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 ~

Friday, July 21, 2017


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 #64: A SONG OF DAGGER-DANCING TO A GIRL-PUPIL OF LADY GONGSUN

There lived years ago the beautiful Gongsun,
Who, dancing with her dagger, drew from all four quarters
An audience like mountains lost among themselves.
Heaven and earth moved back and forth, following her motions,
Which were bright as when the Archer shot the nine suns down the sky
And rapid as angels before the wings of dragons.
She began like a thunderbolt, venting its anger,
And ended like the shining calm of rivers and the sea....
But vanished are those red lips and those pearly sleeves;
And none but this one pupil bears the perfume of her fame,
This beauty from Lingying, at the Town of the White God,
Dancing still and singing in the old blithe way.
And while we reply to each other's questions,
We sigh together, saddened by changes that have come.
There were eight thousand ladies in the late Emperor's court,
But none could dance the dagger-dance like Lady Gongsun.
...Fifty years have passed, like the turning of a palm;
Wind and dust, filling the world, obscure the Imperial House.
Instead of the Pear-Garden Players, who have blown by like a mist,
There are one or two girl-musicians now-trying to charm the cold Sun.
There are man-size trees by the Emperor's Golden Tomb
I seem to hear dead grasses rattling on the cliffs of Qutang.
...The song is done, the slow string and quick pipe have ceased.
At the height of joy, sorrow comes with the eastern moon rising.
And I, a poor old man, not knowing where to go,
Must harden my feet on the lone hills, toward sickness and despair.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

What is Missing in Your Martial Art?

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kung Fu Tea. It is about defining Wing Chun by what's missing from it in particular, but goes on and discusses this theme with a variety of martial arts. It's a very interesting read and the full post can be found here.

Last week my Sifu and I were discussing the public conversation that surrounds Wing Chun.

“So this guy was trying to tell me that we have no head movement in Wing Chun.  Not just bobbing and weaving” he clarified “but that we can literally never move our heads.”
“So he thinks we stand there and get punched in the face?” I asked incredulously.
“Pretty much.  I told him to take a closer look at the forms.”

Such exchanges are not all that uncommon.  Normally I try to ignore them. However, in the last few months I have had a number of almost identical conversations with talented, highly experienced, Sifus all relating practically identical incidents.

Not all of these discussions focused on head movement.  In one case an instructor was approached by an individual (who apparently was not a Wing Chun student) claiming that our system contained only a single punch.  This is a rather odd assertion to make about a fighting system that prides itself on a rich and deep bench of boxing techniques.

I have actually heard a similar claim made before by some practitioners attempting to make a philosophical point.  They note that the basic Wing Chun punch reflects a set of core principles that, when applied in different situations, can yield a variety of techniques that superficially look quite different, but all reflect a common approach to hand combat.  This is sometimes couched in quasi-Taoist terms as “the one thing giving rise to the ten thousands.”  I immediately asked whether this is where my friend’s interlocutor may have been headed.

“Nope.  He literally believed that we only have a center-line chain punch.  Anything else, an outside line, an uppercut or hook, ‘cannot be Wing Chun’.”  The instructor absentmindedly went through movements from the second and third unarmed boxing form as he clarified the objection.
“So what did you tell him?” I asked.
“I just kept telling him to go back and look at the forms.  Youtube is full of people doing all sorts of forms.  For Christ sake, just pick anyone of them.”
“Sending someone to Youtube can be a trap for the unwary.” I offered.
“Yeah, I sent him some links.  But I have no idea if it did any good!”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about such challenges is that they do not all arise from outside of the system.  Earlier this summer I had a conversation with a third Sifu that was more serious in nature.  When another instructor (from the same Wing Chun umbrella organization) visited his school, he was aghast to discover that my friend was having his students practice entry drills (or more specifically, techniques that allow one to transition from disengaged, to kicking to boxing ranges as safely as possible).  Nor was he happy to discover that my friend’s more advanced students were starting Chi Sao (a type of sensitive training game) from unbridged positions.  “This is not Traditional Wing Chun!” he objected.

That was certainly news to me.  The system contains entry techniques.  Why not drill them?  Why not create a greater sense of complexity and realism by adding them (or joint locks, or kicks) to your Chi Sao?  My personal training happened in a school built on a “traditional lineages” going back to Ip Man.  We certainly practiced both of these things, nor was it ever considered to be the least bit controversial.  Apparently not all lineages share this same approach to training.  The uproar that resulted from the visit caused my friend to remove his school from an organization that he had been part of for some time.

