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, January 19, 2018

The Tang Dynasty Poems, #66: Mountain Stones

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 #66: Mountain Stones.

Rough were the mountain-stones, and the path very narrow;
And when I reached the temple, bats were in the dusk.
I climbed to the hall, sat on the steps, and drank the rain- washed air
Among the round gardenia-pods and huge bananaleaves.
On the old wall, said the priest, were Buddhas finely painted,
And he brought a light and showed me, and I called them wonderful
He spread the bed, dusted the mats, and made my supper ready,
And, though the food was coarse, it satisfied my hunger.
At midnight, while I lay there not hearing even an insect,
The mountain moon with her pure light entered my door....
At dawn I left the mountain and, alone, lost my way:
In and out, up and down, while a heavy mist
Made brook and mountain green and purple, brightening everything.
I am passing sometimes pines and oaks, which ten men could not girdle,
I am treading pebbles barefoot in swift-running water --
Its ripples purify my ear, while a soft wind blows my garments....
These are the things which, in themselves, make life happy.
Why should we be hemmed about and hampered with people?
O chosen pupils, far behind me in my own country,
What if I spent my old age here and never went back home?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Kimura Demonstrating Judo

Masahiko Kimura was one of the giants of Judo. Below is a video of him in his 60's demonstrating some techniques.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

What is a Dojang?

Colin Lee at Traditional Taekwondo had a very nice article explaining what is a Dojang (Japanese: Dojo). An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

What is a Dojang?

Dojang 道場 - where we practice 'the way'.

To many it is the venue you go for your two weekly classes of Taekwondo where you dress up, go exercise, learn how to kick and punch, struggle to remember patterns, and spar with opponents.

One of the early interpretations I've come across is that a dojang is a meditation hall. It is a place where you contemplate your journey along the way or your study of '道'. 道 is not an academic subject - it is an inner journey which you embark on. Thus it can be an activity steeped in tea, or Japanese chess, or playing the shamisen, or practicing the way of the sword, or engaging in some form of mudo like Taekwondo.

The venue of the dojang is really any place designated for you to immerse yourself in mental, physical, or spiritual contemplation. It could be that secluded wooden structure in some idyllic woods, or a basketball court in some gym, or even a garage in Western Australia.

When I talk about Taekwondo, I take an older and quite unfortunate definition, and paraphrase it to say 'tae is to kick with the feet, kwon means to smash with the hand, and do means to train with the mind.' 道 in this case of course does not transliterate to "train with the mind" but this does hint at the mental state which is valuable to those on the path.

Do ultimately creates layers of its own definition whilst the individual is pursuing some form of introspection. It may take on a spiritual context, but really it is a pilgrimage with an indeterminate end point. The purpose is to submerge yourself in the journey to simply see how it unfolds, to discover its rewards by using its trials for self-improvement.

Go past your fears. Win the day. Become a stronger person. Or retreat. Quit.

Taekwondo is not for everyone. Many cannot even think to join the dojang for fear of the rigorous training and their own inadequacy. Embark on the way, have your weaknesses exposed like a raw nerve, then quit, and maybe feel worse than worthless. In truth, no one will think less of you either in the dojang or outside either way - unless you decide to betray your own fears and your misgivings.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Sword Film: Uzumasa Limelight

Below is an excerpt of a review and a trailer for a Japanese sword film, Uzumasa Limelight. The full review may be read here. The full film may be watched on YouTube.

For some reason, this film reminds me of the statue, The Pugilist at Rest; and also the film, Pushing Hands.

Ken Ochiai once again demonstrates his talent

by Martin Hafer
In 2015, I saw a short film that simply amazed, and was the standout entrant for me at the Orlando Film Festival. Sumo Road: The Musical was not only a very funny film that made folks laugh out loud, but was incredibly creative.  I can truly say that I've never seen another film like it.
It turns out that the same man who wrote and directed this brilliant short, Ken Ochiai, has recently begun making feature films as well...and his Uzumasa Limelight is a delight for anyone who loves samurai films or is a fan of Chaplin!  Yes, I know that is a very strange combination so I'll need to digress just a bit.

In 1952, Charlie Chaplin came out with one of his greatest and most personal films, Limelight.  However, while I would rank this among the greatest films of the 1950s, audiences were left cold by the film...mostly because being a Chaplin everyone expected it to be a comedy.  Instead, it's a bittersweet little drama about an aging and rather sad vaudevillian who has seen better days.  He befriends a young woman who ultimately becomes a big star and, because of her gratitude, she helps her beloved mentor to have one last shining moment in the sun.

Ochiai's film is a homage to Chaplin's film.  While there are many similarities and parallels between the two movies, Uzumasa Limelight is still its own film and offers an equally satisfying viewing experience.  He chose the title Uzumasa Limelight because Uzumasa is a suburb of Kyoto that is a bit like Japan's Hollywood and many wonderful old samurai epics were filmed there...and I have seen and adored hundreds of these films.  Because of this, I would love to one day visit Uzumasa...and am very jealous of my daughter because she spent time at the studio a few months ago...but that's another story.

