Friday, July 30, 2010

small circle theory

I was looking through a book I bought in a used book store a couple of years ago, The Art of Holding, by Marc Tedeschi. It’s a good book for joint locks and contains many, many images and defense sequences. Tedeschi has a hapkido background, although the book would be a good fit in any martial artist’s library, especially anyone interested in jujitsu. What I like about Tedeschi’s technique, at first glance, is his use of the small circle. It immediately made me think of the legendary Professor Wally Jay, a man who is now in his 90s, who has impacted the world of budo as much or more than any other teacher in the past century. He developed the Small Circle Jujitsu style, which is known for its simplicity and excruciating pain. Bruce Lee is one of many who took notes from Professor Wally Jay.
Anyway, it was with these thoughts that I found something in Tedeschi’s book that I had never before noticed. It was a dedication, at the beginning of the book, to none other than Professor Wally Jay, praising him as “a generous and innovative teacher who helped me perceive the common threads that run through all martial arts.”
Apparently, my thoughts weren’t far from the mark.
Here’s a bit more about Small Circle theory from Professor Leon Jay, Wally’s son, and second grandmaster of the style:
“Small Circle has been brought to kung fu, karate, martial arts of all styles and people with no martial arts background. We’re not just stuck in one place – Judo, or Ju-jitsu. It works across the board; there’s Aikido and Savate and Silat – it transcends stylistic differences.
“One of the key elements is about not having to use massive amounts of power to control people – we control them with as little effort and, therefore damage to them, as possible.
“Students take on board the 10 principles that Dad drew up and apply them to their own systems. There’s balance, avoiding head on collision of forces, mobility and stability, mental resistance to an attack, concentrating the maximum force to the smallest point, energy transfer, the two-way action of the fulcrum and lever and making a base, sticking to your opponent and feeling what he’s doing, rotational movement, and transitional flow – where you can flow from one technique into another effortlessly.” (from an interview at

Monday, July 26, 2010


“Self-delusion can take many forms… Many go on doing the techniques wrong rather than face their own delusions… This self-delusion arises because change requires effort. Many students fall into the mindset that a technique is correct because it feels comfortable.... Many go on doing the techniques wrong rather than face their own weaknesses. ” –N. Suino

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

'Lazy' Internal Arts

The concept of Hard-Soft enters many a conversation regarding martial arts technique. I’m sure I need not elaborate too much on this point—most of us understand the notion—that yin/yang enters into training in the form of rigid force and flexible movement. This, in theory, makes for well rounded budo.
But taken a step further, the concept of hard and soft can be embraced and benefited from at an even higher level: the balance between the physical and the mental. It is not by chance that many experienced external artists at some point in their journey begin to explore the path of the internal arts such as meditation, qi gong, or tai chi. I think at some point, after proficiency is achieved both technically and physically, the external art is complemented by an understanding of the inner workings.
Here is a good summary of the idea:
“‘….Some years ago, (A Sensei) chose two students who were as evenly endowed with natural talents as possible. One he trained purely on calisthenics and work-outs, taught him all the tricks. The other he gave less physical training, but made him do zazen religious meditation every day for half an hour when he awoke and again before his evening work-outs, squatting like Buddha, forcing all his internal organs into proper alignment, breathing “right down to his toes” and clearing his mind. After six months, both came up for their black belt test and he matched them.… The thinker made mincemeat of the muscle boy.’ (Jay Gluck, Zen Combat)
“The same point of view was expressed by a high-ranking instructor of (aikido)…when he warned against qualifying as “lazy” those students who devote a greater proportion of their time on the mat to sitting or standing in evident concentration, as compared to those who are busily engaged in techniques, physical exercises, and so forth. This instructor had also realized that the former could often perform better under stress than the latter because they had been working to develop those inner factors of stability, control, and power which are considered to be the necessary foundation for correct outer technique.”
–(Secrets of the Samurai, Ratti/Westbrook)

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Soldier's Journey

Claude Anshin Thomas was a young hapikdo and zen student when he was sent to fight for his country in the jungles of Vietnam.
A few years ago I stumbled upon his book, At Hell's Gate: A Soldier's Journey from War to Peace, and I still cannot get it out of my head. To sum it up, the work is a compilation of Thomas' memoirs of the pain of battle, the trauma of returning home, and his difficult search for peace in post-Vietnam America.
Explains Zen at Warrior author Brian Victoria:
"Thomas was deeply moved when (Zen master) Thich Nhat Hanh (said): 'You veterans are the light at the tip of the candle. You burn hot and bright. You understand deeply the true nature of suffering'. He also informed them that the only way to heal, to transform their suffering, was to stand face-to-face with suffering, to realise the intimate details of suffering and how their life in the present is affected by it. By doing this, the Vietnamese master explained, the veterans had the potential to become a powerful force for healing in the world." --
Since 1994, Thomas has walked over 19,000 miles as part of "peace pilgramages" and is the founder of the Web site, "A spiritually based foundation committed to ending violence by encouraging and establishing socially engaged projects in schools, communities, organizations, and families, with an emphasis on the most important ingredient, the individual." --
Anyway, the book just sticks with you in a haunting yet positive way. It gives real insight into the hardships of a modern-era warrior monk. A monk who realizes the value of peace over violence.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Struggle

"....I seek strength not to be superior to my brothers; but
to be able to fight my greatest enemy – myself....."