Who wants their martial practice to be defined only by the things that one (supposedly) does not do?

This is something all Wing Chun students deal with from time to time.  My personal favorite is when people tell me that Wing Chun is an exclusively short range art with highly restricted footwork.  All this tells me is that the individual in question has never seriously studied the swords and has no idea how much distance that footwork can actually cover.  Let’s just say that there is a very good reason why Bruce Lee turned to fencing in his attempt to augment his own incomplete training in Wing Chun.  Nor would I call a 3-4 meter pole a “short range” weapon.  Wing chun is clearly a short range art…except when it is not.

In reality every self-defense art strives to be a complete system of combat.  Granted, all approaches will have their unique strengths and weaknesses, but real martial artists work very hard to present as strong a front as possible.  No one who wants to defend themselves refuses to train kicks, throws or weapons simply because “everyone knows that Wing Chun is a short range boxing art.”

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Supplemental Training for Martial Arts

Kyokushin Karate is known for it's hard training and the fitness of it's members. Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Martial Way on strength and conditioning. It's a quite comprehensive article. Even if you practice a soft martial art for meditation, this will give you some appreciation of the dedication and hard work these individuals put into their martial art. The full post may be read here.

Far too often you hear people saying their techniques are too deadly to need much physical conditioning, when in reality you are showing that you are inexperienced and unprepared.

You may be better off than the average Joe on the street unless he has also taken some classes. Or he may just be simply stronger, in that case you run the risk of getting your ego knocked in. Most people who want to fight are usually big and pretty confident in their abilities; they have something to prove and they don’t usually go out starting fights they think they will lose. The wimps you can beat usually do not want to fight in the first place; your training should protect you against a trained killer. You want to train smart and combine your conditioning to create a strong body ready for war.

How to Hit Harder and Faster

Besides talking from a technical perspective, there are two ways of looking at increasing the power of your strike. These methods are
  • Developing the speed of your strike
  • Developing the strength of your body behind the strike
Newtonian kinetic energy of rigid bodies states that   Ek=(1/2)mv^2

Or (Mass x Velocity Squared) Divided by two

This basically translates the mass of the object in motion is doubled when it hits with twice the amount of power, thus if you strike twice as fast your output will be four times the amount of force.

A rough example of this can be seen in a little bullet vs a baseball pitch, speed will be the victor.

Having speed can be very beneficial and wise to acknowledge if you are smaller framed or female. I find this formula gives good insight into understanding how legendary Bruce Lee was so powerful in his movements and able to be so fast and able to blow his opponents back with his strikes.

Looking at physics we clearly want to develop more speed to get the most impact; speed definitely has its advantages whether it is being the first to make contact, sneaking in the K.O shot, or simply just getting more shots in. So in order to increase our speed we must add different methods of stress to our body. You are an adaptive organism, and must constantly challenge yourself to produce growth and to gain increased results.

Before we move ahead it is very important that we first talk about technique as you will need a good foundation before pounding in hours of forming new muscle memory. So to go fast you must first go slow. That can sound counterproductive but let me tell you why. In the beginning when you are learning how to punch, you must first learn the proper way to strike and use your body weight before raising the speed. Using that Newtonian formula, being able to put your body weight behind your punch rather than just hitting with the strength of your arm alone will increase the mass behind your projectile.

Double the mass, double the output force, this can all be found within proper form which is what makes it so essential. Learning the proper method you will have to first learn all the little details. For example learning a punch you will first have to dig your foot into the ground, engage your legs, torso, and shoulders before delivering out the arm and clenching your fist upon impact. Of course all depending on which style and tradition you subscribe to, a simple punch can be taught in different ways. With incorrect movement comes unwanted movement which can be inefficient as it can create tells for your opponent, reduce your power, and slow you down with non-essential positioning.

So now let’s say you have been practicing slowly and diligently and have your footwork down. Your upper body form is present and you are consistently hitting your heavy bag or target with the right spot on your knuckles or hand. All while presenting proper penetrating force, not simply just slapping the bag and retracting. You can also add intent into your strike, for example imagining you are going to punch through the spine of the opponent.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Japanese Wood Block Prints

Below is a brief documentary on Japanese Wood Block Prints. Enjoy.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

What it Means to be a Martial Arts Student

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kenshi24/7. The full post may be read here.

Even if Japanese is not our main language, in a kendo environment we often use the Japanese term “sensei” to mean teacher. What about the other 1/2 of the equation, the student? I can’t recall any Japanese terms being used in any of the 10+ countries I’ve had the fortune to do kendo in.