Seiichi Kamiyama (wonderfully played by Seizô Fukumoto) is an artist, of sorts.  He's created a real niche for himself in Japanese films and televisions.  But he's not a fact he's a guy many might never even notice.  He plays villains in Japanese samurai productions and has had a steady job playing these sorts of parts for a television show for decades...sort of a sword and samurai version of Gunsmoke.  However, the series is being canceled and the directors and producers want new blood for their projects...and a 70 year-old actor who specializes in dying dramatically and artistically on camera just doesn't seem to be needed any more.

Fortunately for Seiichi, he is able to find a sense of purpose when he meets a young actress.  She is going to be an extra in a new type of samurai television show but she has no idea how to make her scenes look realistic.  Seiichi is a very kind man and offers to coach her and eventually her skills are noticed.  In fact, she is able to quickly move from a stunt double to a star...thanks to Seiichi's coaching.  Fortunately, she is the grateful sort and insists that Seiichi come out of retirement for one final last hurrah.

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Tai Chi Chuan: Investing in Loss

Below is an excerpt from a post at Internal Gong Fu, discussing the meaning of the phrase, "Invest in Loss." The full post may be read here.

Investing in Loss (吃亏): The Way of Internal Gongfu

The phrase "investing in loss" (吃亏) has been widely (and wildly) interpreted and yet no one to my knowledge has ventured to explain this phrase in terms of an internal gongfu practice!

Unfortunately, the phrase "investing in loss" first appeared in a reference to Tai-chi Chuan and the mechanical practice of yielding or redirecting in push-hands. I now believe that the context in which this phrase appeared has misdirected a generation of practitioners away from its true meaning. Before we get into it, let's step back and look at the bigger picture.

The Invest-Gain Pattern
In our everyday lives, we are taught to think of investing as a method to gain something; invest in learning to acquire knowledge, invest money to gain profit, etc... By the time we become adults, the invest-gain pattern is deeply ingrained in our being. Even if we implement the various interpretations of this phrase, we do so with the expectation that we will get something in return. It is not the nature of this pattern to expect the result to be the loss of something with no imminent gain on the immediate horizon.

Translating chī kuī  (吃亏)
The Chinese phrase chī kuī (吃亏) literally translates as “eat loss”. Although the primary meaning of chī (吃) is "to eat", chī in another context can also metaphorically mean "to bear" or "to suffer". The term kuī (亏) can have the meaning: deficient, loss, to wane. And so chī kuī (吃亏) translates as "to suffer or bear a loss". Thus, on the surface, translating chī (吃) as "invest" may appear to be a bad translation but probing deeper, there is an inner logic within the English language which renders this a brilliant translation but only when considered within the context of a qigong or an internal gongfu practice! And please, do not confuse kuī 亏 (loss) with kǔ 苦 (bitter). Although loss may taste bitter, and you may need to eat bitter to attain eat loss, the two are not the same.

When understood from an internal gongfu perspective, chī kuī (吃亏) "invest in loss" stands as a principle of an internal gongfu practice synonymous with other phrases such as: empty your cup, unlearn what you have learned, relax, and calm down. (For an internal gongfu understanding of these terms, please see my post titled: Emptying Your Cup: The Way of Internal Gongfu.)

Soft-Round and Martial Intent
My research and experience now leads me to infer that the meaning of "investing in loss" probably arose in the context of qigong which advocates developing a soft round body. Those who achieved the kinesthetic quality of soft round and subsequently experimented with imbuing this quality with martial intent made an incredible discovery. And as they say, the rest is history. (For a discussion of soft, please see my post titled: Tai Chi Principles: Muscular Quality of Sung.)

In an oversimplified and very generalized formulaic context: soft round + martial intent = the kinesthetic quality that is the hallmark of the highest level of ALL martial arts. Distinguishing soft round from martial intent is an important distinction. Why? Because each require a unique form of practice. It is the blending of the two that manifest a unique form of martial-oriented movement.

What does soft-round have to do with "investing in loss"? Simply, to develop soft round requires practicing chī kuī (吃亏), "investing in loss". (For an in-depth analysis of the meaning of "round", see my book Secrets of the Pelvis.)
If you want to study, begin by investing in loss. Most people who come to a loss-based, internal gongfu practice are quickly confused about the nature of the practice despite their confidence in their own preconceptions; "I know what 'investing in loss' means. Just show me what to do." With a life-long indoctrination in the invest-gain pattern, the presumption is that the same invest-gain mindset can be applied to an internal gongfu practice. Although the principles and methods may be quickly absorbed at the intellectual level (though inaccurately understood), it can take a long time to structurally comprehend what the practice actually entails. If you want to engage an internal gongfu practice, the place to start is by doing the "not" of whatever it is you think you should be doing to "get" internal gongfu. What does this mean?

