Monday, July 25, 2016

On Perfect Sai


I began my study of Sai in 1978 when Charles Murray taught me Chantan Yara No Sai, my first kobudo kata.

He had studied it in Agena in 1972, under Shimabuku Tatsuo and his son Shinso. I suspect he taught me it first so he had someone to work out with.


When he told me to first get some Sai, I was able to do so when on a business trip to Philadelphia. I went to the old location of Asian World on N. Broad Street. Then I purchased a Bo and a set of Sai. The Sai were Chromed Steel, fairly balanced but not perfect.They are still the sai I have used to this day.


Then sweat equity for several decades. Hours and hours working sai during that time.


Long before I heard of the idea of perfectly balanced Sai.  I had no interest in obtaining such sai.


What I had discovered is that the Sai through long practice become perfect in your hands because you shape yourself during the practice to make them perfect in your hands. I see no need to give confidence to another in their existancs. Though not necessarily perfect Sai, you make them perfect for you.


Now Sai are no longer necessary for self defense, Attacks with swords are not likely. Of course their purpose is very necessary because of the force enhancement the training provides.


But why do you need perfectly balanced Sai? At one level the last thing I would want is to have my sai be perfectly balanced in another’s hands.


Of course it is your business should you want to get such a Sai, it does not change the decades of work you will need to make them perfect for you.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Passages from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu worth thinking about

Passages from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu worth thinking about


It is better to leave a vessel unfilled, than to attempt to
carry it when it is full. If you keep feeling a point that has been
sharpened, the point cannot long preserve its sharpness.

When gold and jade fill the hall, their possessor cannot keep them
safe. When wealth and honours lead to arrogancy, this brings its evil
on itself. When the work is done, and one's name is becoming
distinguished, to withdraw into obscurity is the way of Heaven.



When one is about to take an inspiration, he is sure to make a
(previous) expiration; when he is going to weaken another, he will
first strengthen him; when he is going to overthrow another, he will
first have raised him up; when he is going to despoil another, he will
first have made gifts to him:--this is called 'Hiding the light (of
his procedure).'

The soft overcomes the hard; and the weak the strong.

Fishes should not be taken from the deep; instruments for the
profit of a state should not be shown to the people.




The softest thing in the world dashes against and overcomes the
hardest; that which has no (substantial) existence enters where there
is no crevice. I know hereby what advantage belongs to doing nothing
(with a purpose).

There are few in the world who attain to the teaching without
words, and the advantage arising from non-action.



He who in (Tao's) wars has skill
Assumes no martial port;
He who fights with most good will
To rage makes no resort.
He who vanquishes yet still
Keeps from his foes apart;
He whose hests men most fulfil
Yet humbly plies his art.

Thus we say, 'He ne'er contends,
And therein is his might.'
Thus we say, 'Men's wills he bends,
That they with him unite.'
Thus we say, 'Like Heaven's his ends,
No sage of old more bright.'



A master of the art of war has said, 'I do not dare to be the
host (to commence the war); I prefer to be the guest (to act on the
defensive). I do not dare to advance an inch; I prefer to retire a
foot.' This is called marshalling the ranks where there are no ranks;
baring the arms (to fight) where there are no arms to bare; grasping
the weapon where there is no weapon to grasp; advancing against the
enemy where there is no enemy.

There is no calamity greater than lightly engaging in war. To do
that is near losing (the gentleness) which is so precious. Thus it is
that when opposing weapons are (actually) crossed, he who deplores
(the situation) conquers.



Chuang Tzu: the Cook and Mastery

I have found an interesting discussion on the Cook by Chuang Tzu on Wikipedial


It does begin to get at what mastery begins.


Cook Ting was slicing up an oxen for Lord Wenhui. At every push of his hand, every angle of his shoulder, every step with his feet, every bend of his kneezip! zoop! he slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were dancing to Mulberry Grove or keeping time as in Qingshou music.


"Ah, this is marvelous!" said Lord Wenhui. "Imagine skill reaching such heights!"


Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, "What I care about is a tao which advances my skill. When first I began cutting up oxen, I could see nothing that was not ox. After three years, I never saw a whole ox. And nownow I go at it by spirit and do not look with my eyes. Controlling knowledge has stopped and my spirit wills the performance. I depend on the natural makeup, cut through the creases, guide through fissures. I depend on things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less bone."


"A good cook changes his knife once a yearbecause he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a monthbecause he hacks. I have had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I've cut up thousands of oxen with it. Yet the blade is as good as if it had just come from the grindstone. . . . "


"Despite that, I regularly come to the end of what I am used to. I see its being hard to carry on. I become alert; my gaze comes to rest. I slow down my performance and move the blade with delicacy. Then zhrup! it cuts through and falls to the ground. I stand with the knife erect, look all around, deem it wonderfully fulfilling, strop the knife and put it away."