Traditionally, when someone joins a dojo there are a couple of terms used to express “student”: monkasei (門下生) and deshi (弟子). There are some other terms (e.g. 門弟 or 門人), but those two seem to be the main ones used. Unless you are part of a koryu dojo, or watch and read anime/manga, you will probably never come across the first term. The second term, however, is still used – though uncommonly I must admit – in the Japanese kendo community today.

As regular readers probably know, I run a high school kendo club here in Osaka. When I first started teaching my sensei turned to me and said:
Now you’ve got your own deshi.
This kind of stopped me on my tracks: “deshi… what should I do?” I thought.
Rather than attempt to explain the meaning of “deshi” myself, let me translate a piece from a 13 year old kendoka from Kyushu that I found in this months Kendo Jidai.
p.s. Please check out this old article after you read the one below.

The following essay was awarded the kantosho prize in the Junior High School section of the “32nd kendo youth research seminar.”

I am a deshi
Written by: Hasuda Tomoka
1st year Junior high school student (approx. 13yrs old)
Miyazaki prefecture, Miyazaki city, Shujakukan dojo

Suddenly, after keiko one day my sensei said “you are my deshi.” I was surprised at the suddenness of words, but I was also happy that he called me “deshi.” However, I somehow felt strange. Its because I didn’t actually understand the word “deshi” or what being one means or involves. I thought hard about the meaning of the word and searched out information about it in books and dictionaries. I discovered that “deshi” is part of a “teacher-student” relationship (師弟の関係). On one side of the coin we have the teacher – one with technical skill based on, and knowledge cultivated through experience – who imparts this through instruction; and on the other side we have the deshi, who learns from and studies under the teacher. In a dojo environment, the sensei are the teachers, and we are are the deshi.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Improvised Weapons

At the Art of Manliness, there was an article about improvised weapons. Some of these could come in handy. Others, I wonder about. An excerpt is below. The full article may be read here.

Repel Violent Attackers With These 12 Improvised Weapons

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.” –General James “Mad Dog” Mattis
While rare, violence often strikes when you least expect it. To counter violent attacks, you need to be fast and furious. Hand-to-hand combatives are a great tool to have up your sleeve to quickly dispatch an attacker, but you should always be looking for force multipliers—tools that make your counterattacks even more painful, damaging, and effective.

Having some sort of defensive weapon—be it a firearm, knife, or spray—as part of your EDC is never a bad idea, but sometimes you don’t have one on you (like when you’re in an area that prohibits weapons), your attacker has taken or knocked your weapon away, or you’re in a position that makes drawing your weapon hard to do.

Thankfully, you’re constantly surrounded by potential weapons that can be quickly accessed to counter violent attacks. To find and employ them, you just need to hone the most important weapon in your arsenal—your mind.

In the right hands, seemingly innocuous, everyday items can be turned into lethal weapons. Such a transformation just requires violating those objects’ Aristotelian telos—the end for which they were made. If your life is on the line, I don’t think old Aristotle would mind.

Below we offer 12 suggestions of everyday objects that can be turned into improvised weapons. Use this as a jumping off point to think of how other objects could save your life in a pinch. When you’re out and about in public, practice scanning your environment and considering what might be used as a weapon if needed. Think of it as creating mental models for your OODA Loop so you can win the fight if/when it comes your way.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Opening the Veil on Asian Martial Arts

At KogenBudo, Ellis Amdur has a post about the two men who may have done the most to bring information on Asian Martial Arts to the west, through their writing: Donn Draeger and Robert W. Smith. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

Robert W. Smith was one of the most important American writers on Asian martial arts, particularly those of Taiwan (and those mainland teachers who settle in Taiwan after the 2nd World War). He was a powerful man, with a background in judo, wrestling and boxing. After serving with the Marines, he joined the Central Intelligence Agency, serving in Taiwan from 1959 to 1962. While there, he undertook a peripatetic study/entry into a number of Chinese martial arts schools. The result of this three years survey of teachers were outlined in a number of his books. Most notably, Smith became a student of Zheng Manqing, an artist and innovative Yang Taijiquan instructor. Zheng was the official instructor of the family of Chiang Kai Shek, and because of this, coupled with Smith’s known connection with the American government, he was able to gain entry into schools that he might otherwise never have found, much less be welcomed.

