Friday, December 23, 2011

a new cycle....

Well, training has wrapped up until the new year.
Sometimes a break is good... to heal injuries, ponder one's progress, and relax a bit with family. I'm looking forward to these things, as well as coming back refreshed and with a clear mind. It represents yet another cycle--or circle--of life and training.
Time off, it seems, can actually make one better at what one does. It's strange but true.
So Happy Holidays everyone, and I'll try to write a bit more during the break!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

being low...

The Valley.
In Taoist terms, being like a valley is to place yourself humbly beneath others around you. By doing so, even the persona of water--arguably the most powerful and adaptable force on earth--will be directed to your feet by the passive use of gravity. It is a great metaphor in terms of slaying the ego.
In terms of physical application, the valley is symbolic of letting one's opponent come to you. Stillness overcoming force. Gravity, as all martial artists realize, is a powerful tool, and is the root of many a valuable technique.
In fact, it reminds me of my sensei who I've often heard teaching students, when sparring with a taller opponent, to bend down even farther, and slowly lure the opponent into lowering him/herself to reach you. Then when you feel ready, the trick is to pop back up and execute your attack.
This is from the same teacher who insists, somewhat in jest, that the most balanced position the human being can find themselves in is lying flat on his/her back.
Likely some brazilian jiu-jitsu guys might appreciate this comment.

Monday, November 28, 2011

getting hit on the way in....

"I never told you that you wouldn't get hit."
This was a passing comment from a sensei at a recent seminar I attended at another dojo. I knew what he said was valid, and have thought about it before, but it resonated with me this time more than ever. In our style of jiu-jitsu we are taught to immediately move in towards our opponent, so the risk of getting hit--even while blocking--is definitely there.
"I rather take 40 per cent going in and then give 100," explained the instructor. "And the day you aren't afraid is the day you really get hurt."
During the two-hour session we learned and practiced many solid techniques, from joint locks to punch counters. But it was the words such as those above that made the bigger impact on me.
Another comment had to do with the practical nature of low kicks. "Up high is fine for tournaments and practice, but on the street it's foolish." This, too, I've heard before (even in the writings of Bruce Lee), however, there are many respectable individuals who disagree that I've met as well.
Regardless, sometimes it's the little comments that make one really think.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Judo joint locks...

Not being a sport judo historian per se, I found this quote intriguing:

"Attacks against all joints were permitted in early judo contests...(but) have gradually been restricted in tournaments to elbows only. In 1899, locks of the fingers, toes, wrists, and ankles were banned (knee entanglement or twisting knee locks were banned in 1916). Joint lock attacks were limited in contests to the elbow in 1925..."

-- Judo Unleashed, Neil Ohlenkamp

Elbow locks, the book's author says, allows more opportunity to "tap before injury can occur." It also says that further locks are explored in judo kata. I can't verify this, as I am not a full-fledged judoka, but I am sure some of my readers can definitely speak to this.

I just like the notion of how people today debate the merits of point sparring, grappling, MMA etc., when judo seems to have been analyzing safety vs. realism for so long now. Although I understand certain other techniques have been banned in judo over the years, I'd be very interested in discovering what more recent adjustments have been made in sport judo, and the pros and cons of such decisions.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

final report...???

Well, I finally gave my leg the full test.
And, touch wood, it held up wonderfully.
Don't get me wrong, I still fear a recurrence of the muscle pull (tear?), but I did some light sparring exercises for the first time since the injury occurred and walked away intact. For those who recall, it was such exercises that were involved in the initial injury. I also used my full weight for other techniques and even kicked the heavy bag full tilt again (this felt good--a lot of pent up tension).
But here's the catch. I took my four-year-old ice skating and felt a twinge by merely doing slow laps of the rink with him. This reinforces caution, of course, but hey, at least the dojo time went well.
So hopefully the injury reports are finished for now and some serious (and not so serious) training can get back under way.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

gallery images....

I stumbled upon the above images at

The artists are, in order, Bai Xiojun, Quan Handong, Zhou Xiao, and Luo Yanan. The gallery is located in Edgarton, MA, in the US.

Monday, November 7, 2011


This story has been in my head for awhile.
A friend, and competent practitioner of the martial arts, was walking down a city street at night with a friend when he was attacked. Two men jumped them and put the one friend into the hospital with pretty bad injuries. My friend was beaten, too, but not nearly as severely.
Since that night, about three years ago, my friend has completely stopped training as he felt his skills didn't 'kick in' when needed. He has become disillusioned and cynical when it comes to the art form he used to love.
Now, I don't want to write a post about how he should resume training and how it could have happened to anybody etc. Nor do I want to comment on his teacher or his style--as I don't think that was the issue anyway.
Instead, I just think about why he feels the way he does and how I would feel
if that happened to me. Are we allowed to 'lose'? Are we allowed to have 'doubts' and weaknesses'?
It reminds me of how real violence can be, and how instincts differ from person to person.
I know there is a gap in my friend's life to this day.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

the zen of the west....

The modern merging of eastern and western thought is not actually new.
Many ancient texts and thinkers of the West incorporated a less linear approach to the Natural world, the cosmos, and humankind, including the Gnostic Christians who were wiped out en mass in the early days of the Universal Church. Later, the emergence of Hermetic thought echoed more abstract ideals (claiming lineage from Egypt), and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno were martyred for philosophies that may have rivaled the innovation of Galileo. (Bruno claimed the sun was, in fact, a star, and was one of an infinite number in the Universe).
While I'm not suggesting these thinkers had personal ties to the East, I am asserting that there was more simultaneous and similar thought processes apparent in the West and East throughout history. (Even alchemy can be linked, albeit different in expression, to both China and Europe).
Here's some quotes from some of the more influential and occulted texts of the past centuries in Europe:
"In a sense, the Cosmos is changeless, because its motions are determined by unalterable laws.... Its parts manifest, disappear and are created anew... Even the present does not last, so how can it be said to exist...?" -- the Hermetica
"The All creates in its infinite Mind countless universes... The infinite Mind of The All is the womb of the universe." --the Kybalion
What happened, historically, is that much of the Western thought that did not toe the party line went underground or became protected by secrecy. A good example is alchemy, whereby under exoteric terms it was a science to do with transforming metals, esoterically it was a guideline to transform one's soul into purity. This, to me, is not unlike seeking enlightenment through contemplation and/or physical training.
So the merging of East and West is just like using both sides of the brain. Each contains knowledge of the other, yet expresses it in varied ways.
But the blending is far from a recent phenomenon.