Chief Yellow Lark - Lakota

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Moon in Water

Technique must be unconcious.
The following quote from an ancient writer (as borrowed by Daisetz Suzuki in Zen and Japanese Culture) explains a teaching used in an old school for swordsmen.
"...The main idea is to grasp the way the moon reflects itself whenever there is a body of water... Again, it is like one moon reflecting itself in hundreds of streams: (However) the moonlight is not divided into so many shadows, but the water is there to reflect them; the moonlight remains ever the same even when there are no waters to hold its reflections."
The Zen goal of swordsmanship was to not to become entangled in the illusory conflict between two forces. Rather, it was the playing out of a unified force of nature. There existed no difference between the two combatants, their swords, or the earth itself. No warrior won and neither could lose. They became as the moon, not its reflections. The reflections were merely the technical aspects: the steps, the blocks, and strikes.
Reflects Suzuki:
"When this is not realized.... instead of flowing, as (Takuan) says, from one object to another, the mind halts and reflects on what it is going to do..... (these thoughts) must be given up so that they will not interfere with the fluidity of mentation and the lightning rapidity of action."

*Takuan Sōhō (1573–1645) was a major figure in the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism. -- wiki

Sunday, July 11, 2010

the seven-iron of enlightenment

It is said that a good golfer should be able to shoot par on nearly any course using only his seven-iron and a putter. A pitcher usually sticks to a few strong pitches to retire most batters, albeit playing with the unpredictability of combinations. Likewise, many professional fighters claim to know countless techniques but prefer four or five—again in varying sequences.
So here’s the thought: which techniques are my seven-iron and putter? Which are my fastball and overhand curve?
....I get this ridiculous image in my mind of testing these options out by doing free-practice in a fairway bunker or on a lush tee box.
My training partner yelling “fore” as I go hurling through the air.

Friday, July 9, 2010

the Saloon Blues

I helped de-escalate a potential fight at a small pub recently.
I didn’t know the two people, nor was I in an irrational state from alcohol consumption. It was just about enjoying a nice evening on the patio when some inebriated twenty-year-old took offense to some another guy. It ended up being nothing, as myself and an acquaintance quickly intervened and talked the pair down. We were merely passing along the first concept of self-defense: avoid physical entanglement.
Because of this no one was injured and I don't recall seeing either one of them again.
Anyway, the evening returned to a pleasant tone and everyone went home none-the-worse except for a few hangovers that seemed to be inevitable by some of the patrons--Oh well.
I guess I write about this with no real reason except to reflect upon how much nicer the evening was without a violent eruption casting a shadow on everyone’s mood. As for my training, it was nice to see that I reacted quickly and without thought--and in the proper manner--to keep the peace.
No heroism, maybe just a selfish desire for a quiet pint of beer.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Belt and the Third Chakra

While researching ancient martial arts I came across some information about Egypt and with it some noteworthy theories and images. While the pictures speak for themselves, depicting organized systems of unarmed combat (likely for sport), the following research intrigued me despite its difficulty in varification:

The earliest representation of any kind of belt associated with the martial arts are found in Kemet (Egypt) along the banks of the Nile in tombs belonging to Prince Khety, and Prince Baquet III of the 11th and 12th dynasties (circa 2,800 B.C.). In both tombs there are two pairs of warriors facing each other. In the example from Prince Khety's tomb (left) the warrior stands with his left foot and outstretched left arm forward. From his left hand, a belt in the form of a rope dangles to the floor. This rope does not fall naturally into two strands as it normally would. The belt is interwoven. It is not simply a rope. It is the symbol "shen" which is a "coiled rope" used to represent intertwining bio-electrical, magnetic and spiritual polarities, or opposites. The opponent facing him is tying the belt around his waist… In ancient Kemet, the study of the human mind, body, and soul gave rise to the knowledge of seven energy centers located along the spinal column that rose from the base of the spine and terminated on the top of the skull. These energy centers are linked to the awakening of one's spiritual powers. These power centers in India are known as "chakras".... Starting from the base of the spine, the first three (lower) chakras) represent one's animal nature while the remaining four (higher chakras) represent one's higher spiritual nature... The tying of the belt at the third chakra was a symbolic act meant to remind the student that training was for the purpose of developing the kundalini, or spiritual life force, from it's lower to its highest point along the spine. In ancient Kemet, belts had nothing to do with rank and achievement in the outward sense. The true meaning of the belt is lost today among practitioners of the so-called martial arts who have actually reversed the original intent, and use the belt to focus on the lower nature of ego instead of a higher nature which leads to enlightenment.”
This is from The African Origin and Meaning of the Belt in Martial Arts by Nijel BPG, author of Nuba Wrestling--The Original Art. To me, the concept is consistent with the Asian schools of Chi cultivation and the non-duality theory of Zen.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

samurai poets

famous centuries-old verse by the samurai Masahide:

Barn's burnt down --

now I can see the moon!

Friday, July 2, 2010

The Zen Art

Budo is definately a Zen process.
My last post, exploring inherent weaknesses and bad habits in my own technique, was well commented on by Sensei Strange.
He said:
"Lowry Sensei told me in a phone conversation that Budo is a Zen art, because every time you take to the mat you regain the beginners mind. You always find a problem that takes you right back to a beginning."
Perfectly put.
It reflected a passage in Nitobe's book Bushido that I had recently read and had yet to put into context.
"A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, 'Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching....'"
And while the student will have to come to terms with this Truth in order to advance his skill, it is likely that his training in swordsmanship was a lesson in Zen all along.