Smith, thus, had contact with schools in official favor: although he tended to present himself as having secured tutelage with the finest instructors on Taiwan, there were many whom he never got access to. There were many other great instructors of whom he was not even aware. Nonetheless, he was an important figure due to his writings: he brought some wonderful teachers to the attention of Western practitioners. In addition,  his writing, itself, was old-school, with a sense of humor and wit.

To be sure, there were times that he was both pompous and verbose, but he was one of the first writers on martial arts, after E.J. Harrison, who actually brought these people to life.

Smith’s most important collaborator was Donn F. Draeger. Donn was an incredible physical specimen. He started in some form of Yoshin-ryu jujutsu as a child, and later become a brilliant judo practitioner (the formidable John Bluming idolized Donn, and stated that he could not beat him in newaza (ground fighting). Donn made martial arts study his life, achieving expertise in more arts than I believe anyone knows, including karate, several forms of Indonesian pentjak silat, Shinto Muso-ryu jo, Katori Shinto-ryu and a number of forms of Chinese martial arts. He had a 5th dan in Tomiki Aikido, something that none of his closest friends were even aware that he studied. In his fifties, he could use 400+ pounds in full squats as a workout weight, and in fact, he was one of the pioneers using weightlifting to augment combat sports (coaching, among others Inokuma Isao, Anton Geesink, and Doug Rogers, all Olympians in judo). He revived the old academic discipline of hoplology, the study of the evolution and development of human combative behavior.

When I was on my way to Japan, Terry Dobson, my mentor in aikido recommended to me that I look up Draeger. The only thing I knew about him were his books. Donn was a witty, even bawdy guy in person – he was an ex-Marine, after all – but he very much desired to have his writing accepted in academic circles. He leaned on John ‘Jack’ Hanson-Lowe, an elderly man from a previous generation, who practiced ‘gentleman’s judo’ (He started in his 50’s. There was a place for cultured men such as he in the Kodokan, and he rose to 6th dan. John was legit—not a fighter, but knowledgeable, and well respected by the older Japanese teachers of the Kodokan, who still appreciated the idea of judo as a form of ethical culture). Unfortunately, Jack edited in a very stiff English style, and truly leached the humanity out of much of Donn’s writing. Therefore, I had a certain impression; I actually imagined Donn to be a tweedy academic who wrote about things that he didn’t do. I mentioned this to Terry, and said, “I’ll look him up if I have a spare moment from training.” Terry just smiled.

I first met Donn at the Renbukan, the dojo of Shimizu Takaji, of Shindo Muso-ryu. Contrary my previous imagined opinion, the man was built like a Greek god, well muscled and as flexible as a gymnast (despite some serious chronic injuries). I only saw him in action a few times—practicing jo and once doing an embu of Katori Shinto-ryu. He was a terrifying man. His weapon would sound a CRACK when contacting his training partner’s weapon. He was not brutal or untrustworthy, but he was also so intense, that the only way you wouldn’t get hurt would be if you matched his intensity.

Imagine wrestling with your dog—and you are used to a golden retriever—but today it is a mastiff, friendly to be sure, but built to kill.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Background and Founding of Kyokushin Karate

The Kyokushin Karate of Mas Oyama is considered to be truly hard core. Below are excerpts from a post at The Martial Way, which gives a history of Mas Oyama's training prior to, and the founding of, Kyokushin Karate. The full post may be read here. It's very interesting reading. Enjoy.

The Early Martial Arts Training of Mas Oyama

As I research and go deeper into the history of Kyokushin Karate I become even more fascinated. Between legend and story, somewhere lays the truth. We may never know fully, but it is wonderful to speculate, learn and share.

This happened recently, when a reader, Terry Birkett, 4th Dan Kyokushin Karate, of Ronin Dojo in Wales, was asking me about Sosai Mas Oyama’s rank in Goju-ryu. I knew it had come from Gogen Yamaguchi, based on an interview Graham Noble did with his son in 2013, so I assumed that is where Sosai learnt Goju. I was wrong. Terry pointed me in the direction of Nei-chu So, which then led me on a path of researching Sosai Mas Oyama’s training in martial arts and here now lies what I have found out so far.

Though I could not find much information, Oyama took up Kosen Judo during his teens in Japan, which was extremely common at that time.  First at the Kodokan Institute in Tokyo and then in the studio of the father of Koji Sone, who was Judo Champion of the World from 1959 to 1961.

It is also said that  Masahiko Kimura, a famous champion of Judo, considered one of the greatest judoka of all time, who defeated He’lio Gracie of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, encouraged Oyama to take up Judo so that he would have an understanding of the art’s ground techniques. Besides Judo, Masahiko Kimura studied Goju-ryu under Nei-chu So, eventually becoming an assistant instructor. Kimura introduced Oyama to the Sone Dojo in Nakano, Tokyo, where he trained regularly for four years, eventually gaining his 4th Dan.