Friday, October 21, 2011


here's my injury update:
I feel pretty good. the tightness following the injury is slowly decreasing and mobility increases every day. however, certain movements seem to make me think it could easily pull again, and so, although i've been on the mats a few times this past week or two, i am being very careful. (i am exempt from too much kata which is a nice break).
movements to avoid include: kicking while being supported or pivoting with the bum leg; sparring and/or fast weight transfers; going up on my toes; or any sort of jumping or big breakfalls.
still a bit lame, but much better than before.

Friday, October 14, 2011


A Taoist concept I am trying to get my head around is the following: Returning is an essential element of the Way.

On the grand universal scale it makes sense, everything lives, dies, and returns to its source. But how does it apply on a personal level? Or, a martial level for that matter?

Maybe, it is merely karma. Everything we give out returns to us in the course of time, as a matter of karmic balance. In Buddhist theory, this does not just apply to the here and now, but applies to the evolutionary aspects of reincarnation as well. But the Tao is more abstract. Perhaps less specific in this regard.

Personal and emotional equilibrium is another possibility. We return to ourselves and our balanced emotional state after every encounter or event. In martial terms this would be exertion, followed by the restful (yet aware) state of being. It would be about constantly recalibrating one's Mind, per se, or even the physical body itself. (Realigning to nature itself?) This is a return to the "unchanging aspects" of oneself.

Lastly, it could all be about cycles--or circles--so prominent in eastern thought. We always return to the beginning of the circle. We evolve in cycles and return to beginner's mind in all we do. In jiu-jitsu, the circle is paramount, and we always complete the circle of a technique and return to the starting point.

And each morning we return to a new day, and study more and more about the nature of ourselves and all around us.

Friday, October 7, 2011


When you begin your journey on the path of martial arts, little does one know that the bulk of one's training will eventually be spent refining what one already "knows".

It is a time-consuming and often tedious process--adjusting slight movements and footwork--that can occupy a student for the rest of their life. It requires dedication and love; it requires the drive to improve above and beyond the average individual who steps on the mats.

Bad habits form and need to be corrected; new insights are delved into; a new teacher has a new take on an old technique. It all comes down to small things, and small adjustments of one's perception of the art. It is adding the detail to a painting done in big brush strokes. (It was Picasso who said a painting is never finished).

Refining, to me, is an enjoyable aspect of learning. It means you already have a decent grasp of the concept being studied, and the slight nuances can be the difference between a technique working or not working in real life. It also reinforces what you already know via repetition--a major part of budo in general--and allows one to learn further by trial and error.

However, it is the time and dedication that separates the strong martial artists from the adequate or weak. And time is not something just anyone will commit to something they think they already know.

But each day we must have beginners mind.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Monday, September 26, 2011

the sidelines...

Now comes the self-pity, irritation and dismay. Now comes the, "I don't want to reflect anymore, I want to train."
But my leg still hurts. I hobble and cringe every few steps. There is, however, improvement. It's slow, but it's there.
And now my silver lining is this: that it's not a lot worse. I've suffered several kinds of long-term pain in my life, and I am glad this injury is temporary and relatively minor. And it's only been a week, after all.
But the challenge with injuries like this is to not prolong the pain by getting eager and hitting the mats prematurely. The second injury is usually worse than the original.
So back to being patient. Or trying to be.
Here's a good post by Sensei Strange regarding sitting on the sidelines:

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

pain in the.....

I recently experienced an injury during class.

In fact, I'm still hobbling around, although I've discarded the crutches and hope to be well again soon. (The injury occurred during sparring, which seems to be consistent with many of my previous physical pains. But that, as they say, is another story).

However, a good experience did accompany the injury, which occurred mid-class. After some ice and acupuncture, I returned to the dojo and sat down for the remaining half hour. And I just observed; a fly on the wall.

Although I've done this in other dojos, I've never really done this at my own. I removed myself from the class and my peers, and just soaked in what I observed on the mats. While there is no big epiphany here, I found it insightful, and in many instances picked out a few things I may have missed if I was directly involved. I also had a chance to watch how others learned and how others taught. It had an almost out-of-body feel, as if I was hovering above the room like a strangely dressed ghost in a white gi.

But while the situation was interesting, and i recommend trying it (not for as long, perhaps), after fifteen minutes or so I was eager to jump back in. That, however, will have to wait until next week--with a little luck--when I can walk more than a few steps without grimacing from the pain.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

drawing on experience...

Bruce Lee often used hand-drawn sketches to demonstrate combat techniques. Little more than stick figures, his books, such as the Tao of Jeet Kune Do, are filled with these simple renderings.
Although the drawings were printed for the readers' benefit, one cannot help but thinking the originals were notes to himself. It makes me think of many-a-sensei who encourages his/her students to write down what they are taught after class. It may not be so much for future reference as the process helps clarify and commit to memory the technique in the present.
I have been meaning to use sketches this way for awhile now. I feel the process of analyzing the technique--posture, stance, etc.--even as stick figures will help form a better understanding for myself, as a visual thinker, as opposed to a written, linear form.
I will hopefully post some of these in the near future, if nothing else as a good chuckle at my artistic abilities.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Nature is a language, Can't you read?

