Tuesday, August 31, 2010

a tough day

Kind of a rough day today, but a good one.

The Liu Jing Ru seminar is going great – but already half over, too fast as usual. He comes to Tokyo for a short two weeks each year. I had been focusing on ba gua zhang and xing yi quan but last year opted for my first taste of tang lang quan and was quite pleased.

This year I chose tang lang quan for the first two days (Saturday and Sunday). Days 3 and 4 (Tues-Wed), being in the middle of the week, have much lower attendance. Running the circuit through all three groups runs Liu Laoshi ragged, so today and tomorrow are BGZ / XYQ only, no tang lang quan.

OK, back to the ba gua zhang for me. 9:30 AM – opening remarks are short, we have all already stretched, so we are ready to circle by about 9:32. He starts with the ba gua zhang group (the XYQ people are told to review for a bit). He calls me out in front of all and has me start circling. By 9:33 I knew it was going to be a long morning. He totally reworked me on just the first main palm, completely kicked and fixed my ass.

Sure, I had sped up my ba gua zhang review in recent days, but especially after a new blast of tang lang quan to get on top of….

Anyway I survived the morning and learned a lot and all that. We are in the middle of the 64 palms which, when being learned, seem like about 647 palms but who is counting.

Good and bad news after that – I have work in Beijing (the first international “combat games”) on Friday and Saturday, fly back to Tokyo on Sunday. If I am lucky and there are no traffic jams, I will make it back just in time for the goodbye dinner on Sunday. But I will miss the last two days’ training, pian pian.

Well, I have my network set up and will pick up the BGZ and TLQ (and, in other classes, will slowly get the XYQ) that I miss on the final weekend. So I will get there in the end, but I really wish I could spend the last two days here in Tokyo with Mr. L.

More to come on his visit. And I am edging closer to FINALLY finishing my interview with him which has gone on over five sessions so far in various cities and languages.

Enough of this – time for some late night circling.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Liu Laoshi is coming! (2)

Or has arrived, but the seminars have not yet begun. Stay tuned for more.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

essential training equipment (3)

Yes, it may look like a mere badminton racquet, but in the hands of a well-trained professional....

Let's say it's a hot, sweltering night down at the training hall. But it's the gym of a local elementary school so you can't store your own equipment there.

Alright, you've been working on the nanquan Southern Fist routine for awhile. And you got started on nangun, the Southern Staff, so you've been dutifully taking it to practice every time.

But then, in the middle of basics, you learn a new sequence of motions, practice it awhile, then hear that it is from the nandao (Southern Broadsword) form. You won't be learning that form for a while yet, but you don't want to lost the few moves you just got. So you keep practicing it empty-handed until the teacher walks over and hands you the next best thing...a badminton racquet.

It helps to do the motions while holding some kind of implement of destruction, though I do wish said object resembled a dao a bit more in terms of weight, length, single blade, etc.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

essential training equipment (2)

Yes, plums. Nice sour Japanese plums, dried outdoors to concentrate the sour power.

Went to another tai ji sword 42 style seminar, one held on a scorching hot day in an elementary school gymnasium with no AC and no fans. They were giving out free ice (to beat the heat) and Japanese plums or ume-boshi (to maintain stamina?).

I was thinking some free beer might have been a good addition.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

the guy in the park

I was talking with a student last night, a man the same age as me. He grew up near Zenpukuji Park in Western Tokyo, somewhat near my home. It is a wonderful park in the middle of the metropolitan monstrosity which is Tokyo.

When he was in junior high school, my student (“M”) discovered a snake fist teacher who taught there regularly. He was Taiwanese, tiny but quick, and about 60 at that time. I don’t know how well a junior high school student can evaluate the skills of a purported martial arts master, but he was quite impressed at the time. I respect his judgment because he went on to become a long-term practitioner of Nippon Kenpo.

He remembers them fastening a kicking bag high up on a tree and making tremendous leaps to get within striking range (this was snake fist?).

M didn’t study directly with the teacher but he (and other school kids in the area) often pestered him and/or watched as he taught others. Maybe his name was Liu Ming ??. I can’t find anything about him on the internet. It seems he had a single deshi or main student – can’t track him down yet, either.

It really got me to wondering about how many masters have passed away unnoticed. Given his age, (maybe 60 in about 1980?), he would have been in the prime of his youth when Mao and the Communists secured victory in the Chinese civil war. He might have joined so many others in fleeing to Taiwan in 1949, taking to that island the art he had learned on the mainland.

Or he might have been born and raised on Taiwan, and he might have learned the art there without ever having been to the mainland.

It makes me wish I had been born earlier, had gotten started in martial arts earlier.

Like my teacher T, who was among the first non-Chinese allowed to study at The University in Beijing in the early 80s as China just began to open up after the 10 years of the Cultural Revolution.

Like teacher S from Nebraska, who chanced upon W.C. Chen while still in school. Chen was a classmate of the widely known Wang Shujin but their paths diverged widely. Wang found fame (if not fortune) in Japan. Chen might have fallen into obscurity in the US if not for S, who carries on his tradition in the Yi Li Chuan art. Chen taught a small group in his basement and only S has kept the teachings alive.

If I had a time machine, I would go back even further in time and history – who was RyuRuKo, the mysterious fabled link between the White Crane style in the Fujian Province of China and the roots of the karate styles which developed in Okinawa?

And who wrote the Bubishi, and how did it get from China to Okinawa, where it would have such impact on the empty-handed arts of Japan as practiced today?

The Bubishi. I have finally been loaned a copy (of a copy of a copy…) of the original, with permission to copy it. Not by hand, thankfully. Another chance encounter resulting from a prior chance encounter. It makes one wonder whether it is all up to chance. Guarded so furtively over decades, now within reach.

When I lived in China, countless people delighted in teaching me new words in Chinese. From foul-mouthed gutter talk to ethereal four-character compounds, they have all been useful at one time or another. One that popped up again and again, upon people learning of my interest in martial arts, was yuan 缘 , fate, or 武缘, some kind of fate or destiny that brings certain people together through the martial arts.

Was it fate that took me to K kendo dojo upon my arrival in Japan? No, just the convenience of living nearby (and having an instructor who spoke English).

Surely it was fate that tempted me to stay much longer than my allotted year in China, most likely to train deeply with the dockworker Mr. Xie and his intense but probably unknown art. It may have been just what I have needed all along, one art which was the perfect bridge between the internal and external arts.

But I embraced my fate (?) and returned to Japan and continued life here. And, in a twist of fate, found my current teacher, living not far away at all, as he led a brief introductory class not far from my home. It was a small park where I had been practicing on my own all along.

NOTE: this is a post that didn’t go quite where I wanted it to go…look for a substantial rewrite in the future.

ALSO NOTE: This photo is from Tsunashima, not from Zenpukuji

Monday, August 2, 2010


just a quickie, some shite-hot kobudo tonight, much appreciated and much overdue.

Photo from some practices back, just after Akamine Sensei's visit. Very interesting, we watched the video of his visit to drive our kihon that night. Couldn't do it every time, but it was very fresh and appropriate that night.