Columbia and Venezuela: The Political Economy of Stick and Machete Fighting in the New World – Part 2 — Kung Fu Tea

Introduction Greetings, and welcome to the second part of Michael J. Ryan’s guest series on stick and knife fighting in the Caribbean region. If you missed the first installment of this series I would suggest clicking here to get caught up before going on. That said, the traditional combat schools of Colombia and Venezuela are […]

via Columbia and Venezuela: The Political Economy of Stick and Machete Fighting in the New World – Part 2 — Kung Fu Tea


Stop fighting in push hands — The Tai Chi Notebook

I don’t really enjoy push hands. I used to, I used to enjoy it much more when I saw it as a medium for exploring arm locks, takedowns, wrist locks, throws. In short, when I saw it as a way to practice techniques. I used to love it. In more recent years I’ve reframed my […]

via Stop fighting in push hands — The Tai Chi Notebook

Happy Friday! Sometimes You Compete, Sometimes You Support the Competitors — A Skirt on the Mat

Happy Friday everyone! I pretty frequently go to some of the smaller, more local tournaments to coach my teammates, sometimes to act as their videographer and sometimes just to offer support as a friend and teammate. While I get it, it’s a long day to sit around in a gym, if you can, I would […]

via Happy Friday! Sometimes You Compete, Sometimes You Support the Competitors — A Skirt on the Mat

History of Xing Yi parts 7 and 8 – Armour, weapons, and their influence on Xing Yi — The Tai Chi Notebook

After looking at the rise of the Mongol Empire for a few episodes my Heretics podcast has come back around to looking at Xing Yi and in particular the use of weapons, military strategy and armour in the Song Dynasty armies. Part 7 starts with a rebuke to the criticism “You haven’t even got to […]

via History of Xing Yi parts 7 and 8 – Armour, weapons, and their influence on Xing Yi — The Tai Chi Notebook

Chinese Kung Fu throughout the ages

by Du Peizhi

There is no doubt to many Chinese that the original source of martial arts is China, but the history of this art is highly controversial. In primitive times when tribes traveled throughout what is now known as China. They fought not for trophies or medals, but for survival against wild animals and other tribes or even within their own hierarchy.

The first time martial arts started it is widely thought it came in form of wrestling. Participants would intertwine their arms to mimic the interlocking horns of animals and the stronger would try and subdue the weaker. The only weapons that would have been available at this time were primitive clubs, sticks and small rocks.

When the tribes became more organized they started to develop their weapons and combat skills. They sharpened the ends of sticks to make spears. Also, they began to tie a shaped rock to a club, to produce a weapon that we call today as an ax.

Shang period (16—11 century BCE)

When Chinese tribal society developed as result their combat skills were developed. The most important change came during the Bronze Age in China between the (16th and 11th centuries BCE).

After discovering the bronze there was a significant advancement in the development of different weapons, such as ax, the halberd, spear, straight sword, bow and arrow and broad sword.

At that time the several Chinese tribal began to organize their armies by equipping their armies with horses, armor, and long-handled weapons such as the long-handled broadsword

Horsemanship skills were improved during that time in order to use the weapons more effectively.

Spring & autumn and warring states period (770-220 BCE)

During this period both armed and unarmed combat skills became highly improved by adding many methods of attack, self-defense as well as counter attack.

Also during this time martial art competitions and events became very popular throughout China and many people were seriously wounded or killed because of lack of protective and safety clothes and wraps. This did not lead stoppage of the enthusiasm for competing, however.

Fighting using swords became very popular during this time. Both female and male shared the love of sword fighting.

Qin dynasty (221-207 BCE)

Martial arts competitions became much stricter during this period, with more rules, the placement of referees and improve the use of the laitai (a raised open ring; pronounced lay tie).

During the periods previously mentioned, combat skills were used to develop the armies whose leaders were always struggling for supremacy. Many of the famous generals during that time were very skilled in armed and unarmed combat skills, and by this time the martial arts’ skills were continuously being refined or modified to keep up with the development of weapons. With the several weapons now being used, the most popular were known as the Eighteen Weapons (sword, longbow, crossbow, lance, battle-axe, staff, long-bladed spear, cudgel, dagger ax, fork, truncheon, mallet, jingal, joined bludgeon, chain, hooks, halberd, and shield).

Han dynasty (206 BCE—220 CE) to Sui Tang dynasty (518-907 CE)

During Han and Sui Tang Dynasties the development of martial arts within the army forces continued. Officers and generals had to take tests then ranked by their skills. These tests consisted of the both armed and unarmed combat skills, on foot or on horseback.