I am not in a martial arts funk. However, my practice of meditation and energy work have both been greatly altered over the past few months.

For the most part, with me, the meditative/reflective aspects of my training have been a routine--almost necessary--part of my martial equilibrium. But now, after a few months, I have found my discipline has eroded in this regard. It seems like I am just being lax until I delve deeper into the reason why this is so.

The reason is Nature.

I have found myself spending much more time than usual in the natural world, with my family, far away from concrete and traffic, and in the company of trees, lakes, and just pure quietude. This, I figure, has been my meditation and reflection time, and to learn the principles of energy one need look no further than a wooded area with small birds and squirrels. (Corniness doesn't mean it lacks truth).

In my area, the lotus, so sacred in terms of vedic/buddhist tradition, appears this time of year in the form of a white water lily--amid lily pads and leopard frogs--and opens its pedals to the sun in a like manner. Chestnuts fall to the ground, with a Newtonian thud, and one's place in the world seems a little clearer.

I have often thought about the dojos of old Japan, nested away on a mountainside. Outlook is influenced by environment, and therefore abilities in turn. Do concrete jungles have advantages also, fine tuning our senses to a more realistic setting for self-defense? Should we take training retreats--to our opposite living situations--as a form of cross-training?

Anyway, I feel better to have realized my meditation has not become lost. Rather, it has just changed its form for the time being.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

the mouse...

Kids know how to have fun in the dojo.

During a recent class, a friend told me, all the kids--who were following instruction quite well--broke ranks and began laughing and running around on the mats. The sensei was surprised, until that is, he realized what the problem was.

A mouse.

This was a major event for the children--aged four to 10--who began chasing the rodent all over the place. The sensei stood back and let the children do their thing.

It took several minutes but eventually the mouse ran into a metal tube (part of an exercise bike), and one of the older kids blocked the entrance, while the sensei, being a sport, blocked the other end and they transported the wee creature outside.

The class, I was told, resumed with more enthusiasm than prior to the incident, which was later referred to as a "thrill" by one of the parents.

I thought to myself, good for the sensei, letting the event take its course and allowing the kids to have fun with it.

And the mouse, no doubt, was happy to be unharmed by a trap or poison.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"As Above..."

In the philosophical school of Hermeticism--a western mystical tradition--the theory of "As above, so below" is used to define the correspondences of the microcosmic world and the universe itself. It is, in other words, suggesting that the human being's very nature is a reflection of the workings of nature itself.

In Taoist writings, this statement is clearly echoed. The Tao Te Ching posits that a person need not travel to far off lands to gain wisdom and insight, rather, the individual need just look outside his/her own window. Apropos of this, we find many techniques in the Chinese systems of internal and external martial arts given names that reflect nature in a broader sense. It may be Kung Fu's adaptation of animal movements; it might be the "Hands through clouds" of Tai Chi.

In the words of aikido's Morihei Ueshiba, this theory is explained thus: "If you perceive the true form of heaven and earth, you will be enlightened to your own true form."

But why does this theory matter at all?

I think, if we are to achieve harmony--Oneness--either within our own psyches or with an opposing person or force, the theory is invaluable. It explains balance on an all-encompassing level; it explains the inclinations of behaviour and motion.

In addition, meditation, and/or Qi practice, often harness the mental connections of the human mind and the energy of the natural world. As sources of qi, we may bring down sun energy or lunar energy into our bodies. (Often the sun or moon can be used as focal points of meditation exercises. A candle, a microcosm of the sun, may also be used.)

Likewise, as the planets move in a circular pattern, so do we maximize energy in a throw. The gravity of holding the moon in place is the same gravity we use in martial arts, and is even reflected in our molecular makeup.

The reverse of this theory is also true: by studying the self, we can learn the secrets of the universe.

Friday, August 19, 2011


"Watch for anger of the body: let your body be self-controlled. Hurt not with the body, but use your body well.
Watch for anger of words: let your words be self-controlled. Hurt not with words, but use your words well." -- The Dhammapada
The first part, not using unnecessary violence, is well known to most practitioners of martial arts. The second, I feel, is a beneficial outcome of a martially disciplined mind.
Words can damage as much as a fist; they cannot be taken back--just like a punch thrown at a target. Most people think this means aggressive, rudely phrased words--yelling and screaming. But in truth, subtle quips, negative comments, and frequent jests can erode another's self worth over time.
A teacher must be aware of this; a student, a friend, a parent, or a spouse.
In a dojo setting, for example, this does not mean giving endless praise to one's students. Nor should a training partner have only non-critical words for his/her partner. However, I have known many individuals who have stopped doing something they loved because of words either said or not said.
"Speak the truth, yield not to anger, give what you can to him who asks..."

Saturday, August 13, 2011


Intuition needs to be exercised and developed like any other aspect of training.
When we spend too much time breaking down techniques, analyzing details etc., a partial atrophy of intuitiveness can take place. I think technique is a tool of intuition, not the other way around (or at least it's equal).
In this way, perhaps, no mind can be looked upon as a link to intuitive mind. An open gate to the flow of emotive power; an over-riding of gut feeling over the analytical.
But how is it practiced? Perhaps just by listening to it on a regular basis. Not just in a martial arts perspective, but in daily life situations. By quieting the part of the brain that keeps nagging you with too much data regarding outcome and probability. Intuition, tied to instinct, can save you from hesitation. And hesitation in daily life can be as damaging as hesitation in self-defense.
Of course, there is time for intellect. No one should argue this fact. It's just that most of us practice this on a regular basis, while the other aspects often get silenced by the voice of "reason."

Monday, August 8, 2011


In 1974, at the age of 24, photographer Kenji Kawano traveled from Japan to the Navajo Reserve in Arizona. He spoke no English, but decided to hitch from community to community taking pictures as he went.

