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, February 18, 2017

Dao De Jing #62: Practicing the Dao

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's great classics, it is one of the foundations of Philosophical Daoism. A free online version of the Dao De Jing may be found here. Today we have #62: Practicing the Dao.

The Dao is the asylum of all things; the good man's treasure, the bad man's last resort.

With beautiful words one may sell goods but in winning people one can accomplish more by kindness.

Why should a man be thrown away for his evil? To conserve him was the Emperor appointed and the three ministers. Better than being in the presence of the Emperor and riding with four horses, is sitting and explaining this Dao.

The reason the Ancients esteemed Dao was because if sought it was obtained, and because by it he that hath sin could be saved. Is it not so? Therefore the world honors Dao

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Exercise and Character

This has to do with my idea of Budo with a small 'b.'

Below is an excellent post from Must Triumph on the importance of exercise in building character. The full article may be read here.

On Exercise and Building Character

Calisthenics — in many ways the first form of exercise — comes from the ancient Greek words kállos (κάλλος) and sthénos (σθένος), meaning "beauty" in "strength."

By Sam Yang

Physical exertion was and still is the first form of character building. As children, movement was the initial way we learned to assert ourselves. Our physical behavior was the only window to know what kind of character we had. Early on, the only way for parents to influence our character was to influence our movements: explore, play, run, touch this, and don't touch that. In other words, childhood.

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body.”
— Seneca

Physical culture and, eventually, exercise became a tangible and easily understood way to modify ourselves. Prior to all the industrial and technological revolutions, we didn't dissociate ourselves from our bodies. They were one and the same, and changing our bodies also meant changing our being. When life was mostly based on physical labor, more strength could completely alter one's life.

Fitness used to be an indication of your character. Your body was the physical representation of the life you lived, your work ethic, and your resilience. Calloused hands, strong neck, and strong arms meant you engaged in honest, hard work. These were the symbols of your virtue — the strength of the commoner. It was symbolic of your ability to overcome obstacles. Today it is a metaphor, back then it was a truth of life, moving and molding the earth with your bare hands.

Greek athletes and Roman gladiators personified the power of their nations. Myths and fables honored the hero who could overcome all odds. Within their chiseled bodies was an even greater spirit that was beyond measure. The body was just a canvas where some of their greatness bled. Sometimes the gods bestowed powers and gifts to those who were worthy, those who already exemplified effort and grit. Calisthenics — in many ways the first form of exercise — comes from the ancient Greek words kállos (κάλλος) and sthénos (σθένος), meaning "beauty" in "strength." We are just now trying to revive this old idea with the "strong is beautiful" movement.

“No one has the right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training. It is a shame for anyone to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which their body is capable.”
— Socrates

Your Body Is the Temple You Spend Your Whole Life Cultivating

Though it seems odd now, in the ancient world, the social elites were physical. They bended and stretched, symbolic of their flexible minds that could work out problems. They also ran and engaged in activities that involved taxing the lungs. Instead of working their muscles, it was about working their heart. This wouldn't create the body of a laborer. It was more internal, it was about having an indomitable will. Endurance activities were about a person's ability to endure. That is the quality worth cultivating. A marathon is not an effective way to attain health but it is a tremendous symbol of one's spirit, mindset, and fortitude.

Push-Ups First, Philosophy Second

Socrates, followed by his disciple Plato, trained their students in physical culture. (All the Greek and Roman philosophers, including the Stoics, involved themselves in physical culture.) Only recently did we divorce virtues and the good life from the physical life — a product of industrialization and Western dualism.

Calisthenics, running, and wrestling, were taught alongside mathematics and astronomy. The belief was, to sharpen the mind, one must first sharpen the body — for the body is material and easier to mold. It is also the way we experience life, empiricism, and without experience, philosophy is impossible to teach. (Everything would be abstract and unknowable.) Evolution and increasing of intelligence, themselves, are biological (physical) processes.

“Mens sana in corpore sano.”

Latin for a healthy body is a healthy mind or a healthy mind is a healthy body.

If one were really intellectual, the value of the physical would be self-evident. If one were really physical, one would be empirically aware. (Maybe this dissonance is a sign that we still have much to improve upon.) The body and mind exist so that we may experience life. One without the other is sense without knowledge, and knowledge without sense.