Now you can see how the Chinese martial arts developed through the military training. Many people in the West have only heard of the word of Kung Fu to refer Chinese martial arts, but in fact, the correct term that refers all Chinese martial arts is Wushu. The term Wushu covers all kinds and styles of the Chinese martial arts.

The Chinese character Wu 武means military and the Chinese character for Shu 术means art.

So merging the two characters together simply merges the military training and the arts together.

There is a direct translation of Wushu into English but is generally known as Chinese martial arts.

Song dynasty (960-1279 CE)

During the Song Dynasty, martial art associations had been organized and set up in the different provinces of China. And Kung Fu/Wushu was most popular art during this period.

A part of the civilian population was now demonstrated Kung Fu/Wushu performances at festivals.

While many street performers demonstrate their Kung Fu Skills by breaking large rocks with their bare hands and breaking spear shafts.

Ming dynasty (1368-1644 CE)

During the Ming Dynasty, Kung Fu/Wushu began to form many different schools.

Before this time martial artist and Masters kept their skills secret and lessons were passed from the master to the student through word of the month, there was very little written books or articles, therefore the student was not able to read and they only rely on watching and listening to their masters.

However, there are paintings that have been unearthed dating back to the primitive age and shows men wrestling in different combat stances.

Qing dynasty (1644-1911 CE)

During the Qing Dynasty, the martial arts became more defined in their several skills, every school developing its own approach to the many training methods. There was also a rise in secret societies that used Kung Fu/Wushu to great effect.

It reported that students practiced not only their art but also they were taught poems or songs and calligraphy, the words of which held the secret of their fighting skills.

During this period many of the styles that we know today were developed, such as Tan Tui, Xingyiquan, Taijiquan, Baghuaquan, Changquan, Bajiquan, and Tongbiquan.

the Jing Wu Sports Society (Shanghai) was formed In 1910 and that was considered the beginning of the Kung Fu/Wushu martial arts that we know today. In 1928 the now-famous Nanjing Academy (the Central Wushu Institute) was established by the Chinese Government to develop Kung Fu/Wushu as a structured training syllabus, not just for self-defense but for the obvious health purposes.

It was during the Qing Dynasty that many of the Kung Fu styles known today were developed including Taijiquan.

1900 onward

In 1936 Kung Fu delegates were sent out to visit Southeast Asia in order to spread and develop the many different styles of Kung Fu. In the same year, the Chinese Wushu Team present a show at the XI Olympic Games in Berlin.

Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 Kung Fu/Wushu has become a significant part of the Chinese culture, and is on all physical education curricula. Kung Fu is listed in all existed sports institutes.

The Chinese Wushu Association was founded in 1956. The State Physical, Cultural & Sports Commission in 1958 presented the first draft of Kung Fu/Wushu Competition Rules, which was officially adopted during the same year. Throughout Wushu history from old times to today, the fundamental rationale for competitions was aimed to spread the culture, knowledge, and skills and to improve the development of Kung Fu/Wushu.

The term Kung Fu originated in Hong Kong and means any skill that requires an effort or “a skilled man” that works with his hands.

Kung Fu as were introduced to the west by the Bruce Lee in early 1970s.

Since then there has been an increasing interest in Kung Fu particularly Kung Fu Films. The first television series about Kung Fu was David Carradine’s (Kung Fu), Jackie Chan has made many successful films, Chow Yun Fat is a well known movie for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Jet Li is now the new world Kung Fu star. All these famous films have been very good for the promotion of Chinese Kung Fu.

The International Wushu Federation and the Executive and Technical Committees supported by the Chinese Sports Ministry, are all working toward improving Kung Fu/Wushu and their efforts yielded entering of Kung Fu/Wushu into the 2008 Olympic Games, which hold in Beijing.

Coloured Belts – The Truth!

by Phillip Starr

I imagine many of you have heard the version of how the Japanese coloured belt system came to be; a white belt signified innocence and/or a blank slate for beginners, after putting out a lot of sweat, the belt then turned yellow. Because practice was often held outdoors, grass stains caused it to turn green. More wear and tear, and dirt ultimately caused it to become brown and then finally, black. It’s a cute story. But altogether inaccurate.