"At first, I thought I wanted to photograph everyday life of the Navajo for awhile, go back to Japan, and have a photography exhibit in Tokyo," he says.

But instead, he remained in the U.S.

"...(I) always felt sympathetic toward the American Indian..." says Kawano. "When I came to the States, I didn't know if American Indians existed."

Kawano is known for a book he did with images of Navajo Code Talkers from the Second World War. Along with this book, Warriors, he has also done books on Navajo woman and the cultural traditions of the people.

In 1980 he became the Navajo Nation official photographer, and in 2005 exhibited his Warriors series at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Today he still lives in Arizona; still snapping pics and showcasing his work internationally.

Check his stuff out at

Thursday, August 4, 2011

holding the pads....

I always jump at the chance to hold the pads for punching/kicking drills.

Firstly, I just like the feeling of absorbing the energy. It feels good to play hard.

Secondly, I can learn a lot about an individual's style, especially if their martial arts background differs from my own.

When sparring, half of one's attention is focused on offense, and half on defense. You are an active participant, which, personally, narrows my scope to freely observe, while holding pads I become a fly on the wall. Breath patterns, eye movement, strengths, weak points, and tells are all on display.

Now, the goal isn't to use this to defeat anyone, rather, to apply the lessons to yourself. I've talked before about picking up tips from boxers and kick boxers. Tips to use and tips just for the sake of awareness.

Recently, I was training with a heavy striker. I let him pound the pads as hard as he wanted--and I moved him around the room to see how his feet moved. The lesson, however, was not about his telegraphing punches or a potential weakness to exploit in his guard. Instead, a painfully obvious conclusion was made by myself:

Don't strike with a striker! Get in close--without getting knocked out--and use what you know best.

Hey, honesty has to count for something!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

working without doing...

"The sage does not attempt anything very big, and thus achieves greatness."-- Tao Te Ching, Chapter 63

This is what is meant by, "Working without doing." Or, "Seeing simplicity in the complicated."

I, personally, am often guilty of looking too far ahead. I am guilty of trying too hard to achieve results. Any philosopher or martial artist knows that this leads to problems. It hinders growth, rather than encouraging it.

But we fall back into this pattern again and again.

However, plants don't try to grow. Just as our own bodies didn't reach adulthood through conscious effort.

"In the universe the difficult things are done as if they're easy.... Great acts are made up of small deeds."

The underlying concept of this, the chapter goes on to say, is to: "Magnify the small, increase the few."

And then just go with the flow.

I guess this is, "Working without doing."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

American Buddhism--Part Three...

Gary Snyder.

Another Beat/San Francisco Renaissance writer who spent his time divided between the U.S. and Japan. In Jack Kerouac's book, Dharma Bums, he is the poet Japhy Ryder who spurs the author on towards Zen meditation and ideology. His poetry is naturalistic and infused with Japanese sensibility. And oh yeah, he has won a Pulitzer Prize for his efforts. Synder has also translated Chinese and Japanese texts into English.

"In the blue night

frost haze, the sky glows

with the moon

pine tree tops

bend snow-blue, fade

into sky, frost, starlight.

The creak of boots.

Rabbit tracks, deer tracks

what do we know." - G.S.

Synder's Zen influence on his contemporaries is undeniable. And his spiritual approach to life and literature opened many artistic avenues for his peers.

While living in Japan, Synder received the name Chofu (Listen to the Wind). And along with awards for Nature Writing, "Synder also has the distinction of being the first American to receive the Buddhism Transmission Award (from 1998) from the Japan-based Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai Foundation." -- wikipedia

Worth checking out, for sure.

Monday, July 18, 2011

old ways...

Aikido, while regarded (perhaps erroneously) as one of the more gentle of the martial arts, has its basis in more traditional and aggressive styles.

Morihei Ueshiba, prior to developing his own art, had mastered other forms of combat such as daito ryu and even sumo when he was younger. It was from this solid base--not out of thin air--that he then developed his own interpretation of martial arts in the style of aikido.

He said:

"Even though our path is completely different from the warrior arts of the past, it is not necessary to abandon totally the old ways. Absorb venerable traditions into this new Art by clothing them with fresh garments, and build on the classic styles to create better forms."

Myself, I study japanese jiu-jitsu, but glean from the traditions of karate, boxing, and, of course, aikido. I'm dressing up my own training in fresh garments in order to create the best forms for myself.

And if Ueshiba were practicing today, no doubt his style would evolve to meet today's nuances. But of course, it would again be a tweaking of the "old ways".

And ultimately, the Master would repeat the one thing that has transcended every epoch of Japanese warrior history.

That is, "Illuminate your path according to your inner light."

This is the true legacy of Morihei Ueshiba.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thursday, July 14, 2011


"Equilibrium is the condition of a system in which competing influences are balanced." -- wikipedia

With this explanation, I think about the following:

-- breaking uke's balance, the body seeks equilibrium (often with the ground, which is a constant)

-- the technical aspects of the Mind and its creative aspects can be balanced and become as one entity

--when two forces meet, the way of equilibrium follows the path of least resistance (for an individual's advantage or disadvantage)

-- Peace is a condition of balance

-- atomic structure, physiological structure, and those of nature follow all the same laws of balance

--gravity is the great law behind physical equilibrium

Therefore, understanding gravity, and its effect on equilibrium, are of paramount importance.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


When people loose their sense of awe, said Lao Tsu, disaster looms.
This can be seen being played out daily in the world: A lack of recognition of the sanctity of Self and Life in general. It is, after all, awe that begets respect. And of this there is a massive deficit on our planet these days.

As a martial artist, we must respect skill in ourselves and others, and likewise not take violence lightly.

Journeyman talks about specific goals of training that fit well with this point.