In 1946, Oyama enrolled in Waseda University School of Education to study sports science. It is here that he began studying Shotokan karate under Gigō (Yoshitaka) Funakoshi, the second son of Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi.

Later Oyama attended Takushoku University in Tokyo and was accepted as a student at the dojo of Gichin Funakoshi. He trained with Gichin Funakoshi for two years. Oyama progressed to 4th Dan, under Sensei Funakoshi.

Apparently Funakoshi’s training wasn’t enough for the young powerful Oyama, and so after the end of World War II Oyama decided to leave and study Goju-ryu under fellow Korean Nei-Chu So.

Nei-Chu So, an ethnic Korean like Oyama, was a senior student of Goju-ryu’s founder, Chojun Miyagi. So was extremely important in helping  Gogen Yamaguchi “The Cat” become established and in building his reputation in Japan, along with the karate style Goju-ryu. To this point, Goju-ryu was mainly an Okinawan system. Nei-Chu So kept Yamaguchi’s fledgling Goju school alive while Yamaguchi was stationed overseas during World War II and subsequently held as a prisoner of war in Russia. So remained a high-ranking official in Japanese Goju-ryu organizations after the War, even as Yamaguchi eclipsed him in fame.
Musashi and Mountain Training:

Oyama also met Eji Yoshikawa, author of the book ‘Musashi’, a fictionalized account of the life of Miyamoto Musashi, Japan’s most famous samurai warrior. Thanks to this book and the writer, Mas Oyama begins to understand the profound meanings of the Samurai Bushido Code, and ultimatemly shapes his own philosophy on martial arts.

Influenced by Nei-chu So and the writing of Yoshikawa, Mas Oyama decided to withdraw from social life and live in solitude for a period of 3 years and dedicate his time completely to the intense training of body and mind, as Musashi did in his lifetime. Oyama traveled to Minobu mountain, the same place where Musashi created Nito-ryu kenjitsu. Mas Oyama was only 23 years old at the time. In his opinion this would be the perfect place to start his severe training of body and mind that he had planned for himself.

Taikiken is a Japanese martial art, greatly inspired by Yi Quan (or dachengquan), a Chinese system of martial arts. Taikiken was founded by the Japanese Kenichi Sawai (1903 – 1988) after losing to Chinese Wang Xiangzhai (1885-1963) – the founder of Yi Quan. Impressed by the technique of Wang Xiangzhai, Kenichi Sawai learned Yi Quan with his student Wang Yao Zongxun and then with the master himself, Wang Xiangzhai.

Kenichi Sawai began transmitting his art at the end of his learning of Yi Quan in 1947 in Japan. Among his most famous students was his long time friend Mas Oyama, whose friendship went back to their University Judo days, as well as Oyama’s top student, Hatsuo Royama, who became one of Sawai Sensei’s top students as well.
Oyama Dojo:

In 1953 Mas Oyama started his first dojo in the outdoors in Mejiro, a suburb of Tokyo, but June 1956 is considered as the official start of the Oyama karate school, opening his dojo behind the Rikkyo University, about 500m away from the spot that would become the actual honbu dojo.

In 1957 there are about 700 members training at his dojo, despite the high attrition due to the hard training. Practitioners of other martial arts also came to train at his dojo, especially for the jis-sen kumite (full contact fighting). Mas Oyama observed these styles and adopted the best and most useful techniques into his karate. Doing so, his Karate evolved soon into one of the most impressive styles in the world of martial arts. Soon his style was known as “The Strongest Karate”, not only thanks to the skill and endurance of Oyama, but also because of the strong and strict discipline and the requirements for training and tournaments.
Kyokushin Karate:

In 1964 Oyama moved the dojo into the building that would from then on serve as the Kyokushin home dojo and world headquarters. The IKO (International Karate Organization) adopted the name of “Kyokushin”, or “The Ultimate Truth” as the name for Oyama’s karate. Before 1963 Oyama had called his karate Oyama Karate. From that moment Kyokushin Karate started to spread out all over the world.

In 1969, Oyama staged the first All-Japan Full Contact Karate Open Championships which took Japan by storm and Terutomo Yamazaki became the first champion, which have been held every year since. In 1975, the first World Full Contact Karate Open Championships were held in Tokyo. World championships have been held at four-yearly intervals since.