It all started in judo, actually. According to the official history of the Kodokan (judo world headquarters), it is noted that in 1883 Dr. Kano (the founder of judo) decided to separate the student body of the then-new Kodokan into two groups; one would be those whose skills were sufficient for them to be considered “seniors”, and they were known as the yudansha (“graded group”). All others were mudansha (“without grade group”). That year, only two were given the grade of shodan (“first grade”); Tsunejiro Tomita and Shiro Saigo. Tomita would go on to demonstrate judo in the U,S, and elsewhere and a fictionalized version of Saigo’s exploits as the hero of a popular novel would later be turned into a popular film by Akira Kurosawa (the film was Sugata Sanshiro and is centered around the early contest between Kano’s new judo and the classical jujutsu schools).

Kano’s implementation of a grading system (known as dan-i) was revolutionary in the martial arts community of the day. For eons, ranks were awarded through a series of “menkyo” (licenses), which was usually in the form of a scroll or paper. These were used in other arts (such as flower arranging and so forth) as well, and there were usually just a few in the grading system. A menkyo might be granted to indicate that the recipient had mastered part or all of the curriculum or had received instruction in the secret lore of the system. In the martial arts, there was scant need for menkyo from a practical perspective; one either had the skills or not and his survival in battle was better proof of that than a piece of paper. This worked well for the feudal systems and is still in place today in some systems.

Kano was an educator (much of what he wrote is still studied in universities around the world), so he would have known about reinforcing progress through some tangible sign. Thus came the awarding of kyu (“step”) grades and the “dan” grades. This wasn’t a new idea at all; such grades had been awarded in many arts – from music to flower arranging and even the game of go – since the sixteenth century. But Kano’s system did not initially include various colored belts. It wasn’t until 1886 that he gave belts as a symbol of rank. It was at this time that his judo was pitted against the Yoshin-ryu of Hikosuke Totsuka in an event organized by the Tokyo police. Kano’s judoka won handily and the membership of the Kodokan blossomed; he may have been motivated to employ colored belts due to the increasing number of pupils starting to train in judo.

Newer students would have had trouble distinguishing another novice from a senior; black belts would be a fine way to identify the seniors from whom novices could seek advice or instruction. Initially, these belts were stiff silk (kaku-obi) and worn with formal kimono. In 1907, the cotton belt was introduced. Although Kano used a 10-level grading system, he didn’t adopt a colored belt scheme. In the Kodokan, there were only white and black belts. So, how did the system of colored belts come to be?

This innovation came from an extraordinary judoka, Mikonosuke Kawaishi, who began judo under Kano’s tutelage at the turn of the century. In 1926, he taught judo in the U.S., then moved to England, where he taught very briefly before teaching in Paris in 1936. He remained there until WWII came along when he went back to Japan and finished the conflict in a Manchurian prison camp. However, he returned to Paris and taught there again until his death in 1969. He was a great innovator, always exploring new ways to introduce the art to non-Japanese. He experimented with the awarding of different colored belts to indicate a student’s progress and the idea caught on, spreading to judo schools throughout Europe. By the early 1950’s, it was seen in U.S. Judo and even karate clubs and by the 1960’s, groups such as the U.S. Judo Federation had devised rather complex ranking levels that differed for children, teens, and adults.

And what about the top-echelon belts…the red and white striped, and red belts? Actually Kano did eventually provide for these within his ranking system. And he likely drew on historical sources in so far as the colors are concerned. Beginning with the Genpei War (1180-1185), in which two sides used distinctive battle flags and other paraphenalia – red on the side of the Taira clan (aka. Heike) and white for the forces of the Minamoto (aka. Genji) clan – red and white have figured prominently in Japanese history. In 1884 Kano hosted the first Red and White Tournament at the Kodokan (it is still held today). For many years, a strip of red cloth was tied around the waist of one contestant to distinguish him from his opponent. This was also done in kendo matches. So, Kano was drawing on a well-established concept when he created a red and white striped belt that was to be worn by those of 6th to 8th dan grades. A solid red belt is worn by those of 9th and 10th dan ranks.

No provisions were made for an 11th dan. The 12th dan was reserved for Kano and designated by a white belt, twice the usual width. This was done by the Kodokan so that no one could ever equal his status. Today, different schools and organisation utilize a wide array of colored belts and for many, this is little more than a scheme; more belts mean more tests and test fees. In Japan, most kyu grades wear white belts, save for the last 3 kyu grades, which are usually brown belted. Many martial disciplines, including kendo, aikido, iaido, kyudo, and virtually all of the koryu (traditional martial arts of Japan) don’t use coloured belts at all. Using belts or not using belts…there are good arguments to be made on both sides. But if one wishes to enter the realm of these arts, one must make accommodations for their rules and regulations.