"There is a tendency for most martial artists to feel a need to best their opponent, to beat them, to win," he says. (See entire post here). This point can include the best way to survive a violent encounter, as well as the best way to respect one's own self and possibly the assailant.

Peace, itself, should not be taken lightly. As suggested, it is a result of respect and a sense of awe. It is a divided mind that creates chaotic situations, and being human, as the Taoist would say, we often have to wait for the mud in the water to settle to the bottom in order to achieve clarity.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

"Chance is but a name for Law not recognized..." -- The Kybalion

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Low Rider...

One of the ironies I like best in the martial arts world is the fact Bruce Lee taught that kicks on the street should never go above the waist. High kicks are good for control and balance, he claimed, but best left to practice, and of course, films.

I'm not going to get into the reasons why. Most of my readers will know why a high kick can be a defensive liability. But rather, I just wanted to comment on something I've experimented with while training.

I've lowered my heavy bag from the rafter enough to bring the height of both the knee and shin into play. This has taken the head height right out of the equation, as my heavy bag isn't tall enough to cover both. What this has done is twofold: my leg kicks have gotten much stronger, and I've been forced to strike in areas that exclude the area of the face (elbows and punches often inadvertantly gravitate to the height of the head while practicing).

Aside from the legs, the targets become the ribs, solar plexus, and neck area.

This works for me as it forces me into exploring alternatives to higher punches. I work more on knife hand strikes and palm heel more than I ever have.

Later, I'll raise the bag again in order to change the game once more.

Friday, July 1, 2011

the new guy...

Mind expanding.

This is how I would describe my recent visit to another dojo.

Invited to train with a friend, I showed up despite the great differences between our background and styles. It was challenging for me. At times, I found myself right at home, and at other times, I was stretching to remember the techniques. And while many things about the techniques I liked a lot, there were a few I wasn't as keen on. But nonetheless, by trying different styles, my mind and understanding are forced to expand.

A nice aspect for me was that the instructor was fine with my ingrained habits and default movements. He didn't see a need to change these, rather he suggested meshing them with what he was teaching (for example, often my finishing techniques varied from the rest of the class, or I'd grab under an arm instead of over it).

Another thing I realized was that my prerequisite for training in another dojo was as much based on the people there than the techniques taught. With the right people, one can learn something in any situation.

And while home will always be home, checking out different dojos is definitely something worthwhile.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

More Faults...

Right after writing my last post, I came across this quote in a book about Krishna Consciousness. It said:
"The elephant may take a very nice bath in a river, but as soon as it comes onto the bank, it throws dirt all over its body. What, then, is the value of its bathing?" -- The Nectar of Instruction, Swami Prabhupada, quoting Pariksit Maharaja.

It made me chuckle in its Truth.

Monday, June 20, 2011


"Look upon the man who tells thee thy faults as if he told thee of a hidden treasure..." -- The Dhammapada (Chapter six)

This is probably one of the most difficult concepts to embrace in both martial training and in living life in general. That "man who tells thee thy faults," comes in many forms: a sensei, an uke, a friend, a spouse, and especially, one's self. If we're not open to looking at our own short-comings it could set us up for a fall. It could mean danger, for the spirit, or, on the street, physically.

Sometimes, while training, we express such flaws in technique in a jesting manner; other times it becomes a very serious conversation. As long as it solves the problem, the comments are considered a success.

As a friend, or an uke, I would be letting my partner down if I were to pretend a technique is working well if it is not. As a friend outside the dojo, the same applies.

But the hard part is always hearing such flaws about yourself.

As always, humility is a great teacher.

Friday, June 17, 2011

the right reaction....

Getting too caught up in a technique can be a bad thing.
What I mean by this is that if you have to search for the right response to an attack, it could be too late. Better to make a quick strike as a reaction and get away, than to fumble around for something specific and get laid out by your attacker in the process.
No-Mind, after all, could be in the form of a slick and smooth martial arts counter attack, or it could be in the form of a quick spit in an attackers eyes and a kick in the shins in order to run. You would be no less of a martial artist if that were the case. Whatever works is the right technique.
That said, one has to remember that an attacker, if motivated, can also run. This is a good reason to bring your No-Mind reactions up to a more substantial level. One also has to prepare for an attacker who may not let go at the first distractionary technique. For example, a kick in the groin may not drop a man who is full of adrenaline right away, or you may miss. You may sustain an injury during the scuffle that will not allow you to run.
The scenarios are limitless.
This is why we attempt to bring our non-conscious skills up to a degree that can cover the broadest range of situations.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Four good shots...

If you ever want to fully understand the concept of no effort, just go golfing with any decent-scoring senior citizen.

Yesterday, I was invited by two friends to join them in a charity tournament along with my father. Both men were in their 70s, and were former club champs.

Says one:

"In the old days, I could reach this green with a driver and a six iron, now it takes me four good shots."

The result, however, was not so shabby. Four shots. One putt. And a par.

All the swings were effortless, down the fairway, and in a comfortable spot to set up the next shot.

Me, I crunched several balls. And it felt great. But I also had several moments where my control was lost, and the strokes began to add up.

"Just swing a touch slower," says the other friend.

And I did.

And, of course, it worked.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

body drop...

ah, tai otoshi, how I love thee...

quick, surprising, flows nicely with a softening technique....

And it sucks to be on the wrong end of it.....

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The More Things Change...

Epictetus was a Roman slave who earned his freedom and became a great thinker in the first century A.D.

The following is a short list of some of his ideals:

  • self-mastery depends on self-honesty

  • seeking to please others is a perilous trap

  • events don't hurt us, but our views of them can

  • learn to apply basic principles to particular circumstances in accordance with nature

  • start living your ideals

  • all advantages have their price

Not to shabby. As any practitioner of traditional martial arts would recognize, or any contemplative individual in general, is that nothing changes when it comes to truth. The environment may change, the culture may increase in size and its technology, and the population may feel superior to the previous one; but in the end, as Robert Plant said: "The Song Remains the Same".