Traditional interpreters stress the mystical flavor, the reference to tao. One way to read the claim that tao advances skill is as the claim that it surpasses skill. This traditional commitment to a mystical, monistic tao requires that accomplishment not be related in ordinary ways to practice and skill. It must come from some sudden and inexplicable insight, mystical experience or attitude. This interpretation coincides with a familiar Zen view. The absolutist monistic interpretation should resist the suggestion that Ting knows his tao and still can improve. How can you have some of a tao that has no parts? When you have it you suspend entirely all thought and sensation.


Cook Ting's story clashes slightly with this religious or mystical view of Chuang Tzu's advice. His description implies that Ting has a hold on a particular way of doing one thing. Ting's way is developing. He continues to progress in pursuing his skill by tracing his tao to points beyond his previous training. When he comes to a hard part, he has to pay attention, make distinctions, try them out and then move on. This supports the view that developing skill eventually goes beyond what we can explain with concepts, distinctions, or language. The focus required for a superb performance may not be compatible with a deliberating self-consciousness.


The Butcher does not say that he began at that level of skill. He does not report any sudden conversion where some mystical insight flowed into him. He does not say that he could just get in tune with the absolute Tao and become a master butcher automatically. And he does not hint that by being a master butcher, he is in command of all the skills of life. He could not use his level of awareness at will to become a master jet pilot or a seamstress. His is not an account of some absolute, single, prior tao but of the effect of mastering some particular tao. We all recognize the sense of responsive awareness which seems to suspend self-other consciousness.


It is natural to express this ideal of skill mastery in the language which suggests mystical awareness. It does normally involve suspension of selfconsciousness, ratiocination and seems like surrender to an external force. That language should not confuse us, however. Chuang Tzu's mingillumination should help us see that the full experience is compatible with having his perspective on perspectives.


Cook Ting can be aware that others may have different ways to dissect an ox. He simply cannot exercise his skill while he is trying to choose among them. We lose nothing in appreciating the multiple possibilities of ways to do things. In realizing a tao of some activity in us, we make it real in us. It is neither a mere, inert, cognition of some external force nor a surrender to a structure already innate in us.


Note, further, that Cook Ting's activity is cutting--dividing something into parts. When he is mastering his guiding tao, he perceives a world in which the ox is already cut up. He comes to see the holes and fissures and spaces as inherent in nature. That seems a perfect metaphor for our coming to see the world as divided into the natural kinds that correspond to our mastery of terms. When we master a tao we must be able to execute it in a real situation. It requires finding the distinctions (concepts) used in instruction as mapping on nature. We don't have time, anymore, to read the map, we begin to see ourselves as reading the world. Mastering any tao thus yields this sense of harmony with the world. It is as if the world, not the instructions, guides us.


This feature of tao mastery explains the temptation to read Taoist use as having become metaphysical. Guidance may, in the first instance, be broadly linguistic--telling, pointing, modeling. The choice of a butcher for this parable seems significant too. Butchering is seldom held as a noble profession. Even the "Ting" may be significant--it may not be the cook's name but a sign of relatively low rank--something like an also-ran. Other popular examples of the theme include the cicada catcher and wheelwright. Chuang Tzu probably intends to signal that this level of expertise is available within any activity. Common interpretations, however, suggest that some activities are ruled out.


The examples above, together with Chuang Tzu's obvious delight in parable, fantasy, and poetry invite the common hypothesis that, in the West, he would be a romantic--suspicious of direct, reasoned, logical discourse in favor of the more "emotional" arts. At least, one should eschew "intellectual" activities. That he is critical of Hui Shih, the alleged logician, supports this reading. The problem is that Chuang Tzu's parallels his comments about Hui Shih with similar comments about a lute player. Furthermore, the criticism does not seem to be the activity, but the search for absolute know-how. Chuang Tzu's "criticism" is that in being good at X, these paradigms of skill are miserably inept at Y. This is another example of ch'eng (completion) which Chuang Tzu argues is always accompanied by hui (defect).

We may achieve this absorption in performance by achieving skill at any tao--dancing, skating, playing music, butchering, chopping logic, lovemaking, skiing, using language, programming computers, throwing pottery, or cooking. At the highest levels of skill, we reach a point where we seem to transcend our own selfconsciousness. What once felt like a skill developing inside us, begins to feel like control from the natural structure of things. Our normal ability to respond to complex feedback bypasses conscious processing. In our skilled actions, we have internalized a heightened sensitivity to the context.

