Few hone this skill better than professional endurance and adventure athletes, who make a living withstanding conditions others cannot. For my column with Outside Magazine, I’ve had the privilege of interviewing the world’s top endurance and adventure athletes on the practices underlying their success. Regardless of sport, the most resounding theme, by far, is that they’ve all learned how to embrace uncomfortable situations:

• Olympic marathoner Des Linden told me that at mile 20 of 26.2, when the inevitable suffering kicks in, through years of practice she’s learned to stay relaxed and in the moment. She repeats the mantra: “calm, calm, calm; relax, relax, relax.”

• World-champion big-wave surfer Nic Lamb says being uncomfortable, and even afraid, is a prerequisite to riding four-story waves. But he also knows it’s “the path to personal development.” He’s learned that while you can pull back, you can almost always push through. “Pushing through is courage. Pulling back is regret,” he says.

• Free-soloist Alex Honnold explains that, “The only way to deal with [pain] is practice. [I] get used to it during training so that when it happens on big climbs, it feels normal.”

• Evelyn Stevens, the women’s record holder for most miles cycled in an hour (29.81 – yes, that’s nuts), says that during her hardest training intervals, “instead of thinking I want these to be over, I try to feel and sit with the pain. Heck, I even try to embrace it.”

• Big-mountain climber Jimmy Chin, the first American to climb up — and then ski down — Mt. Everest’s South Pillar Route, told me an element of fear is there in everything he does, but he’s learned how to manage it: “It’s about sorting out perceived risk from real risk, and then being as rational as possible with what’s left.”

But you don’t need to scale massive vertical pitches or run five-minute miles to reap the benefits. Simply training for your first half marathon or CrossFit competition can also yield huge dividends that carry over into other areas of life. In the words of Kelly Starrett, one of the founding fathers of the CrossFit movement, “Anyone can benefit from cultivating a physical practice.” Science backs him up.

A study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that college students who went from not exercising at all to even a modest program (just two to three gym visits per week) reported a decrease in stress, smoking, alcohol and caffeine consumption, an increase in healthy eating and maintenance of household chores, and better spending and study habits. In addition to these real-life improvements, after two months of regular exercise, the students also performed better on laboratory tests of self-control. This led the researchers to speculate that exercise had a powerful impact on the students’ “capacity for self-regulation.” In laypeople’s terms, pushing through the discomfort associated with exercise — saying “yes” when their bodies and minds were telling them to say “no” — taught the students to stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of difficulty, whether that meant better managing stress, drinking less, or studying more.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Flexibility Without Stretching in Martial Arts

I ran across this on Facebook. The presenter has a sense of humor and makes some really great points that will help in your flexibility.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tomiki, Judo and Aikido

Below is an excerpt from a post at Aikido Sangenkai. The full article may be read here. You will certainly want to see the original article as there are several worthwhile downloads available there.

Kenji Tomiki (富木謙治) began training under Aikido Founder Morihei Ueshiba in Daito-ryu Aiki-jujutsu in 1926.  He was largely responsible for the compilation and editing of the text in Morihei Ueshiba’s 1933 training manual “Budo Renshu”  (published in English under the name “Budo Training in Aikido“), and was later appointed to be Morihei Ueshiba’s representative at Kenkoku University in Japanese occupied Manchuria.

At the time that he started training with Morihei Ueshiba he was already a student of Judo – an uchi-deshi (“live-in student”) to Judo Founder Jigoro Kano. He was encouraged to visit Ueshiba by a fellow Judo student at Waseda, Hidetaro Kubota (who later changed his name to Nishimura), who had trained with Morihei Ueshiba in Ayabe during the 1920’s.

In 1936 Tomiki left Tokyo to become a part time instructor at Daido Gakuin in Japanese occupied Manchuria. Before he left he went to pay his respects to Jigoro Kano, and was told:
“Tomiki-kun, the Kodokan needs the kinds of techniques that you learned at Ueshiba-san’s place. Because the jujutsu of the past, they all do the same kinds of things that Ueshiba-san does. But it’s how to practice those things that is difficult!”

This was Kenji Tomiki’s conundrum after the war, just as it was a conundrum for JIgoro Kano, and even Kisshomaru Ueshiba – namely, how the older arts could and should be modified for popularization among the general public (there’s a little about the changes in post-war modern Aikikai Aikido in “The Ueshiba Legacy, by Mark Murray“) .