Monday, June 6, 2011

more small circles...

above: wally jay and son, leon

Reflecting a lot upon small-circle theory lately, especially with the passing of Wally Jay (see post below), I have come up with a few reasons why I think the small-circle concept holds water.
*small-circle jiu-jitsu is a style of MA where traditional japanese jiu-jitsu is used with a focus on quick, tight, circular movements (as opposed to larger, looser motions).
Here is a list of some of the positive aspects I see for myself regarding this style:

  • pain and/or control comes on very fast

  • very few telegraphing motions

  • little effort required to achieve big results

  • surprise factor (movements often shoot in at an attacker, which few thugs expect)

  • sets up variety and/or flow (small techniques can readily be switched up as the commitment is less... ie. a big forward stance strike may be harder to reset into a throw, whereas a tight wrist lock can be turned into a throw or a dojo favourite where I train, the lock stays on during the throw. it'll make you feel sick, trust me....)
So, this isn't a compare and contrast post bashing other styles which I also respect. These are just thoughts meant for myself, and why I feel comfortable with the art I practice. Surely there are aspects of every branch of MA that can be suitable for the practioner.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Journeyman on the passing of Professor Wally Jay: a true innovator and legend.

Monday, May 30, 2011

The Beginning....

My eldest son has taken a shine to the martial arts (at least his new white belt and gi). While it has been fun doing some basics with him, and letting him have a laugh while rolling about, it makes me reflect upon what I should eventually teach him, and what to omit--for now.

He promises that what I show him will not be used on brothers, friends, parents, etc. Nonetheless, I am really only showing him blocks, front kicks and open palm strikes on the punching bag. And usually, the whole thing ends up being about me throwing him "judo style" onto the couch. (He's just four, after all).

But the real question I have is twofold: 1) What's the balance between defense/fun/and safety for his age and a bit older.

2) What style would I introduce him to first. (Of course he'll be invited to formally train with me at some point--and my own style is my first choice for my own defense--but I don't really think all the techniques we learn are suitable until he's old enough to realize the serious nature of the techniques).

He seems to find basic karate and judo enjoyable. And maybe these are a perfect start, as both are solid--especially together--and can be adapted/expanded into other arts such as aikido, jui-jitsu, or whatever he likes.

For now, however, his training will be some fun basics and some couch throws. Learning by having fun is the best method at this age, and to be honest, I like it, as well.

I'm just thinking ahead, that's all.

*note: I once listened to an Ojibwa elder tell a story about the "old days" and about a group of seven-year-olds practicing their bow skills in the woods. He added, "We had no problem letting kids have these responsibilities, and as a result of our trust, they took the weapons more seriously."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

American Buddhism--Part Two

It is the academically overlooked eastern influences on western culture that I am trying to unearth in these posts. Also, the influences that have impacted me, personally.

I mentioned in the last article the influence of the Beat writers on 1960s counterculture. These authors brought about a new take on eastern thought, weaving its philosophy into a more American, loose-fitting, frontier-style ideology. While this movement was born and bred in the States, another huge influence on the hippie era actually came from the pen of a German-born, Swiss author.

Despite winning a Nobel prize for literature in 1946, Hermann Hesse's popularity in North America didn't peak until after his death in 1962. It was then that the themes he had been exploring since just after the turn-of-the-century found appeal with the university students in the western world--themes that explored "an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality." (wikipedia)

The titles popular with this audience included: Steppenwolf, Journey to the East, and Siddhartha (an interpretation of the story of Buddha).

"Buddha's way to salvation..." said Hesse, "...(Is) not just learning and knowing, but spiritual experience that can be earned only through strict discipline in a selfless life."

Again, in Hesse, we get a hybrid philosophy in the sense that he was initially steeped in the schools of German Romanticism and European theosophy. He was also very knowledgeable when it came to the work of the western scholars, such as, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and Carl Jung. (The latter two themselves were quite interested in Eastern culture and thinking).

Again, the western take on the East is a merging of two separate hemispheres of the world--like two sides of the brain--fusing into one school of thought. It is not the ideology of the Zen monks in Japan, nor is it specifically Tibetan or Indian. Just as the Christianity of the southern United States is not that of the ancient catacombs of Rome, rather, the former serves as an extension of the latter.

It becomes it's own thing, and serves to influence new schools of thought, in turn.
Like the Siddhartha of Hesse's novel, the author, too, was often at odds with the world of humankind. He was strongly opposed to Hitler and the Nazis (they eventually banned the publishing of his work); he questioned the western educational system; and he believed in the individual pursuit of searching inward for life's answers instead of through the material forms of the world.

In many ways, it seems his life's work was focused on the transcendence of pain in the modern world, a theme well understood by Buddhists and other spiritual followers alike.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The roundhouse and the three wood.....

A tip I once heard--for golfers--is to go to the driving range and practice hitting balls without wearing spiked golf shoes. Seems like nothing, right?

The idea is to be aware of balance. When a golfer swings too hard without spikes, his/her feet will spin, and the shot will be off the mark. The result of the drill is to maintain a slower, smoother swing, with more balance and precision.

I like to think about this as it relates to self defense training. Usually, all of us do repetitive kicks, strikes, kata, on a flat, consistent surface. This is good when learning and honing form, but rarely are circumstances outside the dojo so perfect.

So, try the golf exercise. Go out onto the lawn and try all your kicks. It is very easy to see how a roundhouse could leave you spinning onto your butt. Try it when the grass is damp. It's even harder.

The result, just as the golf drill, will be a better awareness of balance and tempo.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Empathy and Disaster.....