Limiting Beliefs May Be Holding You Back in Jiu Jitsu

A Skirt on the Mat


There’s a term that’s tossed around my work sometimes- limiting beliefs. We think a certain thing won’t work, or a behavior won’t change. The definition of a limiting belief, according to the internet is “a thought or belief that a person acquires as a result of making an incorrect conclusion about something in life.”

This can plague our everyday lives, and can also effect our jiu jitsu. After one bad session of trying spider guard, we suddenly proclaim that we are terrible half spider guard players and we refuse to work in that position. We mess up a takedown, and suddenly we’re not the kind of jiu jitsu player that does “that” kind of takedown. We’ve all done it at some point, myself certainly included. We have one bad experience and then BAM- we think that we can’t do something, full stop.

While sometimes there are things we really can’t…

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Adapting Karate

by Les Bubka

Martial arts are often perceived as being a very athletic activity that is reserved for very fit and fully abled people, mostly men aged between 16 to 30 something.  This seems to be where most clubs are focussing in terms of their potential client base.  Within Karate there tends to be more of an emphasis on children and so the image of Karate has been distorted into being a martial art that is ineffective, but is a great pastime with awesome coordination and discipline building features.  This weak image is far from true and luckily there is a growing movement of pragmatic martial artists who are promoting the practical application of this great art, which I am happy to be a part of.  I am also a strong advocate of the benefits of Karate in improving not only physical health but also mental wellbeing and as such I organise seminars and classes for organisations helping people who suffer with ill mental health.  Being involved in this type of application of Karate has led me to focus on inclusion and developing Karate as an art that is accessible for all students, no matter what their physical ability, age or struggles may be.  Everyone is welcome in my dojo (place of training) and I can see that this approach is increasing in popularity as more and more dojos are incorporating changes to enable all students to participate. terms of their potential client base. reserved for very fit and fullyabled

If we think that there are over 11 million people with a disability in the UK, this is a considerable proportion of the population that could be excluded from enjoying the benefits of Karate.  In my club we have two types of groups:

  • Practical Karate where we train with contact; sparring and throwing is a usual part of a session.
  • Meditation Karate where we focus on a softer approach and enjoy the benefits of Karate forms.
Shinaido Karate

In both of these groups we place an emphasis on adapting the training programme to accommodate all kinds of students.  Most of the exercises within Karate can be appropriately modified.  It just takes some knowledge and imagination.  By doing this we can achieve astonishing results, empowering students and giving them the confidence to take part in activities from which they are usually excluded.  For example, when working with seniors I have modified our kata (forms) to take into consideration the fact that most of my clients experience problems with joint mobility, arthritis, balance and back pain.  My programme is designed to remove stances that are not so kind on joints and includes additional movements that help to improve balance. 

What is important is to focus on an individual’s abilities and make appropriate modifications as we teach.  A good example would be the kata, Naihanchi, where we have a movement that involves crossing our legs to step.  People with poor balance struggle to complete this move and so we have a few options on how to make this easier.  First, we can abandon the step altogether and instead put in place a side shuffle.  A second option is to place a chair in front of the person, which can be used as a support.  In this way we can allow them to keep exercising without being discouraged and in time they can build up their confidence to try the cross step.

Another simple modification is to exclude some parts of a workout or drill.  Just a few weeks ago we had two students who had acquired minor injuries to the ankle and calf.  As we were working on pad drills that involved punches and kicks they were struggling with the kicking element and from the perspective of a coach it was too risky to allow them to kick.  My responsibility as an instructor is to make sure that we can avoid obtaining injuries and do not worsen any existing ones and so the logical answer is to modify the drill to leave out kicks for those individuals.  Having watched many classes at different clubs I had come across the practice that pushes students to train through an injury with the mantra that “it will make you stronger”.  In my experience this does not make you stronger and in fact is more likely to result in you having to take a longer break from training to enable recovery.  At many clubs this mistake can be easily made, where a technique has been excluded for a particular individual, but the other students have not been made aware that the drill has been modified for that person and so the effected individual is pressurised by others to perform the whole drill.

An adaptation that I have found very useful is to modify sparring conditions to appropriately consider individuals.  Some of my students are hard of hearing whilst others have mild autism and so I have changed the way that they are pressure tested.  In consultation with the given student we come up with a plan for their involvement in sparring, from engaging in sparring but with no hitting to the head to doing forms on the side instead.  It is also important that my other students take into consideration their partners’ ability.  For instance, after a few years of training an autistic student decided that he would like to try full sparring with punches and kicks to the head (with protective headgear).  This was not a problem as all of the students were made aware that they need to control themselves and not punch 100%.  In this way everyone can enjoy the same activity whilst remaining safe.