Concentrating your ch'i to become soft is the only proper method to invest in loss.
As we know, the term ch'i (qi) has no equivalent in a western cultural context. It has been horribly misused since its introduction to the west and from my experience it serves no useful purpose in the internal gongfu arena. Instead, I propose thinking of this sentence in these terms: Focusing your intention on making your muscles supple is the only proper method to invest in loss.

What does it mean to make your muscles supple? Relax! Let go of emotional-muscular rigidity that is bound up in your body. From an internal gongfu perspective, loss refers to letting go of or "losing" chronic emotional-muscular tension and habituated ways of moving and being. When relax is done properly, this is loss. When on the verge of letting go of long-held muscular rigidity, fear asserts itself. Bearing fear, loss occurs. "Investing in loss" is a far more profound practice than superficially learning (adding on) a new skill; how to mechanically "yield" and redirect all the while maintaining your emotional-muscular rigidity! "Investing in loss" is not a practice about adding and refining a new muscle memory. "Investing in loss" is a practice about releasing (or losing) old muscle memories! Practice chī kuī not to get something but to lose something.

Additionally, becoming "soft" does not mean becoming "limp". Releasing/losing emotional-muscular rigidity to develop muscular suppleness occurs in the context of maintaining structure and balance.

Then you will not fear losing.
Coincident with the invest-gain pattern is the fear-of-losing pattern. Together these are a formidable barrier to allowing loss to occur. For decades I practiced Wujifa zhan zhuang both with the aspiration of gaining something and with the fear of losing something. I don't recommend this path. However, throughout my years of practice, I've also experienced countless mini-losses (let go a little here, a little there) which in hindsight represents a significant accumulation of loss! It's like the old joke: How do you eat a whole cow? One bite at a time. Letting go in a big way will get you there faster. Letting go in a small way may get you there eventually.

Once the first loss has passed, then other losses may come more easily. Repeated letting go and relaxing results in a diminishing if not an outright loss of the fear of letting go and relaxing. (This of course depends on the person and their attachment to the particular rigidity encountered.) That said, as I continue to lose, I may encounter more deep-seated fears. Being reminded of previous losses, the fear of losing may be diminished (and again, maybe not). Losing the fear of losing may require years, decades, or a lifetime of practicing loss. At some point, we are reminded, you will no longer fear relaxing and letting go. You will no longer fear losing.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Art of Killing / The Art of Living

Over at The Budo Bum, there was a good post on the ultimate purpose of Budo study, the Art of Living.

An excerpt is below. The full post may be read here.

Budo: The Art Of Living

I was watching an otherwise excellent documentary by NHK called “Real Samurai” about modern practitioners of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. It’s a very nice look at the modern practice of a great koryu budo. One thing bothered me though.

The narration kept referring to budo in general and Katori Shinto Ryu in particular as the “art of killing”. I think this may be the biggest misconception about budo as it has been practiced since the Pax Tokugawa took effect in 1604.

The documentary repeatedly talked about Katori Shinto Ryu as an “art of killing” and emphasizing the potentially lethal aspects of what is taught and studied. It seemed unable to deal with the  contradiction offered in nearly every frame and comment by the practitioners themselves, that Katori Shinto Ryu practice informs and transforms their way of life.

For me, the fact that the skills we study can result in killing is outshone by their usefulness in living, and living fully. I find it hard to imagine that even during wartime the focus of bujutsu study was killing. Despite a few folks like Yamamoto Tsunetomo who were obsessed with dying, budo has always been about living.The reason for studying these arts, even five hundred years ago, was less focused on killing than on surviving horrible circumstances and going on living. Perhaps budo is not really an art of killing. If it’s not an art of killing though, then what is it?

Without the constant threat of warfare, there would be little reason to study arts of killing. Peace encourages us to consider not just living, but how to best live. Budo as an art of killing isn’t relevant to a life of peace. But budo is just as  much about living.

Life is filled with conflicts of all sorts, and all forms of budo are intense studies of conflict, both physical and non-physical.  Methods of dealing with  conflict can also be applied throughout life.

 In budo, the first things you practice are things you’re already doing all the time. You learn how to hold your body, breathe well and move powerfully. What’s more essential to living than breathing? The building blocks of good budo turn out to be the same ones used to build the foundation of a good, healthful life. 

Monday, January 01, 2018

Happy New Year

Let's start off the new year with some vintage videos of Japanese martial arts, shall we?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Great Wave

The Guardian had a very nice article on the artist Hokusai and his most famous painting, The Great Wave.

I can't copy from the website to print an excerpt. The full article may be read here. There are many of Hokusai's paintings in the article. Enjoy.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

How Did Tea Conquer the World?

Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world after water. How did that happen?

Below is a TED presentation on tea. Enjoy.