A culture without compassion will die.
It's a simple survival mechanism, built into our biological makeup, allowing us to maintain a balanced and symbiotic relationship with our natural surroundings.
And it works well.
However, for some reason, there are many in our midst who have mental faculties that bypass empathy. And many of these have become our political and business leaders.
As a result, younger generations grow up believing that success and compassion are incompatible. Unfortunately, in a material driven society, this has become true.
In turn, a cycle of consciousness is created that narrows progressively, on both a personal level, and as a species.
Perhaps, in reality, it is our humanity and our lack of empathy that have become incompatible.
And this will be any culture's undoing.

"When men lack a sense of awe, there will be disaster." -- Tao Te Ching: 72

Saturday, May 14, 2011

American Buddhism--Part One....

Western Buddhism is not Eastern Buddhism.

So explains Shunryu Suzuki in his book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind.

He's not being critical so much as realistic. Culture and history influence things too much.

That said, I for one, appreciate the fusion of East meets West. It began in the 1800s with Asian immigration, and the literary efforts of the transcendentalist and theosophical movements (see naturalists Emerson, Thoreau, et al). Over many decades, the exploration of Eastern philosophy perhaps peaked during 1960s hippie culture and later New Age-ism. Along with increased immigration from Asia, and post WWII relations with Japan, today, Buddhism is one of the largest faiths in the U.S., comparable in numbers to Islam.

But, in my opinion, an influence largely overlooked in the emergence of Western Buddhism is the work of the post WWII Beat writers. These include the likes of Allen Ginsburg, Gary Snyder, and the lovable Jack Kerouac. The latter not only discussed Buddhism regularly in his pseudo-fiction tales of travel across America, but also created a form of hybrid Zen/American poetry. The Diamond Sutra was a major influence in the author's life.

Here's some ol' Jack, composed during a month-long, isolated stint as a mountaintop fire ranger:

"On foggy days the view from my toilet seat is like a Chinese Zen drawing.... I half expect to see two giggling old dharma bums, or one in rags, by the goat-horned stump, one with a broom, the other with a pen quill, writing poems about the Giggling Lings in the Fog--saying, 'Hanshan, what is the meaning of the void?' " -- Desolation Angels

And here he explains the need for poetic differences between the two continents:

"A 'Western Haiku' need not concern itself with the seventeen syllables since western languages cannot adapt themselves to the fluid syllabic Japanese." -- Book of Haikus

Later in life, Kerouac reverted back to his Roman Catholic roots, but his mark on American culture, in terms of East meets West, is undeniable.

"The second teaching from the golden eternity is that there never was a first teaching from the golden eternity. So be sure." --Kerouac

Saturday, May 7, 2011

a question....

I was recently asked a question.

It was basically this: "Have you ever really wanted to do something and someone else has held you back?"

A friend I was sitting with immediately said yes. Many times, she added. In fact, this had been a painful theme in her life and she was constantly attempting to break free from this cycle.

It was an honest answer, I thought.

Then it was my turn to answer.

I thought seriously about the question put before me, and honestly, I couldn't think of any instances. I have always surrounded myself with understanding people, and my father, who raised me, was very easy-going and let me discover things for myself. In my adult life, my wife has always been very supportive and on more than one occasion I've been brash enough to walk out on a boss who was tyrannical.

However, driving home in the car, I pondered the question deeper. And deeper.

Then it hit me. My response was wrong. I had, in fact, been held back, many, many times.

And sadly, it was always from the same person.... myself.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dojo Rules...

"The dojo is a sanctuary. It is a place, when you walk through the doors, that everything outside ceases to exist. No problems, no worries, no judgments made by those around you.

I couldn't care less what other dojo's do. I couldn't care less about any of their politics or how their students act. This is how it is here." -- My Sensei

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Fear Factor...

A myth about self-defense training is that your fear goes away.

I think a truer statement is that you learn to better understand your fears. They don't go anywhere. However, through self-examination, we may gain a good knowledge of our abilities under duress. Confidence is created this way, by knowing you can respond in a situation of fear, rather than being surprised when the nerves kick in.

To become fearless would be to lose one's humanity.

Journeyman talks about this a lot. He always factors in the psychological/physiological aspects to his methods, knowing that fine motor skills will be lost under stress, and an attackers injuries and/or rationality may be dulled by substances or adrenalin. He knows this because he has seen it happen. It is his job to study it.

Because in our training we constantly examine fear--and replicate it as much as is possible--we translate these lessons into our daily existence. Our actions, I believe, are less determined by avoidance of fear, as we accept its presence in the world. Instead we look for effective solutions (even if this require heaps of patience). We analyze why we may be fearful in the first place; and we hesitate to give our power and minds away to others.

These skills make a warrior of life itself. A humble, swift-acting, human being.

Not a fearless, thoughtless thug.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Monday, April 25, 2011


Throws can be devastating.

Because we learn how to fall properly--on mats--it is easy to forget how powerful a well executed throw can be.

On a hard surface such as concrete, it could mean broken bones, concussions or even fatal/damaging injuries.

This last result is why we have to be aware of the threat level, for both legal and moral reasons. Remember, we study defense tactics that are not to be used lightly. This is easy to forget. Ultimately, we must remember that possessing discipline, and not using one's skills unnecessarily is always the best outcome for everybody involved.

But back to throws.

It is my thinking that in any close quarter system, throws can prove to be more valuable than one might think. Along with the impact of the throw itself, the thrower (tori) also achieves a huge advantage in position following the technique.

Many of the arguments against throws that I have heard are based from fans of sport-fighting, such as the UFC, where throws aren't so common (albeit effective when used). Often, the judo guys don't get the throwing opportunities without a gi (shirt) to grab onto, and that is a big disadvantage for them. However, what no one points out is that on the street we don't normally go around without a shirt on (true, streakers can be hard to get hold of and subdue). Nor are we abnormally sweaty and slippery (again, this applies to most of us).