Fight, wrestle, run, because without it, you are too stupid and lazy to teach. This was the blunt lifesaving wisdom of the time. The intellectual was physical; the physical was intellectual. One should neither be novice nor sluggish in either. Today we believe the opposite, the intellectual and physical at odds, even the people at odds — without a sense of a unified culture. And we are that much further from the good life — individually and as a people.

Hard-work is a virtue, not laziness. Now we think of traits relative to the specific activity, not to the individual. I work hard at the gym or I work hard at school. The emphasis on the activity not on the person. Not: I am a hard worker. Period.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

How James Y Lee Helped Shape Jeet Kune Do

Below is an excerpt from a post at Kung Fu Tea, which is itself an excerpt from the book, Striking Distance: Bruce Lee and the Dawn of Martial Arts in America, by Charles Russo.

The early 60's in the Bay Area was a hotspot for martial arts in the US and Bruce Lee found himself in the right place at the right time. But how did he find himself there? See below.

The full article may be read here.

So it Begins

At some point in late 1961, James Lee stormed out of the Kin Mon Physical Culture Studio in San Francisco’s Chinatown, effectively breaking off his tutelage under Sil Lum master TY Wong.  Kin Mon, – or as the translation goes: “the Sturdy Citizen’s Club” – was located in a basement studio space on Waverly Place, directly across from the Hop Sing Tong, where TY was a longstanding member.  James Lee had been studying at Kin Mon for a few years at that point, and had established himself as one of TY’s most notable students. Recently, they had collaborated on a book showcasing TY’s system, titled, Chinese Karate Kung-Fu:  Original ‘Sil Lum’ System for Health & Self Defense.  The two shared the byline, and the book has the historical significance of being one of the first (if not the very first) English language martial arts book by a Chinese master.

However, James Lee eventually ascended the steps out of Kin Mon in anger, concluding his time there on bitter terms. He encountered recently-enrolled student Leo Fong at the street level entrance, and let him know he was leaving: “I’m finished with this place. You wanna come with me to train back in Oakland?”

A perennially eclectic martial artist whose skills were anchored around an early education in
American boxing, Fong also defected from Kin Mon on the spot with James. Years later, Fong laughs the whole misunderstanding off as trivial: “Jimmy fell out with TY Wong over just $10. They got real upset with each other over that. Can you imagine?”

While seemingly just another martial arts feud predicated on mundane matters of ego or just poor communication, James Lee’s split with TY Wong would have a significant impact on the emerging popularity of the martial arts in America and the kung fu craze of the coming decade, most notably with its effects on the long-term trajectory of Bruce Lee’s career.

You’re not likely, however, to find TY Wong’s name within any biographical accounts of Bruce Lee.

Despite Bruce’s maxim of discarding “what is useless,” fans are probably far more familiar with a peripheral figure like Ruby Chow (his landlord and boss at a menial job) than a pioneering martial arts master like TY Wong, who dismissed young Bruce as little more than “a dissident with bad manners.” In fact, few Bruce Lee fans realize that the TY Wong/James Lee feud exists within the pages of Chinese Gung Fu: The Philosophical Art of Self-Defense; the only book that Bruce Lee published in his lifetime.

The fallout between TY and James also gives key context to understanding the persisting tensions that led to Bruce’s legendary showdown with Wong Jack Man, an incident that would greatly influence Lee’s long term martial arts worldview. There is a lot to be learned from this obscure but notable history within the trailblazing martial arts culture of the San Francisco Bay Area during the early 1960s.

Enter the Dragon

Here’s an interesting question to consider: why did Bruce Lee relocate from Seattle to Oakland in the summer of 1964?

After all, things were going well for Bruce at that point in Seattle: he had a dedicated following of martial arts students and had finally found an actual location for his school. He was a popular student at the University of Washington, had just begun dating the woman he would eventually marry, and had defeated a rival martial artist in a challenge. During the summer of 1963, Bruce had traveled home to Hong Kong and greatly impressed his father with all that he had accomplished in Seattle. So why leave behind his business, his girlfriend and his education for a new situation in Oakland?