These reflections lead us to a problem with "achieve tao mastery" as a prescription. I shall argue that the problems are both textual and theoretical. On other places, (as we noted above) Chuang Tzu is more equivocal about the value of mastery. Any mastery, Chuang Tzu notes, must leave something out. Most particularly, to master any skill is to ignore others. Chuang Tzu remarks that masters are frequently not good teachers. They fail to transmit their mastery to their sons or disciples.

Chuang Tzu directs our attention to this problem with the glorification of total skill dedication and mastery. We trade any accomplishment at one skill for ineptitude at some other thing. The absent minded professor is our own favorite parody. If the renowned practitioners have reached completion, he says, then so has everyone. If they have not, then no one can. From the hinge of ways perspective, we no more value the world's top chess player than the world's finest jack of all trades. We need not read Chuang Tzu as advocating specialization per se.

Thus the three parts in Chuang Tzu's dao pull in separate directions and we must treat each as tentative and conditional. The flexibility advice seems hard to follow if we also accept convention and work for single-minded mastery. That, in the end, may the message of perspectivalism. We have limits, but we might as well get on with it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Surviving Multiple Attackers


A frequent topic is how to survive multiple attackers, along with which art(s) is better to equip you to survive.


Let’s be honest this is a good reason to choose to run. It is flight not fight. But flip answers aside what is a rational choice.


Can any art work against many attacks? I believe the rational answer is it depends. First lets categorize the attacks as unarmed vs armed.. Of course there are many combinations of those categories. On the whole I do not believe it is likely to take on multiple armed attackers. But the unarmed attacker offers potentials to consider.


Much depends on how you have been trained, what force multipliers you employ to make your technique most effective. Broadly separating karate technique into two categories, percussive and grappling the main thing to consider is that your technique selection places the opponents you down between you and the other attackers.


More specifically has your impact training (i.e. makiwara) been sufficient to down an opponent with each strike? Do you have sufficient power behind the grappling you chose to employ to down an opponent where you choose?


The technique employed is less important in those cases.

But for the grappling control of an attacker you might consider Chinto kata as one option.


I MO it is not so much the system as the training regime where you prepare your abilities.


If so pressed, move swiftly, move surely, plan to succeed. But in any case do so as a reasoned response to evade, escape or attack as needed.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

On Finding an Old Pair of Kama

In an old box I was going through I just came across an old pair of kama from a long time ago.


I had studied kama with Tris Sutrisno starting in 1980. Those kama were the lighter common Okinawan variety. The two kama forms I studied, Chosen No  Kama Sho and Chosen No Kama Dai were forms that built complexity to the forms as the progressed.


The weapons of the Sutrisno tradition all worked the same way. In  that the forms were progressive in nature each one building on the subsequent one. At that time I had studies 2 kama forms and 4 bo forms, while not the complete Sutrisno kobudo tradition they were representative as an approach to weapon instruction.


In those hand held weapons (kama, sai, sticks and tanto) a characteristic of the handling was continually changing the weapon handling from along side the arm (or closed position) to held pointing away from your body (or open position). Thereby making it confusing for the opponent to keep track of the weapon. This builds significant handling skill and is difficult to do.


In my program these kata are reserved for instructors to push their abilities. At the same time I have to admit they are beyond me. There is no way I can continue to do the kama position shifts these forms require.


As it turned out in 1983 I attended the Bando Summer Camp at the Maryland Boys Scout camp. The Bando people invited friends to attend.

Mr. Lewis sent me an invitation, and there were Bando Seniors I had met, Bob Maxwell and Rick Nemera through Mr. Lewis.


I was attending by myself, there were some students there from Mr. Lewis’ dojo and Reese Rigby’s dojo. Also in attendance was Mr. Don Bohan and a group of his students. This was the first time I had met him, but being a solitary 3rd dan I am sure I did not make much of an impression. My main focus that weekend was the depth of the arts shown, and I also had the chance to  learn the Bando stick for, The Hidden Stick.


I remember this very clearly because Bohan Sensei had some weapons for sale, and that is where I purchased the kama.


These kama were very different from the other ones I had. They were very stout, and the blades almost a ¼ inch thick. In construction they were so sound you could easily use them to dismantle a car.


It was impossible to do the kama kata I studied with these kama. Their size did not permit the same handling.


Time progresses. I was never a kobudo weapons kata collecter. Content to work on what I had, But once YouTube became available, that most Okinawan Kama Kata (but not all) did not use the same handling technique. I observe many of the kata use the kama held open in the hands. Which is logical in its own right, in an actual combat situation.


So I created a simple exercise to work many those motions with kama.

I never gave it a name, it was just a personal drill.




Now having found those kama, it seems a good fit for training for me. A way to preserve my strength.


I am not sure if there is a large lesson here. Just a memory that translated into a new way to train for myself.


But each time I touch these kama, I travel back to that Bando Camp, reviving memories of many people and finding new incentive to train anew.