We all associate Karate with strict discipline, lines of students and a loud “Osu!” (acknowledgement).  This is a reflection of Japanese Karate.   Okinawans have a more family oriented approach that is much more relaxed and I was always drawn to this sort of club.  Many instructors have disagreed with my approach whereby students can drink during a session and ask questions freely. However, having stuck to my beliefs and run my club in this relaxed way for a few years I can happily say that it has been beneficial to my students.  They care about the club and each other and the process of learning is much faster, especially for the more age-advanced students.  Put simply, without stress we can enjoy training and as we all know it is much easier to learn a subject if it is enjoyable.

A fundamental element when teaching anything is communication.  If there is no communication then it is very hard to learn anything.  That is why it is very important to establish a sufficient and individual connection with students, in order to communicate clearly.  What do I mean by this?  If we have a group of students with different abilities we have to consider how we can effectively communicate with each of them without losing detailed instructions.  For example, in our club we have a student that is deaf and in order to know what I am saying she has to be able to see my face (for lip reading), so I make sure that she can see my face whenever I explain something.  In addition to ensuring that students can ‘hear’ you, it is also important to appropriately adjust the language that we use to enable us to be understood.  People with learning difficulties or non-native English speakers might struggle to understand certain words or phrases and so we need to adjust our speech so as to be clear.  For instance, people with autism might take our metaphors literally and so misinterpret what has been said leading to misunderstandings and potential injuries.

The examples that I have discussed here represent only a small subset of the adaptations that we can use to make the sharing of Karate with others successful.  We need a personal approach that considers the needs of each student in order to provide the best possible instruction in a safe and friendly environment.  If these changes can be more widely incorporated into teaching methods then we will hopefully see more people from all walks of life taking up and enjoying Karate in the future.  In our dojo we have a saying that “strong and caring people are the pillars of society and Karate helps to cultivate them”.  If people are strong both mentally and physically they are much more willing to support others and so the practice of Karate does not just help the individual that trains, but also the whole community within which that individual is a part of.

“About the author: Les Bubka is an experienced martial artist, personal trainer and therapist who specialises in posture, mobility and Karate. Les works with a wide variety of clients including martial artists and athletes as well as those suffering with postural dysfunction or those who wish to improve their fitness and wellbeing”

Keenan Cornelius & His Comment on Gym Loyalty

A Skirt on the Mat

I’m sure most, if not all of you have seen the video clip that Flograppling put online with Keenan Cornelius discussion loyalty to certain bjj academies, how the idea of being a creonte isn’t really a thing, that this is America and that if you are uncomfortable at a gym you have every right to leave.

I think there is a good deal of validity to his statement, to be sure, but there’s just something that keeps me from wholly agreeing with his statement. I think you absolutely have a right to leave an academy if you feel uncomfortable in an academy due to an unhealthy culture. I saw a clip of this interview on social media, but turns out it’s a whole 20 minute interview where he also talks about the dangers of hero worshipping your instructor or higher ranked individuals, which I also agree with. Blind loyalty does…

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My General Travel Tips for Visiting Wudang Shan

1. When travelling, be sure to keep an eye on your belongings whether you take the train, bus or plane. Keep your passport, money, and other valuables on your person at all times.

2. Make sure that you keep your point of contact at StudyMartialArts.Org updated on your travel plans in case of changes. Normally we will add you to a group on Wechat so communication with both the school and us is clear and you always have someone supporting you. This will also ensure that someone is waiting at the train station or airport to pick you up, if you’ve requested it. It would not be the first time that schools have forgot to do this or there has been delays or miscommunications. Article on the Best Travel Apps for China.

3. Be aware of the Great Firewall of China. Some social media sites, like Facebook and YouTube, are blocked. Also if you use Gmail this will also be a problem to access. If you wish to setup a VPN, it is best to do so prior to your travel. And here is an article on the best ones. I highly recommend ExpressVPN.

4. Travel according to the seasons. While cloths can be bought in Wudang, larger size shoes can be more difficult to find. Make sure you come prepared with proper footwear and clothing.​ If you can I always recommend you bring a good all season sleeping bag as it will add some extra comfort and keep you warmer during cold winters.

5. Overall, have a good plan that is well communicated with the your point of contact at StudyMartialArts.Org. We have experience coordinating students from countries all over the world! We won’t let you down!