In 1954 Tomiki published a book called “Judo Taiso” (“Judo Exercises” – the book is available for free download from the article “Kenji Tomiki: Judo Taiso – a method of training Aiki no Jutsu through Judo principles“). This book represents some of Tomiki’s earlier work at integrating the work of his two teachers and then presenting the results to the general public.

When Keizou Yamamoto (山本敬三) went to train with Kenji Tomiki at Waseda University in 1957 he encountered that book:
Although I had gone to Waseda University with the intention of learning Aikido, we were given a booklet called “Judo Taiso”, and we did the Judo exercises that Sensei had invented. I understood at last, years later, that Sensei had deeply respected the late Jigoro Kano Sensei – “The way that I see Aikido is through Judo”, he said. In the forward to that book that Tomiki Sensei wrote was the following:
“I was introduced to Kodokan Judo some forty-five years ago, when I was in elementary school. Leading to the present day I have received instruction beginning with the late Jigoro Kano Sensei, and then through many Sempai. From around thirty years ago I was taught Aikido by Morihei Ueshiba Sensei. “Judo Taiso” was born through the comprehensive study of both of these people, with the structure based on Aikido technique. The movement of the body has been transformed to modern gymnastics and with this the unification of power developed through the “Principles of Judo” and the management of the body can be practiced.”
Tomiki further discussed some of the issues surrounding this problem in this interview with Aikido Journal, in which he was asked about some of the spectacular feats that Morihei Ueshiba was able to perform with his internal skills:
This problem is one of modern physical education’s muscle training. It’s called isometrics. That is to say, by pushing or pulling you train either the outer muscles or the inner muscles. When you get perfect at this form of training you can hardly see any muscle movement at all during the exercise. When you can’t see any movement you are using the muscle very skillfully. But, in the educational field if you demand a similar level of perfection then you are making a big mistake. If anyone trains sufficiently it is possible to do it to some degree, but, of course, there are limits what a human being can do. Perfection is a problem of belief. Can we call it religious faith? If we have to disrupt our partner’s psychological state through some hypnotic technique it would not be a matter of religion as we usually think of the word. I for one, take the normal point of view that education appropriate for the general public is correct and I think aikido should be something usual, or normal, as well.
Tomiki wasn’t alone in these sentiments, his teacher Jigoro Kano also wrestled with the problem of balancing his desire to preserve the traditional arts of Japan with the his desire to create an art that would be suitable for the modern educational system and the general public:
The pioneer who modernized the feudal era schools of bujutsu and brought them to into the context of modern physical education was Master Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo. When I say that he modernized ancient bujutsu, what I mean is that, first of all, he categorized and arranged the techniques so that they transcended schools. The main feature of this rearrangement was organizing and categorizing the major techniques according to the form of combat, so as to make tournaments (shiai) possible. 
– “On Jujutsu and its Modernization” by Kenji Tomiki
And Kano dealt with similar issues as well – according to Takamura-ha Shindo Yoshin-ryu (新道楊心流)  Menkyo Kaiden Toby Threadgill, there was a point in time when the entire Internal Power (内力の業) training syllabus of Shindo Yoshin-ryu was included in Kodokan Judo textbooks – a chapter that was removed from later editions. Here he speaks a little bit about that section of the training:
They are solo exercises that inculcate the proper balance, movement and muscular application utilized in our greater curriculum. These types of exercises are actually quite ubiquitous in Japanese jujutsu schools of the Edo Period, although they are rather unfamiliar to those outside the membership of specific Nihon koryu. According to Yoshin ryu lore, this form of body training was introduced to Japan from China in the mid-Edo Period. In the case of Yoshin ryu, the Nairiki no Gyo were specifically created adaptations of Chinese practices intended to augment the study and application of specific body skills required in Yoshin ryu’s greater curriculum.
– From “An Interview With: Toby Threadgill, Menkyo Kaiden, Takamura ha Shindo Yoshin ryu
In the end, Tomiki opted to follow Jigoro Kano’s thinking and introduce a form of competitive Aikido:
I introduced Randori Aikido so that students could make their techniques more effective by ‘free play’. These techniques originate from Kata and can develop through Randori to competition. In order to teach the spirit of Budo in a modern educational system, it is necessary to introduce it as a sport. The reason I developed Randori Aikido from Kata Aikido is because I wished to follow the method and thinking of Dr. Jigaro Kano in which he evolved Judo from old style Jujutsu