The immediate answer is James Lee. An Oakland native who was well-known for his younger exploits as a street fighter, James was already enacting the sort of martial arts future that Bruce was envisioning. He was publishing books, creating his own custom martial arts equipment, and conducting a modern training environment at his school. James was also putting a nuanced emphasis on body building, and perhaps most importantly, transforming his street experience into a gritty and realistic understanding of the true nature of fighting. Furthermore, James Lee had a unique network of experienced martial arts innovators within his orbit: Wally Jay, Ralph Castro, Al Novak, Leo Fong, and Ed Parker. As James Lee’s son Greglon characterized the appeal of this: “Bruce was smart.

When he’s in his twenties he’s hanging out with guys in their forties, so he can gain their experience.”

Upon being introduced, Bruce and James had quickly found themselves upon a similar martial arts wavelength. And for a moment, James Lee considered moving his family up to Seattle to continue his collaborations with Bruce (they had already published Chinese Gung Fu… together in 1963). This idea was discarded for one main reason – the Bay Area had the most robust martial arts culture in America (with the possible exception of Hawaii, which James and most of his colleagues had ties to). In this sense, Oakland was a more logical place for their collaborations because it put Bruce close to the action. As kenpo master Al Tracy explained it: “The real significant early development of the martial arts in the United States was heavily based in the Bay Area. Many of the most important people came out of the Bay Area, not just for the Chinese but for so much of the martial arts.”

So by the summer of 1964, Bruce was operating out of Oakland, which was significant not just for his particular whereabouts, but for his commitment to his vision for the martial arts. Bruce was chasing something down. He could have easily stayed and thrived in his Seattle niche. Instead, the next step forward in his evolution was to be found in Oakland.

Amid their shared wavelength, Bruce and James at some point connected on their disdain for traditional approaches to the martial arts, and by extension – traditional masters.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Spirals and Martial Arts

At The Internal Power Training Blog, there was an interesting article about the importance and power of spiral movements. Below is an excerpt. The full article may be read here.

In the internal arts the ‘spiral’ holds a special place in the mind and body of the practitioners. Along with the circle, it is the most commonly targeted shape in the body development methods, but what is it about the spiral that makes it so useful and important to the internal artist?

If you watch the motions of a Ba Gua practitioner or a Taiji Adept, you will notice the clear circularity and ‘twist’ in their motions, it is characteristic of these styles. But there is more to the Spiral in internal training than simply the outward appearance of specific motions.

Before we look at the various utilities of the spiral, we must address is what is actually meant by a ‘spiral’ in the internal arts. When the teacher talks of spirals they are in fact more commonly referencing a type of 3 dimensional spiral sometimes known as a Helix. Most of  the time when a practitioner moves or uses developmental methods a Helix will be formed via either their movement, their intent or the tensioning of their tissues. Quite often a ‘conical helix’ where one end of the spiral is tighter than the other is seen so as to condense or expand the spiral, focusing the twist or motion.

But the term ‘Helix’ is not one that we see too often in the internal arts, instead the practitioners will use the word spiral to describe the many different twists, winds and turns that are demonstrated or used in the training.

Traditionally the spiral is a shape that gives form to many of the classical models of the internal arts.

For instance, the Tai Chi (yin Yang) is the initiation of a spiral and if we were to extend the rotation of the two halves around each other, a clear Fermat spiral would form, indeed some of the older representations of the Tai Chi show this spiraling of Yin and Yang.

Here is will describe, in very brief terms, only some of the reasons that the spiral is so important and useful in the internal arts.

Friday, February 03, 2017

A Tai Chi Chuan Resource

Find Your Tai Chi is a very nice resource. If you pay a visit, you'll find something like 150 (and growing) links to video clips, articles, blogs, websites, DVDs, ... you name it.

For example, here's Cheng Man Ching demonstrating his sword form.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

The Mind and Body Reflect One Another

We know through martial arts practice that the mind and body reflect each other. By working on one, we are also working on the other.

We also know that different martial arts practices "shapes" the body in different ways. It stand to reason as you are using different muscles, doing different movements, etc. 

A recent study has shown that different forms of exercise actually effects different parts of the brain! 

Martial arts are not only different physically, but perhaps mentally as well. 

Below is an excerpt from an article which discusses how different exercises effects the brain differently. The full article may be read here.

Pumping iron to sculpt your biceps. Yoga poses to stretch and relax. Running to whittle your waistline and get fit fast. There are loads of reasons why it’s smart to exercise, and most of us are familiar with the menu of options and how each can shape and benefit your body. But we are discovering that there are numerous ways in which exercise makes you smart too. Many of its effects have been going unnoticed, but if you were to peer inside the heads of people who like to keep active, you’d see that different exercises strengthen, sculpt and shape the brain in myriad ways.