And another thing that is overlooked is the fact that many judo throws are cleaned up or banned in competition, and many traditional jiu-jitsu throws occur following a joint lock and/or bone break.

These differences are, in my opinion, game changers.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Lesson from the desert....

Several years ago, my wife and I were driving through the desert in Arizona, enjoying the vastness of the landscape. There were no houses, save the odd Navajo dwelling every few miles or so, and any cell phone signals were nonexistent.

Yet, at one point, after an hour of driving, we came upon several sheep trying to cross a ditch to get to the road. There were no fences anywhere to be seen, or people, just a ragged looking border collie nudging the animals back from the road.

Whose were they? Why weren't they fenced in?

The memory reminded me of saying I came across in a book by the Zen Buddhist Shunryu Suzuki: To give a sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him.

Hmm. I love thinking about this. And although I am sure it has martial parallels or daily life application, I don't feel I need to delve into these areas. I just enjoy thinking about these sheep and how by giving them absolute freedom they were under more control than any barrier could achieve.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sword and Stone

The legend of the sword and the stone is a well known myth, conjuring up images of King Arthur and Camelot.

The outer meaning is simple: The person who can dislodge the weapon from the rock is preordained to become the ruler of the kingdom. There is apparently a magic spell fusing the sword and stone, and although not based in any real physics, it provides a mysterious beginning to the lore of the round table. Kids love this stuff.

But as always, there is a second meaning when it comes to mythology.

And in this case, the esoteric meaning is profound.

Stone, a very dense substance, is often a symbolic reference to the world and its matter. Limiting and immovable, it is bound to the physical laws such as gravity. It represents the Earth and our mortal bodies.

The sword is spirit and intellect. It cuts through the veil of any false perception and allows us to experience the spiritual aspects of life.

The King is the higher self who realizes the two different aspects of Self.

In a more eastern context, the fusion could be seen as yin and yang.

The fact that the many knights and dukes who feel entitled to the kingship fail to remove the sword despite their utmost physical effort is telling. It is the meek and ego-less boy who manages the feat, and he does so with no strain whatsoever.

A familiar lesson to be sure.

Monday, April 11, 2011

well grounded....

The debate over stand-up combat versus ground fighting is a touchy one.... myself, i think going to the ground in a real life situation should be a last resort. The ground is harder than mats, and assailants may lurk nearby. Also, if a knife is drawn, the best defense--running away--is eliminated. That said, I do think a martial art that doesn't prepare an individual for possible ground combat is incomplete. This doesn't mean full-scale Brazilian jiu-jitsu or wrestling skills, but rather a few go-to chokes, strikes, or dirty and quick methods of escape.

Many individuals today, such as many a UFC fan, may not realize that much of the ground tactics employed in the ring are derivatives of the Japanese system to begin with. These pictures are all from Judo (judo is a sport derived from Japanese jiu-jitsu, as is the grappling art of Brazil).

Realistically, Judo has a very solid ground component, despite being known by for its throws and leg sweeps. I remember learning a scarf hold when i was about eight-years-old. I've never forgotten it, and never stopped believing its effectiveness in controlling an opponent (more damaging joint manipulation or chokes can be added to the basic technique if required). I also picked up a couple of standard defenses from high school wrestling classes that stay with me to this day.

And as my sensei has always stressed, most joint manipulations and choke techniques you can apply while standing, can be used as well on the ground.

Friday, April 8, 2011


Language can determine outcome.

It can shape our vision and therefore our approach.

Advertisers know this and use specific trigger words to manipulate human behaviour; politicians know this, and as a result, carefully craft their sentences in order to shape and fulfil their desired results.

But it works for us, too.

For example, when it comes to martial arts, exchange the word practicing for cultivating. Immediately a more organic, slow, and more patient vision comes to mind. I see a garden when I hear the latter word. Something sensitive and adaptable to the elements surrounding it.

Qi, teachers will suggest, is cultivated rather than learned. You start from nothing. It grows. The process is slow, but as a result, the knowledge of qi should permanently meld into the mind and body.

Another term is self defense. It is much different than combat training or grappling, etc. It suggests an entirely different situation than, say, fighting. It conjures up scenes of street violence and how to escape them as quickly and effectively as possible. Fighting brings to mind more calculated strategies, feints, combinations, and often a referee.

This means we approach self defense differently than fighting. For me, this is a huge difference, and involves very different training.

The brain works like this: Put the word "fighting" into a search engine. Look at the pictures that appear. Now do the same with "self defense", and you will see a much different take on violent situations.

This is what your mind does.

And it can change everything.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Of Action and Regret....

"That samurai was right who refused to compromise his character by a slight humiliation in his youth; 'because,' he said, 'dishonour is like a scar on a tree, which time, instead of effacing, only helps to enlarge.'"

Ah yes, once again the words of Inazo Nitobe's Bushido.

This paragraph deserves some thought. Although the original context is discussing the role of shame, and how this emotion is the basis of all moral behaviour and honour, the scarred tree analogy goes so much further. We all have such wounds that have increased over time rather than diminished. Some are based in matters of confidence; some are in areas of relationships; and some are based in more tangible and physical injuries that we ignored until they spiralled out of control.

Technically speaking, these imperfections are the result of improper understanding and/or teaching, that start out as tiny bad habits, eventually to become glaring weaknesses. This is why accomplished martial artists still listen to constructive criticism. It is why the best athletes in the world still rely on professional coaching.

In this case, dishonour could be interpreted as a lack of humility among one's peers. Or in the misjudged abilities of an adversary.

It could be rooted in a dishonest self-perception, individually, or as a society that puts humanity on a pedestal separate from the natural world.

This is why all actions are best examined closely, lest regret becomes the growing scar on the tree.