That the brains of exercisers look different to those of their more sedentary counterparts is, in itself, not new. We have been hearing for years that exercise is medicine for the mind, especially aerobic exercise. Physical fitness has been shown to help with the cognitive decline associated with dementia, Parkinson’s disease and depression, and we know this is at least in part because getting your blood pumping brings more oxygen, growth factors, hormones and nutrients to your brain, leading it — like your muscles, lungs and heart — to grow stronger and more efficient.

But a new chapter is beginning in our understanding of the influence of physical exercise on cognition. Researchers are starting to find more specific effects related to different kinds of exercise.
Specifically, high-intensity intervals, aerobic exercise, weight training, yoga and sports drills are affect different areas of the brain.

They are looking beyond the standard recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate, aerobic exercise a day, for the sake of your brain. Are there benefits to going slower or faster? To lifting weights, or performing sun salutations? Whether you want a boost in focus for an exam, find it hard to relax or are keen to quit smoking, there’s a prescription for you.

“Lifting weights helps improve complex thoughts, problem-solving and multitasking”

The first clue that exercise affects the brain came from rodent studies 15 years ago, which showed that allowing mice access to a running wheel led to a boost in neuron formation in their hippocampi, areas of the brain essential for memory. That’s because exercise causes hippocampal neurons to pump out a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which promotes the growth of new neurons. The mice showed improvements in memory that allowed them to navigate mazes better.

The findings were soon translated to humans. Older adults who did aerobic exercise three times a week for a year also grew larger hippocampi and performed better in memory tests. Those with the highest levels of BDNF in their blood had the biggest increases in this brain region.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Taijiquan: Inventing in Loss

Before we get to today's post, today is Chinese New Year! Specifically, it is the year of the Rooster.

Over at Move with Life, there is an article about two principals of Taijiquan: Invest in Loss and Return to the Root. Below is an excerpt. The full post may be read here.

There are two principles we hold to be paramount in our Tai Chi Chuan. 1. Invest in loss, and 2. Return to the root. These two principles hold infinite potential for growth and self-discovery, but what do they mean, and how do they accomplish the former?

These are questions I’ve asked myself ever since I first learned of the principles. They have granted me a road map out of depression, and into progress. I share the answers I’ve found so that they may also help you in such a way.

In my practice I made the mistake of trying to apply these principles separately. This is a terrible mistake because one principle builds on the other.

When I started I was only seeking to invest in loss, by yielding in every aspect of my life. It took me a while, but I found out this is not a good way to live. Sadly it took going through divorce, losing everything I had a couple of times, and living in a roller coaster of emotional upset to figure this out.

On coming to my senses I remembered an important lesson my grandmother had been teaching me my entire life. It’s that by knowing our spirit/true-selves we find our root. My Tai Chi teacher expanded on this saying “It is by returning to the root, we are able to invest in loss properly.”

Knowing your true self is a daunting task which takes perpetual work. This work consists of truthfully looking within. Finding your true self is done by seeking, questioning, reevaluating what you believe in, what your goals are, and prioritizing what you find to be most important. It requires self-reflection and building the confidence to hold your findings firmly as well as creating boundaries to let it take root in your being. This is the foundation of returning to the root. Investing in loss is part of this work but more in the external sense.

Returning to the root is the internal practice of seeking our personal root. Investing in loss is the act of getting there. This means that in order to return a few things need to be present.
  1. We need to know what we are returning to
  2. We need to have confidence to hold onto this in the light of hardship
  3. We need to objectively examine all challenges to our foundations.
Once this foundation is in place we are able to add the second piece to the puzzle. Invest in loss to get there. Investing in loss is the act of getting rid of unnecessary things in order to return to the root. This means taking action, then correcting errors in that action and trying again.

In the physical practice of Tai Chi Chuan investing in loss means seeking to accomplish all the principles in the practice of form, push hands, and application. In short the principles are the root of our practice. We take this root and then expand it into the healing/martial applications. They help us achieve relaxation in movement and the most efficient use of our bodies. To find the most efficient use we must practice the correct way of moving returning to the root, in seeking this we must lose our bad habits hence investing in loss.